Friday, June 24, 2011

Teach me

A little phrase I have been using lately, when my kids seem to escalate (whether it is some sort of trauma trigger or just normal kid/sibling stuff) is to simply ask them to "teach me."

It's one way to be curious with their behavior, instead of escalating it or joining a battle.

Just this morning, in a very small way, we experienced this over breakfast. One kid got pretty tootie with another. As I tried to gently and playfully de-escalate the situation, I was met with defensiveness and anger. That, of course, caused ME to feel defensive and get that internal "Oh, no you didn't!" momma' feeling. This particular feeling can be a WONDERFUL red flag for us a parents and caregivers. It is an ideal way to train ourselves to recognize the feeling and STOP.

I stopped. I just said, "I thought I knew what was going on. It has come to my attention that, perhaps, I don't have a clue. Teach me."

Then, I sit and listen. At this point in healing, I can now be more funny and sarcastic than I have been able to be in the past. Yet, when they are getting to the heart of things or talking about something that is stressing them out ... I stay very gentle. I am an invited guest into that place in their heart and I need to respect it. I listen. I might say, "I'm still not totally clear on that part. Can you help me understand better?"

When they are done talking, you can simply say, "Hey, thanks. I didn't know all of that. I appreciate you telling me. Is there anything I can do for you?" End of conversation.

Sure, part of what they say I will want to correct. I'm human, but I have a choice. I do everything in my power not to. My voice, and my countenance and my open, loving questions can bring them safety. I am the invited guest to this intimate place. If I come in with a frat party, I will not be invited back.

Today was a tiny three-minute interaction. Just listening and allowing my children to teach me. Hearing their words and their heart. Giving them permission to help me understand them, regardless of what I THINK is truly going on. Giving them a voice.

Sure enough, today there had been a misunderstanding and a miscommunication about something very minor. Yet, that something minor was a big deal to my child. Heard. Corrected. Loved. Move on.


Diana said...

This is why you're amazing! Thanks for sharing your wisdom and reminders. Things have fallen into a funk around here. We're working on pulling out. this gem of a reminder will help much.

Michelle, Dave & Babes said...

Sigh, good reminder. As my son and I escalate each other on the way out the door to school. Rewind, go slow and try again. Me, not him.

The Hills said...

I love all the tips you share. They help me with my (neurotypical, but still so frustrating at times!) children. I have an honest question because I'm trying to be a more gentle there an age limit to things like this? I think of my 6 year old, who is very much in that "everything bad that ever happens is completely someone else's fault and I have zero part in it" stage. I struggle with how much to listen to her feelings (which I DO try to take the time to do) and how much to help her learn her own part in the situation (at which point I dissolve into, "you are six years old and I know better, end of discussion"...I know, that exact tact isn't very helpful, I'm working on it).

Anonymous said...

You should totally adopt more kids.

Brent and Lori said...

Have I told you lately that I think you rule the free world?

Thanks for this reminder.

Ironically, we're all invited guests into this intimate place in YOUR heart. I am grateful for your open door!

mary said...

so wise

GB's Mom said...

Posting those lines on my fridge.

RV Puzzled said...

This post is SO GREAT!! This totally happened in the rolling earthquake today. K's mood was way out of line with the situation so I asked her to help me understand what was up. It worked!! Love it when it works :-)

Sunday Koffron said...

That is great; I will be practicing it…a lot!

@The Hills – my 12 year old neuro-typical child of my womb is still in that phase…we have worked and worked on getting her to see her own responsibilities for her own decisions and actions in her own life, but alas nothing is EVER her fault. This year she didn’t turn in her algebra assignments because she had the “bad teacher” and didn’t like her. GRRR! It really makes me worry for her future. Christine maybe you have some tip for that one?

Teach me!

Barb G said...

Thank you, Christine. Perfect words for our current moments. I'm a fixer. I work hard to remember WHEN to keep my trap shut. :-)

anya* said...

Way to have a listening heart! My problem though, stems from the fact my kids from trauma will. Not. Talk. They shut down and turn into zombies, no matter how I approach it. This is the most frustrating thing ever because i know they are thinking, its like i cans ee the wheels moving, but they refuse to say what's they are honking, feeling, whatever. I have said I wish you would just tell me you hate my guts and break the dishes- ANYTHING is better then nothing. Ugh.

Michelle said...

Ok - I am going to try that the next time I get that "Oh no you didn't" feeling - 'cause it's been happening a whole lot around here.
By the way, I think I have a picture of me nursing Thomas on a boat tour under that very bridge - from the LLL Conference in 2007. Seems like yesterday!

Christine said...

@the hills,

Try to look at it another way. Narcissistic behavior (which is what that is on a smaller scale) has a root of unbelievable insecurity. It's a cover up for what is really going on underneath ... which is the opposite of what they are portraying.

Take a deep breath. She is trying so very hard to avoid her part in things ... to "own it," so to speak. Think that one through. Why? Ask yourself that question so that you can figure out if you can help HER answer that question.

Does she truly feel safe to fail? What are the consequences to her actions? Is she terrified of a consequence or is she terrified of disappointing others in her life?

Some of my kids feel deep and intense shame, but we did not see that for years. We saw exactly what you were describing ... on crack. I still sometimes have to say, "Hey, look at that. Such-and-such happened. This person is sad. Would you like a do-over?" or "How could we make that right?" (I say "we" not "you" to help them feel a safe separation from what happened).

After the fact I will recap. "So, you did A-B-C which resulted in X-Y-Z. Then what happened? That's right. You did a do-over (or you helped fix the problem or you apologized or you did something to put some love back into the person, or you took a moment to cool down, etc.). Now, tell me about the horrible, awful, super SCARY consequence you received!! What? You mean there was not horrible, awful, super SCARY consequence?!? Huh, what do you think about that?"

Or it may mean you saying, "Did you worry about what me/your teacher would think of you? Well, let's think about it ... what DO I/the teacher think about you after that happened? WHAT? WE STILL ADORE YOU?!?! You mean, you can be normal and mess up and even if you drive us bonkers sometimes, we will STILL LOVE YOU?!?! WOW! THAT'S SO COOL!!!!"

Does that make sense?

Christine said...

Anya, I will steal a little tip from my friend, Billy Kaplan. He suggests talking about NOT talking about it. :)

"Okay, so we are NOT going to talk about it. That is GREAT. Let's sit here and NOT talk about it!"

He's the king of being curious and playful.

In the meantime, Google and YouTube search theraplay activities and start doing one a day with them. Theraplay IS talking about their feelings, but in a way where they feel safe.

They won't talk about their feelings til they truly perceive they are safe enough to do so. They're letting you know you haven't quite met them where they are. Back it up some more. Engage via play. Keep it light.

For example:

We did this one with all my kids - even my 14 year old. That way it wasn't singling anyone out. Everyone had a good time with it, but all the kids were able to admit they do have different feelings, without feeling too exposed or afraid.

The Hills said...

Thanks for the feedback! She definitely does NOT feel safe to fail and that's something we're working on. We homeschool and if she thinks she can't do an activity perfectly, she won't do it all. I am definitely going to try these tips to help her learn that it is okay to not be perfect! We've made a little bit of progress recently, but we definitely have a ways to go.

Erika said...

I was just talking to someone about some things I do to deal with fear of failure and other tricky issues that come up when therapeutically parenting and homeschooling. We should all pull our ideas together at some point.

Katie said...

I have been reading your blog for awhile now, so thought I would say hi!!! I am a mom to 2 young girls who drive me crazy, and although I am not parenting trauma, I find your parenting tips and encouragement extremely helpful in my life, so thank-you!!! Also, you are hilarious and I love how you always use the word crap. Basically, I am just a fan of yours from Canada!

All the best to you and your family,


P.S. Have you heard of the writer Jean Vanier? I think you would really love him. He's kind of a guru of living in community. Check out "Becoming Human" if you ever get the chance (you know, in all your hours of free time....)

BT said...

This is something I've never tried. I am totally going to work on it now. Thanks!

Christine said...

Crap, Katie, you sure made me smile. :)