Connecting with the feeling and meaning beneath children’s behaviour

There is a little and loved book in our house that was given to my children. The bearer of this book declared it a long time favorite in their house, one often requested at bedtime. The children’s book follows a young girl who runs through a series of potential mishaps with her Mother – and asks, “Would you love me?” Finally, running out of scenarios in which to test her Mother’s love the girls asks, “What if I turned into a polar bear and I was the meanest bear you ever saw and I had sharp, shiny teeth, and I chased you into your tent and you cried?” The Mother replies, “then I would be very surprised and very scared. But still, inside the bear, you would be you, and I would love you.”

It strikes me that so often our children’s challenging, explosive, angry, jealous, sad and tricky feelings are waiting to be understood in this way. That when they are most out of control, and most uncontained that this is the exact moment they need us to see the “the real them inside the bear” and help them find a way back to themselves. Janet Lansbury and the RIE method offer many practical and effective ideas for parents to help their children find their way back to themselves in these moments. Here are 3 ideas that can allow children to discharge the emotion they are experiencing and stay connected with their caregiver. For, it is the relationship above all else that is important.

1.) Reflecting Emotions with Empathy: Welcome emotional expression, it is how children (and adults) calm their arousal from stressful experiences, yelling, crying, “tantrums” of stamping feet are not things that a parent can control, and in fact they help the child discharge the emotion they are feeling. Often once the child has the experience of being heard, seen and accepted in their big feelings they are then open to hearing the rational wiser ideas that parents or caregivers can offer. Dr Daniel Siegel and Dr Tina Bryson in “The Whole Brain Child” call this ‘Connect and Redirect’. The Whole Brain Child is a tremendous book that I recommend to anyone who is interested in children, the brain and making parenting more enjoyable.


2.) ‘Sportscasting’ (or ‘Broadcasting’): Is the term given to the “just the facts” reflection of the situation. This verbalization of the events is done in a comfortable, non-judgmental, neutral tone. The adult demonstrates understanding and ideally empathy for the child’s position, yet does not accept the invitation to fix, find fault or favor. As parents we all have an instinct to protect and solve disputes for our children. However, just like helping them in other matters that they can resolve themselves we may be taking from them a great opportunity to learn. What children deeply need in these moments is connection. They want to know the adults understand the feeling, see what is going on, they want to know we are there for them, and are available to step in when they really need us. When they do need an adult to step in and stop them is when things are about to, or have already crossed the line into, pushing, hitting, biting, or kicking.

3.) Ground and Calm yourself – take a few deep grounding breaths, the purpose is to dampen down your own sympathetic nervous system,  to bring the calm with you. Children will naturally take on the affect you bring into any situation. Triple P’s (Positive Parenting Program) mantra is “Always be, bigger, stronger, wiser and KIND”. Finding one that works for you can be a lifeline to your parenting intentions in times of daily struggles and stressful moments.

Janet Lansbury: https://www.janetlansbury.com/
Triple P: https://www.triplep.net
Barbara M Joose, “Mama, Do You Love Me?”
Dr Daniel J. Siegel and Dr Tina Bryson, “The Whole-Brain Child

Written by:
Veronica McKibbin
Counsellor

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