By Dr. Joshua Straub
I have a sign hanging in my office that serves as a constant reminder of the unparalleled influence I have as a dad. It reads:
The beauty of it all is that no matter our story or family background—good, bad, or ugly—we have 100 percent control in writing a new script. And it’s a good thing, too. Research shows that as parents, we coauthor our children’s story by how we relate to them.
That’s because our kids, especially when they’re feeling fearful or anxious, turn to us to answer the internal question we all ask from the first day we enter the world: Am I safe?
When our kids turn to us as their parents to have this question answered, our response wires their brains for what they come to believe about and how to act in relationships.
The other day our daughter, Kennedy, walked into my office pushing the baby doll she got for Christmas in her little stroller. The baby’s pacifier had fallen out and she needed my help to put it back in the doll’s mouth. As I helped her, I noticed how gentle and affectionate she was with her baby.
Kennedy, Lord willing, will likely one day be a wife and mom. Our son will likely be a husband and father. As parents, we’re not raising kids, we’re raising adults who will one day have a home of their own—a story they pass on to their kids—a story that began in your home.
Here are 3 ways we can be emotionally safe for our kids in 2017:
1. Get to Know Your Own Story Better: We’re the coauthors of our children’s stories.
The quality of our presence with them in our home will one day determine the quality of our kids’ presence in theirs.
For many of us, our inability to be emotionally available to our kids, our angry reactions, yelling, or even shaming comments are usually a reflection of our own childhood.
Begin by writing down your parenting fears. Many of our reactions and how we treat our kids are fear-based (fear of our child turning out a certain way, fear of what others think of us, fear of being inadequate as a parent, etc.)
2. Understand to be Understood: Follow the Golden Rule of Parenting: In order to be understood, we must first understand. Most often, our child’s underlying motivation behind a temper tantrum or disrespectful attitude is not a personal attack on us as the parent. There’s typically something else deeper going on with our child.
As John Gottman explains, “My child isn’t giving me a hard time. My child is having a hard time.” Understanding the difference matters.
A child who feels understood by us is a child who is safely allowed to feel. Her negative emotions are not punished, dismissed, or minimized but instead are validated and explored.
3. Value the Emotion, then Set Limits on the Behavior: Grace is when we love our child unconditionally for who she is. Truth is when we love her enough to not leave her that way.
In a Safe House, some of us have a high wall of grace but a low wall of truth. These parents value the emotion, but fail to set limits on the behavior. Research shows these kids likely grow up with feelings of entitlement and disrespect for authority.
Some of us have a high wall of truth and a low wall of grace. These parents set limits on the behavior but offer little to no understanding of their child’s feelings or needs. The danger here is sacrificing the relationship in the name of following the rules. If we want obedient children in the short term, these techniques may work. But what they don’t do is engage the parts of the brain necessary for the long-term relational success we’re looking for in our kids.
Grace and understanding must always come before advice-giving, problem-solving, and discipline. That’s because truth without grace is received as condemnation.
This year, let’s work to be parents who are more self-aware, emotionally present with our kids, and who love our kids enough to not leave them as they are.
That’s where their story begins.
YOU are home.
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Connect With Dr. Joshua Straub
Joshua Straub, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, family advocate and professor of child psychology. He is the president and cofounder of The Connextion Group, a company designed to empower parents, spouses and families. Josh speaks and writes on emotionally safe parents and spouses and the influence of technology on today's family. He is the author of Safe House: How Emotional Safety is the Key to Raising Kids Who Live, Love, and Lead Well and along with his wife, Christi, is the producer and co-author of the video curriculum The Screen-Balanced Family: Six Secrets to a More Connected Family in the 21st Century. For more encouragement and ideas on marriage and parenting in the 21st century you can join Josh and a growing tribe of awesome families at www.joshuastraub.com and follow him on Twitter @joshuastraub or Facebook.
Josh and his Canadian wife Christi reside in Nashville, TN with their son, Landon, and daughter, Kennedy.
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