Every person is uniquely created by God. This truth became obvious to me when I considered my two daughters’ vastly different personalities. My younger daughter has something to say most of the time, and I can tell how she feels just by looking at her face. Whereas my older daughter is more reserved, and she doesn’t express herself readily. But no matter the personality, kids, just like us adults, need to be understood. I often ask myself: how can I better understand my children? After attending a parenting workshop led by Dr. Agnes Ip, I now have a better grasp of the steps needed to understand my kids.
1. Manage Emotions First
Some parents tend to deal with a child’s misbehavior by beating or scolding first. Dr. Ip encouraged parents to first manage their own emotions. Once parents have calmed down, they can proceed to help their child manage his/her emotions. If a kid gets very emotional, parents may say, “I hope you will first calm down, then I can hear what you have to say, because I really want to help you.” Parents may also provide ways to help their child take a break.
When things are against her wish, my youngest daughter sometimes loses her temper. In the past, I either followed her suit or did not know what to do. Now, I have learned to first give her some quiet space, then I can talk to her after she, and myself, have calmed down. I realized that the effect was significantly better this way.
2. Identify, Acknowledge, and Respond Appropriately
Parents can use flexibility in asking questions to identify a child’s feelings and goals behind his/her actions and words. When asking questions, parents need to pay special attention to their own emotions and postures, guide the child slowly, and refrain from bursting out in anger, lest their child refuse to express themselves out of fear. A child needs to feel loved and accepted just like you and me. Once the child’s inner needs are identified, parents’ acknowledgment of those needs and giving an appropriate response are very important. Acknowledgement here refers to acknowledging the child’s core needs, not the misbehavior.
This step works very well with my older daughter. When I tried to ask her more open-ended questions with an accepting attitude, she started actively sharing her life and thoughts. In the past, she always spent a long time in the bathroom before visiting the doctor, and this got on my nerves. One day, after talking with her, I realized that she had behaved in such a way because she was trying to escape out of fear. Since then, whenever we go to the doctor, I tell her beforehand that I understand her fear, I promise to stay by her side, and I pray with her. Over time, she has stopped escaping.
3. Manage Misbehavior
After dealing with a child’s inner needs, parents can guide their child to understand that misbehavior does not satisfy his/her needs. In addition, to reduce the occurrence of misbehavior and prevent problems before they happen, parents can discuss with their child in advance to draw boundaries and provide some options.
Truly, it takes time to understand a child, and I have much to learn. Nevertheless, I thank God that through some practical methods, I have gotten closer to my daughters. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). May all parents love their children with God’s love, and may they listen to and understand their children’s hearts.
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