My daughters been a bit off in her behaviour lately. She’s my generally sweet, compliant middle child so her “off” is much more subtle…a bit more moody, a bit grumpy or sulky when I’ve said “no” to a request of hers etc. She’s also been unusually 'mean' to her younger sister and very focused on screen time, which has been irritating me.
Tonight, as we were getting ready for bed, when she asked to finish an episode of Master Chef we’d been watching, when I said “no, its getting ready for bed time” she got upset and angry, slammed her bedroom door and I could hear her emotionally ‘squeeking’ her injustice in her room. So I chose not to let it go…
“Jade Scarlett, come here please” I called from my bedroom, next to hers. Nothing. I called again, this time with a little more determination in my voice.
She reluctantly slunk to my doorway, “WHAT?” she said with attitude. “What’s going on for you?” I asked. “Nothing” she answered. “Well, that’s clearly not true. You’ve slammed your door, you’re upset and angry and you’re saying all the stuff you’re not happy about in your room. So I’m going to ask you again – What’s going on for you?”. A shrug of the shoulders, “I don’t know”.
So I changed tact to ownership.
“You know mate, no one can read your mind, even if you want them to. No one can guess what you’re feeling, its up to you to let them know. Nothing changes unless you voice what you want to change. If you want a different outcome, if you’re not happy with how things are, you HAVE to be willing to own your feelings and needs and speak up for them. If you don’t let those around you know what you want to change, nothing changes. I know you’re not happy, I know you don’t like my decision, but unless you tell me what’s going on for you, we can’t work towards changing it. So, what’s going on for you?”
Jade, in a flood of tears “it’s just that I miss having my friends x, y and z in my classroom and when its group time I don’t have anyone to partner with!”.
Ok, that wasn’t what I was expecting, it certainly wasn’t a negotiation for screen time, but it was a layer of ‘what was going on for her’.
I changed my tone and my vibe, I opened my body and my arms, I called her in closer and gave her a hug. I waited for the tears to subside. I still wasn’t convinced this was the bottom of the issue, so I asked some more questions:
“what happens when you don’t have anyone to partner with?”
“What do you do?”
“What does your teacher do?”
“Who do you partner with?” etc
During this time, I was also aware of my own emotional state and keeping ‘myself’ out of it. I could feel myself wanting to melt into a puddle of tears with her – but this is sympathy, this is my inner child, it is not empathy and if it’s not empathy, its not helpful.
I’m aware enough of my own ‘stuff’ to know I have a big childhood wound on “misfit” or “social outcast”, so a scenario that feels anything like that reflected in my child’s life will trigger my inner child feelings on it.
If I am to be of any use to her, I must center myself in her experience, not my own. So I remove myself from wanting to dive into my feelings on it by asking myself internal questions that lead into the questions I ask her. I’m searching for what’s really going on here, both with her and more universally what she was being called in to learning:
· If this is challenge, where is the support?
· What part of her needs equilibrating with challenge?
· What is this showing or revealing to her, for growth?
· Where is the other side?
· What are the benefits to her in experiencing this challenge?
· What is the resilience she’s missing?
· What else is here? etc
After quite a few questions and checking-in on how she felt about different aspects of it, we hit ‘the home run’….
In another crescendo of tears, Jade replied to one such question “It’s just that when I go play with x, y and z at playtime they have all these conversations I don’t know anything about!”.
Ahhhh, now it was making sense to me. “So you feel left out of your special friendships?” “YEEESSS” she wailed. “That’s tough” I replied and again sat with the tears until they had subsided.
I could see how she had drawn the dots. This year was the first year she was in a classroom without any of her ‘special possy’. It had been something we’d worked on over the January school holidays to prepare her for, something I’d worked on with her teacher and largely had seemed to go quite smoothly. This was part of why it wasn’t fitting for me that all of a sudden she was feeling left out in the classroom. But I'm not going to lie, part of me wanted to stop here, It would have been easier to stop here. It would have been simpler to run with her feelings of being the victim and ask her teacher to sort it out in the classroom. But ultimately, it wouldn’t have fixed anything, because it wasn’t the real issue. However, in Jade’s mind at this point in time, if she were in a classroom with her special friends, she wouldn’t be feeling left out at playtime. It all made sense to me.
Social dynamics are by far the hardest to help our children through as they grow, and they never disappear, just morph form.
‘Luckily’, I’ve been bullied and I’ve transcended that wound. I’ve been a social misfit, societal outcast and fringe dweller and I can see how all of those experiences have shaped me and helped me be more congruent with who I am…so I’m also the perfect teacher for her and I was willing to step up.
“Do you think the real issue is you feel disconnected and isolated from your special friendships, not your classroom?” “yeeess” she stammered and then for the first time in our conversation, looked deeply into my eyes – connection, she was back on line, here was the crux. The sweet spot.
I empathised with how hard and fickle friendships can be. Then I began the resilience repair work. It is now my 'job' to call out her victim, help her find the wisdom and expand her toolkit to handle herself and her feelings.
“If you said how you were feeling to your friends, what would happen?” she said one friend would notice, probably the others wouldn’t. “Ok, so some friends are more sensitive than others, that doesn’t mean they care less, it’s just who they are and what they respond to. If you said how you felt in your more dramatic, funny style like ‘OMG guys! I have NO idea what you’re talking about!!’ and hammed it up a little, do you think they would notice?” “Yes” she smiled.
“So here’s the thing my love, if you don’t tell people how you are feeling, they don’t actually know. If you don’t give them a chance to respond to you, nothing changes. That’s not to say that it will change the outcome, but you have to be willing to give them an opportunity to change and you an opportunity to be heard.
So, either you choose to say what you feel in a softer way, and likely you’re more sensitive friends will notice. Or, you choose to say how you feel with a bit of humour and likely your less sensitive friends will notice. Or, they won’t. In which case, what are your options?”
We’ve had discussions in previous years about ‘finding your happy’; if where you’re at and who you’re with is no longer making you happy, you have a choice – stay, or find your happy. It’s a big playground out there, so look around the school yard and go find your happy, it will be happening somewhere.
I let enough time go by for her to come up with her own solutions before we discussed them; stay because you want to, or go find your happy with another friend or group of people playing something you want to play. She was satisfied with those options.
Our role as teachers in our parenting is not to solve their problems for them, not to remove their problems for them, but to gently guide them through discovering more of themselves and this world through the experiences they find themselves in.
So I don’t enter a situation looking for who’s right and who’s wrong. I don’t look for the victim in my child. I don’t look for how to save them. I look for what is missing, what this experience is calling them in to own and grow through and this is where I place my toolkit. This is where resilience starts and ends with our children, not by saving them from challenge.
Our conversation ended with cuddles, again an option, not a demand. She chose to be ‘wrapped up’ in-between her father and I in our bed. After a bit, her father put her siblings to bed and she sat next to me where we read for a half hour, side by side. She went to bed loved up, content and happy.
What a conversation. What a journey. I didn’t think we’d end up where we did, but I was grateful and humbled by the continuously evolving parent-child dynamic; our children’s behavior is never separate from our own.
It is so interesting to me to consider the mirror in this situation for myself; where do I need own my voice and express how I’m feeling? Well, actually at the moment I also have two friends I need to do this with…but its easier to avoid and just sit ‘quiet and unhappy’. So my advice, as much as it was for my daughter, was also for myself. I have to be willing to stand up and model exactly the behaviour I’m asking my daughter to. Our children learn vicariously, its what we do not what we say that matters most.
This again reinforces for me the importance of doing the work on ourselves, so we can show up in this world as the mother and woman we want to be. The wounded healer is only useful if those wounds have been transcended.
If you're ready to really understand support and challenge, dynamics at play beyond behaviour and how it's all interconnected to your own growth - then you're ready to come and join us for 5 interactive weeks in June for our Loathing to Loving Program.
Julie Tenner is Co-founder of Nourishing The Mother and is The Pleasure Nutritionist. Julie is a Naturopath, specialising in women’s and children's health, with specific focus on awakening women to their full potential – health for the mind, body and soul – creating lasting life change for you and your family by “coming home” to your magnificence.