“What your kids need most is flawed, imperfect, authentic, continually growing you.” – Dr. Tina Payne Bryson
On my quest to become a better parent, I’ve come to realize it’s all about becoming a better person. It’s really not as much about my kids or students as I initially thought. It’s actually about me. Learning how to become introspective. Showing myself compassion when I screw up. Learning how to lose my sh*t less and exhibit self control when I’m triggered. Noticing when I am more likely to be triggered — exhausted, hungry, distracted, overwhelmed — and honoring those feelings when they inevitably arise.
One thing I keep coming back to is the relationship I have with each of my kids. This truly is the foundation on which everything else lies. Whether they are two and struggling with big feelings about taking their shower before or after iPad (current struggle) or sixteen and confronted with the option to drink at a party, I want them coming to me. I want them to come to me for:
- a nonjudgmental listening ear
- a boost of confidence and
- a safe place to truly express themselves
Dr. Tina Payne Bryson and Dr. Dan Siegal’s newest book, The Power of Showing Up is all about this. The idea is that kids (and all people) need to feel safe, seen, and soothed. Which basically means we need to be present for our kids and tune into their feelings.
What this doesn’t mean is we need to be permissive. It’s not about giving our kids everything they ask for or getting rid of rules that they don’t like. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. I try and make every rule we have about safety; I am not relying on a two and four year old with partially developed brains to determine what is safe for them.
This also doesn’t mean that my goal is for my kids to be “happy.” Sure, I want my kids to be in a good mood when possible. But even more, I want my kids to develop resilience. To know how to express themselves fully and get the help they need when they need it. To develop a mindset that gives them confidence when the going gets tough. Because it will. I don’t want their strategy to be “Mommy will handle this for me,” but instead “I can handle this for myself — and I know my mom will be there to support me in doing so if I need it.”
If I am yelling when they are having big feelings and constantly trying to control them, I can guarantee myself they will NOT come to me for the above. And I can’t blame them! I wouldn’t turn to someone who yelled, didn’t truly listen and tried to control me, no matter what I was feeling.
Which makes me realize, I need to work on myself. If I am stressed and frustrated, my kids will likely follow suit. If I am centered and grounded, my kids will likely follow suit. This does not mean I have to be a zen master 100% of the time. Which goes back to the resilience piece. It means I need to know how to appropriately cope when things are challenging and view challenges as opportunities to learn. It also means I need to make repairs when I inevitably don’t handle myself well.
I also know that I am modeling with my words and actions whether I intend to or not. How could I possibly expect my kids to handle their emotions well when I don’t handle mine well? I am being a complete hypocrite when I am yelling at them for not listening — when I’m frustrated I’m allowed to yell but when you’re frustrated you’re not allowed to yell? This makes no sense.
Listening to Dr. Chirstopher Willard gave me a light bulb moment. He compared being a parent to being the captain on the airplane. When there is turbulence, everyone immediately feels anxious. You hear the ding and then the captain comes on. “This is your captain speaking. We are encountering turbulence. I’m going to slow down and change the elevation in order to get through this. In the mean time, make sure your seat belt is securely fastened and I will get you to your destination on time.” Instantly, the mood on the plane calms. The captain has taken control which makes us feel like we are in good hands. In that moment, the captain has the ability to influence the emotions of everyone on that plane. In the same way, we have that same ability for our kids, especially during turbulent moments.
How do we be that calm captain?
Although I was hoping for a magic answer, low and behold, I haven’t found it yet. However, just acknowledging my desire to be that calm captain has helped me. And required a TON of self compassion along the way — when I inevitably lose my sh*t and effectively throw the drinks on my kids that are splashing on their tray table.
Which brings me back to putting the relationship with my kids first.
When my kids are having big feelings, my job is to be the captain. The captain who stays calm and steady. Not add to the turbulence, not take things personally and certainly not make it even harder for my kids to cope by demonstrating a lack of coping skills on my end.
While I am a huge proponent of validating emotions, I recently heard Dan Siegal take a different spin. Instead of naming the emotion — or taking a guess at what my kids are feeling — just be present. Sit with them. Allow space for their feelings. And send them loving energy. To essentially “love them through” the moments they need it most. Which may mean saying nothing. Or possibly, as Dr. Siegal suggests, saying:
“I can see you are feeling something. Let’s just take a pause and let yourself feel that.”Dan Siegal
I’ve been trying this and amazed how helpful it has been for my kids. Even when I think what they are carrying on about is completely ridiculous, I am trying to honor their experience. Love them through that moment and NOT use that time to try and teach them. What has helped me is the following:
- Sitting, not standing. Getting on their level or lower
- Not talking or simply saying, “You’re having big feelings right now; I’m here.”
- Sending them love, not negative energy
- Not taking their behavior personally
- Reminding myself behavior is communication
- Reminding myself my kids need me to be calm
Does this always work? Nope! I often lose it and add to their stress. Which allows an opportunity to model how to repair a relationship. As Dr. Bryson reminds us, “When you’re imperfect and repair, you’re actually building resilience.”
It feels fitting to end with the quote from the beginning, as I always need this constant reminder:
“What your kids need most is flawed, imperfect, authentic, continually growing you.”Tina Payne Bryson