I trust your instincts. Your impulse for what your child needs is right more often than you realize. Your heart guides you towards connection.
I believe what gets in your way is your own self-talk complicated by the voices of your personal history, gender expectations, and cultural conditioning. That self-talk compels you toward the unattainable goal of perfection and gets in the way of connection.
The Story of Barry
The morning had been going okay for Barry and his twelve-year-old son on the first week of in-person socially-distanced camp. Though initially reluctant—it was a big change from being home all the time and from his previous experiences of camp—he had been having fun and was happy to go. It was ten minutes until time to leave for the bus when the perfect storm occurred. One parent made an unexpected, unilateral demand to end screen time. The unpredictability of the demand, plus a transition time, plus the parents being on different teams equals the boy—who struggles with oppositional behavior and anxiety—going into a state and refusing to go to camp.
Barry himself was thrown off by what happened, but he was able to stay pretty calm. He encouraged his son to just walk with him to the bus stop. He gave his son the out that he could decide whether or not to go to camp when they got to the bus stop. And so, they walked for 12 minutes.
What’s really cool is that brain science tells us that patterned repetitive movement, e.g. walking, is regulating and helps the brain build resilience. By simply walking with his son he helped his son calm down and strengthened their connection. The boy ended up going to camp because his executive function was back on line and he knew he'd have fun.
This was such a great way to have hangout time together. Barry’s parenting intuition was spot-on. Next, he could ask how he could enhance what already works and what he’s already doing. Could it become more of a regular routine event, even when they don’t have to walk to the bus? Perhaps they could take a walk to pick up a Frappuccino or a slice of pizza. It would be an appealing invitation to the son, and create a space for even better connection and communication.
The Story of Mary
Mary is raising her two grandchildren, ages 5 and 7. They came from the hard place of having a mom with substance abuse issues. Mary’s not new to the concept of emotional age. She carries each of the kids, like a baby, during their first transition of the day from bed to kitchen. Her instincts are right on.
Lately, though, it’s been challenging for her because her 5 year old started acting like a baby, using baby talk and crawling around. She’s definitely not the only kid regressing during these very difficult times, right? Martha’s been encouraging her to use big girl words and act her age.
What I did was simply give her permission to lean into babying the girl because brain science tells us we need to meet our child where they are emotionally to connect. That girl is absolutely letting gramma know what she needs. By “playing along,” if you will, Mary is giving this tiny human comfort and connection until she’s ready to come back to her chronological age. Mary just needed to hone the skills she already had in order to give her child an even better foundation for success.
The Story of You
All parents know what feels right when it comes to parenting. But we are constantly bombarded with social pressures, well-meaning advice, and parenting trends. This week, give yourself permission to listen to the amazing parent that is already inside you.