images-473If given a choice, would you opt for making changes, that would create new neural circuitry and resilience, networks and pathways, if it meant that you may relate more optimally to your children, especially a “difficult” (…more troubled) child?

Would you do so if your children’s health and happiness were at stake?

In Part 1, two ways for parents to “be” were outlined as guidelines for parents to not only develop healthier relationships with their children, but also to become more active participants in helping them potentially develop this same capacity for themselves.

In this post, we outline the remaining three:

“BE” 3: Be empathically present with the child’s feelings and emotion-drives to matter (needs).

You do so by being present, focused, and listening actively to the child’s “behavior” (i.e., words, actions, etc.) to understand — rather than trying to fix the child — by connecting to what they’re feeling and what emotion-drives (yearning to matter) are motivating the child’s less than desirable, desperate and likely misguided behaviors.

  • Validating the child’s experience meets the child’s core needs (emotion-drives) for understanding, empathy, acceptance, among others.
  • This validation is key because it helps the child to learn experientially (cannot learn this with “logic”!) how to be with their distress in accepting ways, and, in turn, allows the child to learn they are capable of handling life challenges.
  • The emotional presence of the parent helps the child learn how to tune in and thus engage their ability to regulate their emotional states from within.
    • For example, the child who thinks he will be judged and/or condemned for what he says will likely form defenses to protect themselves from any feelings of “fear” and “shame” etc.
    • Think of defense strategies, such as lying, blaming, denial, minimizing, etc., as simply desperate ways of coping with the anxiety of failing to meet their news to matter in relation to life in and around them (emotion-drives for safety, autonomy, esteem, etc.).
  • These defenses are misguided ways of meeting core yearnings to matter that are not only harmful, but also ineffective. While they provide quick-fix, temporary relief, simultaneously, they block genuine learning, which necessitates reflective thinking, trial and error behaviors, etc., for real change to take place.

“BE” 4: Be a possibility thinker and develop your resiliency and a healthy versus a wounded ego.

This is about the ability to remain centered, confined and attuned to your self and child in challenging moments, so that you are flexible and thoughtfully responsive by virtue of knowing how to disallow fear to rule your choices, and instead allow reflective thinking processes of your brain (and theirs) to stay engaged.

  • Ask open questions and encourage children to explore choices for handling their own feelings and remember when you’re facing a challenging situation, you’re both in distress.
    • Use words that separate the child’s “character” or “person” from any problem behaviors.
    • More specifically, treat the child with dignity.
      • Give them responsibility for their own actions, but do not shame, guilt or intimidate them.
      • Employ acceptance, empathy and curiosity and suspend critical judgments, lectures, scolding, ridicule and the like.
      • Express your values, yearnings, belief in child and make clear requests — and avoid complaining, putting unnecessary weight on their shoulders (i.e., to not upset you or other family members), overdramatizing, making negative predictions of future, etc.
    • The child is more likely to understand right from wrongful actions when they can feel their own range of painful emotions and understand the reasons for taking smart actions as beneficial to them as well as others.
  • Help children understand and appreciate the responsibility they have for the results they produce via their choices.
    • Teach your child to hold a more useful definition of “power,” more specifically, that “pure” personal power is the ability to make optimally healthy choices at any given moment (whereas the mainstream view defines “power” as the “ability to impose one’s will and overpower another’s “power” etc.).
    • In truth, power is what power does; it is an ability to make “smart” or “wise” choices in how we respond to our self and others at any moment, and thus, “real” power is the ability to optimize our lives, happiness and relationships.
    • In contrast, while bullies may look “intimidating” on the outside, this is any thing but strength! Inside, their neediness to use”bully power,” diminish others to feel “superior” on the basis of feeling scorn, etc., is a reflection of their low self-esteem, and is a type of self-loathing, characteristic of an unstable wounded ego.
    • In challenging situations, a healthy ego thoughtfully responds; a wounded ego reacts.
  • Teach child to view life challenges in general as opportunities to learn and grow, in making increasing smarter choices that would better meet our core needs and make life more wonderful. 

“BE” 5: Be a model of a parent who cares and loves, understands and treats your SELF with compassion. 

This about growing your capacity to become increasingly aware of your feelings, wants, emotion-drives to matter.

  • Do you treat yourself, your body and mind, your time with value and respect? Do you express your requests for others to do the same?
  • While “loving others as we love self” is a core teaching in most major religions, most persons (and this is especially true of women) are socialized to “prove” their value in society by firstly or solely valuing others feelings, needs, dreams, and so on.
  • It is simple. Everything parents say, do and feel about themselves sends powerful messages that are emotionally internalized by children’s brain possibly for… a lifetime.
    • Parents have a choice to either wallow in self-blame, pity or “worry” – OR – recognize the amazing power they “own” to influence their children by making (even slight) shifts in what they think, feel, believe about themselves inside.
    • What primary caregivers believe about themselves and their world, how they feel about themselves and others shapes their life—and makes a powerful impact on children, as well as others around them!

Parents are the best teachers. Children come pre-programmed by nature, however, to do what parents do, not what they say. The old adage turns out to be true. That’s because, subconsciously, children’s brains are tuned into the brains of persons closest to them. This has to do with “mirror neurons” of the brain that automatically “learn” behaviors from those closest to us that can and do operate outside of the awareness of our conscious minds. We know from studies that children in general do what parents do, and not what they say or tell children to do.

That is what makes becoming aware of your inner world of experience of paramount importance to your personal and relational health and happiness.

In turn, this also means that how you, as a parent, treat yourself and others matters.

If you want your children to be confident, stand up for and respect themselves, they need to learn how to teach others to treat them with respect. It starts with parents respecting themselves so much that they “teach” others around them to treat them with dignity simply because they matter as human beings (Being treated with dignity should be unconditional; we should not have to “do” or stop doing something to then be treated with dignity).

(By the way, “respect” here does not mean obedience so be careful that, for many, the word “respect” means to obey.) In the truest sense, respect is a two way street, and means mutual and unconditional thoughtful regard for self and other expressed in action.)

If your current practices are not what you’d like them to be, however, the first step is to consciously decide to be a compassionate friend to yourself! Besides, unless you handle your own mind, emotions and body with compassion and care, it will be impossible to stay engaged in processes of change and growth. Your subconscious mind, the part of you that is in charge of forming or breaking habits, will be less likely to allow this change. (Since wallowing in self-pity or self-loathing bring no benefits, decide now to stop [and replace] any toxic thinking patterns!)

Without our own compassion, we keep creating what we fear, rather than what we most yearn to realize. The only thing can block our success in realizing happiness and fulfillment is emotional overwhelm caused by fear (inability to regulate fear).

It’s true: Young or old, human beings are naturally hardwired to yearn for, and seek to learn how to make choices in the direction of, optimizing their own and others’ happiness and relationships. Fear may have power to overwhelm, but love and compassion for self and others — is always not only ever present to access, but also the most enduring, incomparably powerful answer.

At any time you can decide instead to give your children the gift of compassion for them, as well as your self, as a parent who treats them with the dignity and thoughtfulness you ask for in return. Your children’s security depends on your own in this regard.