“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”
When our children lose themselves in emotions, it is our job to stay steady and clear and to remember who they really are. This will help them find a way back to themselves.
Emotions feel so strong that we forget, in the throes of them, that they will pass. An upset child may be so hijacked by their feelings that they say unkind words, yell, even throw things or hit. As parents, we can also get caught up in a big reaction to the emotions. We may say unkind words, yell, even issue ultimatums or punishments or hit.
We know this doesn't help, right? But it's hard to stay calm. This week, I want to offer a series of posts about how and why to stay steady.
We begin by remembering that we--and our kids--are not our emotions. When a child is upset and acting out, we stay very clear about the distinction between this beautiful child and the feeling they are having. We respond to them with compassion and love, knowing that it is hard to feel such big feelings. We help them to be safe, gently but firmly stopping them if they're hurting people or objects. We care for our own feelings so that we can stay calm for our child. We don't say much while they're in an emotional storm because we know they aren't able to listen. We wait for the storm to pass, keeping them safe, staying nearby if possible, and loving them.
These things are very important! We don't disconnect from them because they are having rough emotions. We don't add our own out-of-control feelings to theirs. We don't let ourselves get caught in fear or stories about the emotions ('Why does she act like this, there must be something wrong,' or 'He is such a brat.'). We are like a lighthouse, shining loving acceptance of our child's true self.
When the storm passes, we will work with them. More on that tomorrow. For now, see if you get a chance to watch your child have emotions without reacting.
As a mom (to 2 teenage sons), wife, and person in the world, I have been on a long imperfect journey. I have made many mistakes, but with mindfulness, emotional reflection, and lots of support I have learned enormously from those mistakes.