Connecting with Your Upset Child
Always Pulling Your Child out of Being Upset?
“But you don’t understand. But it really is that bad.” So that’s not what we want, right? We don’t want them now proving why it’s so bad and putting all of their energy thinking about why it really is so bad so, “That people will really believe me and know it’s that bad.” And we could all kind of relate to when we’ve experienced that in our lives when we were really upset, and people just minimize it. And we don’t want someone to fix it, but we want them to know, it’s really feeling awful or it’s really feeling hard.
Fix it with Logic?
So one of the things that I like to talk about is logic. We try to fix it with logic. If you think about when you’re being logical with your child or even a friend, “Oh, it’s going to be fine. Oh, it’s going to be okay. Oh, don’t worry about that.” It’s up here in our brain. When we’re upset, it’s more in our gut. So if your child is saying, “I didn’t get invited. I didn’t get invited.” And you want to say, “Oh, but you’ll be invited to other things.” Or, “Oh, but you know she likes you.” Or, “Oh, we’ll do something fun just the two of us.” You’re here, and they’re here.
Sit in the Muck
So you want to kind of come down and join them here. I sometimes say you want to sit in the muck with them. Sometimes we just in the muck. And what’s better than having a friend or a parent sit there with you in the muck and say, I know, yes, I know. Some of you may have never experienced that before. It’s a pretty amazing feeling. And it’s surprising too, because we somehow expect that sitting in the muck, will somehow suck us in, and it doesn’t. Or that we’re just going to stay in it forever and mope in it. That doesn’t happen either.
When we’re in the muck and someone sits in it with us, and says, “Wow, so you weren’t invited. What does that feel like?” “Well, I feel like I’m never going to be invited to anything else then.” “Oh, ever again?” And again, I stay with that feeling. Right? Your knee-jerk reaction is, “Well, of course you are.” Or, “Don’t be … ” but no, we want to stay with how they feel. “Wait, it feels like you’re never going to be invited to something? Oh my gosh, now I understand why you’re so upset. Ugh. Honey. So wait, it feels like you never ever, ever will be invited to anything?” “Yes.” “Oh, so does it feel like that for all of 5th grade? Does it feel like it’ll be that way in high school too? Does it feel like when you’re a grownup?”
And then you’ll hear something like, “Well, maybe not when I’m a grownup. It’ll be … ” They’re already starting to use their logic, connect to up here, because you’re in it with them. They don’t have to prove to you how bad it is. You’re already getting it. So they’re actually calming down and relaxing. And their prefrontal cortex, their logic problem solving, rational brain will start to come back online and help them figure it out, if you stay, in the muck with them while you’re talking about it, and being with them in it trying to understand it.
The other thing about really going down and being here, if you’re up here and they’re here, there is no connection. They’re alone, they’re alone in the muck. “Ugh, come here. I wish I can make it better. I wish I had all the answers and could make it better for you. What if I had a magic wand, and I could just woof and you were invited to every party ever.” Your child might even say, “Well, I wouldn’t want to go to that party, or that party.” All of a sudden you’ll see if you really join them in it.
The Parenting Pause
So one of the things, I love about this story, is when my oldest was in her first dance performance. I think she was about four years old. And she would say, “Mommy, I don’t want to do the performance.” And I said, “Oh, huh?” And I love, Huh? It gives us time and it calms us. It gives us time to think. Sometimes I call it a parenting pause. And if you have to bite your lip, you can bite your lip. Just let them say how they feel and let it be out there. Again, we are teaching them to sit with upset or disappointment, and not have to act on it or push it away, or drink, or do drugs, or become workaholic. Ignore to deal, because by acting like we can’t deal we’re helping them to deal. It’s really important.
It’s a wonderful skill. It’s a vital skill that will help them in every single area of their lives. So she said, “I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it. I don’t wanna do it.” Right? And my mind went to, Is she afraid she’s going to forget her steps? Does she not want all these people staring at her? Is it weird being on stage? And so many parents would’ve said, “Oh, honey. You know your steps.” Or, “Oh, it’s okay. You’re gonna look so cute up there, and no one’s even gonna notice if you make a mistake,” right?
That’s where most of us would go. So I said, “Huh? Well what does it feel like being up there? What do you imagine?” And she said, “Well mom, when you’re up there they turn off all the lights. And until that curtain comes up, it’s dark.” And I thought, she wasn’t afraid of performing. She wasn’t afraid of people staring at her. She was afraid of being on stage in pitch black. I never would’ve gotten that if I didn’t just, “Huh, well what is it that feels so scary? What do you imagine?”
Making Opportunities for Connections
If I hadn’t asked those questions, if I didn’t calm myself and be curious with her, I would’ve just given her all these quick answers and never would’ve gotten to, she was afraid of the dark on stage. Who knew? That happens a lot when you really just be with them in their worry. So again, you want to get down and sit with them in the muck. They learn how to sit in those feelings. They learn frustration tolerance, impulse control. They learn to think through things when they’re upset. They learn how to explain what they’re upset about and understand the different reasons why. That’s all making this incredible wiring, these beautiful neural connections between their logic and their emotion. Their prefrontal cortex and their limbic system.
The more we have those connections, the more through life your child will be able to think and be curious, and calm when they’re upset, or worried, scared, anxious. When they’re in school. When they’re being pressured to do something they don’t want to. When they’re on a job interview. When they’re dating. When they’re in a high pressured position. They will have all those beautiful neural connections, connecting logic and emotion and the ability to calm and problem-solve, even at a time of stress. And you can give them that gift. And you’re giving them that gift through being with them and connecting with them, and understanding them and their feelings even more. It’s really beautiful.