RESPONDING WITH INTENTION TO YOUR CHILD'S EMOTIONS
We’ve all been there. Someone we love is hurting, emotionally or physically and we have an immediate impulse to make it better.
One of the basic tenants of my personal and professional work is to feel what I feel and allow others to feel what they feel. This sometimes can get muddled in parenting when my child is struggling. The urge to fix it rises. I want to help, heal, soothe, comfort. I want to figure out how to make it better.
They fall and are crying.
“You’re ok, you’re ok, dust it off, you’re fine!”
They’re upset and feeling left out.
“It’s ok. It’s fine. They can’t invite everyone every time.”
But what if that’s not helpful.
Or worse, what if that actually compounds the distress?
1. There’s the intention behind what we’re doing.
2. There’s the message that’s being received, which may differ from our intention.
While the intention may be to provide comfort and care, the message being received may be quite different.
The child’s body hurts. Their body is aching and feeling pain. They're startled and they are crying. In that moment they don’t feel ok.
They are emotionally hurting: sad, frustrated, angry, confused, devastated… They feel excluded left out, they long for belonging and acceptance. In that moment they don’t feel ok.
So, what gives us the right to dismiss and dictate how another person feels? Our age? Experience?
Each of us gets to claim our own feelings and experience.
No one else’s.
I get mine.
You get yours.
What if telling another person it’s ok when it’s not leaves them feeling confused, disconnected from the signals of their body, reliant on an external source for how to react. What if it gives them the impression that it’s bad, wrong or inappropriate to express certain feelings. Is the message they receive that if they feel sad, mad, angry, pain, they should just suck it up, push it down and put on a brave face? Is this the message we wish to convey? Is this the pattern we would like to reinforce?
What’s the alternative?
How can I soothe and support another person - be it my child or anyone I’m in relationship with - without assuring them (or insisting) that they’re ok, when they are expressing that they’re not?
It’s this simple:
Say what you see, what you understand.
“You fell. You didn’t like that. It hurts and maybe it even scared you.”
“You didn’t get invited. I can see how sad you are and how much it hurts right now.”
Welcome them with warmth in voice and gesture.
If they let you hold them, let them be held. Not dismissed, not denied, not corrected, just accepted exactly as they are in that moment.
Allow them to be fully seen, heard and show them that their experience matters to you.
Stay until they are ready to move on.
Just listen to their sadness, their distress, and hold them (energetically and/or physically) until it moves through them.
No suggestions about how to do it better or differently. No strategies. No judgment.
There’s plenty of time to state the facts of what you saw once they calm down to help make sense of what happened.
A mantra for myself and for you…
My desire is to be a safe container for all feelings - they are all welcome here. I accept them. They come, they move, they change, they pass. There is nothing I am afraid of. I will be a witness. It’s my honor. There is nothing that you can feel that I don’t want to understand.
I invite you to ask yourself if there are certain feelings and expressions that you are unwilling to witness in others. Or in yourself. Are there times you unintentionally dismiss others when trying to fix, help or soothe them...
Next time someone you love is hurting, play with another way: reflect and stay.