Exploring the art of (empathy-based) parenting with Changing Children’s Worlds Foundation
Nov 06, 2015 10:26AM ● Published by Neighbors Magazines
By: Kimberly Svevo-Cianci, Ph.D.
Is showing our children that we love them and care about them always easy? Actually, it can sometimes be quite challenging.
Showing our children that we love them comes easily when life is going well: when our children are behaving and we are in relaxed family mode.
What are some ways that you use to show your children love - perhaps differently for each child? While Johnny might need a hug, Jaylen might need time talking about things just with you, maybe on a walk holding hands. Jennifer might need you to read her favorite book, again. And Jewel may need you to tell her outright that you love her sooooo much, topped with a kiss.
COLUMN 4, QUESTION SET 4 - On showing our children love, and teaching them how to show affection.
What are some of the ways your children like for you to show them your love?
A) Spending time. This is so important, especially when you are fully emotionally available, even for a short time.
B) Physical touch - a hug or kiss, an arm around their shoulder, a shoulder rub or caress of their hair. This shows they are precious to you.
C) Caring words, spoken with respect and sincerity. While our eye contact and body language can often convey our emotions, sometimes children want to hear the words “I love you……”
D) Following their lead. This helps your child know that what they want to show you, do with you, share with you - is important to you too.
As we demonstrate these loving, caring behaviors, our children learn from us how to receive affection and how to show others love.
In our ICDP program, we talk about the importance of showing affection - reconfirming to your child that you love them, that they are special to you. We discuss how this is done in the good times. We frame it as when your child is in your “Zone of Empathy.” And we discuss the challenges of when either you or your child might find it harder to feel connected and to show each other love.
Life doesn’t always go well. In fact, other priorities in life might seem much higher than our child’s feelings at a given moment. Problems may be urgent. We have others who may be depending on us also, with greater immediate needs. Further, we aren’t always happy. We may be feeling hurt or afraid or lonely ourselves. And our children don’t always behave, sometimes alienating us from them momentarily.
At such times, it can be easy to think to ourselves that our children’s feelings can wait - we can deal with them later. We can channel our energies into our own priorities, our own feelings for the immediate. Our children will be there, after all, when we get back from our important issues and we can deal with their feelings then. Unfortunately, this can become habit forming.
Let’s interpret our reaction to our children from their perspective.
We don’t want our children to believe that their interests are not important. They might shut down from asking for our attention. They may look for attention somewhere else.
Whether they are asking for a sign of affection, or for help with a problem with which they are struggling, they need some reassuring sign from you. They need you to reassure them that they are important and that you love them. Sometimes it can help to take a few calming breaths, to look them in the eye and explain that you are sorry you can’t attend to their needs at that moment, but that you will after breakfast, or that evening. Take the time to give the hug or kiss that seals your connection and affection. Then, as soon as you can, make sure to remember to come back to them about what they needed.
They will learn that they can handle such situations, with your support. They will learn that this is the way to treat you and others, with respect and commitment.
Now, take a moment and go through the list above, thinking about how you might strengthen how you show affection to your child even during challenging times. In fact, you might think about how this translates into your communications with your spouse, partner or others in your life.
It’s not always easy. But it certainly does matter very much to our children. It matters whether we are communicating directly with them, or they are observing our interactions with others they love. Remember that what we model - we teach.
Have a great week!
Kimberly Svevo-Cianci, Ph.D.
Board Chairman, Changing Children's Worlds Foundation (CCWF)
Founder, International Child/Parent Development Program-USA
411 Stevens Street
Geneva, IL 60134