When I observe Mums with their children, sometimes I cry. I literally get a lump in my throat as I can feel how much love there is between them. Yesterday I wanted to cry but it felt like a knife to my heart because I saw something which really upset me
I was waiting outside Sainsbury and my head was turned by a little boy crying. I had only nipped out to get a pint of milk for a celebratory cup of tea (did you see my quote in the FT?) Anyway, this little boy was probably about 4. His older sister was trying to get him into the car but he seemed very upset. It was lunchtime; maybe he was hungry? His Mum came out of Sainsbury looking agitated. Maybe she was hungry? Stressed? Overwhelmed? She certainly was hangry. She ordered the older child to get in the car. The little girl looked afraid as she scooted around the other side of the car to sit next to her brother who was still crying. He wasn’t struggling and was co-operating as his Mum quite forcefully strapped him in.
‘Shut up!’ she barked ‘You are embarrassing me!’ The little boy cried more. ‘What are you crying for?’ she said in a really horrible tone. ‘What are you crying for?’ she repeated. I could see how frustrated she was getting. ‘You don’t even know, do you?’ she mocked. ‘You don’t even know why you are crying.’
At this point I wanted to pipe up with: ‘No he doesn’t because he is 4 but do you know why you are so angry?’ I’m not quite sure how well she would have taken my well-meaning advice. My feet were rooted to the spot as I watched this lovely little boy try to talk. Finally, he said something, but I couldn’t hear him. I then saw her go right up to his face and shout ‘TOUGH!’. He didn’t cry this time, he was silenced and his little body sunk into the car seat. I wonder if he knew that she would ‘give him something to cry for’ if he carried on. I wanted to cry. I watched her drive away, her head jerking around as she continued to rant in the car….
It can often be really difficult to Find Calm in A Crisis, but it can be done. You may or may not be surprised to know that lots of people still don’t know that their children’s behaviour is driven by emotions and sometimes they have big emotions and they don’t know why. I sometimes get emotional and I don’t know why I feel the way I do. I’m 42. I sometimes even need a grown up (my therapist) to help me work it out. Luckily she is calm, kind and full of empathy.
How would you feel if a friend told you to ‘Shut Up!’ when you were crying or shouted ‘Tough’ in your face when you tried to explain how you felt?
Let’s change this. We can’t control our children or their emotions
We can only control ourselves. So, let’s drop the control and focus on connection.
Lots of us were parented in this way and this was ‘the way that people parented in those times.’ However, those times are no more and we know that silencing our children or frightening them stops them from tuning into themselves and understanding themselves. It does serious damage. Damage on the inside that we can’t see.
A Little Love Goes a Long Way
Empathy is love in action. Empathy is often needed to help dissolve big scary feelings. How good does it feel, when you are feeling rubbish and are having a hard time and somebody steps forward and says: ‘Me too.’ Knowing that you are not alone with your stuff and that somebody gets it.
Empathy is not the same as agreeing with your child. Nor does it stop you from setting boundaries with your child but you can set them with empathy. Having empathy and validating your child’s feelings could change things in a heartbeat. Your block to empathy? I don’t know. Perhaps you weren’t shown any growing up or you are simply role modelling the parenting that was given to you.
I made a little video on empathy which is accompanied by one of my favourite songs from Sex and the City.
“Sometimes I feel like throwing my hands up in the air, I know I can count on you. Sometimes I feel like saying ‘Lord I just don’t care!’ but you’ve got the love I need to see me through.”
If we want our kids to come to us when they are in need of help or they are feeling rubbish, we have to be really careful how we respond to them. Responding instead of reacting takes practise but it can be done.
Lisa quickly unlocked our separation anxiety and gave us both strategies to deal with our feelings!! There have been some big tangible changes like bedtimes when my daughter can now go to sleep on her own without us having to sit with her, she can play in another room on her own and when she is super angry she can be away from us giving us both the space we need. But a lot of the subtle differences are the ones that rock my world, seeing her have the confidence to put her hand up in class, tell a friend that she doesn’t like something and telling me that she hates it when I mess with her wardrobe. For me, it was a chance to understand how we got to where we are and why and that amazingly its not my fault or failing. This is just one of many examples we have of the positive changes Smiley has helped us make.Sam