A mom recently shared with me a handy mnemonic that reminds you what to do when your child is having a strong emotional reaction. The process comes from the same philosophies that I follow and teach, but improves upon them by being simple and easy to remember!
We know the most important thing to do when our child is upset is to keep or regain our own peacefulness, but once you’ve done that, how best to respond to your child? The easy-to-remember hint: Feel, felt, found.
“Feel” reminds us to begin by reflecting: say out loud what you see, with empathy and warm, non-verbal body language that tells your child that you see and understand what they are feeling. It might sound like:
• “I can tell that you are feeling upset.”
• “Oh, gosh, I can really see that you are feeling angry about this.”
• “Whew, that really scared you, didn’t it!”
“Felt” represents your opportunity to relate to your child in this emotional and sensitive moment, and to let them know you relate to them and what they are experiencing. The sensation of being ‘felt’ and heard and understood is one of the best feelings there is, so be sure to really be present and connected in this. It might sound like:
• “I have felt the same way.”
• “I feel upset when I can’t have my way sometimes, too!”
• “Once, I had to do that too, and I remember it felt really scary.”
“Found” finally brings the moment that parents so often yearn for–the opportunity to share your experience and wisdom with your child–your chance to teach, to guide, to educate! It might sound like:
• “Can I share what I’ve found that helps me deal with this?” (I love for parents to ask for permission to give advice.)
• “I’ve found that xyz really makes me feel better.”
• “I’ve found that xyz makes the problems seem smaller/happen less frequently.”
An important part of healthy relationships is the sense that the other person respects your subjective experience–responding with ‘feel’ and ‘felt’ in those difficult moments is an effective way to assure that you are doing that for your child. Thanks, smart Mama who shared—this handy, simple, way to remember this is a help for us all!
I talk about icebergs at work a lot.
Did you know that the part of an iceberg you can see above the surface of the water is only 1/9th of the total mass? This is where the phrase “tip of the iceberg” comes from. So, I talk about icebergs because the image is a very helpful metaphor. Basically, it all boils down to:
What you can see about another person/relationship isn’t the whole picture.
When we see SuperMom go sailing by, perfectly put together, with her perfect children behaving perfectly… we sometimes judge ourselves, and come up lacking. But this isn’t fair. Even Supermom has her insecurities, her imperfections, her failings… maybe even her own secrets.
You can’t help but learn this lesson as a therapist. Every day, I see people, who, if I only saw them on the street, would probably strike me as so put together, so stylish, so successful. But because of the nature of our work together, they sit on my sofa and speak honestly about some sort of problem or another. It’s a real gift to me, one that I would love to share with every one of you:
You are not alone! It’s not just you! Everyone has something that challenges them, that they struggle with, that they regret! You just can’t see it in them because we all keep our inner lives (8/9th of us, at least!) hidden inside.
So, beware the icebergs ahead… Remember that everyone has more going on than is outwardly visible, and be kind to yourself (and them), since we never really know what’s going on for another.
PS. A related, great phrase–not mine but I don’t know who said it originally: “Don’t judge your insides by other people’s outsides.”
Note: I’m on leave for the summer. While I’m out, I’ll be reposting some of my more popular posts. See you again in the Fall.
Short post about going Back to School. 3 little tips…
When Should a Parent Seek Professional Help? Sometimes, therapy is most helpful before problems get entrenched.
Shyness and Your Child. A three-part series, actually! Shyness is so often misunderstood, these posts hope to prevent that.
Note: I’m on leave for the summer. While I’m out, I’ll be reposting some of my more popular posts. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do. See you again in the Fall.
Good For Him! Tale from my grad school internship with the sex offenders. So many stories, this is one of my favorites.
Oh, Good Question! An unpleasant experience with a medical provider sparks a post on encouraging questions.
My Sock Drawer, Circa 2001. This post isn’t even particularly old, but I like the story enough to repost it anyway. ;^)
We remodeled our kitchen (and then some) in 2001. It was a big job, and like all remodeling projects, suffered from project creep. There’s a great picture of me doing dishes at some point during the process. You can see me standing at the kitchen sink with my back to the camera, washing. It looks pretty normal, until you look above my head where the ceiling should be, and instead see the sky, and a tree, and clouds. My kitchen had no roof. No roof. No. Roof. While that part of the project was pretty brief, all things considered, the refrigerator lived in the living room for a long time, as did our entire collection of dishes, pots, pans, etc. Suffice to say, my house–my life–was a bit chaotic for a while.
So, you can imagine the context as I continue my story to tell you that one day during this chaos, I opened up my sock drawer and really looked at it for a moment. It was clean. It was organized. It had dividers. Things were lined up. Perfectly. Every sock had its mate. It was color-coded. Alphabetized, even.* It would have made Martha Stewart cry jealous tears of joy. It was the universal antithesis of chaos.
It was, one woman’s attempt to maintain some sense of control over some aspect of her (physical) home life.
Anyway, this is a story I tell sometimes to approximately illustrate the therapy concept called “displacement.” As in: “I really wanted to have a normal home that had a roof and a fridge in the kitchen where it belonged, but since I couldn’t have that, I settled for the durn-best-organized sock drawer on the planet.”
Sometimes, we fight for control over little things, even when it’s not really what we want. As parents, it’s good to remember this, and recognize it when we (or our kids) do it.
* No, not really alphabetized.
** Addendum: my kitchen did finally get finished, and my sock drawer soon went back to its normal–significantly lesser–level of organization. Thanks for asking. ;^)
Probably more than you’ve ever wanted to know about parent coaching, therapy, magic, and apples & giraffes, too. Thanks to interviewer Nicole Basham!
On his travel blog, Rick Steves once explained the ‘secret’ of the Oracles at Delphi, saying this:
Two thousand five hundred years ago, movers and shakers from throughout
the ancient world went to Delphi to get advice from the Delphi priests.
The priests weren’t in cahoots with the gods. They just interviewed
everyone who came to them, thinking that they were. Because of that,
the priests knew what the competition was up to (politically,
militarily and so on) and could give divine-quality advice.
I was reminded of this explanation the other day, when I realized that I often repeat conversations from client to client. Mr & Mrs Smith might be in my office today for help with, say, bedtime troubles. The suggestions I offer to them come from different sources: some I probably got from a book, some from a friend, maybe one I ‘invented’, and without a doubt a few came from previous clients. Then the next week the Smiths come back and tell me which ideas worked/didn’t work for them, and invariably they’ll tell me a new solution that they themselves invented, or heard from a friend, or read in a magazine… and I promptly add it to my trusty bag of tricks.
Anyway, I’m no oracle, and I don’t think my advice is divine quality (!!!) but I can surely identify with the strategy. I am constantly listening and learning and sharing what I learn.
When our kids are sick and we don’t know what’s wrong or how to deal with it, we usually go to the doctor. We don’t feel conflicted about seeking that professional’s help, and we don’t wait until things are so bad that our child is comatose. But for some reason, with behavioral/emotional/relationship challenges, people can be reluctant to seek help, often waiting until the problems worsen and get cemented in place. John Gottman says that, on average, couples wait 7 years before they seek the help they need. I think that parents do better, and seek help much sooner, but it is so important to remember that therapy can be supportive at any stage, and can help improve relationships by resolving minor challenges before they become a major problem.
When a child has behavior problems, parents come in to my office, and say that they worry that “x” behavior might be a sign of something very serious. I understand that fear, I really do (I’m a parent, too.) But, it’s not just when something’s terribly wrong that we can get help from a professional. Even when “everything’s fine,” it’s possible for a professional to help parents identify and improve the small hangups in their daily life. A skillful child & family therapist can help parents tweak a particular area, and–via the magic of the parenting relationship–even if the parents had little to do with creating the problem, they can still be largely responsible for fixing the problem.
So what is a small area of your daily life that you’d love to see get better? Bedtime? Transitions? The dinner table? A difference of opinion between you & your spouse about how to handle something? Homework? Mornings? Chores? I encourage you to seek out a supportive, non-judgmental therapist who specializes in kids/families/parenting. Please feel free to email or call me if I might be of help!
Who has time to read an entire parenting book these days? It’s amazing how much time & energy it takes to chew through a 350 page epic on how you “should” parent. Even the really good books are tough to get through. It’s made me particularly appreciative of brevity, so to that end here are just 3 thoughts/comments that I frequently say in my role as a parent coach & therapist. It’s a little like a 15 minute parent coaching session, or a super, super condensed parenting book. ;^)
- It’s our job as parents to help prepare our kids for the real world. We parents typically want to protect our kids from the evils and heartbreaks that exist out there. That’s normal and healthy and generally encouraged. But. Our other very important job is to help our children acquire the skills, habits, resources, and strength to be able to handle the problems of the world on their own. We can’t protect them forever, so we’d better equip them. Start now.
- Kids intuitively know that they are half-mom and half-dad. When kids hear/see/perceive criticism from one parent to another, they internalize it and file it away under “things about MYSELF that
aren’t good.” While I say this one more to parents who are divorcing, it’s also true for married parents. Every couple has conflict (it’s healthy, actually) but the way we handle that conflict is
- The single best way to get your kid to change is to let them see you changing. I say this one so often that I joke I’m going to embroider it on a pillow one day. But it speaks to the power of
role modeling, the power of acknowledging that-even though we’re the parent-we’re still not perfect, and it also sends the message that in your family’s home-everyone is committed to growing. Such a powerful and positive message!