Show Rather Than Tell

Mother holding handYesterday my caregiver called in sick, which meant I adjusted my workday to spend the day with Ian.  If you've read my blog before you're aware that Ian has autism, is pre-verbal and he is highly sensitive to all the non-verbal cues in his environment. I let him know I wanted to run some errands (my need) and he walked to the car, opened the door, climbed in and was ready to go.  All was calm.  First stop, the bank, which took longer than expected.  I noticed he started to get antsy.  I checked in with my own body and felt a little tense.  (my feeling) Hmmm, he was mirroring my energy perfectly.

Second stop, CVS.  I already had the thought that the bank took too long and going to CVS might push him too far.  I wanted to get a money order and a couple items.  Ah, I realized I was attached to the outcome and as we walked the aisles he started to get vocal. I took a couple deep breaths, let go, returned to the present moment and started to sing to him, which calmed him down.  We both relaxed, I found the item and we headed to the checkout.

Several people stood in line before us and I thought, "I don't know if he'll be okay waiting."  Guess what?  He wasn't. He yelled.  People turned towards us with that expression of "what the heck was that?" They had a look of confusion as they saw this 9-year-old boy making strange noises. He felt their energy and yelled more.

I took a couple deep breaths and noticed tension in my own body and thoughts arose that he was disrupting the store and the shoppers. Then I paused, came back to the present and trusted I had all the power to lead him through this experience safely and calmly. He just wanted to feel safe and be led.  (his need) It didn’t matter what the shoppers thought, that was their business.

He didn’t feel safe and he let me know with his behaviors. At this point he even hit me a couple times to really get his message across because it was taking me a bit longer than usual to come back to the moment.

I set a boundary with love and compassion and let him know I heard him.

I connected with his need to feel safe.  I reassured him that he was perfectly safe, I was there with him.

My voice was calm and loving (because the words don't matter) and let him know I trusted he could do this.  I asked him for patience and to stay with me.  (my request) I found my way back to a peaceful state and he began to calm down.

He did go towards the door one time where I gently redirected him back into the store.  I didn’t physically stop him; my body blocked him from about four feet in front of him.  Then my hand extended an invitation to go back inside.  I reiterated that I trusted he could do this, waited for him to take my hand and led him back to the checkout counter.

He expressed himself a couple more times and I didn't react or give it attention. We completed the purchase and as we walked out together I thanked him for his understanding and patience.

He had the room and freedom to express himself; I didn’t try to stop him from yelling.  I made requests and he granted most of them and the ones he didn't, I set boundaries.  I didn't physically restrain him or force him to do anything.

In the past, before working with the horses I would have spiraled into a state of stress and anxiety right along with him.  I likely would have left frustrated before making my purchase and felt like an bad mom. It also would have shown him that type of behavior worked to get out of the store.

Thankfully, I now have another way to navigate these experiences when I stay present, calm, aware, unattached to a specific outcome and connected with both of our needs.

If you'd like to learn how to restore calm in your relationships and lead from a place of peace, I'm here to show you there is a way and it feels like freedom!

The Process

So how do we as parents teach our children what is important in life without telling them what to do?  Here the process I use and I hope by sharing the example above you have a feel for how it works.

The short answer - you show rather than tell.

You invite without attachment to outcome.  You lead by example and give your children the space to express themselves so they have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.  When their behavior doesn't feel good, you set boundaries with love and compassion.

What keeps parents from doing this?  Fear.

Fear that if you let go of control chaos will result.  Do you relate to this?  I sure do.  I'm a self-proclaimed recovering control-a-holic and have been in a state of deep letting go for two years now.  If you answered yes, what do you fear will happen if you allow your child the space to express himself and make mistakes?

When we tell our children what to do we squash their basic human need for autonomy and this is where resistance and power struggles arise.  We teach them to behave to please others and disconnect from their own inner guidance system.  I'm not saying allow your child to do whatever he or she wants.

I’m saying lead your own life and allow them the space to make choices.  Let them know when their actions and behaviors make you uncomfortable and set healthy boundaries...with love and compassion.

I'll say it again, set healthy boundaries with love and compassion, not with frustration and demands.  These are two very different approaches.  One represents true leadership and the other, control and domination.  How do you feel when someone tells you what to do and you feel you have no choice?

There is another way to parent from a place of peace.

One rapid way to learn is step into a round pen with a horse.  But since you're likely sitting in a chair reading this from some type of electronic device here's a list of steps to help you find your place of peace.

  1. Awareness - Notice when when you feel any sort of tension in your body or emotion that creates stress.  Notice what happens in your body and where.  Your child will feel your stress.
  2. Identify your need. Ask yourself what you need in this moment to return to a state of calm.  Sometimes it just takes a pause and a couple deep breaths.  Other times it may take a lot more including some thought work.  Have compassion for that part of you that's struggling.
  3. Identify your child's need. What is the need behind the expression/words/behavior from your child.  See if you're able to see past the behavior and hear the need your child is trying to communicate no matter how distorted it's getting expressed.  Every behavior is a form of communication.
  4. Connect with your child's need with compassion, understanding and empathy.  This may not require any words.
  5. Set healthy boundaries with love and compassion when your child's behavior doesn't feel comfortable to you.
  6. Make a request without attachment to whether the request is met or not.  Allow them the space to make a mistake and learn from that experience as long as it is safe to do so and set boundaries where you need to.
  7. Stay present throughout this process.  If you notice yourself getting all wound up in thoughts and emotions ground yourself back in the present by focusing on the five senses.  What do you see, smell, hear, feel, taste?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.  Please share in the comments what works for you or where you find yourself getting stuck.