Humans have an innate need for belonging and family is the first world to which we belong. First our relationship with our parents and our siblings determines, in many ways, who we turn out to be and how we interact with our spouse, our children and relatives. Challenges are inevitable…and necessary; overcoming them is a great part of building connections and relationships.
As a teacher and a counsellor I get a lot of requests from parents asking for help on how to ‘deal’ with behaviour problems in their children. Although each family is different with different needs and dynamics, in more than one occasion I have found that at the root of it all there is a need for the child to become ‘visible’ in the eyes of the parents.
If you have kids I am sure that (just like me) you heard the call from the monkey bars “mommy, mommy, look at me, I made it to the top!” or “Mom, watch this, watch this”. As children grow, the ways in which they seek attention changes and so do the ways in which we (parents) give it.
Unfortunately one of the things kids learn very fast is that negative behaviour gets parental attention much faster and more intensely than positive behaviour. Our children need us…not us busy in the kitchen, getting them to school, or writing an email or looking at our phones when they are telling us about their day. They need us to learn to see them for who they really are (instead of for who we think they should be or who we want them to be). They need us to validate their feelings and their ideas (even if we don’t agree), and to be present sometimes in very simple ways.
The idea is that if the child gets positive attention he or she will not use misbehaviour to feel it has your attention. In his book “The intentional Family” William Doherty proposes that families are struggling because “…the tug-a-war of our current life styles has created a gap in the connections we establish with those we love the most”. Basically he says that (and this is a very, very short version of what he explains) everything is competing for our attention, our work, house, friends, extended family, and of course our children.
A great way to re-establish those connections is to create Family Rituals. Family rituals generate positive interactions and puts attention on the children, positive attention that is. They are opportunities in which nothing is expected of your child but your full attention is on them.
These rituals do not have to be something complex: simply a series of intentional activities that the family can do together just for fun or with a goal in mind. For example, a goal could be to provide your child with the opportunity to ‘shine’ for you in his or her own way, outside of school, athletic commitment or other pre-established activity (i.e. dancing, art class, etc.) Have you ever played with your child letting him/her lead? What does suppertime at your house looks like? What happens on Sunday afternoons? Do you plan the weekend or do you just wing it?
Here are some examples of rituals:
- Have supper together (no TV in the background) at least once a week.
- Plan one activity a month together with the whole family, and everyone has to participate. A variation of that is that each member of the family will take a turn planning the activity. You might have to set some ground rules here otherwise you might end up at the nearest trampoline park, believe me…it might happen.
- Set up something specific to happen every Sunday/Saturday afternoon.
- Family movie night
- Family game night
- Family nature walk
- A week of no TV, no electronics or a combination of both
Without a doubt the best ideas for you would be the ones that you create with your own family. Listen to your kids; they might come up with very interesting suggestions.