As parents, we obviously want the best for our children. We think about their upbringing, their health, their education, their surroundings, basically, elements that we have control over. But what about their emotions and their feelings? How can you, as a parent, always know what’s gong on in your child’s head, what she’s thinking, what thoughts and ideas are being made up? Obviously, you can’t! The other day, as my daughters (6 and almost 3) were playing, the younger one took the older one’s coloring book, sat quietly at the table and started coloring. Once the older one noticed, the expected drama ensued, which nobody really gave any importance to, since, being used to it, we knew that after just a couple of minutes they’d be running and playing together again. Except this time, it lasted a little longer than usual and with rather unusual comments. Flustered by our reaction to allow the little one to keep the coloring book, while encouraging her to join her little sister and color together, our eldest let her emotions free and said some stuff that had us all perplexed! “I don’t like having a little sister” and “why did you have to have another baby?” or “we were perfect before, just the three of us”. Words like these had never been expressed before and while the parent instinct kicked in to explain to her how amazing our family is, how much fun we’re all having and, more importantly, how much fun the two of them will have later on in their lives, the only thought in the back of my mind was if whether this was just jealousy or how she really felt! Whether it’s jealousy that triggers this attention-seeking behavior or if, out of frustration, the child exteriorizes certain thoughts and emotions, I believe it all comes back to the basics: communication. By that I’m not suggesting that in our house there isn’t any. Actually, I’m pointing out that even in an environment like ours where all we do is talk to the kids and encourage dialogue, we still witness these episodes. In essence, I think it’s totally normal for kids of a certain age to react this way and they should, at all times, feel like they can and should express themselves. I think in the many responsibilities we, as parents, have, one of the most consistent ones should be to communicate with our kids and to always look for ways of getting our messages through to them. For example, we can come up with different role-playing games to help them verbalize their feelings but also to use that as an opportunity to offer an explanation or solution. Reading stories about sharing, or caring for their sibling can also be a good idea. Ultimately, the idea is to constantly plant the right seeds to make their thought process and future behaviors almost instinctively positive and therefore avoid raising that adult with a toxic personality that we’ve all, at some point or another in our lives, have had to deal with. Another thing we always do is praise positive behavior. We know that children will always seek negative attention over no attention at all. So what we do quite often in our house is to assign different tasks associated to their interests with the idea of always praising them after completing them. Encouraging them to discover themselves and their interests is therefore extremely important. My eldest is slowly showing an interest for cooking. She always wants to help out and to even “make dinner for the family”. For now, she seems fascinated by soups. So we give her all the space to get creative. Of course, she knows that only mommy or daddy can turn on the stovetop, but for the rest, she’s on her own. She knows that she’ll get burned if she gets too close and she knows that she can get injured is she’s not careful cutting her vegetables. Most of all she knows that we’re assigning her with an important responsibility and she loves it and is eager to deliver! Of course, there’s always a mess left behind but she feels good about herself. She feels like she’s taking good care of her family. Rather than telling her “No, you’re too young” or “You’ll get hurt” or even “You don’t know the first thing about cooking”, we’re actually slowly opening the door to see if/how she can accept criticism or perhaps our suggestions on applying an actual recipe rather than just tossing everything she finds in the pot! I firmly believe that as long as there is a healthy relationship based on active participation, open communication, honesty and trust, the chances are significantly reduced for children to close themselves off and hold in their emotions, which can be detrimental to their behaviors, now and in their future years.
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