How to "Be with" our children


I will be honest—I am a recovering Dismissive person. So what does that mean? My shark music tends to ramp up when there is an emotional need that enters my inner circle unexpectedly, uninvited, or feels unknown to me (coming back into my circle). . .it is worse when I’m tired, overworked, or have failed to remain mindful in a situation (i.e. when my youngest comes to me in tears after he fell off his bike—rather than brush him off by merely glancing at his hurt arm, I can choose to acknowledge his hurt and embarrassed feelings AND sit with his emotions without becoming rattled myself so I can help him make sense of what happened—that attuned parent). These patterns were intrinsically woven from my early and complex beginnings which taught me (pre-verbally) that big emotions are scary and dangerous—so I need to dampen the discomfort quickly so it will not become overwhelming and dismiss the feeling.

More preoccupied adults have learned that it feels more dangerous when emotions are distant because emotional reactivity was the “litmus” test to determine if their needs would be met. If their parent was emotionally engaged and then “gone,” it became unpredictable and frightening for an individual to know if or when they would return. Thus, in adulthood, when their children or loved ones move away from them emotionally, their shark music goes off and they may feel the deep need to draw them back in to their circle.

Securely grounded, or earned secure, individuals are aware and intentional regarding their emotional needs. They are not afraid to ask for help and welcome others in and out of their circles fluidly. They delight in their children and loved ones explore. They tend to be more aware of when they are emotionally “triggered” and work to intentionally make changes. Though, individuals may have had a more difficult past history, they have some intentional work to make sense of their past. They are able to coherently discuss positive and negative aspects of their histories without dampening emotions, pretending it never happened, blaming others, or launching into anger. . .they are able to own and “sit with” their emotions wholeheartedly—and see others perspectives more compassionately. It frees them to really “see” another and not let their junk get in the way. . .and by the way, that is hard to do. This must become habitual.

None of these patterns are binary—such as good or bad. They are downloaded before we had words. We move in and out of these in different relationships and circumstances. When you are aware of your universal “go to” response when you are stressed, tired, or triggered, it builds a bridge for change and awareness. Kids intrinsically know if their parents can “hold” their big feelings, particularly sadness and grief. When parents put words with their feelings, they can more genuinely navigate those spaces with their child(ren).

When you become more aware of those reactions, you can become more emotionally present and recognize your shark music for what it is. . .just shark music that cannot hurt you. When we become aware of our shark music, we can become more aware of when this plays in the background and intentionally do something different to remain more attuned, present, and hopeful with our loved ones. It is not about perfection, but awareness. And that introspection is not easy work for anyone—including myself.

Mary Main, Ph.D. has repeatedly shared this —“Without awareness there can be no healing.” We cannot heal what we refuse to reflect upon or acknowledge. We cannot bring others into a deeper sense of healing if we fail to do continual introspective and hard work ourselves. Children and adults who have been impacted by early trauma, abandonment, and multiple losses through divorce, foster care, domestic violence, adoption, deathof loved ones, abuse/neglect, and much more need those in their lives to do their work, too. Many times people enter counseling due to those closest to them who refuse self-reflection—that is the heart of attunement and safety or not.

Some questions to consider in your own reflection:

1.      When my loved one or child does ____________, I tend to react this way ______________. I wonder where that reaction came from? Where did I learn that?

2.      When I was emotionally upset as a child, what did I do?

3.      How was grief and loss approached in my family? Who got privilege to express emotion?

4.      Where in my body do I feel the most stress? When does that happen? (becoming aware of body response is a first step)

5.      What feelings can I name today? Which ones are more uncomfortable to me? (Adults must recognize their feelings before kids can).

Working towards integration and healing is a lifelong journey, but I’m thankful each of you are on that path. I’m thankful that through Christ’s grace-filled heart that I’m renewed daily—and a cure is not singularly earthly, but heavenly and redemptive. With every mistake, and we all make those daily, with awareness and humility we can acknowledge the shark music and repair when we need by God’s grace and power to meet us where we are at—just as He meets each child. It is good to know that we are all along on this journey together—and that not one person has this down perfectly:

“There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands fully.” –Romans 3:10

I encourage parents to stop and give their kids nurture every day as a ritual. . .Deb Wesselman, LCSW, shared this approach—10-20-10. These are simple connection techniques that are not meant to be withheld as punishment. This is ritual regardless of the day. It helps ground you and your child together. . .try this with your loved one, too. This is about “being with” and “noticing.” Ithits the deep primal brain and activates the attachment system to help rewire experiences. It is grace embodied.

10-minutes of connection in the AM—from brushing hair or teeth together, rubbing backs, waking up a child with a song, something soothing and simple. . .not a lot of words, just learning to be together and notice each other in a loving, healthy way

20-minutes after school or work—no discussion of homework or school, but eat a snack with your child, draw together, play a game, go for a walk—this is about regulation and connection so a child can reconnect with you after a long day—and then jump into dinner or homework

10-minutes at night—lotioning, sing to your child, read a book, tuck in, weather maps on their backs, just snuggle

If you are uncomfortable, notice that. . .sit with it. . .rather than negative self-talk—try, “I’m trying. And I will keep trying. I am teaching my child (and me) how to be loved and be lovable.

Melanie Chung-Sherman, LCSW-S, CTS, LCPAA