It’s no secret that my M is emotional. Brilliant, darling, dear,…..and emotional. I spend most of my days trying to navigate the treacherous waters of this nugget of a 4 year old. At any given moment, things can go from rainbows and lollipops to a code red situation involving everything from a headband that’s not right, a shoe on the wrong foot, or how I am saying the particular day of the week. These emotions come on fast and furiously, and I try each time to approach them from a place of empathy and compassion. It requires so much patience, and truly a lot of prayer, but each time I steer her through those feelings with that as my compass, the result is so much better.
My husband is a master at this. I watched him this weekend talk her off a ledge. This particular conversation was related to her deep desire to have french fries for dinner. I stood there and watched as he kneeled down right on her level, which is critical to every child especially one who needs help reigning it in. I watched him speak to her in a soft voice, never losing eye contact, and totally in control. I watched her little self plead her case to him and tell him why she was so frustrated. Her little shoulders heaved up and down exasperated but still attentive to what he was saying. Watching that moment from the outside reminded me how little she is and how much help she still needs to manage, express, and work through her emotions. He diffused the situation seamlessly and quickly. She gave her side, and firmly and kindly he gave ours. Nothing changed as far as what we were eating, but it was clear that M felt like someone was listening to her and that was enough at that particular moment in time.
Empathy and validation are like magic potions when it comes to our children. Not only do they make them feel like they matter, but by naming emotions and discussing the effects, we are creating emotionally healthy and emotionally intelligent children. We are teaching our children what certain feelings mean by naming them, and then by validating those feelings we give them value which makes walking through them feel a little less scary to our little ones.
Here is an example of what that sounds like:
Child: I fell down and hurt my knee!
Parent: Oh! That wasn’t what you were expecting, was it? (Empathy). I’m sure that was surprising! (Validation). What can we do to make it feel better? Can you brush it off or would you like to sit with me for a minute?
This goes so much farther with a child than “you’re fine.” Granted it takes more time on our part, but the total incident resolution time should decrease when feelings are named and explained. Plus, even though we know they probably are “fine” in that moment, we can give our children a little bit more which yields better results.
Here is another example:
Child: Aaaaaaaah! (Throws the beads).
Parent: It seems like you are really frustrated. (Naming). Are you having trouble with the beads?
Child: I can’t get them on!
Parent: I can see how hard you are working to do that. It’s really frustrating when they won’t go on the string. What if I hold the string and you do the beads?
In the second example, the parent stepped in to help problem solve but only after feelings were named and validated. Think of the age old example of other adults (cough, husbands, cough) who try and “fix” things when all we really want to hear is that they understand how we FEEL. Same with our children. Above all, they want us to name the feeling, validate it, and then guide them to higher ground by helping them navigate those feelings.
I wish you luck, strength, and love as you undertake this very important aspect of parenting. More naming and validating and less “you’re fine” is guaranteed (and I don’t use that word lightly) to have a more positive effect on your children now and forever. How can you argue with that?
Find the joy,
Please join me at Define Living this Wednesday, March 28th from 10:00-11:30 as we partner to present The Tyke Top 10: What Your Children Want You To Know. We will tackle all the tough parenting issues including sleep, mealtime, discipline, structure, and routines. You will leave feeling refreshed and your parenting toolbox will be refilled. Click here to reserve your spot!