Children cry a lot about “stupid” or “silly” things. They cry because their toast broke. They cry because they thought that a pink garbage truck would come after the blue one did. They cry because you made them green eggs when they asked for green eggs.
I’ve written before on broken expectations and how a child’s inability to describe what they see in their head and their inability to understand that other people see something different… Can lead to BIG FEELINGS. ( http://nurshable.com/2012/12/20/broken-expectations/ )
Right now I want to write about something else, though. Our response.
I think that as parents we all have these “goals” for what we want for our relationships with our children, and for the most part we don’t have any real idea on how to get there. We want our kids to feel safe talking to us when they are teenagers. We want them to come to us if they have heartbreak, if they make mistakes, if they need medical treatment, if they need advice. We want to be trusted and we want to be kept in the loop.
But at the same time our culture pushes us to miss the opportunities for those things.
They push us to minimize the experiences of the very small because we look at them from our perspective and not the perspective of a small child with big feelings, a limited vocabulary, very little capacity for self regulation, and absolutely no experience-based perspective. They are going through something that is quite literally either THE most emotionally upsetting thing ever, or right up there.
A toddler freaks out and cries because she asked for toast and you gave her toast (instead of the french toast that she was picturing). Knee jerk reaction? Nip that tantrum in the bud. Teach her she’s not a princess. Ignore the tantrum or you’ll just be adding fuel to the fire. She has to learn that she isn’t always going to get what she wants. She has to learn that over-reaction is silly.
The emotions are really really real for our children even if they are silly for us. Sometimes it can be hard to take them seriously, but what if we look at them as a fire drill? It’s SILLY to get up and pack up all your things and leave a building when there is absolutely nothing wrong. You’ve been TOLD that it’s a fire drill. You know there is no fire. But fire drills aren’t about responding to what we feel is important right now in this moment. They are about building skills that we can use when a moment that we recognize as “IMPORTANT” comes up.
Broken toast at two and a half.
A teenager is upset because she has learned the difficult lesson that what you imagined a relationship to be doesn’t always match up with what a relationship ends up being. Relationships aren’t toast, but feelings are feelings.
The fire drill comes into play now. What patterns have we created with our children over the years? Are tears silly? Will we distract them with ice cream while refusing to talk about what is bothering them? Will we shove our own perspective down their throat? Will we stop, look, listen, resonate, empathize, and offer help with moving ahead?
We learn perspective not through having someone bigger than us say “YOUR FEELINGS ARE SILLY. WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE I SUFFERED HEARTBREAK AND BROKEN TOAST WHILE WALKING BAREFOOT IN SNOW TO SCHOOL EVERY DAY!” Perspective comes from learning that we have the capacity to survive things.
When we choose to engage our children at their level rather than forcing them up to ours.. Our kids learn trust. They learn that while their feelings are no emergency for us, that we understand their feelings are an emergency for them. They understand that they will eventually grow to our perspective where a scraped knee just means a wash-off and bandaid. But at the same time they trust us to not make fun of them, minimize their hurt, get annoyed at them for falling, or chastise them for being drama queens.
They learn to find their own perspective, and to seek us out as their guide.