Wouldn’t you love to know what your child is thinking?
I believe understanding what’s on our kids’ minds is key to getting things to flow more easily in the family.
Years ago when my son was invited on a playdate, he used to think about what he was going to do when he got there and whether he’d get to play football.
It surprised me because I remembered that at his age I used to be more focused on who was going to be there, whether I liked her and her mum and whether I felt safe in their company.
Our two very different concerns reflect the TWO THINGS that are top of mind for all children at all times.
Watch the video or scroll down to read more…
Relationship and connection are a child’s very top concern. Does the person I’m with help me feel connected and safe? Am I feeling seen, heard, loved and understood? Is mummy going to be kind? Is daddy going to be understanding?
The second highest concern for children is: Am I going to be able to express myself and do the things that I love doing? Am I going to be able to use my body in a way that I want to use it? Am I going to be able to be authentically me and express what I feel?
Now it’s this second need to express themselves, authentically, that is the thing that can cause most difficulty in families. Because the way children want to express themselves very often comes across to us parents as inconvenient, noisy and rude.
So I’m going to give you 10 examples of this – ways that children think and want to express themselves, that we often don’t like.
- Children are interested in different sensations and often like to find comfort in their own body, so they might suck their thumbs or pick their noses.
- Children sometimes want their own space, and they’re not particularly interested in being nice so they often push siblings away in, quite frankly, an unfriendly manner.
- Children love moving these amazing bodies they’ve been given – discovering what they can do and practising. Sitting still can be hard for them and they genuinely love to move – often a lot more than we want them to.
- Some children want to explore their strength and pit themselves against others. They can get into fights and hurt each other.
- Children are very in tune with their fears about this world – that they don’t completely understand, or know in the way that we know it. This means that they often don’t want to do things that we want them to do and they can dig their heels in and come across as what we would call ‘stubborn’.
- Children feel deeply the need to connect, primarily with us, and so they will wake us in the night in order to do so.
- Children want frequent reassurance of our love for them. When they see us giving our attention to others – such as siblings, relatives or friends – they will often create a distraction so that we divert our attention back to them again. We call this attention-seeking.
- Children’s imaginations are very alive. They often get drawn into daydreams, or they make up stories, which we may think of as lying.
- Children love exploring the full range of their voices – how they sound, how they reverberate, different pitches and different levels – so they can be very loud.
- Children tune in to the unspoken tensions, worries and stresses in families, and they can often act them out. When children ‘act out’ what’s going on in a family, very often we don’t like to see that.
Looking at this list, it’s clear that what’s top of mind for kids is a far cry from what’s top of mind for us as their parents!
The demands of running and raising a family mean that we are often focused on: being on time, getting homework done and kids’ behaviour being polite and nice.
Nevertheless, children will try to do these things that we want them to do, because of their need for connection. There are two main ways this happens.
Firstly, when we as parents offer children connection – that’s why I teach parenting by connection, as it works so well and it meets children’s needs too.
Secondly, when we as parents threaten to withdraw connection, when we start getting angry, shouting or withdrawing our affection. Then children panic because, as I mentioned at the beginning, their very first concern is their connection with us and the safety which that brings. They know that they can’t survive without it.
I hear parents say, “Oh, my child only starts to listen when I shout.” But what’s really happening is that, at that point, children become scared that the connection will be broken. They sacrifice their self-expression in order to do what we want.
Here are three things we can do to improve this situation: Allow, Adapt and Acknowledge.
#1 – Allow
We can allow children their self-expression, where possible. For example, I advised a family with five-year-old twin boys to get some noise-cancelling headphones so they could simply let their boys use their voices in the way they needed, whilst not being disturbed themselves.
#2 – Adapt
You can very often help your child to adapt what they want to do to express themselves, so that it’s also tolerable for you. So, for example, you might arrange for your children to have wrestling matches or pillow fights, so that their need to pit themselves against each other and express their strength can be practised safely.
#3 – Acknowledge
When it’s not possible to allow or adapt, we can still acknowledge and show understanding for children’s need to express themselves in a certain way. This can be very helpful. Let’s say you can’t allow your child to take their scooter out for a spin right now. By spending time genuinely acknowledging their wish to go out and have fun, you’ll help your child feel better about the fact that they can’t actually do it.
Allow, Adapt, Acknowledge: three ways to help your child with their self-expression and what’s top of mind for them.
I’m going to say much more about how to support your child with their self-expression – and so avoid anger outbursts – on my upcoming online no-cost class, 3 Radically Loving Steps to Connect with your Child and Create Calm at Home, on Wednesday, 30th June and Thursday 1st July.
Sign up on this link: https://www.oonaalexander.co.uk/class21/
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