Updated: Oct 8, 2019
My 22 yr old came home looking a bit down. I asked him how his day was and he answered, "It was alright" in a way that didn't sound very alright. Trying to find out more, I responded with, "that sounds like you're alright in a not so alright way." After a bit he said, "It was just a long day." I still wasn’t buying it.
Over the previous year I had experienced again and again the magic that occurs when I focused on breathing instead of talking or pushing my child to tell me what was wrong. So I sat there, breathed, said nothing and did my best to be present. And I noticed - my kid didn't leave the room. Phew! Step one - he wanted to stay there with me.
Slowly he began to talk a bit. As I listened quietly, he told me more.
And even though I felt awkward and uncomfortable at times both saying nothing and trying to say the "right" thing as he talked, what i did was good enough to create the space for him to open up to me.
He became emotional, pulled his knees up under him on the chair and tucked his head down. As I looked at him, the image was unmistakable - my child was curled up like a baby in the chair!
I moved a little closer and took his hand. He let me (a clue I was on the right track.) My mommy heart was saying," I just want to take him in my lap and hold him!" My head was saying, "He's 22, he won't want that."
Despite my hesitation, I wasn't feeling any resistance from my child, so I pulled gently and he came willingly out of his chair and right onto my lap, laid his head on my shoulder while I wrapped my arms around him. I held him like a baby in my lap - albeit a very tall baby - kept breathing and felt the rightness of this connection in my heart.
A few minutes later he said, I'm thirsty and he got up to get a drink. He returned to his own chair able to tell me more about what was going on.
I believe our children guide us to what they really need if we look for their emotional age and do our best to meet them there. That’s because when we stress, we regress! When your child gets dysregulated, their emotional age can become different from both their chronological age or their intellectual age. That’s why trying to reason with them can be so frustrating and quickly escalate to power struggles. It’s brain science. The reasoning part of the brain goes offline in the face of stress and overwhelm.
The way to get through to your child is by connecting with their emotional age. Even though it may seem counter-intuitive, meeting your child’s emotional needs when they’re dysregulated builds healthy emotional resilience and nurtures independence.