Summer is here. It is a busy time of year, and having so much fun can be overwhelming and exhausting at times, which makes it hard to be fully present with our kids. This, in turn, can make it difficult to take the time accept and respect their feelings, which can then lead to meltdowns and tantrums. There is a wonderful resource that can be helpful: “How to Talk so Kids will Listen, and Listen so Kids will Talk“, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. It’s worth a read.
Children can become confused and angry when adults deny the child’s feelings. Hearing their feelings dismissed teaches our children not to trust their feelings, and keeps them from learning to express them appropriately. For example, you may say things like: “You’re not hungry – you just ate.” “You’re not hot – the air conditioning is on.” “Don’t say you hate your sister. That is an awful thing to say!” All of these diminish the child’s feelings. When we are not present with our children and don’t acknowledge what they are feeling, emotions can escalate quickly and tantrums ensue. So, what to do?
Faber and Mazlish have four steps we can use to accept and respect our children’s feelings:
- We can listen quietly and attentively. Turn off the television/radio/phone/computer, and give your child your full attention. Listen, and refrain from giving advice, judging, asking questions, pitying, psychoanalyzing, or taking sides. Just listen.
- We can acknowledge our feelings with just a word. Using just a word or two, for example “Oh” or “Mmmm” or “I see”, will help our children feel that we are hearing what they are saying and feeling. I’ve found nodding with steady eye contact acts as an understanding word as well.
- We can give the feeling a name. “That sounds frustrating.” “You must be upset/angry/sad.” “You must feel happy about that!”
- We can give the child his wishes in fantasy. “Waiting for the swing is hard, I think you would like to swing all day. I wish I could build you another swing so you could swing and swing!” Feelings are acknowledged, and the crisis is over.
When you take the time to listen and acknowledge what your child is feeling, they feel empowered and will be much less likely to have a meltdown or get frustrated. And hopefully, parents will then also feel less frustrated and won’t have to feel like you are yelling all of the time. A win/win.
Enjoy your summer and your children. And take time to listen.
Pat Andrew, firstname.lastname@example.org