Whether your children are young or old, they know that rough things have been going on in the world this week. Babies and tiny children don't need to understand what we're talking about to sense that something is wrong. They feel it in their bodies. Our tension, the heaviness or emotion in our voices, and changes in how we move or pay attention are easy for little guys to read and respond to.
School-age children know that something's going on even when we are careful not to talk about the Orlando mass shooting (or other shootings and shocking and violent events in the news) in front of them. Kids sense our feelings, reacting not to how we think we feel, but to how we actually feel. Consider if your child ever says "Why are you mad, Mommy," and you assure them you aren't mad, all the while wondering how they can tell. They sense it.
Tweens and teens are certainly hearing about these tragic events in school, from their friends, and/or on social media. Some may read, talk, argue, collect information and try to make sense of what's going on. Others may say nothing about it at home and avoid conversations, but may be thinking about it. Others may ask questions or express anxiety or other emotions.
So if your child (at any age) has been unsettled, fussy, restless, clingy, or irritable, they may be processing their feelings about this shooting. Be careful! Don't watch or discuss the news in front of your children (unless they are teens). If they're ready to talk about it, make sure you talk in developmentally-appropriate ways. Listen to their stories, concerns, and emotions if they bring them up, but don't add your own feelings to the burdens they already carry, talk to an adult instead. Help them have space to have their feelings, even when their feelings make you uncomfortable. Be extra gentle, remembering that they are affected even if they aren't talking about it. And be gentle with yourself, remembering that you may be heartbroken, angry, or scared, too.
True connection and intimacy are essential for human beings. They develop when we slow down and listen deeply to each other.
This week's posts have clustered around the issue of dealing with our kids when they're emotional. Today, we're considering some 'don'ts' because that can help make all of the 'do's' clearer.
Don't teach, explain and help. Maybe you've heard or said things like these:
Don't hurry them:
Don't shut them out:
Following the same thread as my other posts this week (Be A Lighthouse and Understanding Our Own Emotions), I humbly offer this next step. I'm breaking it down step by step because emotional changes are complicated and things seem to come up incrementally.
Emotions are just feelings happening, there's no need to confuse them with actions, events, and choices in the past or future. Even when your emotional child is ranting about something ('I hate you guys, you never get me anything! Everybody else in the world has a phone. I know you hate me or you would let me get one!" for example), what they are really sharing is a window into how they are feeling. Don't get engaged with the thoughts spinning our from their emotional experience, stay with their emotions. See if you can 'hear' their feelings.
That's a kind of radical suggestion. Don't get caught up in what they're saying (obviously, listen deeply and pay attention, and if there are concerning things consider how to handle them, but don't interrupt the emotional sharing to investigate them). Listen to the feelings, even when they are not talking about them directly. Listen to the feelings, even when they make you uncomfortable. Listen without redirecting, problem-solving, explaining, teaching, or convincing.
If your child says something like, "Nobody ever sits with me at lunch because everyone thinks I'm stupid and even when I sit with people they just walk away and I hate my whole life . . " imagine listening without any judgment or agenda. Maybe you would just nod. Maybe you would say something little, "Oh wow," without breaking their flow. Maybe they're open to more, so you say, "Honey, that sounds really hard. I hear how sad you feel." They may correct, saying "I'm not sad, I'm angry. I hate them all." Just follow them.
Here's the important thing--stay away from logic! An emotional person does not need logic, they need presence. Forget what you've learned about emotional support and try gentle and affirmative listening without fixing. See how it goes. Be patient, it can take longer than you might think, especially with a child who isn't used to it. They may have a lot of feelings to express.
Let me know how it goes!
My life and work are guided by the these core understandings: that all beings (including me!) are capable of transformation and joy, that healthy parenting matters profoundly, and that simple practices can support each of us.