Parenting is not an easy job and our children will get upset with us and have emotional breakdowns. Communicating with our children when they are in a state of distress is difficult. Every child will be different in how they act and think, but there are some things you can do to help open up lines of communication and understand your child and their feelings a little better.
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While I don’t have all the answers for you, there are a few things I have learned through my own children which can hopefully help you with yours.
The reason that children can act so upset and then completely shut us out is mostly due to the fact that they cannot put their emotions into words. Sometimes they may also want to protect you from their hurt feelings and sometimes they are simply upset with you and they don’t know how to handle it.
All parents will get shut out by their children a few times, even by the most well-behaved children too.
We can turn these moments of tension into moments of connection and support which will, in turn, strengthen the relationship.
Children Might Be Feeling These Things But Will Not Tell You
They Don’t Want You To Feel Blame: Most children love their parents a lot, and they can see that when they get upset that the parent starts to blame themselves. A child can feel the need to hide their pain from parents if they feel like they don’t want to hurt them even more. Parents need to not blame themselves when children are upset or shut down.
They Would Rather Talk To You: Children need some guidance when it comes to opening up and learning to communicate. Communication is a skill that many adults haven’t quite figured out yet. It is our job as parents to guide them into opening up about their feelings. Even if your child is trying to tell you they don’t want to talk to you, they usually do…they just don’t know how to.
They Want You To Listen: Most children just want their parents to listen to them before offering solutions and advice. Sometimes the answer may seem super obvious, but jumping in and trying to suggest a fix for the situation before they have told you the whole story can just cause your child to shut down and stop talking. Listening to the whole story will help.
They Feel Like They Have A Handle On Things: Parents are there to offer support and lead children in the right direction in life, but sometimes the child has their own opinion and wants to handle situations on their own. This is part of healthy independence. If you want to offer guidance on the situation, you might want to ask if it’s ok to provide some possible ideas.
They Might Be Anxious That You’re Upset: If you are upset, your child will feel that and also be upset. Your child can lose trust with their own instinct and feel super anxious if they feel like something is going on with you. It’s important to open up to your kids if you are going through something tough in life.
They Don’t Want You To Give Up: If your child is upset about something and is not talking about it, keep trying! Your child can sometimes get triggered and get upset if you try to offer solutions too early, or don’t listen to the entire story, but that doesn’t mean they still don’t want your support. They need you! So if your first attempt at helping them open up didn’t work, then try again.
They Want You To See The Good In Them: Children do not want to disappoint their parents, and when they make a mistake they want you to continue to see the good in them. Children can put on an “I Don’t Care” attitude but they often really do care. Children need to be reminded that they are good so that they can see the good in themselves. This will help with confidence and self-esteem too.
All About The Feelings
When your child is having a tough time, it’s time to honour their feelings. You can show you care about their feelings by starting out with active listening. Active listening is not just listening and nodding your head, but truly listening and hearing what your little one has to say.
Do your best to listen without judgement, because a lot of the time people who are upset just want to be heard and they don’t really care if they are wrong or right. If you are constantly interjecting during the conversation, you might be making it easier for your child to not tell you the whole story, because you aren’t really listening.
Imagine having a cup of coffee with a friend and you just want to vent about something your husband did that made you steam. Would you hate it if your friend started offering solutions to your home life? Probably! You love your husband and you just wanted to vent about that one stupid thing he did. You probably will stop telling that friend about your problems in the future. I know I would.
Active listening really helps validate the feelings without needing to offer up a lot of advice and words of comfort, while still helping your child feel better.
You should always validate your children’s feelings too. Show that you understand what they are feeling and make sure that they feel heard. You don’t need to agree with what is being said, but you do need to make sure that your child feels understood.
You can also try to label the feelings your child is feeling. You say that they seem sad, or angry about a situation. This empathetic response helps recognize the hurt that lies beneath the anger. When labelling feelings, you should be careful to not add a judgemental tone, because that won’t help the situation in any way.
Once your child is calm and talkative you should ask questions, lots of questions! Ask if there is anything you can do. Ask if there is anything they want to do about the situation. Ask if there is a friend who can help. Ask the questions that make sense for the situation, and can help make things better.
Your Upset Child Who Is Shutting You Out Loves You
It may not always be possible to get to the bottom of the upset feeling, but responding and showing up can go a long way. Parenting is a tough job, and it can be so hard to deal with children who are emotional and shut down, but we must do everything we can to get in there and create those connections.
What You Should Do Next:
1. Register For A Must Listen To FREE 60-Minute Class:
2. Enjoy These Gentle Parenting Podcasts
- Unruffled by Janet Lansbury
- Raising Good Humans With Dr. Aliza
- Parenting Beyond Discipline
- Mindful Parenting in a Messy World
3. Dive Into These Gentle Parenting Websites
- Janet Lansbury “Respectful Parenting Basics”
- Sara Rockwell-Smith “Gentle Parenting Book”
- No Reward, No Punishment
- How is Gentle different than mainstream?
- Gentle Parenting Myth
- 5 secrets to Gentle Parenting
4. Enjoy These Gentle Parenting Books
- How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success
- How To Talk So Kids Will ListenPeaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting
- The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way
- The New Dare To Discipline
- Silence Is A Scary Sound
- Parenting With Love And Logic
- More books here.
5. Sign Up For A 7 Step Positive Parenting Course (If You’re Ready To Be A Positive Parent And Need Some Step By Step Help)
Enroll now in the most in-depth parenting class. After discovering these common sense, easy-to-implement, research-based tools you can learn how to:
- Easily get kids to listen – the FIRST time. No yelling or reminding…not even once!
- Put an end to daily power struggles. Bedtime became a breeze, and all the dawdling, chore wars, sibling rivalry, and mealtime meltdowns disappeared.
- Reduce backtalk by HALF! It’s simple once you know the secrets of these two ‘buckets.’
- Say goodbye to punishments that DON’T work. There’s a 5-step formula that works WAYYY better than time-outs.
- Feel amazing, confident, and empowered as a parent, every day. I NEVER go to bed feeling guilty anymore! (Okay, well maybe sometimes…’ mom guilt’ is still a thing.)
6. Read Some Of My Favorite Blog Posts From Other Gentle Parenting Professionals
- How to get others on board with GP (grandparents, family, providers)
- MANAGING TODDLER TANTRUMS
- PREVENTING A GROWN UP MELTDOWN
- Why do we call it a TANTRUM? IT’S A FEELING
- TIME-IN (NOT TIME OUT)
- What to do: biting, hitting, pushing, throwing
- Punishment Vs. Natural Consequence
- REWARDS: WHY THEY DON’T WORK.
- ITS OKAY NOT TO SHARE
- HOW TO STOP YELLING AT KIDS
- GP for Newborns & young babies
- Parenting Differences among peers/providers
- Does your spouse parent differently?
- Prefrontal Cortex – YOUR CHILD’S BRAIN IS NOT DEVELOPED ENOUGH
“GENTLE PARENTING IS A LIFESTYLE THAT EMBRACES BOTH YOUR PHYSICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL BEHAVIOR, NOT ONLY TOWARDS YOUR CHILDREN, BUT TO YOURSELF TOO“— SARA HOCKWELL-SMITH