As parents one of the qualities that we want most for our children is for them to be kind. As our babies grow into toddlers, many of us are looking for ways to minimise the hitting, and maximise the sharing. And as they grow older we hope they’ll grow into kind, caring adults that make friends easily and get on well in life.
But children can be pretty mean to each other at times. How do we deal with behaviour that appears selfish, unkind, and the opposite of everything we’ve hoped and dreamed for our children?
Hand in Hand Parenting is based on the principle that our children are all naturally good, it’s just sometimes their feelings get in the way. Here’s 5 tips based on the Hand in Hand Parenting approach to see your child’s natural kindness shining through.
1.Model kindness – Children are born imitators. Learning through observation and imitation is how they make sense of their world. Modelling kindness towards our children and to others, is one of the most effective ways to ‘teach’ them.
This can be tricky when our child’s behaviour is really pushing our buttons, when we are stressed and running on empty, so this is where the Hand in Hand parenting tool of listening time comes in handy, When we have somewhere to vent our feelings, to say all those unkind, angry and frustrated thoughts then we clear space in our heads to think clearly, and let our own natural kindness shine through.
2. Set gentle, firm, limits on off-track behaviour – There are plenty of instances where children do things that have not been modelled to them. Toddlers who grow up in peaceful, connected households still act out aggressively, or snatch toys off others when this is something their parents have never done to them! Children are born with a fully developed limbic system (the emotional part of their brain), whereas the pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for impulse control is not fully formed till adulthood. So when big feelings get trigged a child may act them out in aggression, unkindness or other off-track behaviour.
Moving in close, to set firm, but gentle limits, gives children the connection they need chance to release any feelings of upset that have been bubbling up. When we set limits on behaviour, but allow all feelings, this prevents the likelihood off -track behaviour happening in the future. You can read more about the Hand in Hand Parenting approach to setting limits by downloading a free e-book here.
3. Allow your child to cry for as long as they need to – When children cry we can often get in the track of treating crying as a behavioural issue that we need to fix. We might do this in the gentlest possible way, by getting a child to talk through their problems, or by trying to come up with solutions that will stop the tears.
Crying is a healing process, a natural way for releasing the stress and tension that can come out in unkind words and actions. So when we allow our child to cry or tantrum for as long as they need, they are literally releasing the feelings that get in the way of them being their natural, good, kind, selves. Listening with hugs, and connection, is ‘investment’ parenting, we are helping children with their feelings, so we will deal with less behavioural challenges in the future. That’s always good to keep in the back of our mind, when are dealing with a twenty minute tantrum!
4. Let the giggles flow (without the tickling) Laughter is a wonderful way to build connection, and when children feel well-connected they can more often access their natural, inner kind self. So make a conscious effort to bring more laughter into your family life, through playful roughhousing or general all-round silliness. With my Giggle Parenting approach to behaviour challenges, you can also build co-operation at the same time as having fun with your kids!
When human beings feel good, they are kinder, happier and find it easier to get on with others, so when a child is struggling with stuck, angry feelings, laughter goes a long way to heal the hurt.
5. Spend time doing what your child loves. Set a timer for 15-20 minutes and do some special time with your child. Tell them they can choose to do whatever they like, whether it’s playing Lego, or having a pillow fight. This gift of our time and complete attention, is one of the kindest things we can do for our kids, and we will see that kindness mirrored outwards.
When we parent like this on regular basis, using tools to help our children with their feelings, then they grow up feeling well-connected. As they go out into the world their ’emotional backpack’ will be light, without the heavy weight of unheard feelings. This allows them to be in touch with their natural joy and kindness. It’s the greatest gift we can give our children.