“My 3-year-old loses it when we go to the park to play. I don’t get it. It’s supposed to be fun, right? Rebecca, how does this work with feelings? I don’t want to just give in and do whatever he’s asking (like just go home!). But his exploding and yelling seems like a bad idea, too. And it’s even worse when I’m the one losing it. Is there something in the middle that could be helpful?”
One of the biggest misconceptions is that Consciously Parenting means letting them have their feelings and allowing them to do whatever they want. But our children actually need us to provide some boundaries, to help them find their own edges. Listening to their feelings doesn’t mean that we then give them whatever they are demanding!
If a child doesn’t want to go to the park or whatever other fun outing you had planned and they’re having feelings about it, it doesn’t mean that you don’t go. Or that you never go to the park again. It means that you give space for how he’s feeling and then offer support by listening without trying to fix it. For most of us, we’ve never experienced this thing I’m talking about, so it is hard to really understand what it means or what it looks like. But it might go like this:
Child: I don’t want to go to the park today. (Starts to cry)
Parent: Huh. Tell me more about why you don’t want to go to the park today. You normally like it.
Child: Last time we went, there was another boy who pushed me. I didn’t like it. I don’t want to go back!
Parent: Ah, I remember when the boy pushed you. It really surprised you and hurt your feelings.
Child: Yes. I don’t want to go back.
Parent: (Staying in emotional brain with the child) I can see the feelings you’re having when you’re thinking about that time. Would you like a hug?
Child: Yes (and moves in for a hug)
After a few minutes, the child settles.
Parent: Would it be helpful if I stay closer to you when we go to the park just to make sure that you’re ok? If you need help, I’ll be nearby?
Child: Yes, that would help me feel safer.
Parent: Ok, let’s go! Maybe we can have a super-secret hand signal if you’re having a hard time and need help?
Child: I like that idea. Let’s figure one out!
In this story, the parent didn’t control what happened, but also provided space for the child to be heard and for the feelings to be felt and experienced without trying to problem solve prematurely. There’s a lot to be said for waiting, for listening, for making room for the emotional brain to finish its job of moving through feelings so it’s ready to listen, learn, and engage in a new way.
We’re making room for the emotional brain to do what it needs to do before we move into the thinking brain of fixing it. Or, the other thing that many parents do, short circuiting the emotional process by just giving the child what they’re demanding. So, the parent sits home instead of going to the park, when that parent needed the fresh air, too, and feels resentful. And the child misses the opportunity for growth by learning new skills, or by really having the underlying need understood.
Keep in mind, if YOU, as parent, are not having anyone listen to YOU, it’s hard to really listen to someone else when your own “hurts cup,” as Pam Leo calls it in her book Connection Parenting, is full. When a child’s crying brings up your own hurts or experiences where you weren’t seen, heard, or felt growing up, it’s hard to be there for them. We need safe spaces for US to really be seen, heard, and felt so we can do that for our kids.
We have two opportunities for you to get that kind of listening for YOU so you can really be present with your kids.
First, we are offering free Healing Story Circles throughout the month. It’s a great opportunity to get your feet wet and have an experience of non-judgmental listening. Try it! You don’t have to bring your deepest, most difficult challenge or trauma. Just bring a story of something you’ve experienced and see how it feels to have some reflection! It’s a powerful experience with my trained listeners who are graduates or currently in my 2-year training program for Holistic Family Consultants. You can sign up on this page.
Second, our 6-month membership is open and we’re accepting new members through next Friday, September 4! It’s 6 months of looking at feelings, boundaries, and connection in our every day interactions in our families. It’s practical and applicable to families who would like more connection and aren’t sure where to start or for families who are looking for some fine tuning. You have access to short parent-able content every week, a moderated Facebook group, Member AMA calls monthly, and member-only Healing Story Circles twice a month. We’ll also have special topic calls recorded about things you want to know about, providing yet another layer of support!