Monday, March 23, 2015

Getting to the Conversation Behind the Conversation

computer spill Q: I have a daughter who gets very angry when I try to correct her or remind her of basic household rules. I'm trying to stay calm, breathe, and think about what is driving her behavior, but I still can't seem to enforce the rules without her blowing up completely (for example, asking her not to have food and drinks around her laptop). When we are both calm later on, she isn't open to talking about her feelings. I don't know what else to do.

A: When our children can't express their feelings, we have to become vulnerable and open to them first. This, in turn, gives them the permission and safety to explore themselves at the emotional level.

If you are not being emotionally expressive, then she is not going to know how or feel safe enough to do this. Your job is to break the barrier. When you come back after an incident when you are both calm, instead of talking just about the logistics of what happened, explore the incident at an emotional level from the perspective of your heart.

For many children, however, the connection may need to happen more "in the moment" when they are raw, hurting, and already in an emotional state. Giving her permission to be angry right then, will paradoxically keep her from having to get explosive.

Any child who cannot accept corrections or simple feedback is a child who has deep fears of being rejected. Such a child lives with an internal belief system that says she is not good enough nor is she lovable.

Her response to anyone in authority is driven from an unwavering stance of: "I will never be rejected again. I will never allow anyone to be in charge of me. I will never get hurt again."

When she gets angry, which really means she is scared, address her internal belief system by flowing with what she is saying. "Dance" with her reactivity. Immerse yourself by listening to the conversation behind the conversation, not in a controlling way, but in a loving way. For example:

Mom: "I need you to move and eat your snack in the kitchen, please. That is the rule and that is what we agreed upon earlier."

Daughter: [Firing back immediately] "Why do I have to move to the kitchen? I'm fine doing my work right here. I'm not going to spill anything. How come every time I'm doing something, you have to interrupt me? I'm doing my homework; so just let me do this without bothering me! Just leave me alone."

Mom: [Pausing and breathing] "I know. It's really hard when I come in here. It is hard when I correct you, isn't it?" [Mom sits down, but not too close to her daughter and starts breathing to calm her own nervous system.]

Daughter: "What are you doing? I just want you to leave me alone right now."

Mom: "I know [Pausing and taking a deep breath]...I know. [Slowing down her speech] I have to hold the rule but more importantly, I need to make sure you're okay." [Mom is shifting from her head and into her heart]

Daughter: "I'm fine. I just need you to leave me alone. Please just GO somewhere. You always tell me you need me to do well in school. So now I'm trying to do my homework and you're bothering me. Will you please leave?"

Mom: [Pausing and taking a deep breath] "How is school going?" [Mom uses a gentle tone of voice with authentic concern]

Daughter: [no answer]

Mom: "School is a lot of pressure. It's a lot of work and I think I've been putting more pressure on you to do well, haven't I?"

Daughter: "Yeah." [with a sarcastic tone]

Mom: [Ignoring the sarcastic tone but heading into the conversation with curiosity and concern] "What class is your toughest?"

Daughter: "Math. It’s boring."

Mom: "You really don't like it, do you?"

Daughter: "No, it's stupid!"

And the conversation continues and shifts to issues surrounding school...

The mom in this dialogue stays very present and brings down her daughter's stress and anger by not reacting to the surface conversation. The mom could sense that her daughter's issue was more about school by the response her daughter gave immediately when asked to move to the kitchen.

The real issue wasn't about the drinks being close to the computer. Instead, the mom worked to listen to the conversation behind the conversation. The mom was able to hear that her daughter was stressed and worried about school.

The fear of not measuring up, not being good enough, and not being acceptable were the other driving forces around the daughter's disrespectful responses to her mother.

Once the daughter's concerns of school are fully heard, validated, and explored, then the mom would be able to return to the issue of the drinks and the computer. The boundary is still held in place, but more importantly, the daughter now has a greater sense of being worthy, loved, and understood by her mother.

Enter into these types of dialogues with the agenda of "knowing" your child verses "changing" your child. Respect, courtesy, and compliance will flow more naturally from a deep internal space from a child when the relationship is emotionally safe, secure, and loving.

Press on to get to the conversation behind the conversation!

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

No comments: