Our Kids Need to Hear This
I had lost him.
Somewhere between my beginning, middle, and end, my son and zoned out and tuned me out. I imagine for him it must have felt something like Peanut’s teacher - Wah wah woh wah wah - which is a total bummer because what I had to say was good … like, I had thoughtfully crafted a beautiful response.
The message was concise and to the point. It was a great delivery.
But I suppose that's the amusing thing about an adult vs. a child's brain. They function from their emotive aspects, whereas we move from our rational portions.
In my years as a mother, I've seen a pattern. When it comes to design, sometimes less is more. It is sometimes more useful to compress it or use fewer words.
For those of us with fully functional frontal lobes - meaning all adults - this appears to be excruciatingly difficult because all we have to do is teach the lesson, make our point, or fix those difficult emotions.
And it's at this point when communication breaks down. Concrete information is processed by children. If they are online at all, their capacity to understand abstract structures and extensive narratives (aka lectures) is minimal.
It's not that they don't want to keep up or are deliberately failing to do so. It's because their frontal lobe, which is responsible for executive function and emotional regulation, is still developing and won't mature until they're around 25. So, if you do the arithmetic, they still have a lot of room for improvement.
Your toddler, tween, and teen's amygdala is currently working at various degrees. They perceive hazards, experience emotions, and act in response.
Your child is experiencing a strong feeling and is unable to control it, so they punch their brother.
Your teen is experiencing a strong feeling and is unable to control it, so they scream, "I hate you!"
Your child is experiencing sensory overload and is unsure how to cope, so they flee and hide.
Your child is hungry, fatigued, or out of habit and is unable to cope, resulting in a meltdown.
Your child craves your attention, some control, or the opportunity to express their demands but is unsure how to ask for it, so they escalate.
All of these children are lacking in some developmental ability and have a legitimate need that they are unable to verbalize and handle.
It is our responsibility to respond to their lower brain with our higher brain so that they can learn to access their own higher brain over time. Co-regulation works in this way.
When our children lose control and we stay in our bodies - our calm - to see and acknowledge their feelings, we send a powerful message to them. Specifically, your emotions are not contagious. You can be large, and I'll be here to support you.
Raise your hand if you ever needed something like that as a child. I'm sure I could have done with a little more of it and less of the blame, humiliation, and lecturing.
This does not imply that we are idle. There is a time and a place for teaching. Your child's dysregulation isn't the issue.
The portions of the brain required to listen, absorb, and integrate parenting monologues, questions, and commands are not accessible to a neurological system that is dysregulated. While your child is regulated in the presence of little times together, such as when taking an Opportunity-In, it is the greatest time to help them acquire techniques to manage emotions and behaviors.
Our Kids Need to Hear This
While our parenting goals of teaching a lesson, making a point, and correcting a problem are admirable, they are more about us than they are about our children. That's all we've got.
Sometimes all our children require is a sense of belonging. And it only takes three (or less) words in other cases. Some of our favorite three-word statements to use with our kids at various times are included below.
1. You are safe.
Children act the way they feel, so if they are acting out of control, it is because they feel that way. Feeling out of control also feels scary. When your child is melting down, get eye level or below and offer these three words.
2. I am listening.
Oftentimes, as parents, we are the ones doing the talking, but parenting is a relationship. As with all relationships, there is a time to talk and a time to listen. Actively hear what your child is saying not just above the surface, but also what their behavior may be saying too.
3. I love you.
This one sounds like a no-brainer, but these three words are not always easy for us to say or receive. I find myself saying this not only when my kiddo and I are jiving but when he is feeling big, messy emotions, too. Our children are loved and love 24/7, and nothing changes that.
4. I appreciate you.
This is a way to recognize your child and direct gratitude towards them. Not just for when they do something desirable but also a hey, I appreciate you for being you kind of thing.
5. I am sorry.
We will not be perfect parents. I repeat, we will not be perfect parents. We will yell or say or do something regrettable. This isn’t the goal, and yet, this does yield the opportunity to model another important skill: repair. We can’t expect our kids to genuinely offer apologies when we are unwilling to do so ourselves. Let your child see your humanness, and make amends when needed. This shows your child that you mess up sometimes too, and also, that you care about your relationship.
6. I support you.
Our children are wildly whole and complete from day one. We don’t have to make them anything. There is nothing to do so to speak when it comes to carving out their essence. Let your child know that you support them as they navigate big feelings and tricky situations and as they follow their bliss and become more of who they are and are meant to be.
7. Your thoughts matter.
Imagine how powerful this statement would be to hear as a child. Everyone is physically bigger than you, commanding and demanding you, and seems to have more power than you. But then, you hear this, and suddenly, you don’t feel so small and powerless. Instead, you feel seen and develop a knowing that you are an important part of your family system.
8. Your feelings matter.
Most of us grew up with our feelings ignored, swept under the rug, or gaslighted. As parents, we may not like the behavior we see from our children yet it doesn’t mean that we can’t respect and honor the feelings beneath it. All emotions are valid and sacred. We need to know that. And so do our kids.
With so many parenting scripts and advice out there, it is nice to know that what we say to our kids doesn’t have to be some memorized monologue. The best thing you can do is to be in the moment with your child and speak from your heart.