Parents Leave Your Emotional Baggage at the Door

Recently I ran across a parenting blog in which the writer was reviewing an educational product. She immediately lost credibility with me when in her first paragraph, she wrote that the product made her feel like vomiting, and then used some form of sexual innuendo to refer to the innocuous item.I was curious: What kind of a person could have such an over-the-top, bizarre reaction to something so banal?
Reading her bio and other personal blog entries, I learned that she is haunted by a very sad childhood, filled with sexual abuse and parental abandonment. The non-physical disciplinary technique she was critiquing appears to have triggered her childhood feelings of terror, abuse and abandonment. I wondered, as I read her words, if the pain from her childhood was spilling over into her parenting.

It is important for us as parents to be aware of the emotional baggage that we bring from childhood into our children’s lives. Divorce, abuse, bullying, abandonment, neglect and the many other bad experiences one can have in childhood, often spill over into adulthood, and can have a drastic effect on how adults shape their children. It is hard enough to navigate through childhood without having to shoulder the hurt, anger and frustration of one’s parents.

Parents do not want childhood events affecting their adult decision making. It is natural that feelings are going to “come up” when we interact with our children. Parenting is much harder than anyone says and far more emotionally charged. It should be the intent of parents to calmly and rationally assess situations and respond fittingly. It can be irresponsible and counterproductive to make parenting decisions impulsively, stemming from feeling.

As Steven Covey says in The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People:

BETWEEN STIMULUS AND RESPONSE IS OUR FREEDOM TO CHOOSE.We have self-awareness, imagination, conscience and independent will. Responsibility is the ability to choose your response. Highly proactive people recognize that responsibility. They do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. Their behavior is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feeling.

Bearing that in mind, the responsible parent lets the feeling come up: frustration, anger, stress, disappointment etc., pauses to choose a response, and then responds based on what is appropriate, not based on what she/he feels. Kids are precious, innocent, and impressionable; they deserve a suitable adult response to their normal child behavior.

The mom blogger above lost her authority as an expert on parenting techniques because her unresolved childhood issues forced her to respond irrationally. The venom that she spewed would have been perfectly appropriate if directed toward, say, a child murderer, but when directed towards a simple product, her reaction was weirdly out of proportion. One can only hope that when faced with parenting issues that trigger her in the same manner, she doesn’t respond with the same rage.

Parents who have unresolved issues leftover from childhood owe it to themselves and their children to take action. Working through painful emotions with a trained professional can free them up to make rational choices. Their defensiveness can be replaced by thoughtful and mature responses and decisions. A well thought out, appropriate response, is far healthier for parent and child.

All people experience hurt and disappointment during childhood. If those childhood experiences are going to have a negative effect on one’s offspring, then it is prudent to deal with the pain. Identifying that a painful past is affecting one’s decision making and then seeking help to resolve those issues, assures parents that they don’t pass on the hurt they are experiencing, to their own children. Kids deserve a positive upbringing and the guidance of a rational, loving adult unencumbered with ghosts from the past.

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Six Communication Skills Every Child Should Know

“I was at a party the other night and I got trapped in the corner by a man who just talked and talked and talked. I tried to give him the signals to end the conversation, but he didn’t pick up on them. What a bore.” 

Teaching children how to communicate politely and effectively is one of a parent’s most important tasks. Assuming that children will learn proper communication skills without parental guidance is a big mistake. Parents should begin teaching their children basic communication skills at birth and continue to hone their child’s skills as the child matures. Communicating well with others is a basic tenet of society. 

Daily conversations with children are an excellent way for parents to model basic communication skills. Deliberate conversations with children, using polite conversational skills, help lay a foundation for good communication later in life. The parent’s ultimate goal is to raise a person who converses courteously, who listens to what others say, and who is able to clearly express his or her own thoughts, ideas and opinions.  

On page 195 of her book, Emily Post’s Etiquette, Peggy Post lists six basics of communication that parents should teach to their kids.  First, she advises, make eye contact. It is important that children be taught to establish eye contact with the person with whom they are speaking. Looking directly at the other person in the conversation shows interest and gives respect. Children need to be taught that looking away is a sign of disinterest and is not good manners 

Second, speak clearly and correctly. Using good pronunciation, not rushing speech and using good grammar are all aspects of communication that parents should model for children. Parents should pay attention to how their children are speaking and gently correct without embarrassing. There is no need to correct mistakes in front of others, doing so may cause children to feel self-conscious, inhibiting their speech in public. 

Third, take turns and don’t interrupt. Children must be trained not to jump into a conversation just because they feel like talking. It is important that parents curb this behavior and teach children self-control. When a child interrupts, the parent should stop their conversation, firmly tell the interrupting child to wait their turn, and then pick-up the conversation where they left off. 

Fourth, pay attention and respond appropriately. Modeling good listening skills to children is the best way to teach good listening. When conversing with children, parents should listen attentively and repeat key phrases back to the child so that the child feels heard. Ask appropriate questions of the child and allow the child to respond. Show interest in what the child has to say. The best conversationalists are those who listen well. 

Fifth, enter conversations politely. There is a correct way to join a conversation that uses good manners. If parents consistently demonstrate how to politely enter a conversation, overtime, children will learn the practice. Parents should show children how to approach the group quietly, smile to those in conversation, listen to what people are saying, and wait until they are spoken to before speaking.  

It is also important for parents to teach children how to behave politely when someone joins an active conversation. Those in the group should smile and nod to recognize the person joining them, when the speaker finishes, the group can greet the newcomer and make introductions. 

Finally, Post notes that one should end conversations pleasantly. Walking away from a conversation with good manners is a crucial skill to possess and one that parents should work hard at teaching to their children. Parents should encourage children to leave a conversation saying some pleasantry such as, “I promised my cousin that I would throw the ball with him and so I need to go now, but it was really nice talking to you.”  

Other important skills that parents should focus on when teaching children basic communicational skills are controlling volume, not using “potty talk” and keeping private matters private.  

Parents should also help children to understand nonverbal communication and cues. Rude facial expressions like eye rolling and grimaces as well as yawning at a speaker, hair twisting, turning one’s back to the speaker, finger nail picking and checking one’s watch, are all bad manners. Children need to learn that their nonverbal actions and behaviors can make people feel badly.

Learning to read other people’s nonverbal cues is an important lesson too, and with time, children will begin to understand when to end conversations, finish a story or change a subject.  

Being an adept communicator is a necessary skill in today’s world. Children need guidance from their parents to learn how to communicate effectively and politely. Good listening skills, self-control, use of good grammar, and sensitivity are all skills that are learned. If parents start modeling conversation skills early, they will help their children develop refined and sophisticated communication behaviors that will benefit them greatly in adulthood.