By Amelia Orozco
This month, YOU Parent is featuring a series on making resolutions that address a child’s four core needs for success in life: social well-being, emotional well-being, physical well-being, and academic development. Visit us each Tuesday in January for the latest article addressing each of these needs.
Just as important as tending to your son or daughter's physical needs is the need to nurture their social and emotional lives. Being conscious of our own reactions and interactions with others is the first model of discipline that he or she will see. That's why among any of the other New Year's resolutions we can make as parents, one of them should be to monitor our own behavior so as to educate our children to become better communicators by being aware of their emotions in different social settings.
It begins when they are just infants. You may have heard how important it is to hold your baby, and the positive effects of a caregiver's affectionate touch. It lets the baby know he or she is in a safe and nurturing environment, providing stability. As a parent, you can begin to instill social skills as well. One way is to use real words and not "baby talk" when responding to your child. Using appropriate tones and corresponding facial gestures are important, too. For example, if you are asking a question, your words will ring a certain way, and your face will show the expression.
As your son or daughter achieves other milestones, it is important to integrate valuable social lessons into daily interactions. Instead of avoiding situations where you know he or she will have a difficult time such as sharing a toy or eating at a restaurant, create these opportunities to point out why he or she should behave a certain way. Also, tell him or her it is alright to feel emotional at times, and that there are constructive ways to express themselves. My youngest daughter's kindergarten teacher created a "feelings wheel" where she can turn the dial to a face to express her emotions such as happy, sad, scared, and so on. We can then talk about the emotion and find a way to move the dial back to "happy" together.
Modeling Positive Behavior
In some families it may seem acceptable to yell at each other. Some disagreements may escalate into screaming matches where no one wins, and everyone involved feels worse. As parents, this is another behavior we can resolve to change. By yelling, we are communicating that we are not in control of a situation. Many times it also makes the person being screamed at feel threatened or humiliated. These are all emotions we would never want our children to feel outside of the home, so this social skill is definitely one to pay close attention to. In recent years, there have been more reported cases of bullying, which may be the result of a volatile home environment that involved yelling.
As part of a parent's resolution to show more positive behaviors in social situations, we can take a step back during a conflict and reflect on how to react. Children are keen to their surroundings even if it appears they are not paying attention. They can pick up on cues such as tension in your voice and certain behaviors. If your body language expresses calm and contentment, your son or daughter will mirror that. The same goes for when you are anxious and angry. Keeping your cool also keeps your head clear. For children, decluttering the mind is vital when learning new concepts at school.
Paying attention to the types of words you use is also critical. If you are used to saying things like, "I hate when..." modify it to "I prefer when…" Instead of just stating a problem, which the world is full of, try providing an alternate solution instead. Your son or daughter will understand that they too can resolve problems instead of just sit around and complain about them.
Social Media and Friendships
Although the name "social media" implies a large network of friends all discussing fun topics, it is a far cry from that. Let your son or daughter see your positive online posts and refrain from going on rants about people. Show them that putting people "on blast" is the equivalent of yelling and that it will not make him or her feel any better nor will it resolve any problems. Let your behavior model a respect and appreciation for different cultures and people.
Resolve to nurture your friendships this year. Show your son or daughter what a friend's behavior is supposed to look like. Be kind and thoughtful. Call your friends to see how they are doing. Visit a friend who may be experiencing a tough time. These actions will encourage them to foster friendships, and not just on social media, but at school and in the neighborhood.
The social skills and emotional behaviors you model for your son or daughter today carry over to their early schooling to their college years, and finally, to their workplace tomorrow. You will be proud to see your son or daughter as a successful, well-rounded person who appreciates differences and is kind to others.
Amelia Orozco is the senior editor and writer at the Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo and a community and entertainment reporter for TeleGuía Chicago and Extra Newspaper. A mother of three, Amelia also maintains an active role in her community and church by working with youth and promoting education and diversity through her writing and volunteer efforts.