“Don’t cry.” “Stop it.” “No, no no.” “You’re asking for too much. You’re being too loud.” “You’re bad.” “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” “You’re overreacting.” Words we spout out over and over and over, in attempt to control, confine and contain our children and their honest emotions.
And so, the child shuts down, emotionally or begins to tantrum, in hopes of being seen, heard or acknowledged. We lose all connection with them. They increasingly hesitate coming to us in times of need and reassurance. We perceive their behaviour as deceit, yet they are simply feeding off of our energy of suppression or disallowance for their whole selves to be present. Connection and trust becomes further compromised.
And then often have a hard time pulling them back into connection. We may choose to withdraw, or disengage to protect ourselves, or conversely, over engage and seek immediate reconciliation to validate our own behaviour in those moments, whether the child is ready to engage or not.
This is how a child learns to leave parts of themselves behind — those parts that aren’t accepted, honoured, or appreciated. They continue to shut down all that can not be received by those around them by being forced into compliance, and slowly move into the comfort of living as fragmented pieces of themselves, not being able to fully take in the human experience.
Does this pattern sound familiar? It was a pain pattern that was familiar to me for the first few years of parenting. I didn’t understand the reactive state of my children, nor the reactive state of myself. It took me having a second child, and seeing variations of my own patterns in my children through what some refer to as the terrible twos, to interpret the messages at a deeper level and learn to respond with the love and compassion that the children were needing. These last few years have truly years of transition and transformation for our family, as we step deeper into what it means to raise children with heightened awareness, and truly understand the impact of how they are being raised.
How many times a day are our children looking around, asking to be seen, heard, or acknowledged for what they are feeling and what is being shared? Each time they are met with resentment, withdrawal, blame, shame, overwhelm from another, they shut down another piece of themselves, perceiving that that part of themselves is not adequate or will be readily accepted by another.
Humans are most impressionable between the ages of 0 and 7. Most of our deepest sub conscious beliefs are developed during that time. These early years for children are those in which they rely on a sense of belonging, and sameness, so their only option in being rejected for who they are in that in moment becomes suppression of true self by shutting down at an emotional level, or defiance, to be seen and heard in a way that may garner attention. This is the way in which they share that their needs are important too, but not being truly understood by the other. It is in this way of unprocessed emotions that parents have the capability of stunting a child’s emotional development.
When conscious light is brought to these patterns which are often carried into adulthood, usually by way of a life changing event that challenges us to see the world differently, we can change the trajectory of our future by a change in beliefs. The child within us, who was not tended to or nurtured with open arms and hearts, may still be seeking attention that was not received. The child continues to speak out as we go through our adult lives, and it is important to attend to these needs that may have gone unattended to in our childhood. The child within us has much to say, and it is important that we listen. Their fire is alive and sending messages to our adult selves, and can serve our evolution in powerful ways if we allow for it.
This is the reason why we may be triggered in our adult lives in a way that has us feel a similar emotion to how we felt when the belief was created, and may behave in an unexplainable manner towards an occurrence in our current lives, a result. Whether it be that we don’t feel that we are enough, that we aren’t worthy of being listened to, that we have to over achieve to be seen, that we pull away in the way of discomfort — whatever the connection limiting belief is, it often stays with us until there is a reason to take a closer look at it later on in life. Anytime we move into protection, withdrawal, or defendedness in our adult lives, it generally has little to do with our current situation. The reaction is merely the sub conscious reaction of an unprocessed emotion from earlier stages of life. Clearing these past patterns becomes the stable foundation upon which we create a relationship with ourselves, and deepen our relationship with our children.
In my study of the “Circle of Security” last year, it shared just how much our children need as meeting them with open arms in moments of uncertainty, crisis, or misunderstandings. We keep our hands on the circle at all times, to allow them to come back in when they are feeling the need for comfort, reassurance and love, until they are ready to go out and explore again. Through this process, we may misread these cues, but the more attuned we are to their states, the more effectively we can identify what it is that they are asking or needing at that moment. The practice becomes easier with time, and leads to much more harmonious interaction as we all learn to see each other for who it is we are. Though the children seem to be quite even tempered through practice of this, I do share that I would opt to see defiance, in the way of a child voicing their truth and wants, rather than compliance, a fearful state by which we feel our unworthiness and decide not to make others uncomfortable at the cost of our own happiness.
For me, one of the most uncomfortable experiences was watching my older son shut down due to the energy he was sensing from me — an overwhelmed, incredibly busy and disconnected mother who doesn’t have a lot of time for him. There were so many messages for him there, and he continued to close off more and more, by silencing his wants and wishes in hopes of keeping peace for those around him, or not feeling as though he was a burden.
Of few key behaviours, compliance had been a strong fear of mine, as I have spent years witnessing how much the structure of today’s society can pull our uniqueness out of us, in order to fit in or belong.
Seeing my eldest shut down his aliveness and personality was an invitation for me to really get honest with myself and move through my own sub conscious patterning that was running the show to understand why I was reacting the way I was, over and over and over, without it serving anyone in the relationship.
It was only when I committed to shedding this old version of myself and my beliefs around the hierarchical parent-child relationship that exists in the previous, or even current, parenting paradigm, that I was able to create space for a new way of being. I since have moved into communicating with my children as adults, without expecting that they would behave beyond their age appropriate stage. I have come to understand that they are worthy of as much attention, patience and unconditional respect as any other human. We were once there too, I remind myself. I practice being present to their pain, holding them and space for their vulnerability and emotions, as I am finally checked in and present enough to meet them there, without making it about me and my discomfort with their feelings. They are simply trying to make sense of this world they have been born into, and often someone to help them through exactly that and support and organize their feelings, when they weren’t capable of doing so themselves.
It was in taking ownership of my own response in those moments, that we all moved into deep comfort with another, and are able to now share from our hearts, openly, without fear of being shut down or forcing our emotions away. Our vulnerability and open hearts are truly the breeding ground for authentic connection, and our children, especially those of us who may have been told to ‘be strong’ and ‘keep a lid on it.’ There is truly an opportunity for us to allow ourselves and our children to connect deeply, if we can offer them the space to share their true selves.
Though we attempt to ‘do our best’ for our children in the way of sending them to the top schools, providing them with a comfortable life, offering allowance for travel and adventures, it is truly the early years of parental role-modeling and interaction that matter most. This doesn’t imply that a stay at home parent role is for everyone, but simply for the time that we are with our children, it is of utmost importance to be present and accept whoever they are in that moment. This is the true gift of unconditional love. Let their voices be heard, and their feelings be held.