Some of the best parenting advice I've absorbed recently can be summed up in four little words:
Listen * Support * Encourage * Believe
I think I've shared this belief before: I believe that if you're paying attention, the universe is constantly sending you messages. And when they're really important, the universe will present these messages to you in a variety of ways, often in rapid succession.
The universe will put articles and books and people and experiences (and blog posts) in your path that direct you to lessons and information you need right now.
And that's how I feel about this particular lesson. I read at least three different articles/books/posts within a very short period of time that all said essentially the same thing about helping your child deal with tough stuff. And all at a time when I was feeling less sure about how best to help my 7 year old cope with increasing complex emotional and relational issues.
And the lesson can be boiled down to four steps.
When your child comes to you with a problem, or melts down and you're trying to understand why, or wallops her brother for no apparent reason, or is upset after school and won't say what's wrong....
Whatever the reason, when your child is dealing with something tough, don't dismiss his/her fears or anger; don't try to fix the problem for him/her; and don't banish him/her to their bedroom.
Why? In the words of Rachel Macy Stafford: My friends, shielding our loved ones from struggle, challenge, pain, and disappointment is tempting; I know. But let us remember the characteristics we most want our beloveds to develop are often born from a place of adversity. So that one day, when our beloveds come face to face with sadness, trauma, loss, or hopelessness, they will not be paralyzed with fear or give up because it's too hard. Instead they will say [to that adversity], "I know you. I've seen you before. You cannot take me down. In fact, I'll face you and come out stronger than I was before."
Instead of shielding our children from the tough things (or worse, ignoring that there even are tough things), try doing these four things:
Listen * Support * Encourage * Believe
1. Listen...Really listen to what they have to say. Hear what they are going through. Don't think about how you'll respond as they're talking. Don't interrupt them. Don't solve the problem, even if you know the solution. Just. Listen.
2. Support...When they've told you their story and you've truly heard it, offer your support. Let them know that you're there for them, that you love them unconditionally, that you support them in how they choose to handle things.
3. Encourage...Once you've shown them your support, give them some encouragement. Tell them that you believe they can handle this, that you believe they can overcome any obstacle, that you believe in them. Tell them that they're strong and smart and wonderful.
4. Believe...Then...really believe everything you've just said. Really believe in them. Really believe that they are strong and smart and wonderful. Really believe that they can handle this. Believe in your child. Believe that this too shall pass. Believe that he/she shall overcome.
It's that simple (not always actually "simple" to execute, though...until you get used to it). As RMS reminded me, our role in our children's pain and struggle is not to rescue, minimize or abandon them in their time of need, but is instead to listen, support, encourage and believe in their ability to overcome whatever obstacle they're struggling with.
Here's the really cool thing about this approach-- it's not just applicable to parenting. It's perfect when anyone (like your spouse or your best friend) brings a problem to you.
Guess who else you might want to give this a try with? You. Yep. You. The best thing you can do for yourself when you're faced with a problem...listen, support, encourage and believe. You deserve that just as much as your child and spouse and BFF do.
Thank you Dr. Laura Markham, Rachel Macy Stafford, Glennon Doyle Melton (some of my go-to parenting/life gurus) and all of the other people/places that shared some form of this concept with me in recent months. And thank you, universe, for bringing it to me.
Until next time, happy relating to the ones you love most (and listening, supporting, encouraging and believing ;-) ).
**To read Rachel Macy Stafford's post that was part of the inspiration for this blog post, click here: http://www.handsfreemama.com/2016/03/29/your-role-in-a-loved-ones-struggle/. **