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Teresa Wikkerink, Elmira, ON
Building connection is at the CORE of our parenting skills. Our ability to read and respond to the needs, feelings, interests, strengths, and personalities of our children (regardless of age) are the most important skills we bring to our parenting.
They can also be the toughest to learn!
Children are not born with the ability to manage their emotions or behaviour nor are they born with the ability to use words to communicate their feelings and needs. They learn these skills through loving and supportive guidance from us. Even as they grow and mature, they still need our love and support to get through the tougher times.
CORE is a set of parenting skills that help us help our children through their difficult moments and, in the process, strengthen the relationship.
When we think of building connection with our children, teens and young adults, we might think about:
There are many moments in the day that we would consider an example of connection.
What about when there is conflict or stress—or defiance or any of those other highly emotional moments in parenting?
How can we keep those feelings of connection alive at these difficult times? Certainly, these are not the examples we would typically list when we think about connecting with our kids. Yet, these are the moments when we most need connection.
CORE is a set of skills for parents that build connection with our children during moments of stress, conflict, big feelings or big behaviours. It is also a set of skills for all moments of parenting, not just the difficult times. When children feel heard and understood they more naturally move toward positive behavior.
CORE is about:
Rueben is our youngest of four. He is a strong-minded, introverted, sensitive, humorous and creative individual who, like many of us, also struggles a bit with anxiety. He doesn’t talk about his feelings easily so it is so important for us as parents to be in tune with what his behaviors and body language are telling us. CORE has really worked for us.
The C in CORE stands for Curiousity, which I believe is one of the most important skills we can bring to our parenting. When we talk about being curious, the first step is noticing—what do we notice about our kids? We notice what they are interested in, the music or games they like, who they hang around with, what classes they like and which ones they don’t; we notice if and when they become reserved or when they are confident.
Raising a strong-minded, introverted, sensitive son, means that as a parent, I need to really pay attention and notice what is going on is his life—I am not being snoopy, I am curious and genuinely interested. I do my best to pay attention to what is going on for my son.
Curiousity also means being interested in learning more. When my son had his first job interview, I was interested in learning about how he felt during the interview. He does not like direct questions, so it is tricky to be curious without a lot of questions! However, I let him know about my interest by celebrating with him as he worked on and submitted his application and then sharing in his disappointment at the results. I also ask questions, although I also know timing is everything, I make comments and do whatever I can to let him see that I notice what is happening and that I am very interested in hearing more about it.
The O in CORE stands for Openness. This part can be a tricky thing, especially as our children get older and have thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that are different from our own. Early on, my husband and I learned that if we are going to be curious about what is going on for Rueben, we absolutely had to be open to hearing what he told us! For example, we have learned that Rueben has different political views than we do—but we stayed curious and open and he shared with us how he came to have these views. It was wonderful to get such insight into our son’s beliefs and ways of thinking.
To me, openness means that I work to genuinely understand and accept my son’s experiences, emotions and thoughts. I don’t have to agree with him all the time, but I do need to accept his experience as his. Openness means that I try to be available and approachable to him and communicate that I really want to know how and what he is thinking and feeling; when I do this, I believe that he will trust that he can come to me with any concern or thoughts without the fear of being judged.
Sometimes, this means that I listen to his stories, fears and hopes in the wee hours of the morning….when he is ready and willing to talk. It also means that I keep my own opinions to a minimum (which is so difficult)! By being open to all of this, I want to communicate to my son that he is valued and loved for who he really is.
The R in CORE stands for Responsiveness. How do I interact and communicate with my son? Research says that only 8% of all communication is verbal, which means that our non-verbal ways of communicating are very powerful.
I know that my son notices my non-verbal cues, gestures, and expressions and I know that they are just as powerful as my words.
When he is telling me something that is important to him, I try to be aware of what my face and body are communicating: am I looking at him, am I nodding to show I am interested or do I have a scowl on my face and look as though I can’t wait to voice my opinion? When my son is sharing a thought with me, am I distracted with texts from others or am I giving him my full attention?
Responsiveness doesn’t mean we always agree with our kids or “let them get away with things” in fact it means setting clear and fair limits and holding them accountable. Our kids, and yes teens as well, need and actually want limits as it gives them structure and gives them a sense of security so they know what to expect. When my son uses my car, for example, it is his responsibility to put in gas and keep the car neat and tidy. Because he is a member of our family, he is responsible to do family chores – cooking, cleaning, etc.
The E in CORE stands for Empathy. Empathy is also a tricky skill to master. It is our ability to notice, understand and respond to the feelings, thoughts and experiences of others. In parenting, it means trying really hard to learn what our children are feeling and experiencing without giving our opinion or offering a solution. Brené Brown, a research professor from the University of Houston, talks about empathy as the fuel for connection. She says that when we genuinely feel with another person, we create a very powerful emotional connection. Brené Brown has produced a great YouTube video about empathy. Click here to watch it.
To show empathy I try to:
Notice how my son feels by observing his body posture, his facial expressions, and body clues. I ask myself, am I sharing joy when he’s joyful or is my facial expression matching his when he tells me he didn’t get into the program of his choice?
Summarize what I think he’s feeling so I can further understand. “It sounds like what you’re telling me is that you are anxious about your marks because you really want to get into the college of your choice – is this right?” Understanding what he is trying to communicate can be challenging especially when he doesn’t talk much about his feelings……but I hang in there!
Show I care by providing the comfort and support he may need at that moment. He doesn’t accept a hug too quickly but he’s OK with a hand on his shoulder. Sometimes he feels overwhelmed and just needs a listening ear. His problems might not be resolved right away, but he knows I’m on his side and will always make myself available; it might not be at that very moment, but I will make time for him because he’s my kid and we have that kind of connection.
I like to keep the four parts of CORE in my mind when I am interacting with all of my children….and now, with my grandchildren. Curiousity. Openness. Responsiveness. Empathy. Four key skills for parenting that really do make a difference!
I have found that when we engage with our children through the four skills of CORE, they become curious, open, responsive and empathic in return. They become more willing to cooperate, are more open about their feelings, are calmer and better at solving problems and are more responsive to the feelings and experiences of others. Truly!
We can use CORE in all of our relationships, whether it’s with our kids, spouses, partners or friends. We all need healthy connections in our lives. Relationships grow when nurtured, sometimes through difficulties and pain, and sometimes through joy and celebration. The truth of the matter is that relationships take work and time. They’re worth it!
Teresa Wikkerink is the Let’s Talk Parenting Lead for Parenting Now. She also leads the Temper Taming Together program at KW Counselling Services and has witnessed, many times, how CORE can transform parent-child connection. Teresa is a parent of four amazing teen and young adult children and grandmother to three thriving little ones. You can connect with Teresa online as one of our Experienced Parents or you can find her at one of our many Let’s Talk Parenting community groups.