The following is slightly modified material from my upcoming parenting book: The Loving AND Effective Parent. Pronouns are random.
Does your child feel you are delighted he is yours, and you enjoy being with him?
That is the second of the six heart connection questions from the “Our children need to know they are loved” section. Our goal is to have our children answer this question with a big “yes.” First greetings can really help us with that.
Reality check - Are you a drag to see? Are you a reoccurring nightmare your children are trying to avoid? Sometimes, when things are going poorly with a child, we can get into a rut. Every time we see that child our first reaction is to jump all over her for something: “Is your homework done? How many times do I have to tell you to empty the dishwasher? I’m still mad about yesterday! You know I am not happy about you seeing Nathan; he’s no good for you and you know it. I saw your room; why are you such a slob?”
No wonder she avoids us! She’s only human. She is doing what any intelligent human being would do. In the heat of the moment, it is so easy to forget that our children are human. They think, feel, and act just like real human beings because that’s exactly what they are.
First greetings are a huge opportunity to demonstrate our delight in our children. Think about it. Is there someone whose face lights up whenever they see you? How does that make you feel? Let your children feel that. Always try to greet your child in a positive manner. Let them see your delight in them. After a cheerful greeting or a pleasant moment of reconnecting we can always bring up any appropriate parenting business if necessary. Just make sure you make that solid connection first. Our homes need to be reasonably safe and pleasant.
For those parents among us who are afraid this “overly nice” approach lets our children off the hook, do not worry. By the end of this book you will realize we are not going to let anybody off the hook for anything. It’s just that loving AND effective parents have a lot more freedom to enjoy their children.
“Hey, how’s my Hannah this morning?” said with a smile in an upbeat and cheerful manner. She is not sure what to say because she knows she forgot to empty the dishwasher last night, and she sees it has already been emptied.
“OK, I guess.”
“I see you noticed the dishwasher.”
“Yeah, I did.” She is quite guarded. We are quite friendly. And why shouldn’t we be friendly? We love this kid!
“Well, you owe me three dollars, or you can help make dinner tonight.”
“Mom, you know I am trying to save money!”
“OK then. Hope you remember how to make chicken burritos!”
Here is a another way to handle first greetings and un-emptied dishwashers:
“Brittany! With all I do for you, you can’t even remember to empty the dishwasher?”
“Well hello to you too, mom. I forgot. I’m sorry.”
“I don’t care about your sorry. I care about the dishwasher being emptied. You are grounded for two days!”
“Mom! Why are you always so mean?
“Why can’t you do what you are told?”
Thinking it through:
Which child might feel her mother delights in her and enjoys being with her?
How do you think the two children feel about how they were greeted and disciplined?
Which approach do you think will be more effective?
Which approach gave the child some control and a chance to make things right?
How do you think these two different approaches will affect the parent/child relationship?
* If Hannah keeps forgetting to empty the dishwasher, we should have a talk with her.
“Seems like you keep having trouble remembering to empty the dishwasher. That needs to change. Before dinner tonight, please write down a few potential consequences you think will actually help you remember. We will look at them together and pick one. Anything fun happen at school today?”
Remember, that first greeting is always a big deal. It is all about relationship and connection, not parenting business. Even when our children do something wrong or are in trouble, we should still make a strong and pleasant connection first. A loving first greeting makes our relationships healthier and the chances for effective discipline much better. It really is a win-win. That is what loving AND effective parenting is all about.
So, if your first greetings are being sabotaged by crankiness, exasperation, unresolved relationship baggage, or unfinished parenting business, you need to make a decision. Are you going to keep missing those opportunities, or are you going to make the most of them?
I’ll admit I struggled with this. I was all about taking care of that parenting business first. My kids knew I delighted in them, but I mangled so many first greetings it’s embarrassing. Luckily, I got better at it. I became intentional. I focused on the wonderful and the amusing. I don’t care how frustrated we are with a child, there is always something worth smiling about. Bring that to your first greeting.
Don’t laugh at me. I actually practiced eye contact with a smile and putting in the energy needed to make this work.
“And how are you today?”
Safe stuff like that. Sometimes, I had to push past my feelings and do some “acting.” And no, that is not manipulative or dishonest if our hearts are truly in the right place.
Bottom line: parenting is hard enough as it is without missing some easy points with our first greetings.