Ask any adult and they will tell you at least one time in their childhood that they didn’t feel like a grown-up had taken their fear, anxiety, or worry seriously. At ask any adult when they have done that to a child, it’s most likely happened as well. Why? Sometimes we are busy and don’t feel like giving the time to hearing out a problem, or sometimes we just think, “Well, I went through that too and I’m fine. They will be too!”. Children just want our time, our attention, our love. But they also want to have a safe person who will listen, without judgment and help them through a problem. If we take mental health issues like anxiety so seriously in adults, why can’t we take it just as seriously with children? And can’t we help them to not trigger anxiety by teaching them how to have healthy boundaries with others so it doesn’t go to a place where they are crying and stressed?
Driving to school the other morning it was clear something was up as my little one sat next to me, wringing her hands.
“What’s up?” Was my oh-so-gentle way of asking my kiddo what was on her mind. She looked at me startled, obviously I had just interrupted whatever stressful thing she was thinking of.
She looks down at her hands, “Nothing.” She looks down at her hands, picking away at her white nail polish. I know that response, I GIVE that response when I want to talk but not really sure if I can find the words I need.
“Cool.” Wait for it...3....2.....1.....
“I’ve got a problem.....” There it is! What came next was a long story about school testing, a squishy, a friend, a teacher, and a squishy taken away by a friend and then by a teacher. High stakes 5th-grade drama. I sat quietly, letting her get out all the aspects of the situation that were upsetting her. Sitting there in my little Prius her anxiety was palpable and no matter what I said the only thing that was going to help was having her go through it. Sometimes we put so much energy into the “what if’s” of a scenario that we make the situation out to be bigger than it is. My solution for her was to talk to her teacher about what had happened, she didn’t want to. So I offered to go with her, but she had to do the talking. We did some “balloon breathing” with our palms up (hey, I practice what I preach!) to help slow her heart rate and release some of that amped up, crazy, jittery energy that can make you feel so unbalanced. As we walked up to her teacher I could feel her pulling back. I smiled at her, she gave me a nervous smile back and talked to her teacher. And everything was fine. She turned to me as I gave her a big thumbs up she mouthed, “I love you” as she walked into her classroom.
It would be so easy for me to just brush off her problems because I know that in time they won’t seem so big. But I would be sending that exact message to her; your problems aren’t as big and important as mine. I’ve seen firsthand how this can create a “caretaker” role for children with parents and it’s a hard role to break out of. This is something she is already struggling with her other parent, so I have to work twice as hard to give her all the tools she’ll need to not make being the caretaker of others emotions and feelings a habit. As parents, we want to be a safe sounding board, but don’t want to make our children so emotionally dependent on us that they won’t be able to go through situations like these on their own.Feeling their anxiety over a situation we could easily handle for them is torturous at times, but what would that teach them?I want my daughter to know her value and be kind to others, but hold her boundaries when she needs to. Even with me! There have been times when I’ve tried to push something and she’s let me know that I’m not walking the walk and I appreciate that. It makes me a better mom knowing that someone is watching and I need to hold myself accountable. Later, when I asked her how she felt about her conversation with her teacher she said she felt like she could breathe. Have you ever noticed that when a problem comes up multiple times it doesn’t go away until you learn to handle that particular situation? Happens with kids too. She has been getting a lot of opportunities to learn how to hold her boundaries with people and to be proactive about her needs with grown-ups and peers. I know other adults who keep having these things come up in their lives and still haven’t learned how to navigate it and I want more for her. By teaching others how to treat you-you are letting the world know what you will and will not put up with. We see this with children all the time! If they feel like there is a little wiggle room to push your boundaries they will because that’s how they learn. I remember doing this as a child to a babysitter. She was so sweet and easy going and I leaped right on that because I was taught that was a weakness. I pushed her by being rude and disrespectful. One day she turned around and put me in my place and there was no room for questions and I never treated her disrespectfully again. When we don’t learn these valuable lessons we become grown-ups who are still walking around and pushing people buttons to see what we can get away with.
How do you teach your child about boundaries? How do you empower your child to stand in their truth and teach others how to treat them? I’d love to connect and hear your stories! Find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn and let’s chat!