Your Relationship with Your Child: Harmful vs Nurturing Communication
Your words become the inner dialogue that your children will use to describe themselves and their world. Are you a champion, compassionate, critical, harsh, or apathetic? All these styles of communication will colour the relationship you form with your child and ultimately the relationship they have with themselves.
The quality of the relationship you have with your child will help shape them in many ways throughout their life. From the way they see themselves, engage in school, solve problems, and their ability to form friendships and romantic relationships in years to come
While most people focus on the behaviour of children, it’s important to understand that even if you use the ‘best behavioural modification’ skills in the world, unless you have a strong, warm and clear relationship with your child, your behavioural skills training is only going to get you so far.
In a study that was conducted by relationship expert Dr John Gottman, he discovered that children thrived socially and emotionally best when they had parents who responded to them positively. Gottman realised there are four parenting types:
- The Dismissing Parent disengages from the relationship with the child, often feeling uncertain about how to handle ‘negative emotions’ and fears feeling out of control. These parents’ resort to using distraction techniques and hope that the passing of time will ‘cure’ the issue.
Example: When a child is upset and crying because they can’t get what they want. The parent roles their eyes, and says “don’t be ridiculous, go play with your brother.”
Effects: Children learn that there is something wrong with them, cannot regulate their emotions, interpret that what they are feeling is not appropriate, not right, and ridiculous.
- The Disapproving Parent is like the dismissing parent but harsher. They can be negative, critical, and overly concerned with discipline.
Example: When a child is upset and crying because they can’t get what they want. The parent becomes angry and says “You’re just being manipulative. Stop crying!”
Effects: Similar to the dismissing parenting techniques, children learn that there is something wrong with them, cannot regulate their emotions and fear upsetting others.
- The Laissez-Faire Parent is often permissive of behaviour they don’t set limits on, or gives in to certain behaviour in order to ‘keep the peace.’ They offer little to no guidance about problem solving or understanding emotions.
Example: When a child is upset because they can’t get what they want. The parent gives in and gives the child what they want to keep the peace.
Effects: Kids can’t concentrate, can’t get along with other others or form friendships and can’t regulate their emotions in a healthy way.
The fourth category of parent was created from a culmination of positive parenting interactions that Gottman observed.
He looked where the parents were able to respond to their child in ways that helped the child calm their emotions and problem solve together. They were clear, warm, and created boundaries or rules which were fair. This parenting style Gottman called ‘Emotion Coaches’. The important element for this style of parenting has to do with how the parent relates to their child. The words they use, their body language and most importantly, an understanding of their own emotional state.
There are five steps that you can follow to ensure that you are am emotion coaching parent:
The Five Essential Steps of Emotion Coaching.
Step 1 – Get familiar with your own emotions and pay attention to the child’s emotions
Understand that emotions are a natural, normal, and valuable part of life. It’s important to be familiar with all our emotions from hurt, sadness, anger, fear, joy, happiness and love. The best way to start to understand your child’s emotions is to be familiar with your own.
Then, observe your child and watch how they express their emotions. Knowing that they don’t have the knowledge of what they’re feeling like adults do. So, their feeling ‘powerless’ might come out as aggression for example. First start with their facial expressions, body language, posture and tone of voice.
Step 2- Connect with your child by using emotional moments as opportunities to connect
Once you start to pay close attention to your child’s emotions, there will come a time where you can either avoid or dismiss them, or, you can see them as an opportunity to connect and use these moments as opportunities to teach.
Recognise the emotion and encourage your child to talk about their emotions too, and give guidance before the emotions escalate and turn into misbehaviour.
Step 3 – Listen to your child and respect their feelings by taking time to listen carefully
This is a critical step in deescalating the situation. It’s important to take your child’s emotions seriously by showing them you understand what they’re feeling and that it’s okay for them to feel that way. Avoid criticising, judging, and dismissing the emotions.
Step 4 – Help your child become familiar with emotions by naming them
It’s easy to tell your child what they should be feeling or what you want them to be feeling; “don’t be sad”, “oh, I don’t like it when you’re sad – be happy for me.” Instead, identify the emotions the child is experiencing by simply naming the emotion you’re helping the child to soothe. It also helps your child build a vocabulary of different feelings.
Step 5 – Help your child solve a problem by finding a solution together
It’s important to help children recognise that their feelings are separate from their behaviour. You can encourage expression of emotion but put limits on behaviour. Start to help your child think through possible solutions, however, be mindful not to expect too much from them, too soon. Catch the child doing lots of things right and praise them for it, there should be five positive interactions for every negative.
Being an emotion coach means that you are sensitive to your child’s emotion. You’re responsive – in a caring and compassionate way, that allows your child to understand their emotional world and learn to regulate their feelings and find solutions to problems.
However, we are humans as well and with that comes our own stresses, and mistakes. It’s important to remember that the ideal is to be a ‘good enough’ parent. That is a parent who is able to emotionally attune to your child 30-50% of the time.