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Raising the next generation

It began with a deafening silence. Like any parent with young children, Shaun knew that’s often not good news. He legged it outside, and there they were, his three little girls, stripped down to their undies, drawing over each other with coloured markers. Even the family dog was sporting bright blue ears and a bemused expression.

They had to be out the door in 10 minutes. He took a couple of gulps of air and pushed down the anger that began to bubble under the surface. He thought, you know what — this is pretty darn cute. He hid a smile as they all pitched in to clean up.

Calm parenting helps to raise calm kids. With today’s ever-changing world, raising kids that are comfortable, confident and unruffled in the face of adversity has never been more vital.

As parents, equipping your kids with the skills to navigate life starts by working to building a nurturing, warm relationship with your child. Dr Collett Smart, psychologist and author of They’ll Be Okay: 15 Conversations to Help Your Child Through Troubled Times says the most important thing parents can do is to find ways to connect that are meaningful to their child. “We are social beings, and the connection is a vital part of wellbeing,” she says. “Connection happens through everyday things like baking together or demonstrations of love and care, like letting them choose their favourite bedtime book.”

It can even be regularly setting aside time when you won’t be interrupted so you can wholly focus on your child, listening as they share their hopes and dreams or what is troubling them.

Understanding emotions

There is no greater gift or privilege than to be a parent. But among the strawberry kisses, heartfelt hugs and beautiful moments, challenges exists as we work to raise our children the best way we know how.

As adults, we have learned to handle a gamut of emotions. We know what it feels like to be euphoric or rejected, to be embarrassed, humbled or even enraged. This is where it can be tough because kids feel the same things that we do; they just don’t know how to express them. This can cause them to act out or shut down and not communicate.

Psychologist Dr Kimberley O’Brien from The Quirky Kid says helping your child to expand their emotional vocabulary is a good place to start.

“Ask them what does surprise feel like in your body? What does anger feel like in your body?” she says. “To understand how different emotions feel inside, and then be able to name those emotions, goes a long way towards helping to regulate them.”

Use other examples your child can relate to. Ask them about characters in a movie they loved. How do you think the little girl
in the story felt when she didn’t get invited to the birthday party? Let your child know how you felt when something didn’t go as planned. “I was feeling very sad when I lost my favourite bracelet.”

The ability to be able to regulate powerful or big emotions, of course, depends on a child’s age. Very young children find it challenging, but as a child grows, through positive parenting they’ll learn suitable ways to express emotions.

Living a balanced life

We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to it. Understanding ourselves and the world we live in is a lifelong journey for everyone — we constantly learn and grow. We discover what works for us, what strengthens our relationships with others and what aligns with our core values and attitudes.

And whether we realise it or not, we are also learning about love and life from our offspring. Derek McCormack, director of the Raising Children Network, says parenting really is a two-way street. “We learn together; our children help to raise us as, just as we are raising them,” he says.

Finding balance in life is discovering a sense of calm among the chaos. It’s feeling centred within and being able to find your way out of an emotional storm.

If a person cuts you off in traffic, you can hurl abuse and feel your blood pressure skyrocket, or you can press pause and
take some deep breaths. McCormack explains there are two powerful core tools to effectively manage big emotions. “We can rethink the situation, or decide to distract ourselves away from what is triggering the emotions we feel,” he says.

Our kids are watching us and learning all the time, whether we realise it or not. If they see you navigate a potentially upsetting situation with grace, the more often it occurs the more they’ll likely follow suit. And of course the reverse is also true.

When you help your child to manage and navigate strong emotions, McCormack says it produces a beautiful synergy and teaches your child about feelings of empathy. “When a parent shows a child about emotions, the child learns that skill or approach and then uses that with other people — it really does pay it forward,” he explains.

Building trust and resilience

There are many ways you can meaningfully connect with your child to help them to learn about regulating emotions and understanding them. Establishing and building trust by being honest with your child and keeping promises made will help to pave the way. Dr O’Brien says just like all relationships, parent–child relationships need constant work. “It’s natural that the relationship with your child will ebb and flow — there will be days where you need to invest more one-on-one time,” she says.

Encourage your child and reflect positive behaviours that you see back to them when they show empathy, kindness or generosity of spirit when they connect with their peers or family. Help them to understand the power of forgiveness and learn to let go of resentment when they’ve been wronged, instead of thinking about payback.

Teach kids resilience. Life won’t always go as planned and there will be disappointments. Raising a resilient child means they’ll not only have the skills to regulate their emotions, they’ll gravitate towards healthy relationships, be adaptable and have more confidence in the choices they make.

Resilient kids are problem-solvers. They’re at less risk of depression and anxiety, and they will be more likely to respond positively in traumatic situations.

Praise good deeds

These days often kids get praised and awarded for simply showing up. While offering praise is encouraging for a child, too much praise can become meaningless. Not only that, it can send a powerful message Dr Smart says constant external praise communicates that we should only do something when we are recognised, and if we aren’t recognised then perhaps we should just give up. “Relying on external praise can also lead us to self-doubt when it’s not around,” she explains.

But she is quick to point out praise has its place when paired with character traits. Dr Smart says the parenting mantra “Parent with your child’s future adult in mind” helps us to think about the future adult we are raising. “Tell your child what you notice about their developing character and values, rather than an end result,” she says. “I am so proud of how you jumped up and helped your sister with the dishwasher tonight. I saw so much kindness in you there.”

Nature calls

There is a host of good reasons to encourage play outdoors — away from computer screens. A study by Oxford researchers of 575 children showed increased screen time during the 2020 lockdowns had a negative impact on their thinking skills, and the longer this was the worse the children managed their emotions.

To boost your child’s emotional resilience and help them find calm, head outdoors. As a parent there’s nothing like watching the pure joy on a child’s face as they run barefoot in the sunshine. Curious young minds will wonder in awe as they watch clouds dancing across the sky, smell fragrant flowers and giggle in delight as they watch a butterfly in flight.

Kids can see the beauty in nature; they want to reach out and touch it, to interact with it, to be a part of it. Remember the last time you were at the beach or in a green space with your tribe? They probably relished feeding the ducks, jumping in mud puddles and climbing to the highest branches they could reach in a leafy tree.

Kids need quiet time to pause, ponder and reflect. Being in nature is a soothing balm. Nature provides endless possibilities for thoughtful and active play; it piques a child’s imagination, and it encourages mindfulness, the practice of bringing calm, balance and acceptance to the moment. Learning the art of mindfulness can also help kids to develop decision-making skills. Mindfulness boosts emotional intelligence and connects them to what is around them on a much deeper level.

Risky business

As parents you don’t want to see your kids suffering emotional or physical pain. You step in to shield them from hurt; you put a positive spin on your rhetoric when they don’t win the race or make the cut for the gymnastics team.

Raising calm kids doesn’t mean eliminating every risk. Dr Smart says it’s instinctive to want to scoop up your child and rescue them from an adverse experience, but by constantly solving school or social problems you unwittingly disempower them.

“Something I encourage parents to ask their child is, ‘What do you need from me in this situation?’ Children don’t usually ask you to fix or solve the issue. Many times, they will just want us to listen,” explains Dr Smart.

At other times, kids might ask you to brainstorm ideas. Don’t give them all the answers. The key here is to ask open-ended questions, to let them find their way without jumping in to help.

Dr Smart adds that children get stronger and better at problem-solving when parents allow them to grow in confidence by trying to figure it out themselves. “They also learn that it’s possible to sit with very uncomfortable feelings and get through them,” she explains. “They learn that strong emotions are part of being human and they won’t be consumed by them.”

The gentle art of self-expression

We are all unique and that is a beautiful thing. To encourage your child to be their authentic self, provide opportunities for them to unleash their creative potential like painting, drawing or dancing. Let them know that you are there for them and have regular chats about your own feelings and disappointments to encourage them to share theirs with you openly and honestly.

When we express ourselves, be our true selves and feel accepted, we are happier, more emotionally balanced and more content.

Let them weigh into choices about leisure activities. Will we go to the park today? Or do some painting in the sunshine? When possible, let them choose what to wear. How we present ourselves outwardly to the world is also a powerful way to express ourselves.

In praise of gratitude

According to Harvard Health, giving thanks can not only make you feel happier, you feel more positive emotions. Gratitude is also
a powerful tool for dealing with adversity. Acknowledging the goodness in your life, the things that bring you joy, has a positive physiological impact on your brain and body.

An attitude of gratitude also works directly against a popular culture ethos of greed: “give me more” rather than “I have sufficient for my needs”, or of “good enough” rather than “perfection at all costs”.

Keeping a gratitude journal is a great way to count your blessings; while many adults do this, kids can also benefit too.

McCormack says getting kids to write down or name what they are grateful for has profound benefits on their psyche. “The act of capturing the things your child is grateful for in a journal can, over time, help to build emotional strength and resilience,” he says.

 

 

 

 

 

Carrol Baker

Carrol Baker

Carrol Baker is an award-winning freelance journalist who is a passionate advocate of natural health and wellness. She writes for lifestyle and healthy-living magazines across Australia and internationally.

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