It’a hard for us as parents when our kids struggle.
When my children are in pain, unhappy or even just whiny, I feel like I have a physiological reaction to their mood.
I feel tense, stressed and my mind searches for solutions.
As humans, our natural instinct is to reach for a solution when we feel discomfort. But one of the great outcomes of mindfulness practice is an ability to see mind states as passing experiences, then be able to observe our physical cues without feeling the need to respond impulsively.
This is a needed skill when interfacing with our children when they are having a bad day.
We need to remember that our children don’t need us to fix everything for them.
They don’t need us to tell them what feelings are okay and what feelings are not okay. They need what we all need: unconditional acceptance.
Recently, I had two insightful interactions with both my 8 year old daughter and 14 year old son, through this type of unconditional acknowledgement of challenges and disappointments.
Last week my daughter seemed to be overreacting to small challenges. She was crying and yelling at her brother for little comments of the type that would usually not bother her.
Instead of overreacting at this type of sibling bickering that usually gets on my nerves, I just took her aside and said, “You know, I have noticed you have had some challenges and stress in your life lately, that must be hard for you.”
I then listed what I had observed as some recent stressors for her.
In the face of her stress being acknowledged, she immediately calmed down and agreed that these stresses have been hard for her. We talked together about the challenges she has faced lately. WE didn’t look for answers or fixes during this conversation; instead, we discussed how these events haven’t felt great for her in mind or body.
This type of unconditional attention seemed to really lift her spirits.
Within minutes, we were joking and laughing and enjoying each other’s company immensely.
Yesterday, my 14-year-old son’s laptop screen cracked. He was incredibly grumpy all afternoon, complaining about everything. Being in his presence I could feel my energy drop. My shoulders got tense and I felt his mood making me unpleasantly unhappy.
I could feel my mind lashing out, looking for solutions, blaming him and blaming myself.
But then I just sat beside him and said, “That sucks about your laptop, I would probably be even more upset then you if that happened to my laptop.” He laughed and agreed.
I said, “It makes sense that you are grumpy and disappointed. That seems like a natural reaction to having your computer break.”
Again, he agreed.
And again, I didn’t look for solutions, causes or effects. We just unconditionally acknowledged what was occurring in the moment which was a reaction to a disappointing experience. I kept the knowledge in my consciousness that he is old enough to find his own solution to his computer needs, and that my only job is to love and support him.
We then had a great discussion about a bunch of other topics, went to the store to get disks to back-up his computer (at his request), and I felt the mood lift for the whole family.
Our kids are going to have bad days—we know this for sure.
This is why learning how to deal with our own reactions to our children’s challenges is one of the best things we can do for our children.
Our children are watching us. They are watching our reactions and gauging their own value based on the attention we give to different aspects of their personality and lives. By being able to show up unconditionally to the diversity of experiences our children are going to face, without blame or over-reaction, we give them the gift of not feeling judged.
And when we are normal humans and find we overreact and blame, then we can always go back and apologize, explaining that we were worried, scared or frustrated but not happy with our reaction and are very sorry.
Our own ability to admit to our faults and mistakes allows our children to more freely do the same.
Our global community will continue to face hardships of war, famine and climate change for many years to come, this is for sure, but we can start to turn this around by raising loving kids who know it is just fine to have a bad day.
Author: Ruth Lera
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Nicki Varkevisser at Flickr