We are all affected by the good, and the harmful relationships in our lives. We also know that “Humans are biologically designed for relationships. © 2018 Brain Insights ® – Neuro-Nurturing™
How do those statements apply to your daily life as you parent your child?

By now you’ve probably heard about the 60 Minutes Oprah Winfrey Interview where she interviewed Dr. Bruce Perry, a leading expert on childhood trauma. He states, and I’m paraphrasing, the key question to ask people when they present any out of the norm behavior, isn’t “What’s wrong with you?” but “What happened to you?” 

Oprah and Dr. Bruce Perry are asking the “What happened to you?” question to kids and adults who have been traumatized. This article discusses how to use the same question in everyday life, so you can create emotionally healthy kids. 

Most of my eBooks and articles include some form of the question Oprah and Dr. Perry are asking. I suggest parents ask kids things like, “What happened just before you decided to do that?” and “What happened that made you mad?” Those questions are a great start; however, they aren’t quite enough to create emotionally healthy kids.  

Amy Webb, in her article “Do You Want to Raise a Kind Child?” on Mother.ly wrote, “When parents are asked what they want most for their kids, the answers routinely falls into one of a few categories; “I want my kids to be happy,” “I want my kids to be kind to others,” or “I want my kids to have a good life.”  

I think all parents want those things for their kids. One of the most important factors for achieving happiness, kindness, and creating a good life is to feel accepted, and to be aware of how feelings motivate behavior. 

Acceptance and connection are challenging topics for parents. Most parents are totally sure their child feels accepted, and connected to them. There’s one factor most parents haven’t considered, age-appropriate immature thinking. Regardless of age, immature thinking changes how kids interpret what you say and do, even when you have the best intentions.

The goal of connecting is for your child to feel bonded to you, so they can hear you and learn from you. Feeling accepted and connected reduces misbehavior, inspires empathy and kindness, and makes a child feel seen, heard and valued. 

How do you connect to your child?
Many parents think connecting means having a formal “date” with your child. What I’m about to suggest is as simple as saying one sentence. 

Take a moment and ask yourself how you would feel if a loved one said, “You make me smile when I see you,” “You make my day better!” Or “I am so glad you’re in my life.” I don’t know about you, but I would instantly feel valued, seen, and connected to that person. 

Taking a moment to intentionally express how your child makes your life richer is what creates their self-image, and makes them emotionally strong enough to face life’s challenges.

Warning. Don’t go overboard with the intentional statements, or you can make your child feel unsafe. Kids, ages 1-10, tend to glean more information from your actions, than from your words. They clearly know how your family works. So, when you go from assuming your child knows that you accept her, and are connected to her, to making a bunch of intentional statements, a child wonders what’s up, and may begin to feel unsafe. Feeling unsafe can cause a child to create misbehavior in order to force you to expose why, all of sudden, you’re talking like that. That’s half of what I call The Danger Zone. The full explanation is in 10 Key Tools for Teaching Not Punishing, on the Proactive Parenting. NET, website.

Acceptance
Many experts have written about the need for parents to accept a child’s failure, and I agree.

A lot of parents think, my child knows I accept him even though he failed. Here again age-appropriate immature thinking affects that assumption.  

Every day is a new day for a child, they are learning from their experiences, and they are filing in their gaps of understanding with immature thinking. When you assume your child knows that you accept him even though he failed, and then you yell and punish him for it, he feels what researchers at Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project call the “rhetoric/reality gap.” The rhetoric/reality gap is defined as a disconnect between what you say (talking the talk) and what you do, (walking the walk.) 

Begin with You
They way to change the rhetoric/reality gap is to start with yourself. What do you believe about failure? Do you believe that if your child fails, that you have failed? Do you fear that failure today, means the possibility of life-long failure, unless you step in and force your child to make a course correction now?

Solution: Reframe failure
Is it possible to make failure acceptable? It is if you teach your children to embrace failure as a learning opportunity, not a tragedy. Try finding ways to teach your kids that failure is actually success in process, and that learning is the key that unlocks the door.

How often do you talk about failure in your home? Do you ever ask your child, what have you failed at this week? What did you learn from it? Those two questions bring failure out in the open, and place it in the acceptance category. What’s even better, is if you share, within reason, what you’ve failed at this week and what you learned from it.

Reframing how you connect, and how you accept failure, not only allows a child to feel seen, heard, and valued, it strengthen your child’s self-esteem so they become a person who sees, hears and values others. And you can’t get better than that!