Your child yells Mummy in the middle of the night, you get up and run to his aid, but as you get there, he pushes you away, and any attempt to help is welcomed with loud nos, kicks, and punches. You conclude that for the moment is better for everyone to keep a certain distance and try to talk it over. You ask what happened, and he tells you, while crying, that he’s sad, angry, or scared. What would be your next question? Tempted to ask why? Well, don’t.

As a child, you are quite content to just feel things. To you, any feeling is more than justified by the fact that you are feeling it, and new feelings bubble up all the time. In fact, most of your energies are directed to trying to keep them in check at all time. But when one is too strong for you to control, your only option is to ask for help. You see mummy or daddy coming to the rescue and think “Thank goodness, they’ll know how to help me, what to do next”. But instead they ask questions, and the hard kind too! The sort of question you have no answer to, and for which–quite frankly–you‘d rather not find one right now. How is that supposed to help?

That’s the way we adults are hard-wired: we solve problems, but to do that we must first get a sense of what the problem is, and we do that by collecting more information. But if we cannot ask questions, what should we do instead? The advice from modern neuroscience is to be quiet and listen.

Be quiet is not the same as being cold and detached; we still need to help our little ones. Just don’t ask questions, and try not to approach what’s happening as a problem you need to solve.

Which is easy to say, but at four in a morning, when you haven’t slept more than twenty minutes all night, and there are other children in the house, a dysregulated child screaming his lungs out may seem like a problem at more than one level. But if you think of it, when was the last time that asking why your child feel the way he feels has solved anything?

What then? What are we supposed to talk about?

Let him do the talking, listen to what he says. Occasionally do say something, but make sure it has the effect of validating his feeling and reflect back what you hear. You will not be able to solve this “problem” for him, not when he’s so upset; he will have to find a way to regain control of his emotions on his own.

Our role is to be there, present, available for when things get better and he needs a hug, but before that, to make sure he knows somebody’s listening.


no-drama-discipline

References:

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