The power of connection
A while ago I posted a couple of posts about helping children deal with intense feelings. Today I felt inspired to add to them with a part three.
As usual, my inspiration came from observing my daughter who is now almost 5 years old. I noticed that she was going through a phase where she seemed to getting angry regularly. Most children get angry if they don’t get what they want, for example a new toy or that extra piece of cake. But there are times as a parent when you notice that there’s more to it, the anger is about something deeper.
I wrote about anger in both of the last blogs, but I’m going to write about it again because I think it’s an emotion that many of us feel really uncomfortable around. It’s often met with a lot of judgement, both from those on the receiving end and also those expressing it.
It’s very easy to condemn the person expressing it and try to get as far away from them as possible.
But anger is a response to something much deeper. When we are hurting and afraid what do we do? Unless we are completely comfortable with feeling hurt and afraid we lash out. Project our feelings outside ourselves as quickly as possible to avoid the pain. So there is a lot of fear in there as well.
Some of us don’t lash out though. Some of us were taught it’s not OK to express anger and so instead we try to stuff it down. This is where addiction and depression can come in.
So how do we help our children learn to deal with anger in a more healthy way?
It is said that the two wings of awareness in enlightenment, the two things we most need as human beings, are to be understood and to be loved. In essence – connection.
These are the two most primary needs a child has, and fulfilling them when a child is struggling with anger is incredibly powerful.
A simple way to do this is to wait for a pause in the anger, or until it has subsided enough for us to step in with a question, and then ask these simple words:
‘Where does it hurt?’ Without judgement and from a place of true compassion.
Offers an invitation to the child to stop for a moment and allow themselves to feel where the pain is. What we want to be able to do is hang out with the child and help them to discover what it is they really want. Hopefully this will lead to the child talking about it and this will help them to understand themselves better and also help the parent understand their child.
There is a lot of anger in the world today – compassion is lacking in so many ways. I am reminded as I write of a story I heard someone tell about a person who approached a dog and reached out to pet it. The dog lurched forwards, teeth bared and the person leapt backwards and cursed the dog for its aggression. A moment later the person saw that the dog’s paw was caught in a snare and in a flash realised the dog was aggressive because it was hurting.
If we can ask the question ‘where does it hurt?’ more often and try to understand, we will help ourselves and others so much.
In the next post I’ll write about asking ourselves the question and how doing so can help us heal deeply.
In this post I wanted to share a simple way in which you can explain to your child that strong feelings are a normal part of life, and nothing to be afraid of.
Have you ever noticed that young children can get really stressed when they feel anger? Suddenly their little bodies are filled with a powerful force that seems to take over, and they have no idea what to do with the energy of it.
I see it in my daughter, who is four, often.
I think as parents we sometimes think we have to teach our children how to ‘manage’ anger. But what if we could take it a step further and show them what anger really is? That way they would understand it, and not feel it was something they had to manage and fear.
Kids are very visual and imaginative. Using their imaginations to help them understand is much more powerful that simply ‘telling’ them.
A useful way to help them understand anger is to use the analogy of the weather.
The weather is the perfect example of what our inner world looks like. When at peace, our mind is like a clear, still blue sky. No wind. No clouds. No noise.
But when we are angry, our mind is like a stormy sky. Wind whips through, lightning flashes, and thunder roars.
When there is a storm outside we don’t try and control it. We know that, left alone, it will pass. Once it does, the sky will once again be clear, still and blue.
I told my daughter the other day that was what was happening to her when she was angry – a storm was blowing through her mind, and that it was noting to be afraid of. It was interesting watching her digest my words and I know that even at the tender age of four, it made sense to her.
Just to show how quickly children understand this, a few days later when I was feeling angry about something, my daughter said to me ‘Mumma, you have a big storm in your head. Please go away, I don’t want you to give me your storm.’
Helping children understand their feelings better empowers them to understand others.
Letting go of unwanted feelings
As parents, most of us spend a lot of time helping our children learn to deal with intense feelings such as anger and sadness. When children are really small they simply let it all out. But as they get older they start to become more self conscious and it becomes important for us to help them understand where their feelings are coming from, and how to move through them without fear or judgement.
In this series of blogs I will share tips and exercises to do with your child to help them:
- Let go of anger and frustration
- Accept their feelings as a normal part of life
- Understand where their feelings are coming from
In an ideal world we would have hours to spend with our child, teaching and helping them learn to understand strong emotions. But the reality is we live in a busy world, and often do not have time to stop when our child has a temper tantrum or a meltdown. Often this can lead to children learning to stuff intense feelings deep inside where they fester; and at some point in the future cause problems.
As we all know, during an average day we can feel a whole range of emotions from anger and frustration, to joy and peace. Children are no different. How they learn to move through the range largely depends on how they see others around them deal with emotions, and what we, as their parents and teachers, show them.
Below are two simple techniques to do with your child either at the end of the day, or anytime that you feel your child needs it, to help them understand their feelings better, and learn how to move through them. I use both with my daughter, and see very positive results. I also teach them to clients, and use them myself.
They are fun, creative, and therapeutic!
This is a technique that is useful to do at the end of the day before going to bed. When you are both relaxed, talk to your child about their day. Ask if anything happened that caused them to feel anger, fear, sadness, or similar. For example when they didn’t get something they wanted, or when another child did or said something they didn’t like. Ask your child where they felt the feelings in their body. Was it in their chest? Head? Then, ask them if they would like to let the feelings go.
If they say yes, you can encourage them to first of all thank the feelings for what they taught them, as it is important children learn not to judge feelings as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’
Following on from that, pretend to pull the feelings out of your child’s body, and throw them away.
This can be done in several ways. You can pretend to pull a string, perhaps cup your hands and gently lift the feelings out. Whatever works for you and your child.
What I do with my daughter is pretend to throw them out of the window and encourage her to help me. She absolutely loves this!
Children are so enthusiastic and imaginative – this can be a really fun and positive game for them. You may find they label their feelings according to things they perceive as ‘yucky.’ For example my daughter will often say she has zombie feelings, or monsters, or even poop! It is very empowering for them to realise they can let them go.
This exercise can also prompt your child to talk about interactions they have had with other children or adults, that have worried or stressed them in some way.
Once your child has let go of all unwanted feelings, (note – sometimes you have to end it, as often they will enjoy the process so much they would be pulling bad stuff out all night given the chance!) it is good to download happy, peaceful feelings.
Place your hand on your child’s chest, or top of their head, and ask if they would like to download happy, peaceful, and joyful feelings.
If they say yes, you can say ‘we are now downloading happy, peaceful and joyful feelings all through (name) body, so he/she has a beautiful and peaceful night’s sleep.
If for some reason they say they don’t want you to download happy ones, I suggest seeing if they will tell you why. If they won’t, don’t push it. Allow them to be in charge, as this empowers them. You will probably find after doing the exercise a few times they will get the hang of it, and be happy to download positive feelings afterwards.
This exercise is very similar to the pulling out exercise described above, but instead of pulling the feelings out of the body, your child blows the feelings he/she wants to release in to an imaginary balloon. Once they are in the balloon, encourage your child to let the balloon go. This is the fun part – encouraging your child to imagine a balloon of unwanted feelings spiralling round the room, just as a real untied balloon would.
Once the letting go is complete, you can imagine a selection of balloons filled with happiness, joy, peace, or similar. Ask your child which balloon they wold like to hold, and once they have decided, have them imagine breathing the feeling into their body.
The idea behind these exercises is to help your child feel more comfortable talking about and understanding their inner world. Done regularly these exercises help your child understand that they are able to choose whether they hang on to unwanted feelings or not. They learn to identify feelings more clearly, and also start to recognise situations and events that trigger certain reactions for them. This is a vital part of their development and self understanding.
I hope you find these useful – I’d love to hear about your experiences doing them with your child or children!
Belinda Bennetts is a holistic life coach, therapist and author. Find her at www.belindabennetts.co.uk