The more I read about the importance of early childhood experiences, the more I wish I’d done things differently with my kids. And I’m not the only one – most of us with older children seem to carry a twinge of regret.
A need to be in-tune with children
Sometimes I wish all parents to-be were required by law to take parenting classes. Not just the type that talk about boundaries and about keeping our children out of harm’s way. But the type that teach us the importance of tuning into their emotional worlds and of helping them make sense of their lives.
It seems that in all the stresses and busyness of life, sometimes taking out the time to focus on the greatest responsibility we bear, and to nurture the most important relationship of our children’s lives becomes a luxury we put aside for another day.
Making sense of feelings, emotions and needs
The reason I was reminded of this yet again was because of what happened at my ten year old daughter’s swim meet this past weekend. Her friend’s mother wanted her child to finish her snacks, but she didn’t. Me and my daughter sat a couple of rows away, and shortly, the friend came up to us and whispered miserably to my daughter: “My mum doesn’t get it that I’m not hungry”.
“Did you check with your tummy?” I heard my daughter whisper back and I almost gasped in surprise. In less than a fraction of a second, I was swept up and transported back to her delightful infanthood. There she was, too busy to eat. And there I was, reminding her of her forgotten hunger before she erupted into an emotional meltdown over the littlest thing.
I didn’t ask her to eat though. Instead, I would tune in to the ebb and flow of her internal state and catch that fleeting shift in mood that she brushed aside in her eagerness to explore her outer world. I would then approach her gently, lift her scruffy teeny shirt, touch her little round belly and ask her what Bob wanted to eat. (Bob was the name we gave her tummy). And we both would then listen in, in a trance of resonance, her eyes bright and sparkling, her head full of imagination, as she would tell me all her favorite foods, some real, some pretend, until her mouth would begin to water and she would be “sho hungy mama”!
Showing them how to be in-tune with themselves
By being attuned to her primary emotions, I helped her become attuned to her inner world. Of all my children, she’s now the one most able to sense the internal flow of energy and information, and connect to the momentary shifts in her internal state. Helping her do so didn’t come naturally to me. With my first-born, I was a fretful mother, and with my twins, a nervous one – driven by my own anxieties. By her turn, I’d finally learnt to revel in the joy of parenting and to trust in the wisdom of my children.
I know that neuroplasticity’s promise of it never being too late should call for few regrets. And yet, I wish that the importance of attunement were mandated learning rather than a process of discovery. Being attuned to our children’s primary emotions leads to the self-awareness and self-regulation of felt emotions, and eventually to the belonging to a larger “we”.
As a parent, there is no better gift that we can pass on to our precious children and leave behind as our legacy in this world.
About the Author: Homaira Kabir is a positive psychology coach, a cognitive behavioral therapist and a writer who specializes in the area of self-worth. She helps women break free from the grip of low self-confidence through scientifically backed strategies, programs and courses, so that they show up fully in their relationships and rise to their full potential at work and in life. You can read more about her at www.homairakabir.com