As parents we go out of our way to keep our children physically safe & we like to think that we protect our child from the harsh reality of the outside world, but when it comes to their emotional safety & wellbeing, are we helping them or is it possible that in they may not feel safe in their own home?
Our most basic human needs are to feel safe, to belong & to exert competency in some area of our life. As a child that safety is communicated through connection, an unspoken energy that says “I see you, I hear you & you’re not alone in this world.” You’re an essential part of this community or tribe.
A lack of connection almost always manifests in a child as a behavioural issue. As adults, if we continue to experience an ongoing lack of connection, we see the behaviour morph into addictions as a way to numb ourselves & cope with the pain of feeling completely alone in this world.
When it seems as though nobody understands us, or our pain, we begin to hide in a blanket of shame, the mere thought of sharing our true feelings becomes terrifying. We attach & cling onto anything outside of ourselves that we believe might bring us the sense of security that we’re so desperately looking for, even when we know that thing is not serving us.
Imagine the burden of not feeling able to share the pain of feeling rejected with your own parent, your tribe. What can we do to build a connection with our child where they feel safe enough to come to us instead of hiding in shame?
Much disconnection is caused by the damage inflicted when well intended parents discipline their children. We resort to unconscious ways of shaming, blaming, attacking or giving orders as a way to get our child to do what we believe is truly best for them. While it often works, the scars tend to never fully heal. I’m sure most of us can still recall many of these “teachable” moments that continue to hurt us today.
But “I have to discipline my child” you argue, “how will they succeed if I don’t teach them?” The problem is, what are we really teaching them by nagging, barking orders, labeling them, taking sides, or making them feel badly? ~ “Mom & Dad don’t trust me to make my own choices”, “I’m not smart enough”, “I’m not capable”, “It’s always my fault”.
Of course none of us would ever intentionally want our child to feel these thing but the fact remains that we are all guilty of having implied any one of these things at some point in a fit of reaction.
When we lose it, we become ashamed of ourself, as a parent, for not having the ability to communicate our expectations in a mature, reasonable way, so that our child will cooperate. But how could we? What school teaches us, or where is it modelled how to speak to a child in ways that promote a healthy self esteem? This vicious self deprecating cycle of anger, blame & shame eventually infuses into our child.
The greatest gift we can give our kids is a healthy self image. We can do this by learning how to manage our own emotions, trust that our children are capable beings & respond to them in ways that allow them to feel safe around us.
Here are a few suggestions to try out:
~ Instead of jumping in with an answer, leave time to let them solve their own problem.
“I see, you have a test you’re not ready for & a game that you really want to go to, hmm.”
~ Instead of barking orders or threats, try giving them a choice or negotiating.
“Wet towels need to go on hooks or in the hamper, you decide."
~ Instead of running away from scary feelings, model feeling feelings, without having to take them away.
“It feels really bad when a friend pretends that you're not in the room.”
~ Instead of nagging , try writing a quick, note.
“I like to be with my friends in the toy room! Love Peppa Pig”
~ Instead of shaming, try pointing out a way to be helpful.
“It would be really helpful if you could walk the dog, I need to make dinner."
~ Instead of assuming your child knows, describe & state your expectation
“Milk goes sour when left out, I expect it to go back in the fridge when you’re done.”