Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"Stuck? Here is a cheat sheet to get you started."

cheatsheetQ: I have been trying to implement the Beyond Consequences model of parenting but in the moment when my child is resisting, I get stuck. I truly don't know HOW to make emotional connection and I was wondering if you might have a "cheat-sheet" of some kind to help jump start me during these times my mind goes blank.

A: If you do not have a blueprint of a parent making emotional connection with you as a child, being able to do this as a parent is like trying to speak a different language. Unfortunately, most 
of us grew up in families where our parents intellectualized, minimized, or flat out ignored our emotions so we simply do not have a solid blueprint.

Here are a few ideas to keep in mind when you are working to make an emotional connection with your child:
  • Remember that you cannot make the connection happen...you can only create an environment for it to happen (relieve yourself of the pressure).
  • You are simply there to support and to encourage your child.
  • When your child begins to express his/her feelings, validate, encourage, and stay present with your child in the moment. Watch the body for signals (80% of communication is non-verbal).
  • Help to keep the process focused on the emotional piece. "How did that make you feel." Look at the child's face, "You look really mad" or "You look really scared." Avoid solutions at that moment.
  • Get out of the logistical details and help your child into his/her feelings. "Tell me how it felt when that happened."
  • If your child begins to slip back into a cognitive/rational place, watch the body for when they constrict when talking. When you notice this, encourage your child to go back to the emotional piece that goes with the story being told. Stay open to his/her process.
  • You have to be able to handle the depth of emotional pain your child is experiencing. If he senses you are getting overwhelmed, he will cut the story short in order to make you okay.
With these ideas in mind, I'm also going to list some actual phrases that might be helpful.  It is very important not to say these words like a script, however. Your child will know immediately when the words are being given from the head as opposed to the heart. Use your passion as a parent to convince your child that you want to know his struggle. 

If your child rejects your efforts, saying something like, "You're just trying to therapize me!" You can be honest with your reply, "It probably feels that way! You're right. But I know the more I offer my love and connection, the better off we are going to be."
  1. "I know it is hard, but the more you keep it inside of you, the harder it gets." 
  2. "I need to know how bad it was for you."
  3. "You're not in trouble."
  4. "Give yourself permission to have a voice."
  5. "How did that make you feel?"
  6. "Stay with it, Billy. You're not alone in it."
  7. "Open up to the pain. You're safe now, so let it out."
  8. "I had no idea this was so hard for you!"
  9. "Breathe. Take a deep breath." (Take a deep breath to model it for your child).
  10. "I've gotta have it...I need to have your feelings."
  11. "You don't have to carry it all."
  12. "That's too much pain to have all by yourself. Can you let me share it with you?" 
  13. "I want to understand you better and if I know how you feel, I'll be able to do what you need me to do."
  14. "I love you no matter how you feel."
  15. "Give yourself permission to have a voice. I'm listening."
  16. "I can handle whatever you went through."
  17. "Look at me, Billy."  (If the child begins to hide in shame, have him/her stay connected with you, but never force eye contact.)
  18. Use your own story to connect: "I remember when I was a little girl and a friend of mine was really mean to me...."
  19. Be quiet...if these words start irritating the child, slow down, sit down, be quiet, and just be present.
  20. Take responsibility for your child's pain. You may not have been able to change the situation in the way she/he needed you to. Yet, feel it with him/her. Join your child and open yourself to your own tears. Work to understand your child's perspective. "I'm so sorry it hurts you that I wasn't there...." 
  21. Avoid words like, "It's okay. It's over." Instead, invite them to give you more, "I know it hurt, show me how much it hurt." Be conscious of your conditioned response of making it better. Allow your child to drop the feelings completely. Ironically, we try to avoid the feelings to make it better, yet acknowledging the feeling and allowing the child this emotional space is precisely what will make it better. 
  22. Feel the pain with your child and open your heart. Your child will only open up as much as you are opened up to the pain. 
  23. Maximize instead of minimize. Go into the pain and the story to explore the issue without down playing or negating what your child is sharing. Getting your child back to a sense of reality will come later, after the emotions have been expressed. 
  24. Trust in the process...the outcome is determined by staying present in each moment of the process!
Practice this with your friend, spouse, partner, and even your boss! The more you live out of the emotional side of being human, the more natural this will come to you. 

Send me the phrases you come up with and I'll compile an even larger list to publish in next month's eNewsletter so we can all work on this together!

Press on, 
Heather T. Forbes, LCSW
Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2,
Dare to Love
, and Help for Billy.

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