This video gives me all the feels!
It makes me laugh because it’s super cute, and it makes me happy to see how loved that little boy feels knowing that he is seen, heard and understood.
It also makes me cry because I know that so many children don’t get enough of this positive mirroring as they should do.
I thought about why this is and I’m not sure that it’s because we’re all zombified walking around with phones stuck to our faces. No, I think it goes back further than that.
Mirroring is a key part and has a crucial role in a child’s development of self
“The importance of mirroring suggests that infants primarily gather their social skills from their parents, and thus a household that lacks mirroring may inhibit the child’s social development. Without mirroring, it may be difficult for the child to relate their emotions to socially learned expressions and thus have a difficult experience in expressing their own emotions.”
According to Wikipedia, mirroring happens when parents mimic the infant’s expressions, vocalisations, behaviours and moods to help the infant associate the emotion he or she is feeling with the expression of it. This parental imitation validates and shows approval of the emotion the infant is experiencing.
When parents mirror their infants, the action may help the child develop a greater sense of self-awareness and self-control, as they can see their emotions within their parent’s faces. Additionally, infants may learn and experience new emotions, facial expressions, and gestures by mirroring expressions that their parents utilize.
Mirroring helps to facilitate empathy
Empathy is your ability to get a sense of what it may feel like to be another. I’ve blogged a lot about how empathy is the key to peaceful parenting. and the way to foster a solid, secure connection with your child. Humans more readily experience other people’s emotions through mimicking posture and gestures. This empathy may help individuals create lasting relationships and thus excel in social situations. It enables us to create rapport.
Parental mirroring is what provides a child with self-worth.
I see you! You matter!
I hear you! I’m so glad you’re here!
Here are some examples of parents who struggle to be that positive parental mirror:
- A parent who projects their unlived dreams, desires and passions onto a child
- A parent who is emotionally unavailable (has low emotional intelligence or is cut off from their emotions – likely to be a freeze responder)
- A parent who is emotionally stunted (still has explosive rage or temper tantrums)
- A parent who lacks empathy
- A parent who is self-absorbed (the child is there for them and to meet their needs)
- A parent who hasn’t grown into a sovereign adult (individuated from his or her parent)
- A parent who has an active addiction (food, shopping, s*x, alcohol, drugs etc.)
- A parent who has been infantilised – kept dependent on their parent or feels helpless or needy of their parent
- A parent who has unresolved childhood trauma (bullying, divorce, domestic violence, addicted parent – anything that as a child you felt like you weren’t safe and couldn’t escape from it)
- A parent who is unable to objectively look at their child’s behaviour without making it about them (it’s not personal!)
- A parent who is enmeshed with their child and smothers them (lacks healthy boundaries)
- A parent who is uncomfortable with their child’s developing independence
How much positive mirroring did you have when you were growing up?
This is why I cannot stress enough the importance of knowing yourself and understanding your story. The way you were raised will have an impact on the way you parent your child. In my mini training ‘Be the Mum You Want to Be’ you can start to explore and carve out your role in a different way.
Do you know your parenting style?
When parents call me to enquire about coaching, they are asked to complete a short form and this is one of the questionnaire. I ask this question because parents who are unsure about what their parenting style is, are unsure about who they are. They are not consistent and often lack boundaries. They tend to swing from being passive to aggressive. They shut down, are triggered by their children and act out.
You can discover your parent stress response here
If you’re parenting intuitively (being lead by what feels right to you), how do you know that you’re listening to what is right for your child or reacting from a triggered wounded part of yourself?
How do you know if you can see yourself?
Here are some questions to reflect on which might help you with that:
- How self-aware are you? Do you truly know yourself? How accepting are you of all the parts of you?
- How tuned in are you to your feelings? Are you aware of how you feel inside or do you tend to focus externally on how other people feel or what is going on around you?
- How comfortable are you with all your feelings? Can you be vulnerable with the right people and stay true to how you feel?
- How good are your boundaries? Do you know what feels right for you and can you say no or assert yourself when it doesn’t?
- Are you aware of and listening to your intuition? Do you pay attention when something doesn’t feel right or do you push it away?
- How good is your self-care? Do you listen to your body when it’s time to take a rest or when it’s had enough food?
- How defensive are you? Can you be wrong or say sorry when you’ve made a mistake?
- How much shame do you have? Do you mask up bits of yourself in social situations for fear that you will be rejected or not loved as you are.
- How confident are you in your ability? Are you afraid of failure or will you have a go anyway and keep trying?
- How positive is your body image? Do you like your body and talk about it in a positive way? 5 Simple Ways to Help Your Child Like What She Sees in the Mirror
- How kind are you to yourself? When you make a mistake or you get it wrong, do you beat yourself up or do you have self compassion?
- How much does what other people think of you influence your life? Do you live your life according to what you see other people doing or their judgements of you? Sometimes this can be your own parent which suggests that you may not have individuated into a sovereign adult in charge of your own life.
- Do you have perfectionistic tendencies? Highly critical parents role model unrealistically high standards for their child. How to Protect Your Child From Perfectionism.
Children who haven’t had enough positive mirroring have an undeveloped sense of self and will often be unaware of their unique strengths and personal traits that they have been blessed with.
Children tell me in their own way how they feel unseen + unheard
THE CHILD OF A WORKAHOLIC OR PERPETUALLY BUSY PARENT WHO FEELS IGNORED – ‘I wish my parent would play with me more’ or ‘Daddy or Mummy are always at work’ or ‘I don’t want to bother anybody, they’re all so busy!’
THE CHILD OF AN AUTHORITARIAN OR OVERLY STRICT PARENT WHOSE VOICE IS TAKEN – ‘I wish my parent would believe me!’ or ‘I’m not allowed to say what I think,’ or ‘I’ll get told off for backchat!’
THE CHILD OF A NARCISSISTIC PARENT WHO PLAYS FAVOURITES – ‘My Mum gets on better with my brother/sister than me’ or ‘My Mum favours my brother or sister over me’
THE CHILD OF A CONTROLLING OR HELICOPTER PARENT – ‘Why can’t I choose?’ or ‘It’s not fair!’ or ‘I don’t know!’ when you ask them a question about what they think or what they like.
THE CHILD OF AN ENMESHED PARENT – ‘I can’t do it without an adult’ or ‘I need my Mum to do it for me’ (when they are more than capable of doing it themselves!) or ‘I have to tell my Mum everything, otherwise she gets mad at me!’
In all these examples, the child is not seen, does not have a voice and is told what to do. I think a lot of us break a child’s boundaries and it’s not intentional. We’re unaware of it because we have weak boundaries; we don’t know where others end and we begin.
We haven’t chosen a specific parenting style and are doing to them what was done to us.
Ways we unknowingly break a child’s boundaries:
- Make them eat everything on their plate, instead of getting them to listen to their own bodies
- Force them to hug everybody hello in the name of good manners, instead of finding their own way of greeting others
- Make them kiss or hug us when they are asking for space or don’t want to
- Follow them or insist they talk to us when we’re in conflict, when they are asking for space or aren’t ready to talk
- Tell them how they feel instead of asking them how they feel
- Dismiss their reality by not taking what they say seriously or doubting their narrative because it doesn’t make sense to us
- Assume we know what happened or what they think or feel without asking
- Invalidate or deny their feelings because they are triggering or feel uncomfortable to us
- Punish them for having feelings that are triggering or feel uncomfortable to us
- Make them responsible for the way we feel, ask them to do something to make us happy, or ask them to stop doing something because it’s making us sad
- Project our fears, worries, reality or life experience onto what is happening to them (e.g. I had no friends at school and was lonely so my introvert child with only 2 friends must feel lonely too!)
- Force them to change their feelings so we feel comfortable ‘Oh stop sulking!’ or ‘Oh come on it wasn’t that bad, give us a smile!’
How do we make sure they get enough positive mirroring?
I’ve already written about how listening can increase your child’s confidence and now, there is a mini training pack called ‘How to Really Listen with Love’ to help you become your child’s Emotion Coach. In this pack, I’ll show you how to really listen to what they say and what they don’t say.
Often children communicate their feelings through their behaviour. Often adults respond by trying to change the behaviour or fix the problem.
This is NOT listening! Real listening is about allowing your child to reflect and go within, so they can work out what is right for them. Not what you tell them to do. This is an obedient child but not a child who will be able to think for themselves or be confident in their own feelings.
Real listening is not about listening to reply but allowing uncomfortable silences and giving your child the time and space to work it out for themselves.
Children need us to listen + understand them so they feel seen for who they are
That’s what we need isn’t it? Think about how we would feel if people did some of the things we do to children – we wouldn’t like it!
Let’s go back to the video at the beginning of this post. This Dad is matching and mirroring his son’s body language, tone of voice, facial expressions and hand gestures. This creates rapport but it’s more than that! Look at how confident that little boy is and how he easily finds his voice. He feels comfortable in his own skin, he is really enjoying this interaction with his Dad, it’s easy and it’s fun.
“Being safe is about being seen and heard and allowed to be who you are and to speak your truth.” Rachel Naomi Remen