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Don’t just ‘hear them out,’ actively LISTEN to your children

Children go through a lot throughout their day. They encounter new experiences, emotions and expressions all of which they may or may not be able to control. Imagine being given a new gadget that you’ve never been seen before. Does it send an email? Yes. Does it allow you to pick up calls? Yes. Do you know how to use it? NO, even though all the tools are there, you still need to understand the know-how of operating it. The same concept applies to kids; they need to be guided to use their own tools to regulate their emotions, thoughts and feelings. Active listening is a crucial skill that all parents can use to empower their children as well as create a caring relationship.

‘Active listening builds a ‘safe place’ for children to be able to go back to during times of heightened emotions.’

What is active listening?

Listening can take shape in the form of ‘hearing’ words and sounds and trying to make sense of it, or ‘actively’ engaging in the content allowing the child to feel you are with them in ‘their corner’ rather than just hearing them. Active listening allows parents to succeed in creating two KEY qualities in their parent-child relationship:

  • Develop good patterns of communication

This allows the child to feel valued, understood and fulfills their inner goal of feeling significant. Children that are accustomed to ‘active listening’ grow to be much more open as teens and adults when it comes to understand and communicating their wants, feelings and needs.

  • Builds emotional security

Active listening builds a ‘safe place’ for children to be able to go back to during times of heightened emotions or thoughts. Having this secure relationship is key to guiding your child to become confident, resilient and caring being.

Conversation 1

06-52-of-the-worst-parenting-tips-parents-get_strict-rules_528291794_ridofranzSon: I don’t want to go to football practice today.

Mom: Why! You love football, its your favorite time of the day.

Son:  No, nobody likes it.  The coach asks us to run most of the time.

Mom: Well football is mostly about running; you have to suck it up.

Son: He keeps telling us to run laps when the best part about football is to kick the ball and shoot at the goal.

Mom: Well you better learn to like running or else you will never get to the kicking part

Son: I still don’t want to go to football!

Conversation 2

Son: I don’t want to go to football practice today.

Mom: You’re not happy at football practice. Is it because it’s boring or challenging for you?

Son:  Nobody likes it.  The coach asks us to run most of the time.

Mom: It bothers you that the coach asks a lot from you?

Son: He keeps telling us to run laps when the best part about football is to kick the ball and shoot at the goal.

Mom: You’re really angry that your coach isn’t letting you do enough of your favorite part of football; kicking and shooting.  You would expect the coach to know that you feel that.

Son: I want to let him know I enjoy kicking and shooting so we can do it more..

Notice how conversation 1 ended the same way it began- no progression in child’s thoughts, feelings or emotions. On the other hand, mom in conversation 2 was able to empower her son to make his own decision, understand his feelings and take initiative towards his needs, all through the guidance of active listening.

‘Ok so how can I , ‘actively listen’ to my child?’

Here’s 3 steps you can implement straight away:

  1. Keep your feelings separate: its not you, its about your childmom-at-childs-eye-level

Children’s emotions are easily heightened and more often that not, they find it hard to understand what it is they are feeling and can’t seem to relate that feeling to the rooting cause. By labeling the feelings they might be experiencing, parents allows for clarification of the child’s needs, values and expectations.

  1. Reflect back

The main purpose behind reflection it so confirm that we understand what our child wants to express. Key phrases like the following help to achieve this:

  • ‘What I am hearing you say is…’
  • ‘It sounds like you are saying..’
  • ‘So from what your saying you feel ___ is that right?’
  1. Non-verbal cues

maxresdefaultToo often we forget that communication is not only through words but also through non-verbal cues as body language and posture. Here are a few points to consider during your next conversation to demonstrate attentiveness in what they are saying:

  • Maintain eye-level with your child
  • Allow them to finish their sentence; listen all the way through
  • Express compassion by leaning forward to your child, put a hand on their shoulder or hug.

So don’t just ‘hear them out’ ACTIVELY listen to your children.

Why you should STOP saying ‘Clean up your room’ to your preschooler

Lets talk about behavior and why we want our children to ‘behave’. Recent concerns on behavior are mostly around children being ‘stubborn’ by always refusing to follow given tasks, acting-out, tantrums and the list goes on.

When your just about to tell your child to do something, I urge you to stop, reflect and ask yourself, ‘is my child developmentally capable to complete this task? Do they understand what it is I’m asking for exactly? Are we asking our children to over-achieve their developmental age? We ask our 2-4 year olds to clean up their room, brush their teeth and to put on their clothes, so that way we are teaching them how to be ‘responsible’ and ‘independent.’ Yet, usually, these requests are always replied with a firm, ‘No!.’ Why is that? Sometimes what we ask can be much bigger that what they can achieve, ‘clean up your room’ can seem like a simple task but for a small 3 year old it requires a lot of concentration, attention and completing several small tasks at once, maybe he’s just developmentally not ready yet to achieve that.

So lets look at the bigger picture, what are we, as mothers, achieving by asking our children to over-achieve themselves. Initially, once they see the task is too hard their immediate answer is ‘no.’ This teaches them to give up before trying. Asking them to over-achieve also lowers their confidence level by thinking they can never do anything ‘right’. By insisting on a task they do not want to do, brushing their teeth for example, you are teaching them that being responsible is an unwilling obligation rather than a trait they should positively look forward to. ‘So I should never ask of my kids to do something they don’t want to’? No. Instead try to break up the task though into smaller and more specific tasks to create an achievable goal as ‘pick up your legos and then the play-do’ rather than an overwhelmingly big task as ‘clean your room’ or ‘Ok so your homework is to finish this page of math problems, how about we start with 5 problems first’ rather than simple ‘finish your math homework.’

Try to turn the tables around for a second, think of your child’s needs before asking them to do a task, also, think about what are you trying to achieve by asking this. You want to teach responsibility?

  • Plant a seed together and explain the responsibility of taking care it, by involving them in the process this already increases the chances of your child to willing choose to be responsible.
  • Ask them to help you out while cooking (in a safe environment of course), let them mix the batter, pour in the water, sprinkle the seasoning etc.girl-with-apple.jpg
  • Delegate simple house and age-appropriate chores as washing the vegetables, setting the table or juicing oranges for example. This allows them to ‘help’ while fulfilling their need of belonging and significance when you involve them with you.
  • Encourage the responsibility of self-care by leaving them to brush their teeth on their own, feed themselves, dress themselves (if they can), if not then choose from two options what they would like to wear, pack their snack bags alone and my all-time favorite delegation, ask them to remember a few items on your way to grocery shopping together and emphasis it is their responsibility to find them and add them to the cart.

The characteristics of self-reliance, independence and responsibility are life-long that cultivate a growth mindset allowing them to embrace rather than shy away from future challenges our kids will face. Let’s stop asking our children to over-achieve, and instead help break down instructions into smaller, specific and achievable tasks while focusing on encouraging their efforts instead.

The Mirror child

Ever wonder why you automatically yawn when you see someone yawning or why you find it difficult to hold your tears back when you see someone crying? The mechanism that allows so are your mirror neurons- a neuron that fires in your brain when you watch someone doing an action, telling you to do the same. So by just simply observing another, you think and feel the same as the person in front of you when you ‘mirror’ their action.

In the same way, our behaviour and actions can directly affect those around us. Ever catch yourself saying, ‘I feel drained when I’m around this person,’ or ‘I began smoking again because I’m always around x.’ Whether or not we intend so but our thoughts and actions resonates on those around us and can create a ripple effect of the same feelings.

Knowing the magnitude of influence your behavior has, how do you think you this  might be affecting those around you? How about the influence you have on those that look up to you the most- your children. Children are exceptionally very good ‘mirrors’ in that they visually reflect the image of those they spend time with the most. If you are curious about your parenting style, look into your live mirror- your child.

parent-and-child-modelingChildren have the capability to sponge information, knowledge and of course, behaviour. A parent I was recently speaking to mentioned, ‘My 3 year old daughter is also scared of dogs just like me.’ Instead, could it be that her daughter see’s her mom shiver, scream and frightened with the sight of a dog and so made the correlation that dogs are scary? When you’re having a bad day, your child can pick this up through your behaviour and reciprocate it. It’s not that children choose to ‘annoy’ you on ‘bad’ days, but rather they’ve been seeing you stress, loose temper and worry, resonating anxiousness in them.

So what’s the take-home message?

  1. Model the characteristics you want to see

Be kind to them, show them how to ‘use their words’ when angry, demonstrate responsibility and leave room for them to mirror that too. Yes, we all may loose it sometimes and shout, yell or scream on a bad day, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t model good values after that. By apologizing you can model room for forgiveness, by explaining your reaction you can model that it’s ok that sometimes feelings are not controlled and by admitting you made a slip-up you can model a concept that is key for all children; everyone makes mistakes sometimes and that’s ok.

  1. Model the values you want to instill

Demonstrate honesty by saying the truth as to why his/her Halloween candy is gone rather than ‘the monster ate them.’ Teach respect by giving it to your child with simple phrases as ‘please’ ‘thank you’ and ‘your welcome.’ Encourage generosity by involving your child in charitable activities as donating toys or clothes together. Most importantly, model compassion, we easily forget that children reciprocate the emotions they receive, the more love we give them, they more love they can offer themselves first then those around them.

  1. Know when YOU need a time out

You need a break. It’s ok to say it and its definitely ok to have it! Parenting can be draining sometimes and it’s essential that you take care of yourself first before you can give to others. So refuel yourself with what energizes you to keep going; a warm bath, a coffee with a friend or hit the gym, whatever it is you owe yourself that!

Thinking out loud: Labels

I remember back in 2nd grade we had a new girl in class. Although she was Egyptian, it was obvious she didn’t live in Egypt for long; her Arabic wasn’t the best. She tried so hard to ‘fit in.’ She dressed exactly like how the other girls were dressing, she invited the class to several play-dates and she showered each one of us with our favorite food during snack-box time. One day, we were asked by our teacher to draw how we were feeling. Everyone went up to present their picture, some drew happy faces, others silly faces but she… what she drew remains a vivid image till today. She drew herself crying, the tears were falling but not in the shape of tear drops, in the shape of small houses and people. At the time, I remember the whole class made fun of her and that’s when she was labeled as ‘the weird girl’ for the rest of the year. It was towards the end of that year when she announced she wasn’t returning for the next academic term that we all discovered that her father is an ambassador and at the young age of only 7 she had already moved to 8 houses in 5 different countries, with each time making absolutely no friends. It was then, that her picture made so much sense.

Behavior is not an action, but a reaction from an inner thought, feeling or experience

When thinking of the behavior of a child, remember, this is a reaction from a thought, feeling or experience they are having. There is a REASON behind every behavior. Sometimes they are going through hard times, experiencing changes or simply having a bad day. Don’t let their behavior define them into a label.

The ‘bully’ in class might be experiencing a family divorce, witnessing fights, physical and verbal abuse or perhaps even neglect.

The ‘class-clown’ might be thinking he is incapable of completing the same activities as the rest of the class and so tries to change the subject in the best way he knows how; to be ‘funny’.

The ‘teacher’s-pet’ might be feeling lonely ever since her family welcomed a new baby sister, attention has shifted away from her and so she might be trying to replace this void with attention from her teacher.

The ‘awkward’ boy of the class is not actually awkward at all, but a very bright child that is swamped with after-school activities leaving him no time to socialize with peers.

I’ll say it again. Behavior is not an action, but a reaction from an inner thought, feeling or experience. Rather than looking at the behavior we should look into the behavior. Why is this child behaving so? What could he be thinking, feeling or experiencing? The more we can change our perspective on child behavior the better we can pass on this way of thinking to our kids and their generation. Let’s end labels.

Welcome

In case you haven’t noticed by now I’m very passionate about child development, education as well as parenting through positive discipline. This blog will give you just that through informative articles, helpful parenting and child-rearing tips, educational fun activities to try at home or sometimes i’ll just simply be thinking out loud with you on issues that matter most to me! Enjoy and would love to hear your feedback and comments!

Help: I caught my Child ‘Lying’

It has long been a debate for child professionals to completely understand whether children at a young age were capable of telling a ‘lie’. Recently, it has been concluded that the ability to manipulate the truth is much like a developmental milestone in children like learning to share or learning to brush their teeth. Ideally, this skill is usually acquired by age 4, as it requires a certain development of both social skills and language abilities. At this age, children are exploring and elaborating on imagination; this is the age of imaginative friends and telling tales, which is a highly critical milestone in a child’s cognitive development as it works on organization of thoughts, expression of feelings and symbolism. However, there is a fine line between imagining situations that never occurred and re-telling an event that has happened by altering the truth.

Children can bend the truth for a number of reasons as establishing an identity to connect with peers, to get attention, to evade hurting another’s feelings or to avoid trouble all together. However, it seems only fair to summarize that the ultimate reason children lie is due to a lacking of problem-solving skills. Children do not know another way for solving a given problem. Imagine your daughter, Sara, ate all the remaining 5 cooGirl playing with chocolate saucekies, she knows that she isn’t allowed to eat her cookies before lunchtime and when confronted she mentions that she didn’t eat the cookies. Here, it is established that Sara knows right from wrong, or else she would not lie in the first place, however, the problem here is that once she DID do something wrong, she doesn’t know how to act accordingly, resorting her to lying. The key here is that as parents, it is critical to confront your child positively while teaching them the right tools to allow them to problem solve in future situations.

It is important to mention that, once you realize your child is fibbing, reacting negatively, whether by yelling or telling them off would only increase this behavior. Besides increasing the undesired behavior, a negative consequence usually instills fear in a child and loosens the trust bond in the parent-child relationship.

What should I do?

  • Don’t wait to catch your child lying to start discussing the significance of truth and consequences. Pick a good time for your child and plan in advance what will be said, while maintaining a friendly rather than lecturing tone.
  • Set an example– children at this age learn most of their skills/information for their parents as role models. They are also very good listeners. Take good attention when on the phone, if you are making an excuse not to attend a party/event for example. When you promise something to him/her make sure to fulfill it, if not, provide the real reason why you were not able to do so etc..
  • Reason through story-time– books can be a great learning experience especially if your child already loves to listen to stories. Choose certain tales such as Pinocchio for example, after finishing or throughout the book, pause and reflect on the main ideas, actions and consequences. E.g- why is his nose getting bigger? What should he do instead? Why is it better to tell the truth than a fib? Etc..
  • Personal stories– since children idolize their parents at this age, they usually love to hear about their past/experiences and imitate them. Talk about an experience where someone you know had lied and the lie kept firing back with negative consequences and that it was much easier to stay the truth from the beginning.
  • Keep the door open– Once the concept of lying as been established, let your child know that if they ever lie and don’t feel good about it, you are always available to speak about it. This is a great opportunity to exercise self reflection and problem solving skills with your child. Once they describe to situation allow them to self reflect, ‘why did you feel you had to lie’ ‘what would have happened if you tell the truth’ ‘why is telling the truth better than lying in the future etc.’
  • After the truth comes out– reward positive behavior when she DOES say the truth. “I really appreciate your honestly, I know it could have been easier to bend the truth but you chose to be honest I appreciate that.’