Computer graphic by Scott R. Garceau
How to bond better with your kids during lockdown
WELL-BEING - Mylene Mendoza-Dayrit (The Philippine Star) - July 28, 2020 - 12:00am

A reader, a few weeks back, asked for tips on how to improve communication with her children: “Due to the pandemic, we have been spending more time with our family and what was probably not too obvious before when it comes to a ‘disconnect’ between parent and child has now come to light months into our forced home quarantine.”

I apologize that the answer took some time, because I had to refer the question to a professional who has had more than a decade of experience in this subject. Luckily, I had the privilege to be connected to a guidance services specialist of the University of the Philippines Diliman. Charity Orense, a registered guidance counselor and registered psychologist currently connected with the Office of Counseling and Guidance in UP, helped me understand the dynamics of parent-child relationships, especially in terms of communication.

Charity explained that the role of parents can vary at every life stage of the child. From birth until around two years of age, there is complete dependency and the parents act as nurturers who provide total care for a completely dependent baby. At the toddler ages of two to five years old, parents create rules and enforce discipline.

Once the child goes to school, parents need to act as teachers outside of the school, especially with regards to value formation. At adolescence, “parents have to renegotiate their relationship with their teenage child and encourage shared decision-making, as well as interdependence,” Charity said.

Turbulent relationships arise from the failure to properly match parenting style to the child’s needs like when adolescents who want to establish autonomy are treated like young kids and are deprived of making simple decisions.

Alongside proper alignment of parental role to the child’s needs at a specific stage in life is the need for good communication patterns.

“As a school counselor, I have heard how many students are discontented with the communication style they receive from their parents. My assumption is, parents are not addressing their children at their level. Perhaps there is a mismatch between a child’s age and the parents’ understanding of their role,” Charity added.

To help, Charity listed down ways for parents to improve communication with their children:

• Start while they are young. It may not guarantee open communication once they reach adolescent stage because teenagers are naturally drawn to increase socialization and communication outside of their homes. Teenagers disclose important matters to their parents such as school concerns, plans and major decisions in life but would prefer to discuss personal matters with their peers. Refusal to open up to parents does not necessarily mean disengaging from the parent-child relationship. It only means they are gradually building their own identity.

• Listen genuinely. Listening seems to be a passive behavior, but it is a demanding task. “It is a skill that I (as counselor) have to genuinely offer to clients,” said Charity.   Consequently, if the child feels they are truly heard, they will feel comfortable to open up to adults. How is this achieved? By focusing and eliminating distractions when you talk, giving full (not divided) attention, withholding your reactions until the child finishes. It is also important to verbalize to them that they have been heard.

• Make it regular but brief especially for older children. Just like any family routine or tradition, communicating to children can be embedded in their schedule. Setting regular conversation time instills assurance and security on the part of the child. Through this, you will have the chance to talk about almost anything and everything with no stones left unturned.

• Be polite during discussions, arguments and conflicts. “I hear from my clients that their parents tend to be controlling, authoritative and intolerant of children’s opinions,” noted Charity. Focus on the issue at hand and avoid the following: nagging (lecturing and interpreting is best for grade-school kids); using sarcasm (criticizing your child’s point of view and ideals); dwelling on the past (whether about child’s or parents’ experiences); imposing control, guilt-tripping, using threats, lying; and invalidating or denying a child’s feelings.

“Remember that we are the model to our children so when they resist listening or communicating properly, perhaps they caught it from us,” Charity pointed out. “In sum, a healthy parent-child relationship requires deliberate intention and practice. It is not easy, and no parent is perfect. If a secure bond is established at a young age, communication is likewise cultivated early on. Parents may try out what works for them according to the child’s age or stage in life.”

* * *

Post me a note at mylene@goldsgym.com.ph or mylenedayrit@gmail.com.

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