It is a quiet wintery evening and my family is enjoying some much needed downtime. Painting, reading and snoozing are taking place here and there around the house. I find moments like these away from scheduled activities and errands invaluable, as they allow us to unwind from the pressure of daily routines and to catch up on conversations. At times, nothing special happens on the surface, and we simply enjoy the tranquility and cuddles. Other times, unexpected things come up.
Today, my 5-year old is painting. On her paper is a gray silhouette with red overtones that looks like a woman. She explains that the woman is her grandmother (whom she never met). My daughter is telling me what the grandmother must have felt when she was sick and how sad she feels about it. Following some gentle probing, my daughter shares a few surprising responses and an overflow of emotions ensue. As we talk about her feelings, a nice empathic conversation develops, helped along by a cup of tea with a few giggles on top, and the work seems to be done for now. During moments like this, I realize the importance and power of dialogue, individual time and intimate sharing between a parent and child.
Much has been written about various parenting styles and trends, and many descriptive “labels” have been invented such as attachment, helicopter, dolphin, tiger, jellyfish and free range. Conflicting parenting beliefs behind these trends often stir heated debates on parenting websites and forums. Without advocating for any one style or discussing the pros and cons of each, the premise that I would like to demonstrate here is the significance of uninterrupted communication, the art of the dialogue and intimate connection between a parent and child. Whether you are a working parent who is a fan of high-paced, structured activities or a homeschooling family with several children who value learning based on independent exploration, very few will disagree that any relationship requires sharing, listening and open dialogue in order to foster trust, connection and intimacy.
Naturally, the balance among things such as the family’s “togetherness,” individual time, errands, projects and entertainment is different for every family, depending on that family’s lifestyle, beliefs, composition and financial situation. It is also natural that the equilibrium will change with each additional child and new life situation. Parenting is a dynamic and interactive process that morphs and shapeshifts continuously as both children and parents grow. This article is not an attempt to dictate where that balance should fall. Instead, I offer a few tips on how the art of dialogue and intimate communication can be achieved regardless of your parenting style.
Intimacy is what holds families together. The process of confidential and empathic sharing is as important between parents and children as between adults. An intimate open dialogue is what helps us stay connected during hard times and feel supported. In the myriad of daily interactions with a child, try to take the time to notice the moments when the child is ready or longing to connect and share his or her emotions and observations with you.
Practice Attention Shifting
Intimate bonding moments can never be scheduled. A child may initiate or express their need at the most unpredictable moments, and it is safe to assume that you will be otherwise occupied, probably tending to other family members or running errands. It takes a certain degree of practice to recognize these moments and stay focused. Practice responding to these demands with gentle empathic probing and follow up questions. Allow yourself to either turn your attention away from whatever you are doing to address your child’s need, or make a mental note to continue the conversation when you can offer your undivided attention to the child.
Sense the Signs
Children’s attempts to connect do not always manifest verbally. Self-expression is a learned skill, and children do not always know how to verbalize their needs. Look for non-verbal signs. Knowing how to observe a child’s voice, tone, and body language will help you learn about his or her feelings and can guide a constructive conversation. There will be times when a child will not want to talk, especially as he or she grows older. Studying your child’s behavior and learning how to read his or her unexpressed emotions early on will help you stay connected to him or her during challenging teen years.
Listening is not easy. It is especially difficult when running multiple errands while also making simultaneous mental lists of things to do. As parents, we must learn to listen intently, naturally and whole-heartedly. This requires patience and concentration. Every time your child addresses you, ask yourself, how much attention are you giving him or her now? Fifty percent? Five percent? Maintaining eye contact is a crucial part of deep communication, as most Western cultures are well aware of. Listen with an open mind and without jumping to conclusions. Remember that your child is working hard, trying to learn how to use language to express the feelings inside them and give them plenty of credit for that.
Encourage a Comforting Dialogue
One of the best ways to encourage a dialogue is by asking open ended questions and avoiding questions that can be answered with a yes or a no. Avoid threatening or blaming statements that may make the child feel defensive. When the child speaks, try not to interrupt and impose your solutions. Asking “Would you like to hear my ideas?” is a good way to determine whether it’s the right time to offer a solution. Otherwise, it is possible to lead the child in direction that has nothing to do with what they really feel. Give your child a chance to figure out their direction on their own.
What do you think about these suggestions? What has worked for you to nurture and foster intimacy and deep communication with your family?
Antinanco is a nonprofit entity engaged in educating about the Earth, Nature, sustainable and sacred arts, bees, herbs, foraging, mythology and folklore, conflict resolution and peaceful communication https://www.facebook.com/antinancobee
This artcile first appeared on Antinanco Earth Arts School blog on March 22, 2016. Reproduction of the content without the express written permission of Antinanco Earth Arts School is prohibited.