Parents: Pause from the Problem Solving.
Updated: Nov 12, 2018
Our children need less emphasis on results and more emphasis on presence.
We live in a very results-driven society. If there is a problem, fix it. If there is a challenge, tackle it. If there is a conflict, address it.
Yes, building problem solving skills and self-advocacy skills in children is very important. Guiding and prompting children to evaluate challenges, consider options, and make a game plan are essential life skills.
But what comes before the solution?
There is a very subtle and fragile space in the moments between conflict and solutions.
That fragile space is an opportunity to give our children a bounty of love and sense of security through the simplest of gestures.
Rushing to a solution sends a message that all value is in the action. Let's send our children the message that there is also value in feeling, also value in bearing witness to each other's humanity. This way, we model empathy and presence of mind and heart.
We regularly hear that children test their boundaries. Children also test our responses to them- our emotional availability for them. It's an unconscious move, but when they present their distressed emotions, our reactions show them whether they can feel comfortable, safe, and validated in our presence during their personal strife.
Is our acceptance of their humanity unconditional or not?
Parents, this isn't just for the children. It's for us too. We don't have to articulate words of wisdom, or coach just yet... We can simply be physically and emotionally present. Everyone can take a breather and connect.
There will still be boundaries, and discussions, and problem solving. But we can first be present in those fragile moments of vulnerability.
Initially it can be difficult when we are present with our children in their moments of despair, anger, disappointment, or anxiety. It may feel uncomfortable at first to accept their tumultuous feelings. We often tend to avoid negative feelings in our own lives, and sometimes it's exponentially harder to bear our children's sadness or fear. Our own past trauma makes a strong impact on how we respond to our kids' crises. Our impulse to move past this discomfort can lead to immediate problem solving.
But emotions can't be solved- they can only be processed.
Sometimes the distress of a child stems from a seemingly irrational desire- like when my friend Nina's daughter screamed her head off because she wasn't allowed to bring her ginormous stuffed elephant to the park!
Yet any inner conflict, no matter how silly, trivial, or insignificant it may seem to us, is genuinely affecting your child's mind and emotions.
Nina validated her daughter's bewildering frustration by taking her emotions seriously...and it worked. Her daughter learned in that moment that her mom takes her feelings to heart.
Sometimes our children are dealing with a more serious issue like difficulties in school or bullying.
Parental reactions usually lean towards immediate help or immediate dismissal. Lets be more intentional.
If we choose to pause rather than address; if we choose to pause rather than disregard...
What can we actually do in that pause?
Use body language.
Relaxed body posture
Sitting or kneeling at your child's level
Gentle physical comforting, like a hand on the shoulder, holding hands, or simply sitting in close proximity
Simplify your words and message.
"I am here."
"I love you."
"I hear you."
"We're in this together."
What does this presence give our child?
Children feel accepted rather than judged. They feel heard and understood.
Release from Fear
When we are calm and loving in the presence of their distress, children sense that it is OK to have a hard time. When we don't panic, they sense that their feelings are not scary.
Children have the time to process their feelings. They are better able to calm their feelings of panic or fear, and clear their mind.
You are exemplifying what it means to be empathetic. You are showing what it looks like to be there for another person emotionally. You are modelling positive and supportive social interactions.
Children learn that it feels safe to be vulnerable and honest with you. They will remember that the next time they need you.
There is such relief in simplicity.
Familial and parenting expectations are great, and the pressure to guide our children well can be intimidating.
I suggest to you, fellow parents, that when everything starts to feel:
we retreat to simple, gentle gestures of humanity.
You will never go wrong by slowing down and tuning in to your child without judgment or purpose.
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