Relationships are at the heart of everything. We are all connected.
– Denise Roy
Do you consider yourself a ‘kid person?’ Or, to up the ante, do you have children of your own?
Regardless of whether or not we have our own kids, the parenting skills of others produce a ripple effect throughout our communities, as do our own interactions with other people’s children. I’ve always thought of parenting as the most important job in the world, as well as the most challenging: dealing with an abundance of shifting variables while bearing the responsibility of another human being’s well-being (who is actually partly you) seems a tad daunting — and, at the very least, certainly a role that deserves some deep consideration, no?
Raising mindful children
I often wonder whether I’ll ever have kids. To be honest, the thought scares the living daylights out of me. Seeing a mini-me wandering this earth will remain, for now, safely stuck in the realm of science fiction — I’ve worked really hard for many years just to be able to take care of myself properly! I’m not ready to manage another person’s livelihood at the moment. Though, as time passes, my perspective fluctuates: while I used to say that I would absolutely, positively never have children, I’ve started to consider the idea a little more during the past few years. If I happen to meet someone with whom I could see myself raising a child, I suppose the tide might fully turn. (But, don’t hold your breath!)
And yet, even with my general aversion to personal parenthood, I’ve managed to accumulate a wealth of experience with kids. From babysitting, to teaching swimming lessons, to teaching English, I’ve had enough one-on-one time with little people to realize two things: 1) children have invaluable things to teach us, and we’d do well to listen up; and 2) genuinely connecting with kids is sort of like learning another language — it works a different part of our brains, and hearts, and introduces us to new ways of relating to our linear, adult world.
If we brush past kids, and disregard the wisdom they have to share, we’re not only hurting them, but also hurting ourselves. Taking the time to pay attention to children makes a big difference in their lives — and our own. Photo by Kimberly Bryant.
To dig deeper into how we can all better connect with children, I reached out to parenting coach Marisa Lianggamphai for her advice on the subject. Marisa shares with us some wisdom on how we can cultivate a mindful connection with children — a practice that applies to everyone, not just parents, since we all contribute to the experience that children have here in our universe.
The problem with power struggles
Marisa says that the biggest mistake that most parents and caretakers make when it comes to raising children is two-fold: “The two main problems are creating power struggles and not building a trusting relationship.”
Today, Marisa explains what power struggles are, why they’re unhelpful, and how we can shift our behavior to create a more mindful connection with our children.
Unnecessary power struggles are likely to arise when we’re not being mindful in our communication with children. Being clear and truthful about our intentions brings clarity to our relationship with kids. Photo by Kimberly Bryant.
K: Can you explain to us what power struggles are, and how they affect our connection to kids?
ML: A power struggle is created when the parent wants the child to do something and uses various means to get the child to do so. It can be negative, such as threatening punishment, or positive, such as offering a reward. Variations on these two basic themes include cajoling or enticing, and displaying anger or disappointment.
Creating power struggles can occur with both larger and smaller issues. An example of a larger issue is whether the child will apply themselves in school or not; an example of a smaller issue is whether the child will eat their vegetables or not.
Power struggles are a mistake because, often, the child is not reacting against the specific issue per se, such as whether they will do schoolwork over the long-term, or eat their vegetables at dinner. Rather, the child is reacting against the power struggle itself. If you remove the power struggle, you will have a child who makes thoughtful decisions, usually to their overall benefit and health.
There are ways to keep the child safe, fed, educated, and so on without creating power struggles. In fact, the child is more likely to do healthy and beneficial things with the absence of a power struggle.
Connecting mindfully through clear intentions
Thank you to Marisa for her thoughts on this. To cultivate a practice of mindful parenting, we need to gain clarity in our intentions, and demonstrate transparency in our choices and actions. Marisa adds that, “the lowering of power struggles is paramount, and little can be accomplished wholesomely without this.” She further suggests:
“To start lessening the power struggle, you can begin with having an intentional conversation with your child, starting with questions. The goal is to ask as many questions as possible, in an open and welcoming manner, and to actually listen to the answer — without offering your own opinion, at this point. Your own view, and joint problem solving, will come later. But for now, listening is very important and will help to lower the power struggle.
Not only that, but sometimes the open-hearted Q & A will shift the current situation altogether. The problem takes on a different face, the child feels greater motivation to help solve the problem, or creative solutions come to mind, since the power struggle is not blocking the actual problem solving.”
Power struggles also exist during adulthood, whether at work, or in relationships between romantic partners, friends, or family members. For example, if my boss is telling me to do a meaningless task for the sake of keeping me busy, rather than being genuinely productive, I’m probably not going to feel very enthusiastic about following through on it. However, if I’m given a task with a clear purpose, and an explanation as to why the task is important, I’ll understand the intention behind my actions, and perform it well.
By modeling our own behavior as mindful and intentional, we can teach our kids to act with integrity. Being clear and open about our intentions is also a positive practice for increasing our overall sense of peace in all aspects of our lives.
Remember: this life is not about perfection. It’s about practice – the practice of recognizing the grace that’s present in each moment. The grace is always there. We just need to create a little space, a little breathing room, to be aware of it to let it open us and soften our hearts.
– Denise Roy