A few months ago my nine year old daughter woke up crying in the middle of the night. She had had a bad dream and was in a full-on panic about it. I brought her into my bed, laid next to her and held her close hoping she would go back to sleep. She would not be settled. She was crying uncontrollably but couldn’t tell me what the dream was about- she just knew she was really scared.
After listening to her cry for some time, I carried her back into her room and rather than trying to fix her fear for her, I started asking her questions. I said, “What does it feel like to be afraid? Where do you feel it in your body? Does it have a color?” And then the miracle happened. She answered the questions and immediately fell asleep. It was like she finally could see that she actually was not in danger- she just felt a scary feeling. Once she could tell me all about the feeling, it disarmed it for her and she was able to sleep.
This taught me so much. I teach this principle to my clients and practice it myself but to witness it in this way showed me how powerful it is to get to know our feelings. At first I was trying to change her feelings from that of fear to comfort, but it wasn’t until she recognized that it was just a feeling that she able to calm down.
Many times as parents we try to make things better for our kids through external things like an ice-cream cone when they have had a hard day, a popsicle for falling and getting a scraped knee, or a cookie for putting up with a bully. While these things aren’t necessarily bad, what could be more powerful for them would be letting them feel the fullness of their own emotions. Show them they can handle it and that it won’t last forever. Sitting with them and asking questions about it can help bring awareness to what it is they are feeling so they can learn this skill on their own.
As adults we are often afraid of our own emotions so what do we do? We eat, we binge watch TV shows, we do drugs, we drink alcohol, we view porn…anything to avoid the discomfort of sitting in our own emotions. The thing is, our emotions can’t swallow us like a black hole. We WILL come out of them. Going INTO them is how we come out of them.
Try this with your kids (and yourself too!!!). There is real strength and power in being willing to face, head on, some of the strong emotions we feel in this life.