RESTORATIVE PRACTICES BLOG
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I remember my Dad telling me one day "parents don't always get it right." I don't remember what he had got wrong, but I remember the power that his apology had in that moment in validating a sense of injustice.
Build a child's sense of identity, who they are, what sense they make of their experiences and how the build resilience to cope with what the world will throw at them in the future, is so important. And yet as a parent I often get it wrong too. Even with all my training and experience, I still have days when I am Just. Not. Cutting. It.
I sometimes hear myself dismiss my son's concerns. Most often it is a misguided attempt to soothe his fears. But sometimes it is to "deal" with something quickly and get it "fixed" and "move on" because it is inconvenient for me to spend the time to really deal with his fears there and then.
Sometimes I feel intensely uncomfortable in just sitting with him and his fears, connecting with his worries and knowing I can't soothe them through wishing them away, but only through feeling them with him, validating and hearing him.
This article is really helpful in identifying things we commonly say to our children that do more harm than good.
In today's world where many children have so much and others so little, it has always been important to me to teach gratitude and gratefulness for the privilege we enjoy. For the many of us who have kids who want for very little - this comes with a challenge for parents. A challenge to ensure they don't become entitled. A challenge to ensure that they have what they need, but don't get everything they want. A challenge to ensure that they still understand what it is to earn something, to struggle for something or to go without, to wait and have patience, to prioritise one desire over another, to live in the real world. Because some day they will have to make their own way, hopefully teaching their own children these lessons and recognise they had privilege so that they can have gratitude for it and use what privilege they have to promote the needs of others.
Christine Carter said "If we want to be happy and raise happy kids, then we need to practice gratitude. The art of being grateful or we may end up feeling more entitled than appreciative. When we feel entitled we often stew about unfulfilled expectations. Disappointment is not a happiness habit, gratitude is."
There is a whole rake of research which shows that children are happier, healthier, more content, optimistic and more resilient when they feel gratitude regularly.
What can you do to teach gratitude? There are loads of ways but here are the 7 we use in our house.
1) Have your family count things they are grateful for. You can do this round the dinner table - we ask the kids to talk about one thing that they really enjoyed, felt good about each day or thankful for each day. What I love most about this is our relationships with each other are often the top feature in this discussion.
2) Use a gratitude jar. Fill this over the year with things that you notice about each other that you like or love. When you feel a little low, or angry or undervalued in your relationships - open the jar and share one or two of the contents with others. It will lift your spirits immediately and it's a great switch from seeing the negative in others (and yourself) to seeing the positive.
3) Lead by example. Comment on all the beautiful things you love and see in the world. Your children will start to do the same. My Dad used to do this and now I can never look at a mountain and just see a mountain - now I see every colour of purple and green and blue in that mountain. For me, I love the sunrise, autumn, that first glimpse of our home after a day at work, the smell of a peat fire, the glow of Christmas trees, the first hug of the day, the last hug of the day.....it goes on and on.
4) Get the kids to do an appreciation scrap book. Or if they are a bit older and like technology (like our three do) then give them your phone and tell them to get snap happy taking pictures of all the things they love on your family walk, around the house, out of their bedroom window, - you will be amazed at the beauty and happiness a child sees through their eyes. (I once got 436 shots of a blue and yellow trainer on my Iphone because Jacob thought they were super cool).
5) Express your thanks through service to others - it might be donating your time, your un-played with toys, your money, your skills, but giving something that would otherwise be of value to you gives children a great feel good factor. I love this pay it forward ideal. We have a Secret Santa who leaves potatoes, carrots, brussell sprouts and onions on our door step every Christmas. For the first year I wracked my brain trying to figure out who it was who made my Christmas with such a simple but generous gesture - then I realised it didn't matter who it was that did it - it mattered that I paid it forward. Now every year we select someone and under ninja like cover (great fun) we leave them a gift on their doorstep. It could be anything from warm slippers to a bottle of booze - the point is - we do it in secret and it makes us feel amazing and I know it will be paid forward thousands of time without any expectation of compensation.
6) Do something nice for the world, pets, animals, wildlife. Cook peanut butter balls for the birds, make a hedgehog feeding station, or crossing tunnel. Or you could just talk about the importance of recycling!!
7) Make a blessing table cloth or wall - we have a blackboard painted on our kitchen wall and the kids love writing messages on it. You can do this or use a white table cloth and get the kids to write the things they love and are thankful for on it. Every so often get it out and serve a fun dinner on it. Get them to sign their names and dates on it as they add to it. You can also ask visitors to do the same.
Have a great day everyone. LJ
Emotional regulation is the skill we learn to manage the occurrence, intensity and expression of our emotions.
The first step in regulating is being aware of the emotion we are feeling. Many children don't learn this skill, especially in these modern times when we are more disconnected than ever from our children's emotions, which are often played out and learned in their interactions with TV, gaming and social media. Their emotional vocabulary is becoming more and more limited and this poses a serious challenge for their ability to properly recognise what they are feeling and then managing it.
Emotional regulation is the foundation skill required to be able to then develop emotional intelligence in our children. Emotional Intelligence is the skill of being able to recognise in others their feelings and emotions and use that knowledge to think, problem solve, behave towards others and be in relationship with them.
Failure to be able to regulate emotions can create difficult behaviour in children such as anger, aggression, and anxiety leading to acting out (towards others) or acting in (towards self) behaviours.
Brene Brown points out that it is impossible to give a child what you have not got yourself so being able to regulate and manage your emotions is key for children to learn this by observing you.
She goes on to say that the job of parenting is not about "knowing it all" and teaching your children what to do. It is about being with them in their struggle, feeling with them, talking to them about their feelings and emotions, naming them, and confirming for them that they are real and normal, and helping them to build skills to problem solve these for themselves, sometimes even to just build the resilience of being able to tolerate the painful feelings. Feelings and emotions, once named and no longer kept secret and silent, lose their power to shame us. And it is shame that is the most detrimental emotion of all.
Shame. Do you have it? Here's the thing. We all do. Some of us deal with it better than others, yes, some of us are more aware of it when we experience it and process and recover from it more quickly or more whole-heartedly. But we all experience it. It does not discriminate between those who have money and those who don't, between race, religion or gender, between young or old or educated or not. It is experienced by us all, and often on a daily basis. So what is it? How does it affect us and what can we do about it?
Shame is the most base and powerful emotion we experience when something goes wrong in our lives. It has a powerful impact on our self esteem and our self confidence.
It is usually experienced in response to an event that presents evidence that we are "not good enough." These events can be anything from someone hurting you deliberately, to the loss of a loved one or the ending of a significant relationship. The message we internalise is that we are "not good enough to be loved," "not good enough to be respected," "not good enough to be protected," "not good enough to be prioritised."
The variety of ways in which shame can present in our lives as multiple, minor everyday events, or one off, major, life-changing events, mean that we cannot avoid experiencing shame. All of us. Even well adjusted adults, teachers, parents - me and you. They can be experienced at home within our families, in the community with our peers, and in school.
Take a moment to think about the last time someone communicated to you, either with their words or their behaviour that you "were not good enough." It might have been someone tailgating you on the way to work and you felt unsafe, it may have been harsh words spoken to you by your partner and you felt unloved, or it may have been someone using the last of the milk this morning, and you felt unimportant. In all of these examples, you felt "not good enough" to be protected, loved, valued.
As a result of this you will have presented a shame behaviour. It may have been very subtle or it may have been quite extreme. Shame behaviour or responses are an attempt to seek relief from the discomfort of feeling "not good enough" by behaving in one of the following four ways - what we call shame responses.
1) Denial or Avoiding, (with the purpose of not confronting the shame feeling and replacing it temporarily with another feeling)
2) Withdrawing, (with the purpose of not having to deal with the public face of the shame you have experienced or the risk of someone finding our about your private shame)
3) Attacking others, (with the purpose of discharging negative internal feelings and transferring them out of you and onto someone else)
4) Attacking ourselves (with the purpose of punishing ourselves for being not enough).
Each of these shame responses can be exhibited singularly or in combination and they can present in a range from mild to extreme. Below are example of a mild and an extreme example for each.
To Deny or Avoiding Behaviours
A mild example might be to pour a large glass of wine and ask your partner to watch escapist drama on Netflix with you so you don't have to think about whatever has shamed you, whereas an extreme example would be to engage in a serious drinking binge, or to be involved in addiction or other life risking behaviours such as poly drug misuse, joy riding. Anything to switch the feeling of shame with another feeling of temporary excitement or pleasure.
A mild example might be to take a sickie from work or school, whereas the most extreme example is to withdraw from life, to feel so shamed by an experience or set of experiences that the need to withdraw permanently and irrevocably from feelings of any sort becomes preferable to living with the feelings of shame.
Attacking Others Behaviours
A mild example might be to swear at someone under your breath, through more serious behaviours like bullying or trolling on social media. More extreme examples would be to seriously assault someone, the most extreme of all of course being to kill another person or living animal.
Attacking Self Behaviours
A mild example of attacking self would be the negative self talk, sometimes spoke aloud, sometimes just a voice in your head that says "You're rubbish at this," "You'll never get that job - don't even both applying" or "look at how fat you are" through to more extreme examples such as self harm.
Recovery from Shame Experiences - Time and Perspective
Time and Perspective are two things that assist us to recover from these shame behaviours.
Having the time to process, and recover from one shame experience before another is anticipated is crucial. This is why children sometimes have extreme reactions to minor disappointments or upsets, because they have experienced a layering of shame events and have had no time to recover from one before the next has arrived. Then when someone scratches the surface there is a gush of shame responses that come out in response to all those which have not yet been recovered. Helping children (and yourself) to build in time to process shame feelings is a fundamental self care strategy.
Being able to gain perspective is equally crucial. This is usually done in communion with others as perspective requires you to get outside of yourself and see this from another person's view point. Therefore strong and trustworthy social networks are fundamental in assisting individuals to see that there are different ways of thinking about an event that happened to you other than that you were "not worthy" of love, protection, thought, help etc.
So what can you do about it?
Shame survives in secrecy. It grows when you can't get perspective on it. So talk about it. Find a trusted other and tell them that you are feeling less than, not good enough, ignored, undervalued, not pretty enough, not clever enough, not protected, or any of the other shame feelings you have. Talking about that feeling carves out the time and space that you need to start processing it, to start measuring the evidence against the reality. And doing it with trusted others allows you to get the perspective that your own negative self talk won't let you have. And if you see someone else struggling with shame, help them to carve the space and time out in their relationship with you to talk about the feelings of not being enough, and help them to gain perspective by testing the evidence with them.
Shame has huge implications for individuals ability to meet their potential, to achieve in both your professional and personal life and so it merits thinking about what your pattern of behaviour is when you experience shame and how you process it, whether you carve out time and space for perspective. If you want to know more about shame, and how it impacts on a child's ability to learn and reach their potential, then reach out for a conversation about our restorative workshops and online training at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ever felt like your child has just unloaded a full artillery of bullets on your head just because you ran out of ketchup? Ever felt like the student in front of you hates you as he unloads reams of words that even the Urban Dictionary would have difficulty putting in print? Has it left you reeling? Bewildered? At a total loss as to what to do, say or feel?
Developing emotional intelligence in children can be an overwhelming and daunting journey. But so crucial in creating well adapted, strong and capable children.
Here are 4 first steps to begin your journey.
It can be so hard to live in the knowledge that you can’t “do” anything about the pain, struggle or challenge that the child in front of you is in. But what if you consider that your job is not to protect them from that pain, struggle or challenge, rather your job is to help them cope with the feelings of shame that come from these struggles and challenges? To enable them to gain perspective, tolerate their difficult feelings and learn that they will survive the big emotions they are currently experiencing. What if you began to realise that the most valuable “what can I do” is to empathise with what they are experiencing. Just being understood helps small (and big) humans let go of troubling emotions. If the reaction seems out of proportion then remember we all bottle up big feelings until we are in a safe enough place to let them go. And if you are that safe haven - then you are doing something right. But it can still sting like a bugger when those feelings are all laser focused in your direction at once.
Empathising doesn’t mean you have to agree with the child, but you do have to appreciate the situation from their side. They may have to toe your line when it comes to house or school rules, boundaries are important and children need them to feel safe and secure, but they are still entitled to have feelings about your rules. And as long as they aren’t breaking any other rules such as damaging stuff or physically harming people then give them a private space to express their feelings to you. And remember, what you experience as anger (a surface or psuedo-emotion) is always underpinned by a real emotion - for example hurt, disappointment, sadness, fear or frustration and sometimes in my case, hunger!! We've all heard of hangry right?
Why this encourages emotional intelligence:
* Feeling understood helps children to feel soothed. Over time that neural pathway you are teaching them to strengthen is what they will use to soothe themselves as they get older. The more you soothe them the stronger that neural pathway gets, a little like a new path that gets carved out on a trek by years of people using that shortcut through.
* Children develop empathy by experiencing it from others. Role modelling - plain and simple - children will learn more from what you do, than what you say. My son is a classic example of this, with his Autism he is a visual learner, and he is into repetition BIG time. I see and hear my behaviour in him daily often in the exact words that I use, which admittedly can be a little self confronting, especially when its a frustrated word that has slipped out and been muttered under my breath. He has ears like Batfink!
* Helping your child to think about their experiences and what happened that they feel this way about it, teaches them to connect triggers, to feelings, to behaviours. Being able to name the feeling allows them to express it which externalises it so they don’t have to bottle it up internally like a pressure cooker. When a child can say what they feel, they can communicate problems more clearly and immediately to others, which prevents the escalation of behaviour which goes a little like this. I have a scowl on my face because I am not happy. You don't see my scowl? OK, now I am stomping around with a scowl on my face because I am not happy. You don't hear my stomps or see my scowl? OK, now I am stomping around, with a scowl on my face and kicking things because I am not happy. You don't see my scowl, or hear my stomps or see me kicking things? Ok now I will scowl, stomp, and kick YOUR things. Ah! Now you notice I am unhappy. Pro tip - when you see the unhappy behaviour - name it straight away, over time children will learn it is safe to name feelings, and that when they do, things get done to help.
2) Allow expression
Don’t dismiss, trivialise or shame your child’s feelings. “Big boys don’t cry” or “shhh don’t make a fuss” are stifling responses to a child’s way to express their emotions.
Firstly it shames them, which has a very destructive impact on their self identity, and secondly it encourages them to deny the validity of their feelings. For more on this check out our training on Restorative Practices in particular the process of shame, unresolved shame and the impact on growth mindsets.
Just think how important it is in today’s environment of increasing suicidal ideation in children, that we don’t prevent our children from getting big emotions out and not bottling them in until they can no longer cope. Repressed feelings don't fade away, like feelings that have been freely expressed do. Instead they spill out uncontrollably, and unexpectedly when a child suddenly hits another child, starts to have nightmares or develops anxious behavioural patterns.
By the same token think about the message we are sending to a child who is feeling scared of a predatory adult if we teach them “not to make a fuss”. Children, especially young children aren’t able to differentiate between what is something you should make a fuss about and something they shouldn’t. Instead, teach that the full range of feelings is understandable, part of being human and have the right to be expressed, even while some actions must be limited.
Why this encourages emotional intelligence:
* Your tolerance of your child’s emotions helps your child to tolerate their own emotions too. This tolerance is what enables us to sit with the emotions until they can accept them and then move on. This is emotional regulation.
* Your acceptance enables your child to realise that emotions are not shameful or bad, and that they can with time and support change, reduce or become less acute. They also learn that everyone has difficult feelings and even the not nice parts of our personalities do not make us bad, just human.
3) Listen to your child’s feelings.
All behaviour is communication and if you don’t listen to and reflect the child’s feelings back to them, they will continue to express their feelings in every escalated ways until the message they are trying to communicate lands and you get it.
Once they feel they’ve been heard, they will let them go and get on with their life. This means creating an environment in which your child feels you are genuinely present and listening to them. So put the phone away, turn the TV off, ask the question.
Why this encourages emotional intelligence:
* The natural flow of human emotions is like a surfers wave. They flow through us, overwhelm us, and then fade away again. My previous post on grief, loss, divorce and corona virus deals with an example of how important and effective it is to listen to and name a child's difficult feelings. When we deny them they get stuck inside us. Children are not yet skilled in handling their strong emotions, so they try to avoid them until they feel safe enough to experience them.
* When we help our children feel safe enough to feel and express their emotions, we not only relieve the toxic stress they are experiencing in their brains and bodies, but we also help them trust their own emotional capabilities, so that they can handle bigger stuff like social and intimate relationships as they get older, without destructive tantrums or repression.
4) Teach problem solving
Emotions are messages to communicate needs and wants. Teach your child to tolerate the emotions so they can express their needs and wants while realising they may not have them all met all of the time, and once they aren’t in the grip of intense emotion anymore, to problem-solve and take action if necessary.
Most of the time, once the child feels their emotions are understood and accepted, they quieten and lose their intensity. This creates space for problem solving.
Sometimes, kids can do this themselves. Sometimes, they need your help to formulate possible options. Resist giving them the answers unless they ask or there is an immediate safety issue as this communicates that you believe they are incapable of handling it themselves and this will create a fixed mindset of “can / can’t” instead of a growth mindset of “can’t yet.”
Why this encourages emotional intelligence:
* Children need to practice how to find constructive solutions to problems and that means we have to model it for them and allow them the space to struggle.
* Research shows that empathising with children is not enough because they still feel lost and overwhelmed in their their emotions. Teaching them to respect their feelings as alerts about things they need to do differently in their lives increases their sense that they have the ability to influence and change their experiences. This personal power (so important for every human being's sense of safety and security) or self-efficacy is crucial in children feeling capable, confident and empowered.
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer, mum, partner, mediocre saxophonist and excellent chocolate quality controller. You can contact her for more information on training and consultancy services at email@example.com