“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Regardless of this old adage, words have been used to initiate great harm across history and into our present day.
As parents, we’re in a unique position to help our generation of children learn to not only “use your words” but use words designed to harness the power of deep connection, understanding, healing, and good.
This month, October 1-31, Attachment Parenting International‘s 2017 Attachment Parenting (AP) Month theme centers around the reality that our words are powerful and most beneficial when we seek and use them to connect.
Words fly around us in every medium imaginable and even visual media is translated into verbal and/or written expression. We swim in a great alphabet soup. How can we make it more nourishing for all of us — especially our children?
“Watch your language” is a well-known parenting phrase we use to prevent our young children from hearing, parroting, or even intentionally using impolite or disrespectful words. Despite our best attempts, we’ve probably all felt — or will feel — embarrassed about something our child has said, especially when we know they learned it from us.
“Word power” begins with a bang when our children turn 2, and their word of the year is “no,” which not coincidentally, mirrors our own word of the year. “Use your words” is what we say as we continue to guide our children between impulsive, full-body language to a more needs-based verbal language. Learning how to express feelings and ask for help and cooperation is a learning task that occupies parents and children across all of childhood and through life.
Over time, our children won’t mimic us as directly as when they were 2, but they never stop absorbing what we say to them. They take our words deeply to heart and to the point that our words form the outlines of the fundamental belief system around which our children come to think of themselves.
Our words matter a great deal to our children even when we’re not addressing them directly. When our children hear us speaking to and about others, they absorb this into their own repertoire without awareness. This type of knowledge transfer isn’t obvious teaching-learning, but we realize it happens when we hear echoes of it in their conversations and interactions with siblings, friends, and others. Sometimes we’ll find our own words directed back at us.
Words constantly swirl around us in our adult world, and they have an impact on us as well. As adults, we have the ability to choose where we direct our attention, but it can still be challenging to select for connecting and uplifting messages. Negative news sells — that’s obvious. It’s also obvious how much easier it is to fill space with thoughtless, snarky rants and vents than to take time to write with civility, kindness, understanding, and empathy.
When we aim to use and seek communication for connection, it makes a powerful difference in our mood and health. We reap benefits, but so do our children, families, friends, and others we encounter. This kind of “word power” helps provide us with a kind of superpower — it’s not just a protective shield, but a positive energy. This kind of “word power” is protective, but even better, it allows us to radiate positive and connective communications.
Join us this October as we use our superpower — “Word Power: Communicating for Connection” — to celebrate AP Month 2017.
It can be especially hard for a child who’s entering a full-day kindergarten after being in a part-time preschool program the year before. The first few weeks of school may be especially trying, as it is a new routine and children are getting used to a new environment and new set of rules, but parents can help ease the transition into school.
The school day is a long day for young children and they will likely have many emotional needs when they get home. Kids may come home acting moody or cranky. Often, they’re also tired from the long day or could be hungry. The change in routine is also difficult for some children, and being away from home all day can be stressful.
Many children hold in their emotions all day while at school, so when they get home into an environment that feels like a safe space for them, those emotions tend to come out in full force.
As we work to respond to our children’s needs in a way that strengthens our relationship with them, it’s important to try to be patient and understanding of these emotions and to recognize why children are feeling this way. If these emotions lead to misbehavior, we can stay connected by acknowledging the feelings, connecting with our children, and then setting respectful limits.
Children all have different needs upon returning home from school, and as parents we may have to work to figure out what will best help our own children. Some kids need alone time, some may need plenty of outside time to run around, and others may need a way to relax and decompress.
When my oldest son entered kindergarten 2 years ago, I initially thought that when he came home, he’d just want to play with his toys that he hadn’t had access to all day or that he’d want to be outside. But all he wanted to do was watch TV. The more I encouraged him to play or planned afterschool trips to the park, the more upset and frustrated he would be that afternoon. It was a struggle for me to understand that he didn’t want to play and that he needed a way to relax.
I had to remind myself that when I come home after a busy outing, I usually just want to relax with a book. Then, I was able to recognize that he’s very much the same way. We eventually figured out several ways to make that happen. I was OK with television being one of those ways, but I didn’t want it to be the only one or our everyday routine.
Practicing Attachment Parenting also makes me aware of my children’s needs for connection and one-on-one time with me. This can be difficult when children are away at school for the majority of their day. By the time they come home, I’m already feeling tired from playing with my younger child throughout the day and I am almost ready to make dinner. However, I’ve had to make a real point to find ways to connect with them and to set aside time where we can play together.
We also have a consistent bedtime routine where I read to my sons and spend time with them in their bedroom before they fall asleep. Some days are certainly easier than others to make this happen, but their behavior, attitudes, and relationship with each other definitely seems to be better when we can make a point to be as attached as possible.
My daughter, who’s on the verge of turning 3, recently had a brief scary moment where she couldn’t find me at the playground. Though it was less than a minute before she spotted me again, for a child that young, that’s a long time and it can really leave an impression.
As I scooped her up into my arms, she started to cry and said, “I was looking for you everywhere. I couldn’t find you!” In the moment, I empathized with her sadness and acknowledged that it had been really scary for her. I held her for a while and then suggested we ride the swings, which is her favorite thing to do at the park.
After this incident, occasionally, she’s wanted to talk about what had happened. Sometimes when we mention that playground, she’ll talk about “one time I didn’t know where you were,” or when we’re snuggling at bedtime, she’ll suddenly start reminiscing about it and going over the details of it again. She also occasionally replays other upsetting moments — like when she was running outside her brother’s school and skinned her knee.
Often parents try to stop their child from reliving a sad or scary moment, worrying that it will only upset them more. Since the moment has passed, it could seem like nothing good can come from being sad over it again. In reality, many children need to talk about upsetting moments multiple times as they work to process the intense emotions they felt. While it may seem counterproductive, this helps them to work through it.
Trying to stop a child from discussing it again can actually cause them to stuff the emotions inside and never really resolve their pain. Talking about it can help them to feel better.
When my daughter brings it up now, after I acknowledge her feelings again, I also remind her, “But then you found me and I hugged you. Then, I pushed you on the swings.” I want to make sure she remembers how I comforted her afterwards and that we turned it into an opportunity to connect. This way, it doesn’t seem quite as upsetting, and it helps to turn it into more of a positive memory than one that makes her sad. I hope that in this way I’m helping her to process her emotions and to show that I’m there to support her through them.
Inspired to read more about children and strong emotions?