As parents, we are naturally concerned about our children. We want them to have a bright future and be self sufficient. Anything that we see as taking the child away from this prospect worries us. We worry, fret and spend considerable time and energy correcting the child. “Don’t do this, it’s bad for you.” “Why don’t you listen to me?”, “I’m saying this for your good and nobody else’s!!” are some statements you would probably connect with. At times, we happen to spend ALL our time with the child in correcting him/her. We consider it our duty to mould them right. Hence, many of us would be constantly on the lookout for the negative behavior, be it disinterest in studies, lack of social interaction, excessive viewing of television, argumentativeness or aggression. Every repetition of that behavior frustrates us and we chide and scold our children or maybe even beat them. However, a good number of times, our child continues to engage in the negative behavior. Therefore, is the current approach you are using effective? What is going wrong here? Think about it. According to me, such circumstances suggest that something is amiss in a fundamental requirement of childhood and your greatest influence over your child – your relationship with him/her.
Many a time, the continual bickering and verbal battles surrounding your child’s negative behaviors almost leave nothing else to be discussed. You internally sense that your relationship with the child is suffering. Expressions of love have perhaps gone down and there’s no cracking jokes over dinner. Happy moments between you and your child are scarce and short-lived. If this sounds similar to what you experience, you need to pause and consciously work on your relationship with your child.
Why does the Parent-Child Relationship Matter?
Well, the parent-child relationship, or for that matter any relationship is most often the reason why we choose to obey or comply. For example, you’re more likely to obey your superior at work if you like him/her. Alternatively, you naturally gravitate towards those elders in the family who you are fond of. You may at times even seek guidance from them. This equation is no different for your child. He/she too will wish to pay heed to what you say if he feels affection around you. This is a prime reason why psychotherapy with all, child or adult, begins by establishing a firm, positive relationship with the client. This relationship overrides all behavioral problems. It’s like we want to say in therapy “No behavior or problem is more important than you believing in the relationship you share with me (the therapist)”
While in counseling sessions with children, we often see that children, no matter how stubborn, angry or oppositional, eventually come around to listening to their therapists. This is because of the relationship we share with them. We take special care to see that any measure we take to modify the child’s behavior does not harm the therapeutic relationship. In fact, that is one of the first things we are taught while studying psychology. Probably, it will do you good focus a little more on strengthening your relationship with your child.
How to go about strengthening the Parent-Child Relationship?
– Put your child’s negative behavior in perspective –
Tell yourself that the child’s problem is but one problem, it is a part of his life and not his life itself. We often focus excessively on the problem, making it larger than what it actually is. If today he is aggressive and hits other children, it is definitely cause for concern; however, be sure not the make it the most important thing about him or his life. This does more harm than good and ultimately affects the child’s self esteem.
– Maximize conversation, put a check on evaluation –
We have a tendency to evaluate and correct several of our child’s behaviors. Check your conversations for messages about how what your child did was not correct and what he should have done instead. Chances are the messages will sound like, “that’s not the way you behave”, “you always do something stupid!” or “why did you do that?” Minimize evaluation. Children need conversation too. Think about it like this. If a friend did not work hard enough, we’d explain why and how he needs to improve; however in a gentler, more understanding, less evaluative manner. You could adopt such an approach with your children too.
– Focus on Feelings –
This is a wonderful approach if executed well. When your child engages in negative behavior, focus on how they feel about it. “Oh, you must have been boiling with anger when you picked that fight. How did you feel when you were so angry?” This will not only help in teaching the child to identify his feelings, it will also convey to the child that you understand. You understand his feelings, therefore, you understand him.
– Unconditional Positive Regard –
This means, like your child for what he is. He/she, no matter how small or how ‘wrong’ is fighting his/her own battle. He tries each day to accomplish something, he tries each day to feel good…he tries. We try. Aren’t we all caught up in our own struggles? Your child is one among us. Recognize your child for what he is. Convey to him/her that no matter what he/she does, he/she is still worthy of your love. Work towards this. Work towards strengthening your relationship with your child.
Image Credit: oddharmonic
Post contributed by: Malini Krishnan (Psychologist, Inner Space, 2010-2015)