There is a myth that parents from past generations didn’t understand or care about the feelings of their children as much as they should have or as much as modern parents do. This isn’t true. I’m never a fan of putting whole generations of people into boxes just because there are a few horror stories. It’s absurd to assume we are the only generation of parents that have cared about the physical and emotional wellbeing of children.
Even though some generations of parents seemed to emphasize hard work or character development, that doesn’t mean that they were unattached from their child’s emotional and bonding needs. Parents, no matter the generation, share commonalities. From the moment their child is born, parents watch the emotional and physical cues of their child and try to meet their needs. And from these early times, all parents, past and present, have attempted to meet the needs of their child through bonding. After all, it is the bonding that makes teaching children possible.
In a time when emotional awareness seems to be at an all-time high, it’s peculiar that bonding with children seems to be struggling. Why? Well, here are a hand-full of reasons. Some parents are controlling too much or living through their children which puts an emphasis on succeeding or excelling instead of becoming comfortable with self and relationships. Never forget that being a normal, good person is okay. Some parents are hyper focused on their own feelings and meeting their own needs, so they lack the desire to sacrifice for children, or even feel the children are a burden. Some parents don’t really care what their children do and essentially abandon their children by not fulfilling their parental role.
These are a few reasons for parent-child bonding problems that I continually see. But, the child also plays a part in the lack of bonding. Children are stressing out and looking for relief outside of their immediate family relationships. They are also deeply attaching to their cravings, desires, and feelings, as well as not being adequately helped to connect to family which leads to feelings of entitlement.
No matter if some of these listed reasons apply to your family bonds or not, there are three key ways we can create deeper bonds with our children and increase emotional understanding. The three ways are: Improve our own ability to analyze and control our emotions, teach our children how their thoughts and emotions work together, and regularly have meaningful talk times about their lives, thoughts, actions, feelings, relationships, and attachments.
Understanding Our Emotions
The only way to improve parenting is to improve the parent. The best parenting programs are always about how parents can become the best versions of themselves and communicate more effectively, and not merely about controlling children.
In order to “be there” emotionally and physically for our children, we need to prepare ourselves for emotional strength by having emotional intelligence and a plan for our emotional and physical success.
An emotionally intelligent person understands that, while all emotions can be talked about in healthy ways, there are productive and non-productive emotions that either help us bond or create disconnection from others. If we want to improve our connection to our children we must prepare to bond with them by identifying which emotions and companion thoughts lead us to disconnection, and which emotions and companion thoughts lead us to seek for bonding and unity.
For instance, when a parent hears a child whining, then feels annoyed and thinks, “this kid drives me nuts,” then the parent is choosing emotions and thoughts that lead to detachment.
Conversely, when a parent hears a child whining, then feels annoyed, recognizes the feeling of annoyance, but this time challenges it with a thought like, “Being annoyed won’t help me. What do I need to understand here? I wonder if this child needs to learn a better way to be understood. Maybe I can help,” it can lead to a different and much better outcome. Then the parent can tell themselves, “don’t be annoyed, just do teaching instead.” This situation leads to a call to action to bond with the child and strengthen family roles while also helping the child better understand their emotions and reactions to their emotions.
When we understand how our thoughts and emotions work together and how we can lead ourselves toward more productive outcomes and better bonding, then the whole relationship and nurturing environment transforms.
Teach the Children How They Work
Just like parents can learn to govern themselves and challenge their own non-productive thoughts and emotions, children can do the same. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be that complicated.
Teach the children that they have feelings, thoughts, emotions (which are the expressions of feelings/thoughts) and that they can choose what thoughts and feelings they want to give their attention to. They can also choose to stop a thought, challenge a thought, and replace a thought.
Additionally, teaching children simple skills, like how to follow instructions and accept “no” answers (which means honoring boundaries and leadership authority), can prepare them to give non-productive emotions, “no” answers, and instruct themselves to follow productive thoughts.
When a child learns about how they work on the inside, then they are freer to express their feelings and be understood without increasing anxiety or breaking family bonds. In fact, when we calmly analyze our feelings and actions, we open the door to bonding.
Improving Talk Time
Honesty, which is part of openness, is vital for bonding. Analyzing and discussing our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and actions honestly with a loving family member creates a healthy dependence that increases bonding. Not only does a healthy dependence form, but attachment to others during a healthy, honest talk time can be downright liberating for all parties.
These tips can make your talk times even more transformational:
- First, listen. There is a time to give advice, and that time is usually after the other person feels understood. People won’t take your advice if they don’t feel understood to begin with.
- Second, one-on-one talks are best for deep connections. Group discussions have their place, but deep connection usually occurs because of one person focusing on another.
- Third, it’s not productive to focus on your own thoughts or feelings while listening to other people’s feelings. When you hear what they are saying, then both parties feel a sense of gratitude for each other. Gratitude improves bonding.
- Finally, put the people first by taking the time to actually have the deep talks. Sleep and chores can come later. Bonding is a basic need that leads to increased health in all other areas of life, so must be given priority. When family members feel like a priority to us, then they feel like they are part of something bigger than their feelings and thoughts. And, they are. They are part of a family.
Parents from the past and the present want their child to feel understood and loved and want to have strong, connected relationships while also preparing the child for adult life. No matter the time period we live in, the principles of good communication and bonding are the same. When we each understand ourselves better and take steps to become the best communicators we can be, while also continuing to openly talk about our relationships and problems to be solved, then our family bonds will strengthen. This isn’t a new concept. People have always learned about themselves and made plans to improve. And, parents have always helped their children become the best versions of themselves, too.
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