Being genuinely helpful to my children when they have problems is something that brings joy into my life. I want to give help that is calm, supportive and that increases my child’s confidence in their own ability to help themselves. This did not come naturally for me, at least not to the extent that I would have liked. It was a skill that required a lot of practice as well as a lot of unlearning of old, unhelpful habits. For example, I often fell into the trap of trying to fix a problem when my help was not requested. My child would react to my intrusion and I would become part of the problem. When my help was requested I often assumed that I knew best and waded in with advice or instructions. My advice was occasionally helpful in the short-term but it also got in the way of my child’s emerging ability to help themselves. There were also many times when my child’s expression of feelings triggered painful feelings in me. I would unwittingly join them in their suffering rather than remain peaceful and fully available to help. It was challenge for me to find a way to relate to my children in a respectful and non-reactive way.
Being genuinely helpful required a shift in my perception of my children’s behaviour and their expression of emotion. I came to realize that what I had been judging as tantrums, rude or aggressive words and unacceptable behaviour were actually cries for help. Young children often have difficulty in expressing their problems in a way that parents can easily understand. They may not have the skills to clearly express what they want or what is causing them distress. Their calls for help are sometimes communicated through intense emotional expression such as crying or screaming, in aggressive behaviour or even in hate-fuelled outbursts. Parents often find these expressions of distress challenging or unacceptable. I certainly found myself challenged in this way.
Out of these challenges emerged the skill of Listening in Presence. This is the skill of listening calmly and respectfully to my child without reacting to or getting hooked into their problem. I have the intention to give my child my attention and at the same time I have an awareness of what the situation is triggering within me. This isn’t as difficult as it may sound, but it does take some practice. The intention and awareness that come with this skill can transform something as ordinary as the application of a Band-Aid into a special moment. (more…)