We want to teach our young human beings to process their feelings, understand where they are coming from, and inspire them to find empowering coping strategies from within their hearts and souls.
One such strategy that I often use (and share with parents) is storytelling.
There are a couple of things that happen magically when we tell stories. First and foremost, when we tell stories, we don’t discuss the situation at hand. Circling what is actually happening keeps us within the realm of the fight or disagreement; when we’re spiraling, we get angry. And if we get angry with an angry child – an explosion is a promise.
Breaking the cycle of anger is always a parent’s job, never the child’s.
In addition to removing both you and your young human from the situation, telling the right story at the right time works to connect you when almost every other option is a disconnecting one. When your heart is open, and you use it to help your child open up, understanding springs from within.
Storytelling in Action
On the way to school today, I asked Ilay (6.2) a question that sparked a memory about something else in him. He then asked to go abroad – next week!
I said that it wouldn’t be possible and moved on. Ilay immediately started crying (I mean full-on tantrum, rolling on the ground, screaming, kicking, etc). He was yelling that we never give him anything, that he never gets what he wants, and other statements of a similar sort.
Breathe, Wait, Tell
I sat on a nearby bench and told him I would wait for him to be able to talk. He came a bit closer, and when I spotted a moment of silence, I told him that when I was four, I wanted a walking and barking dog toy I once saw at the toy store with my grandmother. She told me I could have it for my birthday.
When my birthday finally arrived, and I got to receive my present – only one present, I emphasized; I opened the wrap and saw a snake inside—a little plush snake, green and red…
This got his attention. He could relate to my feelings of disappointment and sadness, possibly mistrust for a broken word. He saw himself in me, our hearts touched, and it was enough. He asked me what I did, and I told him I went and cried in my room. “And what did you get for your fifth birthday”? He asked. “A pair of shoes,” I answered, “I remember loving those shoes because they had glitter shoelaces which were so different from everything I had.”
Silence. Then Ilay said, “I do get many things from you.”
“Yes, you do,” I replied. I invited him to sit on my lap, and we hugged. I told him that I loved him very much. He said he loved me, too. I took a few deep breaths into his hug, truly enjoying that moment. Then, I added, “there is a place and space for sadness, disappointment, anger, and all the feelings you felt. Would you rather express these feelings differently next time”?
Celebrate the Connection
Ilay then apologized. I asked what he was apologizing for, and he described everything he did and wouldn’t like to do next time these feelings arise. He did it in hindsight, in a moment of connection, expressing thoughts and feelings from within.
I didn’t tell him he did anything wrong. I didn’t force him to apologize. I didn’t lecture him about proper behavior. I didn’t yell.
I allowed him the time and space to find these beautiful and tender realizations within himself because this is how we learn.
As for me, I am realistic, and I dropped my expectations when I became a mother. I know that all of this might (and probably will) happen again and again because emotional regulation is a years-long process. And he will get there, in his own time, and I will be there, right next to him, when he does.
Want to learn more? Join my parenting support group on Facebook, I’d love to meet you 🙂