***This is a guest Post By Dr. Darci Walker***
The other day I noticed my boys struggling together in a moment of brotherly conflict. As their conflict escalated I intentionally walked to the periphery of their play space and sat down. I stated simply and quietly that I noticed they were struggling and offered some support by adding “I wonder what how you could work this out?” It was just enough. My physical presence gave each of them a sense of security and my question encouraged them both to pause and think through possible strategies.
For a moment, their bodies became still and there was a palpable change in their stance with each other. If I had stopped there, it might have been an amazing parenting moment. I might have seen them problem solve together, share feelings or thoughts, come to a decision, offer each other empathy and support, engage in perspective taking and practice flexibility. I might have seen that. I don’t know.
Because I didn’t stop there. I don’t know if they needed more than that or if that simple cue was enough. I don’t know if they could have seized their own moment because I seized it for them. Rather than stopping, I commented on how I thought each of them was feeling. I noticed that one was angry and the other was worried. I commented on the truck they were both tugging at and the fact that another truck was there for the taking. I went on and on. And as I lectured, I noticed the tension return to both their bodies. I continued to pontificate about the choices and possibilities that they had in front of them. It was a beautiful speech. Brilliant. And I lost them. Or rather, I stole the moment from them. I made it about me. I opened the door and offered them an opportunity for learning how to negotiate the world and then I blazed on ahead of them, setting fire to the trail behind me!
As their bodies and emotions continued to ramp up I felt the need for more intervention. It was now about the three of us. Me and each child, a triangle of power struggles. Each boy wanting me to fix it for them. “He hit me!” “I had it first” “Fix it mama!” I felt like I had to separate them, give each one a chance to calm down. I realized that what had started with just the right amount of support to allow for a natural opportunity turned into me refereeing. But even more disappointing, was the realization that had I been able to stop, and take a breath, it might have been different.
So often we offer too much. We miss the moment not because we didn’t open the right door, but because we don’t take the time along the way to allow the moments to happen. We can overwhelm children with options, or skip ahead of where they are at, or solve problems that haven’t even occurred yet. And all of these leave us feeling frustrated and our children feeling like we just don’t get it. It’s kind of like mixing colors. You add one drop of red food coloring, mix. Add one drop more, mix. Slowly adding drop by drop until the color feels just right, but add to much all at once and you pass over pink and go directly to magenta. Too much too soon. Maybe we should think of parenting in the same way.
How much parenting “support” is needed in this moment? I can always add a little bit at a time, but too much steals the show. Add parenting support drop by drop. It is amazing how often a simple “I’m here for you” is all they really need. Wait. See what happens. Need a touch more? Reflecting feelings and validating may be all that is called for “Oh, you’re so angry.” “That’s so scary!” Wait. See what happens. Still not enough? Ask for their thoughts “What do you think?” “How can I help you?” “What has worked in the past?” Wait. See what happens. Need help problem solving? “I wonder what we could say different?” “I wonder what would happen if…?” You get the picture.
By offering parenting in small doses you allow the child to take just what they need so that they can still fully experience and feel autonomous in their moment. Their moment. Not ours. We just open the doors.
Dr. Darci Walker,is mom to two boys and Clinical Psychologist with experience working with families, individuals and children in a variety of settings. In 2010 she co-founded Core Parenting in Portland Oregon and has focused on working with parents, and the variety of life and identity changes that occur during this amazing stage of life. From postpartum depression to relationship difficulties, career changes to identity reformation, Dr. Walker is interested in the multiple layers of challenges and joys that parenting brings and loves working with both men and women as they negotiate through these processes, highlighting her belief that thriving parents lead to thriving children! Read more at Dr. Walkers Blog and on Facebook.