9 Jul 2019
Are We Raising Our Children Right?
Parents today, perhaps much more than those of previous generations, are deeply attuned to their children’s emotions and concerns. We know we should love them as they are, but we naturally worry about helping them through life’s challenges. The way in which we relate to and communicate with our kids may have changed over time, but positive emotions like love, joy, and gratitude remain the key to raising loving children and compassionate adults, according to science.
Studies analyzing relationships between parents and their babies or small children suggests that a positive and receptive connection is fundamental to developing trust and closeness as early as the first months of life. Cuddling and embracing a baby, making them laugh, sharing games and achievements together, and looking at them with pride are responsible for cultivating the first positive emotions, which are especially important for growth and development. Positive emotions are necessary throughout life, not only in its early stages. They are critical to our mental health and determine our ability to experience more profound feelings, like love. For some scientists, like Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, these moments of synchrony between parent and child constitute the most elemental form of love. They ensure that kids will feel trusted, safe, and close to their parents, in their youth as at any age.
“These moments of positive connection that parents can develop with their kids are, as an affective neuroscientist described, like fertilizer for the brain. They support brain development and social skill development,” explains Fredrickson, a positive psychology expert and Director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “One of the most important things we can give to our kids is that caring attuned attention. Finding ways to prioritize that within each day as a parent is tough. We’re all juggling a million things, but we don’t want to juggle out our kids and our ability to connect in those ways.”
How can we achieve these connections with our kids? Below, a few tips to put into practice:
- Gratitude and empathy:
Expressing gratitude and understanding for our children, and teaching them to show those emotions themselves.
A study conducted in 2006 looked at the link between parents and children from the vantage point of gratitude and found that teaching our kids to be grateful can improve young children and teenagers’ relationships with their friends, siblings, professors, trainers, and, of course, their parents. Expressing gratitude with words, texts, and small gestures not only motivates them to be better, but also encourages them to be more grateful toward others as well. Thanking Mom for dinner, for example, is a great idea, even if she makes dinner every day. Or saying, “Thanks, Dad, for coming to my basketball game,” if Dad found the time to show up. These simple but profound gestures shouldn’t just be reserved for special occasions. A thankful handwritten note left on the fridge will always lead to a smile, and create strong positive emotions between the writer and the recipient.
Empathy is our ability to identify with others, understand them, and share their feelings. It is a human trait that helps children form lasting and healthy relationships at every level: with family members and, in the future, at work.
Instilling the concept of “putting ourselves in other people’s shoes” so that we might empathize with them helps us raise children with open minds, who are sensitive and can accept those who are different from them. Talking to your kids, telling stories, and sharing experiences together might be the best way to cultivate and communicate those values.
- Rekindle a love of laughter and play
The goal: keep them away from screens.
Modern life and its onslaught of work and daily stresses often leaves us with limited time for our kids. But remember: it’s the quality of our interactions that matters. Finding moments to play and laugh with them means creating space for positive emotions. Instead of watching TV during dinner, for instance, why not use this time around the table to share anecdotes and riddles or play trivia with our kids? Even the younger ones, who were practically raised with screens, can be stimulated by these classic games. The aim is to “disconnect” from our devices and have meaningful experiences in the real world.
Vacation days at the beach, the mountains, or the countryside, or even a simple day at the park, give us plenty of opportunities to find joy in nature together, in synchrony. Try to always keep a ball on hand for an impromptu game of catch. Talk about the places you’ll visit together or tell each other stories. Find subjects for conversation that your children are passionate about--maybe something that happened at school or an interesting current event can lead to fascinating discussions.
Remember that the World Health Organization and pediatrician associations recommend no screen time at all for kids under one year old. Kids between two and four year olds should spend no more than one hour a day in front of a screen, at most.
- Take control of technology
Teach them healthy habits for their devices
Sooner or later, our kids or teenagers will get hold of a cell phone or tablet. On one hand, this might provide some relief--technology has, after all, made it possible for us to stay in touch 24 hours a day. At the same time, parents might experience feelings of fear and suspicion, or feel that they have lost control.
When it comes to devices, parents should empower their kids to develop intelligent habits early on, including learning to distinguish between good and bad websites online and identify dangerous content or scams. Their link to the virtual world will help them in their own development as well as set the stage for healthy use of technology, not only in adolescence but also in adulthood.
As the renowned film director Steven Spielberg once said, “Technology interrupts our own story, interrupts our ability to have a thought or a daydream, to imagine something wonderful because we're too busy bridging the walk from the cafeteria back to the office on the cell phone.”
The presence of increasingly sophisticated and addictive forms of technology is inevitable. However, devices shouldn’t stand between parents and the ability to share moments and positive emotions with their children.
Joseph Henry Laboratories of Physics, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA, Speaker-listener neural coupling underlies successful communication., Greatergood, Berkeley University, Seven ways to foster gratitude in kids, Pew Research Center, Teens, Social Media and Technology, Unicef Evidence based policy making on child internet use in Latin America, World Health Organization (WHO) To grow up healthy, children need to sit less and play more, American Academic of Pediatrics