Be the Container Your Child Needs: The Importance of ‘Surviving’ Your Child’s Intense Behaviors

A child’s job is to resist, assert their autonomy and push against boundaries in order to learn about their own power. A parent’s job is to survive them doing this – in all the forms it takes. When their nervous system is in fight/flight mode, sometimes it takes the form of intense or explosive expression of emotion. Or it may include an inability to be safe with people or property. Maybe your child is more likely to express their anger with potentially or intentionally hurtful verbal rages. Whatever it looks like – your only job in that moment is to survive it and keep everybody/everything safe. 

Yelling or trying to talk them out of their feelings isn’t effective when your child is in this state, and may escalate things. What’s effective is to just be with their feelings and with your own. Stay as calm as you can and resist the urge to resort to retaliation or helplessness. This is a time to try to slow your own breathing and heart rate. This is a time to acknowledge to yourself that this is a hard moment you’ll get through together. And when you do this, you’re helping them learn to do it for themselves. You’re also communicating to them: “All of you (even the messy/difficult parts) is welcome here. I can handle you. You’re not too much for me. I’ve got you.” You’re communicating that there are no conditions on being loved by you.

Your child will be overwhelmed by their emotions on a pretty regular basis – although it may look different at different stages of development.

Can you find a way to regulate your own emotions, so that you can tolerate your child’s intense aggression, resistance, neediness? Because it’s inevitable, so it makes sense to expect it. It’s how they express what they cannot clearly verbalize.

What if you could accept and parent the child you have? Attend to the needs of the child who is standing in front of you in this moment. Not the child who has disappointed you in the past or the person you fear they’ll be in the future.  You can learn to work with who they are showing you that they are rather than against them. Because if you’re not on their team – who else do they have? When you view your child through the lens of the past or the future, they feel unseen in the present.

It’s not always possible to meet their need for kind, but firm boundaries. You’re not always in enough of a well-resourced place to meet their big feelings with calm confidence. That’s okay. Repair with your child when you aren’t able to hold space for their feelings. Go to them and take responsibility for having lashed out or not being what they needed at that moment. Apologize and make genuine and intentional efforts at doing better next time. Because that’s how they learn to apologize and take responsibility for their actions. That’s how they learn that relationships include struggle but they’re strong enough survive.

I invite you to be your child’s container. More often than not, be the safe and tolerant place they can pour all of their rage into as they learn that their feelings can be big and powerful – but never so powerful that you can’t handle them together.

From Conflict to Connection in 4 Steps: Cheat Sheet!

After recording my last video about turning parenting reactions into parenting responses, I was asked for more clarification. So I put together a handy cheat sheet. Post it on the fridge and you’ll have lifeline when the sh*t starts to hit the fan. When conflict arises between parents and children, parents sometimes try to grit their teeth and keep it together when they start feeling irritated. 

The problem is that when you try to push the feelings down, it doesn’t mean they go away. They continue running in the background like a smartphone app, depleting your emotional batteries until your irritation has turned into red hot anger. Then you explode and lash out at your kids (or in at yourself) and behave in ways you later regret. 

Another option when you realize you are irritated at a very low and manageable level –  is to stop for a moment. Look inward with curiosity at what’s going on for you. See yourself and your child through a positive lens. Then make an intentional choice about what to do next. Too hard to remember? I’ve made them into a cheat sheet you can refer to whenever you need it! Let me know in the comments what you think! 

Turn Your Parenting REACTIONS Into Parenting RESPONSES In 4 Steps

Want to overcome your parenting triggers? Maybe you need to learn how to put the brakes on your unhelpful automatic reactions and choose intentional responses instead. A cornerstone of respectful parenting is mindful communication. In this video I’ll share 4 steps that will help you regain your equilibrium when you’re triggered by a conflict with your child.

Want more videos with respectful parenting tips? After watching the video, head to the comments section and tell me: Above all, what is the greatest challenge you’re facing re: parenting right now?

What is Respectful Parenting?

The goal of respectful parenting (or caregiving, or any other significant involvement in a child’s growth) is an authentic child. A child who feels competent, secure and autonomous. A child who feels no need to suppress parts of who she is in order to be loved and cared for by those to whom she is most strongly attached. This kind of parenting values and enhances your relationship with your child, and promotes interactions that are more respectful, cooperative, peaceful, intimate, meaningful, and loving.

Continue reading “What is Respectful Parenting?”