I spent Thanksgiving with my family at my brother’s. My oldest brother and his family came from MD and my little sister, her husband and my mom also came. It had been a long time since we were all together. Unfortunately my oldest niece and nephew couldn’t come from OR and VA, but one nephew and two nieces did join us. I spent a lot of time playing with Shay (10) and Kenley (3)! I love the laughter, playfulness and ability kids have to just BE. We played games, colored mandalas, went on scavenger hunts and made videos of ourselves (as Shay said, “Let’s pretend to be Youtubers”). We were silly at times, storytellers and just did whatever came to us. Great memories!
It was neat for me to observe Kenley watching and mimicking Shay, Shay watching us adults and then seeing Pete (20) who is such a combination of his parents – kind, quick-witted, responsible, helpful, sweet and an overall super kid (I know I’m probably biased, but I’m pretty sure you’d agree with me!). At times, Shay talked to Kenley just like I imagine she hears adults talk to her “Kenley you need to stay away from that.” “Kenley throw your garbage away when you’re done with it.” Even Kenley’s expressions and responses were adult-like, reiterating to me just how closely kids watch their parents.
Many of my clients recognize themselves in their kids’ words and actions. This is why parents are sometimes triggered into feeling so many things: pride, fear, guilt, shame, joy, shock and sometimes a mixture of those. Other times parents are unable to reflect and see how their child is simply mirroring back to them areas they themselves can grow and change. Often parents will ask me to talk to their child about “not doing what I do or not saying what I say”. When I was coloring with Kenley and Shay, I saw Kenley trying to make letters and commented to Shay how she is teaching Kenley a lot. Her response: “No I’m not really.” I explained to her that even if she is not directly teaching her, I noticed how often Kenley was watching and learning from her! Kids watch us much more than we think.
In today’s busy world, where both parents are often working, it’s hard for parents to imagine slowing down, taking a breath, reflecting on what they say or do and recognizing their children are learning from them every moment. Realistically, parents are on stage, from the moment kids wake until they fall asleep. It’s a lot of pressure and can be stressful if you really think of the impact you are having potentially every moment! (And parents will wonder, why don’t they wash dishes like I do…or clean their rooms like I do? In time that might happen!)
What I hear most is the belief that as adults, we want to be able to say, “I can because I’m an adult” or “I can because I’m the Mom or I’m the Dad.” We want to essentially say, “Do what I say, not what I do!” And there are times I suggest parents point out things kids can’t do, to help kids see that as we get older, there are different opportunities and experiences:
• Having a job
• Paying taxes
The things kids will do that isn’t age dependent, that parents often want me to tell kids they can’t do include:
• Swatting a sibling on their bottom
• Physically moving a sibling when they aren’t listening
• Saying NO to doing various tasks
• Yelling at siblings
• Joking around about other people
As parents, it can be frustrating to hear or see your child doing these things and it’s natural to want to say, “You can’t do that.” But as many of my clients and my nieces proved, sure they can! And they will! I believe this is where many parents then get into power struggles with their children or begin giving consequences to change the behavior. Sure the behavior may stop in that moment, but children are then left with questions, which they may or may not be able to verbalize, like “How come you can do it and I can’t?” Or maybe they internalize they are bad, when they were simply doing what they saw an adult do. Or they become fearful of what they can do or say at any moment. This can all be very confusing for kids!
Now more than ever, adults need to slow down and recognize they are being watched. Kids are being born more sensitive and aware of what is happening around them. Parents often ask how they are supposed to slow down. It isn’t easy and I always think back years ago to hearing Oprah say, “Parenting is the hardest job on the planet.” No doubt! Kids are learning so much from school, peers, television shows, commercials, video games, news, social media and other adults in the world. In my opinion, learning from their parents trumps all of those! (Although I do think video games, television and social media can be huge factors!)
So what can parents do? Here are 3 things I believe will help: stay centered and grounded; slow down; and admit when you recognize you’ve made a mistake.
• Stay centered and grounded. Take time to BREATHE and really find the calm place inside of you. Then when you speak or act, it’s coming from your core and is not simply a reaction. The more you can keep taking deep belly breaths, focus on your senses (What do I hear? Smell? Feel?), the more “in the moment” you are. From this place, we are connected to who we are at our core, our Authentic Selves, our soul…and will more consciously speak, act and parent our children.
• Recognize when schedules get too busy. The older kids get, the more opportunities there are to participate in. Many parents want to expose their children to lots of different things. Juggling schedules can get overwhelming though! It’s important for kids, parents and families to have a sense of balance! When parents get so busy they don’t know who needs to be where at what time, they feel stressed at every turn. Parents anxiety affects the kids. Kids anxiety affects siblings. Kids anxiety affects parents. This carries over to work and school. Eventually this vicious cycle affects everyone and there are lots of impulsive reactions, responses and consequences. Soon there is chaos, with parents beginning to parent from this place (what I teach as the Conditioned Self, which is typically the way they were parented) and kids react from a fearful or protective place because they feel unsafe. The way to counter this is to be proactive and realistic with schedules. We can’t do it all, be everywhere and participate in everything. Making some tough decisions and prioritizing initially will be way more effective than the chaos that ensues when we try to do it all!
• Admit when you’ve made a mistake. It is so powerful for kids to hear their parents and other adults say, “I shouldn’t have done that. I made a mistake.” We are human and of course make mistakes. We might yell when we don’t need to. Perhaps we swear before we realize it. In a moment of frustration, we slap a bottom or a hand after saying “NO” twenty times. Being a parent is not about perfection!! But when you can reflect and talk to your kids about things you might have done differently, kids learn so much! Not only will they realize “oh, mistakes are ok.” But they also learn right from wrong this way, instead of “parents can do it but I’m not supposed to!?” It doesn’t excuse or take away what happened or what was said ~ we can’t unsee or unhear things. But it’s powerful for kids to hear their parents admit mistakes and even apologize. (Even the next day!)
As the busy holiday season is here, try these tips and see the difference it makes. Kids need us more than ever to model what we want the world to look and feel like. Although it would be easier to simply say, “Do what I say, not what I do” unfortunately, kids eyes and ears are on us, as I was reminded of being with my nieces. Breathe, slow down, admit mistakes and watch how kids will follow our lead!