As I read the book, “The Rabbit Listened” by Cori Doerrfeld, to my daughter last night it had me thinking about what it means to really listen. As a child and teen therapist in Washington, DC I am often talking with parents about how to help their children listen more effectively. In this post, I’m going to talk about a different type of listening.
I am a trained Circle of Security Parenting™ (COSP™) Facilitator, which is an early childhood attachment program for parents. One of the core concepts in this program is Being With. What this means is recognizing and honoring one’s feelings, without trying to talk them out of a feeling.
Here’s a great clip from the popular Disney movie, Inside Out, that displays what Being With looks like. You can see how Joy tries to talk Bing Bong out of feeling sad and disappointed by distracting him. Joy may even be feeling uncomfortable with Bing Bong’s sadness. Bing Bong may feel misunderstood. When Sadness comes over and sits beside Bing Bong, he listens, and comforts him verbally and non-verbally. You can see how Bing Bong is able to bounce back afterwards.
This may look like an easy task, but when you’re watching your child meltdown over their broken toy or your teen yelling about all of the homework they have to do, you may be tempted to put your problem-solving hat on. As parents, we want our children to experience the least amount of distress possible. What if we thought about our role differently? What if instead of trying to eliminate distress, we model how to ‘sit with’ any emotion that we may feel and self-soothe? This will help them grow into confident and resilient adults.
Here are some tips on how to respond when your child is experiencing BIG feelings:
- Safety. If your child is dysregulated and unsafe with their body, it’s essential that you address this first and focus on calming down. You can firmly state “I will not let you hit! You’re allowed to feel angry that your truck broke. It’s really disappointing!” Depending on your child’s age and needs, you may remove them from the situation and offer some calm-down strategies.
- Proximity. Sometimes simply sitting beside your child who is upset, fully tuned in to their experience, can be exactly what they’re needing. You may offer no words, no solution, but your presence is comforting and validating enough.
- Non-verbal communication. Sometimes proximity, a head nod, eye contact, no distraction from your phone, and a hand on your child’s back will allow them to open up more about what’s underneath the anger and back-talk.
- Ask. For older kids and teens, you can try asking, “wow it really seems like today was a tough day. So many quizzes, soccer practice, and now all of this homework. I am here to listen to all the parts of your day and all that you’re feeling. I’m also here to help you plan out what you have left to do. Let me know what you need from me.”
- Self-reflect. Think about what you would want to hear from your partner or friend when you’re having ‘one of those days’ where everything feels too much… “wow, you have had quite the day. I can understand how overwhelmed you may be feeling. Tell me more.”
I challenge you to try taking off your problem-solving hat one day this week, and put on your Being With hat. Notice how it feels for you. Notice how your child responds. Here at The Sibley Group, we are here to support you on your parenting journey and practice these skills together.