What produces lasting bonds in relationships? Why do some relationships fail, while others deepen and become more meaningful? Understanding the “Vitamin C”, or “Caring Function” of a parent, is one way to understand and develop healthy relationships with our children. These tips also apply to your spouse and other relationships.
How do parents communicate that they care about their children? First, they listen to the needs of the child and help to address those needs. Feeding, changing diapers, ensuring sufficient sleep, holding and cuddling, protecting the child from predators, all are needed when the child is an infant and growing. Helping the child learn competence in facing challenges begins with secure bonding early in life. This includes attentiveness to the child in subtle, interactive ways, such as playing “peek-a-boo” or “hide and seek” in an age-appropriate way.
As the child grows and is increasingly able to meet his/her own needs, a parent steps back and encourages the child to “fly the nest”. This may be when your daughter takes her first step on a school bus or when you allow your son to play football in spite of your fear that he will get injured. Trusting that your child is learning “self-care” (how to feed themselves, meet their own needs, and protect themselves) is part of growing up. A parent is challenged to tune in to the child’s heart and listen even more intentionally to the new and emerging needs that are expressed in more subtle ways.
Here are ten tips for communicating “Vitamin C” with your child or with any healthy relationship.
- Listen attentively. Listen by tuning out all extraneous noise, in your head and in your environment (such as the television).
- Listen to the feelings and emotional reactions of the other person. Be as non-defensive as possible, giving them permission to express whatever feelings they experience.
- Listen to the central idea being expressed. Do not get sidetracked by details, but stay tuned to the key thought or belief they express.
- Listen to the needs you hear being expressed either verbally or non-verbally. What does their facial expression tell you? What is their behavior telling you? Are they expressing a desire to be “loved”, for independence, or to prove their “competence” to handle a situation? Do they simply want to be close to you?
- Listen with your “observing self,” so you use the advantage of your speed of thought over their speed of speech to tune in to what they are saying. Don’t let your mind wander or jump ahead to what you want to say, but stay tuned in to the other person.
- Encourage the person to continue with his/her thoughts and feelings as much as possible. Use phrases like “Tell me more” or “Go on”, or simply through good eye contact and nods showing non-verbal acknowledgement.
- Rephrase or paraphrase what you hear the person saying, boiling down the essence of their communication, to demonstrate that you have been listening. If unsure, you can check with them by expressing, “This is what I hear you saying. …… Is that right?”
- Show mercy and forgiveness in the relationship. No relationship can survive without the ability of each party to overlook some degree of faults, mistakes, or offenses. For the Caring (Vitamin C) function, choose to let go of offenses.
- Withhold judgment or any “Vitamin E” feedback (Executive Function of a parent or helper), until you receive confirmation that you understood accurately the person to whom you are listening.
- Give them a hug. In our technological age of cell phone communication, physical touch gets seriously neglected. Give your child, and your friends, a hug today.
By communicating Vitamin C in any relationship, you convey respect, acceptance, and love. In giving others this gift, you build trust and healthier relationships with your family and others.