People tend to be reactive. Something happens. We react. The next thing happens. We react. We spend many days putting out fires without taking the time to consider why we react as we do and how we could be more effective; yet, we want our children to measure their reactions carefully. A child grabs a toy and we want our child to remember to say, “I don’t like when you do that.” Children get frustrated and we want them to remember not to push or shove or refuse to wait. Do we model that behavior? Do we think before we act?
The power of self-awareness and reflection is immeasurable. We all make mistakes. We all get carried away by emotion sometimes. We can model the ability to reflect and self-correct for our children. We can be examples of wisdom rather than drama.
Make self-awareness a family activity. Each day, spend time discussing the following questions:
- What was great about today?
- How can I make great times like that happen again?
- What was hard about today?
- How can I make that hard time easier next time?
When my boys were young, we used to sit at the dinner table and tell the best part of the day or the week and the worst part. Even though we didn't do it often enough, they can still easily have that conversation. Now that they are adults, it is a conversation that happens intrinsically when we talk. They talk about the good in their lives and the things that frustrate them. When they do, we talk about their options. The ability to have that discussion starts in early childhood.
Most preschoolers can tell you about the best part of the day and the hard part of the day. Remember that their point of view is different than that of an adult but it is equally valid. A young child may think the best part of the day was having crackers for snack. Celebrate it. A young child may think the hard part of the day was not getting to play with the trains. Empathize and talk about how he/she might ask for the trains next time. Remember to not only hear them but to listen. When you listen, don’t jump in with a solution. Ask questions that lead them to finding the solution by thinking about themselves and their world.
A discussion about the day should include you and your children. They need to see that adults experience fun and frustration just like they do. They need to see that adults don’t always like their own behavior and can improve upon it. Most importantly, they need to see that families can discuss good times and hard times with calm, thoughtful lack of judgement. They need to see that they won’t be teased or ridiculed for their missteps. It fine to laugh with them but not at them.
When you have this conversation often enough, you will all begin to consider your actions before the fires start. You will be in the habit of thinking about yourselves and how you behave. Someday, if you communicated well and without judgement or concern for appearances, your children will willingly share their good times, their bad times and their thought process with you.
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