Developing a Fantastic Relationship with Your Child
By Debby Schwarz Hirschhorn, Ph.D.
Here's a scene: A parent "might suddenly grab a
happily playing child and shower him with excited hugs and kisses
without warning." What's wrong with this picture?
I would say that, simply, the parent is not in synch
with the child in the case described above. The parent is not on the
same page. Yes, parents have to move over to their child's page to
be "on the same page", not the other way around, starting
in infancy. Parents who have no history of being treated with any
sensitivity at all will have a hard time with this. But--here's the
clincher--giving up is not an option! Here is how to practice
getting more and more able to "read" what page someone is
Step 1: Guess what they're thinking/experiencing at
the moment and explain to yourself why you think so.
Step 2: Check it out with the person. In a very
casual way, just say, "You know, I want to be a more aware
person. I'm trying to understand you a little better, so I hope
you'll help me. What I'm trying to do now is guess how you feel and
why. Can I run by you what I came up with?"
Step 3: Be open minded about the answers you get. In
other words, if you were way off, don't go crawl into a corner and
say, "Oh, I'll never get this." Just write down in a
special notebook reserved for this purpose (or talk into a tape
recorder) their explanation and what you missed in your thinking the
first time. Let the correct answer sink in so that you truly
understand where the child came from.
Step 4: Try out your new learning slowly. As you
begin to "get it," don't assume you always will. Take slow
steps in implementing anything. Think ten times before you react.
In the scene above, quoted from a famous researcher
in child development, Ainsworth, if that parent had just slowed down
before the hugs and kisses, the problem wouldn't have occurred. Ask
yourself: What would that child like from me by way of response
right now? Focus on the child's perspective. In the Ainsworth case
above, that parent was actually selfish. He or she was in the mood
to bestow hugs and kisses, but was the child in the mood to get
them? Well, if the child is concentrating, then the answer is
clearly, "No." Would you like to be interrupted by your
child when you're working on that important project for work? No.
Well, the child, even a new infant, doesn't either. The best thing
that parent could have done above, is just be there silently, taking
in the world as the baby sees it. This, by the way, is a thrill for
a parent, once you stop and make that switch to seeing the world
from the child's perspective. You notice how the baby is fascinated
by what we take for granted and it renews our sense of wonder at the
Universe. Try it.
Here are four more strategies for developing a deep
and strong connection with your child:
The first aspect of talking with your child is
sharing the wisdom of your experience. This is for a little older
children. Children absolutely hate this, yet it is so important for
their development for some of the messages we have to get through.
How do you manage? You have to understand that the
reason why they hate it is partly because they can't relate to it
since they haven't been there, so it has no meaning to them, and
partly because it has a faint ring to it of being superior--which
makes them feel put down.
Handling this requires tact, slow moves, and subtle
ones. Never, ever lecture. They will tune you out and you'll have
accomplished nothing except drive a wedge between the two of you,
something you don't want.
The child will, however, be very receptive if you
have followed Gottman's 5-to-1 rule of giving five positives for
every negative comment at a minimum. This is your second strategy. I
would guess that the degree of receptiveness is directly
proportional to the ratio of positive-to-negative comments. So, if
you only give one negative comment in a week and it is stated very
tactfully, it will probably be gracefully accepted by your child and
he or she will be receptive to your "editorials" on his
Third, is to ask questions without making
assumptions. (You know what happens to people who assume, right?)
Just ask open-ended questions, such as, "What did you think of
-- ?" or "How are you finding 10th grade?" Be
pleasant and inviting. If you have cut out the criticisms and the
negatives, this shouldn't be too hard and should get good results.
Finally, make your comments (if you must make
comments) very low key. For example, there's a friend you don't care
for too much. You could say, "You're going to the movie with
Patricia?" Then kind of raise your eyebrows a little, as if to
say, "Hmmmm." That should be enough. Don't actually say
anything. Let the concern just hang there. Your communication will
make your child just nervous enough to be paying closer attention to
all the things about Patricia that your child doesn't notice in her.
Concluding this article, what do you notice that is
missing? Come on. Take a moment to look at the whole
thing.......What's missing is fun communication, just play,
positive. Not necessarily compliments, just being happy together,
sharing time together, joking around, playing, shopping, whatever,
having fun. That, my friends, is the most important piece of all.
Dr. Debby Schwarz Hirschhorn, Ph.D.
Marriage and Family Therapist