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Neighbors of Kane County

Exploring the art of (empathy-based) parenting with Changing Children’s Worlds Foundation

Nov 18, 2015 11:36AM ● By Neighbors Magazines

By: Kimberly Svevo-Cianci, Ph.D.

How often is our primary interaction with our children an expectation that they follow our lead or interests or rules or priorities? In fact, many of us feel that ‘it’s our job’ as parents. As my children grew up, I certainly felt that it was my job to teach, correct and guide them. Possibly to a fault. Would they have told me more if they had known I would just be there to listen and they didn’t expect me to lecture or share the way I would have done it–as if that was the right way? Would they have shared more if they hadn’t suspected I would offer them advice they weren’t looking for, or perhaps they weren’t ready to hear? As they developed their specific interests my husband and I learned to encourage them to lead us in shared activities, based on their priorities and interests. It probably wasn’t until my daughters were in their teens that I truly understood the valuable lessons we teach our children by listening fully as if that were all they were seeking. This is still a skill I am honing!

Over time, I came to understand the importance of their engagement in making the rules, traditions and decisions of our family. It drew us closer and strengthened our bonds as a family unit, which I believe will keep them close as they grow older and start their own families.

The level of children’s engagement will vary greatly if they are 3, 10, 13 or 17. We can (and should) follow the lead of a two-year old who wants to share something that is silly and funny. We should also make time to join in something our teen finds interesting. It might even challenge us beyond what we know or are familiar or comfortable with. Similarly, their level of input on family rules or goals will vary depending on their level of understanding or maturity. Their level of involvement and influence should be positively recognized as they make positive and helpful contributions.

 What are some of the ways you follow your child’s initiative, or could follow their initiative and engagement in future?

QUESTION SET 5 - On following and responding to our children’s initiative in order to help them develop confidence and positive self-worth.

Do you follow your child’s initiative in the areas of:

A)      Inviting them to decide how you will spend time together. This might be on a weekend or evening – where you allow them to decide which game to play (whether dolls and make-believe or climbing trees), or which park or museum to visit.

B)     Allowing them to decide what they will eat, at least one night a week ­– especially if they agree to ‘help’ to prepare the meal, set the table or help with the dishes.

C)     Encouraging them to decide which movie you might watch together or book you will read together – and to take a lead in discussing the topics raise as well.

D)     Inviting them to express their opinions and reasoning in making decisions, from what gift to get for someone’s birthday, to where they might want to go for a family trip.

E)      Asking them to help you understand why they want to do what they want to do, why they interact with others a certain way or what they were thinking when they got in trouble (rather than assuming).

F)      What else do you do to follow your children’s initiative and encourage them to be leaders?

For when we engage with our children, specifically focusing on their area of interest, we are modeling two things. First, that they can be leaders and teachers of others. Second, that it is good to allow and support others to take the lead, to learn from others as well. These are important beliefs and social skills for all children.

Further, when we include our children in our thought processes, we open up critical communications that help us to understand each other better. As we model inclusive decision-making processes with our children, they are empowered to adopt or adapt these behaviors and skills as well.

In our ICDP program, parents often share that they haven’t considered how children will learn to make better decisions and will be more inclusive in their processes if they are largely controlled with parental directives. As always, practice makes perfect, and we can’t expect our children to be able to take the lead when they need to, or to make good decisions, if they haven’t had good opportunities to learn how.

When we follow our children’s lead, at any age, we reinforce their positive self-image and sense of self-worth. Since most of us parents are busy most of the time, when we focus our full attention on our children, they know how important they are to us. Their feelings of pride in teaching us and leading us may motivate them to be positive teachers and leaders of others. And following our child in play or learning can be a lot of fun for all!

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