Yes, you read that title right! I want to talk a bit about why our children’s challenging behaviour can be a gift to us as peaceful parents, and something that we could actually begin to feel grateful for.
As a peaceful parent, one of the most valuable mindset shifts which serves me again and again is to see my daughter’s challenging days – moments where she is angry, sad, frustrated, is pushing boundaries, or otherwise feeling “off” and not her usual self – as a blessing rather than a curse.
It is easy to tell our children that we love them to the moon and back when they are in a sunny, charming, helpful mood, and of course it is important that we do this! But if our children are to learn that they are truly unconditionally loved then we will need to show up with empathy, compassion and kindness when they are having a bad day too.
Although the tough days themselves are not easy, I have now come to welcome those moments when my daughter is having a hard time as they allow me to truly practice what I preach, and show up at my best when she is feeling at her worst. Her anger, frustration, bad moods and moments of sadness provide me with the opportunity to respond in a way which deepens our connection to and relationship, slowly growing her sense of self-worth each time I meet her tears with kindness and her shouts with compassion. That is why I feel profoundly thankful for those opportunities, although they can be painful for me as a parent; no parent wants to see their child upset or frustrated.
I also reach for gratitude during difficult moments, reminding myself that my daughter feels safe and comfortable enough to express her feelings and be truly, authentically herself without fear of shame, punishment, or judgement. I am grateful that she trusts me with her feelings. It is a huge privilege to be allowed into someone else’s vulnerable moments, no matter how old they are, and it is a privilege I take very seriously.
Here are some tips to support you when you hold space for your children’s challenging moods:
- Leave your ego to one side. Your child’s bad mood is not a reflection on you as a parent, it’s not about them wanting to cause you misery, in fact it’s not about you at all. When you are able to leave your ego to the side and focus on your child’s needs and feelings rather than your own, you can connect with them so much more deeply. This takes practice, and constant work! But it is transformational.
- Use language to coach your child through their emotions. “You are safe”, “It’s OK to feel angry”, “I can see how sad you are”, “I wonder if your heart feels like it’s hurting right now”, or “It sounds like you are feeling really hurt and upset.” By doing this, you create a truly safe space for them to express their feelings, and you show them that they are not too much for you to handle. You are their parent, and what a beautiful gift to show them that you can easily and joyfully hold them – and their most difficult feelings – without bending or crumbling under the weight of them. You can take the strain.
- Sit with the discomfort. Like I said above, no parent enjoys seeing their child struggle. For many of us, our first instinct is to distract, mollify, appease, or change the subject when our child is feeling hurt or angry. But this teaches them that our comfort is more important than their emotional needs, and that there is no space in your home for difficult feelings. Learn to sit with the discomfort, being present in the here and now and trusting that by providing a safe space you are giving them exactly what they need. This can be so hard at first, especially if your own feelings were not given space as a child, but it gets easier once you witness your child coming through the other side of challenging feelings without you needing to distract or redirect them.
- Tell your child explicitly how much you love them. Offer physical affection, put aside tasks to focus on them, use words to tell them “you are so loved, even when you are having a hard time, I love you the same no matter how you feel or what you do”. One of The Peaceful Home members likes to tell her son “I love and accept you exactly as you are” when he is struggling, which is a beautiful way of putting it.
- Hold your well-considered limits. Limits and boundaries are still important! In fact they are probably more important in these moments, as they provide a feeling of safety and continuity (and may provide a useful outlet for your child to rail against and express whatever it is that they need to express)
- Treat days of low mood in the same way as you would ill-health. By doing this you show your children that a “soul fever” (borrowing the words from Kim John Payne) is as real and as deserving of care as a real fever. I try and see days when my daughter is struggling with her emotions through a similar lens as I would if she were feeling physically unwell: paying her closer attention than usual, offering nourishing soothing foods and lots of liquids, cancelling plans, creating opportunities to rest (audiobooks, daytime baths, lots of cuddles on the sofa and reading), encouraging fresh-air if she feels up to it, and lessening my expectations. This also helps to put me in the mindset of a kind and empathetic carer when responding to challenging behaviour. After all, if she was sick I would expect her behaviour to change, so this should be no different.
- Take care of yourself. This doesn’t mean centring your experience when your child is struggling, but it does mean taking care of your own needs. Texting a friend or partner, taking a breather with a cup of tea, going for a walk when the kids are in bed, meditating for five minutes to clear your mind, asking for a hug: whatever you need to feel better.
Tough days can be draining for everyone, no doubt about it, but hopefully as well as feeling tired you’ll also feel a sense of deep satisfaction that you have met your child exactly where they were at with compassion and understanding, and deepened your relationship and your child’s sense of self-worth in the process.
It is hard work, but it is important work. Our children are worth it, and so are we. Together through peaceful parenting, we can change the world for the better.