Building Relationships

We marvel at the miraculous, ever-changing nature of human beings as they grow from wriggling infants into walking, talking whirlwinds of activity. As we focus on the practical, proven solutions to nurturing children’s behavior and actions through “love and limits”, it’s important to keep in mind children’s complicated nature.

At their best, toddlers, preschoolers and young children are curious, inventive, eager, and independent. At their worst, they are obstinate, inhibited, and clingy! Their chameleon-like personalities and inability to use adult logic make them tough customers when you’re trying to sell them on life’s most important behavioral lessons. That’s because the earliest years of a child’s life are her prime physical, emotional, and intellectual learning years. They are also precisely the time when children need to learn how to get along in the world: what they may do; what they may not do; and how to regulate their own responses when they get angry, frustrated, or fearful. That is what self-discipline really is all about

Research shows that a responsive, respectful connection between a caring adult and a young child is the most powerful predictor of a lifetime of good health, appropriate behavior, and success in school. Here are 4 ways to build that relationship every day. Learn more in Discipline With Love and Limits.

Be Empathetic
The most important factor in building and maintaining empathy in children is modeling empathy, understanding, and caring—regardless of how difficult their behavior may be to manage. By beginning your response to inappropriate behavior with the statement “I’m sorry you chose to do that,” for example, you’re showing your child that you care about his feelings and have empathy for him because he’s in the hot seat. In addition, parents can develop their child’s potential to be empathetic by pointing out the impact of his behavior on others by asking, “How do you think Andy feels when you push him out of the game?” Conversely, reacting with anger to children’s behavior erodes their ability to be empathetic.
Be Present

In today’s tech-centric world, multitasking is the norm, with a constant bombardment of electronic noise demanding your attention. All of us have become accustomed to this reality and tend to focus on the most immediate noise while tuning out everything else.

So it’s important to avoid ignoring your child—and to give her your undivided attention when playing with her. Make eye contact, talk to her, listen to what she says, repeat her words and phrases, guide her play, and be a trusted companion. Turn off all electronic gadgets unless you’re using them to watch or listen to a program together and discuss it. Get down on the floor with your child so she can see your face—and know you’re there for her and her alone.

Talk and Read to Your Child

Talking and reading to children are vital to building a positive relationship, as well as to help them develop good behavior and social skills. The more words they know, the more they can think—because they think in words. Landmark studies over the past 30 years have demonstrated the importance of language in building a child’s future. These studies found a tremendous achievement gap between children who had a rich language experience during their early years and those who didn’t.

You can start building your child’s experience during infancy by imitating his sounds. If he’s making mouth noises, such as “ba ba ba,” repeat those sounds so he begins to understand that making sounds means connecting with a significant person in his world. He will know that you are there and that you are holding a “baby conversation” with him. Conversation can involve simply describing the activity in which you and your child are engaged. In the car, talk about what you’re seeing—buildings, people, activities. In the supermarket, describe the items you’re buying by their size, color, and weight.

Research on language development in children has discovered that the style of words used is also important. When talking to your child, use affirming words, such as “Good listening” or “Let’s try it this way” rather than discouraging phrases like “That’s not the way to do that” or “That’s wrong.” When you must reprimand, state the desired outcome, such as “It’s important to leave the dirt in the flowerpot so the flower can grow,” rather than saying “No!” or “Stop that!” And when having any conversation with your child, get on his level physically so you can see each other. Talk to your child as an equal, the way you would to any adult you care about.

But we need to get ready to go to school, so I would like your cooperation”—which calmly validates your child’s agenda while letting him know about yours. You can also tell him, “When you get dressed, you may play until we need to leave. You are so good at getting yourself dressed.” By understanding your child’s needs and your own, you can resolve the power-control conflict and thereby gain his cooperation.

Separate Yourself from Your Child

“Oh, you won’t believe how smart Samantha is. She just amazes me. She is such a genius.” How many times have you heard such statements from friends and acquaintances? Maybe you’ve said similar things yourself. It’s important to be excited about your child’s skills and abilities and to encourage the development of those skills—your child needs your support.

But bragging may be a slippery slope if you do it within earshot of your child. Why? When your child becomes part of your “I’m a successful parent” résumé, she will come to believe that she controls your happiness. If she succeeds and meets your expectations, you will be happy with her. But if she fails, you will be unhappy with her. This is a dangerous position for your child to be in. That’s why it’s so important to separate yourself from your child. You don’t have any control over her skills or abilities or even her desire to use those skills. But you do have control over your words and actions. And that’s where you want to put your effort.

It’s also important to separate your child from her behavior. Her behavior, after all, is what she does. It’s not who she is. If she acts out at the supermarket, that doesn’t make her a good or a bad child, and her behavior is not you, even though you may be saying to yourself, “My child is bad, and that makes me a bad parent.”

So your parenting résumé can certainly include your children but not their successes or failures. What needs to be on your résumé is that you share loving connections with your kids and are teaching them the limits that are appropriate for their behavior. This is what children need most as they grow and develop.