Probably almost 12 years ago now, I was chatting with my brother. It was one of those long, meandering conversations about life, goals, hopes, stuff like that. It may have even been the night we discovered Jtv and stayed up late into the night, talking and drinking and realized the next morning that we somehow purchased like 5 loose Padparadscha sapphires. They were just so cheap and pretty!!!
Anyhoo, at some point the discussion landed on my own anxieties about my relationship with my boyfriend and if he was the guy for me in the long run. My concerns were that we saw the world too differently. We had different political ideologies and thoughts about social and cultural issues. I mean, our voter registration cards were the proof. One had an R and one had a D. What would that mean for us? What would that mean if we had kids? How would we know how to raise them? What values do we impart? I wasn’t sure if that was just a sign to me that we were too different.
My brother just chuckled and said we were great together. He suggested that it may actually be BETTER for our future children in the long run. It could teach them how to examine issues from all sides, use critical thinking skills, and come up with their own thoughts and opinions. I’m pretty sure at the time that his answer irritated me more than reassured me, mostly because (and I never would have admitted this) I was too afraid of raising kids that might use those critical thinking skills and come to a different conclusion than me about something when, clearly, I am right.
Fast forward to today. I did end up marrying that guy and have a great, independent thinking kid with him. We still have some differences in how we see the world, but it turns out that we are alike in more ways than we are different. We value hard work, kindness, honesty and family. We are fiercely loyal, and wickedly sarcastic. Our greatest goal in life is to be good parents to our daughter. When we do disagree, we try to be respectful to each other and if we just can’t in the moment, we have gotten pretty good about knowing when to take our corners. I feel more comfortable with the thought that my child will use her critical thinking skills to come to her own conclusions that may actually be different than mine. But I also hope that we are teaching her to have respectful, constructive- rather than destructive- conversations with people that have differing opinions.
And honestly, the difference that has affected us the most in our day to day lives isn’t our political affiliations. It’s the fact that we don’t come down on the same side in the Coke vs. Pepsi argument. (In case you are wondering, the correct choice is ALWAYS Coke.)
I have been thinking a lot about the dentist that killed Africa’s most famous lion. As a therapist, I know I can’t assume things about people. I do not know what his thought process was that day. I also do not know what he was told by the others who helped him with the hunt.
I DO know that I don’t like the way I felt when I heard the news of Cecil. I would like Q to have a greater respect for wild, beautiful animals and not choose to be in this situation. I hope that he will enjoy observing these magnificent animals (far enough away so he doesn’t become dinner) and decide that playing soccer, golf, or other sports may peek his interest far more than big game hunting.
How do I teach Q to have a deep respect for animals? What am I doing that will help Q draw his own conclusions of what is “right” or “wrong” for him? (Gosh, this “parenting” thing is never-ending, huh?)
First, I am modeling behavior. I cultivate a love and curiosity for animals. I suppose my interest in them makes the task of modeling positive behavior much easier. When I was eight, I was given a cat for my birthday. Crazy as it may seem to some, that cat knew my secrets and was frequently my alarm clock in the morning (he would lick my face every morning trying to wake me up for school). The curiosity I had about what he “knew” and how he was able to communicate was never-ending. When we go for walks, Q points to each animal he sees and we stop for a moment to observe the creature.
Second, I believe teaching empathy is important—empathy for people as well as other animals. As a therapist, I want to ensure Q has empathy so that he can develop and maintain deep, healthy, and lasting relationships with all creatures. I hug Q when he is sad and laugh with him when he is happy. (How to teach empathy can be complicated, but I’ll post more in a future blog.)
Q is still little, so I guess we have several years before we decide if this works. However, I already feel the weight of importance to model good behavior choices and a healthy lifestyle—along with countless other things—so let’s just add animal love to the list.
Relationships with others are important- the backbone of society. A child’s relationship with his or her parents sets the stage for the types of relationships they will have in the future. Communication is the foundation of a successful relationship. Therefore the communication between a child and his or her parents is important. Here are some tips to get the communication going!
- Use open-ended questions rather than close-ended when you want a conversation. Closed- ended questions are questions that can be answered with only a word or two. The question is specific so the answer will be specific. Open ended questions allow the person to answer in any way they would like and usually with more descriptions. Consider how different the responses would be in the following 2 questions- Did you have a good day in school today? (Closed-ended). Or- What did you do in school today? (Open-ended).
- Use close-ended questions when you are trying to make a decision with your child. I think it’s important to find ways to empower children and allow them to feel some control over their lives. That said, there are usually limits that we have to place on choices. For these situations, give the child several options to choose from. Consider what your child would say if you asked, “What do you want to do this weekend?” If your kid is like mine- the answer would be, “Disney World!!” Instead, try a close-ended question such as, “Would you like to go to the movies or bowling this weekend?”
- Avoid asking “why”. For some reason- the word “why” tends to make some kids feel on guard. An alternative that works better is to say, “How come?”
- My favorite phrase is “Tell me about….” Gone are the days when your little one proudly shows you their masterpiece and you can see them actually deflate when you ask, “What is it?” Instead just ask them to tell you about their beautiful artwork. That is just one application. “Tell me about…” is such a useful tool for encouraging communication. Those 3 little words are actually conveying that you want to know about them. It is permission to talk openly. This phrase works on everyone from little ones to tweens, teens and even adults.
- Make time to talk. Everyone is busy. There is never enough time to get everything done- much less to find time to talk with our kids or partner about anything of substance. There are a few times; however, when making time to talk is a little easier: dinner time and time in the car. Even if it is just a few times a week- eat dinner together and have good, deep conversation. Turn down the radio in the car and talk. (Tips for meaningful talk later.) The 2 places I tend to talk with my kiddo are in the car and at night when I am putting her in bed.
- Be respectful of when your kids don’t want to talk. Just like you, they have moods and times when they are not going to talk. Respect that. And let them know that you are there when and if they want to talk.
- Be patient. If verbal communication is not something that comes easily in your family, think of this as learning a new skill. And learning a new skill requires practice. Keep at it.
- Make it fun and interesting. Most of the conversations in families are very goal oriented. And by goal oriented, I mean- the goal is just to get through the day in one piece. Get to know more about the people that live under the same roof as you. Get to know what and how they think and feel. Let them know about you too. To help with this, click on the “conversation starters” link below to download a pdf that you can print and cut out into cards. At least once or twice a week, have your family talk about whatever is on a card. Everyone answers. There are 3 blank cards too, so come up with some questions of your own. When you do sit down to talk about the topic, make sure to leave whatever stress or frustration you are having behind and focus on what everyone is saying.