It is easy to send a message of acceptence as well as to withdraw acceptence. Last summer I was visiting my mother and serching for her acceptence.
I was traweling by subway and I hadn’t plannd to think much about child development until I saw a praticular situation. An eight-years-old girl was sitting on the seat of the subway, a two years old was lying in a stroller, and mother was standing next to the stroller while I sat across from them. The two-year-old girl stretched her arm up; the mother slightly moved the stroller’s cover, smiled, and gently touched the little girl’s hair. Their eyes met. I thought it was special – a special opportunity to build a relationship and an emotional connection. The little girl giggled softly and started crinkling the soft roof of the stroller. The mother reacted quickly by lightly slapping her on the arm, straightening the roof, and turning away from the girl’s face to look into the distance. The girl softly cried and soon fell asleep.
After we passed a few stops, the older daughter stood up next to the mother. She stood on the tips of her toes and looked at her reflection in the tinted window. Her mother shared a smile with her. Encouraged by her mother’s kind smile, the girl tried to reach up high and almost jump. The mother abruptly and harshly asked her to stop.
In both situations the mother sent a mixed message: first an encouraging and accepting message and then a discouraging and disapproving one.
This may appear trivial and insignificant at first. However, it is significant to the child who is constantly receiving messages of unacceptance. It seems that she naturally loves her children but didn’t know how to respond when their behavior looked inappropriate.
What would you do?
How could she respond differently in such situations?
Make an emotional connection with the child (sometimes by getting close or through words of acknowledgement).This mom already had an emotional connection with her daughter when the situation occurred, so it should be even easier for her to redirect her daughter’s behavior to something acceptable for the mother.
Name what you see, make a simple statement: “I see you are crinkling the roof.” It helps the child understand what’s going on, but it also gives the mother an extra moment to think.
Let’s say the mother decided that she doesn’t want her daughter to do what she was doing. The mother can simply set the limit by saying: “I am worried that the roof will be broken, so I don’t want it to be pulled and crinkled.” (Short reason, clear limit.)
The mother can remove the roof or tuck it away. She can redirect her child’s energy into acceptable behavior by offering the child a toy: “I don’t want you to play with the roof; here is what you can play with.”
Often this kind of response will give a positive result. Your child will hear you. Instead of an unpleasant meltdown in a public setting, the situation turns into positive interaction.
This is only the short-term benefit of this interaction. The long-term benefit will still be tremendous even if the child chooses not to cooperate after the exchange.
What is the long-term goal? The long-term goal is to:
- build a healthy relationship (most of us want our children to grow up into teenagers who hear our words);
- respect the child as a whole child (if we expect our children to respect us we should show them respect), ensure that;
- the child knows that her mother listens, understands, and loves her;
- have self respect throughout their life;
- have a healthy self-esteem;
- learn the parent’s expectations/norms and family values (what is okay and what is not okay).
Wishing you all the best in the difficult yet exciting journey of parenting!