We all want our children to grow up to be the best version of themselves. We encourage them to do well in school, and to excel at extra-curricular activities. We tell them to make friends and to be polite to elders.Sometimes though, in our constant quest to better our children, we forget how to just let them be.
Yet as it turns out, learning, (well actually, remembering), how to “just be” is extremely important! Children who accept themselves and their own feelings are happier than those who don’t, and they often do better at all of those activities that we have been cheer leading them in.
The moral of the story is this: Children, and really all humans, aren’t meant to constantly strive to improve themselves. What we are truly meant to do is BE. That’s why we are called human Beings. We have, within ourselves, everything that we need, right from the beginning!
So, how can you create an environment where your child can just be comfortable in her own skin?
One word, seven letters: Empathy.
Defined as, “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another,” empathy is an essential skill for parents to model. Empathic parenting is different from other, more authoritarian forms of parenting, where it is believed that parents must constantly be in total control of their offspring. Unfortunately, our society tends to emphasize this style of parenting, where in many cases, all it does is hurt the child.
We’ll give you an example: Say, your child comes home from school and reports that she was teased by another student. An authoritative parent might say something like, “Well, those things happen,” or “you better toughen up, or you’ll never be able to handle high school,” or “I’m sure it wasn’t that bad.” Parents who say things like this are well-meaning. They want to protect their children from getting hurt, as we all do. Yet the message that they are sending to their children is that their feelings cannot be trusted.
Sometimes, parents unconsciously try to steer clear of their children’s feelings because it is too painful for them to revisit how they once felt as a child. Other times, parents are simply following in the footsteps of their own care-givers. Either way, as parents, we would do well to dig deep and heal our own wounds, so that we can be fully present for our children.
Going back to the example above, a fully present parent might say: “It sounds like that was really difficult for you. Can you tell me more about it?” Whereas, the previous responses put an end to the communication, this response opens it up for more discussion. Remember, you don’t always have to have a solution for your child to feel heard and loved. Sometimes, all it takes is an open, listening, and validating ear to help your child feel free to be herself.
If you would like to learn more about empathic parenting, contact us. We are here to help!