Children can’t articulate what they feel or experience. It is the role of a parent to read through the behavior to understand the cues of emotions
Parents have a significant privilege over their children in a time of confinement: they can articulate what they experience; it doesn’t mean they can or are good at it. It is a matter of maturity, of disposing of a fully developed brain and some experience in managing emotions. In the relationship with children, age creates not only a privilege but also a rank over the immature; it is the older one who as to take care of the younger ones. In this instance, parents become servant leaders of their children: when your child faces emotions, you have the responsibility to support her in managing the sensation, the message, and the need they invite to meet.
What Is Parenting Agility?
Because children can’t name what they experience or reflect on the felt, they will use the only channel to convey that something is happening: their behavior. The physical body will be the messenger of what is happening deep down in their heart and mind. The agility of a parent is to be open enough to capture the signals in the smallest of cues. For example, your child is usually messy, and all of a sudden, she starts to tidy up her room. Siblings get along, but suddenly they jump at each other’s throat every night. Your son snaps too quickly when asked something. The change in behavior is a signal.
It is agility because no parents have been adequately trained in emotional intelligence. A few might be knowledgable through their profession or habit to learn on their own. But in the end, there is no one recipe to translate that one behavior in a child means that all are experiencing the same emotion. We wish! It is a crooked derivation of our 21st-century culture of control. We believe that everything works in sequence with a cause and effect process. The reality is messier. Each child will feel emotions differently, based on her personality, context, or history. So parents do need to pay much more attention and become explorers, not judges. Still, they can rely on the fact that all emotions mean the same: anger will always be explosive, joy will be radiating, sadness empty, and fear cold. Anger means providing recognition, joy success, sadness that there is a lack, and fear the need to be reassured and informed.
How To Be an Agile Parent?
The first step to parenting agility is to become more agile in dealing with your own emotions (you can find tips in my previous article on emotional distancing). The apparent reason is twofold: first, you need to stay calm when you lead the way, so you need the capacity to unwind or defuse your own emotions. Second, you need to understand the messages of emotions. They are four significant emotions, and each conveys a different message that leads to a different action. Once you can speak the language and recognize emotions through their energy, attitude, traits, and reactions, then you can enter agility.
Work With What Is
Non-emotional intelligent parents are rigid. They only understand a narrow strip of what is, so they want everything to fit in. They will tend to refuse anything that does not match what they know. It is the opposite of agility. An agile parent will agree to work with the emergent without trying to change it. Every voice or reaction in a system is right, partially. It reflects a different part of the system. Everything may seem to go well: the kids are healthy, you have an excellent work-life balance, yet, the youngest keeps regressing every day. He is right to feel that way. There is nothing wrong with that. It is not because from your point of view everything looks good that the youngest feels the same. He sees things you don’t. As an agile parent, you welcome any emotion as is, calmly, saying, “it is okay to feel like this.”
Describe What You Observe
An agile parent does not try to fix problems or avoid them entirely; he sits in the fire of emotions. He describes what is happening without any judgment. “I notice that you are both jumping at each other’s face lately,” “I see that you snap very quickly when I ask you something,” “I observe a new tendency for three days: you tidy your room.” Just reflect what you observe as the key to acknowledge and recognize what is happening. When you do so, you provide perspective to your child overwhelmed her felt experience. Her emotion drives her, so, when you put it as an object of reflection, she can look at it.
Turbulence, like an emotion, disturbs the process of things, and it is human to want to escape. How often do we avoid tackling a subject because we don’t want to face it? When anger shows up, we tend to avoid it because it is scary, or we avoid the relationship to swallow it alone. The role of an agile parent is to stay connected to demonstrate how the relationship is more reliable than anything. When you are present to your child amid a tantrum, you tell her she counts, and that who she is is lovable. The bond you have created is real, and she can feel safe to unload her emotion with your help (you can read more on the the power of attachment in my latest book Raise a Human Being, Not A Consumer).
Lead To the Next Step
Once you have your child’s attention, you can start to lead the way to what is possible from here. The agility here lies in the ability to read the emotion properly. Is it anger, sadness, fear, or joy? You can venture into the assumption to put words on what your child experiments. When they jump at each other, it might be a form of frustration. Maybe their space is not respected, their need is not satisfied correctly, and the other feels like a threat. When tidiness becomes a new habit, perhaps there is a form of fear of the unknown, so a child might want to control her surroundings as a way to cope. Snapping is irritation; maybe there is too much, and there is a need for a break or a safe space to breathe.
By guessing and putting words on the emotion, you will see your child nodding or calming down. Like when you chat with a good friend, and she puts words on what you feel, it is soothing. If you guessed wrong, venture to decipher the emotion differently. Be patient and loving. In the end, the agility helps any parents be energized by the relationship, feeling connected, competent, and useful.
Sara Bigwood | ORSCC | PCC
Wake Up (face your habits) to Grow Up (become your best self).