How the advice of an expert changed my view about my 5-year old
As I told you in the last article, there are times when we have such kind of issues with one of our children, that we ask a good friend or an expert for help.
This is what we did lately.
I sent Heinz Etter an e-mail, where I wrote him about our five-year old.
Simply because I was often clueless of how to reach out to him in a way that he felt understood and appreciated. There were several times I felt I was missing the point, without being able to identify how do better.
In less than two hours, Heinz Etter was able to point out some important things we got completely wrong.
I love to see where I am completely wrong – I think it is beautiful to be able to face reality and find a solution that transforms the situation!
The biggest change in dealing with this five-year old came in the understanding that the main problem we had in reaching out to him was my lack of validating the way he thinks, feels and reacts.
I will show you what I mean in a couple of examples:
- He always needs us to accompany him to the toilet. If we refused to go with him, he was just standing there, trying to hold back his pee and pleading us to come with him. Therefore, someone of us went – but we always let him feel how he actually would be a big boy, able to do it by his own.
- He’s a very clean little boy. He doesn’t want, after washing his hands, touch the tap to switch off the water if the tap is a little dirty – as he doesn’t want to get dirty again. So we used to switch it off for him, however, not without giving him the feeling that this shouldn’t be such a big deal.
- If he, by accident spilled all the milk on the floor instead of into his cup, he started crying, feeling very bad about it. My reaction was to tell him: “Don’t worry, it’s nothing!” and to clean it up in an attempt to make him feel better.
Of course, I did that with the wish to make his life a little less complicated and relaxed.
However, as Heinz Etter explained to me, I did the opposite.
Well, because I was messing up with his reality.
I told him with my reaction “The way you feel and perceive life is wrong. Your reality is not legit”.
So how can I respond instead? How can I reach out in active appreciation, validating the way he feels and thinks?
What about always having to go to the toilet with him, this old-enough-five-years-old?
Well. His reality might be “I can’t go on my own, because I might get a little wet” or “I can’t reach the toilet paper too well, I feel tense by going all by myself”.
Whatever his reality may be – it is his reality, the way he feels about it, the way he perceives that issue.
By me telling him that “he is a big boy and should be able to go alone”… I give him the message that his feelings and perceptions are simply wrong.
Therefore, why not simply accompany him, without telling him that he is a big boy who could do it by himself? Instead, I have to accept the fact that he feels more secure to go with one of us, when we ask him where we can help or what he needs us to do.
Immediately, we started to take this attitude. We quit being impatient and annoyed by his need of our company for going to the toilet.
After having done that for a few days, there once was a moment when we simply couldn’t go with him. Neither Benny nor I had the capacity to quit what we were doing and go with him. With the advice from Heinz Etter we told him:
“We are sorry, right now we can’t. You can wait for us (and if you pee goes into your pants we will help you to clean it up later) – or you can try to go on your own. We are sorry, son”.
He looked at us – one could see his thinking – and off he went to toilet all by himself.
We still go with him to the toilet whenever we can, without giving him the feeling that his perception is wrong and annoying. We will do it until the day, he won’t need us anymore.
- What about his need for clean hands which is so strong that he doesn’t want to touch the tap that is dirty?….
Heinz Etter told us:
“Well, some people would force their child walk around with dirty hands, simply to teach that child to not be so oversensitive. But I believe that we are called to be compassionate. If you truly want to reach out to your little boy in that situation, you could put a basin with water and a towel in every room of the house, so he can wash his hands and dry them properly without any stress.”
I got what he was saying. It made a lot of sense to me.
- What about his sensitive reaction to when he spoiled the milk on the floor instead of pouring it into his cup? Does it help him if I tell him that this is nothing? I want him to relax in that, after all!
Again, I created the same problem: In his perception, when he saw all the milk on the floor, this was a terrible thing. My response, that this was no problem at all, left him with the feeling that his perception of this situation was completely wrong. This in addition to the fact that by trying to calm him down, I had to suppress my feelings of impatience or irritation.
Heinz Told me:
a much better way would be to say: “Oh no, look at the mess! There is milk everywhere! Come, let’s clean up this milk together.”
Simply being real and authentic about it, without trying to override his way of feeling terrible about it. Reaching out to him by helping him to clean the mess, without blaming or even shaming him, of course.
Something inside of us shifted. We realized in a deeper way that it is not our task to shape the perception and reality of life our children have.
We don’t need to try to make life for them easier by telling them that there is no need to feel the way they do.
In some way I did know this to be true, like when they get hurt and are crying, for example, as Benny wrote in that article.
But after the talk with Heinz Etter I realized that there is a much deeper truth to be applied into the lives of our children:
Each of them has a unique perception about life. They have their unique mix of feelings and reality
that makes them who they are. Some of them are more easy going, others are on the “perfectionist” side of life. My task as a parent is not to talk them out of how they feel about things.
I will not be able to really reach their hearts and connect with them if I lack this capacity to show empathy and compassion for how they see things and experience life.
I will reach their hearts much more by validating the way they see things and feel about life and thus showing empathy and understanding.
When I empathize, I show the capacity to feel with my child, but I still know that this is not my own experience. In that way, I can be a secure place to be for my child to simply be who he or she is – which in turn creates the perfect platform for my child to mature and grow