- I don’t always guess correctly the reason my child feels upset.
- Given my profession and what I do day in and day out, I am pretty good at observing and guessing what a child needs or wants. Yet I truly believe children are wonderful, complex beings, so when I am surprised by my daughter’s concern, I realize it is about her complexity rather than my lack of skill – it is fascinating to find out how her brain ticks. Alas, please keep in mind that I most often am fascinated by this AFTER the fact, not during her meltdown! What I learned from this experience is her anger did not come just from having to leave, but also because her vision of this playdate did not match reality. She had wanted to have her friend to herself rather than share her with a neighbour who spontaneously joined the playdate. I had no clue this was what she was feeling while watching them play. In retrospect, listening to her concerns gave me great insight into what skill my daughter still needs to learn as part of being a friend – that friends are for sharing – but more on that topic on another day! My point is that I cannot forget that she is her own person, having her own experiences, and that he concerns, regardless of how skilled she is in sharing them, are valid and a wonderful roadmap for how I can support her in the future.
- Supporting my child through angry feelings is messy work.
- As parents, we love formulas and techniques. They give us an anchor in moments of uncertainty and more confidence to tackle sticky situations with our kids. Yet formulas and techniques have a dark side – we can lose sight of the child in front of us. I was struck this weekend with how essential my parenting philosophy, rather than any technique, was in helping me bob and weave my way through this angry wave with my daughter. I want to assure you that this event was hard work and messy – 16 years as a psychologist and almost 7 years as a parent did not give me magic power to make my child turn and say, “Mom, what was I thinking? You’re right, it’s time to go, it’s no big deal.” Rather, my commitment to use my relationship with my daughter and be her safe haven amidst this storm was my rock. Also, my belief that I am shaping her character for the future kept me steady and willing to stay the course (rather than parenting to get obedience in the moment to make it easier, and less embarrassing, for me). I am willing to do hard work now to help her learn how to share her angry feelings with me over time (how to do it assertively rather than with aggression), rather than buying into the belief that “she should know better” and should never lose emotional control. I know this belief has holes a mile long in it just by examining how I manage my angry feelings – yes, I am STILL learning how to stay assertive rather than aggressive or passive-aggressive when sharing my feelings (just ask my husband…he will attest to my fall back of pointing out the speck in his eye and ignoring the log in mine).
- Consequences are wonderful teachers when I don’t join my daughter and have my own meltdown.
- This is not the first meltdown I have ever experienced with my daughter and I am prepared for the fact that it won’t be the last. Yet I am very aware that I cannot ask my daughter to use her calm, strong voice to share her angry feelings (instead of yelling or using mean words) unless I am willing to hold myself to the same standard My meltdowns may not look as messy as my daughter’s but I am very aware of when I have or have not modeled assertiveness when I am feeling angry or frustrated with something my daughter is doing or saying. I have my own work to do in this area and I speak openly with my daughter about my plan for growth. My number one goal right now is to tune in and become aware of my state of mind. In my parenting class, “Raising a Secure Child,” we call this shark music (Circle of Security® – Parenting ©2009) and it has helped me to recognize that my past is colouring how I see the present. Next, given the importance of my faith, I have chosen a proverb to help me remember my parenting goal – “A gentle word turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Literally, as my daughter was ranting and raving this weekend in someone else’s house (yes, I felt embarrassed), I kept saying over and over “gentle words Kimberly, gentle words.” My daughter received this support from me and a consequence. Yes, you can be both tender and firm – in fact, both are necessary to make our children feel safe and to build a healthy relationship with them. Did she do her best to try and talk me out of the consequence? You bet! Yet, when I wanted to say “I told you so,” I extended empathy and support so that she could see that my consequence was a loving act presented by a calm parent (again, don’t for a minute think I get this right every time – I am growing, remember!).
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