When scared or angry – say less and do less

Mar, 30, 2020

As a parent – I know you know that cry – or rather – that absence of sound coming out of your child’s mouth – following an accident. This – you’ve come to see – is when the hurt is off the scale and hurts to even look at. It isn’t till after what seems an impossibly long pause- that the sound of silence is broken by a scream that chills you and awakens your deepest protective instincts – and sees you rushing to the crime scene.

What we do next – matters!
While the intention is ALWAYS good – and always one of wanting to protect and nurture – what we do as a parent when our child is in pain is not always helpful.

Allow me to explain:
You guessed it – this happened recently in my own family.
My son fell from a kitchen stool, grazed his chin and nearly knocked out his baby teeth. There was blood, tears and fear – and as we both rushed to the scene I heard my well-meaning husband say;

“This is what happens when you rock on the stool”

The pain of seeing his son in pain was unbearable – and in a bid to lessen his own fear and discomfort – it felt better to lecture to my son about how accidents like these can be avoided in the future.

Most of us do this. Why?
Because this is how we’ve been met growing up.
Statements like:

” I told you”
” What did I say”
” Come ooooon”

.. have likely come out of our own parents’ mouths if we tripped as a child or spilt the milk or fell from a tree despite being warned of the dangers. Not because our parents were evil – but because it requires us to stop and question what these statements actually do in the moment.

My son started crying louder and said ‘ Now you’re telling me off’.
Which is the best kind of feedback we can get. Because that is what it feels like. When we are too busy moralising – we are unable to comfort. To be with and tend to the hurt. When we want to use the moment to teach -we are not with. We are above. Or ahead.

First empathise. Then teach.

A lot of research has been found to back the point that our brains are incapable of learning and retaining new information when we are in struggle. We are literally wasting our breath teaching our children any lessons when they are in a state of alarm or in the grip of big emotions.

Therefore, allow yourself to come alongside first. Simply saying less. Focussing on being the calming presence that your child needs in that moment. When we say less and use our body to comfort through gentle touch, holding or rocking – we not only calm our child – but also our own nervous system.

“Where does it hurt the most”?
“Was it when …x… and then you landed right there?”
“Ouch.. that must have hurt so much”.

Often there is little need for any teaching following such an encounter. Few words offer better lessons than natural consequences – like falling, losing something, or something breaking. It’s cause and effect – and children are far better able to pay attention to these life lessons when we don’t add our own fears to these inevitable incidents. We can, instead, enjoy that we get to be there for them when life throws them some tough lessons.

Louise Brooks

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