4 steps for raising a child who doesn't feel emotionally stranded.
Your child suffers from abandonment issues.
If you are a nurturing parent, you are probably balking at this statement. Most of us associate abandonment with physical conditions, such as inadequate nourishment, inadequate clothing, physical abuse or literally leaving our child without care. If you provide for the well being of your children, how could they possibly feel "abandoned"?
While we are busy providing children with the necessities, it is sometimes easy to overlook cultivating the emotional environment necessary for their development. Again, you may be thinking, "Hey, I love my children. I make sure they're provided for emotionally and I work hard to make sure they're happy."
Here's the thing: As children get older, they often don't feel happy. A child's unhappiness can make parents uncomfortable; it creates stress and anxiety for everyone in the family. So what do we do instead of letting our child suffer negative emotions? We become fixers. Unfortunately, constant fixing can spawn emotional abandonment. Let me explain.
Imagine your child comes home from school. You ask how the day was and the child says, "My day stunk. I sat alone at lunch, and my math teacher is so unfair... I think I might fail math this semester. I feel really miserable." This breaks your heart. You feel your child's pain as if it's your own, so your knee-jerk response is to launch a problem-solving campaign.
"You have nothing to worry about," you assert. "You'll find someone to sit with. Hey, what about Tommy from down the street? Or Ruby from soccer— you're friends, right? As for math, I'll tutor you myself. Math was one of my best subjects. It'll be fun. OK? See, there's no reason to be upset."
Everything you do as a fixer is well intended. But here is what your child learns on a deeper level: "My parents are uncomfortable when I feel bad; they don't want to hear it. I'm not sure they really get what I'm going through." Over time, when you ask your child how school is, you start hearing a disinterested "fine" in response. Eventually, children feel the need to hide their authentic experiences and who they really are.
So how can we connect with our kids and provide the emotional security they need to be open and authentic with us? Next time your child comes to you with a problem, try this:
- Pause: Let your children express themselves; then pause for at least ten seconds before responding. Allow the emotions to surface and settle in. (Note: This can be challenging. Yet, with practice, the pause can build the bridge that leads to a deep connection with your child).
- Validate: Let your children know it's OK to feel the way they do.
- Label: Help them label their emotions. When children experience emotions such as jealousy, rage and humiliation for the first time, they often call those emotions "sadness" or "anger." Really drilling down into the particular emotion(s) they feel can help demystify the experience and make it more manageable.
- Empathize: Think of a time when you have gone through something similar. For example, if your child comes to you feeling embarrassed, think of the first time you were embarrassed and relay that story. When you're empathizing, try using these three simple yet powerful words: "I get it."
Your children want to connect with you. They want to show you who they really are. They want to know that you understand what they're going through. Use the tips offered here to provide the security to open a dialog so you can truly help your children navigate their emotional challenges.
Find more of Renee's work at www.gozen.com.