Guest Post – What Kids Most Want and Need from Their Parents

Excerpted and revised from…

The Power of Your Child’s Imagination:
How to Transform Stress and Anxiety into Joy and Success
by Charlotte Reznick PhD
(Perigee/Penguin USA August 2009)
What Kids Most Want and Need from Their Parents
Dr. Charlotte’s Top Ten List
• Patience
• Understanding
• Listening
• Soft voices
• Structure
• Consistency
• Love
• Freedom connected to responsibility
• Family and extended family
• Role models

Things take time. It’s a simple and frustrating fact of life. You want your child to learn faster, change quicker, get unstuck sooner, and move ahead in life. But kids learn and change as fast as they are able, and no faster. If you can accept that, allow yours to be exactly where she is, and help her move, slowly and steadily, toward her goals, she might surprise you. Impatience, and its sidekicks Anger and Frustration, actually slow change, eating up energy and time. Tools like the Balloon Breath and a Special Place can help you keep your cool and gain perspective.
Childhood is a profound and challenging time, yet we quickly forget what it’s like to be a kid. With your understanding, your child will feel supported enough try new behaviors. Without it, he can feel cut off and alone. Let your imagination take you back to when you were ten, or eight, or five. What were you like? What crazy things did you hide from your parents? What were you proud of that they didn’t understand? How did they handle it? What would you have preferred? You don’t have to agree with your child’s point of view. You can still impose consequences on poor behavior. But if you can at least understand how he feels and why he does what he does, you can become the true coach on his life team.
Listening: Sometimes kids need to talk. A lot. They don’t want a quick fix or even a full solution. Often, unless they ask for help, they just want to know that you hear them. Even when they do ask, it’s still better to listen first and solve gently. After all, how can you understand what your child is experiencing until you really hear what she thinks and feels?
Soft Voices: No one likes to be yelled at, and children tell me they hear their parents’ words more clearly when they use soft voices. Otherwise, they hear the roar but miss the message. Tools like the Balloon Breath and Listening to Your Heart and Belly can center you before you speak, keeping you focused on the lesson you hope to impart.

Structure: Since much of life is unpredictable, clear boundaries, rules, and routines are comforting; they provide a dependable framework for your child’s life and help him feel safe. Try to incorporate imagination time into the structure of your day or week with the same stability as bedtime rituals and family meals. Your child will come to look forward to and rely on it.
Consistency: Consistent rules, expectations, and most important, consistent behavior on your part build your child’s sense of safety. She needs to trust that black won’t become white between today and tomorrow. You are the anchor in her world; if you say one thing and do another, she’ll lose her mooring. This doesn’t mean you should be rigid; there is something to be said for flexibility in responding to new situations. But before a child can trust herself, she needs to feel secure in the world around her; your consistency will foster that trust.

It goes without saying that you love your child. But it shouldn’t. It actually needs to be said a lot, and also shown in tangible ways. After all, love is more than a feeling; it’s an action. That sweet, sometimes painful, swell in your heart is just the starting point. How does your child know you love him? How does he experience it? Children are always translating messages from the world around them, but sometimes they’re mistaken. They may misread anger or impatience as lack of love. Don’t assume your child knows you love him. Keep this important gift front and center in all your interactions.
Freedom Connected to Responsibility:
Freedom is an important, but complex quality. Your child needs a certain amount of it—which grows as she grows—in order to develop independence. But it must be tempered by responsibility so she can build social grace and self-esteem. It’s a parental two-step: you let her go out to play with her friends (freedom) as long as she’s home in time for dinner (responsibility). Learning freedom within rules creates a more harmonious home and fosters an independent child who is accountable for her actions.
Family and Extended Family:
Try as you might, you cannot answer all your child’s needs for love and attention. It’s the impossible myth of the nuclear family. Community is a critical component of child rearing, a vital source of support for parents and children. And the core of your community is family—immediate and extended—as well as good friends who feel like family. Their love and assistance create a safety net for all of you. Maybe you can’t help with history projects, but Grandpa can. When things between you are temporarily strained, perhaps your child can find a sounding board in an aunt, uncle, or family friend. There’s nothing like another perspective to calm everyone down. Make the time to connect with your community. Everyone benefits when you do.
Role Models:
Children learn from what you do, not what you say. You are their first and most important role model. So be the person you would like your kids to grow into. Show them you can laugh at yourself. Make mistakes, apologize, and learn from them. Reveal and honor your feelings. Being a good role model will teach them more than anything you ever tell them.

Put into practice, these ten elements result in healthier, happier children and a thriving family.

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