Now that we have the goal in mind, namely raising a happy child (see Parenting-The Goal), the issue becomes how to go about doing it. In this article I will lay out one of the most important things parents can do to assure a happy child: Listen.
I’ll say it again. One of the most important things you can do to assure yourself of a happy child is to listen carefully and respectfully to what your child has to say.
It is my belief that a child’s nature is initially transparent. So by attuning correctly to the child at an early age, the parent can maintain communication, initially nonverbally of course, but later including verbal communication. This ongoing, non-judgmental communication between the child and the parent is extremely important to support a sense of security, trust, and well-being which the child will later internalize to become a secure, happy adult.
Unfortunately, the child’s initial honesty is all too often compromised by poor results in early communications with the parent. The child then has to learn “dishonest” ways to get his or her needs met, because they have learned from the parent that open communication doesn’t work, or may even lead to punishment.
There are myriad examples of poor communication out there, but the issues can be broken down into two categories. The first is failure to communicate (the message is not received because of inattentiveness, or is interpreted wrongly). The second is an inappropriate or in Jungian terms a complexed reaction to the message. In both of these cases, it is primarily the responsibility of the parent to do the work of assuring good communication between them and their child.
Children almost by definition are learning, and they learn primarily by mirroring their parents. “Do as I say, not as I do.”, if not accompanied by sincere recognition of parental failing, is almost never a successful message. This is because children’s first impulse is to idealize their parent. At an early age it is essentially impossible to believe that your parent is wrong. Parents are godlike figures for children. This is why it is so crucially important that a parent never shame their child, or suggest they are “bad” or inferior for whatever reason. These early messages become core beliefs, which linger when the child grows up and doesn’t even remember the events which caused them.
Sometimes a Mom and Dad’s poor example of not listening to their child, leads him to model them, and not listen either. Leading complexed anger and punishment by his parents. This will inevitably escalate and perpetuate itself as the child learns he is not worthy of attention, and must do more and more dysfunctional things to get the attention he needs.
Please listen carefully to your children. It often takes a lot of wisdom on the parent’s part to understand the message of a young child, or the “message behind the message” of an older child or young adult. Getting the message right, and acting appropriately, leads to enhanced feelings of security and enhanced bonding between parent and child.
As a side note, anger is a signal you are acting out of a complexed place. If you are angry, know you are not in a place to access your wisdom. Get to a safe place and take a break. Wait until you have calmed down to analyze what has happened and then decide how best to approach the situation.