What do you do when kids feel out of control? When they insult and berate you? How can you show up for them when you feel hurt? How do you teach respect while also allowing them to feel the big emotions? These will be questions I answer in the next few posts, beginning with why it’s vital to permit and “hold the space” for kids to feel big emotions.
Common Mistakes We Make
As parents, we are not taught how to hold space and show up for a child’s big emotions, let alone the brutally hard times they can go through as teens. As a result, we try three things:
- Talk them out of their feelings, or rationalize why they shouldn’t feel the way they do
- Shame them for feeling the way they do by ignoring the emotions or intimidating
- Cajoling and downplaying the emotions by offering ice cream or another distraction
These might make everyone feel better in the moment, but, in the long run, shutting down emotion creates adults who do not know how to self-regulate or who have little empathy for others’ emotional experience.
What Can You Do?
The best thing you can do is to learn how to hold space for your own emotions so that you can regulate your emotions and nervous system. This will help you model self-regulation, while also providing a safe and kinder space for your kids, which results in less conflict and deeper communication. Shortly, I will offer tips about how to do that.
Exit Mr. Guilt
We are on this planet to do this psycho-spiritual work with one another, and it’s messy. This is evolution. You might not always get it right, but it’s likely, for the most part, you do. I often tell the story about how one of my teens was going through a rough time. As a mother (or father) the tendency is to think about how we contributed to their pain (did I cause it?), or how we could have prevented it.
My daughter looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Mom, your guilt makes it about you. And, right now I need you to hear me.” She wanted me to be available to her experience of pain and to quit thinking about how I was going to control or stop it. As a parent, we can learn to trust our kids’ process as they discover their own inner knowing. And, sometimes the only way we discover that is to make mistakes and go too far. Learning when and how to let go of our children is an art.
How We’ve Lost Our Animal
People mistakenly say us “animal” in a derogatory way. For instance: “He’s such an animal.” The truth is we have a lot to learn from animals about emotional and physical regulation. Most animals don’t deal with unexplained chronic pain – for a reason. The inner knowing that we require to interact with others healthily and that we can learn to develop again is outside of “intellectual knowing.” I can explain it to you, but, ultimately, the knowing happens inside the body. (Plus, animals know how to SLEEP and good sleep is the answer to a lot of dysregulated nervous systems.)
Mindful body awareness is key. The more you can see your frightened thinking as your “survival programming” that jettisons you into past trauma and future worst case scenario, and the more you can bring yourself back to your body (deep breaths, essential oils, tapping techniques, etc) the more quickly you change your brain. You are literally telling your brain that you are there for you and those scary scenarios from past and future are not true.
There is an illusion that if we worry we’ll see bad things coming and have some control. Nope. You don’t have control. All you have is this moment and the more time you spend in it, the less regrets you’ll have and the more you’ll be able to show up for your kids.
Counseling is a great way to experience being coached, guided, and nurtured into mindful presence, freedom and joy.
How Will You Know It’s Working?
You’ll notice you react less (from primal brain). You won’t take what your kids say (or drivers on the road or partners do) personally. Instead, if they attack, you will see they are in pain and you will want to know what’s going on for them to cause pain. You will see you might be the safest person to whom they can bring their huge emotions. It’s not an insult – it’s a compliment.
Curiosity replaces hostility. Compassion replaces judgment and Guilt. And, Love becomes something felt – not just an idea.
When What You’re Seeing is Outside of “Usual”
Important Note: We can all learn to feel huge emotions without expressing them with physical or emotional violence. Repression of emotion often causes emotions explode inappropriately. When kids scream and act out, they are seeking reassurance and guidance and how to handle emotions. This is a usual and common experience, but if there is more serious mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, personality disorders or schizophrenia, that’s a whole other matter. These disorders can appear during the late teens (“late onset”) and feel and appear more extreme than usual teen angst. What I’m referring to is the typical explosions of emotion that happen beginning at 2 or 3 years old and may continue on into teen years as kids learn how to self-regulate and individuate.