This is for the parents who sometimes struggle with their kids. Maybe they say something that hurts, maybe they can seem a bit ambivalent about your sadness or your frustration. Maybe you stare at the ceiling at night, laying in bed trying to figure out how to get them to treat you better. You search for a way to improve your connection with your kids, to get them to understand you better or empathize with you or simply respect your feelings.
When parents ask me what to do when they are struggling, one thing I try to mention is this: Be honest about your emotional needs. Be honest with yourself first. Really talk to yourself and find out what you really want from your kid. Get specific. Find out what’s missing or what isn’t happening enough. Reach down deep and be candid with yourself. Don’t hide from your desires, let your sincerest wishes reveal themselves. Figure out what you really need. I’m not talking about the stuff they do that you want them to stop, but instead, zero in on the emotions that are triggered when they do what they do, the heavy stuff that’s at the core of your being.
Once you have come to grips with the reality of your emotional needs, find the right time and the right place to have a sincere conversation with your child. Have the talk in a place they feel safest and at a time when they are most likely to really listen to you. The talk doesn’t have to be long, but it does have to be effective, so plan ahead.
Then, when it’s time for the chat, be honest and direct, right from the beginning. Explain how their actions make you feel and what can happen that would make you feel better. Validate them, validate what they’re doing, especially what they do that hurts you. Get them to see that you respect them, that while you may not agree with them, you’re not judging them, just asking for them to appreciate what you are going through. And let me be clear: don’t obfuscate, don’t mask, don’t be passive-aggressive. Look into your child’s eyes and tell them how you feel. Reveal yourself to them.
One last suggestion: Be clear with them that they are not responsible for making you feel mad or sad or disappointed, that it’s just how you are reacting to what they are doing. Separate the action from the feeling. Tell them that you trust in their love for you, that you know that this is, in the end, your fault that you didn’t explain how you felt clearly enough, or that you expressed yourself in a way that didn’t work in the best possible way. The idea is to let them off the hook, because the ultimate goal is to forge a better relationship. If they feel less like a screw-up, less like a villain, and more like someone who just innocently spilled the milk, your young one will be far more likely to take your feelings to heart and to be willing to make their own adjustments, to want you to feel happy.
by Stu Mark
Photo graciously provided by Bob.Fornal, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved