If you've been reading this blog for the last week, you know that I've been writing a lot about loving presence. Our kids need it. We need it. And we want to give it! But it can be confusing to know how to hold our kids in loving presence in real life when they aren't doing what we think they should. So I've been breaking it down by ages and stages, making suggestions about how to work with real situations with your kids.
Today I'm writing about middle childhood. When kids get to this stage (sort of 8-11 years), a lot changes. They often get more awkward and less 'cute.' Parents often get impatient with ongoing issues. We may find ourselves saying things like, "If I've told you once, I've told you a million times. . . " We may complain about our child's bad habits or challenging personality.
Holding loving presence at this age requires us to continue to have a strong structure, be a leader, and stay present with their emotions, steps that we can start at earlier ages. If some of those things aren't in place, their absence will show up pretty strongly by this middle childhood years. This doesn't mean that we've failed, it just shows us where our kids need us.
So if you've got a child at this stage, it's time to develop positive practices.
Notice positive things about your child each day. Don't do this to change them, don't even tell them about it, just take a few minutes every single day to write 3 wonderful things that you notice about your child. On a bad day you may be writing, "He didn't break any dishes today, he didn't complain about dinner, and he didn't hit his sister." As you practice, you will find yourself noticing more subtle and beautiful things, "He spent 20 minutes just watching a bug, he makes the most amazing Lego creations, and he held the door for me (without being asked) when I was carrying groceries."
Share an interest with your child, not by recruiting them to do something you love but by genuinely adopting an interest in something they love. Learn to enjoy watching or playing their favorite sport, go on nature hikes, read the book they are enthusiastically telling you about, watch the youtube videos they want to show you, laugh at their jokes, try their crazy sandwich ideas. This gives you the chance to follow their lead and to let them know how cool you think they are.
And listen. Make it a practice to listen deeply when they talk to you rather than interrupting to teach or fix or explain. Kids at this age need so badly to feel seen as they are! They need to know that they are important to us. They need to feel worthy and special!
You will still need boundaries and structure, you will sometimes disappoint them and say 'no.' But counter those challenging parts of your relationship by also cultivating connection, love, shared interest, and a sense of appreciation for their unique nature.
As a mom (to 2 teenage sons), wife, and person in the world, I have been on a long imperfect journey. I have made many mistakes, but with mindfulness, emotional reflection, and lots of support I have learned enormously from those mistakes.