It begins even before birth.
Those first little twinges, flutters of life inside.
You’re a mother.
And you want to protect her from everything that could ever hurt anyone.
You want to teach him everything you don’t even know.
I’m in a lot of online groups for homeschooling and there are always posts asking about the best science or math curricula or how to motivate a crabby tween to complete assignments or how to “de-school” a 4th grader into a homeschool routine.
The concerns are numerous and they are valid and crowdsourcing is the new Google.
But I have different concerns.
How do we have healthy friendships and help our kids navigate friendships in this digital age? How do we teach our kids about healthy sexuality? How do we handle shame?
How do we do any of that when we don’t have any models to follow or mentors of healthy relationships?
How do we rise out of abuse, codependency, narcissism, addiction…to teach our kids about love and kindness?
In light of all the silenced voices who are beginning to roar this past year…I think it’s wonderful and necessary.
I think we need to change our focus.
Instead of (and in addition to) social media posts with #MeToo and #ChurchToo and #AllLivesMatter, accusing and rushing to court…
Why can’t we be more proactive?
What are we doing to teach our kids about healthy relationships?
We’ve often been silent because no one would hear.
Do we want our children silenced or do we want them to realize their voice is important?
There is no time for silence.
I have three daughters and a son. I want all of them to be emotionally and physically healthy. I have to be proactive about teaching them how to have healthy relationships. No one is gonna do that for me. I have to get over my own triggers and hangups to talk to them about the hard topics. I have to talk and teach about bullying, sex, abuse, addiction, mental illness, hate crimes…the things their friends or their friends’ siblings and parents are avoiding or doing to themselves and their families and friends. I don’t want to wait until they experience a negative interaction and don’t know what to do.
My teen daughter has already been bullied and assaulted, harassed and groped. She and her peers think this is just a normal part of growing up.
It shouldn’t be.
She was bullied and assaulted at a military based drama club at age 14.
The mother of the teen boy used all the clichés. “Boys will be boys.” “They’re just children.” “You’re the only one with the problem.” “They should just avoid each other.” Then social media attacks from the boy went on for months. The director and staff did nothing. She quit drama over it.
She’s been groped at school dances she attended with public school friends. It was laughed off.
She’s been harassed at work at age 17, inappropriately touched and spoken to suggestively by adult coworkers. She tells them to stop. She complains to managers, that they won’t stop. The (female) managers tell her to avoid those men. “Don’t talk to them. Leave the break room if they’re there.” They don’t want more paperwork.
Are you kidding me?
Authorities do nothing or very little to help. Telling makes women the crybaby and tattletale. Many don’t believe us. Too many people ask us what we did to deserve it. We are alienated and isolated, looked at askance. Whispered about behind our backs.
The narrative has to change.
It’s only too obvious to me that many adults don’t know how to have healthy relationships, so they don’t know how to model that or teach it to children.
So we’re dealing with several generations of unhealthy coping mechanisms and dysfunction in families and other relationships.
And it’s getting worse.
Schools don’t teach about healthy relationships.
Elementary schools might have character development lessons and focus on sharing.
Schools probably have a no tolerance anti-bullying rule, but that just makes it much more insidious and dangerous and secret.
High schools don’t teach more than a quarter or semester of “health” and that tends to focus more on monitoring heart rate while exercising, FDA-approved nutrition, and maybe an antiquated abstinence sex ed curriculum.
Churches don’t teach much about healthy relationships.
If anything, too many churches perpetuate abuse cycles and blame victims, shaming those who don’t fit the American societal model of the good Christian, teach parents to harshly and physically discipline their children, and that women and POC or those who are somehow different are inferior and ignorant in a white patriarchal society.
Learn and teach that all emotions are valid.
We tend to veer away from negativity and even punish it. This creates unhealthy coping mechanisms and can lead to worse behaviors later on as emotions are stifled and have to find an outlet.
Establishing a secure, strong, loving relationship with parents and caregivers is important.
Feeling accepted and understood by parents helps a child learn how to accept and understand others as he grows.
Many tantrums in babies and toddlers can be avoided.
Deal with the stress. Talk it through. Young kids usually don’t have the language ability or self-control developed yet.
Be the calm you want to see in your child.
1. Power tantrums happens when child hears “no” and he doesn’t know how to respond to that. Simply give him a choice. If he wants to eat ice cream before dinner, tell him that he can eat ice cream after dinner. Tell him why. Give him a choice of 2 different vegetables to choose from at dinner. Limit choices so it’s not overwhelming. Yes, these times can be really hard. Sometimes, they just have to have a stubborn moment to make a difficult decision.
2. Attention tantrums should be mostly ignored. Respond by explaining calmly that you will talk when he is ready to speak nicely. Keep him safe and stay near so he doesn’t feel abandoned. We should model kindness and gentle speaking.
3. Frustration tantrums usually happen when a child cannot do things he wants. For example, my little one used to get frustrated when he couldn’t fit a toy car under the couch or a shape in the correct sized hole in the puzzle. Simply, assure him that you understand why is he upset and ask to show him how to do the task. Don’t do it for him. Offer support.
4. Over-stimulation tantrums occur when young children don’t know how to deal with the feeling of hunger, fatigue, or being overwhelmed. Feed him, put him to sleep, and keep him in a calm place to avoid these tantrums. Be proactive and plan activities around the necessary schedule.
According to John Gottman, children with higher emotional intelligence:
- deal better with their feelings,
- calm down faster and recover better from stressful situations,
- are more understanding and sensitive to other people,
- make strong, long lasting friendships and intimate relationships,
- become more confident and successful professionals,
- are physically healthier,
- do better in school,
- have fewer behavior issues, less violence incidents,
- have less negative feelings and more positive feelings.
- ARE HEALTHY EMOTIONALLY.
While we (should) eventually outgrow tantrums, we still have the emotions and often unhealthy coping mechanisms from not knowing how or being allowed to express ourselves in a healthy and safe way.
Our American society and church encourages us to stifle negative emotions and always paste on a smile, which is especially a message towards girls.
Kids often need to be taught that the world really doesn’t revolve around them. This is an important stage of development. (Some adults haven’t reached this stage yet…)
I’ve found with my four kids, they often teach me empathy. This is their natural predilection.
It’s our job as a parent to model empathy as events become more complicated, gray areas, in our daily interactions.
Usually, toddlers learn to develop real empathy by age 3 or 4.
Begin with language.
“I statements” and validating all feelings are important.
Discuss how it hurts and scares the dog to have his tail pulled. Commiserate with her when she scrapes her knee. Talk about how her friend is sad to have to leave the playdate. The cat doesn’t like sudden, loud noises. Dad is misses her too when he’s at work or deployed.
Use pretend play and role modeling to talk about feelings of others in different circumstances.
Teach and practice proper apology.
If we see someone in need, we must help them. If someone is hurt, we must go to their rescue.
In America, we tend to look the other way. If we help, will we be accused of causing more harm? Will someone misinterpret our assistance? Could we be sued?
In Europe, there are Samaritan Laws and people can be fined or even face jail time if they ignore someone in need.
This idea goes along with empathy. If we can help, we should. We’re always able to go to someone in authority for help if it’s beyond our knowledge or ability.
It’s ok to get angry (or whatever feeling), but it’s never ok to be cruel.
No matter how we’re treated, we must still help others.
Teaching about consent begins with babies.
Teach kids that they own their bodies. Asking and explaining what you’re doing from Day 1 with diaper changes, bathing, and clothing is respectful parenting.
Your body is yours. Don’t force kids to hug or kiss anyone. Don’t ridicule if he doesn’t want to high-five or shake hands. Who cares if Auntie Alice or Uncle Bob get offended? They’ll get over it. Kids must feel and stay safe.
No means NO. No isn’t a game. If no is said, stop the rough-housing. Stop the tickling. Stop whatever it is. No and stop are important words and should be honored. We don’t make light of those words.
Teach all kids proper body terms instead of slang or baby words.
Don’t be frightened of the word vulva. It is the correct term.
Shaming is silencing.
We don’t use punishment in our house. Spanking teaches that hitting and abuse is ok. We don’t use incentive charts. We don’t use shame.
I sometimes raise my voice, but I apologize if it’s in anger.
Consent is respect. Consent is boundaries.
I always apologize when I am wrong or make a mistake. I must model this healthy attitude.
We’re all human.
Bullying is a huge problem. Schools and orgs say they have a zero-tolerance policy but they usually just want to sweep it all under the rug. It’s uncomfortable and the victim is too often blamed.
There’s a societal break when tweens are purposely assaulting classmates with allergens.
Listen and trust what kids are saying and how. Don’t fear everyone, but be alert and aware. If they don’t want to go with someone or take a class or play at someone’s house, find out why.
No “locker room talk” or sex jokes allowed. Once these demeaning ideas abound, it’s harder to get back to healthy ideas.
No ridiculing jokes about race or differences allowed. This should never be tolerated.
Obviously, hitting and physical abuse is a big NO. We’re pacifists and don’t condone physical punishment. Spanking or slapping teaches that abuse is ok.
But many domestic abuse victims tell themselves and think that they’re not abused because “he never hit me.” Abuse comes in many insidious forms – sexual, spiritual, psychological, emotional.
The church has been condoning abuse cycles for decades and this attitude seeps into our society attitudes towards women and minorities, especially.
Control can be a form of abuse.
Hurt people hurt others.
Sometimes, you just have a gut feeling that something or someone is not right or safe.
Trust that feeling.
I’ve often second-guessed that feeling and tried to justify it away. It’s hard when everyone else likes that person or ridicules your worry.
It’s always right.
I have to learn to listen to my intuition and overcome anxiety. I’m learning or relearning to listen to myself after years of being told my intuition is wrong or stupid.
I often ask my husband or eldest daughter about someone, “Is this normal behavior or language or tone?” because I just don’t know sometimes.
I have to address my triggers and heal myself in order to guide my children in this complicated world.
We have to respect, not just tolerate those with differences.
There are so many isms.
I am so grateful and proud to see this melting pot of America grow and expand. I am saddened by the hatred and confusion I see in real life and online and in the news.
Our government and church leaders perpetuate these ideas of exclusion instead of leading towards hope and inclusion.
As a middle class white family, we have to be aware of our privilege and how it affects others.
We have to learn precision of language so we don’t exclude or offend others.
It’s a rocky road towards inclusion.
We must teach our children how to navigate relationships in a safe and healthy way.