family life

Counselling 101: a Parent’s Most Important Skill

No, I’m not going to share my extended therapy sessions. Though that might make for gobsmackingly interesting, truth is stranger than fiction, remarkably-read articles. I’ll leave that for the novel.

If there was any other skill we parents might learn before we begin this parenting trek, it would be this one…how to kindly, authentically, diplomatically deal with people.

This one is a tough one, for all of us. A lifelong lesson in discovering why we do what we do…and understanding why the people that are in our closest sphere do what they do.

Really. Tough. Work. Trying to figure out how to co-exist in the world with other people. But we weren’t put in this world alone, so we better figure out how to empathetically engage in our social sphere.

There are some people that might not choose to be in our sphere for reasons we might not understand. Or you might choose to not play friendly with those that are decidedly unfriendly. You might have boundaries they’d like to cross, and it just isn’t working until you agree to play within the same relational rules. Your kids learn to navigate these relationships by watching you.

The sibling relationship, especially in a homeschooled home, where continuous contact is present, requires an energetic, proactive parental presence. Who says bullying doesn’t happen in the ‘home school’? Teaching kids that they have relational power and can use that power to build up or tear down doesn’t happen overnight. Some overpower their siblings more often…some easily submit…some take turns doing both…but almost always something is going on.

It’s hard enough work trying to figure it all out on my own; how much more difficult patiently teaching the littles. Some days it feels like no matter how much direction you give them, they still resort to headbanging, hairpulling, tattletaling, bugging one another. And you get to hear the full transcript…

And mom, then she said…”

But first she pinched, or hit, or told me what to do, or grabbed that thing away, or…”

On my best days, I have them ‘work out their problem’ in front of me–occasionally I suggest they do it independently, which, let’s be honest, is simply an avoidance tactic because I feel exasperated (or I tell myself I am letting them practice independently).

Me: “So, both of you are now cooled off, sitting in front of me. Why don’t you take turns sharing with each other what you’re feeling, or what your main issue is. Then when one of you has shared, the other is going to repeat back what they’ve heard– matter of factly–no unkind tone, no contempt, no rolls of the eyes, just repeat back what you’ve heard, so you know that you’ve been heard, that she has been heard”.

Kid #1: “So this is what I thought you said: you think I’m a purple elephant riding a green tiger that poops on the figure eight on the sidewalk…”

As long as she’s not lecturing, making “you did wrong” statements, or “I can’t stand it when you…” statements, kid #1 has freedom to tell kid #2 what she thought she heard.

Kid #2 then has a turn: “No that’s not what I said! I said, you can be the purple elephant riding a green tiger that loops around the figure eight on the sidewalk!”

And though it takes a few go arounds to figure out even WHY they were talking about purple elephants, it eventually comes out in the wash, then they can come to some understanding of one another and live happily ever after. Mwahahaha.

Though this is not magic–no tricks, no bullets, no wands–this process enables the siblings to understand one another, being quick to listen and slow to speak. Hopefully even learning to engage harmoniously.

So if you’re someone who is thinking: this takes WAY too long. I do not have time for this. Just deal with it yourself kids! Well, I hear ya. I wouldn’t do it every time either.

Yup, they may or may not have the internal capacity to figure these things out by adulthood. Certain kids have more intuitive wherewithal than others. But I’d suggest, there isn’t a bigger gift that you’re going to give your kid than the gift of empathy: understanding someone else’s perspective. It’s a tool that they’ll use for the rest of their lives, enabling internal peace and mental freedom. And if they don’t learn it when young, they might just have to do it one day under the auspices of a very expensive overseer, a paid therapist.

“The most ominous of fallacies–the belief that things can be kept static by inaction”. Freya Stark

Trying to teach empathy isn’t a lesson learned in a one hour block–it’ll be a lifelong classroom–and it’s one of life’s most essential skills.

What do you do to help your kiddos navigate the world of conflict?

One thought on “Counselling 101: a Parent’s Most Important Skill

  1. A few moments ago, a friend shared this page and invited me to read it…
    What a nice thing she did. I loved your thoughts, your pace and life with the little ones, what an adventure of life, how realistically it is in every day’s life 24/7… I had fours wonderful kids who became adults! Today I am enjoying their young kids, my grand-children. They remind me all what you share about your little angels 🙂
    Thank you for this sharing!

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