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When our neighboring Mount St. Helens started to rumble, one of my children asked, “Do people who live close by get mad when the volcano erupts?” “Do you get mad at the rain?” I asked. While he was pondering my question, his brother said, “Being mad at the rain or a mountain erupting is as insane as being mad at another person.” Indeed, we live at peace with nature because we have realized that it doesn’t change to fit our ideas. Yet, too often we expect humans to change according to our thoughts and children to develop according to our plan. Such expectations leave us frustrated and powerless.

 

How do I know it’s raining? I observe. I don’t try to change the rain; I respond by taking an umbrella. Likewise, how do I know what my child should be? I observe and respond without trying to manipulate.

Translations

“But,” protests a caring father, “How do we respond kindly when a child is hitting, grabbing, or making a mess?”

Parents often ask me if there is ever a time when our wisdom as adults is useful to give to our children in stressful situations. Yes, obviously we have experiences and/or knowledge that our child does not have that could prove helpful to him. Timing is the key. Following the child's lead is the best way to know if and when our input is appropriate. In general, children are more capable than we realize in their ability to self-heal. A self-reliant child is unlikely to ask for advice - when not asked we are better off not giving it.

The worst time to give advice is when a person (of any age) is in the midst of agonizing and pouring out their heart. I have found that most of the time children will come to their own wise conclusions if their expression of pain is fully accepted through listening and validation. When our wisdom is essential, they will let us know with specific questions. About once a year, this occurs with my children in the area of emotional distress. In the areas of learning, it happens more often.

So why do some children ask for advice a lot more often than others when in emotional distress?

For over twenty years now I have been teaching parents how to connect, validate and understand the needs behind children's emotional expressions, and allow them to feel and express themselves fully. Yet I noticed new difficult behaviors and dependencies arising as a result of these well intended endeavors. Indeed, some of the kindest parents unintentionally teach their children to feel more entitled and therefore less peaceful.

Many of us grew up emotionally lonely and confused by habitual denial of our feelings. We were told, "Don't cry, nothing happened," while inside we felt that a lot happened; or we were shut down with, "You are fine," when we were hurting inside. It is inspiring to see many of today's parents trying to give their children the compassion and validation they themselves did not receive. However, in their anxiety to be gentle, parents sometimes don't realize that they teach victimhood and neediness. They typically call for my guidance saying: "I have been so kind and responsive, why is my child so demanding, whiny, angry and even aggressive?"

How validation and talk about feelings and needs can backfire?

 
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