What do effective parents do differently to develop the 3 behavioural foundations in their children?
What is parenting? Parenting is about bringing up our young. In the wild, birds and animals’ single most important purpose is to see that their young survive in the wild. Human parenting, on the other hand, is not as simple as birds and animals. Human beings as parents strive very very very hard to bring the uniqueness out of their child with the intention of HELPING them to build a brilliant future, forgetting that their child is already amazingly unique and brilliant.
Humans need the community to survive and the fact that human beings are the makers and breakers of civilizations requires that we approach the act of parenting differently. As our civilizations are integrating and disintegrating perpetually, the ramifications of being a parent is evolving along with it. Within this context, what are the three behavioral foundations every parent must attempt to build in their young to help them thrive as individuals and as a community.
Behavioural Foundation One
How we think makes all the difference. Depending on how we think and what we think about, we develop our perceptions. Based on our perceptions, we make decisions about ourselves and others in our life. Therefore, the fundamental question you must ask yourself as a parent must be this - How do I help my child develop a better vantage point to think better.
As human beings, we function in different cultural settings, bound by various values and social norms. However, these cultural settings, values, and social norms often restrict our ability to think. Our attempts as parents, therefore, must be to figure out how we can help our children develop a worldview broader than the current cultural setting. As a parent, we need to keep asking what we can do to ensure that how our children’s think is not limited by the values and norms espoused by their immediate community.
The thinking we are referring to here is about thinking about what is possible. What you think is possible in life is driven by what you believe is possible in your life. You design your belief system within your cultural settings. If you do not encourage your children to think beyond the boundaries laid down by your social environment, they may never learn to think big. As you consider the idea of thinking big, I want to draw your attention to the fact that our schooling system follows a factory model, where we tell our children what they must think, believe and accept as right. We must be careful not to restrict the possibility of thinking for each individual child at home, as in our schools.
Behavioural Foundation Two
The ability to recognize one's feelings is an essential behavioral foundation that we fail to build in our children. When they feel sad, angry, or upset, we often tend to help them pay attention to the emotion that had caused their feelings in a very superficial manner. We usually ask them why they are upset and leave the conversation at that level.
Usually, we mistake feelings for emotions. Feelings are the physical signals that we are going through an emotion. For example, when I feel upset, I feel a constriction in my chest; it feels like I am zoned out; I feel like my stomach is turning. These are the auto-responses in our body caused by an emotion. It is trying to tell us something about the experience we had in our environment. We do not teach our children to read these auto-response signals that emotions cause in our bodies. We think if we don't pay attention to our feelings of distress , they will magically go away. They usually linger around and burst out at other times for unrelated issues. The child grows up very confused about these instances.
Hence it is imperative to teach our children to make sense of the feelings they experience, as much as we teach them to sense the emotions that cause them. It will help us ensure that they do not live disconnected from their feelings. When people disconnect from their feelings, they may not know what to think or to decide as they are overwhelmed by certain emotions.
Behavioural Foundation Three
If you analyze the behavior of bullies or people with anger issues, you will understand that they are not acting out from a position of power. They usually behave the way they behave out of a space of powerlessness or fear. One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is to face situations bravely, yet without losing control.
Being brave is not something that happens naturally. It is something that can be developed in children. In other words, we turn out to be braver by practice than by birth. How to stand up and be brave for yourself? When you learn step by step to face your fear in the face , you act from a space of power.
These are three fundamental behavioural foundations that we need to teach our children. It is important for us to understand that these behavioural foundations cannot be laid down in a day. It takes patience, practice and a lot of reinforcement. As you work towards laying the foundations for thinking, feeling and doing in your child, you may want to keep the following 7 habits of effective parents in mind:
Focus on growing up together
Parents become parents at different stages in life. You may not be completely ready to handle a task as complex as parenting, when you become one. Please remember that parenting is about the parent and the child growing together. You mature in different aspects of life at different times. You go on most parts of that journey of growing up, together. You may have noticed that many things you plan as a parent do not work out as you progress through this journey. It is perfectly fine that it is not working out the way you want it to, as long as you understand that both you and your child are growing up together towards a functional and positive future.
Look for teachable moments
In real-life settings, you do not get a chance to teach children to think big, connect to feelings, and be brave over formally thought out conversations. Giving them a lecture about these has little effect. You have to do this over situations, which you encounter as the child grows up, at home or outside the home. These situations are the opportunities we make use of to develop the three behavioral foundations in children. Experts call these 'teachable moments.' Your ability to ask quality questions that help your child think, access their feelings, and be brave around these teachable moments that you identify decide the quality of these three foundations in the long run. Most times children learn by modeling your behaviour, so being mindful of “what you practice as you preach”, because children learn mostly by copying.
Stay away from making comparisons
The system of schooling in our country forces us to urge our children to become better than others. Every time someone gets more 'marks' or does well in a sporting event, we tend to point our child's attention to that person's achievement. That indirectly conveys your disappointment with the child. Your child grows up feeling bad about this every time you place these expectations in front of them. When you do this you are reinforcing a belief in your child that they are not good enough. It is important that we teach our children to be better than themselves and not better than others. In the process of making these comparisons, we raise children who are not strong, who are not brave and who do not operate from their own internal power. Reinforce what they are good at rather than what they need to learn from others. Each child is born with a blueprint to be a masterpiece. Your primary job is to unravel that blueprint for the child to execute in life.
Work towards building resilience
Every time a child gets bullied, they get angry, cry, or hit back. The child does not realize that when they react to bullying like this, they give away power to their environment to alter their internal state. It is not an easy thing to teach. However, it is possible to teach a child not to give away their power to their environment. When children overcome setbacks and problems, it builds confidence and helps them feel more capable the next time a problem comes up. Each situation may be different and may require a different approach, however, keeping your direction towards building future resilience will help you find the right actionable approach.
Support children to name and deal with their emotions
As children grow, some changes happen in their life. For example, let us say your child changes their school and misses a close friend or two. They are not equipped to handle such sudden transitions in life. Change is difficult for everyone, not only for children but also for adults. What kind of support will you give your child during sudden transitions in life like the one I mentioned above?. While a child is feeling sad missing a friend, it helps if we can support them to name their feelings, understand it deeper, rather than asking them not to sulk. Once they name the feeling, it is good to ask them to observe what is causing it. For example, if they are feeling fear, why are they afraid? If they are feeling sad, why are they feeling sad? Helping the child to know what the emotion is and deal with it is the key here.
Agree that your child can disagree with you.
We must teach children to make decisions. We usually do not always allow this to happen. Right from a very young age we tell them what dress to choose, what kind of friends to have, what they can say or what they cannot say. When they are toddlers, we force feed them even if they do not want to eat. We do not allow children to exercise their right to stop eating when they are satiated. We decide things for children and we do not allow them to say “no”. There is a thin line between teaching children that certain behaviour is expected of them and allowing them to exercise their right to decide. Your role as a parent is not to decide things for your children. Your role as a parent is to help your child see through the reasons why they made a decision and to take ownership of its fallout. Every decision you make comes with a cost and helping your child consider the cost is more reasonable than preventing them from taking decisions at all.
It is also important that you teach your child to say “no” in a way that the relationship is not damaged. Often, children may not know how to say no. This is something you can teach your child explicitly with the right kind of vocabulary. Use the occasions you get to say no to your child to model how to say no. There has to be a space in your family where disagreements do not damage relationships. We need to learn to agree to disagree.
Promote failing forward
Everyone makes mistakes. When we penalize children for the mistakes they make, they get scared to make mistakes. Expecting perfection from children is killing their creativity. Only those who do make mistakes can have the courage to act. Unless you fail, you cannot do something phenomenal. Edison failed a thousand times before he invented the light bulb. Usually, we fail at something because we are not ready. Helping children to reflect on what caused the failure is the key here. The conversation that you can develop with your child when they fail, can be about the reasons for that failure and what kind of readiness they could develop to avoid it in future.
About the Author
Rosama Francis started her career as a teacher and soon found herself motivated to help students find their potential. She went on to head schools soon after and found all her work centered around finding people's strengths. It was an intuitive understanding that everyone has their unique potential and only by focusing on that, will that individual find success. She soon gravitated towards her career as a coach and still wake up to a life that she loves. Rosama Francis is the co-founder of Innerkern and you can read more about her work here.