By Jenny Baker
Luci and I were standing in line at the grocery store when I noticed her fingernails. They looked like dragon talons that had been digging in dirt for 1,000 years. They were so. Freaking. Gross.
And I told her.
And her face fell.
And then I bought a chocolate bar to make us both feel better. Healthy parenting at its finest.
Like it or not we often need to have meaningful discussions with our kids. Even if it’s a quick, “hey, part of caring for your body well is cutting your fingernails on the regular,” these conversations can either be productive or destructive. For me, the key to making this happen doesn’t occur in the conversation, rather long before I engage. There are three things I try to do, in order to have a constructive dialog with my kids.
For me, self-awareness is the first step. I ask myself questions like, “is my emotional tank full enough to engage with love and compassion?” Or, “am I in a place to be emotionally honest?” If the answers are no, then I’m not in a place to engage and I need to postpone the conversation until I’ve got the mental capacity to connect. I had no business talking to Luci about her fingernails at the grocery store. It was loud, crowded and I wasn’t able to concentrate enough to be intentional about my approach.
If I’ve got the emotional energy, the next step is to define the desired outcome. What do I want them to do differently? What am I asking? Kids need specificity and statements like, “I need you to…” help create defined goals we can all work towards. It also gives me guardrails against shaming. Any statement that creates feelings of humiliation or embarrassment isn’t helpful towards motivating different behavior. It actually puts up walls between me and my kiddo and destroys trust. Meaningful conversations require a deep feeling of safety. If my kids don’t trust me they’ll withdraw and will never be vulnerable with me. When I saw Luci’s face drop I knew I’d just taken a major withdrawal from the trust bank and it broke my heart.
My last check is timing. I ask my first-step questions...of my kid. Is their emotional tank full enough to engage with an open heart and mind? Are they in a place to be emotionally available? If not, I have some work to do. I need to offer a hug, a few words of affirmation or even a dance party to connect to their hearts. It’s my job to pursue my kiddos and ensure they feel safe and connected. When I approach them from a place of love and connectedness, they’ll feel open rather than defensive. Luci was in a great place that day in line and had I paused long enough to think it through, I could’ve waited until we got in the car to gently remind her to cut her nails when we got home...easy enough and productive, not destructive. Instead, I spent the rest of the day rebuilding our connection.
I’d say we all love productive conversations with our kids (and our partners and friends.) It draws us closer, allowing us to work as a team to experience more goodness. At the end of the day that’s all any of us want–more good at home and more good in the world. So maybe we all agree to let dirty go and instead hug our kiddo like they’re our favorite person in the whole wide world...and later clip those nails ‘cause that’s just gross.
Jenny Baker is a mountain mama of two who hauls her own trash to the dump and would rather play outside than clean her house.