A parent’s language of love: Responding versus reacting to children

When it comes to respect in the context of children, the rhetoric has been built only around ‘giving respect’ to adults, there is little conversation about the responsibility of elders to respect children.

By Nooraa Sinha

In the fast-paced life of today, parents may find it difficult to pause and reflect before communicating with their children. Communication is a vital aspect in any relationship and the quality of relationships is inadvertently impacted by the quality of communication. A parent-child relationship is one of the most precious relationships and healthy communication between parents and children is then imperative. Different developmental periods among children require different ways of communication; however, what needs to be consistent is that it is based on respect and care. Respectful communication with children helps raise children who will respond to the world with respect, kindness and compassion.

When it comes to respect in the context of children, the rhetoric has been built only around ‘giving respect’ to adults, there is little conversation about the responsibility of elders to respect children. We expect children to be polite, courteous, obedient and respectful. However, often we end up not giving the same back to these little humans. We do need to remember, in the words of American children’s author Dr Seuss, “a person is a person no matter how small”.

It is easy to be reactive as a parent. Being a parent is exhausting, along with the many other roles and responsibilities of being the adult. The key is to cultivate a language of love by being respectful and empathetic in our responses. Agreeably, these may not be our natural response, it is almost like learning a new language.

Our children pick up our ways and this reflects in the way they respond to the world around them. Below are some tips to make communication with your children healthier to ensure that they in turn communicate positively and effectively in the larger world:

Give your full attention to your child

Talk “to” your child and not “at” your child. Look at them and make eye contact. For the younger ones, kneel down to match their eye level. This will not let them feel “stared down at” or “talked down to”. Adolescents on the other hand may feel less vulnerable and be more open when it is not an eye to eye contact. Walk with them, go on a drive with them, do some work alongside each other as you communicate on things that matter.

Be more conversational and avoid an instructional tone

When we speak to infants we use a high pitched tone, often repeat a few sentences and pause for them to respond in coos and gurgles. This is called “parentese”. As children grow older and their receptive and expressive vocabulary grows, we too tend to get more factual and instructional. Do give space for conversations and not just instructions. Make time for small talk.

Be patient listeners

Communication begins with active listening. This begins with making time for conversation such as during family meals, before bedtime and while going out for walks. Understand their perspective before you respond.

Look for cues to find a deeper connection

Typically, when we love someone, we begin to recognise the signs before anything is said to us. Do be mindful of the signs your child may be sending out to engage in a deeper conversation. Children often use one-liners which could have underlying messages that need your attention.

Use the three magic words

Pepper your conversations with good manners. Use sorry, thank you and please as easily as you would any other words. Love does not mean taking one another for granted when it comes to communicating politely.

Know when to be calm

When children are rude, disrespectful or angry, make sure you maintain your calm. Listen to them, acknowledge what they may be feeling and support them to feel calmer and regulate their emotions. This is not the right time to be correcting them for their behaviour.

Provide constructive feedback

As children grow, a large part of their self-esteem is in the hands of parents. They will need to be guided and corrected. The rule being “connect before correct”. Be gentle, kind and respectful while correcting them.

When emotionally or physically exhausted, avoid communicating

This can be a trigger for a lot of parental miscommunication. Taking a break and relaxing can help us better watch our words. If you do not feel ready for a conversation, ask them for a little time, settle down and then get back to the discussion. The same goes for being mindful not to communicate with a child when the child is cranky, irritable and tired.

In the words of L.R. Knost, author and parenting expert “Let love always lead you to listen more deeply, understand more fully, connect more securely, forgive more freely, communicate more clearly, and respond more gently.”

(The author is Head of Department- Wellbeing and Counselling at Shiv Nadar School, Noida.)

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