Littering has always been one of my pet-peeves. On a walk back from the beach one day, where we had cleaned up trash, my then 6yr old son raced back home as my 2 yr. old daughter and I lagged behind. My daughter spotted a beer bottle in our path, exclaimed “garbage” and darted to grab it. My mind instantly flooded with worry…what if she cuts herself? the germs? What would people think if they saw her holding a beer bottle!?
Yet, my heart wondered how I could tell her “no”? How confusing the message would be if it was OK to pick up trash at the beach but not here. Was it worth scolding to thwart a genuine gesture? She joyfully picked it before I could finish this internal debate. I thanked her and asked if I could hold it for her. She refused as she was determined to throw it in the bin herself.
“Follow your heart, but be quiet for a while first. Ask questions,then feel the answer. Learn to trust your heart.”
I took a deep breath and chose to let it be, yet struggled to stop worrying. I kept thinking about what if someone took a snapshot of this little girl holding a beer bottle. Would they call human services on me? How sad it would be that people could judge me without any context and awareness of the level of introspection that has gone into this moment. I felt angry at myself that instead of celebrating my daughter’s level of consciousness and sense of accomplishment, I was stuck in fear.
I was reminded of this story when on another outing my kids spent 20 minutes cleaning up cigarette butts from our downtown area. My son was going off on how people could treat the earth like this. I started to worry again but couldn’t get them to stop cleaning so I finally joined in. We made a game out it and it felt good.
There have been times where I did make some excuse about why we shouldn’t pick up litter and my son expresses, “It hurts my body to see the trash on the ground and have to leave it there.” I get teary-eyed just repeating that statement. Both my children truly understand that the world is not a garbage can and take responsibility to make it beautiful.
“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”― Jane Goodall
One day, my son was feeling badly about not living up to his potential. He expressed negative beliefs of “not being a good enough, being lazy, stupid, feeling guilty/shame about his choices and behaviors.” It hurts me tremendously to hear him share these deep negative beliefs as they are the same ones I have battled through much of my life and often triggers me into a dismissive reaction. Thus, no matter how much my partner and I told him how much we loved him and highlighted all the good things he does, he could not hear us and resisted our attempts. As a therapist, I know too well that our reactions and attempts to minimize his emotional pain were invalidating and actually making him feel worse. That one must first truly listen, accept, validate the speaker’s feelings and expressions so they may be able to process their pain and move on. Yet being a parent, feeling so responsible and sad for hearing your magnificent child feel so bad is hard to accept and cope with, especially on top of all of life’s other stresses.
After becoming conscious of my own insecurities and triggers, I then chose to respond by cuddling with him and remaining silent as he cried and vented. I agreed how painful this must feel. I apologized for the times my actions have led him to feel this way and that I will keep working on improving myself. I then shared a story of how I woke up early yesterday and caught a glimpse of the intense orange from the sunrise. I was reminded how blessed we are that *God gives a beautiful new horizon to awake and go to sleep with every day. I thought about Easter approaching and how many are celebrating how Jesus rose from the dead. I told my son that holidays are really just symbols of the gifts God gives us everyday. We have been given the gift to rise every day and try again to be more kind, helpful and align our beliefs with our actions.
My son immediately said “Thank You,” gave me a kiss and popped up exuberantly. He began to hug and say “thank you” to all the many items on his bed: his books; his new big, blue, soft blanket; his giant stuffed elephant, his fan, his light, etc. I then read him some stories, the last one was being I Believe In Me.Listening, holding a safe place, using respectful touch, and acknowledging feelings allows negativity to process which naturally leads to calming down and making new connections. The next morning, I was awoken early by my son meditating “Ohmmm, Ohmmm, Ohmmm.” He was inspired to start his day on a positive note. I wish every one to see the beauty and miracles given everyday and when you don’t, forgive yourself and others, and rise again.
Deep breaths and baby steps,
*I believe God is universal and defined by what feels best for you and your family’s belief system.
When my son was six years old, I had two teachers suggest that my son was “emotionally immature.” Honestly, these complaints were very hard for me to swallow on many levels, especially since I am passionate about emotional intelligence and helping children to cope with emotions.
I, as respectfully as possible, accepted and validated their comments because of course, he is emotionally immature: he’s six years old. I felt defensive, shocked and angered. I just wanted to rip my son away from these people who I had entrusted to care for him. I even home-educate my son because most affordable school environments, in my opinion, are emotionally neglectful and abusive.
I internally chewed long and hard on their statements. I really had to grieve this situation. I typically blame myself whenever negative situations occur and worried intensely if I had messed up somewhere… I felt guilty for adding stress to the teachers; Was I crazy for teaching him to question authority and share his feelings? From their point of view and context, I could see where they were coming from yet it sickened me that this is the mind frame of most.
I want to just shine a bright light on the world about emotional development… You see society tends to think that one is emotionally mature because they handle their emotions. This is true to a degree, but one needs to have opportunities to express their emotions in order to learn how to handle their emotions in various settings and relationships. There is a learning curve for every new dynamic or experience.
It seems we give kids until about the age of one to three years old to work this out, then we demand they listen and obey us without whining or tantrums. Sadly, what many think as an emotionally mature child is one who is appearing obedient under the guise of actually feeling fear and freezing (like in a state of fight, flight or freeze). They don’t know what to do but have learned that more negative energy will be directed at them if they don’t just stop. Eventually, this leads to suppressing emotions and even dissociating when triggered in stressful environments. Far worse consequences and dysfunctional patterns develop from here.
Here’s is one my favorite quotes about emotional development and children:
“What is a normal child like? Does he just eat and grow and smile sweetly? No, that is not what he is like. The normal child, if he has confidence in mother and father, pulls out all stops. In the course of time he tries out his power to disrupt, to destroy, to frighten, to wear down, to waste, to wrangle, and to appropriate…At the start he absolutely needs to live in a circle of love and strength (with consequent tolerance) if he is not to be fearful of his own thoughts and his images to make progress in his emotional development.”
-Donald W. Winnecott, The Child, The Family, and the Outside World
Now, back to my sweet, sensitive son… Anyone who knows him well has seen his empathetic, kind, and resilient nature as well as his ability to regulate himself. He started initiating group hugs when he was two and doing the meditative “umm” when he was in pre-school to calm down. He made a dragon from Legos to guard his baby sister’s ashes and deeply mourned the loss of his great-grandma. When I am stressed, he echoes the words of the sage in me. He’s my buddha boy, and this is just a quick snapshot of the gracious qualities he shines upon his family and dearest friends.
During this same period of time, my son was overwhelmed by contradictory messages. He would complain about how come he often sees other kids hitting other kids and their siblings. I validate that it is confusing and may seem unfair yet stress he has learned a special skill and can control himself even when he feels so angry. I describe how many others are still in the process of learning to control their emotions and behaviors and how their brain gets flooded and they can’t get to their loving, smart files.
He also would ask why he cries so much but no one else seems to cry. He agonized about what’s wrong with him and feels stupid that he cries so easily. I validate his pain yet stress that he cries because he has a big heart: he cares so much about what people think of him and the quality of work he produces. That although he appears weak and dramatic by society’s expectations for “normal boy” behavior, he is indeed strong, brave, spirited and willful. Sadly, with so few kids to empathize with him, he was starting to wish he didn’t care so much.
Another sad part of all this is that when a kid, or even an adult for that matter, is being emotional, that can actually be a sign of trust; that they feel somewhat safe to process their hard and vulnerable feelings with you. Emotional outbursts are opportunities for connection and growth yet we as listeners can’t often handle the feelings. We feel too uncomfortable and just want to contain them as quickly as possible. Teachers fear they are disturbing the learning environment instead of seeing it as an intense learning experience. Even with my successful experiences of utilizing intense emotions, I still get triggered by fear and just want to stop the discomfort and run away. It is also hard to be compassionate and present with an angry child especially when the child in you just wants to fight back.
The next time a child is giving you grief, take a deep breath and give them the gift of your presence, attention, a warm embrace, a shoulder to cry on and listen to. You don’t even need to think of things to say just be still, present and listen. If it feels right, reflect only on what you are hearing them say like identifying feelings.
”When children feel understood, their loneliness and hurt diminish. When children are understood, their love for their parent is deepened. A parent’s sympathy serves as emotional first aid for bruised feelings. When we genuinely acknowledge a child’s plight and voice her disappointment, she often gathers the strength to face reality.” ~Haim Ginott
Disclaimer: Positive Reframe shares resources with the intent of the positive progression of informed decision making related to issues associated with emotional, relational, physical and spiritual wellness. While I share personal and professional perspectives, my writings reflect my personal opinion and not intended to substitute professional advice, diagnosis, and treatment. The online medium does not lend itself to the level of detail and rapport building required for thorough assessment and therapeutic intervention. Thus the content shared on this page is for informational purposes only. To make well-informed decisions that best meet your family’s unique needs, I highly recommend exploring and researching available options, consulting primary health care providers, and referrals from a trusted source for professional counseling. I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapy in the state of Illinois, USA