A few years ago it hit me while I was facilitating a feedback workshop for one of clients, that as parents we spend almost all of our time giving feedback to our children; don’t eat like this?, don’t yell?, I appreciate you cleaned your room?, I love it when you speak nicely? And lots of other things. But very rarely, if ever do we take the time to ask them, what do they think of us?!.
I mean how else are we going to teach them about being accepting and open to learning from experiences as well as empathy, if we never role-model it for them. What is a greater way to show them that we value their voice better than listening to them talk about us.
Well, when I returned home that day I took my daughter to a walk around the block and talked to her about feedback; I told her that I would love to hear from her what she enjoyed the most about my parenting and what she didn’t, I also asked her about what she enjoyed in our life together the most and what she didn’t. That night I did not get an answer for everything, and I believe I was overwhelming; but then the little information I got was eye opening in a beautiful way!
“Mum, I don’t like it when you promise me something and don’t do it. It hurts my feelings” – I didn’t reject her perception, though I didn’t think I did that at all, but went along with it asking for clarity; “it must be painful when I promise you something and don’t do it. Can you give me an example?”. I realized that day that when things come up and we change plans for one reason of another, I don’t explain things enough to my daughter and hence she created the perception that I don’t keep my promises. We later this week, worked out a way to explain what’s happening and a code that she says when she is really sure she understands why are we changing plans. It was an amazing experience, and since then I have been making it a point that I periodically solicit feedback from all of my children and let them know that I value this feedback and will work on it. I used a number of tools like asking them to write up what they want me to stop, start &/or continue doing as their mother(or step mother) or draw it up or tell me when something comes up – and it has been fascinating every single time.
So plan something this coming week, with your child(ren); take them for a walk in the park or have a tea party in their room or whatever works for them and ask them for feedback and share what comes up!
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I want you to imagine this with me; you just had something horrible happen to you “however you define horrible” – you walk by to your husband wanting to tell him about it and cry on his shoulders, but you’re also horrified and unable to express yourself in an understandable manner; you’re crying, and making sounds as if talking but nothing really is clear- this is how stressed you are.
You’re husband on the other hand, tries to receive you with kindness at first; “what’s wrong? What happened?” and here you are trying to explain but nothing is coming out of you except weird sounds – he then says things like; “I don’t understand you! And honey would you please just calm down a bit so I can understand?” and that just frustrates you more and more, because you can’t calm down, this is exactly why you came over to him, to help sooth you and calm you down. You cry lauder.
Well, this isn’t working for your husband at this point, he loves you so much, but he can’t understand you while you’re being hysterical and making nothing but weird sounds. Besides he really has some other things to do around the house; yes things that you’ve asked him to do like folding the laundry or organizing the garage or adjusting the cable. So he looks at you and says “ Honey, I can’t understand you this way, so I am going to leave you till you can talk to me in a calm, rational way. Because this just isn’t working” – and maybe he’ll add “you’re not a child to act the way you’re doing right now”.
My magical question is; How would you feel? Actually how are you feeling now just reading this?
Angry, hurt, frustrated? Does words like unvalued, unheard come to your mind? Okay, would you think of your husband at this moment as caring, loving, nurturing and has empathy? Did you, by his doing, get the security you were longing for?
I want you to ponder on these feelings a bit and on the needs behind them that were unmet and how this situation –if happened- would be very hurtful.
Now reflect, if you ever do this to your children? Your toddler comes by crying their hearts out about how the window is closed or the bird just flew; what do you usually do? What if you’re older child was talking in an unpleasant passionate way, would you say something like – I will not hear you except when you talk nicely? What about if they are having a tantrum about something? Do you ignore them? Yell lauder? Or do you empathize with their pain, sooth them; calm them down and then try to reason?
It’s hurtful for us adults, sometimes beyond our capacity when people we love, care for and trust ignore us at moments of vulnerability and yet we claim that as adults we have the tools and skills to overcome this hurt and reason to a better situation. But our children don’t have these same tools or skills to reason and deduce what our intentions are, they see things as they come in face value. So the message they get when ignored; is hurtful, demeaning and insecure.
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For ages now, storytelling has been known for its powers over soothing children and contributing to their creativity, learning and growth of important skills like reading, writing and logical thinking.
What I found however, extremely fascinating about storytelling is the fact that it supports children and adults alike in healing from past experiences that were painful, or frightening in some way.
When my daughter was five, I wanted to enroll her in swimming school. She loved water and enjoyed going the beach all the time, and that sort of encouraged me to think that swimming would be a great sport for her. In her first day of training, she slipped while she was walking by the pool – she didn’t slip into the pool (Thank God) but just on the sideway. Like all kids, she cried and whined about it, till she felt it was ok to move on. Then she has her first swimming lesson, which I thought she enjoyed very much.
In three months, my daughter stopped going to swimming at all. It started gradual but she just feared going, and back then I didn’t understand what happened to her love of water.
Until one day, I simply asked, with an open heart to really listen; “honey, you used to really love swimming and playing in the pool. What happened?” – that day for the first time I have deeply listened to my daughters fear of falling down and hurting herself, and to her story of what exactly happened.
But what was even more fascinating to me is how she told the story from her perspective; “I slipped, I was wearing my slippers and they hurt my toes, and my shoulder hurts too – water is always slippery” That was all she recalled from the story.
In allowing her to tell the story, I was able to fill in some important details; “yes I remember, I was standing by your side and I reached immediately to pull you up. Remember?” “Yes, your toes did hurt I remember, but we put ice on them and the pain just went away and you were able to enjoy swimming right?” My daughter didn’t tell me this story once or twice; she told me the story over and over for a few months and I would every time support her by helping her remember important facts of what happened. In time, however she no longer had this fear of pools, actually when she was almost six and half she asked to start going to swimming lessons again and she did, and enjoyed it very much and was very keen on it.
What I have later learned, through my counseling and some resources about the human brain (specially The Whole Brain Child by Dr. Dan Siegel & Tina Bryson) that incidents like this trigger heavy emotions for children coming from one part of the brain without integration with the other part. Which leaves the brain making faulty deductions and conclusion of the incidents.
Enabling the kids tell the story and filling in the gaps for them in a compassionate and understanding way enables them to process their feelings, and correct their thinking process – in a sense it enables both parts of the brain to integrate and work together. Which ultimately enables them to reach closure in a healthy developmental way.
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Another frequent question, which I thought would help many parents of young children. What to do when my child is having a meltdown/tantrum? And how do I cool them down?
Here’s what I do, and although they really look very simple, these techniques have really worked for me with almost every child I’ve ever worked with or dealt with starting with my daughter and until my step children. These techniques are to be used when a child is actually having a meltdown/tantrum;
1. Empathize (non verbally); yes this is my first secret, I try opening my heart and trying to really see things from a child’s perspective. If he is crying because someone took a toy from him, I would tell myself how would I feel if someone took something I thought of as precious from me? – This could all be within you and without doing anything with the child yet
2. Physical Proximity; I then get closer to the child, either kneel down to their level, sit on the floor, or next to them whatever it is I get closer – if I find them open to it, I would put my hand around them or on their shoulder gently. I also sometimes would have my hand go in circular motion around their back, or their shoulder or arms; I found by experience that this usually cools them off in a matter of minutes
3. Empathize (verbally); if I found the child now open, I would let them know that I see them, hear them and guess some feelings and needs (see the practical guide 1 & 2 in my blog to learn more about this); “Honey, I see you are really upset, It must be very scary when laud voices just pop out of no where, are you scared? Do you want to come closer? or do you want to be hugged?” – This is important because it sends the child the message that they are loved, important, they matter and are safe.
4. Sit there silently; this might sound a bit weird, but sometimes a child is too off balance they are unable to connect with you or are just not ready yet to cool down – it’s the same thing with adults, sometimes you want to cry and no matter who says what you just want to let it all out. If so, just sit silently by your child; this works for almost every child, even teenagers and tweens. I’ve sat next to my stepson as he went through his meltdown, doing absolutely nothing but holding the tissue box. I said nothing, I did nothing. And he cooled down and was then ready to respond and be with me in that gentle place of empathy and strategy making (figuring out solutions)
These simple steps have done wonders for me in my life; I would love to hear from you what worked for you? Please add what worked for you in the comment section. If you like the article, please share it and like it. Thanks!
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I get asked a lot about this, how do I handle my child’s tantrums and how do I deal with her when she’s having one? I also get the “what can I do to stop it” question, which I will probably talk about in a later post.
For this post however, I chose to share some of the things that worked with me in my family, with my friends and some of the advocates of peaceful parenting I’ve been in touch with. I want to start with the prevention techniques, I call them that because they have helped me in most case prevent tantrums/meltdowns from happening;
Be Conscious; Notice what triggers your child in his/her daily routine, is it something they eat, a certain lighting, a certain thing that you do or someone else does – whatever it is noted down and try not to do it again. When my daughter was 1, she use to get a nervous breakdown out of hearing the hairdryer, noticing that made me avoid a lot of tantrums to come and later as she grew up I even noticed more and more how sensitive she was to laud sounds.
Prepare them; If they meltdown every time you’re leaving the park or leaving the house or going “to do” anything; maybe it is a signal for you to prepare them for it before it happens. Let them know every few minutes that your leaving in 2 minutes, and then that you’re leaving in 1 minutes and afterwards few seconds. That way they know what is coming their way
Be Prepared yourself; A great thing I learned, is to walk around with a selection of toys. Especially with younger kids this works wonderfully. Don’t take all the toys out at once, one at a time so each would take enough time to wonder the child & keep them busy. For a little older kid, like my daughter I prepare games, or discussion that we’ll have together all the way, or let bring her ipad or a book to read. That way she would be engaged and not bored and hence no scene will be necessary.
Be fun; this works with all ages, and it even works with my hubby sometimes. Being fun and playful in a stressful situation is always a great way to ease stress within the family. So you’re kids are going to meltdown because you’re switching off the TV, do it in a fun engaging way and let them know something else is waiting for them to do. Or if they want to listen to the song one more time, come along and sing it to them, then ask them to sing it- now let them write it down or act it or draw it. That usually works
Give them tools; teach your child, through story telling, reading books or pictures or drawing what to do when they have big emotions or when there’s a conflict or when they just want to express themselves. A walk, a deep breathe, to walk away, to say a specific statement “I don’t like this”. Doing so will prepare your child to when things come up to use these tools instead of just melting down.
So these are my secrets, what are yours? Please share with me in the comments sections. And if you enjoyed the post please share it and like it. Thanks!
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