Getting to know each other can be difficult, here’s some tips to help
Co-authored by: Mari Peterson & April Brown
Our children come to us in many seasons of life, and through many mediums. Although in our heart of hearts we may understand that our children are their own complete selves, to love our children wholly for who they are at each moment can be a difficult endeavor. Especially if you were raised with parents who told you who you were supposed to be. Parents that thought they had all the answers.
My mom and I co-authored this piece and I’d like to reflect on a conversation we had a few months ago. When talking about the difference between raising my brother and raising me, she commented, “I knew who your brother was right away. We had so many similarities. You, I had to get to know you. You surprised and amazed me with your ability to read people and navigate social situations. This was new to me.” She had to “get to know” me. Not change me. Not challenge me for who I was. She genuinely cared about me as a full human being and tried to navigate how to interact with me so I could grow up to be authentically April. It wasn’t always easy, but this is one of the reasons I am who I am today. Her love was and is constant.
I share this with you because parents play a crucial role in their child’s development of identity. The words we say, the tones we use…well, children internalize everything. When we praise our children for different strengths (e.g. one is good at math, one is an artist, one is always getting in trouble for being too spirited) we fail to recognize that our children are forever changing, just as we do. Every child is multi-faceted. Acting a certain way in one situation, and coming completely alive in the next.
So we ask ourselves: how can we get to know our children and at the same time respect, liberate, and validate their identities? Here’s five tips:
Get to know the five love languages. We each have different ways of expressing our love and appreciation for those in our life that we care about. Dr. Gary Chapman is known around the world for his five love languages concept. Basically this concept helps us see that we each speak different love languages, and when we know what our love language is we can ask those we love to fill our love tanks in a way that’s meaningful and received positively.
Here is a brief overview of the five love languages:
- Words of affirmation: These are kind and supportive words that let our kids know we believe in them and value them
- Physical touch: Hugs, being carried, kisses, and high fives are preferred by some of us and they create a sense of belonging and safety
- Gifts: Some of us really like getting gifts from others, whether it’s homemade, or something store bought, gifts can be tokens of appreciation and show our love
- Quality time: Time spent 1:1 (distraction free) with those we love can mean the world to those who speak this love language
- Acts of service: Helping those we care about with challenging tasks or working through a difficult problem like a puzzle can send the message that they are not alone
Understand your child’s primary love language. If your child is verbal, you can ask them, “How do you know I love you?” and you may be surprised to find out their ideas. If your child is non-verbal, observe your child and try to figure out which of the five love languages your child responds to most (e.g. do they respond to words, touch, music, gifts, sensory play, or quality time). Remember that your child may also express their love for you in their own love language, so observing how they connect with you is also a great practice to get to know them!
Find activities you enjoy to do together. We can’t expect our children to share our interests. But what we can do is test out different avenues to get to know our kids better. For example, if your child is very spirited and thrives when running, jumping, and climbing, you may enjoy setting up an obstacle course or adventure course for your child inside/outside with a corresponding story (e.g. pretending to save a stuffed animal that is over the mountain, through the river, and by the path). Here are some more ideas:
- Cook a meal together and allow your kitchen and child to get messy
- Create something with play-doh
- Run around the yard or house and play hide and seek
- Build block structures and knock them down
- Head to the park and run around with your child
- Draw and paint with your child (you don’t have to be a professional artist to have fun doing this!)
- Spend some time outside (e.g. collect leaves and look at shapes and colors)
- Watch your child’s favorite show. H is really into animals right now and loves shows like Diego and Dora where the characters save the animals. Act excited about their interests and support them to expand their knowledge!
Accept your child as they are. We all know that every child is different. With busy lives, it’s easy to only pay attention to kids when they are doing something that grabs our attention (e.g. dumping cat litter down the toilet or just being super sweet). But we need to make an effort to validate our child’s existence when they are in a neutral state, too. If you child is decompressing watching some tv, playing with toys by themselves, or looking at a book, show them that you care about them and love them by speaking their love language (e.g. using words of affirmation, giving them a sticky note with a heart as a gift, or giving them a kiss on the top of their head).
Get curious. Sit and watch how your child interacts with their toys, pets, friends, and family. Think about this time as a gift to be able to get to know your child better. Here are some tips:
- Watch your child instead of interacting. Of course if you child needs you or really wants to engage, attend to them! But if they are busy playing independently, it’s a great time to observe what they are doing.
- Think about the level of activity your child needs to feel good by observing the types of play they enjoy. Some example types of play include:
- Swinging, running, carrying heavy items, jumping, wrestling
- Calm activities like reading a book, play with figurines or dolls, categorizing or sorting toys
- Sensory activities like play doh, water play, messy mud play, painting, or making faces out of foods
- Ask yourself if your child appears to have problem solving strategies that are similar to yours, if not, try to figure out how your child approaches problems
- Ask yourself if your child’s emotional reactions resemble yours, if not, observe how they express their feelings
Remember that love doesn’t have conditions. No matter how we were raised, it’s possible for us to choose to end destructive parenting practices for good. As parents, these patterns can emerge out of nowhere and the first step is recognizing that we’ve gone too far. If you yell at your child, push your child away, or say something you regret, show your child the power of apologizing. Tell them that you’ll try to do better in the future. Instead of shutting down, we can take responsibility when we make a mistake and embrace vulnerability.
Embrace the power of forgiveness. When our children do something that hurts us (it’s inevitable) we have the power to choose forgiveness. Holding grudges is a destructive pattern that can deeply affect our child’s emotional well-being. Remind yourself that you and your child are human, and hurting each other is bound to happen. Loving fully without conditions provides our children with the space they need to make mistakes and move forward without feeling a sense of unworthiness.
When we take the time to get to know our children, we honor their fullness and individuality. And as our children grow, they will feel fully liberated to be themselves!
This is the second blog in our Early Childhood Blog Series! If you missed our first blog, don’t forget to check out 3 Inclusive Summer Activities for Toddlers for lots of tips for making the most out of your kid’s summer.