Reflections on How to Raise Emotionally Healthy Children by Dr. Gerald Newmark
(NOTE: the following article was written by Elizabeth Touse for a class, Democracy, Education & Social Change, at Brandman University taught by Dr. Harold Kahn. Permission for use kindly granted by author.)
As a mother of three children, ages 4, 6, and 8, I felt like several aspects of this book spoke directly to the dynamics in my home. The primary issues we deal with are listening to each other, being respectful to each other, and being overwhelmed by chores and mess. Before reading this book I probably would have phrased that last sentence differently. I would have said that my children don’t listen well, they aren’t particularly respectful, and they make a lot of mess. The eye opening part of this book is that these feelings go both ways. My children likely think that I don’t listen well to them, I’m not particularly respectful, and they are just as overwhelmed by the chores as I am. It is human nature to think about problems in terms of how they affect us personally, without looking at the other person’s point of view. This book made me look at the child’s point of view and helped me reflect on the way I interact with my own children.
With respect to listening, many of the things I say to my children fall on deaf ears. Getting ready for school in the morning is especially frustrating because I end up saying the same things (i.e. put on your shoes, brush your teeth) so many times. Sometimes my children do not hear me, even when I am talking directly to them. Sometimes they start to do what I ask and get distracted on the way, forgetting what they initially set out to do. In reading this book, I realized that I don’t listen that well to my children either. I meet most of their requests, and respond to let them know I hear, but I am often doing something else at the same time. I need to practice stopping what I am doing, making eye contact and truly listening and carrying on a conversation with my kids. By practicing polite, engaged conversation, my children will learn to do the same.
This issue of listening leads directly into our next issue of being respectful. When I don’t listen to my children in an engaged manner, I am not being respectful to them. With an adult, I am much more likely to stop what I am doing and talk. My children deserve the same sort of respect. I do try to talk to my children politely and praise them when they use polite words. But my actions are not as polite as they should be. Instead of squeezing in conversations on the run, we need to spend more time talking about things that are interesting to them, rather than having most of our conversations revolve around completion of household tasks i.e. getting ready for school and getting ready for bed. Bed time is a good opportunity to talk to my children, read with them, and sing to them. Yet, sometimes I am tired and already thinking about the house work and school work I need to start after I put them to bed, and I rush them through story time and their bed time routine. Then I feel guilty and miss them as soon as they are asleep. I am going to make it a point to make their bed time routine as pleasant as possible because in the end, these kids are a lot more important than the dishes waiting for me in the sink.
This brings me to the issue of mess! I liked the recommendation of paying for help. This is exactly what I’ve been planning on doing when I find a job. For now, as far as the children are concerned, I’ve realized that nagging them to clean their rooms is completely wasted breath. Nothing happens unless I am in their rooms working on it with them. I need to remember to be respectful, because my tone is not usually very nice then I’m helping them but they seem to be doing nothing. I think the answer is to patiently help them figure out where to put things rather than quickly cleaning up around them as they just stand there. This will be a test of my patience but I will make it a goal!
The mother’s quote on page 116 seems like it was written just for me…
When all hell seems to be breaking loose, and I am feeling overwhelmed – there are dishes in the sink, dinner hasn’t been prepared, shopping needs to be done, the house is a mess, the baby is crying, my back is hurting, and I feel like screaming – I’ve learned to stop, take a deep breath, and ask myself, ‘What’s the most important thing I can do right now?’ Then I pick up my baby, sit down with her on my lap in the living room, take the phone off the hook, and do nothing for a while. It’s amazing how things seem to fall into place after that.
This comment made me realize that when I just don’t know where to begin, the best thing I could be doing is having a good time with my kids. When they are infants, we spend so much time just staring at them and commenting on how cute they are with every move they make. I will remember to appreciate my kids, even though they are not brand new anymore. Just in the last few days since I’ve finished this book, I’ve tried to focus on doing positive activities with my kids rather than spending all of my time cleaning up while they do something else. Last night I played a board game with one daughter, had a birthday party for my other daughter’s baby doll, and listened to my son read Harry Potter to me. Everyone went to bed happy. And I forgot about the dishes. I think I’ll try it more often!
– Elizabeth Touse