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Parenting in the Twenty First Century

Parenting in the Twenty First Century

Growing up in America has taken on a new dimension in the recent decades. Children are exposed to many more “truths” than they were in the baby boomer generation. Our generation hid the adult issues, talking in whispers when the children were around or sending them out to play when adults needed to talk. The old adage: Children need to be seen and not heard, was largely touted as the way to raise children. The advent of the 24 hour news cycle and the internet, however, opened up a world of wonder, knowledge and violence for everyone, including children. Exposure to this information came with a price for the American family.

When there is a spotlight placed on American Children, it is often directed at the disrespectful children or the disruptive, dis-regulated youth. Many say that bad parenting is responsible for the increase in juvenile delinquency, gangs and the general disrespect among our young children. Although it is never a bad idea to reflect on our parenting, the changes in society and the increase in technology play an important role as well. This is not a judgment, but an observation.

We now know, due to a new body of research, that children respond to their parent’s emotions at a younger age than we ever thought possible. We also now know that social emotional development is central to positive outcomes and learning. When children are exposed to information they can’t process due to their developmental level,( or delay), but are aware of their parent’s stress, they respond by either withdrawing or reacting. Social emotional development, especially empathy is as a crucial a learning skill as is problem solving. John Gottman author of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child reminds us to create an “empathy reflex”: “Your fist response to any emotional situation.” Gottman further states that you should employ two simple steps,” Describe the emotional changes you think you see, and make a guess as to where these emotional changes came from.” Instead of reacting to the emotional situation, allow yourself time to reflect on it, and respond to what you think is happening. If you do this out loud your child will understand that you are aware of their emotions and that you want to help. By stating the emotion, you are “coaching” the child to handle these types of emotions independently later on. It is important to remember, however, that Children with delay or disability may need repetitive coaching as they begin to understand and register emotions.

Technology can’t foster social emotional growth. That skill needs to be taught through experience and through face to face expressions. John Gottman reminds us of 2 very important relationship principles: “All feelings are permissible; not all behavior is permissible, and the parent/ child relationship is not a democracy; it is the parent who determines what behavior is permissible.” You set the standard for what is appropriate by how you handle what isn’t.

Children are exposed to countless violence and insensitivity on many platforms, and on many screens starting at a very early age. What they see on those screens can’t be left to stand alone, with no response or counter view. Twenty First Century parents have a daunting job to balance the need for technology with the need for positive emotional development in their children. Finding your empathy reflex and using it often as a model to your children, will go a long way to enhancing the social emotional development of your children: America’s future.

For more information and guidance on screen time check out:

Emotion Regulation

Emotion Regulation

A meltdown, the typical response from a two year old when he is unable to have the thing he wants, can be the ultimate problem for parents. Couple that meltdown with a public display, and a seemingly calm and confident parent turns into a whining, bribing, pleading yelling out of control adult! Why?

John Gottman a professor of psychology at the University of Washington and author of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, tells us to let go of your “Parental Agenda”. He explains that when a child has big emotions and is feeling out of control, it is a time for parents to label the emotion for their child, accept this as a teachable moment, and demonstrate empathy. He further explains that we need to let go of what we think should happen and accept what is. Our response will then come from the part of the brain that calms emotion and problem solves: the frontal lobe.

Taking a closer look at that child who is out of control, we see a child who is developmentally in the “me Stage”: he wants it, and in his mind then he should have it. The parent has set the limit and the child has hit a wall. The limit has been set, but we can still imagine how that child feels…we can empathize with him. By verbalizing his emotion back to him,” I think you’re angry or frustrated”, and saying we know how that feels, we offer the child a moment of understanding, of connection. We can tell him that we wish he could get everything he wants, but as a parent we know that is not good for him. We can use this as a “teachable moment” and problem solve with him, or suggest something else to do. Of course if the child is unable to “hear us”, we might need to wait it out and then offer the labeling and empathy.

Emotion regulation is the ability to understand and manage feelings. When we can regulate emotion we have less stress and can control our impulses. As parents we want to help our children become regulated, as that will increase their ability to learn and problem solve, which are abilities that are tied executive functioning of the brain.

Gottman tells us, “Empathy not only matters, it is the foundation of effective parenting”. We need to create an “Empathy Reflex” and make it the first response to an emotional situation. This skill entails: describing the emotion you see, then making a guess as to why this is happening. This will help you to defuse the anger, and connect to your child in a way that will help calm you both.
This skill, like all skills takes time to learn. Understanding your emotions is the first step in this process. Allow yourself to accept your own strong emotions, label them and try to identify what are the issues that create the most emotion in you. Once you have reflected on this, you can create a mental plan as to how you can handle these strong emotions when they arise. This pattern will flow quite naturally to helping your children to do the same. Meltdowns will still happen but their intensity and regularity will lessen and your ability to stay calm will increase.

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