Your child arrives. Nothing is more precious or magical than the human being you are about to nurture and guide through your life. You love your child. Raising this human being brings you boundless joy, personal growth and fulfillment.
And then the “honeymoon” ends. This little person is crying all night as a kid, constantly saying “no” when he was little, ignoring you when he was a kid, and then rolling his eyes in contempt when he was a teenager. The magic starts to fade a bit. Many parents begin to feel impatient, frustrated, and sometimes disrespectful. With these feelings often comes disconnection.
Disconnection begins when parents react to their own strong thoughts and emotions. You may start to get upset about your child’s choices or actions, retaliate by using your control to “teach them a lesson” or withdraw and withdraw from your child (go, we’ve all felt this way sometimes !). These reactions do not help to manage behavior effectively. Nor do they model the behavior you want to develop in your children or help build the relationship. At the moment there is no warm feeling of confusion or feeling of fear. Children thrive, however, when they feel connected and respected. As Jane Nelsen of Positive Discipline says, “We need to connect before we correct or redirect” and “kids do better when they feel better, not worse.”
One way to avoid getting caught up in the reactive cycle is to nurture more affection and admiration for your family. By working consistently and intentionally to foster these two qualities, you will maintain and deepen the connection with your child. More affection and admiration will also give you a more positive view of your child in those difficult times when you have reached your limit. When this happens, you will be equipped to manage your child’s challenging behaviors and choices with more ease, intention, and grace.
So how do you do that? It is done with intent.
Cultivating affection and admiration can be as simple as recognizing your child and giving thanks. One practice that is easy to adopt is daily or weekly gratitude. In my family, we call them “called.” It can be part of a family reunion or an autonomous connection ritual. Start by making each family member go and give recognition or thanks to everyone at the table. At first, you may need to teach your child what kind of things they can recognize and some of the languages they can use. For the little ones it could be as simple as making them fill the gap by saying “Thank you, ______, for______”. It can be helpful to start these conversations by going first so that you can model how to recognize everyone.
Recognition and encouragement are different from praise. An acknowledgment describes productive behavior or offers thanks for doing something without adding a value judgment. Praise adds words of judgment like amazing, good or fantastic.
Your appreciation may seem:
I realized that you …
I thanked him when …
Thank you for being … when …
When you … heard …
You crushed him this week when …
And don’t just wait for your daily or weekly conversation. Be sure to model this practice throughout the day with your children and anyone else you meet. Your children are watching you and will develop these skills and feelings when they see you modeling them consistently. Emotions are contagious. So don’t wait when you go to the grocery store and you can tell the clerk has had a long, hard day. Offer a thank you! Your children will notice.
Taking time to have thanks on a daily or weekly basis can be easy, but keeping them consistent can require work. By making it a new habit, you generate affection and admiration, you nurture a deeper connection with your child and respond to negative behaviors with more calm and intention. So what are you waiting for? Set up a conversation and shout today!
Learn more about growing up in the Gottman way with our emotional coaching resources. Also, read Dr. John Gottman “Creating an emotionally intelligent child.”
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