If you are struggling with what words will best support your children’s growth, you are not alone. They are individuals who have a mind of their own. We can’t mold them and that can be frustrating especially when we see them taking a course that you don’t think is best for them.
I certainly experienced frustration while raising my daughter. I had to learn how to manage my feelings. If I let my frustration come out in judgmental words, then she would have immediately built a wall between us. Then I would have lost influence because I never could control her.
Guessing how they might be feeling and what they might be thinking is an important step to being their support system. Notice I said “guessing.” Many children have a hard time responding to “What are you feeling?” especially if they are upset. This direct question can cause more stress for them.
Instead, based on your life experience and your child’s personality, guess what your child’s underlying feelings might be. For practice, let’s look at some phrases children say that demonstrate their own feelings of frustration, fear, insecurity, stupidity, anxiety, guilt, hurt, inferiority, defiant, overwhelmed, defeated, lonely, and much more. It’s very important to try and tune into what feelings lay behind these words. If you heard your kid say any of these, be a detective WITHOUT asking what they are feeling.
Be careful of wanting to take away their feelings because you feel uncomfortable hearing them. Examples of taking away feelings, which are communication blocks, could be, “I know you can do it”, “I’m sure the teacher isn’t mean” or “It’s not stupid”. When you try to take away feelings, your child doesn’t feel understood or validated which often causes additional hurt feelings on top of their existing feelings. Yikes! You were just trying to help.
Let’s practice guessing feelings under statements… It’s helpful if you ask yourself, “What feelings might I have if I said this?”
- I can’t do this.
- The teacher is mean, stupid, unfair, doesn’t care…
- This is stupid.
- I’m not going to do this.
- My sister is better at this than I am.
- You’re always telling me what to do. You think I’m stupid.
- I don’t have anyone to play with. (hang out with.)
- I don’t know why my friends are so mean to me.
- I don’t like my class.
- It’s too hard this year.
Did you come up with possible thoughts or feelings behind these statements? When you can get out of your head and start to be in your child’s shoes, then you can become a trusted supporter.
Children have so many challenges at school with friendship challenges, getting along with the teacher, schoolwork, and even where to sit at lunchtime! It’s so much to deal with that they need a parent who knows how to support them in a way that feels good to them and is helpful.
Many parents I talk to say they didn’t have a parent or an adult that they could talk to. This is disheartening. Learning how to listen and support your children is a learned skill. It doesn’t come naturally.
When children express in a roundabout way that they are feeling scared, discouraged, disappointed in themselves, incapable, or a myriad of low self-esteem thoughts, we often panic!
We ask ourselves, how can I let my children not believe in themselves? How can I take away those “negative” feelings and instead let them know how wonderful and capable they are?
Here are examples of how you might try to make your child feel better:
Your child says: “I can’t do this. It’s too hard.”
You respond with: “It’s not too hard. I know you can do it.”
Your child says: “I don’t have anyone to hang out with at school.”
You respond with: “I bet you do. What about your friend from last year…..?
Your child says: “My teacher is really mean to me.”
You respond with: “I’m sure he’s not mean. He’s just trying to encourage you to finish your work.”
How would your child respond to these attempts at removing their bad feelings? Would they say, “Thank you so much. You’ve made me feel so much better.” If so, then you have offered the support they need.
If, on the other hand, they respond with words such as, “You don’t understand”, “Leave me alone”, “ You always take the teacher’s side”, or just shut down, then your words have not been supportive in their mind.
When I talk to parents who have experienced their children’s shutdown, they feel stuck and they don’t know how to proceed. They have used a communication block.
When you feel this “wall”, you can respond with, “I’m sorry. That wasn’t helpful. Let me try again. Instead of trying to make you feel better, I’m just going to listen.” Then ….. Silence.
Please don’t tell them about your fears that make you try to fix them. “I’m worried that if you don’t keep trying, you’ll never succeed in life.” Yikes! They are possibly already thinking this way and they don’t need your worry on top of theirs. Your worry DOESN’T make them encouraged. Instead, your worry makes them more worried. When they are more worried, they can’t solve their problems.
What they need from you, is your ability to pull down deep and believe in them even when they don’t believe in themselves. Part of believing in them is knowing how to support them as they figure out their own challenges.
The beginning step is to manage your own fears and worries about them. The second step is to understand that when you listen to them venting from their emotional mind, the limbic system, this will lead them to greater access to their rational mind, the prefrontal cortex.
So, learning how to listen to your children without judgment and fear controlling your responses, is the greatest gift you can give your children as you support them in this new school year.
If you would like to know how to support your child in finding their own solutions, then check out this great article I wrote that will give you a role-play example of what language to use. Parents- Support Your Children’s Decision-Making Process.
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