As I am continuing to share with you my findings on parenting and interaction with kids, I want to introduce to you another wonderful project that is helping me daily as a parent. It is run by the Novak Djokovic Foundation and it is called “Support, not perfection” and led by Smiljana Grujić, early childhood development expert. I’ll share with you as well, some notes from the parenting course by Dr. Shefali Tsabary that I’m attending online.
It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.
Each time I speak publicly about my charitable work, I make sure I highlight one thing that I find very precious in everything I do.
Prevention, not rehabilitation.
It is quite difficult to change bad habits. That’s why we always encourage parents to help their children acquire good habits from early on. As we watch our kids grow and learn, we will notice how much work we are still to do if we are to be good role models.
Kids learn fastest in the early age from birth to 6 years old, when their brain is exponentially growing.
Our task is to help them during that stage and stimulate their brain with as many loving and fun activities as possible.
It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.
In the project “Support, not perfection” we have 10 interactive workshops for parents which are aimed to cover basic needs that children have and through which they communicate with their surrounding. Those needs are revolving around their repetitive daily routines, playing, learning, and exploring. Every child has a need to be loved, heard, understood and they need lots of attention.
Our goal through these workshops is not to transform participants into perfect parents/caregivers. Instead, the program aims to empower participants with additional knowledge, skills, strategies and support that they can draw on in the years when they are performing one of the hardest and most important jobs in the world—promoting the development of their children, and our future generations, in their most sensitive years.
We have built the program around these core principles:
- Every parent wants only what’s best for his child.
- There is no two equal children, and no equal parents or families. Having that in mind, there is no “one size fits all“ approach to parenting.
- There is no such thing as a perfect parent.
- With adequate support, every parent can satisfy the needs of his child in a loving, safe and stable environment, with lots of care and love.
- We can all learn from each other’s experiences.
During these workshops, we sit together in a circle and take notes and share our personal struggles and experiences as parents. Together we are trying to find the solution free of judgment and criticism.
Smiljana Grujić, early childhood development expert and psychologist is the program coordinator and person we all rely on to guide us through parenting dilemmas and concerns. She helps us understand better how our children feel and help us to connect with them in a loving and supporting way.
Those workshops are so healing and empowering. While I was sharing my daily troubles, I was listening to other parents and their experiences and I finally felt “I’m not alone. It’s not just me.”
We are all going through the same problems of childhood, and for some reason, our children awaken in us our own childhood demons that we need to work on, too.
“Every conflict in our present lives – whether with our children, spouse, or other adults – is in some way a recreation of our childhood. Every relationship, every interaction is based on a blueprint from our own upbringing. In one sense, then, there are no adults in the room; we are all just children acting out. When it comes to parenting, we are in many ways children raising children.”
Emotions and Needs
When strong emotions overflow us, we tend to lose control and so many times we feel helpless. They are such a dominant part of our lives and if we don’t discover what triggers such feelings in us, they could accumulate to the point where they not only become destructive for ourselves but for our surrounding too.
I strongly believe that emotional intelligence is far more important to master in life than IQ. People who are highly intelligent emotionally have:
- better self-control, empathy, discipline, fighting spirit, and persistence
- higher ability to set and reach personal and professional goals
- better physical and mental health
- the advantage in generally all aspects of life.
As parents, we think we have learned to master our emotions and control them, but especially in relationship with our kids, we tend to lose it. Our kids do not have any self-regulating skills just yet. We are meant to patiently guide them through emotional rollercoasters. For them, it is completely organic to shout, bite, scream, jump, throw or hit when they are overwhelmed with emotions.
Even though we try to teach them with words, our gestures and energy are leaving a far greater impact on them.
They challenge the integrity of our spoken words with their behavior – because they are our mirrors, whether we like it or not. They mimic us.
Your child is just like you inside, with similar aspirations, ideals, frustrations, and needs. Instead of constantly projecting negative motives onto your child, step away and reframe your child’s behavior in a positive light. In every behavior, your child is communicating something to you. What is it? Go to the need and try to meet it. This is where you build a connection and create a sense of oneness with your child.
Behind each emotion, there is an underlying need.
Numerous times I’ve heard Smiljana speak about the importance of separating needs from behavior. They are not the same.
Needs are always positive, although our response to them might be negative.
Unmet needs can lead us to feel uncomfortable, and the ones we satisfy leave us feeling fulfilled. Emotionally intelligent people are able to recognize those needs and meet them in the right way. That doesn’t mean we will avoid conflicts and live in a state of bliss all the time. Quite contrary. Mastering our emotions will help us navigate better through hardships and find a compromise where needed.
It is our duty as parents to recognize the underlying need behind our child’s behavior and help him fulfill it. That’s how we connect with our child and gain its trust.
If our child is constantly doing something we don’t approve, it would be wise not to condemn behavior but to observe it as a signal that our child is sending to us. Usually, the underlying need behind each behavior is love, attention, and appreciation.
The root of most of our dissatisfactions is our expectations
We have so many expectations towards everything and everyone. We even became parents with expectations and hidden agenda.
Some have become parents because that is a natural course of life and everything else would seem like a failure, some wanted to have successors of their wealth, some wanted to have somebody to take care of them when they grow old, some wanted to merge two families… Some wanted to discover the world of unconditional love and surrender to children. Many expectations are behind each of these wants. And these answers are a true confirmation that having children is more about us than it is about the child. We are the ones who have expectations – all they yearn for is love, attention, and understanding.
Among this one, there are another 8 myths about parenting that Dr. Shefali Tsabary exposed in her book “The Awakened Family.”
We always hear how children are such a blessing. We knew it is not easy to raise them, but we never thought that idyllic moments of love and joy are outnumbered on so many occasions by repetitive, exhaustive, senseless demands of our children.
When you recognize that your fantasy of parenting is not what really happens – you realize that, instead, it is ordinary, humble and plain. Until you understand that parenting is crawling on the floor for hours, watching the clock move, and no freedom, etc. It is sitting for hours on the potty, doing bedtime over and over again – you have to OWN that this is what parenting is. The mindless, senseless exhaustion. If you don’t accept this reality, then the first 6 years will be resistance, resistance – that it’s not what you want. Because toddlers, they have no logic – which is their brilliance – the suspension of mind and entrance of being – the brilliance is in their illogicality. When you are able to be with an infant, nonverbal, no mind, completely dependent in the way your child is dependent upon you – in the deep dependency of two beings. They are learning about trust and dependency from you. If you can’t enter the symbiosis with your child in the early years, they will not attach to you, and attachment is the core principle of early childhood.
As long as we believe in these myths of parenthood, we will keep resisting and trying to correct our child’s needs. That will lead our children away from us, and unfortunately away from their authentic self.
We have to come to terms with the fact that being a parent is not such a “blessing” as we imagined it to be at first. That our children might never be who we imagined them to be. Once we let go of those expectations, we can finally BE present.
If they don’t sleep well, which is a typical problem in the early development years, we have to let go of expectations and thoughts such as “He should be sleeping. Why did I get such a difficult child? What’s wrong with him?” Instead, we should respond to such need by surrendering. It will pass, it is just a phase. We should stop resisting that phase.
If they don’t eat all the food we expect them to, we should again surrender. No need to fight those fights, our kids will slowly pick up their pace and try new foods when they are ready. (We, grown-ups, have built the world around food. We do our business lunches and dinners, birthdays and celebrations, dates, etc – everything is food centered. Children are not interested in that. They eat only what they like and need and move on to what matters to them more – play. And no, they will never starve if there is food. Despite what you think. And no – chocolate is not a substitute for food.)
When a tantrum arises, how do we deal with it? If it creates resistance in you, and you shoot into your head with thoughts like, ‘how can I deal with this/fix it/manage it?’ – then the next time it happens, seek not to fix the tantrum but to take away the trigger of the tantrum. If your child wanting berries is the trigger of the tantrum and they’re hurting him, take them away. Just empathize, empathize with their loss. “You really wanted to eat the berries, but your tummy was not letting you eat them. You really wanted them. I see that.” Distinguish between naming an emotion ‘You’re sad, or you’re upset’ which is not true empathy, with actual entering into the state of wanting that the child is experiencing – e.g. “Oh, you thought mommy was being mean to you, taking them away? Oh, I see that.” Don’t ‘tell them what they feel’ – rather enter their experience organically, and empathize.
This made so much sense to me. So many times all I need is to be heard and understood. I don’t need solutions or opinions. I just want to share how I feel and move on.
But why do I deny such right to my kids?
No wonder I constantly seek knowledge and help from wiser and more experienced mentors. Since I am physically not able to participate in all the workshops of “Support, not perfection” I enrolled myself in an online parenting course by Dr. Shefali Tsabary.
Kids are a neverending enigma, aren’t they? My way to surrender is to learn to understand them and accept them. I cannot do it from the level of knowledge where I am, from the logic point stand of view, and I am over emotional too. These experts have a clear message:
Let go of your hidden agenda. You child is as is. You cannot change him and you should not compare him with others. He is divine as he is, despite what his behavior might show. There is always underlying need that needs to be satisfied. Needs are good, behavior can be adjusted.
I want to end this blog on a reassuring note – in all my research and studying on this topic, one thing was clear: there is no such thing as a perfect parent.
As Dr. Shefali says
Which parent doesn’t wish they had “done things differently” when their child was younger?
Part of being human is to make mistakes and learn and grow from them. We cannot always do the “right” thing with our kids, no matter how much we try. There will always be something that our kids won’t consider as the right thing.
It is in the nature of every human relationship to go through phases and hardships. We will get into fights, disagreements, and conflicts, but the understanding and love is something that will always connect us back to each other, not violence, shouting or time-outs.