How can we help our children to trust their authentic talents and inner strength, and stay connected to their natural sense of joy?
In other words how can we help our children to remain receptive and open, rather than become reactive and closed?
Openness allows for connection with others, growth, and learning. It builds resilience.
A closed mind on the other hand, feeds into perfectionism and stress; it isolates us and saps the joy out of our hearts and lives.
When a parent becomes present for her child in a whole-hearted way, the child’s whole autonomic nervous system can calm down. The resulting openness will enable him to stay connected and think creatively about any of the challenges he faces. He’ll experience what it’s like to be the master of his own ship.
5 ways to be more whole-heartedly present for your child
Children need at least twenty years to mature and develop. Every interaction we have with them will mould their sense of worth and outlook on life. We can decide to relate to our children in a way that will increase their self-worth, courage and resilience.
1. Feeling Felt
Whatever the mood your child comes home with – sullen silence, slamming doors, hooked to his play station – you start by acknowledging it.
Skip the opinionating, cajoling, judging or self-pity.
Start by naming the mood or the emotion. No more than that; even if it’s only a signalling of how tired he must be.
There isn’t a soul in the world who doesn’t immediately calm down when someone out there can feel and name what goes on in his heart. If we override this acknowledgement, even by offering an instant solution or good idea, your child will have to ‘protect’ the mood and will certainly not give up on it.
So, don’t blow the chance. Just name what you see.
I had always assumed that every child would adore a room full of books. So I generously piled the books into my children’s bedrooms when they were young.
What an eye-opener it was to realise the distress they caused my son. He was very dyslexic, struggled with his reading, and digging below the surface of his strange behaviour I discovered he only wanted books near his bed that he’d actually read.
2. Reflective Listening
Keep your brilliant ideas to yourself for a while.
Silent physical presence is an invitation for your child to speak. Give her the space and then reflect back the content of what you’ve heard, as well as naming the emotion brought on by the current situation.
A little girl relaying a waterfall of events leading to her being excluded by her friends might be given a bigger perspective, a broader frame as it were, if you say something like this:
“So, it feels very unfair and unkind that your friends have left you out of a game.
And particularly since you were so generous to them when no one wanted to play with them.”
A boy who feels unfairly punished for rudeness will be ready to think about the next step if you reframe his anger for him:
“It’s very upsetting isn’t it, when you’re punished with out being given a chance to justify yourself. It sounds as though it’s made you very angry.”
Reflective listening is not easy. Keep trying and remain still enough to notice the ripples of change.
3. Cultivate Gratitude
Have you ever noticed the effect of pleasure and gratitude on your physical energy? It lifts you, doesn’t it?
Help your children tap into this energy by vocalising your own gratitude regularly. Show them how noticing small positive things can lift your mood.
Then encourage them to share little things every day that make them feel happy in this way: a kind gesture from another child, a funny thing the dog did, the fat sparrow who could no longer get into the bird house, the teacher’s good mood, today’s drive to school, a sudden breakthrough in their batting, and so on.
Give them space to explore how focussing their mind on little pleasures immediately has a positive effect on their mind and can be felt in their body.
4. Private Time
Being alone and disconnected from digital devices every day brings a person home to himself. Pottering around while tidying the guinea pig cage, walking the dog, playing an instrument, drawing or trampolining - any ‘alone’ time in fact that encourages a state of flow, is an opportunity to connect with oneself and recharge the emotional battery.
Creative children can very easily get too intensely engaged in social activities - that could be school itself, socialising in real time or online. What goes up, has to come down. So that upbeat energy will inevitably tip over into complete exhaustion and a sense of depletion.
Help your child recognise her patterns of intense engagement and depletion.
Encourage her to refill her energy store every day with a suitable way to spend private time.
5. What Pushes Your Buttons?
Finally, the best thing you can do is to notice when your own reactions are unrelated to what your child brings home.
- Do you lose your rag when bedtime becomes a drawn out affair?
- Is it the resistance to homework that sends you spiralling?
- Maybe your child getting bullied pulls up more than righteous concern?
- His vulnerability might draw on old wounds of your own?
Notice which electric wires light up in your own system at inappropriate times and have them sorted.
Excessive emotional reactions are usually an indication of our own vulnerabilities. This could be anything like: finding it difficult to say “no”, feeling used, not having enough fun time of your own, and so on.
Our children give us a chance to look at ourselves more honestly. Not only will we feel liberated but parenting itself will become so much more fun when we become able to stay more present to support our children in the process of becoming who they are meant to be.
Renée van der Vloodt ( M.A. , FHGI ) is a psychotherapist and coach – and has had a private practice for over 20 years, which is now based between Woodchurch (Ashford), Kent and the Elysian Centre in Rye, East Sussex.
Renée is the author of the CD Calm the Chaos of the Creative Mind and works with children and adults as a coach and therapist to help them overcome life's challenges and emotional difficulties including stress, burnout, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anger or addictive behaviour.