Last week I addressed how peaceful parenting can instill critical thinking and compassion in our children. This week we'll finish off the list.
3. Good Communication
One of my favorite interventions for children with explosive behaviors is Collaborative Problem Solving. The philosophy behind it is that kids do well when they can. It provides a framework for assisting children in developing lagging skills in cognitive flexibility, emotion regulation, and social functioning to name a few. And the framework is this: we teach these skills by collaborating with children to solve problems. What I love about this approach is that I believe it's effective for all children. We can coach them through respectful, non-violent communication and in doing so arm them with the skills needed to thrive.
Tonight my son was engrossed in a project with his trucks in the sandbox when it was time for dinner. My husband gave him a warning, and my son immediately expressed frustration at having to stop his project. Just like he always does, my husband calmly stated, “I need you to eat dinner, and you want to keep playing. How can we work this out?” He didn’t solve the problem for my son, neither did my husband demand that our son stop his play. What he did was open a dialogue, model respect, and encourage problem solving. My son asked for five more minutes (rather than the two minute warning my husband had given him), and when the timer went off he easily and happily joined the dinner table. He felt heard and understood, and he also had a lesson in expressing his needs appropriately. All in the context of an everyday event.
4. Stable Relationships
In his book Parenting From the Inside Out, Siegel explains “Secure attachments are thought to occur when children have consistent, emotionally attuned, contingent communication with their parent or other primary caregiver.” Secure attachment is attained via the ABCs of attachment: attunement (parents recognizing and accurately responding to the internal state of their children), balance (children “attain balance” through attunement with a primary caregiver), and coherence (the learned ability to connect with others and integrate the experience of the outside world with our internal state).
This is a lot of psychobabble to explain this: the quality of our relationship with our children reverberates throughout their lives. It affects their brains, their relationships, and their understanding of themselves. Our relationship with our children has the profound ability to help or harm them. We probably all know this to be true, but we may not know what we can do to ensure secure attachment.
Recently I participated in a webinar with Dr. Gordon Neufeld called “Attachment Roots: Back to Basics.” In his lecture, Dr. Neufeld used the analogy of a plant to describe secure attachment. For example, we may not be able to see the roots of a tree, but we know they’re essential to its survival. And the deeper the roots, the stronger the tree. However, the soil around the tree needs to be fertile in order for the tree to establish these roots and grow.
Like a tree, our children thrive when they’re raised in an environment conducive to healthy attachment. Given the right environment, they will establish deep attachment ("roots") as they grow and flourish. Culturally we are encouraged to socialize our children from a young age. We’re told our toddlers and preschoolers need to be with their peers to learn. Yet the data don’t support this stance. Dr. Neufeld explains that development and individuation are rooted in deep, secure attachment, “they don’t need to separate to grow, they need to become so deeply attached that their own self-individuation doesn’t threaten that attachment.” This theory is the basis for his book, Hold on to Your Kids.
Empathic parents know that our children don’t need to be shoved out of the nest to become independent. They know that as parents, we are our children’s “bubble of safety in a wounded world" and that it’s our relationship with our children which helps them develop an identity and the confidence to individuate. Peaceful parents also know that it’s this attachment which will grant our children the ability to develop other satisfying, respectful, and intimate relationships in the future.
Empathic parents know that there are ways we can hinder the process of attachment. Forcing our children away from us at a young age for the sake of socialization is unnecessary. Furthermore, punishments create a rift, be it temporary or permanent, in this closeness. Our children have an abiding desire to be known and understood by us. We meet this need when we listen, empathize, connect before we correct, and collaborate with them. We deny this need when we punish, shame, and lecture.
As Dr Neufeld explains, “the relationship is the bottom line, not behavior. The relationship transcends behavior...relationship is bigger than the problem.”
5. High Self-Worth
The most valuable gift we can give our children is accepting them as is, even if they come home with a D in math or don’t want to go on our annual fishing trip. We may be entirely convinced that our love is unconditional, but do our children know that? As Alfie Kohn points out, it doesn’t matter how we feel so much as it matters how our children perceive us. If we skip over the three A’s on the report card and first remark on the D, we’re communicating conditional love. In small ways we either tell our children they must please us to earn our love or that our love isn’t conditional on any behavior, whether good or bad. “...love from one’s parents does not have to be paid for in any sense. It is purely and simply a gift. It is something to which all children are entitled” (Unconditional Parenting, page 19).
There are no guarantees in life, and even children who are raised peacefully will experience challenges unique to their experience. In contrast, adults can “earn” each of these traits even if they weren’t instilled by their parents. It also goes without saying that there is no such thing as a perfect parent: we all lose our temper, and we all come unglued from time to time.
I promote peaceful parenting because I wholeheartedly believe that children blossom when they're shown respect, dignity, kindness, and love. These are traits we might believe in but struggle to embody in our relationship with our children. With consciousness and practice, we're all capable of respectful parenting, and our children deserve nothing less.