I naturally gravitate toward peace and tranquility, so my first reaction when I hear something unsettling from my girls is to say STOP and squash any negative feelings and upsets. Quiet is where I live best in my organic state, so when there's a conflict with my girls, my natural instinct pushes me to shut them down completely to make sure they don’t have any big feelings. I don’t necessarily do well when people around me aren’t doing well. It’s almost as if my nervous system goes directly into flight. I urgently need to exit and find tranquility.
When you have kids there is no leaving or taking a break and coming back later, so since I am unable to run away, I just want everyone to be quiet. No feelings, no messiness. Just be calm, clean and quiet. However, children are emotionally disheveled and chaotic, immature and irrational. These little people are just learning how to “be” in this world. Figuring out what it feels like to be hurt and angry, and those emotions don’t always come out in a neat little present, like, “Mom, I am so upset with my little sister for taking my favorite toy, can you please help me?”. Oh, hell no! That’s not how it works. Kids lash out, take their big feelings out on those around them, especially those safe people like caretakers. I can’t stand the phrase “Just use your words”. I mean, come on, adults have a hard time "just using their words" when they are super upset. That is a losing battle sure to frustrate anyone.
I come to parenting wanting everyone to be quiet and serene and my kids some to "childrening" with big, out-of-control feelings. Really bad combo! How do we shift the paradigm? Ask our kids to grow up, become more mature and use their rational mind? Will they learn to use ‘their words” and very nicely explain what’s overwhelming them and causing them to tantrum? Yes, they will in like 25 years! The only person able to change this impossible dynamic is me, the parent and adult, the one with the fully developed prefrontal cortex. Instead of becoming ignited by my child’s natural and normal big feelings, I must remain uber calm, collected and rational. It's the hardest thing on earth to do for someone like me who came from a home where feelings were not allowed—a home where children’s feelings and thoughts were not really taken into consideration. I think it was quite normal and still is, for many households to expect kids to stuff their feelings either by using “control” parenting or by simply not allowing them to "feel" the moment. That’s what I did early in my parenting endeavor. I just shut that right down. "No way are you having a feeling, kid." Because I couldn’t handle it, I didn’t know what to do, how to react. Most often I tried to reason, fix or manipulate. All of which left everyone frustrated and disconnected.
If we come to our children’s upsets with kindness, with understanding, and with empathy they will learn to trust us with their feelings. We will be the first people they come to when things really go wrong later in life. They will know we can handle those feelings and that they are not too big for us or them. If we can self-regulate and not go into a complete meltdown when our children are having a hard time, we will teach them to self-regulate and overcome adversity later on in life and be able to hit a rough patch and keep it all in perspective.
We have a choice and in that choice, there is always room to choose love, compassion, patience, and kindness, even amidst chaos and mayhem. Adults have the mental fortitude to do just that, and we owe it to ourselves and our kids. If we model this deep devotion to feelings, we will cultivate that characteristic in our own children, and they will mirror it right back to us. It isn’t always easy, and it doesn’t necessarily come naturally for many of us, but I have no doubt it is infinitely better than trying to squash normal, messy, big feelings from our little ones.
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