This article was published in Moonshine Ink here http://moonshineink.com/mountain-life/parents-how-stop-sounding-your-own-parents-your-kids. Please read the edited version below that was lost in an email, so it didn't make the print. This has much better wording!
A new term for students nowadays is “21st century learners”. Schools are preparing students for the 21st century, which is rapidly changing. And the skills students need are more open-ended than what we were taught as kids. Students today need to know how to collaborate, have empathy, and use higher-level thinking. I think they should be called 21st century leaders because they are blazing their own path in technology and evolution in the job market as they become older. There are many jobs that will be created that we don’t even anticipate. How many new jobs were created since you were in kindergarten? Children will need the skills necessary to be able to compete in the future job market.
As parents, we can help children harness these 21st century skills by using language that fosters and promotes independence and problem solving. We don’t have to sound like our parents when talking to our children about their behavior. Here are some ways to change the messages we unknowingly give to our children.
Instead of “Stop it!” “Don’t do that”, or “No!”
Say, “I won’t let you do that.” Then, help your children come up with alternatives to their undesirable actions. You can help them understand your limit by calmly expressing it to them, and allowing them to move on with another option. With older children who are more verbal, you can help them make a plan for what they can do instead. Making a plan is also something you can do ahead of time to prepare for when a repetitive behavior occurs. By doing this, you are giving them the ability to assess a situation and make better decisions – thus nurturing an important 21st century skill: leadership.
Giving children room to learn and participate helps them grow into a leadership role. If they are always stopped in their tracks for any behavior, you are teaching them that you will always be there to correct them, and that you are the only one in charge of making them stop. This can send messages to children that they are incapable, when really they are capable! Yes, it’s true you have to make children stop if they have lost control. However, most of the time when children are acting in a way you would not like, that’s the time when your guidance can help them practice self-regulation.
Instead of “Why are you acting like this?” or “Stop whining”
Try to see things through their eyes. Aside from the most obvious needs like sleep, hunger, and the basics, what else do you already know is going on in their life? Is your child going through a transition? Is something new? Are they unfamiliar with a new environment or routine?
Also, as parents we can always keep in the back of our mind that body and brain development is happening at warp speed for children. That can make it necessary sometimes for them to release in a way that is uncomfortable for an adult.
This is our chance to help our children develop the important life skills of empathy and collaboration. We can help prepare our children for the 21st century by modeling open conversation, respect, and understanding. They will grow up learning how to manage their emotions and will become better communicators.
So what do you say as a parent? Look at their emotion first. “I see you are upset” or “You seem to be frustrated” are great ways to start a supportive conversation. Once the child’s emotions are calmer, more conversation can happen. When people of any age are in fight or flight mode, we cannot process things like language and reasoning in the logical part of our brain. There are also times that simply acknowledging an emotion is all a child needs. Again, they are capable. And at times they can take care of their own setbacks.
The goal is for children to eventually check in with themselves and solve problems on their own. The modern world calls for individuals who can think critically. We can develop this important skill by helping our children feel empowered and capable. We support them in that journey by not stopping what they are going through, but by allowing them to explore it.