It’s true that more parents are changing the way they’re raising their children, abandoning the traditional rewards-and-punishment approach while learning to connect with their children. The outcome is win-win, rather than endless power struggles, where no one gets their needs met or feels heard or understood, resulting in guilt, shame, and emotional exhaustion. Parents who believe their acting-out children must have consequences or some kind of punishment often admit to having been raised exactly the same way. They’re at a loss as to how to parent differently, to adopt a “feel good” approach that results in everyone getting what they want. The hard part is being consistent after the initial transformation, knowing how to talk so your kids listen and listen so they will really talk to you.

We don’t need to continually praise our children or assume we can’t point out to them what isn’t working well for us. I’ve heard parents anguishing over constantly walking on eggshells, not knowing what to do while resisting “rocking the boat.” First of all, it’s completely okay to let our children know, or anyone else for that matter, when something doesn’t fit, or doesn’t feel right. It’s as simple as saying, “This isn’t working for me” or “What you’re doing isn’t okay with me.” Having healthy boundaries, without focusing on our child’s happiness being more important than our own, is a good starting place.

Knowing how to talk to our children so they’ll listen or how to respond to their feelings can be challenging. Connective communication takes practice, patience, more practice, being present, and breathing. Despite our best intentions, we sometimes micromanage, criticize, or attempt to “fix” what our child is feeling. It’s difficult to witness him in pain and stay present to support him while simply listening to his feelings. If we assume responsibility for his problem, we then want to determine the solution. Listening might bring up a reminder of our own childhood, or perhaps we’re too stressed or distracted or simply unwilling to take the time and expend the energy needed to hear and understand our child’s struggle.

When we truly listen, we won’t always get it “right.” However, connecting to the feelings behind the words and/or behavior lets our children know their feelings matter. Parents usually don’t want to raise their children the same way they were raised, thus connective parenting seems like a good alternative. Staying the course and disengaging from our emotional reactions can be difficult. Being sensitive to how children experience their feelings being discounted, being ridiculed or shamed should encourage us to be more intentional as parents and caregivers. When they feel understood, unconditionally heard, they can successfully navigate their emotions to reach their own solutions. Doesn’t it make sense that when we have a problem, we also want to actively participate in shaping the outcome?

Problem solving is the second part of connective communication. Some parents insist on punishment, believing that without taking away a privilege, they haven’t done their job. Yet the goal is for both child and parent to get what each wants, to achieve a balance of needs, ours being equally as important as our child’s. Putting our child first, ensuring he gets what he wants, breeds resentment and anger in us and gives him a false sense of entitlement. If we grew up being shamed, believing we weren’t “good enough,” we need to understand that that approach will never win our children’s cooperation. Problem solving means explaining what doesn’t work for us while also hearing our child’s perspective. From there we can begin brainstorming options together, reaching agreement on what works for both. The outcome is shaped by asking questions such as “What can we do so we both get what we want?” The bottom line is no one loses or is judged, everyone is heard, with all perspectives considered. That brings agreement with a willingness to cooperate. When children realize they will not be met with blame or consequences, they can trust that the process really works.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” — Stephen R. Covey