For being a fun day, it really wasn’t a fun day.
My husband and I had this family tripped planned and were excited to take our kids to the lake for the weekend. I imagined all of our hikes and family time and the laughs we would have. What I didn’t account for was all the tears.
If it wasn’t one child, it was the other. Meltdown after meltdown, my boys were a far cry from rainbows and sunshine. I don’t know what hopeful fantasy mom-land I was living in, but my expectations for my toddlers were high .. way too high.
Note to self, expectations can be a real joy killer.
In the name of us having fun, my husband and I chased the tail of each emotional outburst, attempting to “fix” whatever it was so that we could move on to the fun part - the part we both worked so hard for.
But the more we searched for solutions, the further my husband and I moved from our goal of executing this story-like trip we intended.
Our derailed train was headed for a cliff. My husband wanted to go home. My kids didn’t know what they wanted. And me? I wasn’t giving up on this trip or my kids.
I realized we were trying too hard to treat the wrong thing. Underneath our boys’ behavior was an emotion, and under that emotion was some unmet need or lagging skill. We were attempting to address the symptom instead of getting to the root cause. We were viewing their emotions as a problem instead of communication.
The bottom line is that my kids were off routine and tired, things were unpredictable and exciting and new, plus they had just been in a car for three hours and were bounding with energy. Once I took a bird’s eye view, I saw a different picture - different children. They weren’t behaving bad. They were acting how they felt, which was kind of chaotic.
Emotions Need Support, Not Solutions
Here is the thing about emotions, they are meant to flow. When we halt them, the emotional tension stacks and our limbic system begins to fire at even the smallest of circumstances. That can result in bigger meltdowns, power struggles, and tears.
Our children are born detecting threats and feeling feelings. They don’t know how to regulate those sensations yet. They need support from the adults in their lives to hold space and guide development through teaching and modeling skills.
When we attempt to fix our children’s problems, we move out of connection and into control. The focus shifts from them to us. This is an incredibly challenging concept for parents because the last thing we want is to see our children hurt and the first thing we want to do is to help.
But to really help, sometimes, we have to get out of the way.
When we jump in and attempt to fix our children’s emotions and problems instead of sitting with them in it, we sever connection for control.
Control says, “I am here to fix.”
Connection says, “I am here to walk with you.”
Let’s take 3 situations to help us understand the difference.
- “Nobody likes me at school. I have no friends and I am never going back!”
- Solution: You have lots of friends at school. I know that Jack and Deacon adore you. It will get better soon.
- Support: I see something doesn’t feel good to you. I am here to listen.
- “I want that toy. I never get anything new!”
- Solution: That’s not true. You have a whole closet full of toys. The good news is that your birthday is around the corner and you will get lots of toys then.
- Support: It feels so hard to see a toy you want and to leave it on the shelf. I hear you when you say that you want to bring that toy home, and it feels so hard to wait for your birthday.
- “I can’t figure out this puzzle. I will never get it. I quit!”
- Solution: Here, honey, put this piece here and another one here and switch those. You’ve got this.
- Support: This puzzle seems tricky. It can feel frustrating when it doesn’t work like you want it to. I believe in you.
When we learn to hold space for our children in their emotions and challenging moments rather than attempting to fix - when we connect instead of control - our children become more resilient. Their brain circuits tools for future situations. They become wired knowing that all feelings are sacred. And above all, they know that they can be their true, authentic self - no show or mask or need to suppress - because through it all we will be there.
Waiting. Listening. Supporting.