There’s nothing more natural when you see your child down and out to ask them “What’s the matter?”
I know because I ask my kids that question all the time.
But more likely than not, no matter how sincerely you ask the question, the response, if any, doesn’t give you much room to connect and comfort your kid.
All you want to do is help your child and relieve them of their distress, so why won’t they just fill you in on the details and let you help?
You know they want your support and comfort, so why do they make it so hard?
Here’s the deal:
Your kids are NOT trying to be difficult.
Just like you and me, when your kids experience strong negative emotions, sometimes they just don’t want to talk about it.
It’s also important to remember that even at the best of times, young children lack the vocabulary to express their emotional state; how much more so when your child is feeling down.
It’s a good idea to lower your expectations of how much or how well they can express their feelings with words and rather keep in mind that your kids are more likely to show you what’s going in for them.
Don’t get me wrong, telling their story is a necessary part of recovery, but in order to retrieve the details, and begin piecing together their narrative, they need to achieve a calmer emotional state first.
That’s where we come in.
Just like adults, before they share their story they need to know that they will be heard and supported.
Instead of insisting that your child give you a detailed run down of the events that led up to his or her sour state, try to notice what they might be experiencing. Look at their body, language, facial expressions and the tone of their actions. Try to feel what they are feeling.
Though it’s tempting, try to hold off on any questions until you’ve tuned in to your kids state of mind.
After all when our kids are met with conflict the best way to let them know that they are not alone and help them make sense of it is to join them in their pain.
Once you’ve connected with their internal experience you can compassionately suggest what you think they might be gong through “Suzy really hurt your feelings” or “you wanted to go down the slide and Mommy said you had to climb down the ladder”. Or you could then ask “would you like to tell me what happened?”.
My guess is that, with time and practice, if you tune in to their emotional experience before investigating the cause of their mood, they will tell you before you even need to ask.
This is such an important point, Liba. Thanks so much for the reminder! Something I need to keep working on myself, that’s for sure.