Finding the “just right” position when listening to our child’s feelings

Have you ever had your child tell you to “Go away!” when they’re upset, and you’re trying to listen to and support them as they move through their big feelings?

It can sometimes be hard not to take this personally, but it is more helpful to take it as our child’s best way of communicating what their nervous system is needing right now.

If they’re telling us to “Go away!”, it’s likely that they are needing more space. Perhaps our closeness is overwhelming to them at that time, and rather than offering a sense of co-regulating safety, it feels like “too much” to them.

In the midst of their upset, “Go away!”, might be the only way they can think to express this to us. And even though it doesn’t feel enjoyable to hear, it’s so important that we listen to them. They know what they are needing, and we can work with them to meet their need!

It doesn’t necessarily mean that they want us to go all the way away! They might want us at the door of their bedroom, or sitting in the hallway. Perhaps that is where they can feel our presence and support in a way that feels safe to them.

Image courtesy of Freepik

We want to find a position where our child can comfortably receive us – not too close, not too far away, but where it feels “just right”. Of course, all the while we need to be regulating ourselves, so that we can offer that calming presence, and our child can start to co-regulate with us.

So next time you hear “Go away!”, I invite you to get curious and, while grounding and resourcing yourself, consider your “positioning”. With the minimum of words, because we don’t want to be distracting them from their feelings, or making this about us, we can ask our child, “How far would you like me to go?”.

On occasion when I have done this with my son, it has naturally evolved into a playful, connecting interaction. My asking him has transmitted enough of a sense of safety that he has ended up having a little laugh, and then we have moved into a game of “finding just the right spot” for me to be.

If, on the other hand, our child does want us close, we can also use minimal questions to find out just how close they want us to be. We can offer what we guess they might most enjoy, “Would you like me to put my arm around you?”. And if they say, “No”, we can gently ask them, “Is there something else you’d like?”.

This process of finding the “just right” spot can be a great exercise for our children to really tune into the nuances of information coming from their nervous system, and have the experience of us listening to and respecting what they are sensing that they want. This is a fabulous lesson for our children in honouring their inner senses and setting healthy boundaries.

If you’re wanting to learn more about the nervous system, and how to regulate your own nervous system so that you can act as an anchor for your child, then I invite you to check out the “Rewire Through Regulation and Repair” course that Angela Hill and I will be offering again in October (rewireforparenting.com). Registrations will be opening soon!

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