Help Your Parents Stay Engaged
By Claudia Anrig, DC
As much as parents may wish it were so, children do not come with an instruction manual. There's no "how to" that can be followed and no two children are alike, so what works with one generally won't work with the next. However, there are things that can be done to let children know they are loved and accepted – they simply need to be engaged.
Considering we are their family wellness chiropractors, there may be opportunities to share strategies when a parent feels frustrated communicating with their children. You know you are making a difference when you share a small strategy with a mom or dad in the adjusting room and they come back and say, "Doc, the idea you gave me the other day really helped." Here are some suggestions to pass along to patients with children.
The Intentional Parent
Every parent knows what it's like to be busy. In the majority of households, both parents work to help sustain the family. This means family time is often compromised by work hours. Remind parents to recognize the value of the (limited) time available to spend with their child. Rather than sitting at the computer, in front of the television or with a phone in hand, saying, "Uh-huh, yep, OK, sure, can you leave me alone, I'm busy," without really listening, encourage parents to follow these three simple rules of engagement when their child approaches them: stop, look and listen.1-2
Stop what you're doing: Turn away from the computer, pause or mute the television and put down the phone. Look at the child: Look them in the eyes and smile at them. Dr. Ross Campbell, author of How to Really Love Your Child, says, "It's up to each parent to use eye contact to convey unconditional love." Then listen to what they say: Have a real conversation with them.3
The American Psychological Association recommends letting children complete their point before responding and repeating what you heard them say to ensure you understood them correctly.4 Ask follow-up questions so they know you were genuinely listening. Talk "with" them, not "at" them.
The topic could be something minor (for example, they child may just want a snack), but the fact that the parent stopped what they were doing and gave them their full attention will mean the world to their child. It tells them they matter and are more important than any activity the parent was doing.
The Talking Child
Every parent with a chatterbox child understands that sometimes, you simply want them to stop chatting. Some little ones tend to talk until they're winded and their conversations may not even make sense. Remind parents that they may feel like their child may never stop talking – but try to listen to them anyway.
One day, particularly as they get older, children may stop talking. The one-word answer may become common and, no matter the question, the answer may be, "Fine." When they're teens, they might not want to talk, so talk to them while they do.5
No matter how much children talk, remind parents to never say, "Will you just shut up already?" or "Do you ever stop talking?" Even said in a joking tone, it will sting and their little one may actually stop talking to them ... for good. So emphasize to parents that they should always pay attention and let their children talk while they're willing to. The long-term effect may be that as teens, they remember that their parents always listened.
Of course, if life gets in the way, you could suggest to parents a strategy to reschedule their talk: "I really want to hear about that, but I'm really busy with this right now. Can we talk after dinner?"If a parent never brushes off what their child wants to tell them, the child will always want to talk to them. So encourage parents to grab a Post-It or note card in these moments and write a reminder to ask their child to finish their story later, bring it to the dinner table, etc.
The Complimentary Parent
Children who grow up knowing they are loved may not always believe a parent's compliment. The parent may hear things like, "You have to say that, you're my mom" or "You're just saying that because you're my dad." Realistically, we tend to doubt compliments that come from people we know love us.
To help parents overcome this challenge, suggest they back up their compliments with facts. A compliment that includes support is easier to believe and may actually mean more because it tells their child they've been observing them and considering who they are becoming as a person.2
Another great parent strategy is to compliment their child's character; for example: "You are so generous; I saw you give your little brother the last few dollars he needed to buy that action figure he wanted" or "You have so much integrity! I know it wasn't easy to tell the truth when you dropped my phone, but you did it!"
Remind parents to recognize their children's efforts. Too often, parents focus on disciplining the negative, but forget to praise the positive. "I really appreciate your help setting the table; you did such a great job folding the napkins" or "Thank you for taking out the trash, it means a lot to me that you did that right away" can help build trust and self-esteem.
The point is to be sure the parent's compliments can't be considered empty platitudes, but a clear and undeniable recognition of the positive characteristics their child is displaying. Blanket statements can be doubted, but the message will gain heart-knowledge if a parent's compliment comes with proof.
The Communicating Parent
As children get older, there will inevitably be conversations they don't want to have with their parents. It's important that parents find their way around the wall of silence. The following strategies may help parents open the doors of communication:
More Than an Adjustment
In practice, we have the opportunity to suggest strategies to help our parents be more engaged with their children. At follow-up visits, take a moment and ask how they are doing or share a story from "your own chapter" of life raising your children. It's encouraging for parents to hear your unique challenges and how you sometimes missed the mark, and reminds them we can all improve.
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