My two sons have grown through the Coast Unified School District system and are bright and happy adults now. But, I often wonder, what if I’d done things differently? It does no good to regret anything, but reflecting on how you can continue on your path as a parent (you will always be one!) or as a friend or as a spouse even, may soften that perspective. There are communication techniques that help in all situations.
With kids back in school, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the insights I wish I’d had.
I had to work really hard at not being a Helicopter Parent. I’m a fixer. Have been all my life. Want everyone to be happy always. Conflict makes me physically ill. When it came to my children, I was even more protective.
But, I knew that was not necessarily “the way.” Sometimes it was important to step in. Many other times, no.
Something I read somewhere made the point that we all need to feel significant, very much so in the lives or our loved ones. We need a sense of purpose. It’s just that sometimes we misinterpret that or let our own insecurities cloud our judgment. It happens. It happened. I’m the first to admit that.
So, what are some of the most basic approaches to connecting with your child? We ask them as soon as we see them, “How was your day?” Consider how you feel when you’ve worked a full day — possibly fun, possibly stressful. How do you feel in your body and spirit? Buzzing sometimes, right? Stop to consider that your child may be feeling that as well.
If you have the pleasure of picking your children up directly after school or day care, try giving them space: maybe “So glad to see you!” or something comforting. “I’ve got some fresh fruit cut up at home for a snack if you want some.”
Sometimes they may offer up conversation on their own. “How was your day?” may get you a one-word response. Hardly heartfelt stuff and it may put them on the defensive. Give them time to transition, calm down, be alone with you, whatever. Special time, each day.
Here’s the more interesting thing I’ve heard — ask first, “What was the most stressful part of your day?” Allowing them to express that, come first to grips with that, release it (without you offering to fix whatever it was!) can be most helpful in teaching them how to handle the curveballs in life. Just letting them express it when they are in a comfortable, supportive environment will build trust in you as well as learn to identify emotions (you can help them by repeating back “what you heard”) and process them themselves.
This works both ways. If you are emotional, or apt to jump to conclusions, or react to what they may offer, wait until you are calmer. Feeding into their anger or frustration will only fuel the fire. A calm heart, a softened outlook, will be much more constructive for you both. They will learn this from you.
By the way, engaging in a physical activity with them (especially with boys) is a prime time to instigate conversation. The kinetic action helps free emotions and takes some of the feeling of “being on stage” off of them. In this way, we can direct them to seeing how their emotions impact their behaviors and helps us understand their actions as well.
Creating, allowing, a loving place for our children to express themselves — without being judged or nagged to talk on your terms — will provide them a feeling of being respected, of belonging, having significance. You, too, will understand how significant you are in this crucial development.
Then, “What was your favorite part of the day? How so?” Just something to consider.