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Conversations With Your Child
Suggestions For Parents
By Justine Lambroschino
Balboa PressCopyright © 2016 Justine Lambroschino, LICSW
All rights reserved.
Complex dynamicsBuilding the first relationship
Parenting a child is a serious commitment to another human being and therefore, it is an experience both frightening and exciting. Parents provide a child's first experience in relating to others, preparing him for all relationships that follow. They give their time and effort to help their child be a functional person and to create a relationship of mutual love and respect. Children require and are nourished by the care of their parents; parents require and are nourished by the opportunity to raise their child.
Through the years, while talking with parents of this generation, I have sensed a deep-seated lack of confidence. These parents are coping with a culture overstimulated by clever marketing that suggests it is not only their right to have everything offered in the marketplace, but also their duty to be consumers to drive the economy. This is a concept often repeated on television shows designed to sell products: each generation must give their children more than the previous generation.
Yet a child's love for his parents is not related to material possessions. It is innate. A baby is born as a totally dependent being; those who care for him, usually the parents, are adored by the child from birth. As the child grows, he is motivated and energized by his parents' love and attention.
Acknowledgment: developing your child's self concept
A child first learns about himself through his parents' acknowledgment. From this recognition, he develops his self-concept: "I am who these caregivers say I am." He learns by observing how his parents respond to him.
In the home, parents spend time with their child, talk with her, know her, and know themselves. They say her name, admire her features, and praise her growth, learning, and accomplishments, from her taking a first step to eating with a spoon and learning to ride a bike. The home becomes a safe oasis for working out situations and for creating a warm, interactive family life – one that brings stability, trust, and love. The relationship grows from a place of inequality to equality as the child develops from helpless dependence as an infant to powerful independence as an adult.
When acknowledgment is lacking, the child will not be engaged. A child who receives little or no feedback from the parent is left with a core void. She will ask, "Who am I?" – and may conclude, "I am nothing because no one tells me anything about me." Or when acknowledgment is distant or unclear, she will assume, "Something must be wrong with me." These feelings, resulting from benign neglect and inappropriate comparing, can lead to a negative self-image as she strives to create an identity and find her footing in a lonely world.
Making an ongoing commitment to affirming dialogue with your child can build the relationship, serve as a template for his learning to converse beyond the family setting, and help him expand his sphere of potential relationships. In fact, the word "conversation" comes from the Old French word of the same spelling, meaning "manner of conducting oneself in the world."
Knowledge and skills: making home a place to learn
In this culture, recognizing a child as an individual person with her own identity and life is important. The job of the parent is complex and always changing; as a result, good parents may experience doubt and confusion, especially as they are exposed to television shows that exhibit different styles of parenting, offer expert advice, and interpret what is "in" and "hip." At the same time, parents must work to keep children safe from worldly temptations and growing incidences of abduction and molestation.
The fundamental physical needs of the child must be met for many years, and many additional living skills must be acquired; for example, how to interact with others, use language, follow basic manners, respect healthy boundaries around oneself and others, accept no for an answer, share, and understand what is a wrong thing to do – and why.
One or both parents orchestrate this learning, using the daily situations in the home as the learning site and daily events to provide opportunities for experiencing multi-level learning. The levels include: 1) basic knowledge and skills, such as the names of objects in the house, 2) emotional skills, such as coping with the loss of a pet or grandparent and managing conflict with parents or siblings, and 3) social skills, such as how to greet a guest and adapt to schedules for bedtime, school attendance, and parents' work.
The parents, the adults, interpret the happenings and teach their children. Children learn by observation and words, including word choice, voice tone, volume, and accompanying facial expressions. The learning is vast, and parental responsibility is enormous.
Positive emotions: imagining your family scenes
Before parents become parents, they reflect on how their life will be once their child arrives. Some imagine a precious cherub climbing up on their laps and begging for a story. Others picture their child growing up to be a scholar. All imagine family scenes that include love, warmth, and connection.
For the parent, the child will provide a family. What will the parent provide for the child? Time, guidance, and attention – all based on the foundation of communication. Through conversations, parents teach their children the skills they need to master the gift of life.
Positive emotions are created in the home by parents making conscious decisions and focused efforts to create them. The most important part of parenting is giving the child time and attention. I am suggesting what is often referred to as "quality time," and that quality time is spent in conversation – talking together and working out the situations of daily life.
Four kinds of conversation: understanding the differences
Conversations with your child can be defined by four major categories: command, correction, catch-up, and living.
A command conversation features giving instructions to a child when the parent or parents are not home or are unavailable for some reason – for example, when Mom and Dad go out to dinner. Typically, the age at which a parent decides the child can be left alone in the house is between 11 and 15.
Parents lay out the general house rules for when they're not at home, for example, no one is to be let into the house and homework must be finished before turning on the TV. If younger siblings are being looked after, instructions are given for their bedtime, snacks, and amount of TV watching, phone numbers and location of where the parents will be are provided, and phone numbers for responsible neighbors or friends are available. Also, parents need to define what would qualify as an emergency, such as a fire, an intruder, a fight that cannot be resolved – anything a child may worry about.
A correction conversation is used when a child has breeched family rules or values. It includes a structured, scheduled, well-defined process for addressing the event, the way all participants understand the happenings, possible explanations of actions, and time intervals to thoughtfully decide consequences and interpretation of events.
In the catch-up conversation, parents and children stay abreast of busy schedules, appointments, rides to sports or lessons, project due dates, social events, and invitations. Most families have a large calendar where all these obligations are documented and checked often.
Most important is the living conversation, the focus of this book. This is where the parent and child connection is established and nurtured. The conversation begins in the first days of an infant's life, established by the calmly reassuring sound of the parent's voice. As the child grows and the conversation develops, that sound will continue to create a sense of security.
Living conversation sets the stage for quality time between parent and child – those moments of delight and humor, woven together in love, affection, and genuine caring. With a trusting foundation established, the child feels safe taking risks and sharing from the heart.
First steps: starting the conversation
If you as a parent are just realizing that you have not spoken to your child enough, and things are happening to you both that are upsetting, it is not too late to begin talking and listening to your child. You can begin at any time.
Without a history of conversations, the beginning may be rocky, but begin, anyway, by gradually engaging your child in conversations. Do not demand that your child start talking. Begin by being around her more often. Offer to play a game, ask her to help out with a chore, or watch a show with her and talk about it. Then invite your child on an activity such as a long-distance car ride, for example, to visit grandparents or to see an historic site, when time will be ample to start talking. If driving is not an option, consider dog walking, car washing, or window shopping. Because the activity must afford quiet time and space for the conversation to emerge, a movie, sporting event, or group activity would not work. The closeness with your child will begin, and the type of family you imagine will start to take shape.CHAPTER 2
A full workload
Taking on the many jobs of parenting
I titled this chapter A full workload because the actions a caregiver takes with a child are not arbitrary; they are mandatory. The first four needs listed below must be met for the child to survive, and the second three needs are skills a child must learn to function in society. As Chapter 5 explains, a key function of parents is teaching life skills. I use the term "job" because it connotes the commitment and regularity that being a parent requires.
Jobs of parenting children ages 1–10: providing for basic needs
1. Food means providing three meals a day with adequate water. Meals will vary according to affordability but should include all food groups. Parents need to notice if children eat, if they are satisfied, and if they don't eat. If eating habits change, they need to investigate why. In larger families, parents need to make sure food is equally distributed.
2. Shelter is a place to live that provides protection from temperature and weather; it might also include providing safety from a dangerous neighborhood. Housing style, price, and size vary according to income.
3. Clothing refers to garments in general. Children need appropriate clothing to wear for play, school, and special events. Outfits include undergarments, socks, and shoes to accompany the clothes. Climate-appropriate outerwear and shoes are needed for each season. Children also need a closet or place to store their clothing to develop a sense of ownership.
4. A caregiver is needed for a newborn child. Infants cannot meet their own needs or protect themselves from the environment. The caregiver is most often a combination of mother and father, as well as collateral helpers such as grandparents, babysitters, and friends. Parents, however, are more than caregivers. They are a couple who have chosen to be parents and to create a family. The child is the product of their love. Although infants can survive without a loving caregiver, they are unlikely to thrive.
Love through the parents is expressed within the home based on the parents' style, culture, and beliefs. At a minimum, parents should have a caring attitude and show interest in each child through such affirmations as:
"You are a good boy/girl."
"I like how you did that."
"Mom and Dad love you."
Other parenting ways to show love can be such acts as hugging, kissing, comforting small accidents like falls or scrapes, acknowledging achievements, and celebrating events like birthdays and holidays.
Love is also expressed by reasonable consistency in the parents' behavior in their relationship with their child: for example, being fair in corrections and distribution of time, treats, and affection. Love is also expressed by setting clear limits on behavior that the family values define, either to encourage or to discourage individual behaviors (see Chapter 3, pages 24-25). And love is expressed through demonstrating healthy personal boundaries among family members; for example, ensuring privacy in the bathroom and bedroom, emphasizing ownership of belongings, honoring personal space, and not showing gender favoritism.
5. Self-care skills appropriate for living include knowing how to use the bathroom, washing the body and hair regularly, brushing teeth daily, and washing hands after using the bathroom, before eating, and before handling food. Additional appropriate skills are keeping clothes clean, respecting the home and assisting in its care, and using general manners, such as saying please, thank you, and excuse me.
6. Acknowledgement helps children to develop a core sense of themselves. Although children in a family may resemble each other, each is a unique individual with distinct characteristics. Uniqueness can be affirmed by noticing individual and positive traits, such as a cheerful disposition, caring, cleanliness, organization of belongings, intelligence, and special skills in sports or the arts (without comparing one child to another).
7. Communication in a family has to be taught and encouraged. This starts with talking to the infant. Communication is an interaction of people through words. Conversation starters can be statements like:
Hello ... Goodbye ...
I am upset....
Tell me about....
I do not understand; please explain.
Let's try this.
I had a dream.
Okay. I want to know
Children need to know it is okay to express a problem or need, even if it cannot be met. Loving communication is listening and letting expression take place freely. This ties back to acknowledgement; the communication may need only to be heard with no action. Parents do not need to fix everything.
The primary needs outlined above continue for a long time. All of these needs evolve and change as the infant grows into a toddler, child, school-age child, preteen, teenager, and young adult. Parents need to adapt their parenting to the age of the child. It is useful to examine a child's needs for types of communication using the stages set forth by Erikson (1959), the mind development as described by Piaget (1958), and the body development by Payne & Isaac (2004). Each of these three systems develops as your child matures, and different skills emerge at each age, stage, or size. (See Chapter 4.)
Jobs of parenting children ages 11–21: providing for additional needs
After parents provide for the basic needs and skills of their child from infancy through elementary school, their jobs evolve to modeling to their children – through behavior and conversations – how to function with other people by:
1. Being available. Typically, your child doesn't plan to have a conversation with you. You need to be physically available to spark conversation. The more time you spend with her, the more likely you'll hear what's on her mind. But if she needs to seek you out, wait for your schedule to open up, or cope with a lack of attention, she may give up.
2. Listening and paying attention to your child are key to knowing your child. Listening is an active state. Keep it casual with intermittent eye contact. Doing so may be difficult, uncomfortable, time-consuming, seemingly silly, scary, or boring; however, the time will come when you hear important happenings or issues – so keep listening.
3. Being respectful as a parent teaches your child to be respectful to you and others. It is the attitude you use to listen so you will hear what you need to hear. Demonstrate what respect is by the way you treat all people, including your spouse, your parents, your boss, and other authority figures.
4. Deferring judgment means respectfully listening to your child all the way through without commenting on what he is saying; you are waiting to find out what he thinks. After understanding his thoughts, you may be satisfied with his judgment. Then you can praise him for showing good judgment. If his thinking seems faulty, make a time to get back to the issue after thinking it through. If he demands guidance at that time, give it then according to your family value system.
Excerpted from Conversations With Your Child by Justine Lambroschino. Copyright © 2016 Justine Lambroschino, LICSW. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsINTRODUCTION The gift, your presence: Listening, talking, connecting, ix,
CHAPTER 1 Complex dynamics: Building the first relationship, 1,
CHAPTER 2 A full workload: Taking on the many jobs of parenting, 7,
CHAPTER 3 Parenting as a team effort: Working together, 14,
CHAPTER 4 The path of development: Tracking the stages of your child's growth, 28,
CHAPTER 5 Turn, turn, turn: Moving through the four seasons of parenting, 53,
CHAPTER 6 Four parts make a whole Understanding your child's inner workings, 66,
CHAPTER 7 Conversations: Talking with your child at any age, 79,
CONCLUSION Into adulthood: Keeping the conversation going, 161,
Appendix 1. The stages, 169,
Appendix 2. Separateness, 172,
Appendix 3. Adolescent brain development and alcohol abuse, 174,
Appendix 4. Barometers of behavior, 179,
Appendix 5. Preventing sibling incest, 180,
Appendix 6. Glossary, 181,