Do you have kids? If you do then you will know what I am just about to talk about, if you don't you may still want to read on as,whether you like it or not, you will, at some point, interact with a child during your lifetime.
The business of growing up is a tough one, for the kids and the adults around them. My mum always said that being a parent is the most difficult job in the world and I can honestly say it is only now that I have my own kids that I know exactly what she meant.
From the moment a child realises that she is no longer attached to her mother and that she can actually walk off and make independent choices things start to get interesting and both the child and the parents or adults that are closest to them need to constantly re-adjust boundaries and behaviours.
Having a child almost hitting her teen-age years brings into the game a whole lot of new challenges, not least how to maintain a certain discipline and respect ( from both sides !), how to still make them do some of the things you want them to do and still let them become independent, decent human beings.
So here is what I have learnt so far ?
1) I have a lot of baggage as a parent !
Have you ever thought :" Oh my word ! I sound just like my mother ( or father) !" or "I had promised myself I would not turn into my parents and listen to me now !". Well stop beating yourself up! We all are a product of our up-bringing and the voices will remain with us for as long as we live. We can however choose to pause... breath and choose to behave differently.
During my corporate career I was lucky enough to come across the wonderful teachings of Stephen and Sean Covey of the 7 habits fame. This morning out of sheer frustration after the n-th argument during which I had made a conscious effort to remain calm and NOT behave like my parents would have done, I resorted to dig out the "7 Habits of happy kids" book and asked my 12 year old daughter to read a specific chapter and tell me what the message was.
The chapter I chose was all about always looking for a win-win approach instead of just arguing to obtain what you want ( in this case it was to stay at home and not tag along to watch younger sibling's training). It may have not gone 100% the way I wanted (and I did question why I was getting so cross with her since I would probably have felt the same way at her age) , she did get what she wanted in the end ( she stayed at home) BUT she read what I asked her to, perfectly tidied her bedroom ,did all her homework and came for a walk with me after lunch.
2) It is never too late to turn the page
How many times have you argued with your children and immediately felt the whole thing was getting out of hand? Perhaps things escalated out of all proportions just because you finally found that long-lost rugby sock stuffed in the toy-box and you decided that it was payback time for all of the other things you keep asking them to do or NOT do... or maybe you are simply having a bad day and it's raining , and the cat has dragged in another dead bird and life just isn't anything like the brochure! It is in these moments of "catastrophe" that we can make a huge difference by taking a few seconds to breath, breath and let the frontal lobes take over from the reptilian brain (Amygdala and Hyopthalamus)... once you have taken 5 or 10 calm breaths try this mantra :"I will now turn the page and start a-fresh" ... let go of all those feelings of anger and possibly remorse and make a fresh start , what have you got to loose? If you were handed a boiling hot potato would you hold on to it ? It is the same with arguments and bad feelings ... just let go and move on , you can do it! And don't be tempted to fall right back into what you have just left just out of habit or pride ... Let go or be dragged ( Timber Hawkeye)
3) Lead by example
Ok this one is a tough one. As per point 1 , we have baggage , we all do ! I am gradually coming to the conclusion that I mostly have arguments with myself when discussing difference of opinions with my children... they reply with the same facial expressions and coined phrases that I have been using since they were very little which makes winning an argument ( if there ever is such a thing !) very difficult indeed! Since I am certain things can only get worse with a daughter approaching teenage and a young man now in Junior school I have no choice but try something different. It may not have the short term quick results that a good shouting would get but in the long-term I am sure I will reap the benefits. I will try my best to treat my children the way I would like to be treated myself, with respect , empathy , friendship and support.
4) There is more than one way to peel a hot potato
And here is my last and final lesson learnt , there is no single way to interact with your children as their carer. Amongst some of the interesting subjects I have found along my journey so far , Transactional Analysis is by far one of the most fascinating. It is a theory that has evolved throughout the years and it gives a great explanation of some of our most recurring behaviours by describing our way of acting as lead by 3 components that make up who we are and how we interact. We all have inside us a Parent, a Child and an Adult. The parent is made up of all the adults we interacted with as children, it is the voice of authority, the voice in our head that says "this is how we have always done it and it is the only good way to do it". The Child is our true nature, it is who we are before we start getting influenced and changed by the world and people around us, it can be joyful and playful but can also be disrupting to normal social functioning. The Adult is the opinions that we form mostly ourselves by gathering facts and making decisions based on the reality rather that the pulls of the Parent or the Child. Fascinating stuff, but why do we care ? We care because there are several different flavours of Parent within ourselves and although we all tend to default to the one we know best ( the one that our parents or carers used when we were children!) we also have knowledge of a more playful or perhaps caring parent and if we regularly practice leaving the Default Parent locked away and use the other flavours of it , we will soon manage to change our habitual behaviour and get better results in our relations with our children and ourselves.
I hope you enjoyed this little article , good luck and remember that you are trying your best and that there isn't one single right way to deal with situations as they come up . Be inspired, be different , be caring.