Parenting your Child Through New ExperiencesJul 27, 2021
Do you have any children that are experiencing summer camp, or starting a daycare or school program for the first time? Many children have been home with parents and as programs are starting back up again, I’m seeing parents with children who are now leaving the house for programs for either the first time or after quite a break, and some children are struggling.
I just coached a Mom this week whose 2 year old was transitioning from being with a nanny full time to two half days at preschool, and it was hard for the whole family. Given that summer camps are upon us and things are open again, I thought the coaching advice would be helpful for everyone!
New experiences can be uncomfortable for our children. That is completely normal, and they are going to have new experiences time and time again during their childhood. As parents, how can we help our kids adjust during the transition into new experiences?
It helps to just know ahead of time that our children being uncomfortable can bring up feelings in us including anxiety, discomfort and guilt. As parents, when our children are uncomfortable our first instinct is typically to “fix” things for them as soon as possible. Our brains know that if our kids feel better then we will feel better.
The first step is to separate your own negative feelings from what your child is experiencing and feeling. Your brain is running the “something is wrong” program and wants you to fix it. So identify when you want to help them feel better, and learn to just sit with the discomfort, tell yourself that nothing has gone wrong. It’s completely normal for your children to be uncomfortable with new experiences, and it’s okay for you to be uncomfortable. Again, nothing has gone wrong for either of you.
The idea is that you aren’t resisting the negative feelings, because what you resist persists and you are not nearly as effective as a parent when you are being driven by your own negative feelings. The alternative is acceptance. Accept that the discomfort is part of the growth process for you and your children, and ask yourself how you can best parent your child through this new experience.
In my client’s case, we identified that she was feeling guilty and thinking that they should have just kept the nanny full time and not sent their son to school. We talked about the fact that it was totally normal for her son to be uncomfortable, and it was also totally normal to experience negative emotions too. This information alone gave her some relief, and she was then able to focus on helping her son.
For children that are old enough to understand and communicate, the second step is just to normalize the negative feelings for your kids. Let them know that it’s okay to be anxious or afraid when they are having new experiences. Nothing has gone wrong. One of the best ways to help them is to ask questions so they can develop their own self awareness and understanding of their own emotions. Here are some questions that can help start a conversation:
- Do you expect to feel homesick or miss home when you are away?
- How do you think you’ll handle that?
- What’s something that you can do to feel better when you miss home?
If your child is old enough to write or draw, you can encourage them to write or draw pictures about their experience. The more you can help them gain self awareness, understand their feelings, and what’s going on internally, the more you help them develop the ability to understand and respond in emotionally healthy ways to challenges in their lives.
The third step is to connect with your child, and then get them to talk through the experience, their fears, and their feelings as they are going through it. This is a brain based strategy, based on how their brain is processing their feelings. It starts with understanding your child’s brain. Our brains have two hemispheres, the left and the right. Our left brain is logical, literal, linguistic and linear (it puts things in order). Whereas our right brain is emotional, nonverbal and cares about experiences.
When your child is experiencing negative feelings, they are operating from the emotional, right-side of their brain. The right brain is nonverbal so you want to communicate and connect with physical touch (a hug), empathetic facial expressions, a calm and nurturing tone of voice, and nonjudgmental listening.
Once you have connected, you want to get them talking about the experience. The right brain processes our emotions and memories, but the left brain is what makes sense of them. Our brains will continue to work to understand why things happen to us and why we are feeling badly until it succeeds in finding a reason.
To help our kids make sense of the new experience and understand it, we want to help them talk about it and retell the story and how they were feeling so their brain can understand it. Get curious and ask lots of questions, you want to get them to tell you about their experience and how they were feeling. Just getting them to talk about it can help calm their heightened emotions.
In my client’s case, her son is 2 and does not have language or logic yet to express his feelings. He has strong emotions, but doesn’t understand them and can’t communicate so they seem overwhelming. Young children (especially during the first 3 years) are right-brain dominant. They haven’t mastered the ability to use logic and words to express their feelings. When they are caught up in powerful negative emotions (right brain), they can get easily overwhelmed with the big emotions and bodily sensations flooding the right side of their brain.
For littles you can add the narrative for them by talking about the event in order and assigning words to what happened and how they are feeling. The idea is to help them name their fears and emotions so they can understand and make sense of them.
Remember, it starts with you checking in with your own feelings so you can parent calmly and effectively. Know in advance that your child may be uncomfortable, and tell your brain that nothing has gone wrong. Work on recognizing your own negative feelings, and instead turn your focus to helping your child through the experience.
This strategy is part of my Mindful Parenting Toolbox.
I hope that you found it helpful and easy to implement. If you are having specific parenting challenges or want to raise more confident and resilient kids, hop on a free call with me! Kids don't come with a parenting manual. I help parents stop second guessing so they can parent confidently and have better relationships with their kids. Unlike straight coaching, I also teach strategies so you can foster confidence, resilience and emotional intelligence in your kids. Go to melpeirce.com/consult to book a free call today!
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