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Neighbors of Kane County

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

Nov 25, 2015 10:43AM ● By Neighbors Magazines

By: Kimberly Svevo-Cianci, Ph.D.

Have you ever experienced a time when your child’s well-being or very safety depended on how well you were attuned? Can you remember a situation where the outcome for your child depended on how effectively you could communicate to your child, and how well he or she could interpret your body language, your tone, your facial expression and/or your words?

Our regular, daily interactions and communications with our children offer many opportunities for us to establish the foundation for communications with our children. From our modeling of parent-child (and adult-adult) communications they will learn to communicate respectfully and with compassion with others. They will learn to be good listeners and to demonstrate appropriate concern and feedback. They will be able to interpret emotions and body language conveyed by others.

Two important skills are developed through this learning:

First, our children become adept at social/emotional skills, which will help them engage with others positively at school and elsewhere. This helps them succeed socially, but also academically. Being able to communicate positively, with other students and teachers, makes the school experience more positive. It also helps them to listen, participate and learn. Together, this ensures they not only attend, but thrive in school because they enjoy being at school, and in class.

Second, these skills serve as protective factors. We can help prepare our children before they enter a situation where there might be danger, or serious repercussions. If they can interpret communications - with and without words - from us and others, they will be able to make better decisions in their responses to others.

As parents we should encourage our children to have regular relaxed time, when we might joke, act silly, let our children be insubordinate-but still respectful (as we are with them), and even run a little wild. However, we also need our children to know that there are times when it is important, even critical, that they obey us, whether for their own safety, or to be respectful of someone else. A few examples:

·         Your 4-year old loves when you chase him. However, you have a rule that when you say “Look at me” and his full name seriously, he must look you in your eyes. Then, he must always listen carefully, or he might get hurt, or cause someone else to get hurt. And if he doesn’t initially connect with this lesson, you can role play what might happen so he understands better. You can practice this with him - when daily opportunities arise to reinforce this lesson. You might also help your children understand that when they seriously need your attention, they need to tell you, “It’s important.” This way we are modeling what we are teaching.

·         Your 8-year old is a chatter box, prone to dramatic story-telling and giggling. However, she understands that when you raise your eyebrows or put your hand to your lips and say “Shhh,” she needs to be quiet. You can explain that you do this when someone else needs to talk, or when what she is saying might hurt someone’s feelings. Then, we need to model also, that we take turns talking and that we don’t say things that will hurt others’ feelings, so she learns it by watching us do what we say we want her to do.

·         Your 14-year old has been invited to a party. Because you have good, open communications, she has shared that someone’s older brother is going to bring beer to the party. Instead of jumping to an authoritarian role and saying “No way will you go to that party”. Not doing so will break down trust by showing that you don’t trust her judgment, ask questions. You could ask her questions about whether those going to the party drink alcohol already? What does she know about what happens at the party? Are the kids acting responsibly? What risks does drinking bring to them? How in control is someone who is drinking, and why is that dangerous? How likely will they be to get in trouble? What could happen to people who drink at the party and then might drive home? Then walk her through the alternatives to going, and try to find good options. My daughter of 15 or 16 once asked me to ground her one weekend. It was an unusual request, but I agreed. I also asked why. It turns out kids were planning to have drugs and alcohol at a party she was invited to, and she wanted an excuse not to go. What social norms are we modeling in terms of acceptable use of substances in our families?

QUESTION SET 6: A few activities you might practice, depending on the age of your child:

As a parent or caregiver are you communicating with your child....

A)      By having regular, daily or weekly “check-ins” as to how the day/week went. By asking questions, such as: What went well? What didn’t go well? How did the teacher (favorite teacher) respond to the test questions your child took? How did the teacher (least favorite) grade the paper your child submitted? Did x friend sit by her at lunch? etc.

B)      Can you read your child’s body language and know when s/he is afraid, angry, happy, worried or eager to share something with you? Can s/he read yours?

C)      Do you effectively read your child’s facial expression or tone of voice? Do you respond sensitively to assure him/her that you “know” him/her and that s/he is important to you? Do they know that communications between you are a priority? Do your children respond to yours?

D)      Even when you might not fully understand the emotions your child is having, whether anger, jealousy, hurt, embarrassment, do you acknowledge and legitimize that it’s ok to have feelings? And then do you normalize that it’s good to talk about our feelings? Do you help your kids think about and understand why they might be feeling that way, in order to possibly get beyond or address the causes? We all know our emotions can sometimes get the better of us, and it can take some time for us to reflect or heal. However, it’s usually easier when we know we have a friend (or parent) in our corner, supporting us with unconditional love.

When we encourage close, intimate communications with our children, with or without words, we teach them the skill of having these communications with us, and with others. This instills a confidence in them of their capacity to communicate with, understand and have relationships with others. That’s powerful!

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