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Confident Kids – Risk, Fear & Failure

I was not a confident child.  I hung back in social situations (if I hadn’t been able to avoid them altogether) and I always worried about failing tests at school, even though I had a history of achieving well.  When I became a primary school teacher, I taught children who reminded me of myself as a child.  Sadly, low confidence was quite “common” amongst the 7 year-olds I taught.  For some of my students, it was a struggle even to begin a piece of work for fear of making a mistake. As a teacher, I just wanted them to care less and give and things a go but, at the same time, I understood the anxiety that they felt.

When we worry about our kids not being confident, we worry both about the anxiety they feel and that they will miss out on valuable experiences – experiences we know they really would enjoy and experiences they could learn from, if only they could forget their self-consciousness for a moment.  We feel how much they’d love to play that birthday party game but they’re too unsure of themselves to join in.  We know they need to develop their literacy skills but they won’t give new words in their reading a go, appealing to us to tell them instead.

So, I’ve been thinking lately, what is confidence? Of course, the first thing I did was Google the definition and this is one I came across –

a feeling of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.

This seems like a useful summary of confidence but it doesn’t give much clue as to how one gets to that place of appreciating their own abilities and qualities in the first place so they can feel self-assured.   In fact, I realised, childhood is inherently an experience of trying things without knowing one’s own abilities or qualities!  We sit here in the relative comfort of adulthood, largely operating within the  comfort zones we’ve established for ourselves, based  our abilities & qualities.  Meanwhile our children are being stretched into the unknown daily.  Childhood is risky business!  Why do some kids thrive and others recoil from these challenges?

I think I struck something when I realised that the difference may lie in their relationship to failure.  Every new experience comes with it the potential to fail.  I’m using “fail” in a very broad sense here.  It includes trying a tricky maths problem at school and getting it wrong.  It includes being excluded by a peer group in the school playground.  The list goes on.  Those who are comfortable with the potential for failure within a situation have the confidence to try it.  Those who believe that failure is disastrous, cower from the experience.

 

A POSITIVE RELATIONSHIP WITH FAILURE

Low confidence is likely to be a trait we can attribute partly to nature and partly to nurture.  I don’t think it’s realistic to think that we can turn a very anxious child into a confident one overnight.  But, I do think we can nurture a positive relationship with failure within our children that will make them more willing to give things a go by teaching them these things –

 

Fear of new things is normal – Presumably, fear of new situations and what could “go wrong” is a biological mechanism, designed to help us keep ourselves safe.  We all experience it.  If we’re honest with them about our own fear, our children will be more accepting of their’s.  For example, when I facilitated my first workshop this year, I told my son, Jake, that I was scared because I hadn’t facilitated a workshop before.  (Bless him, he offered to come with me for support – but it was after his bedtime.)  We can also help our kids to become more comfortable with their fear by responding sensitively to them when they are fearful.  Sometimes, we try to convince them there is nothing to be afraid of or we dismiss their feelings with comments like, “You’ll be fine”.  These responses gives the message that there’s something wrong with them for being fearful and that we’re really not willing to support them in their fear.  Acknowledgement and a hug of reassurance is much more useful – and so easy to do.

 

Some risks are worth taking – As I said earlier, one of our main concerns about our child’s low confidence is that they will miss out on an experience which is fun or from which they may learn something valuable.  Seeing us take risks because we believe in the benefit provides them with a great example.  I was nervous that I might not be able to explain myself clearly at my first workshop and that it might not being well-received but I went ahead anyway because helping parents and children was worth it to me.  If we can help our children to see the benefit of taking a risk, they may be more willing to take it.  I think we have to be careful here, though, not to project benefits onto situations that they don’t genuinely feel.  When stretching them out of their comfort zones, it is better to do so in situations that they are motivated by eg. going to a pool party even though they’re not confident in large groups because they love to swim, rather than taking them to an event they’re not interested in.

 

Failure is OK, good even – If we respond positively to our own failures as well as our children’s, taking the chance to fail will feel less risky to our children because they know our support and acceptance will be there whatever happens.  A term we often hear these days is to “fail forward”, meaning to look for the opportunity to learn and grow in our failures.  Failing forward shows our children that failure is not failure at all, it shows us the way ahead.  When they experience failure themselves, we can help them to reflect on what went well and what didn’t and to learn what to do differently next time.  This gives them some optimism, resilience and willingness to try again.

 

I think that confidence is a multi-faceted thing and that giving our children a positive relationship to failure is only one part of it, but a very powerful part.

 

CONCLUSION

Failure is inherent in growth and living fully, unavoidable.  Trying to avoiding failure is pointless, exhausting and anxiety producing – the opposite of meaningful, invigorating and confident.  If we can help our children to approach risk with a sense of fun or growth, they will feel a lot better about giving things a go.   As soulful parents, we want to empower our children to be themselves and to take the risks worth taking.   One way we can do this is not by removing the potential for failure but removing the pain of failure to give them a little more courage to step into the unknown.

 

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. – e e cummings

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Why I Don’t Tell My Children to “Be Brave”

Have you noticed this? –

When a child has fallen and scraped their knee, the adult on hand usually praises them “you’re so brave” – even if they do cry.

When a child is facing a fear, perhaps about to slide down a pole at the playground for the first time, we’ll often coax them to do it by telling them to “be brave”.

 

THE PROBELM

Of course, we’re meaning to be supportive and to encourage the child when we say these things, but let’s think about the messages our words are really giving them –

* what you feel is a problem.

* do not show the way you really feel – pretend if you have to.

 

The Short- Term Problem

When our children are encouraged to feign bravery rather than be honest about their feelings, it tells them that they cannot come to us with all of their emotions, certain ones have to be kept neatly tucked way, out of sight.

But, if they can’t come to us, the adults in their lives, when they are fearful or in pain, who are they going to go to?

After being told to “be brave” often enough, they may eventually conclude that it’s best to avoid putting themselves in any situation where they’ll potentially experience pain or fear –  because there will be no real support for them and the adults around them will likely disapprove of their feelings.  In trying to avoid pain and fear, they avoid the fullness of Life also.

 

The Long-Term Problem

If our kids learn that they must “be brave” as children, they will take that belief with them into adulthood.  Concerned with appearing brave, they risk becoming one of the emotionally disengaged adults we meet all too frequently.  They may even use negative behaviours to avoid their emotions in order not to let slip how they’re really feeling.

Most of us can probably think of a number of people we’ve met who are distant.  There’s a feeling that their walls are up and they’re hard to connect with or develop a meaningful relationship with. So we don’t usually bother.  If we do have a relationship with them, communication is difficult and frustration is high – for both parties.

When I was at university, I did an assignment on friendship.  I learned that personal disclosure is the number one way people make and deepen friendships, including disclosure of emotions – the good and the bad.

We want our children to be emotionally available to the people in their lives so that they can enjoy rich relationships.  Being honest about difficult feelings is a life skill that helps them to do this.  But they have no way of learning how to do this if they are told to “be brave” whenever they’re in pain or fear.

Of course, not every “be brave” is going to make a child risk-adverse and turn them into an emotionally distant adult who leans on destructive behaviours to help them avoid their feelings.  But I want to be intentional in my response to a child’s pain and fear, to make sure I am giving them the support they really need. We can teach our children that all feelings are normal, even uncomfortable ones, and that they are better expressed than avoided & denied.  The ability to both accept and express how they feel are skills that help them to be their authentic selves, which, from my spiritual point of view, is the purpose of parenting.

 

A BETTER WAY TO RESPOND

Thomas had his 4 year-old vaccinations this week.  I waited until the morning of the appointment to tell him about it.  I used a picture book he has in which a vet gives a kitten its vaccination to help me explain what was going to happen.  He was not pleased to get the news, saying he was scared and worried that it would hurt.  I sat him on my knee and listened to his feelings.  I told him I understood it was scary and it would sting for a short while and also that I would be right there with him.  Once we were in the nurse’s office, he inched his way under my chair, trying to hide from the inevitable.  I talked to him about how he was feeling, not labouring over it or trying to coax him to feel differently.  When it came time for the pricks, he squirmed and squealed a bit in anticipation and needed to be held firmly so the nurses could do their thing.  Afterwards, he had a bit of a cry and cuddled up on my lap for comfort.  Within a couple of minutes, though, it was if the pricks hadn’t happened.

My approach was to acknowledge how he was feeling and show my caring but, basically, to just be with Thomas, his fear and his pain.  He got through it and he learned that feelings are okay & they pass in their own time.

When we show that we accept their feelings, our children learn to do the same for themselves and for others.  At the moment, we’re talking grazed knees and vaccinations but we’re teaching our children to navigate the bigger fears & pains that they will face when they’re older – new jobs and broken relationships, perhaps.

 

CONCLUSION: WHAT IS BRAVERY, ANYWAY?

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers was my first self-help book.  In my mid-twenties, I would listen to it in my car (on cassette tape!), trying to muster some courage after years of fearful living.  The title sums up the best strategy for using in times of fear & pain – allowing ourselves to feel the feeling while moving forward.

Perhaps this is where bravery and courage are a little different.  Bravery is about hiding our feelings and white-knuckling the situation at hand, essentially so that everyone else is impressed by us or to avoid their disapproval.  Having courage, is to experience the feeling in full and show up for the situation on hand because we know it’s worth doing.

Bravery is putting on a face.  Courage is facing the fear & pain.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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How to Respond to an Angry Child – A Step-by-Step Guide

This post about responding to an angry child  follows on from my previous post Anger in Children – What’s Really Going On?  You might find it helpful to read it first.

 

To be honest, angry people scare me.  I feel myself shutting down when one of my children starts shouting and stamping at me.   I don’t know what to do when another person is angry because I’ve never been allowed to get angry myself.  As a child, my anger was judged as “disrespectful”.  As a teacher, I had to “be professional”, always calm and reasonable.  In romantic relationships, my anger has often been ignored.

I know I’m not the only one whose anger has been silenced.  It is socially unacceptable to express anger, for women in particular.  But, when unacknowleged and unexplored, anger can become harmful to us, turning into depression, addiction and any number of illnesses & destructive behaviours.  Although our behaviour may be “unreasonable” when we get angry, we get angry for a reason that is asking to be addressed.  When I realised this, I was able to stop judging my boys for their anger and begin to learn how to help them through it.

 

STEPPING THROUGH ANGER – THE PROCESS

I wanted to find a way to allow my boys their feelings and empathise with their perspective while also upholding one of our highest values – respect for others.   I have found that the best thing to do in angry moments is to get really present.  This helps me to tune in to what’s really going on with my boys when they can’t understand and express how they’re feeling for themselves.

It also helps me to remind myself that, once we reach anger, most of us, no matter how old we are, are not in a position to be reasoned with.  So we cannot appeal to our child’s reason in the midst of their anger and we have to help them to get through it before we help them to learn from it.  So, here’s how I have started going about this –

  1. Acknowledge how your child is feeling. Eg. “You’re disappointed that you can’t go to James’ house today, you really wanted to go”.   If we only see anger and we’re not sure at this stage what our child’s primary emotion is, (the real reason they’re angry), we can acknowledge their anger.
  2. Allow your child their feeling. Don’t try to talk them out of being angry, distract them from it or criticise them for it. Being with them through all emotions is the nature of unconditional love.   This can be hard to do, especially in the company of others because we often feel embarrassed that all eyes are on us to see how we’re going to deal with our “naughty child”.  In such moments, I focus on staying present with my child as if no one else were around.
  3. If your child becomes disrespectful, either verbally or physically, state the expectation. Eg.  “It’s not ok to hit your brother, it hurts”.  We need to be brief here, not letting the setting of this boundary distract us from what’s really going on for our child.
  4. Give your child what they need to get through their anger. Some need a hug, others need space. My Thomas responds well to the assurance of a cuddle and calms himself down quite quickly on my lap.  My Jake needs space and only gets more enraged if I engage with him about the situation, so I might say to him, “I’ll be in the kitchen and we can talk about it more when you’re ready”.
  5. Help your child to understand and cope with their primary feeling. Once they are calm, they are in a better position to talk about what was going on for them.  Their primary feeling is the one that looked like anger but was actually something else. Eg. I find that my boys’ anger is often actually towards themselves when they feel regretful about how they have behaved.  So, in such a situation, they may really be wanting to apologise or make good with the other person.  Here our children can begin to learn how their emotions are their spiritual barometers (More on this in my post Anger in Children).
  6. Identify a strategy our child can use to calm themself down when they feel themselves getting angry in future.  Here, we can emphasise that it’s important to express their anger but that they need to do so respectfully.  We can offer suggestions, but, our child chooses for themself a way to calm down so they’re able to share their feelings respectfully.  Eg. asking for a hug, going to their room and having it out on a pillow, doing something they enjoy eg. bike ride or Lego, taking 5 slow tummy breaths.  In future, we can remind them of it at step 4.

Throughout this process we are not trying to control our children or to punish them but to teach them how to manage their anger and its underlying emotion.  How we go about each step will depend on our child’s stage of development and particular needs.  We also need to take a long-term approach, not expecting that, having gone through these steps with them a couple of times, that they will be able to manage their emotions independently – that’s our intention for our 18-year-olds but probably not our 5-year-olds.   And helping anyone in a state of anger is rarely neat and tidy.  I hope this framework is helpful but, in a state of presence, we ultimately each need to follow what our intuition tells us to do in the moment.

 

IN SUMMARY – BECOMING UNSTUCK

No more hiding from angry children for me.  No more punishing, placating, pleading and all those other things I used to do because I didn’t know how to respond to their anger.  I’ve found that taking this time to write a few posts about anger has made me far more comfortable with it and has enlightened me as to what would really help my boys when they’re angry.  I will leave you with this quote –

“The more you try to push a child’s unhappy feelings away, the more he becomes stuck in them.  The more comfortably you can accept the bad feelings, the easier it is for kids to let go of them”.  A. Faber & E Mazlish, “How to Talk so Kids will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk”, p42

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Anger in Children – What’s Really Going On?

Most of us have heard it said that, when someone feels angry, they’re not really angry, it’s a symptom of something else that they feel deeper down.  But often I forget this truth because, in the moment, it certainly feels like anger – all that boiling within and, usually, roaring without.  However, a few things happened recently which reminded me to look for what’s really going on beneath a person’s anger and have helped me to feel more confident about dealing with anger – mine and my children’s.

 

THE ANGRY FORK STORY

Begin with a recent Summer evening.  Having enjoyed a barbeque dinner outside, I was sitting at the patio table and my boys were playing on our lawn.  Jake picked a stray fork off the ground and I could see in his eyes that he thought it would be a fun idea to throw it.

“Please don’t throw the fork”, I said.

He threw it.

“Jake, I told you not to throw it”, I said calmly.

Jake immediately jumped into a defence of himself, accompanied by angry faces & gestures, volume quickly rising.  He ended it all with the exclamation, “You’re always so rude to me!”

“I don’t want him talking to me like that”, I thought but, perhaps thanks to the warm evening and a satisfied belly, I was able to keep calm and present.  Without knowing what I was going to say, I asked Jake to come and sit down next to me.  He reluctantly sat at the table beside me.

“The way you spoke to me wasn’t respectful.  What were you really trying to say?”

He was a little surprised by my question.  I think he sensed that I was right – his response to me was out of proportion to my simple statement that I’d asked him not to throw the fork – but he needed to figure out for himself why he was so upset.

“Tell me what you were trying to say, respectfully” I encouraged.

“I’m sorry for throwing the fork!”, he suddenly blurted, brow creased and avoiding eye contact with me.

“Is that what you were really trying to say when you were shouting at me?”

Jake nodded.

“Tell me if I’m wrong, but when you shouted why are you always rude to me? were you actually feeling bad that you threw the fork, even though I’d asked you not to?”  I didn’t want to put words in his mouth but I felt he perhaps didn’t know or couldn’t quite articulate what had happened for him and needed a little help.

“Yes”.

“You shouted at me, but really you were angry with yourself?  You felt kind of guilty?”

“Yes”.

He needed no reprimand for throwing the fork or shouting at me, the natural consequence – the discomfort of his guilt – was enough.

 

THE PURPOSE OF ANGER

It was an eye-opening conversation for us both.  It made me wonder, how often do we end up “disciplining” our children for showing anger when really they just had an emotion they didn’t know what to do with?  We need to teach them to take a moment to recognise their feelings and respond intentionally to them.  To do this, we can guide them through a kind of self-exploration suitable to their age and give them an opportunity to understand what’s happening for them, like I did in the angry fork story.  And, importantly, we need to do this without punishing or criticising them for their age-appropriate struggles with their emotions.

Guiding our children through their anger is part of growing their broader emotional intelligence.  Our parenting can help them to develop emotional awareness and an ability to articulate what’s going on for them.  In this way, our children can become more at ease with the range of human emotions available to them, less controlled by them and able to choose good-feeling ones for themselves.

Our emotions are like a spiritual barometer.  The good-feeling ones tell us we are aligned with our truth.  The bad-feeling ones show us something we need to be aware of in order to become more aligned.  By taking a moment to be with Jake’s anger, he was able to realise that he, in fact, felt guilty and it showed him that not listening to me when I asked him not to throw the fork wasn’t aligned with his true loving self .

Your negative feelings are there for a reason. Like pain in the body, they are a call for awareness and healing. There’s nothing wrong with you.  You are not your emotions.  But your emotions do come bearing lessons, and you can’t learn those lessons until you feel them. – Mastin Kipp, Claim Your Power, p.51

 

ADULTS GET ANGRY TOO

But developing this kind of emotional intelligence is a long-term goal for our children.  I cannot expect my 6 year-old to deftly manage all of his many emotions.  Especially as our emotions sometimes hide beneath anger, they can be hard to get to.  Heck, we adults struggle ourselves.  Here’s my story –

The next night after the barbeque, I slept in the spare bedroom downstairs because my husband was feeling unwell and I didn’t want to get sick too.  When Jake came in to see me in the morning, he said he’d vomited during the night.  When I got up, I saw that my husband had left a bundle of Jake’s dirty bed sheets in the laundry sink.  I started fuming.  Why hadn’t he rinsed and soaked them – or asked for my help to clean them?!  I might not be able to get the stains out now!  I splashed & stomped & barked around for a while and my poor boys steered clear of me.  Then I asked myself, “why am I so angry?” My husband had done the best he could in the middle of the night, trying not to wake me so I could have a good sleep.  I paused and realised that I wasn’t really angry, I actually felt guilty that he’d dealt with a vomiting Jake and the dirty sheets on his own when he was feeling unwell himself.

It really is never anger, it’s always something else. Thinking back to Mastin’s quote, my guilt was pointing to my discomfort at the thought of causing someone else any kind of trouble, an aspect of my sometimes shaky sense of self-worth that I’m still working on.

 

IN SUMMARY – THE ANGER ICEBERG

Later that day on Pinterest, I came across this anger iceberg infographic by The Gottman Institute.  I think The Universe wanted to drive the point home to me, make sure I really got it.

 

For me, it feels easier to know that I’m dealing with guilt or some emotion other than anger.  Anger seems so explosive and unreasonable (even in a person who quietly seethesrather than shouting) and I’m never sure how to approach it in another person.  But these experiences of late have given me some ideas about how to go about it.

(You may find this essay about how we can respond helpfully to our children when they are angry helpful).

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Why I’ve Stopped Telling My Children to “Be Nice”

“Be nice”.

“That’s not nice”.

“Speak nicely please”.

I tell my boys these things with the best of intentions.  It’s important to me that they treat others well. But I’ve been wondering recently whether telling them to “be nice” is what I really should be doing.

 

“Be nice” seems to imply that my boys should be sweet-as-pie to anyone and everyone all the time.

“Be nice” seems to suggest that they should censor what they say and do so that no one is upset by it.

“Be nice” seems to assume that what they think and feel doesn’t really matter as much as what the other person thinks and feels.

 

At the end of the day, “being nice” sometimes isn’t nice for them.  It requires them to ignore their own thoughts and feelings for the sake of someone else’s, which contradicts two ideas at the heart of my soulful parenting approach.  They are that –

* our role as parents is to empower our children to be themselves.

* we are all equals, regardless of our age, gender, intelligence…regardless of anything.

These beliefs mean that everyone’s thoughts and feelings, needs and wants count.  As a parent, I feel a tension between teaching my children to be considerate of others and taking care of their own needs, which I wrote about in my blog post Walking the Tightrope of Parenting.  I wrote –

“There are times in life when, in order to be true to ourselves, to back ourselves, we need to do things we know others won’t like.” – Julie

When I wrote the post, I had no solutions as to how to teach my boys to find this balance between their needs and other people’s but, maybe if I stop telling my boys to “be nice”, it would be a good start.

 

WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE?

So, if I’m not going to teach my boys to be “nice”, what am I going to teach them?  I think what I’m really trying to get at are kindness and respect.

Kindness and respect are sincere and honest.  They aren’t as sickly sweet as “nice”.  They feel more mutual.  Being kind because “I should” or “mummy told me to” isn’t kindness at all but obligation.  When I’m really being kind, it’s because I want to so I benefit from the act of kindness as well as the recipient.  Respect is only truly respectful when both parties are respected.  When I resentfully sacrifice myself for another, it is not respect and not a true gift to the other.

 

5 Ways to Teach Kindness & Respect Rather than “Niceness”

Here are some ways I’m trying to shift my behaviour to help my boys honour both themselves and the other person in a situation.

  1. Replace “nice” with “kind” or “respectful”. For example, if they’re shouting their disagreement with me or someone else, I’ll remind them that they can say what they need to but they must do so respectfully.
  2. Be an example of kindness & respect myself. For example, I personally shy away from expressing my disagreement with others, often opting to be nice rather than honest. Here’s my chance to learn to be brave and to find the words to be honest in a way that is also kind & respectful of the other person.
  3. Let them choose not to be nice if they can’t do so sincerely. For example, if they can’t willingly share a favourite toy with a visiting child, perhaps I shouldn’t make them. (Though I wouldn’t let them play with that toy in front the other child).
  4. Notice and affirm their acts of kindness & respect. For example, tell them, “it was kind of you to let her go down the slide first”.
  5. Talk with them about what feels “right” for them – For example, if I see that they did something nice for someone else but with resentment or, conversely, that they enjoyed a sense of satisfaction from being kind to another, I can talk with them about how they felt. This reflection will encourage them to honour themselves by using their internal sense of what’s right to make decisions.

It’s a complex thing, trying to teach our children to give only when it feels right for both themselves and the other person.  Sometimes we intentionally choose to do something kind for another because we want it for them while still not wanting it for ourselves.  It feels right, if not personally desirable.  At 6 years old, Jake’s pretty tuned-in so I could introduce this concept to him but I wouldn’t expect him to grasp it fully until he’s much older.

 

IN SUMMARY – ME, WE & YOU

I want my boys to grow up with a “we” mentality, not a “me” mentality.    We is that middle ground between You and Me.  But it’s not a stationary half-way spot where there’s a perfect, mutually-pleasing solution in each situation.  In life’s usual messy way, it’s probably more a case of sometimes leaning further towards me and sometimes leaning closer to you.

Judging what to do each time takes a certain amount of skill that niceness doesn’t require.  At 3 and 6 years of age, developmentally my boys are not yet able to judge it easily.  It would be easier just to tell them to “be nice” – and probably looks better to other parents too.  But I will be patient and persistent (as we parents are often called to be ) because we are being kinder and more respectful of our children if we teach them to be kind and respectful of others rather than nice.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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5 Things Children can Learn from the “Mean Kids”

My boys and I had driven to visit my parents, music turned up, singing along merrily – or so I thought.  When I parked the car and got out to undo my boys’ seatbelts, I saw that Jake had been crying.

“I miss you when I’m at school”, he sobbed.

I knew something was up.

I carefully probed around with a few questions and it came out that Jake has been having a few troubles with his friends recently.  His description of what’s been going on was sketchy and, not being at school to see for myself, it’s hard to know what exactly has been happening.

For any parent, the thought of our child being disrespected in some way and feeling alone during a long day at school is crushing.  We can probably all remember a time in our own childhood when we were the one in that position.  I certainly can – for a period of time when I was five, my poor parents had to prise me off their bodies when they took me to school each morning.  I’d cling on to them for dear life, not able to face the classmate who was bullying me.  While Jake is still going to school largely happily, I’m anxious that his situation may deteriorate to the point that he starts clinging to me.

On top of not knowing what’s really going on, all this emotion (his and mine) makes it incredibly hard to handle.  I’m a pretty reasonable and diplomatic person but my fear has its sleeves rolled up and is ready to get in there and fight for my son.

Fortunately, I wrote a blog post last week about parenting from Love instead of fear – must’ve been divine preparation for now because I can see that there is actually no fight to be had.  I have realised that the way I handle this situation with Jake and his friends will be an example to him and I have to ask myself, Do I want to model Love or Fear?

As painful as it is to see my son in tears, I also see the potential for him to learn so much through this experience, if I choose.

“In every situation you have two choices: Will you learn through fear or will you learn through love?” ― Gabrielle BernsteinThe Universe Has Your Back: Transform Fear to Faith

 

CHOOSING LOVE: 5 LESSONS

  1. We are all worthy. This is an opportunity to remind Jake of his inherent worth. He is worthy of being treated with respect, as we all are.
  2. How to set boundaries. When sure of his worth, it will be easier for Jake to set boundaries. My husband and I have always encouraged him to respectfully tell children to stop when they’re doing something he doesn’t like. At the moment, his friends are testing his boundaries and it is my hope that Jake will learn to be insistent enough that others respect them.
  3. The nature of truly unconditional love. I will not speak unkindly about his friends, label them as bad or encourage Jake to be unkind to them in return. I want him to see that my respect for others does not change because of their behaviour – I think that this is what unconditional love does.
  4. How to go inward for his answers. In a situation such as this, it’s all too easy for worried parents to take over and try to manage the situation entirely ourselves – I am tempted to bombard Jake with my ideas about what he should do.  I will discuss possible solutions with him but I told him that he needs to do what feels right for him and that I will support him.  I asked if there was anything he wanted me to do and he asked me to talk with his teacher, which I have done.
  5. How to take responsibility for himself. If Jake chooses to keep spending time with children who don’t treat him well, he’s exposing himself to the risk of being hurt. I can see, though, that he is conflicted.  The children he has great fun with are the same ones who often end up being disrespectful and unkind.  I know it’s not easy.  Jake can also take responsibility by making sure he’s not participating in the same kind of behaviour that upsets him.

It would be easy to be too heavy-handed, letting my fearful fight-or-flight instinct kick in.  Naturally, I want to protect Jake and a part of me wants to give the other children a talking-to and demand that the school keep them away from Jake.  But that would not be a good example to Jake and all the bluster & controlling would be avoiding the real issues as well as the chance for Jake to learn.

Focussing on how “bad” the “mean kids” are is a waste of time – I can’t change them and the school staff are not at liberty to talk to me about other students for privacy reasons.  What I can do is help Jake to choose his response to what is going on.

I want him to see that he can handle whatever comes his way.

 

IN SUMMARY – WORKING TOGETHER

I am hoping that, through working together with Jake and his teacher, the difficult dynamic within his group of friends can be amended.  Jake is popular and his school is a friendly place – when I walk into his classroom in the mornings, lots of kids say “hi” to him and want him to join in with their play. Whatever’s going on may turn out to be a small blip in his friendships, it won’t necessarily decline into ongoing bullying.  As a parent, my role is to be proactive while also showing my son both his own worth & capability and what it really means to Love.  All situations we find ourselves in really are opportunities to fear or to love.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

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Spiritual Kids E-Course – A Tool Box for All Spiritual Parents

While I’m always on the look-out for natural opportunities to bring spirituality into conversation with my family, I sometimes struggle to engage my boys and bring the ideas to life.  So, when I came across Christina Fletcher’s Spiritual Kids E-Course (Building the foundations for the spiritually aware family), which included activities for parents to do with their children, I was keen to try it out.

Delivered to my inbox weekly over 6 weeks, the course was manageable for our busy family.  Each week, there was a short video for parents to explain the week’s topic, a workbook full of practical ways to share the ideas with our children and, sometimes, a meditation.  Although the course has an easy-to-follow structure, it is designed as a “toolbox” of ideas and activities to dip into as needed.  I have only just finished the course but have already watched some of the videos more than once and used course activities to help me respond to things that have come up in our family.  This speaks to the relevance of the material and I know I will be dipping in regularly!

Christina’s invitation is to “play” with the activities of the course.

“Spirituality, believe it or not, is meant to be enjoyed and lived, and not seriously forced upon us”. – Christina Fletcher

The playfulness of many of the activities make them engaging for parents and children alike! They include crafts, reflective activities, meditations, stories and poems.  Christina understands that children need fun, varied ways to engage and that their attention spans can be short.  Designed for 3-13 year-olds, there are activities suitable for all children in this age range and they be can used over again as needed.  One of the weekly topics was An Introduction to Meditation, an area I was particularly interested to get tips on as I’m a “beginning meditator” myself.  I was able to teach my 6-year-old a simple breathing meditation, which he has asked to do again more than once.  I got some great ideas for “meditative activities” to do with my 3-year-old to introduce him to the idea of taking some quiet time to be with himself.

Christina has set up a Facebook group for parents using Spiritual Kids to share ideas & experiences and ask questions as they use the course materials.  She is actively involved in this group, ready to help in any way she can.

The Spiritual Kids course, is helping me to make spirituality more dynamic and alive in our home.  I am becoming more tuned into myself & my children and am better able to help my boys to tune into themselves.  Christina has created this course with a full heart, sharing her wisdom in a way that allows families to bring their own perspective to the content and activities.  It is both accessible for families who are new on their spiritual path and insightful in a way that will  enrich the spiritual connection within families further along on their journey.

I got even more than I expected from Spiritual Kids – and my expectations were high because I love Christina’s work!  It is an incredible resource and I am excited to see how it continues to deepen the spiritual connection within my family. For anyone looking for a way to shift from just talking about spirituality with their children to bringing it to life, the Spiritual Kids E-Courseavailable here at spirituallyawareparenting.com, will get you started and sustain your journey together.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

29/8/17 – Since writing this review in May, I have purchased other products created by Christina for my personal use.  As a keen user and supporter of her work, Christina has recently invited me to participate in an affiliate program.  I share her offerings with you gladly, knowing from personal experience the incredible value they give to parents and their children.

 

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Helping Children to Manage Difficult Emotions

“Jake!  How many times have I asked you to put your things in the car?!  We haven’t got time for this!”  I shouted, wondering how many of my neighbours could hear me right now.  It was cold and I was trying to bundle my boys and all their gear into the car to get Jake to school on time.  I grabbed Jake’s coat & bag off him and put them into the boot myself.  My uncharacteristic outburst shocked him into action and he was in his car seat in a flash, ready for me to do up the seatbelt.  But, as I clipped him in, he said, “You didn’t need to talk to me like that,” his eyes becoming wet.  Of course, I knew he was right.  I took a breath.  “You’re right”, I said.  “I’m sorry I didn’t speak nicely to you.  I should’ve said ‘Jake, I’m feeling angry that you still haven’t put your things in the car and I need your help to get to school on time.  Do it now please’”, modelling a more respectful tone of voice.

By giving Jake an example of a better response, I was trying to show him that it’s ok to express emotions but not to let them run riot.  I started replaying verbal exchanges in this way a couple of months ago.  The idea came to me once when the roles were reversed and Jake was shouting at me.  I just said to him “try that again”.  He knew I meant, “say that in a respectful way please” and did so straight away.  I see adults and children as equals so, on that cold morning, with the clock ticking, I had to “try that again” too.

The above situation was not monumental, but it counts.  The little, everyday interactions we have with our children are frequent and provide both the example & the practice ground for “bigger” emotional events – practice for adults and children alike!

 

HOW CAN WE HELP OUR CHILDREN TO NAVIGATE DIFFICULT EMOTIONS?

As parents, our hearts bleed along with our children when they are upset.  Our first instinct is to defend and protect them but what we really need to do is to build their ability to cope with emotional pain in all of its forms.
How do we help them to accept their emotions instead of avoiding them?
How do we help them to express their emotions without disrespecting others?
How do we help them to grow from difficult emotional experiences?
How do we help them to respond wisely to situations that have resulted in uncomfortable emotions?

I could list many more questions that I had when I started writing this post.  Through the writing process, I’ve come up with 3 steps that I think can help to answer them.  Honestly though, I haven’t yet had to nurture my boys through any really overwhelming emotions so it’s a largely untested approach.  As they get older, I expect it to be thoroughly tested out and can let you know how it goes!   As I’ve said on my website, my posts are simply the explorations of an ordinary mother, intended to prompt other parents & caregivers to reflect, not necessarily to agree.  So, see what you think –

 

STEP 1: VALIDATE & BE

When my boys are experiencing difficult emotions, I initially just “validate and be” with them & their emotion.

To validate, I name the emotion and offer my understanding, eg. “I can see you’re disappointed that it’s time to leave the playground, you were having fun”.  When we’re upset, having just one person understand and acknowledge how we’re feeling helps at least a little, doesn’t it?

Then, I offer just to be with them and their emotion until the bigger part of it has passed.  “Being” looks different depending on the age & personality of the child and the situation that has given rise to the emotion.  It may be having a cuddle on the sofa, sitting with our child while they pace the room or giving them space but having them know I’m on hand while they take time out in their bedroom, for example.  This “being” stage may last from one minute to, I imagine, a number of days.  Whatever form it takes and however long it takes, the essence of “being” is that we adults do nothing but be fully present with our child – not judging their emotion or trying to stop them from feeling it or fixing the situation.  We’re just there, letting the emotion take its course.

As a toddler, Jake rarely got upset but, when he did, he was loud and inconsolable.  Nothing worked to calm him down.  All I could do was wait it out and this is how I learned to “validate and be”.  Once, at a mothers’ coffee group get-together, something upset him and he launched into a good, loud cry over it.  I just sat and cuddled him, while some of the other mums looked at me as if to say “why aren’t you doing something?”  They seemed to think there was a problem to be solved and started offering him toys and food to distract him – with no effect.  I told them he’d soon calm down on his own – and he did.  When I sensed he was ready, I played with him for a few minutes before he returned to playing happily alongside the other children.

“Being” with an emotion results in more calm but the journey to calm is often not calm itself.  Our bodies and brains do all sorts of things to make us feel our emotions.  So, stamping feet, crying, sulking, scowling is all permmited.  My opinion is that everyone is allowed to be in a mood and to express it, but not to take it out on others.  I’m finding this a hard line to judge.  Jake has taken to expressing his anger with a loud dinosaur-like roar and it’s difficult to tell whether a roar has been directed at me because I’ve told him to set the table or whether it’s just a release to get it out.

Our willingness to be with their emotion shows our children that emotions are not to be feared or avoided.  They are part of our experience in life but not part of us, so will come and go on their own, if allowed.   Often, “validate and be” is enough on its own.  Our children will talk if they want to, but they won’t always need to.

 

STEP 2: PLUG INTO LOVE

“The best way to get rid of the pain is to feel the pain.  And when you feel the pain and go beyond it, you’ll see there’s a very intense love that is wanting to awaken itself.” – Deepak Chopra.

This quote popped up on my Instagram feed this week.  I had to use it because it is so relevant to my post.  I don’t think I understand yet all that it means but I think step 2 relates to it.

When I was losing patience with Jake as we were getting into the car that cold morning, without thinking about it, I took a breath get me back to centre.  For me, even one breath can act as a switch.  It doesn’t turn the emotion off but it helps my mind to plug into my higher self instead of the emotion.  Plugging in, helps me to see the situation differently, in a way that is more loving and useful.  Using their “breathing switch” is definitely something I could teach my boys.

In this step, we are choosing compassion.  Compassion both for ourselves and for any other people involved.  I think Love has a lesson or message to offer in every difficult situation.  And, even when we are sure that we are the one who has been unfairly wronged, there is a lesson for us and about us.  We can’t undo whatever has happened, but we can choose to grow from it.

After school yesterday, Jake was upset because he had been called a nasty name in the playground simply because he was in another child’s way.  Logically, it seems simple – the other child had called Jake a name and he shouldn’t have done that.  What more is there to it?  But switching from the emotional position of seeing my son as a victim to seeing through the eyes of Love, I saw an opportunity for Jake to learn about self-love.  I wanted to help him to understand that people won’t always treat him nicely but it doesn’t mean that he deserves to be treated poorly.  I also wanted him to realise that the other child’s behaviour was not to be taken personally, it was simply that he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  These are seemingly little lessons but, remove the context, and they are very important ones.  Through the experience and our discussion of it, Jake has begun to learn that he is worthy of good treatment and that, when he’s not treated well, it’s not personal.  (If only had understood these things about life earlier, I would’ve hurt so much less!)

With my eldest being only 5 years old, I currently have to do most of the work in this step.  But by showing my boys how to look for Love’s lesson, they will eventually learn to do it on their own.  As they get older, my job will be more to ask questions than to explain – questions that help them to connect with their true selves so they can interpret and respond to the situation upsetting them with Love, rather than with the emotion itself.  They can also remember the lesson next time they find themselves in a similar situation, which may lessen the emotional blow.

 

STEP 3: RESPOND

Responding to an action comes only after validating, being with the emotion and tuning into Love’s wisdom.  In the grip of difficult emotions, we are not able to deal effectively with the situations we find ourselves in.  We might resort to blame, shouting, self-medicating, avoidance…  Then we are left to deal with both our unattended emotion and regret over our reaction to it.  So, once our child is present, calm(er) and plugged in, they are in a better position to decide on a response that is loving towards both themselves and the others involved.

Again, I will usually direct my boys at this stage while they are so young.  As they get older, my role will shift from making suggestions to asking questions that lead them on their own answers.  One day, they will be ready to decide for themselves.

Sometimes the conclusion is that there is nothing to do but accept the situation as it is and be prepared for a similar situation if it reoccurs.  In the case of Jake being called a nasty name at school, he walked away at the time and there really was nothing more to do once he’d got home, had a cry and realised that it wasn’t personal to him.  He agreed he will just walk away if he finds himself in a similar situation again.

 

IN SUMMARY: EMOTIONAL RESILIENCE

If we take these 3 steps when our children are experiencing difficult emotions, I think we can help them to navigate the emotion of their current situation but also begin to build their emotional resilience.  By this, I mean their ability to tolerate difficult emotions without handing their power over to them.  Instead, they can choose to receive the wisdom that comes with their pain – wisdom that can help them to respond with love to this situation and that may reduce the extent of their pain the next time they’re in similar circumstances.
PS: These 3 steps are the same for adults.  Doing them ourselves will help us to guide our children through them.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

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