If there were 5 things about their children that I could tell parents today from my experience as a parent and my knowledge from working as a play therapist, they would include:
One. The years really do go by faster than you think they will. While your children are young and you’re knee deep in diapers or toys or homework, it might feel like their 18th birthday can’t come soon enough. Just like I once was, you might be thinking, “will they ever grow up?” Then one day, quite suddenly, you are there on the other side. And you wonder, “how did it go so fast?” and “is this really it?”, “I’m sure there’s still more to do!” So, make the most of the time with your kids, the time really does come to an end and you can’t get those years back. Live in the moment and cherish the memories along the way. You won’t regret it.
Two. Learn to really listen. By listening, I mean stop what you are doing, look them in the eye, smile and be fully present. I realize that this isn’t always possible at every moment, but more times than not, be sure to listen with presence. Be mindful of your body language and facial expression. Their mirror neurons (more on this coming soon) are picking up on all of it. Children are like little sponges soaking up your good and bad vibes. Listen like you would like to be listened to.
Three. Respect your children. Very often this is at the top of parent’s list of complaints to me: “My child is being disrespectful.” My question always is: “where do you think your child learns how to behave in a way that respects others?” You know where I’m going with this… If we talk to our child in a manner that is respectful, they will learn to do the same. Sure, we can demand that they be respectful to us at all times (because we’re the parent after all). But if we speak to them without respecting them, it makes your job as a parent that much more difficult. Being respectful in the way you interact with your child will not only contribute to building a healthy self-esteem but will also be the way your child automatically interacts with you most of the time (after all, none of us are perfect!).
Four. Children behave the way they behave because they think the way they think. I invite you to read that again and let it sink in. Most children in most situations want to behave in a way that pleases their parents. Making their parents happy is one of their primary goals as kids. So misbehavior usually signals that something is not right. Either there is a disconnect in the parent/child relationship or something is going on with your child. Understanding how your child is thinking about the current situation will very likely bring you to the root of why little Emily or little Noah are behaving in this way. Faulty thinking can lead to faulty behaviors. Often this can be corrected by addressing how they came to think this way, and helping them with correct information, logic and patience. This isn’t necessarily true for every little behavior issue, just pay attention to the recurring ones.
Five. Spend real quality time with your child. I heard recently that time is one resource we can’t get more of. Making the most of our time is important. And making sure that our children get 30 minutes of quality time, preferably one on one, is shown to improve our relationship with our child, improve their behavior, and work towards their healthy self-esteem. Of course, more time is even better. Studies show that we live in a society of people that have increasingly busy lives. So it’s important to spend daily quality time with your child, really listening to them (with no distractions), offering support, encouragement, your nurturing touch and best of all, your presence. End of life surveys tell us that people’s number one regret was not spending more time with their loved ones. Don’t let this be your regret!