The Art of Restraint in Parenting

We all have insightful moments that leave an impression our minds. Here is one of mine as a Jr. High drama teacher. Right before the bell rang for class to begin one day, I received an email from the president of the school to all the teachers, concerning a project he was working on about honesty. He wanted to gather our thoughts on why some students might be tempted to lie.

I got an idea. Why not ask the kids? I often felt some level of anxiety in those intangible moments when I sensed the magical, lively, and wise thing to do would be to interrupt or even throw out my lesson plan. Sometimes teachers receive surprise "drop in" observations and are scored on things, like how close they are sticking to curriculum. This particular day, I gave way to opportunity, and my instincts by booting the lesson plan out the door for weightier matters. I asked those wide-eyed middle-schoolers to gather their darlingness around my desk. And gather they did...some actually sat on it, dangling their shoes off the edges...The others pulled up their chairs as close as they could.

I first said, "How many of you have lied before?".....before they could lift their hands, I made sure to shoot my own hand high in the air. Soon many hands followed. After gaining their trust, I began to ask them, "So, what would keep you from telling your parents the truth about something?" I was fascinated as I found a common theme around all their stories. The consistent thread was a deep aversion to a strong verbal and intense emotional response from either parent. This could be a parental reaction from something they were thinking, something they did, or some details they might share about a friend. Class after class that day, the story was the same. Their parents' ability to remain calm seemed to match their desire to share.  

Later, as I pondered my students tell all that day, I thought, "It's not fair! Parents are people too!" Many responses parents have to "news" or "confessions" are legitimate, truthful, and understandable.  

I'm all about being authentic, and let's face it, I was a drama major. My typical reaction in life can be quite big and expressive. You should see me when I lose my keys or phone. You would think there was a major emergency, and the world was about to crack in half. Even better, you might enjoy my own children imitating some of my best performances. But being "free" to express intense emotions without reserve, or wisdom in the context of kids sharing their thoughts, confessions, and concerns appears to have a cost in creating a safe atmosphere for our children to share difficult information.  

I deeply value open lines of communication with my own kids, students and younger people I mentor. 

Here are some thoughts I have developed over the years in the area of creating an atmosphere of authenticity and opportunity for open communication with children and young adults.  

  • Give yourself lots of GRACE as a parent when you make mistakes.  
  • My goal is to allow information to flow, so I have the opportunity to influence.
  • Within reason, be available for your children and notice times when your kids are most likely to chat — for example, in the car, while you're cooking, or at bedtime.
  • Sometimes it's better to keep doing an activity, like preparing dinner, while they share, and, at other moments, it is best to gently stop what you're doing, and give them your full attention. Use both techniques in responding, depending on what you sense is their comfort level.  
  • Listening: Let's do this carefully and politely. Let's refrain from interrupting our kids when they are trying to share their story. Let them complete their point before responding (That one hurts me). Try not to take over the conversation. 
  • Realize your kids may test you by telling you a tiny part of what is bothering them. Your gentle response may encourage them to share more.
  • I have no desire for my children to see me as perfect.  I often share my own experience, relating to theirs, without unnecessary details. 
  • My hope is to express profound love and remove any message of condemnation, creating a safe place for sharing. When appropriate, I would clarify the difference between punishment and consequences, motivated by my love. Sometimes, the information I receive requires a response from me as a parent that involves new boundaries.  
  • Based on what I learned that day with my middle school drama kids, on a good day, let's manage our emotions and responses, softening them to make room for theirs

So what do you think? I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on this subject. 

He that would govern others, first should be the master of himself. 
- Phillip Massinger

 

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Tracy Levinson - outsidethenest.net

 

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