Finding a better way to get positive behaviors by acknowledging the real reasons for them. "It Was Never Your Fault"These are some of the most powerful words I use in coaching parents. "It was never your fault," carries a healing message to children that releases them from undeserved guilt. When children are free of guilt, they're learning, listening, and functioning well.
When parents are also freed from guilt, they, too, learn, listen and function well. That's my aim, to help you, as a parent release guilt that you never deserved.
"How does that work?" you might wonder. I offer parents forgiveness because I truly believe you/they have always been doing what you knew how to do. When my kids were young, I made a lot of mistakes. If I'd had a parent coach back then, I would have loved guidance and forgiveness from a trusted professional. I think it would have made all the difference. Now that that ship has sailed, I feel privileged to be able to lead parents through Present Moment Parenting in a way I never was. I feel honored to say, "You did your best. It was never your fault when things didn't go well."
And for kids, it's the same. There's not a child in the world who doesn't want to be in close connection with their parents. After all, parents are their survival, so it makes sense that they would strive to maintain the bond. But their emotional state, undeveloped as it is, prevents them from making the bond stronger. They falter, they have meltdowns, they make their parents feel frustrated and angry.
As the adults, it's our job to realize they never intended this disruption in the closeness with us. They just lacked the brain development to control their outbursts, their refusals, and their nasty words. Once we realize that undeveloped brains is the issue, and not bratty, controlling, impossible kid, we're miles ahead of the game of healing the break between ourselves and our children.
So, what's the first step? Changing our automatic reaction to defiance from one of upset and consequences to one of understanding, calm, and listening to the underlying emotion. When we can do that, our kids feel seen, heard, felt, safe. And from there, we can gain their cooperation.
Recently I heard a quote from a parent that went: "Once I dropped the parent role and focused on strengthening our relationship, everything got better." That to me, is gold.
What do kids need? A loving, accepting, guiding presence. This enables them to learn, follow, and emulate their parents' behavior, especially forgiveness.
If you'd like more information on how parent coaching works, click here. I'd love to help you form that strong, healing bond with your children that reduces defiance, strengthens your relationship, and brings peace to your home.
To read or listen to my book, click here: Present Moment Parenting; The Guide to a Peaceful Life with Your Intense Child.
I’m Actually Afraid of This Kid
Posted: February 7, 2019
Parents have occasionally, with understandable reluctance, shared with me that they are afraid of their own kid. Teachers have also confessed that they struggle with fear of certain children. What’s happening when adults are frightened in the presence of children whose behavior has that scary aspect, even when it’s not Halloween? Scary children have lost a great deal of their self-efficacy (the feeling of power over their own world) and developed scary behaviors as a defense. In other words, scary kids are scared.
Here are three ways in which we can replace our own fear with compassion, communicate gentleness instead of fear, and improve the relationship between adult and child.
First, kids who adapt to their world by scaring others have learned that it’s a scary world, either because of maltreatment or because of their own internal sensitivity. Extra-sensitive kids, who are taking the world in through their senses much more “loudly” than the average child, have to defend themselves against the sensory onslaught they are experiencing. Becoming scary feels like a good defense against the unpredictable overload of sight, sound, smell, taste, tactile or interpersonal input (or sometimes many of these at once.) To help these kids, develop a sensitivity in yourself for what they are experiencing, and address the overload, rather than the behavior. Say, “It seems like this place is too loud for you, so let’s get out of here.” Being seen this way heals the heart of the child, eliminating the need for his defense against the world, i.e. less scariness and more cooperation.
Another way of helping the child who is overloaded by sensory input is to seek the help of an occupational therapist, who can build up the child’s ability to integrate what his senses are telling him. When he can integrate the messages, he has less need to defend himself against them.
If the source of the scary behavior is maltreatment of the child, do everything you can to remove the child from the situation where the maltreatment occurs. That could be actually moving the child, or it could mean teaching the abusive adult how to interact in a healthy way. Parent coaching can accomplish this. Don’t wait another day, as each experience of emotional or physical abuse takes its toll on the child, no matter what age.
Second, work extra hard to control your own emotions in the presence of your child. Kids only see what they see, a yelling, ordering, impatient adult. They have no idea that you are merely mirroring the methods of your parents because you don’t have another way of dealing with them. Or if your behavior is due to stress, realize that the kids don’t have the perspective to empathize with you. If you need empathy and compassion to calm yourself down, find it through a close friend or counselor. Do not expect kids to understand that you are having a hard time. Empathy doesn’t develop until later in life, so please don’t expect it from your child. Be the adult, take care of yourself, and don’t blame the scary child. Remember, if he’s scary, he’s scared.
Third, comfort your scared child by seeing past the behavior and getting to the root of his fear. He may be intelligent beyond his years, and taking in way more information than he can handle. Focus in the present moment on what might be frightening your child by asking what the fear might be: “Could it be that you are afraid of the other kids on the bus? If so, I can talk to the school and get that resolved.” “Could it be that you are afraid that your dad or I might die because you see grandpa suffering with cancer? I sure understand that, and please know that I’m doing everything I can to keep myself healthy for you.” “Could it be that you’re worried that I’ll get in an accident when I go to the store? How about if I call you when I arrive, so you know I’m safe?” “Could it be that you are afraid of the change in school? I will call the teacher and we’ll make a plan to help you feel safe.”
If a child feels secure, has some sense of control of his world, and is assured about the future, there’s no need to defend himself with scary behavior. As his adult guide, focus on what he needs to reach the state of calm, and the positive behavior will naturally follow.
If you “feel afraid of this kid”, and would like help with reducing the fear in your home or classroom, call or write to Tina Feigal at 651-453-0123 or email@example.com.
I See You Letter
“I See You” Letter
Another tool for helping a child with a traumatized brain, or any child who is asking for attention by showing unwanted behavior, is an “I see you” letter. When something is put into writing, it weighs more. The child can read the message without having to hear the adult’s voice, which is more effective because adult voices have sometimes not proven trustworthy in the past. I encourage caregivers to write the letter in a notebook, so the child can write back, if she so chooses, and review the letter at any time. The re-reading can be very healing. When I’ve encouraged other adults to write this type of letter, they’ve told me that they’ve found it later, stashed in a drawer or other safe spot, but never thrown away, which speaks to its significance to the child.
You can write a letter to a child of any age. If she is old enough to read, just leave it on her pillow. If not, write it out and read it slowly, then hand it to her.
If the child is so hurt that listening to you read a letter is too much, try posting notes that say what you see in her all over her room. Use the components below to craft your letter or your notes.
The components of the “I See You Letter” are:
- I see what you've been through (in details that are significant to her, maybe just the things you know she remembers). You may want to add, "And other things, too, that we haven't talked about." This could spark a response where she shares more.
- In light of your experiences, I realize that none of your recent behavior is your fault. You were just trying to express your pain.
- I'm sorry I blamed you when I just didn't realize that your behavior was your pain being expressed.
- Together we'll work on making it better, and here's how: ______
I just wanted to tell you what I see when I look at you. I see a kid who has had some very rough experiences. When you were younger, your adults did not do what they needed to do to keep you safe. No child should have this happen, as every child deserves and needs to be kept safe. Your mom left you with people who hurt you, and your dad left without saying why. That must hurt so much. I want you to know that this was never, ever your fault. You were an innocent child.
I see a kid who is sensitive and smart. I see a kid who is amazing at figuring out other people. I so appreciate hearing you express what you know long before others your age can do that. I see a kid with artistic ability, and one who cares deeply for our pets. When I watch you with younger children, I am so impressed with how tender you are.
I realize I have gotten angry with you and yelled when you were upset with me. I now get that you just felt threatened, and you did not mean to hurt my feelings or disrespect me. I’m sorry and I will try very hard not to yell in the future. If I make a mistake and yell (because we all make mistakes), I will apologize and have a do-over, because no one deserves to be yelled at.
If you feel like writing back to me in this notebook, that’s great. Feel very free to do so. If not, I’m fine with that, too. I’m just happy to be able to use this notebook to say what I want to tell you in writing.
I am so happy you are in my life. Thank you for all the gifts you give me, especially your smile.
I encourage adults not to ever mention the letter, nor to expect him to say he read it and liked it. For a traumatized child, this may be too much vulnerability. But what often happens is that adults notice a softening in their child, a better attitude, more affection, more focus, and more cooperation. That’s the goal of writing: to see the child clearly, communicate it, allow the amygdala to register that the child is seen and therefore will survive, watch the result in a much more relaxed and relieved child and in an improved relationship. I often describe this process as being “like physics,” as predictable as proven science. It’s truly remarkable how dramatic the results are! And when you think about it, the seeing is the tool for calming the threat alarm. No wonder the child can now function so much more rationally. The more rational front brain is able to work!