In previous “Parenting Toolbox” articles, our experts wrote about using respect to enhance your relationship with the teens in your life, as well as how to connect more with your child. For this article, the focus is on using information to forge strong relational bonds. These might be with the children and youth in our lives, or even with other adults.
Have you ever been around a baby who cried as soon as they couldn’t see their mom or dad? Maybe it was your own child, or perhaps it was a relative’s or close friend’s? The baby could not yet understand that their parent was just in the next room. To them, mom or dad had left the universe! Baby lacked the information that the disappearance was temporary, and hadn’t yet learned that even though mom or dad can’t be seen, they still love and care for you. It was missing information that caused the baby’s meltdown.
The same principle is true for children and youth (even adults) of all ages.
“In the absence of information, we jump to the worst conclusions.” – Myra Kassim
As parents, there is a lot of information in the world from which we wish to shelter our children. And that’s okay. But information can be a useful tool when we want to help children who have become upset, or even to prevent a child from becoming upset.
In the event that a child is upset, we can give them information that can help alleviate their fears and assure them that things will all work out. A child awakened by a nightmare needs reassurance that their bad dream can’t hurt them, or that there nothing is under the bed or in the closet.
In other situations, a child might be afraid to tell us about something they’ve done for fear of our reaction. This is a good opportunity to give them information that it is always okay to approach us as their parent with whatever is on their mind. Without that information, they jump to the worst conclusion: that we as a parent will be angry and upset. In a child’s imagination, an angry or upset parent can mean that they are no longer loved, or that the relationship between parent and child is damaged beyond repair. That’s not the type of relationship we want with our child. All parents are human beings and humans get mad. Anger is an okay emotion, but it’s important during these times to remind the child that, even if we get upset, we still love them, and will work through this together with them.
Imagine another situation in which your child sees you and your partner having a hushed conversation. They might jump to a wrong conclusion, such as, the family is moving away, Christmas is canceled this year, or that they are in big trouble. In these cases, the child most likely doesn’t need to know what your hushed conversation was about, but they might need some information to reassure them that things will be okay.
In other situations you might want to give your child information to help them before they become upset.
Perhaps a big anxiety-causing event is approaching. It might be a test at school, sports tryouts or musical auditions, a visit from relatives, or a first sleepover. You can use information to start alleviating fears before the big day. Talk about the things that are reassuring: your love for your child won’t change if they make the team or not. Share an anecdote about a famous individual your child admires who didn’t do well on tests: Steven Spielberg was rejected from film school three times.
As parents, we would rather see our children live without fear or anxiety. Unfortunately, the reality of the world dictates that these stressors will continue to be a part of our children’s lives. Providing our children with appropriate information at appropriate times can go a long way in helping them develop their own coping skills.