This is an excerpt from a recent zoom class for preschool parents dealing with being at home during the pandemic.
The topic is a parent’s presence. We talk about how it comes from body language, and tone of voice contributes to it, and about how the parent’s confidence builds confidence in the child.
“Our words create their world – and we speak with our tone of voice and our body language, as well as with our words.”
Everything the adult does is communication. The challenge, and the opportunity, is to keep your body language supporting what you want to communicate. For example, compare the sound of your voice when you let yourself lash out reflexively, vs when you breathe in, slow down, and grow tall before speaking. Your tone of voice, and your slower pace, will reflect your body’s comfortable and confident position.
Let your superior size be a source of confidence. Not because it means you can physically overpower your child – that is a sign of communication failure. Instead, our bulk is a reminder to us – to breath in and “inhabit” our bigness – to let our size help us, quite literally, speak with confidence in our “big person’s voice.” The goal of our confidence and our “big body sense” is not to intimidate our child or somehow keep them in line: it’s to help them have confidence in us. Our confidence feeds their confidence.
Briefly, confidence is not enough – the other key is respect. We spend a lot of time on respectful communication, which is essentially when two people connect around a shared truth. This means meeting the other person where there are. In the case of our children, that means meeting them in the moment, and communicating slowly, clearly and simply. It means allowing space and time for them to respond, then going back and forth, as if playing tennis. Respectful communication is empowering – it means your child is the decision-maker. That scares adults, but it’s important to know the child only makes their own decisions – the adult does not direct or control the child – he frames the choice, and offers information, and the child makes their own choice. We want children who are independent, who develop the “executive function” that lets them manage themselves and think ahead. While the decisions we let them make may seem small at first, they keep them “in the driver’s seat” as they grow older – allowing them to develop into self-regulating, resilient and capable humans.
This is a big topic – too much to cover completely here – but it is at the core of what we do. Eating, sleeping, boundary-setting, even tantrum and sibling issues – all of these are informed by offering choice in a culture of respect.
“When we communicate respectfully, we are saying ‘I see you – I see what you’re doing – I see you as capable, I know you can make your own choices – I trust you.’ And that goes both ways – the kid thinks ‘My parent is capable. My parent is trustworthy.’”
And that credibility, when you really need it, is priceless.