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How to Develop a Meaningful Relationship With Your Child
A misled youth is between ideas and loyalties. At the time, he or she is not sure what is right or wrong for them. Parents should not take it personal when a youth chooses another person’s advice over theirs. The reality is, as kids grow older, they gain access to people who may influence them. Some of those people can lead youth down a path that conflicts with their parent’s teachings. The good news is that parents can strengthen their bond and regain their influence through meaningful interaction. Meaningful interaction is a process of interacting with a child in ways that will help develop a bond between them and their parent.
Too often parents only speak to their children to either give instruction or correction. There are two main components of meaningful interaction: the stage and communication. The first is the setting of the stage. Parents must be creative in selecting a proper activity to provoke bonding. Bonding is a multi-level process. It can be spiritual, emotional, physical or intellectual.
A parent can be creative in their methods of interaction. Some parents may use activities to set up conversations. Some may prefer direct conversations. It is difficult to effectively correct or guide a youth without connecting with them. The question is how do we connect with our youth?
The objective of meaningful interaction is to allow an exchange between parent and child. The parent receives important information and the child receives support and advice. As a result, both parent and youth can enjoy an invaluable partnership. In most cases, the parent is the key. They must be willing to communicate with their kids on his or her level of understanding. William Butler Yeats, an Irish poet said it like this, “think like a wise man, but communicate in the language of the people.”
At anytime, a young person could see something, hear something, or do something that could change their perspective on life. Think back. Remember those days when you wanted someone to help you make sense of the world. It is difficult to find someone young enough to empathize with you, yet old enough to give good advice. As parents, we need to help our youth file new information.
Keep in mind, a child is not only growing in stature, he or she is growing in knowledge, emotions and experience. Without meaningful interaction, parents can lose track of their child’s development. To have meaningful interaction, we must overcome several barriers:
· Youth’s sense of privacy
· Feeling vulnerable
It is very important that we find time for meaningful interaction with our youth. Here is a systematic guide for setting up meaningful interaction.
First: The right atmosphere
When large corporations hold meetings with important clients, they go out of their way to ensure that the atmosphere is just right. They learn all they can about the client and then cater to his or her taste in a fancy restaurant, on a golf course or at a horse race. It is important that their client feels special. Why should we do anything less for our youth? God forbid. I am not saying that we should take our youth to fancy restaurants or golf courses. What I am saying is that we should consider them when we choose a place to have meaningful interaction. Your child should feel relaxed, respected and special.
These are some helpful suggestions:
· At the park
· Fast food restaurant
· Bowling game
· Watching TV
Choose a comfortable place for your youth. I have two daughters. Christina is eight and Jessica is six years old. I chose their bedrooms and bedtime to interact with them. This was ideal for us for several reasons:
· They get to stay up an extra ½ hour.
· They are relaxed
· Their own environment
My daughters, Christina and Jessica like to hear my childhood stories. Knowing that, I use my stories as a platform to teach them life lessons. I often pause while telling the stories so we can discuss my behavior or decisions whether they were good or bad. Each parent should find the platform that works best. Some parents may use TV shows while others may prefer to talk about real life situations. The important thing is that you chose something that is interesting to your son or daughter. Remember to pause during key points to ask questions such as:
· Did they or I do the right thing?
· Why or why not?
· What would you have done?
· What could have happened?
Second: The right attitude
To have meaningful interaction with youth, parents need to have the right attitude. Kids should not feel like their parents are waiting to pounce on them as soon as they say the wrong thing. They should feel like they can tell you anything provided they say it respectfully. Parents should respond or give advice in the same way…respectfully. Remember, an opinion can never be wrong, just different. I hope that youth will accept the help of their parents.
A former colleague was developing a youth organization. Although she had 12 members, they quickly became disinterested in the program. Fearing that they all would leave, she called me for advice. I asked, “how is the emotional atmosphere of the group, how do you think they see you and the program? “They see me as the teacher, this is my program!” she blurted. “That’s the problem,” I replied. “They need to see the program as their program and they need to see you as their advisor, not ruler.” She took my advice. She included the members in the development and operation of the program. The program went on to become very productive.
Our attitude is a by-product of our thinking. Before we can have the right attitude, we need to think the right thoughts.
· I am here to listen not prosecute
· I am here to direct not dictate
· I will not react by: yelling, screaming, hitting, or angry gestures
· I will not take anything personal
Meaningful interaction should be at a safe time in a safe place; a time when both parent and child can let their guards down and share their thoughts and ideas. I am a firm believer that you cannot be friends with your child, mainly because friends do not discipline friends. However, I do believe that you can be friendly towards your child. Kids often feel that parents are against them, mainly because the parent must discipline and instruct them. This is the time to put everything into perspective for them. For this interaction to be effective there must to be a few ground rules:
There are few things stronger than a parent’s love for his or her child. Does it matter how we get information from our children? Yes, it does. When a child feels coerced or forced, he or she will either shut down or rebel. A youth should never leave a conversation feeling bullied, tricked or cheated. Sometimes parents push too hard for information. Though their youth may tell them what they want to hear for that moment, the youth will build a wall of defense to prepare for the next attack. Yes, that is what it feels like, an attack or an invasion. If a youth feels uncomfortable about a topic, move on to the next one. Remember. Keeps it flowing; they can always come back to it another time. One of the most important tools of an effective conversation is momentum. Parents must limit periods of awkward silence. Remember, both parent and youth must develop trust for each other; the parent must trust the youth to be open and honest and the youth must trust the parent to give good advice without over reacting.
During day-to-day adult interaction, we develop creative methods to negotiate and communicate with other adults. Unfortunately, these methods can be damaging to adult-youth interactions. Mrs. Fox is a very successful sales person for a major insurance company. Her motto is, “never take no for an answer.” She prides herself in getting the most clients in the least amount of time. Her 15-year-old son Corey was failing all his classes and developing a bad attitude towards authority. Mrs. Fox immediately scheduled an appointment with me. After our initial greetings, I asked if I could talk to her son in private. She reluctantly agreed and left the office.
After a few minutes of speaking with Corey, it was clear that there were some communication issues between him and his mother. His mother seems to be treating him more like a client than a son. She seems to take it personal if Corey does not agree with her or communicate his interest in what she is saying. Mrs. Fox wants Corey to buy into her message and methods. However, she is not willing to accept what Corey is trying to sell his thoughts, emotions and information. Because he feels rejected, Corey is using rebellion as a cry for help and as an alternate form of communication.
Look at some of those tactics:
– Crying or using sad faces to gain sympathy
– Intimidating through threats, expressions, tone of voice or postures
– Manipulating through lies, tricks or bribery
– Bargaining with things your child has already earned (i.e., allowance, gifts, etc.)
Parents must be careful not to pass these practices on to their child. Those methods teach youth both deception and dishonesty.
Occasionally, a youth may ask a question that the parent cannot answer. Parents should not panic, but answer honestly. Here are a few examples: “that’s a good question, let me think about and get back to you. I don’t know, but I will find out for you.” Whether the parent has to ask others, research or just think through the answer, they should respond to their child no later than a few days. That will help establish a parent’s credibility. If it takes more than a few days to give an answer, the parent should remind them that they are working on their question and have not forgotten about them.
Mistakenly, parents hide their identities from their kids. They fear that their children may lose respect for them. On the contrary, youth lose respect for parents whom they believe are dishonest. It is easier for them to understand mistakes than it is for them to overlook deceptions. Children can sense when parents are being evasive. Naturally, they respond in like manner. How can they trust parents to help them with their problems if their parents pretend that they never had to work through a problem? When youth face problems, they need to know that their parents empathize with them. Without those elements, parents become skeptical spectators, not caring supporters and advisors.
One day a woman named Betty Jordan came to my office. She wanted to talk to me about her daughter. She said that their relationship was ruined. “Tell me what happened?” I asked. Mrs. Jordan wiped her eyes as she told me the story. “When I was 12, I had a little girl. My mother sent the baby to South Carolina for my aunt to raise. Later, I finished college, got married and had another daughter. I never told my daughter about my first child. Well, I just found out that my daughter is three weeks pregnant. I became so angry that I told her she had to leave. After she left the house, she went to my sister house. When she told my sister what happened, my sister told her about my first child. My daughter called me a hypocrite and baby traitor. Our relationship has never recovered.”
Children want their parents to understand or at lease to want to understand. Youth are hurt when they find that parents understand because of their past, yet refuse to sympathize with their situations.
If you develop a steady schedule around meaningful interaction, your child will feel comfortable coming to you when he or she needs advice. The more you do it, the more comfortable they will feel. Remember, children will follow your lead. Consistency indicates to your family that their issues and solutions are important to you. It is important that each meeting be as stress free as possible. Here are some helpful tips on family meetings.
– Meetings should be no longer than thirty minutes
– Should be at a time that everyone is relaxed
– Everyone can say whatever they want (as long as they are respectful)
– Some should take notes (issues and solutions)
– Always leave the meeting with a plan
– Review the results of the plan at the next meeting
– Give each other permission to take a short break if it becomes heated
– Continue the meeting after breaks
Never betray his or her trust. When your child brings up a sensitive topic, you should take the initiative and say, “this is only between us.” Ms. Jones brought her son Trevor, into my office because she said that her son’s behavior is out of control. I remember that a few months earlier Trevor problem was poor grades. “What happened to cause Trevor to get worse?” I asked Ms. Jones. “I don’t know, the boy is just bad,” she explained. I asked to talk to Trevor alone.
After interviewing Trevor, I found that Trevor was hurt, disappointed and angry with his mother for telling all of his family about his failing grades. “She would call me dummy in front of my aunts and cousins and then my cousins told their friends and then they told my friends.” Trevor said. Trevor’s behaviors were his way of protesting his mother’s betrayal.
Ms. Jones should have limited her son’s shortcomings to those whom could help. It is a good idea for Ms. Jones to tell Trevor whom she is going to ask for help. Remember we want our children to come to us for help and support. This type of incident is counter productive to that cause.
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