Parents often ask me how they can listen to their child’s feelings when they can’t talk yet or have limited language.
Children have feelings, and can express them, right from birth!
How can we listen then when they can’t talk?
Well, children are born equipped with a natural expression mechanism: tears!
In her first book “the aware baby” Aletha Solter talks about a university study that tested the tears from two different groups. Group 1 were watching a sad movie. Group 2 were cutting up onions. The tears had different properties, with the second group NOT containing cortisol (the stress hormone).
So this points towards crying as truly being the body’s natural stress release mechanism!
With tears, we’ve been conditioned to believe that they are something we need to stop.
We tend to try and distract our children. Quieten them.
And with tantrums we tend to think our children are trying to manipulate us.
We roll our eyes in exasperation.
Call it the ‘terrible twos’.
We think of tantrums as an annoyance or disturbance and it can be SO embarrassing when our children do this out in public.
We might feel the need to appear like we have the situation under control and use power over our children through force or harsh words.
But tears and tantrums are really our children’s way of communicating and expressing their feelings.
Yes! Those meltdowns over cutting the sandwich wrong or not wanting their nappy changed actually have an incredible PURPOSE. And when we become aware of this, it really helps to respond with more compassion.
Tears and tantrums can be very healing and clearing for our children (when they have someone they love/ trust to listen with empathy). This is VERY different to ‘crying it out’ alone which can be very stressful and scary for a young child.
Very young children obviously can’t sit down and have a conversation with us about their pent up feelings. Young children operate from their feeling sense (not the head/ abstract/ thinking sense) and talking too much kind of draws them out of that feeling sense and into their head space where it’s difficult for them to release their emotions. So instead, they will use tears and tantrums at times (along with some talking and laughter at other times) to release their emotions. This is totally normal and healthy.
Our children do instinctively know how to heal themselves from what they’ve experienced during the day, whether that’s frustration, disappointment, powerlessness, overwhelm or fear. And no matter how consciously we aim to parent we can’t prevent our children from ever feeling these things! In fact it’s through allowing our children to experience these emotions and come out the other side that they become more emotionally resilient.
We just have to learn to resist the temptation to discourage or distract them from their feelings and listen compassionately instead. It’s like the equivalent of having a warm, comforting cup of tea, and talking or crying over a problem with a loving friend.
I wonder about the depth and authenticity we can create in our relationships with our children if we stop putting up blocks in the communication channel from such an early age and welcome their feelings instead. 🕊
So when I talk about ‘listening to feelings’ with children, the vast majority of this is through tears and tantrums. Expressing through talking will increase as your child grows but it will never totally replace the need to cry. Even now as an adult I’m sure you can recall feeling really relieved, clear and calm after a big cry with someone you trust.
I’d love to know your thoughts after hearing this.
If you have any questions or comments or need further support I’d love to hear from you and always respond personally so please get in touch through my Facebook page or take a look at my online program Connect.