I was blessed with a child with BIG emotions. Sometimes it doesn’t always feel like a blessing when he’s having another of his moments, sometimes I feel like my head is going to implode, but this third child has taught me more about parenting than the other two combined.
When I’m teaching parents how to ‘be with’ their child’s emotions, I tell them that it’s the easiest thing I can do because I don’t have to be the expert. I don’t have to know anything, I follow the child’s lead, and the child comes up with his or her own solutions.
As parents, there are times for ‘holding onto’ and times for ‘letting go’. Sometimes we just need to let go.
Let go of the need to:
- be in control;
- be right;
- know everything;
- be the expert;
- ask questions;
- prompt, prod, probe, pry;
- be the important one;
- try to solve the problem;
- tell the child what to do.
Parenting should be a healthy mix of doing and being.
Not all problems require an immediate resolution. Sometimes it is enough to let your children feel heard and understood and let them know that you are available to them when they are ready to talk.
“As tempting as it is to fix situations for our children when it takes us all of two seconds, we are far more encouraging when we allow frustration, give verbal support, let go of results (since children often don’t care about them as much as we do) and perhaps help in a very small way, so that the child is doing much more than we are.” Janet Lansbury
The following is a scenario that happened this week. I could have chosen to set a limit for the child, but in the moment I chose to ‘be with’ him.
Scenario: I was a few minutes late picking up my youngest son from school one afternoon this week. Our regular meeting spot is under a tree.The middle boy who is in Year 6 was at a camp. I looked everywhere for the youngest boy and finally found him in another part of the school playing with his peers.
Me: (Concerned but calm voice) I was looking everywhere for you. I was worried about you. Our meeting spot is under the tree.
Boy: (Yelling at me) You were late. You are always late. I was alone. I had to wait half an hour for you.
I’m not always late, but a few minutes waiting without his brother must have felt very lonely and uncertain.
Me: It was a few minutes, but it felt like a long time without your brother. You sound so sad and angry.
Boy: (nearly crying now) You can’t expect me to wait for you all of the time. I might be somewhere else by the time you get here.
Me: I’m sorry I was a few minutes late, I didn’t set my watch properly after daylight savings. When you are waiting on your own, it feels like a long time. You didn’t have your brother with you to help you feel safe.
Boy: (still angry) Where are we going now?
Boy: The teacher was bad today. She’s mean. I hate Year 3, it’s too hard.
He had a substitute teacher on this day. My boy has some challenges with attention, impulse control, and activity levels in the classroom, and his regular teacher is brilliant with him. She did say to me recently that he would be a challenge for a young teacher, but he is doing very well academically and is happy in the classroom.
Me: You are upset because you had a substitute teacher, and she doesn’t know you as well as your regular teacher. You sound very frustrated about the whole thing. Did something happen to upset you?
Boy: That’s my business, it’s not your business.
Me: It might help you to talk about it if you got into trouble or the teacher yelled at you.
Boy: It’s not your business.
Some parents might have felt rejected or exasperated at this point. Or they might have felt that the boy was being too rude when I was being kind to him and trying to help. I just figured that he had a lot of emotion about what happened in the classroom today, and felt too ashamed to talk about it. He probably got into trouble for behaviours he has difficulty controlling. When teachers are harsh and unkind he spirals into negative patterns. When teachers are kind and positive, he thrives. That’s fairly typical of most humans.
Me: OK, you can talk to me about it when you are ready.
I held out my hand to him to cross the road and he took it. The rest of the walk home, he stayed with me holding my hand and snuggling into me.
I knew that the emotion would surface again, and it did. Just before bedtime, the boy said he didn’t want to go to school the next day. He said he didn’t want to go back to the cranky, mean teacher. All I could do was reflect what he was saying. His feelings were valid. I couldn’t say “you’ll be alright, it’s just one day, it will be over before you know it”. Well, I could have, but that would have been very dismissive and it feels awful to have your thoughts and feelings dismissed. I couldn’t provide any solutions, because I didn’t have any. I had to go to work, he had to go to school. But if I had some soultions I wouldn’t have given them to him – kids, like most people, only fully commit to ideas they come up with themselves.
I simply reflected his thoughts and feelings “I know it’s really hard for you when you don’t have your regular teacher. You are worried about the substitute teacher being mean to you. You get sad and angry when the teacher is yelling at the class.”
The next morning was OK. He mentioned that he didn’t want to get ready for school. All I could offer was some extra “hug energy” to get him through the day.
At the end of the day when I picked him up from school, I waited for the avalanche of emotion. But it didn’t happen. I asked “how was your day”? He said in a cheerful voice “it was a good day, I understand the teacher a little bit better now”.
Geez kids can surprise you. I don’t know what happened, and I probably never will.
Some guidelines for “being with”…
You can only use ‘being with’ effectively when your home is an emotionally safe place for your children, when you have embedded positive parenting into what you do with your children, and when you have established a good balance between ‘taking charge’ and ‘being kind’.
It’s a tool that you can only use when you are calm, when you have the time to use it, and when you are committed to the process. If you bail out half way through the process because you are not feeling comfortable with either the emotions coming from your child or the emotions arising within you, then it will be difficult for your child to trust that you are able to stay the course and guide them through to the end. He or she will be hesitant to invest any energy in your next attempt.
There is definitely a need in our society for greater understanding and acceptance of emotions, but it’s going to require a huge cultural shift. The first step in developing our emotion coaching muscles is to look at any situation with ’empathy’, through our child’s eyes.
However, emotion coaching is an advanced parenting tool, It’s a tool that I don’t use all of the time, but it can be handy when the child is having a big emotion and you suspect that there is some deeper stuff underlying the behaviour. Children need limits and boundaries too. They have to learn that the world doesn’t stop just because they are having an emotion.
“Your relationship with your child sets the foundation for all the other relationships he or she will have in life, so having a relationship based on mutual respect, love, kindness, and compassion will help ensure that he or she accepts no less in future relationships. Children who have secure relationships will build secure relationships as adults, which will, in turn, lower divorce rates, cultivate loving atmospheres in their homes, and of course, secure attachments with their own children. Little by little, child by child, we will set a new standard. The impact of positive parenting goes far beyond what you or I have yet imagined.” Rebecca Eanes
More information on this topic…
Conscious Discipline – What does Positive Intent really mean? https://consciousdiscipline.com/faqs.asp?cat=9
Categories: Managing Emotions