Last month I wrote about how to supercharge the feeling of love and security your child feels when you respond to his requests, by giving more than he asks for and thereby claiming the lead role in the relationship. I was asked for more examples of how to claim your lead with your child, and was actually thinking about this tonight in conjuction with my upcoming trip to Israel (less than two weeks away now!).
Right now I’m planning my itinerary for my time there visiting dd16. We’re both very much looking forward to spending time together, and I’d like to keep the focus on being with each other, not the activity, which is one reason I’m not sharing with her more than the basics of the plan (ie, 1 night Haifa, 3 nights Jerusalem, 2 nights Betar, 2 nights Tzfat/Safed, 1 night Haifa). The second reason has to do with claiming my lead as a parent: she doesn’t expect me to be planning anything (she already told me she doesn’t care what we do, she’s just happy to spend time together), so surprising her with my plans once I get there is a way of giving more than is sought.
There’s another aspect of my planning that touches on this topic. Dd has been there for several months and I haven’t been there for over ten years, so naturally she’ll be more comfortable with some aspects of getting around than I am – she’s used to the buses, has money in the proper currency, etc. That’s fine and natural, but as a parent, if you can be the one to orient your child rather than vice versa, that’s a good way to claim your lead. In order to be the active leader in a situation that I could easily default to letting her take care of things, it means doing detailed research from a distance so I know about places and times of activities, bus routes, money changing, etc, in order to be comfortable as the one doing the guiding.
There’s something really powerful about a child feeling safe and secure with a parent, knowing that the parent can and will take care of whatever comes up, that allows them to relax when they are with you. Nowadays many kids and parents have switched roles, and the kids are too often in leadership roles (eg, kids in divorced homes who become emotional caretaker of the parent) – but this takes away from a child the security of being able to lean on and depend on their parent. I can’t always be this for my children, but I try to recognize opportunities that present themselves so I can fill this role as much as possible.
There’s virtually no end to the possibilities of ways to claim your lead, and it really depends on how your child expresses his wants and needs. I’m sharing just a couple of personal examples, but it’s just to get your mind going in the right direction. Look at what your child wants and seek to be the one giving to him in the situation; it can be emotionally giving (like my trip planning, a warmer than anticipated emotional response) or physically giving (a hug, gift, drink of water, help getting dressed).
Ds4 came to me crying since something that was thrown hit him in the hand, and with a little bit of empathy quickly stopped crying and then asked me to read him a book. I told him, “I’d love to read you a book! Actually, I’d love to read you TWO books!! Run and get two really good books right this minute so we can read together!” The same idea applies if your child asks you to take her shopping or do some other errand that is important to them; you can mentally groan to yourself and tell her that you’re not really in the mood but you know she needs to go, so you’ll do it. Or you can recognize that it’s something you’re going to do anyway, and express to her your willingness and desire to spend time with her, or tell her how glad you are that she asked you.
What if you don’t want to give your child what he’s asking for, either because you: a) don’t have time/energy at that moment; or b) don’t think that it would be beneficial to give it to him? If it’s a question of your energy, you don’t have to be everything to everyone at every moment! Let’s be realistic, parents have limited energy! If you can’t give something that you know is important to your child that moment, tell him that you’re not able to, and tell him when you will be available. “I really want to do this with/for you, but right now I’m not able to. I’d love to spend some time with you a little later, after I rest/wash these dishes/put the baby in bed.” Obviously, the older a child will have an easier time waiting, but even little kids can learn to respect your limits.
If it’s a question of a child requesting something that you don’t feel is beneficial for them, then this isn’t a reason to give it to them! There are plenty of ways to give to them that will be comfortable for you both, and it’s not responsible to give something they shouldn’t get even if you give to them with a full heart. Remember that you can and should initiate giving as much as possible, that you don’t have to wait for a child to make a request. But if there is a request made, try to respond with enthusiasm or in some other manner give more than they’re expecting; this can be a way to make a big deposit with a child, while simultaneously giving your child the unspoken message that you are there for them and they can depend on you.