Whether you had a happy childhood or an upsetting one, you are all capable of giving your children an enjoyable upbringing. Here are some of the basic points to remember as you stammer (like the rest of us) through parenthood.
1. Admit when you are wrong
Most of the time if we had a difficult childhood, we also did not have a healthy mentor to show us what to do when we are less than perfect. As a child, we might have learned survival techniques, such as hiding away or ignoring the fact that we screwed up. This is your time to take control and guide them in the right direction. This means that you are going to have to be strong and admit, even to your little ones, that you did something wrong.
The key here is to first admit what you did and discuss how you are going to remedy the situation. You also need to take the time to listen to their feelings about the situation and how they were affected. You need to do this no matter how small the incident. This makes sure that all parties are heard and it minimizes the likelihood for resentment.
2. Play mindfully
Play is one of the best tools to build attachment and trust. So the next time your child is playing, ask if you can play. As you start to play with them, let your mind be in the moment and remove all the adult worries. If thoughts of what to make for dinner or the grocery list come to mind, try to let them go and refocus yourself. Use your senses as you focus. Be aware of how the carpet feels under your fingers, how the car wheels sound on the hardwood, how there is a faint smell of cookies in the air or the details in the color of your child’s eyes.
3. Love them unconditionally
This means that we love them for exactly what they are, in the moment we are in. Most parents have a deep connection with their children, but loving them for their faults can be a bit difficult at times. This can be a difficult skill for many people who had critical or conditional caring parents themselves.
The best way to be successful with this is to remind yourself (and them, if possible) during a trying time, how much you love them. It’s easy to tell your kids how much you love them when they have straight As, win their basketball game or are playing nice with their cousins. The real challenge is taking the time to do this when they have used a sharpie on the refrigerator, are missing a bunch of assignments at school or are annoying their sister. Remember, we are not approving of their bad behaviors but rather acknowledging that their negative behaviors are just that – behaviors. We still love and care for the person they really are inside.
4. Set good boundaries & rules
Giving children and adults clear expectations can be one of the best anxiety reducers. There is a sense of predictability in the world around you when people are consistent, and this makes us secure in our environment. One of the perks to being a parent is having fun with them, but it is important to understand that they are still learning about the world, and you are their guide. When you boil this whole idea down, it is basically this: You are mentoring these young children to become functional adults. When life gets frustrating, remember the bottom line and set good boundaries.
5. Be active
You, as the parent, set the pace for your relationship. Be active in keeping the bond strong. Look for something you both enjoy. This is a way to connect with one another in a genuine way. Capitalize on your love of motorcycles, hiking or even cat videos. Take time each day to really listen to them and cultivate interests or goals. If you take the time to listen when conversation is light, they are more apt to come to you when they need advice or when they need to process strong emotions.
6. Get counseling
Children are a wonderful and beautiful experience, but they can also bring up triggers for trauma that we felt we had long taken care of. Merely the fact that they are getting older and hitting certain ages can be reminders of uncomfortable feelings we encountered during the same age. So do not be surprised when this happens. The best remedy for this occurrence is finding a reliable therapist you feel you can work with on these things as they come up. By seeking outside counseling, you can work on yourself and understand your current behaviors and feelings.
7. Know they will get hurt
At some point, no matter how well you protect them, they will get emotionally hurt. For those with upsetting childhoods, this can elicit a deeper response in which we feel that it will never repair. It can evoke feelings of hopelessness, despair and fear. When in all actuality, if they have a healthy stable home environment, they will be able to bounce back largely unscathed.
Keep in mind that just because you did not have a safety net when you were crashing and burning, it does not mean that they do not have one. You are that safety net for them. So maybe your caregivers never modeled the best protocol for the particular situation, but you get to try to model it for your children.
Even if you are stumbling through the entire interaction, you are there for them, and you are willing to listen. And that is the most important and rewarding part of being a parent.