Patty could tell that things did not go well today with her middle schooler. As she viewed her rear view mirror at school pickup, instead of her daughter’s occasional chatty enthusiasm about the goings on of her day, there were watery eyes and a blank stare looking back at her.
“What to do? What to say? Now what?”
It is often our nature to leap to “repair mode” when things aren’t going well with our children.
“How can I make it better?”, Patty thought. “What can I do or say to make my daughter less distressed?” These are natural, loving, healthy, and empathic parental reactions…and there lies the “blindspot”. It is a “reaction” rather than a “response”.
Most of us responsible for children’s well-being have had or will have opportunities to react and/or respond as part of our parenting, grandparenting or guardian experiences. Surely, there is a time for both. Our young children might find themselves in a precarious situation. When facing imminent danger, we react quickly to remove the danger. Contemplation of parenting options is not the way to go all the time, obviously!
As our kids grow emotionally and socially, we are wise to consider new parental responses to their problems, challenges and difficult days, rather than leaping into action or giving advice. One useful, often written-about and popular strategy to put in your parental guidance toolbox is the 3Hs response option.
“Would you like me to Help you, Hear you or Hug you?”
In situations like Patty’s, the 3H option is a win-win! It may seem a bit awkward or uncomfortable at first. However, by using the 3Hs, the impression you may leave with your child is that your child has a say in the matter. Perhaps not the final say, but in some instances this gives your child a choice, to which you will respond sincerely and empathetically. The 3H strategy has value because it encourages self-advocacy and communicates trust between you and your child.
Help, of course, comes in all forms. At times, it may require speaking up for your children, who may not yet have the maturity or social skills necessary to advocate for themselves.
As children grow in emotional intelligence and maturity, it is useful to search for problem-solving options together and provide strategies for children to try on their own. Such instances provide an important opportunity for parents to express explicit trust and confidence that their children can follow up independently.
While I would prefer the term “listening”, being heard often serves as a “relief valve” for our children. Often, getting things “off their chest” allows for a clearer, more realistic attitude towards the problems that children face. The better the listener, the more the opportunity to make “hearing” a valuable source of healthy emotional growth. Hearing (listening) is not as easy as we often think. It is not a passive behavior. A good listener shows undivided attention by using both responses: verbal, i.e., “I understand,” and non-verbal, such as eye contact and/or facial expressions, while conveying interest, curiosity and a non-judgmental posture.
Whether physical or virtual, who doesn’t need a good hug now and then? No matter which “H” is chosen, our children can always use a good hug! Keep in mind that the “Hs” can all be used at once or simultaneously, but when it comes to hugging, there is research which concludes that hugging is a means of demonstrating reassurance, empathy and caring. Sometimes that’s all our children seek as they deal with all forms of stress. Please also keep in mind that there are hugs and there are HUGS! To borrow a phrase: “Make it real!” Keep in mind that neuropsychological studies have confirmed that a good hug (lasting 7 seconds or more) increases levels of oxytocin, the bonding hormone, and helps dial down stress.
The 3Hs strategy is another potential parental tool for the ever-growing toolbox of healthy choices we make with our ever-growing children, of all ages. Give it a try!
Meet the Author
Neil Garofano, School Psychologist
Years at TPS: 24
It is often our nature to leap to “repair mode” when things aren’t going well with our children. “How can I make it better?”, Patty thought. “What can I do or say to make my daughter less distressed?” These are natural, loving, healthy, and empathic parental reactions…and there lies the “blindspot”. It is a “reaction” rather than a “response”.
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