Has your cheerful, easy-going child become anxious and withdrawn? Or do they have angry outbursts in which they swear at you, or even become so upset that they self-harm? Are you struggling to handle all the intensity and drama?
No matter how loving or conscious we are as parents our children may experience times of distress and intense emotions, especially during their teen years.
When I experienced this intense emotional expression in my own teenage sons I noticed that my reactions tended to go two ways: I desperately tried to fix the problem or I felt like a victim of the situation.
It’s my responsibility to fix this problem.
When my child got seriously angry, anxious or upset and started to act out I would experience lots of thoughts about the future that really scared me:
“What if this gets worse and I can’t cope?”
“What if they treat their future wife or husband this way?”
“”What if they really hurt themselves?”
Those fears would trigger my attempts to control or fix my child’s emotions. There were usually a lot of judgemental thoughts too, where I labeled my child, complained about them or blamed them for all the drama.
My exhausting efforts to control or fix my child’s emotions would lead to more fights and lack of connection. It always pushed us further apart.
Withdraw into victimhood.
I often found myself falling into a victim mindset. I would take my child’s emotional outburst personally and feel very, very hurt. I would feel wounded by their name-calling or their claim that they hated me. I would feel rejected and unloved by their emotional withdrawal or I hurt because they didn’t come to me for help. Sometimes I felt scared that I couldn’t cope with the situation or full of self-pity that this was happening to me and ruining my life.
On top of all that I usually felt the pain of my own self-judgements:
“This wouldn’t be happening if I was a better mother.”
“This wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t said or done the wrong thing.”
With each self-judgement my emotional pain intensified until I felt shame or despair. When this cascade into victimhood happened I withdrew from my child and wallowed. Sometimes the urge to self-medicate came on and I started to compulsively overeat or lose myself in some other distraction to try and soothe the pain.
These old patterns of reacting were not serving me. I was stuck in a duality in which I believed I had to either change my child or suffer their intense emotions.
The new way: conscious acceptance.
I’ve come to see that there is another way. One that is neither controlling or passive. The key is conscious acceptance of the intense feelings your child is expressing in the moment.
You can practice conscious acceptance no matter what your child is experiencing and it can transform your reality. You can be in flow with your child’s emotions and acting out rather than in resistance to them.
I’ve broken it down into three steps:
1. Let go of your fears and judgments and allow your child to be as they are in the moment.
This involves turning your attention away from your thoughts and tuning into the calm Presence that is always within you. You can practice this when your child isn’t upset through meditation or mindfulness.
Don’t do it because it’s good or right. Do it because you’ve tried the other options and you don’t like them. Do it because you want to live in a state of peace of mind.
You may need to actively question your fears and judgements. Be willing to see things from a new perspective. You can learn about tuning into Presence and a process for questioning your thoughts in the Joyful Parenting Course.
2. If you are reacting in fear or feeling hurt, then accept your own feelings and be honest with your child.
Consciously accept the feelings that you are experiencing and watch carefully for any self-judgements. Self-acceptance will bring healing. Focus on sharing how you are feeling with your child without blaming them. Be open and vulnerable and it will restore your connection.
For example, say:
“I feel really scared when you harm yourself. I’m afraid of losing you.” or
“I feel so upset and hurt when you yell at me.” or
“When you get really anxious, I feel scared too. I worry that your anxiety will get worse.”
Once you have expressed your feelings in words or cried and released the disturbed energy within you, let go and move on. Get help from another adult if you are still struggling rather than project your distress onto your child. Sometimes our own old unprocessed trauma can be triggered by our children.
3. Pause, tune into your heart and listen for intuitive guidance.
Once you have accepted what is happening with your child and you feel calm and clear, wait and see if you are guided to take any action.
You may find yourself moving away from your angry or upset child until the emotional storm has passed, particularly if they are attacking you verbally or physically. Once your child has calmed down you can reconnect with them without any lingering blame or judgement.
You may find yourself moving closer to a child that is anxious or self-harming and offering to help them from a place of calm non-judgement. Ask your child how you can support them or whether they want to get help from outside the family. Be respectful of their wishes.
Maybe no action is needed at all. Wait and listen to what your heart tells you in the moment.
Acceptance promotes an ease with the natural flow of life. There is a rhythm and flow to emotional energy. If we don’t resist it or try and get it to stop it often resolves and passes of its own accord. Once we let go of our conditioned judgements and fears of intense feelings we can be with our children in a much calmer way. This calm Presence is spiritual leadership for our children. They finally have someone who is leading the way towards true peace of mind.