How to better Understand your Child

If there’s anything that should be sent home with an 800-page instruction manual, after an intensive six month training course, it’s babies. Sadly, this is not the case, and parents are flung into a deep and often turbulent sea of uncertainty, despite having read all the books, Googled hundreds of strange words and attended all the prenatal classes.

Understanding your child is a necessity from the minute he or she is born, and parents manage this with varying degrees of success. A baby, born with an instinct to survive, and the ability to cry as its only way of trying to maintain that survival, relies on its caregiver to interpret its cries correctly and satisfy its needs, whether it be milk, a cuddle, some attention, a diaper change, medication, a warmer blanket, or perhaps, fewer blankets.

Parental instinct can make up a good part of understanding a child and interpreting his or her needs, and some parents have much sharper instincts than others, but it does also help to have a bit of knowledge of what babies and children might need and might be feeling and experiencing, in order to be able to translate their cries and behavior and respond appropriately.

Parents can make excellent use of parenting forums such as http://www.health24.com/Talk/Parenting_corner/2282-2077.asp to communicate with other moms and dads in an attempt to better understand their child’s behavior. While it’s crucial to remember that every child is an individual with his or her own unique personality, it is also helpful to be able to compare notes with other parents to gain insight into your child’s behaviors and try to understand where he or she might be coming from.

Remembering that your child is a unique being with his or her own growing personality is one thing; finding out a little bit more about what that personality might be is another. A quick and easy quiz found at http://www.babyzone.com/baby/baby-development/baby-personality-type_81715 will give you the gist of your baby’s personality, and at the end will guide you to some tips to keep your child entertained or stimulated. Knowing his or her personality type will give you an understanding of how he or she might react in certain situations, and why, and also how he or she might be feeling, and therefore, why he or she acts in a certain way.

Empathy, defined by Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empathy as “the capacity to recognize feelings that are being experienced by another sentient being” will be critical to better understanding your child. Parents should try to put themselves in their child’s situation. Perhaps he is six-months-old, and he is hungry, so he cries because that’s all he can do. Mom has just fed him, so she assumes he has wind and puts him to her shoulder and begins to rub his back. His cries become louder and more frantic, because now he is hungry and frustrated, because she has not understood his need and begun to feed him.

Perhaps the child is a three-year-old trying to learn to tie her shoelaces with fingers that don’t quite seem to go where she wants them to. Parents could imagine how frustrating it might be, to not yet have the motor skills required to do all the learning and exploring one would want to do at that age, to want to be independent and all grown up but constantly having to be helped with things.

Moms and dads should also imagine how their child might feel not having the vocabulary to express his or her emotions, just not having the words, like anger, frustration, sadness, fear, to describe how they’re feeling, and how confusing and overwhelming it must be to be feeling things and not understanding why, or what.

As much as a parent is trying to understand his or her child, the child is trying to understand him or herself. This is as much a learning curve for the child as for their parent, and moms and dads should bear in mind that a lot of confusion and frustration comes with growing up, and those emotions can manifest in tantrums, sulking and other such behavior as the child lacks the understanding of other ways to vent.

While understanding your baby might boil down to learning to distinguish the subtle difference between her cry of hunger and her cry of pain, and interpreting body language such as her rubbing her eyes as a sign of fatigue, understanding an older child brings new challenges, although a parent would be forgiven for thinking that it would automatically get easier as their child grows older and gains a small vocabulary. As children grow and begin to interact more with other people and the world around them, it opens up a whole new realm of emotions and thoughts and feelings that they must try, with their limited vocabulary and non-existent experience, to express to those around them.

Really listening to a child is always a good place to start when trying to understand him or her, but the child needs to be provided with the right vocabulary or other ways to communicate what is happening inside. Moms and dads might try to teach and explain emotive words such as anger, sadness and frustration during a cartoon this child is watching, so that next time the child is sad, for example, he or she has a small understanding of the feeling and is better able to explain it to the parent.

The child also needs to feel comfortable opening up to the parent. Moms and dads need to provide a safe space for their child to express their thoughts and feelings, and this can be done, as one example, by having a small, light chat every night just before bed about the child’s day and the parent’s day, perhaps something great that happened where joy can be discussed, and something not so good where the parent and child could talk about feeling disappointed. This will reinforce to the child that the parent cares, is listening, is trying to understand them, and is interested in hearing what they have to say.

It is imperative that the child knows and trusts that the parent will listen and try to understand. Parents must make a point of listening to even the ‘little’ things their children are telling them, because if they don’t listen to the ‘little’ things, the child will not come to them with the ‘big’ things. And really, to a child, everything is a ‘big’ thing.

Moms and dads should encourage their child to try to use his or her words to make him or herself understood. Failing words, getting creative and drawing with the child, painting, using puppets or play-dough to create scenes, or even acting out a little play, can also be helpful ways of getting children to express themselves in order to better understand them.

Again, it’s important to remember that no child is exactly the same as another, and parents really do need to work with their children to explore what works for both the parent and the child.