Having a loving relationship with your child contributes to their healthy emotional and psychological development. Learn what parents can be doing to foster those meaningful relationships.
Philippa Perry harnesses her years of experience as a psychotherapist to offer parents sound advice that focuses on children’s psychological and emotional development. Her valuable perspective and work didn’t produce another resource filled with discipline techniques or parenting hacks. Instead, she offers a refreshing look at what it means to be a compassionate parent and cultivate a great relationship with your children.
How Childhood Experiences Impact Your Parenting Today
One of the first things Perry raises is looking deeper into our reactions as parents. Our experiences as children are incredibly formative, and they often influence our parenting style whether we’re aware of it or not. And just like our parents influenced us, we also influence our children, which is why Perry notes how important it is to understand ourselves and our reactions.
You can start by examining different events in your childhood, both positive and negative. What were your emotional reactions at the time? How did you feel about your parents’ responses? Perry recommends unpacking those experiences to deepen your understanding of your parenting style. She also suggests parents note the times they react negatively, using them as signals to do some investigation into the root cause.
The good news is that emotional reactions influenced by your past can be reprogrammed. But it starts with understanding and identifying what childhood experiences affect your parenting today. That’s one of the most effective tools to becoming a more compassionate parent who can empathize with their child rather than having an instinctual, subconscious reaction.
The Optimal Environment for Your Child to Flourish
She does. Unsurprisingly, it centers around relationships. An ideal environment for kids to reach the full height of their potential involves strong, rewarding, and intimate relationships with those inside the home. The quality of those relationships can influence children’s mental and emotional health. That’s why it’s important to prioritize relationship-building and work through conflict in healthy ways.
And for single-family households, don’t worry. Perry explains that an optimal environment is more flexible than you might believe and isn’t determined by family structure.
Why You Should Validate Your Child’s Feelings
One of the ways parents can cultivate the strong, rewarding, and intimate relationships Perry writes about is to change the way we may respond to our child’s feelings. Their capacity for logical reasoning isn’t fully formed, so we understand what they may be throwing a fit over is trivial. Our first instinct can be to argue against or suppress their feelings – a response Perry argues is the wrong one.
People have a universal desire for their feelings to be understood and acknowledged; children are no different. If we deny their feelings, even ones we don’t understand or see the logic behind, children will learn to repress them. Perry writes that parents should acknowledge how their kids feel and validate them. That doesn’t mean to be soft and cave to their desires, like giving them ice cream when they’re upset you tell them they can’t have any.
But compassion and empathy can and should play a role in how you respond to their outburst, which can look like saying, “You’re upset because you really want ice cream, right?” That acknowledges you see and understand what they’re feeling and that it’s ok to feel that, avoiding the harmful learned habit of repressing their feelings.
Four Valuable Skills for Handling Conflict
The author actually writes about how parenting can often be seen as two opposing forces meeting rather than an opportunity to nurture a relationship. We can fall into the mindset that it is parent versus child or a battle of willpower. This means tantrums, our kid’s desire, or conflict is interpreted as a combative situation. But there’s a different and better way to view the relationship between our children.
And according to Perry, it starts by developing four different skills: tolerating frustration, flexibility, problem-solving, and empathy.
Empathy, especially, can shift the dynamic from focusing on how the situation impacts us and lets us understand the situation from our child’s perspective. It’s then we can actively participate in compassionate parenting and continue to foster those emotionally healthy relationships we all want with our kids.
Ways Parents Can Help Children Lead Psychologically Healthy Lives
There are a few things she lays out as ways parents can give kids their best chance at leading a psychologically healthy life.
The first is engaged observation. When someone talks, we’re usually thinking about what we’ll say next, making it difficult to truly hear what someone is saying. Engaged observation means you’re taking the time to try and understand what someone is feeling or trying to get across. Practicing that with our children helps us form deeper, more loving bonds with them.
Another thing parents can do is to be careful with phones around children. Phone addiction is a problem many of us face in today’s world, and if we’re focused on our phones, it can harm our children’s well-being. Giving our children the attention they need rather than being glued to a screen helps them feel seen and heard.
And the last thing is not underestimating or obstructing play. What seems silly or simple to us is a complex use of our child’s imagination. Encouraging their playtime helps stoke their curiosity and want to explore the world around them and engage in the wider environment.
Fostering a deep and loving relationship with your child is crucial to their emotional and psychological development. Parents can build those relationships by being aware of how their childhood experiences influence their reactions today, leading with empathy and compassion and validating their child’s feelings.