My last post was led by the frustrations we all feel as parents, but behind it is a need to understand why our children sometimes act as they do, and what they are trying to tell us through this behaviour. I’ve read a couple of great books on this subject recently, and I’d like to give them credit before the idea slips from my addled brain!
Philippa Perry’s The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will be Glad That You Did) is brilliant for getting us to connect our own feelings to the reactions that we have to our children’s challenging antics. Amongst the skills she details that we all need to behave ‘conveniently’ are tolerating frustration, flexibility and the ability to see and feel things from other people’s point of view. So if we can understand that, for instance, taking forever to put your socks and shoes on is simply your child’s way of asking you to slow down and go at their pace, they will also learn how to adapt their behaviour and consider other people’s needs. I found one of the most useful pieces of advice was to define your feelings, and not your child’s. So, ‘I’d like you to put your shoes on because your feet will get wet outside otherwise, and I’m worried that you’ll get cold and it’s stressing me out’ works better than ‘PUT YOUR SHOES ON AND STOP TITTING ABOUT!’ It also shows that you can be honest about how you are feeling, which in turn allows your child to be open too.
Tanith Carey’s book What’s My Child Thinking? is also really useful for processing what children’s behaviour is trying to tell us. It taught me that children mimic your own behaviour. ‘It’s probably the single biggest influence on the person they will become’.
So I guess it starts with us. The regimented structure of today’s world is often at odds with the free spiritedness that comes naturally to children, and so we need to adjust our behaviour to give them more space to adapt to these expectations.
That doesn’t mean it is always easy and we don’t always get it right – Philippa Perry talks of rupture and repair; just because we sometimes mess things up, doesn’t mean we can’t fix this, and that’s the most important thing. None of us is perfect, including our children, and kindness and empathy – to ourselves and others – is one of the best lessons we can teach them.