“I was only trying to help!”
Yeah but, I didn’t want help… I just wanted you to say “Oh that’s crap, poor you.” and hold me while I cry.
So many times I have tried to vent to a friend or family member about various different things at various different points in my life, and they have the absolute best intentions of trying to help, trying to resolve, trying to find the answer for me… that they miss the fact that I just need to feel the sadness for a bit.
I need someone to understand.
I want to be heard.
I want someone to be here for me.
Imagine, having the absolute worst day ever, it’s gone on for what seems like a week, literally everything that could go wrong – went wrong, to top it all off you fell out with a friend and left your phone on the train.
You come home and vent to your partner, start crying and they say “Well, just call the train company from my phone, open the laptop and message Tracey, pour yourself a glass of wine, tomorrows a new day!”
Oh. Great. Problem solved!
Why didn’t I think of that!?
Righty ho then, i’ll dry my tears immediately and get on with it!
Except that’s not going to work is it?
Now, on top of your sadness and frustration, your are feeling a weeny bit of anger towards your well meaning partner.
All you wanted was a hug.
For them to say “Oh love, what a hideous day, come here. I totally get why you would be angry with Tracey and I would be lost without my phone. That totally sucks. What can I do?”
I hear you.
I’m here for you.
The most IMPORTANT words to remember when forging connected relationships with your children.
Not just children… everyone!
Your 7 year old storms into the living room from upstairs.
“I just found that Pokemon card I lost the other day and it’s ruined! It’s ripped in two places and it was one of my favorites!”
There are tears, a red face and you can sense some anger in there too…
“Oh dear, well… you do have loads of cards now, why don’t you find another one to be a favorite? Or we can tape it up?” You reason.
“No! It won’t be the same! You can’t even see the numbers properly anymore! I want THIS ONE!”
It doesn’t solve his problem.
He knows there is nothing that can be done.
He just wants to come to his safe space, you, and get some comfort from someone who understands.
Instead, validate his feelings and empathise!
Listen and let him know you are there.
He is going to feel those feelings whether you agree he should feel that upset about a piece of paper or not…
In his world, this shit matters.
“Oh no! That was one of your favorites? I can see how upset you are about that, i’m so sorry this has happened. Do you need a hug?”
Then let him ride through his feelings by being as upset as he needs to be for as long as he needs to be.
By shutting down his emotions and trying to problem solve, or tell him it’s not that big of a deal because there are solutions, you will not only make him believe that it is wrong to feel and express his genuine sadness – an emotion he can’t help but feel – he will also be more likely to avoid coming to you next time and choose to bottle his feelings up or express them in an unhealthy way.
What about younger children who can’t fully understand speech or aren’t quite talking age yet?
Your toddler has a sudden meltdown because they couldn’t quite get the angle right when trying to get the wooden cube into the shape sorter.
You come over to give them a hand.
You effortlessly get it inside for them.
They scream and cry even louder!
You completely miss the fact that they are upset because they are struggling to achieve what they want to achieve!
You solved the problem, but they wanted to solve it!
Toddlers get so frustrated and have what is known in society as ‘tantrums’ or ‘the terrible two’s’… but actually, they just can’t communicate what they are feeling yet.
And they know they can’t.
The vast majority of meltdowns in toddlers happen because they are trying to tell you something, you give an answer, but they don’t know if you understand what they mean.
They try again and again, repeating what they are trying to say with more and more frustration.
You need to repeat exactly what they are trying to say back to them so they know you understand.
They need to feel heard.
They need to know you are here for support.
Instead, approach them and say what you see.
“You are feeling upset because you can’t get it in there, you’re sad. Do you need a hug? Try again?”
The BEST advice I can give is, if in doubt – repeat what they have said, or say what you see. Validation. Empathy.
“I can see that you are feeling very angry.”
“You are very upset that you can’t find your teddy.”
“You are really worrying about your model getting broken.”
THEN offer support.
“How can I help?”
“What do you need?”
“Would you like a hug?”
“Would you like me to help you look?”
“Would you feel better if we found a safe place to keep it?”
Be completely lead by them.
If they want to problem solve, problem solve.
If they want to cry, hold them while they cry.
Keep letting them know you hear them and you are here for them.
Validate and Empathise FIRST!