Construction Crew or Demolition Crew?

Originally Posted on June 14, 2013 by BJ Howell.

What is your child learning from you? I think it goes without saying that children are like sponges; they soak up everything. What they see and hear effects them in one way or another. Sometimes there are visible changes within them. At other times the effects are more inward, changing how they view the world, how they view themselves and/or the decisions that they make. It also goes without saying that children are always watching…and listening. So, what are we modeling for them? Is it something that will enhance their well being? Or is it something we wished they didn’t see or hear? Something that may hinder their chances for success or make their life journey more difficult? I am a huge fan of the thought process that people do the best they can and when they learn better they do better. However, I know this isn’t always the case, since so much relies on the environment people grew up in, the experiences they’ve had, their skill set and their desire to change. So, it becomes more than whether we are aware or not. Whether we choose to do better, or different, is what it boils down to. So I like to look at it in terms of a construction site…do we want to build up or tear down our children? For me, this makes the choice a little clearer. Sometimes when we realize that our behavior effects others, we do things differently.

So, looking at what children need…after love and nurturing, are those skills that will allow them to effectively interact with themselves and with the world around them. Emotional awareness, reflection and regulation are those needed skills. Knowing about the different emotions and how to recognize them within themselves and in others is important. Just as important as being able to regulate themselves when they experience a stressful emotion. This is a difficult skill to model to our children if we haven’t learned it ourselves. Can children learn it on their own? Yes, however, it won’t come without a great deal of unnecessary heartache. So, learning it from the people in their environment (parents/family), at an early age is ideal. It is as important as learning about family values, integrity and character. It can also be as seamless to teach. For example, very rarely do parents sit their kids down and verbally tell them what the family values are. Rather, those values are modeled through every day situations and interactions. Modeling emotional regulation should be a part of everyday situations and interactions as well.

A common scenario…
-You are driving (with your child) on the interstate and a car cuts you off, forcing you to slam on the breaks. You’re angry. You immediately speed up and in retaliation you yell at them through the window or better yet, give them the finger. What does that teach your child? If that type of reaction is the norm for you, it teaches them that you don’t have control of your emotions; other people do. It teaches them that if someone does something that you don’t like, you do whatever feels right at the moment, regardless if that action is right or wrong, hurtful to others, or carries a negative consequence.
-On the other hand, if you take a deep breath and acknowledged that you are angry because what that driver did was not safe and it scared you. Then say that…along with something like…”I wish they would slow down”. That teaches your child that it is ok to get angry. Anger is a normal human emotion, but you don’t have to lose control and you certainly don’t have to act out because you are angry. The most important thing it teaches is that you may not be able to control anyone else, but you can control you. If we, as parents, are lacking in this area, it is our responsibility to explore and resolve our issues, so we can appropriately and genuinely model behavior that will enhance their skills.

If you are able to appropriately express your feelings and in difficult moments choose to remain regulated or take immediate steps to self-regulate (and even talk yourself through it out loud) your child will see, hear and learn a valuable lesson. Something they can build on. As adults, living in a chaotic world, can we exhibit appropriate behavior 100% of the time? No. But if we work at it we can do it 90% of the time. Although there is no formula, much like everything else in life, I think it comes down to a balancing act. If there are more consistent positives (information and experiences) surrounding our children, the negative information/experiences will not have as huge an impact.

So, relax, regulate your mind and body….and be empowered.

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