I’m learning over and over that we need to be proactive as parents when it comes to our kids’ emotional worlds. Instead of ignoring the situation and hoping it will go away, we need to face it head-on. This is the only way our kids will learn to manage and express their emotions in healthy ways.
A while ago my husband was travelling and called home to say goodnight to the kids. One of our sons finished his conversation with his dad and handed the phone to his brother Zeke, who was finishing up in the bathroom before going to bed.
Noticing Zeke’s dilemma of needing both hands while working with water, I stepped in and held the phone for him so that he could continue getting ready for bed. My action, which was meant to help, was interpreted as me not trusting him with the phone. In a split second, his anger flashed and he stormed to his bedroom with two slammed doors shuddering in his wake.
It’s something I struggle with, these feelings of embarrassment that drive me to respond in less than desirable ways. Whether it’s a meltdown in the grocery store, a display of defiance at church, or a poorly timed observation, I too often find myself thinking about what other people are thinking instead of what my children need.
If I’m embarrassed, I’m unlikely to recognize their behaviour for what it is: an unmet need. Honestly, I’m more comfortable thinking of meltdowns and defiance as misbehaviour that needs to be disciplined rather than as needs that need to be met with equal parts nurture and structure. The more we learn about our children, though, the more we are realizing that what we used to think of as misbehaviour is actually an opportunity for us to meet a need and connect with them. The correction will come, but often it needs to wait until the need has been met and my child and I are re-connected. Sometimes their needs are physical – hunger, thirst, exhaustion, sensory overload – and other times their needs are emotional – unexpressed sadness, fear, and frustration. Whatever the case, I will not be able to see past the behaviour to the need if I am blinded by my own embarrassment.
When people hear our kids ask, “May I have a compromise?” they tend to look at us a bit funny. They seem completely confused when we respond to our kids as if their request for a compromise is normal. But at our house it is normal. In fact, it’s a request we hear no less than a dozen times each day.
We began teaching our kids to ask for compromises when our now five-year old daughter was only two. We figured that she was old enough to have a conversation with us, so she was old enough to begin learning how to compromise.
One thing we’ve noticed over the years among kids who are adopted or in foster care is that they tend to have control issues — sometimes really BIG control issues. Many kids (and parents) struggle with control issues, but this especially true for adopted and foster kids that come from homes or situations where most, if not all, of their world was out of control.
The ability to see, think, and feel things from another’s perspective – to empathize – can be difficult for anyone, especially parents. I often find myself more focused on what my kids should be doing rather than considering why they’re doing what they’re doing.
What we know is that empathy is learned. If I want my children to learn to respond with empathy, then it is up to me to model it for them. This requires that I acknowledge their emotional reality even if I can’t give them what they want in that moment. This means that I need to slow down, at least long enough to look in their eyes and let them know that I’m with them. That if they’re hurting, I’m hurting. That I am on their side; that I am for them. That their feelings and their hearts and our connection are more important than my schedule.
This video collection contains ten short video interview sessions with Dr. Karyn Purvis and Michael Monroe, offering helpful insights and practical advice in response to many of the the questions that are commonly asked by adoptive and foster parents.
Watch the first video in this series – How Do I Handle Manipulation & Control – or click here to watch all ten videos.
The Whole Brain Child, by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D., offers twelve revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind. It is an excellent resource to help parents understand how a child’s brain develops and functions, and how they can help their child learn how to handle and respond to different experiences and challenges. The message of the book is that families — both children and parents alike — aren’t stuck in their current circumstances. Parents have the ability to change these circumstances by changing the way they respond and relate, and as they do this they can literally help to change their child’s brain (and their own) in the process.
Many adoptive and foster parents have found The Whole-Brain Child to be an incredibly helpful and relevant resource as they parent children from hard places. As important, they have found that the insight this book offers and the strategies it suggests are wholly consistent with the parenting approach and strategies taught by Dr. Karyn Purvis, and highlighted on Empowered To Connect.
What if becoming the parent God has called you to be to your child from a hard place means that you need to un-learn as much or more than you need to learn? What if many of the popular approaches to parenting and discipline, many of which are regarded as “biblical,” actually aren’t best for your child given his background and history and what he needs to heal and grow? What if the parenting program you previously used, even with great success, when raising and training your other children needs to be significantly altered or even discarded for the child you adopted? What if the parenting techniques that most of your friends are using or that you grew up with are likely to be ineffective in achieving long-lasting change for the child you now love and desire to connect with?
I believe that parents need to seriously consider these and many similar questions as they set the course for how to best relate to and parent children from hard places.
Part of the role of good Christian parents is undoubtedly teaching their children the values they cherish. We want our children to understand the importance of these values and, more importantly, to live a life that reflects them. Respect for others (and yourself), kindness, gentleness, self-control and other similar character qualities provide our children with a solid foundation and prepare them for the future. The question for parents, however, is how best to teach these values in ways our children can understand and make their own. Specifically, we need to ask how we can best do this for our children who come from hard places and have not had these things consistently taught, modeled or esteemed.