Staylistening is where we stay close and listen to our children as they express emotions – from a quiet tear, to a full-on, all-out tantrum. Once our child has worked through the feelings which are getting in the way, they will be able to co-operate and see reason.
Lost connection = Emotional Emergency
When children lose their sense of connection, it’s a kind of emotional emergency for them.
They can’t tell you are there.
All sorts of things can cause a child to feel disconnected. It could be something that has just happened, or something from the distant past.
You may even be offering all your loving attention, and a child may still not be able to tell that you are there.
Emotional Backpacks = Pretexts
Sometimes, when children are carrying around heavy “emotional backpacks”, they will find a “pretext” – some small thing – to get very upset about.
Children signal for help
If they feel unsafe, they will signal their need for help by going “off-track”. They will hit, bite, withdraw, whine, test limits….
When they are back in connection, they will release the feelings.
If they feel safe, they will start to release emotions:
- Tears contain stress hormones & release grief.
- Tantrums release frustration.
- Laughter heals fears.
- The sweating, struggle, shaking, and screaming are part of the healing process.
You can help your child offload these feelings by not stopping the upset, but offering “time-in” in the form of Staylistening.
When your child is upset:
- Move close, hold gently and offer eye contact
- Make it safe
- Make time & space for feelings
- Show you care – be especially tender, warm and approving.
- Communicate confidence
- “I care. I am here. You are safe. I know it feels hard. You can do it.”
- “I have to go now, but I’ll always come back to you.”
- Keep your upsets to yourself
- Try to distract the child.
- Move too fast to fix the problem.
- Take it personally – they may “point it” at you, but you are just the safe place to show the hard feelings.
- Give advice. If you must, save it for later.
- Try to teach, reason or instruct – “five words or less”.
- “Analyse” or label the feelings – this will pull the child into their “thinking brain” and out of releasing emotions.
- Pass judgement.
When they are finished shedding emotions, children can relax, connect and enjoy life again.
Remember: – the crying, tantrums, sweating, and loud words –are the healing process.
The difference between “naming feelings” and emotional release.
As Juli Idleman[i] says,”While Emotional Intelligence is a wonderful place to start, the key for me has been remembering that experiencing intense emotion takes neurobiological precedence over thinking about that emotion. In other words, it’s hard to think and feel at the same time…Children can’t talk to you about their emotions and feel their emotions fully at the same time. And they can’t fully process their emotions in isolation. The human mind is built to work in connection with other human minds… What..kids of all ages need [is], a caring adult with whom one can share the full range of experience without fear of rejection, shaming or condemnation.”
When we ask our children to name their feelings, we pull their mind away from the important process of healing – the release of grief through tears, fears through laughing and shaking and sweating, and the release of physical stress through yawning. Our experience, at Hand in Hand, is that if we can stay calmly and warmly with our children through their emotional release, they will be able to think well afterwards. The feelings will be done with, no longer needing to be named. With experience, confidence in this healing process allows young people to ask for the help they need – the chance to cry, or rage, or laugh, in order to release emotional tension which is getting in their way.
[i] Idleman, Juli. Parent-child Connectedness Takes us Beyond Emotional Intelligence , Hand in Hand Parenting, retreived 23 July 2018.
Free for reuse as long as you credit the author. See our copyright page for details.
© 2019 by Madeleine Winter.
The featured image above called “CL Society 118: Boy crying” by Francisco Osorio