Full disclosure: I’m not a parent, but I get asked for advice about parenting and children all the time. I admit that it’s a little weird, but I guess being a nanny who helps to raise other people’s children makes people trust me with theirs. Trust is a short word with an important definition, not to mention it’s the foundation of every close relationship we’ll ever have!
Catherine M. Wallace (2001) said, “Listen earnestly to anything [your children] want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff” (p.114).
There was a video clip I once watched of a comedic skit where a man described his 4-year-old losing it over her balloon floating away. The dad could not believe how much of a fuss his daughter was making over a stupid balloon! He asked her to calm down and said that they’d get another one. Then, he hilariously related an adult version of the hypothetical balloon floating away. What if it was instead your wallet? What if your wallet, something you hold very dear and keep next to you almost always, just up and started floating away?! You’d be frantic! Someone scoffing and offering to buy you another would not help at all. It’s not that it’s a wallet, it’s the fact that it’s your wallet. Well, he explained, the stress of losing your wallet is what his daughter felt about the balloon. Adults have to worry about different things than children, but that doesn’t mean they feel any less heavy to them than life’s stresses do to us grownups. Part of building a foundation of trust is recognizing how valuable something is to your child and acting accordingly, even if you do not see it the same way.
Another important part of building trust is learning to respond to your child’s emotions, no matter how out of control they may seem. Do you as an adult always know why you feel anxious or mad? Of course not, because emotions are part of life and we don’t always understand them. Children are in the process of learning to regulate their emotions, so behavior is directly tied to emotions that they may not understand. When they feel wrong, they’ll act out and “when they feel right, they’ll act right” (Faber & Mazlish, 2012, pg 1, para. 4). So how does a parent help their child to “feel right”? By validating their emotions and experiences!
When we talk to other adults, even if we do not agree, we usually validate them by acknowledging that what they are going through must be difficult. It’s the same with kids. “Children don’t need to have their feelings agreed with; they need to have them acknowledged” (Faber & Mazlish, 2012, pg 27, para. 7).
Acknowledgement of an emotion means to help them recognize what they are feeling and why, and then helping them to either correct the problem or handle the emotion if nothing about the situation can be changed. The fact is, according to Faber and Mazlish (2012), that “the more you try to push a child’s unhappy feelings away, the more he becomes stuck in them” (Faber & Mazlish, 2012, pg 41, para. 5). They explain, “Steady denial of feelings can confuse and enrage kids. Also teaches them not to know what their feelings are–not to trust them” (Faber & Mazlish, 2012, pg 1, para. 6).
There’s that important word again. Validating your child’s experiences and valuing what they value is vital in creating a strong relationship – and if you’re lucky – eventually a friendship with them. Dr. Haim Ginott, talks on this subject in his book Between Parent and Child (1965). “It is a deep comfort to children to discover that their feelings are a normal part of the human experience. There is no better way to convey that we understand them” (Ginott, 1965, p. 20, paragraph 6).
Faber, A. & Mazlish, E. (2012). How to talk so kids will listen & listen so kids will talk, 30th anniversary edition. New York, NY: Scribner Classics
Ginott, H. (1965). Between Parent and Child: New solutions to old problems. Oxford, England: Macmillan.
Wallace, C.M. (2001). Motherhood in the balance. New York, NY: Morehouse Publishing