I noticed something about myself the other day. Something I do to my kids, often unconsciously. For whatever reason, this time, it hit me like a dump truck.
My son and I were playing and he said he wanted to see Chase on Paw Patrol. I stopped him in his tracks, responding a tad too sharply, “We aren’t watching a show today.” He paused for a moment as if to imagine Chase and then mosied on and we continued to play.
While there is nothing overtly wrong with what I said, I basically road blocked my child’s want. In fact, nowhere did my child actually say anything about a TV. That was my assumption.
And I do it often.
“It would be nice to see grandma today. I wonder what she is doing.”
“Grandma is working. We can’t go there right now.”
“I wish I had the biggest ice cream cone ever, mom! That would be so yummy.”
“We aren’t having snack right now. You can have some after dinner.”
On and on, over and over, throughout our day I cut off my son’s desires before he really even asks for anything. Again, while there is nothing wrong with my responses, I started to wonder how I would feel if every time I shared a thought about what was on my mind, it was derailed.
I thought about my responses later that night. Why do I have the immediate impulse to redirect my son when really, often, he is just sharing?
I think we adults sometimes get like this when our wants, needs, and desires were halted as a child. We learned not to ask for things that inconvenience others and to stay smaller than we are. Now, here is my son with his big ideas and big, fearless voice, and the child inside me is trembling.
Shut it down. Shut it down. Shut it down.
Shutting down means safety for me. But what does it mean for my son? It was then that I decided to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. This often is a prerequisite for breaking emotional wounding.
This Is Not Permissive Parenting
Now, don’t get me wrong. There is a time and place for redirection, empathetic boundaries, and a firm, “No.” This isn’t permissive parenting that I am suggesting. I am merely noticing within myself that when my child comes at me with his whole, vibrant self, it shakes me a bit.
I lost my whole, vibrant self long ago and I feel like, through him, I am starting to find her again. He reflects back parts of me that have been hiding since I was about his age.
What I am writing about here isn’t about my child’s misbehavior or big asks, it is about me and my stuff. So, these tools aren’t for how to manage your child.
These tools are invitations for you to show up to your child’s wants, needs, and desires with curiosity instead of immediately throwing down the hammer with a rebuttal.
Because maybe they do want that thing they are mentioning, or maybe they are just sharing with you their heart, and their only real ask is that you listen.
3 Tools For Connected Parenting
1. Pause and say nothing
It is interesting what can happen when we give space between our child’s ask and our response. Sometimes they keep asking and it requires us to make a decision about whether we are willing or unwilling to let something happen.
But, other times, it is just a bid for them to share and an opportunity for us to listen. It is kind of like when you tell your friend or partner something and you don’t really want their input or for them to fix it. You just want to be heard.
So, next time your child mentions a want or desire, pause and take a deep breath. Maybe give a nonverbal gesture to indicate that you heard your child, such as a smile or head nod. In doing so, you show them that they have your attention and you are actively listening. But also, it gives you space to notice your climate and decide how you truly feel about their ask. Who is saying “no” here … is it the scared child within or the adult-you?
2. Validate it
If I was a bettin’ gal, I would say that most of us want affirmation that our wants, needs, and feelings matter. Child and adult, we share this requirement.
Instead of jumping straight to the “no” response, reflect back on what you hear. So, for the Paw Patrol example, it may simply be, “You want to see Chase from Paw Patrol.”
You can also connect with their excitement. “Visiting grandma is so much fun. I love seeing her too.”
Or make sense of their feeling. “It makes sense that you like ice cream. It is so tasty!”
Bottom line, sometimes a little validation is all your child really needs.
3. Imagine it
This one is fun because I get to step into my child’s world. It is like looking deep into their minds and getting a tiny glimpse of what is going on there. It is a quirky little world to be in.
By imagining their ask, you draw in your child’s senses, which can make their want feel more accessible and satiate their desire for it in the first place.
You may choose to ask your child questions that help them envision what their ask would feel like, taste like, sound like, smell like, and look like if they were to get it. Get curious and be playful with them.
There is a time and place for firm, clear boundaries and for redirection. At the same time, if you find that you are like me and quick to react, consider these tools. You just might find that it draws you closer to one another.