Children: the missing manual

Anna and I recently went on a parenting course. This wasn’t under duress from social services or out of sheer despair, but because we thought it might be good. And it was. Excellent in fact. We did it at St. Marks Battersea Rise, but it isn’t a ‘religious’ course – there were plenty of folks there who never usually step inside a church. It made me feel like I finally had the manual that ought to have accompanied our children when they were delivered.

Here are five ideas that struck me during the sessions. Now – perhaps I’m just naive when it comes to fatherhood – that’s pretty likely in fact, but I’m sure that I wouldn’t have clocked these just by practice:

  1. Young children often don’t understand the emotions they’re feeling – and naming them can be helpful so they can make sense of the world – “you look frustrated” or “you must have found that very difficult”
  2. Most of us praise children to give them the feeling that they are good, in the hope that this will encourage them to do their best, and increase their feelings of self-confidence. We might say ‘well done’, ‘good girl’, or ‘brilliant’. This is called evaluative praise. Although well intentioned, research suggests that this doesn’t have a significant impact on the degree of self-esteem of the child. Instead, use descriptive praise that describes the behaviour rather than the individual. For example, “You got dressed quickly today”, or “You remembered to say hello to Granny and ask her how she is”, or “You tried again and again to button your shirt and you didn’t give up. Can I help you now?”.
  3. It can take up to fifteen seconds for a toddler to process what you’ve said, and to formulate a response. That’s how long you might have to wait. That will feel like a very long time.
  4. Don’t question why e.g. “Why are you so angry?” For many children, the question ‘why’ only adds to their problems. They often don’t know why they feel like they do. If you need to ask why – try focusing the child on the event rather than the feeling “what has happened to make you angry”
  5. People love in different ways, and children are no different. Often there are a couple of ways that we give and recieve love that are more important to us than others. Five generic types are words, time, gifts, touch, and acts of service. If you get their love languages right and use them, they will feel loved, as well as just knowing that you love them.

The course also prompted us to examine our family values, and suggested even creating a mission statement. Now a family mission statement still feels a little too corporate to us, but it was illuminating to discover, despite both having wonderful parents, how different the latent family values were that Anna and I grew up with. It also showed us how unreflective we are about the strategic goals for our family – as opposed to the tactical battle to get through tea time in one piece.

It was hosted by three local couples rather than ‘parenting experts’, and despite the many thoughts and suggestions, there was a healthy dose of reality about how damn hard it can be to raise children. It might run again in the Autumn, depending on demand. So if you’re in the area and you’re interested, do get in touch with Marie!