If I’ve learned anything about trauma, regulation and parenting it is that first you have to know yourself. That applies to your children and it applies to you. If you aren’t in the habit of self-reflection and asking yourself how you feel and what do you need, you are most likely a reactive person who is comfortable telling yourself that your reactions were justified because someone else “made you do it”.
While it is very true that we attune to people and tend to match the emotions we see in someone else we focus our attention on (see my previous post on Atunement), it is important to be able to have enough self-awareness to understand when you are having negative feelings and examine those feelings before you disconnect with that person- in this case your child.
If you are not in the habit of self-reflection, I would suggest you look up some mindfulness techniques. They don’t have to take a lot of time during your day. You can do something as simple as pausing every now and then during the day and labeling your feelings at that moment to yourself. “Right now, I’m feeling- happy, anxious, calm, angry…” Remember behavior is communication. It’s true for your child and it’s true for you. If you are being short with your children, label your feelings and that can help you identify why you might be behaving the way you are.
Now for you children, self- reflection and attunement might be hard concepts for them to grasp. But you can still teach your children how to know themselves. I’m big on family time, family meetings, family meals whatever ritual you establish that pulls your family together so you can talk and share. Our family gets together before bedtime every night to talk, read, pray and dole out goodnight hugs and kisses. This is the time where I sneak in some sort of mindfulness activity we do as a family. One exercise we tried recently was that we each had to say how we felt at that moment and put a label on our emotion. It may be difficult for your kids to put a word to how they are feeling as we typically don’t say much about our emotions beyond, “fine”, “good”, “tired”, or maybe even an eye roll when a parent asks how a child is feeling. It’s a good place to start building up self-awareness. Try it!
Another exercise you can do with your children that is fun is playing a sort of feelings charade game with them. Have each person take a turn choosing a part of their day to act out and they have to show in their face how they felt about that experience. By focusing on non-verbal communication with no words. The rest of the family will be attuned to the person’s body language and facial expressions to try to figure out how they are feeling. This game has a two-fold benefit of helping the person who is acting out to again label their emotion to themselves and then tie that emotion to a facial expression, it links the left brain label/category and words factory to the right brain sensing and expressions to help them process how they felt about a part of their day. The rest of the family trying to guess the emotion, will be attuned to the person and their mirror neurons will be activated as they watch the expressions and register the feelings themselves in the right brain- then say the word- activating the left brain. Its’ a fun way to integrate thoughts, feelings and empathy by using both sides of the brain while building self-awareness skills.
And self-awareness brings knowledge