It’s an understatement to say that being a parent can be tough. Filled with ups and downs, trials and tribulations, it’s the longest rollercoaster you’ll ever get on.
Perhaps one of the toughest parts, especially when they are young and not quite ready (or willing) for a full on ‘deep and meaningful’ conversation, is figuring out the why?
Why is my child doing X? or Why is my child feeling Y?
This rollercoaster of parenthood can be pretty extreme, one moment you’re tearing out your hair that “he just won’t stop doing ……..” the next you’re facing down sleepless nights because you can see that “she’s sad, but I just don’t know why…?”
Let me be upfront, I can’t give you a crystal ball that lets you see all the answers to these questions (goodness knows I wish I had one), but I can give you 3 steps that may help get you just a little closer to them.
Step 1: Observe
I want you to keep in mind that behaviour, especially young children’s behaviour, is their language – it’s how they communicate with us, how they tell us what they want, need, and what they are experiencing.
Now, we almost always see what our children do, but rarely do we observe it, and here’s the difference; when I say we “see”, I mean that we’ve used our eyes to watch what our child is doing and we’ve assumed what it is that they are doing.
We’ve “seen” that a equals b, seamlessly allowing our minds to fill in the blank with preconceived ideas and knowledge, and perhaps even allowing this information to be coloured by our own feelings at the time.
It’s like listening to half of what someone has to say and then assuming you know where they’re going with it – you might be right, but you might also be wrong.
So often I will have a parent tell me their child was “being defiant”, when, if observed without conclusion and when not overwhelmed by their own emotion, it may not be defiance after all. Try observing without rushing to a conclusion.
Step 2: Curiosity
I often find myself advising parents to “be curious” when it comes to their children. Be curious about them, and be curious with them.
Instead of assuming an answer or a reason, wonder about it. Go back to the step above and see what happens when you observe with curiosity…do you notice something you’ve never noticed before? Maybe now you can see a pattern, a trigger or an outcome that before you couldn’t “see”.
I find that outcomes are particularly intriguing…what may have looked liked your child just “trying to annoy you” may actually have been him seeking your attention, and going about it in the only way he saw possible in that situation.
Curiosity with your child can be invaluable, and it can often make your job just a little easier. You can take almost any question from a child, or even from yourself, and instead of trying to simply provide an answer (which, as any parent knows, can be incredibly difficult, if not impossible at times), you can simply be curious together.
By doing this, you no longer have to provide the answer (which you may or may not have), you let yourself off the hook, and you provide your child with the opportunity to learn and explore. I have been truly floored at the insight and imagination some children have when an adult takes the time to be curious with them.
Step 3….Step into their Shoes.
This is the step that ties all three so beautifully together – indeed it can not occur without the steps above. It also happens to be the approach I take, and advise, with every child I work with. Every. Single. One.
I personally, do not agree with the notion that children are ‘mini adults’. Developmentally this just cannot be true, but thankfully for us, they are very much ‘mini humans’. This, perhaps silly distinction, is important because it means that we often already have the tools we need to try and understand our children, especially when things are not going well.
I encourage you to take a moment (after having done the steps above) to really step into your child’s shoes and see and experience the world as they do (this is where being ‘mini humans’ helps – we can still see what they see, if we try).
Let me give you a rather simple, but common example…
Imagine a young child in a classroom, say lower primary, and they are struggling big time.
The child next to them is driving them nuts (maybe they’re talking too much or making annoying noises), the teacher is constantly talking at the class, there are kids everywhere, they’re tired and they just want to BURST!
Then the child next to them makes just one too many annoying noises and BOOM, an emotional flood escapes, resulting in a less than stellar behavioural choice, and the child is sent from the class in BIG trouble.
Now, we might sit back and “see” how the child has behaved poorly, and how he “just can’t control his behaviour”. We might then go about putting consequences in place for such behaviour to ensure this “naughty” child learns to behave.
But what if we observed with curiosity, and stepped into his shoes? We might then see that this is just too much for this child to experience and contain, and that his tolerance just isn’t up to the task.
And here’s the kicker…an adult, in an equivalent scenario, would likely be able to leave the room before they “lost it”.
Maybe they pretend to need the loo, maybe they pretend to take a call, maybe they don’t make any excuse at all and just leave to calm themselves for a few minutes……can our child do that?
Often young children are still learning this self-awareness and many schools don’t allow children to just leave the classroom, so it’s not likely. But now that we’ve had a look at the situation through their eyes (and hopefully even been curious with them) we can work toward a solution that meets this child’s needs, and doesn’t punish him or label him as a “naughty” child. So, I did tell you there were 3 steps, but actually there are 4…
2. Be curious (with and about)
3. Step into their Shoes
4. Use what you’ve learned to help them. You’re now a lot closer to answering the “why” and making the changes your child actually needs.
Stepping into someone else’s shoes can be incredibly helpful, but it can also be tricky, especially if your own emotions might be getting in the way.
If you feel like you need some help stepping into your child’s shoes, or feel as though you could use a little extra help to understand or support your child, feel free to contact Attuned Psychology on 8361 7008 and one of our experienced psychologists can help you to develop these skills.
Subscribe to our newsletter Attuned Life
Would you be interested in receiving our occasional newsletter, event information and other useful tips via e-mail?