Do they want solutions or support? How to know, and what to do when we get it wrong.

Mom and daughter solution or support

When your child or teen has big feelings, the drive to ‘fix’ them can feel like it’s swallowing us whole – but we don’t need to fix them. They aren’t broken. In that moment, our job isn’t to stop their feelings but to let those feelings do their job, which is bring us alongside them in a way that supports them with the emotional load. 

Big feelings and big behaviour are a call for us to come closer. They won’t always feel like that, especially if those big feelings come bundled with spicy words or big behaviour, but they are a call to bring us closer. Not ‘closer’ in an intrusive ‘I need you to stop this’ way, but closer in an ‘I’ve got you, I can handle all of you’ kind of way – no judgement, no need for you to be different – I’m just going to make space for this feeling to find its way through.

Our kids and teens are no different to us. When we have feelings that fill us to overloaded, the last thing we need is someone telling us that it’s not the way to behave, or to calm down, or that we’re unbearable when we’re like this. No – that doesn’t work for us, and it doesn’t work for them. What they need is what we all need – a safe place to find their out-breath, and to let the energy connected to that feeling move through them and out of them so they can rest. But how?

What do they need from us?

First, don’t take big feelings personally. Their big feelings aren’t a reflection on you, your parenting, or your child. Big feelings have wisdom contained in them about what’s needed more or less, or what feels intolerable right now. Sometimes it might be as basic as sleep or food. Maybe more power, influence, independence, or connection with you. Maybe there’s too much stress hitting their ceiling and ricocheting off their edges. The time to process that wisdom will come, but first, the energy that’s connected to those big emotions (e-motion, as in ‘energy in motion’) needs to move through them. 

Sometimes they’ll want help. Sometimes they’ll want a hug. If you’re not sure if this is a hug situation or a help situation, it’s always okay to ask. This might sound something like, ‘You’re done with today, aren’t you. Would you like me to sit with you or give you space?’ Or, ‘Would you like to talk about it, or would you like to be distracted from it for a while? I can do either.’ Or, ‘It looks like something is going on for you. You don’t need to talk about it if you don’t want to, but if you want to, I’m here. There’s nothing you can tell me that I can’t handle.’

And if you get it wrong.

Sometimes, of course, you might make the wrong call. (I’ve done this more times than I care to count!) You might jump into problem-solving, thinking you’re helping, only to see big feelings get bigger. If this happens, acknowledge what’s happened, ‘I think I made a mistake just then. I tried to solve the problem, but I can see you didn’t need me to do that. I’m wondering if what you actually needed was for me to listen. I’m sorry I didn’t do that, but I can do it now. Can we try again?’

Are you responding to what’s happening now? Or way back when?

We also need to make sure we are responding to them in the moment, not a fear or an inherited ‘should’ of our own. These are the messages we swallowed whole at some point. Some common ones are:

  • ‘happy kids should never get sad or angry’;
  • ‘kids should always behave’;
  • ‘I should be able to protect my kids from feeling bad’;
  • ‘big feelings are bad feelings’;
  • ‘bad behaviour means bad kids, which means bad parents.’

All these shoulds are feisty show ponies that assume more ‘rightness’ than they deserve. They are usually historic, and when we really examine them, they’re also irrelevant.

And finally …

Finally, try not to let the symptoms of big feelings disrupt the connection. When our children have big feelings, our role as their important adults isn’t to change them or their feelings but to guide them gently and lovingly back home to calm. From there, they will be more open to learning, but only if they can rest in our love and leadership.

Of course, we have to be radically kind to ourselves too. Not only are we growing our children, but we’re also growing ourselves – and growing is hard. Some days we’ll be able to give them what they need, and some days we won’t. Both are the responses of loving, committed, wonderful parents. Collisions will happen. What’s important is that after any collision, the repair is deliberate, loving, and honest about our part. When we do this, we model humility, compassion, empathy, and the beautiful imperfection of being human – all of these learnings are also essential for growth – theirs and ours.


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The need to feel connected to, and seen by our people is instinctive. 

THE FIX: Add in micro-connections to let them feel you seeing them, loving them, connecting with them, enjoying them:

‘I love being your mum.’
‘I love being your dad.’
‘I missed you today.’
‘I can’t wait to hang out with you at bedtime 
and read a story together.’

Or smiling at them, playing with them, 
sharing something funny, noticing something about them, ‘remembering when...’ with them.

And our adult loves need the same, as we need the same from them.♥️
Our kids need the same thing we do: to feel safe and loved through all feelings not just the convenient ones.

Gosh it’s hard though. I’ve never lost my (thinking) mind as much at anyone as I have with the people I love most in this world.

We’re human, not bricks, and even though we’re parents we still feel it big sometimes. Sometimes these feelings make it hard for us to be the people we want to be for our loves.

That’s the truth of it, and that’s the duality of being a parent. We love and we fury. We want to connect and we want to pull away. We hold it all together and sometimes we can’t.

None of this is about perfection. It’s about being human, and the best humans feel, argue, fight, reconnect, own our ‘stuff’. We keep working on growing and being more of our everythingness, just in kinder ways.

If we get it wrong, which we will, that’s okay. What’s important is the repair - as soon as we can and not selling it as their fault. Our reaction is our responsibility, not theirs. This might sound like, ‘I’m really sorry I yelled. You didn’t deserve that. I really want to hear what you have to say. Can we try again?’

Of course, none of this means ‘no boundaries’. What it means is adding warmth to the boundary. One without the other will feel unsafe - for them, us, and others.

This means making sure that we’ve claimed responsibility- the ability to respond to what’s happening. It doesn’t mean blame. It means recognising that when a young person is feeling big, they don’t have the resources to lead out of the turmoil, so we have to lead them out - not push them out.

Rather than focusing on what we want them to do, shift the focus to what we can do to bring felt safety and calm back into the space.

THEN when they’re calm talk about what’s happened, the repair, and what to do next time.

Discipline means ‘to teach’, not to punish. They will learn best when they are connected to you. Maybe there is a need for consequences, but these must be about repair and restoration. Punishment is pointless, harmful, and outdated.

Hold the boundary, add warmth. Don’t ask them to do WHEN they can’t do. Wait until they can hear you and work on what’s needed. There’s no hurry.♥️
Recently I chatted with @rebeccasparrow72 , host of ABC Listen’s brilliant podcast, ‘Parental as Anything: Teens’. I loved this chat. Bec asked all the questions that let us crack the topic right open. Our conversation was in response to a listener’s question, that I expect will be familiar to many parents in many homes. Have a listen here:
School refusal is escalating. Something that’s troubling me is the use of the word ‘school can’t’ when talking about kids.

Stay with me.

First, let’s be clear: school refusal isn’t about won’t. It’s about can’t. Not truly can’t but felt can’t. It’s about anxiety making school feel so unsafe for a child, avoidance feels like the only option.

Here’s the problem. Language is powerful, and when we put ‘can’t’ onto a child, it tells a deficiency story about the child.

But school refusal isn’t about the child.
It’s about the environment not feeling safe enough right now, or separation from a parent not feeling safe enough right now. The ‘can’t’ isn’t about the child. It’s about an environment that can’t support the need for felt safety - yet.

This can happen in even the most loving, supportive schools. All schools are full of anxiety triggers. They need to be because anything new, hard, brave, growthful will always come with potential threats - maybe failure, judgement, shame. Even if these are so unlikely, the brain won’t care. All it will read is ‘danger’.

Of course sometimes school actually isn’t safe. Maybe peer relationships are tricky. Maybe teachers are shouty and still using outdated ways to manage behaviour. Maybe sensory needs aren’t met.

Most of the time though it’s not actual threat but ’felt threat’.

The deficiency isn’t with the child. It’s with the environment. The question isn’t how do we get rid of their anxiety. It’s how do we make the environment feel safe enough so they can feel supported enough to handle the discomfort of their anxiety.

We can throw all the resources we want at the child, but:

- if the parent doesn’t believe the child is safe enough, cared for enough, capable enough; or

- if school can’t provide enough felt safety for the child (sensory accommodations, safe peer relationships, at least one predictable adult the child feels safe with and cared for by),

that child will not feel safe enough.

To help kids feel safe and happy at school, we have to recognise that it’s the environment that needs changing, not the child. This doesn’t mean the environment is wrong. It’s about making it feel more right for this child.♥️
Such a beautiful 60 second wrap of my night with parents and carers in Hastings, New Zealand talking about building courage and resilience in young people. Because that’s how courage happens - it builds, little bit by little bit, and never feeling like ‘brave’ but as anxiety. Thank you @healhealthandwellbeing for bringing us together happen.♥️


Original post by @healhealthandwellbeing:
🌟 Thank You for Your Support! 🌟

A huge thank you to everyone who joined us for the "Building Courage and Resilience" talk with the amazing  Karen Young - Hey Sigmund. Your support for Heal, our new charity focused on community health and wellbeing, means the world to us!

It was incredible to see so many of you come together while at the same time being able to support this cause and help us build a stronger, more resilient community.

A special shoutout to Anna Catley from Anna Cudby Videography for creating some fantastic footage Your work has captured the essence of this event perfectly ! To the team Toitoi - Hawke's Bay Arts & Events Centre thank you for always making things so easy ❤️ 

Follow @healhealthandwellbeing for updates and news of events. Much more to come!

#Heal #CommunityHealth #CourageAndResilience #KarenYoung #ThankYou

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