Alarmed by a Child’s Cries?

Alarmed by a Child’s Cries?

My first-born’s cries actually scared me. Now I know why:

Bringing an adult perspective to children’s emotions is scary. 

Janet Lansbury makes this point brilliantly in her post “I think I’ve Ruined My Child:”

“Their tears, screams and tantrums can be alarming, maddening and guilt-inducing for parents if we make the common mistake of seeing from an adult perspective. Yes, when an adult screams, yells or cries it is serious cause for alarm, but children don’t have our emotional self-control or advanced language skills…”

When I read that, I had to stop and think. Whoa! Did I do that? Did I react to my first-born child Colleen’s scream like I did to an adult’s scream? Yes, I did! No wonder I found parenting so scary at the start! And no wonder Colleen took that on; we were both confused! It makes so much sense now.

It wasn’t just time and experience that helped me relax with my second child, Betsy.

Up until now, I’ve credited the shift to knowing that I could actually keep a child alive. But Janet is right; it was more than that. It was a major perspective shift — seeing a child’s cries as a communication of a want or need, not as an alarm bell for rescue, changed my reaction.

Colleen would cry out in the night, and I would panic, just as I would if I had heard my husband cry out! Betsy would cry out, and I would wait to see if she could calm herself on her own. My calm response was simply not possible before that perspective shift, now I know why.

In addition, my reaction explains Colleen’s reactions.

Not only was I frightened and desperate to fix every problem for her, I was sending the message that there was something to be frightened of.

To step into baby Colleen’s shoes, imagine what it would be like if the tables were turned and every time you said, “I’m hungry/uncomfortable/sad/angry/etc,” the person who was introducing you to a brand new world panicked and frantically tried to fix the problem.

If that was your only experience of the world, you would probably start believing that the messages your body was sending were actually scary problems that needed to be fixed immediately (or ignored when later in life you were told you were over-reacting). Confusion like that would make it difficult to regard those messages as the guides to healthy growth they really are.

If that hits home, and you have trouble trusting your inner guidance, now you know why. Knowing that your internal messaging is not broken after all, can free you up for some powerful self-coaching.

To start reconnecting with your body and emotions, listen to them from the child’s perspective, as though everything you say and do is a communication (because it is and always has been).

Here’s a line of inquiry to get you going:

  • What sensations am I feeling right now?
  • What is the real message my body is sending me?
  • Am I tired, hungry, bored, lonely, scared…?
  • How am I right to feel what I feel?
  • How must I be seeing this situation to feel the way I do?
  • What messages am I sending to myself that I’m discounting?
  • What messages were simply never heard?

I’ve often said that parenting is the fastest track to personal growth. Stepping into the child’s perspective is your best guide back to the heart of you and your natural state of calm.

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