With all the confrontation and strife around us, who doesn’t wish for a more peaceful world? I’ve watched people become embroiled in polarizing issues and hope that they’re paying attention to the sphere of influence where they are in control. As one concerned parent, I’ve decided to look first into the place where I can directly stir up peace: my own home. Here are some straightforward tips to help encourage other parents in the realm where they hold significant influence. Resist yelling around the house, no matter the size of your home. Walk into the next room and talk face-to-face with your child.
With her characteristic transparency Lori Borgman, grandmother of 11, syndicated columnist and author of, “I Was A Better Mother Before I Had Kids,” pleads guilty to sometimes raising her voice around the home. But, she says, that though it may be momentarily expedient, in the long run, it’s “a horrible habit to develop.” So, if we mess up from time to time, don’t give in. Work intentionally — like Borgman does — to prevent this oops from morphing into a hardened habit.
“Face-to-face is always better,” says high school counselor Susan Childs, noting that when one person’s voice is raised, it’s reciprocated, and pretty quickly, no matter the topic, the point of conversation is lost. Meredith Bodgas, mother and editor-in-chief of WorkingMother.com agrees that the message is affected by its delivery: “Get down on their level so you’re talking to them, not at them or above them. Not only will they be more inclined to listen to what you’re saying but you’ll also be less inclined to raise your voice since you’ll be so close to their little face.”
It’s tempting, but no interrupting or finishing your kids’ sentences. Be silent. Let them finish all their thoughts. It’s likely your kids will be more apt to return in kind and listen fully to you.
When your child asks a question or invites your opinion, weigh-in, but be brief. Don’t say everything on your mind. Short and sweet will stay with them longer.
Bodgas addresses the need for two-way communication, suggesting asking your child “What do you think?” after you’ve spoken. “It gives your kid a platform to civilly share what’s on his mind and allows for a difference of opinion, since you invited him to speak up. Both lead to healthy discourse.”
Childs says kids are often asking for something simple and, missing the point, we go way too deep. She uses the example of your child asking where kids come from, a question ensuring a parent’s flurry to unleash their rehearsed birds-and-bees speech, only to hear, “Oh, well, Bobby said he came from Cleveland.” This story illustrates the point that as parents we answer too fully, engaging our adult brains when answering our children’s questions. Instead, Childs suggests, “don’t elaborate too much unless they ask for more.” Use your sixth sense to feel them out if they want to keep talking; otherwise, stop, Childs recommends.
Love is action-oriented. Show up on time. Don’t be late to pick your kids up or be the cause of leaving late for school. You are communicating your love when you show up on time. It’s a matter of respect, Childs adds, to show up for your child when you say you will, no matter their age. Non-driving high schoolers feel it, too. “It’s just rude to be late to a meeting, so why wouldn’t it be the same when we don’t show up for our kids?” Childs says. “As adults, we try not to be late and show rudeness, so why wouldn’t we do the same for our kids?”
Childs’ perspective is seasoned, informed and personal, coming from years of school counseling experience. “Just don’t be late for your kids, not to mention that after-school staff has to wait –someone has to wait — with your child until you arrive. It’s a situation that snowballs.” She reminds us that our tardiness makes our child stand out. “Your disrespect is felt by child and school staff.”
Parents, Childs continues, are constantly searching for ways to help their children grow up to be respectful, kind and hardworking members of society, but that a child’s first introduction to respectful behavior comes from us, repeating the adage, “It starts at home.” She counsels to do as we’d like our kids to do and to make home a haven, a “place of calm for our kids.”
It’s not a simple world to navigate, for sure, and it’s certainly easy to get swept up in the latest flavor of controversy without making forward progress. How sweet and satisfying it is, then, to watch how small changes around the home can yield disproportionately large results.
Kathryn Streeter is a Washington, D.C.-based mom and blogger.