Relational Book for Parenting, Part 3: Witnessing Our Children’s Difficult Emotions
Is rushing in to fix our children’s emotional challenges about ending their discomfort, or ours?
Witnessing and supporting the difficult emotions of our children helps them learn to self-regulate in the back and forth of relating.
Frustration, sadness, fear or rage are difficult emotions to witness, but the people we love sometimes need for us to witness and hold difficult emotions for them. We can grow our capacity to witness strong emotions without collapsing into them. We can remain calm, not automatically having an equal or opposite emotional response, but it takes time to learn this capacity, especially if no one modeled it for us when we were young.
For parents, our urge to quickly fix things for our kids can be born out of our own discomfort with our children’s sometimes very public emotional turmoil, especially as they grow older. We fix what we presume is causing our child’s distress and then we say, “There, it’s fixed,” meaning don’t show me your emotional distress any more. In the rush to resolve our own discomfort, we eliminate the back and forth of relating, the process by which our children arrive at their own understanding of the complexities of their emotional lives.
Here’s a comic strip from our book The Relational Book for Parenting.
“Children learn the complex art of making meaning in the back and forth of relating with others. When we give them time to practice these capacities, their ability to self-regulate and to see multiple points of view will grow.
Relational intelligence grows in the process of relating with others. For our children, this first takes place in conversation with us. When we listen to our children’s stories, they feel heard, getting the space and support they need to engage with their emotions. Our children can learn to play with what they are feeling, explore it. They learn how to hang in and be curious with their emotional responses. They can create new meanings and connections within the relational space. Our calmness becomes their calmness. Our exploration, theirs. Our patience, theirs.
Children are perfectly capable of arriving at more layered views of human emotions when we make space for them to explore their relational capacities over time via ongoing conversations. In this process, our task is to keep them company and provide frames while they explore.”
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The Relational Book for Parenting, Part 6: Why Is Play The Answer for Businesses and Families Alike?
Please note: this article is not intended to be a replacement for professional care. If you think you need professional help, seek it out.