Every once in a while, I read a book that I find so powerful that I buy multiple copies to hand out to anyone within arm’s reach. Pam Leo’s Connection Parenting spoke to me both as a parent and an educator. On January 30th, I facilitated a workshop using Connection Parenting as basis for discussion. Over a dozen Talking Stick parents gathered and made incredibly valuable contributions about their experiences.
Pam Leo illustrates how using coercion (yelling, bribing, shaming, threatening, isolating, criticizing, and being sarcastic, for example) to get our children to cooperate is a quick fix that does not secure a strong bond. Instead she advocates the longer-term benefits of establishing and maintaining connection through love. She explains that we have more influence when our children feel connected and outlines the many ways we can be proactive instead of reactive.
Uncooperative behaviors are an expression of an unmet need for connection. My interpretation of her use of the word “connection” is a sense of belonging, being significant to someone else, feeling safe and supported. If we consistently meet our children’s needs for connection by spending quality time playing with them, speaking to them in respectful ways, acknowledging what is important to them, listening actively by reflecting back and giving empathy, including them in our activities, and accepting their feelings as legitimate.
Showing respect for young people means speaking to them in a way you would speak to an adult friend (not necessarily in terms of content). For example, when children are forced to apologize or say thank you they are often humiliated. Quizzing is another practice that creates distance between people. Adults rarely go around quizzing one another unsolicited. Quizzing is a way of making it clear that “I know more than you do” which can be very condescending. As Peter Bergson at Open Connections says, “Quizzing is asking someone a question you already know the answer to”.
Acknowledgement means noticing out loud what is important to the young person. It also means acknowledging and accepting their feelings and opinions. Sometimes when people are upset we try to convince them that they don’t have a reason to be upset, which in turn exacerbates the upset. Instead, we can acknowledge their feelings by physically getting down to their level, actively listening, giving empathy, and reflecting back what you hear them saying. These are skills most of us have not been raised to have and therefore must make a conscious effort to develop them.
Pam Leo advocates actively and physically playing with children as the powerful way to connect. Through weekly one on one connection time, role reversal games, letting young people take the lead, and following their interests, parents can give their children experiences that boost self-esteem and strengthen connection. I remember how important our frequent wrestling was for my son and I when he was little. I would match his level of strength and alternate pinning him and letting him pin me. I wanted him to literally feel how powerful he was and at the same time that I could contain his physical outlet of emotions. He literally felt the limits of his power and felt safer and more secure as a result.
At the workshop we recognized that a lack of resources can mean that we are not always parenting the way we want to and appreciated Leo’s suggestion to reconnect by rewinding—“what I said may have been hurtful”, repairing-- apologizing and letting them know they did not deserve our behavior, and replaying-- responding with love and listening.
I hope you enjoy reading Connection Parenting as much as I did and benefit from the multiple ways you can connect with your young people.