No, I don’t have children. Yes, there are a lot of things I don’t understand.
Like how you get up every morning and make three (four? five?) kinds of breakfasts because you just found out Chloe is gluten intolerant, Michael is only eating ‘yellow’ foods, the husband has been incapable of making his own breakfast since 1975 and your teenager decided to go Vegan this week…
Seriously, I don’t know how you do it.
People often say to me, ‘I don’t know how you do it’ and my reply is always simple. I don’t have a husband or children. I have a boyfriend that is really good at looking after himself and a dog that only likes cuddles that last less than 10 seconds. I wake up in the morning and all I have to do is check my schedule, sip my coffee in silence, remember to feed the dog and run my business.
So, I don’t know how YOU do it.
When a parent says to me, ‘You don’t have children. You wouldn’t understand…’ there are some things that I REALLY DO understand.
- I understand when your child is burnt out…
- I understand when your child is definitely not burnt out and is just being naughty.
- I understand when your child needs some sensitivity…
- I understand when your child needs some tough love.
- I understand when your child wants you to sort their problems out for them…
- I understand when your child needs to face their problems by themselves.
- I understand when your child needs a hug…
- I understand when your child needs a time out.
I love this paragraph written by Dr. Robin Berman which formed the inspiration behind this particular blog post…
One of the best gifts we can give our children is to show them how to install and turn on their emotional thermostats. This thermostat will serve them well throughout their lives. The science is in. Children and grown-ups who are at home with their emotions are more at home with themselves, and have an easier time navigating work, friendships, and love. Conversely, adults and teens who can’t regulate their feelings more often turn outside of themselves to self-soothe. They self-medicate with food, drugs, alcohol, they cling to bad relationships, become codependent, etc. When these individuals become too anxious, too sad, or too easily triggered, they end up in a therapist’s office or they take a seat on a permanent emotional roller coaster. And that ride isn’t fun.
Let’s be clear, this isn’t a post about ‘parenting’ – I’m not a parent.
When you’re a parent you sign up for bringing the children home with you, making sure they stay alive by feeding and watering them. Seriously, don’t know how you do it – whenever I take students on an excursion of field trip Im like, ‘What?! You’re hungry AGAIN! You ate half an hour ago…’
But I am a teacher who deals with children every single day.
As a teacher you share in the role as ’emotional coach’. Especially when you create an environment where the child feels at home and you’re an adult they trust. You’d be amazed at what children tell me and how I can pick their mood from the way they do a plié. I’m sure a soccer coach can also gage a child’s mindset from the first kick… or whatever they do in soccer.
With that in mind, I do have a few thoughts…
I’m finding it more and more apparent that while parents only want their children to ‘be happy’ (naturally!) they are only pushing them further and further away from happiness via their actions that come from good intentions.
As Dr. Robin Berman (author of ‘Permission to Parent’) puts it…
Here’s the secret: To have happy kids, you must teach them to tolerate being unhappy.
We need to strike a balance between, “You’re going to sit their until you eat your bloody dinner!” and “Oh, you don’t feel like eating your dinner? Why darling? Is it too hot? Too cold? You don’t feel like meat this week? Maybe your gut isn’t digesting properly… oh you’re feeling sick? We better book in a doctors appointment for tomorrow… you do look slightly pale! Maybe you’re gluten intolerant.”
Perhaps we could try, “If you don’t eat your dinner you’ll probably be hungry later. And all that’s on offer later is fruit. So, up to you…”
Let me pop this into ballet teacher terms!
I have to strike the balance between, “For gods sake! Why can’t you remember your ballet skirt!” and “Oh you’ve forgotten your ballet skirt again for the eighth time in a row? There must be something psychological going on here. I’ll suggest to your Mum that she book an appointment with a child psychologist to find out the deep, dark reasons why you keep forgetting your skirt…”
Perhaps I should say, “Darling, we need to break this pattern. If you don’t show up for class prepared then there are consequences. I suggest packing your ballet attire the night before.”
It’s all about balance.
I never usually write about parenting children. I don’t want to get into trouble! However I couldn’t help myself after this particular situation…
A student showed up late the other day. She entered loudly and messily, distracting other students. She didn’t apologise.
I (without fuss) said ‘Sorry I’m late Miss Georgia’ to remind her that she forgot to say it. The child was a bit annoyed but repeated the apology back to me and we got on with class. Regardless of the reason why students are late, all my students know that they are to wait until the music has finished from whichever exercise is being performed, quietly make their way across the room and say, ‘Sorry Miss Georgia’.
The next day I received an email from the parent of the child. In a nutshell, how dare I single out her child in front of the whole class. It was her fault the child was late and if I had a problem I should take it up with her. Because I made her daughter so uncomfortable, I was apparently supposed to spend some quality time before class (wasting other students time) explaining that I was wrong to ask her to apologise and that I’m sorry she felt the way she did.
I kindly said I would not be doing that.
In a world where ‘bad behaviour’ is the new norm (think Kardashian meltdowns, political name calling and appalling behaviour on shows such as Married at First Sight…) I don’t think it’s the worst thing if I make your child use some manners when they enter a room late. I’d like to think it translates to their school environment and later in life at a work environment.
Back in the day, if I got in the car after school and was clearly upset, this was usually the conversation with Mum…
“Mrs Smith upset me today in class!”
“Well, what did you do…”
These days it’s more common for parents to ask, “What did THEY do?”
I once had an awkward conversation with a parent because her child hit another student during class. I thought the parent would turn to her child and say something along the lines of, ‘That’s not acceptable behaviour. Why did you do that?’ Instead the parent turned to her child and said, ‘Well what did she do to deserve it?’ I was gobsmacked.
I’m really feeling Dr. Robin’s six rules for teaching your children (wether you’re the parent or teacher) to navigate their large emotions. So let’s chat and relate them back to dance!
1.Tolerate your child’s negative feelings without rushing to fix them.
The child probably just wants to be heard. You know when you have a bad day and you whinge to someone who comes up with a million ways to deal or handle it and you’re like… I just wanted you to say, ‘That sucks!’ It’s the same thing! Let your child whinge about the teacher not paying enough attention to them today or making ‘student of the month’. Just let them vent and perhaps ask, ‘Well, what are YOU going to do?’
2. If you treat your children as fragile, they’ll probably always stay fragile.
If your child forgot her ballet skirt, tell the child to tell the teacher why she forgot her ballet skirt. Don’t disrupt the class to tell the teacher yourself. Your child needs to face these small (sometimes intimidating) hurdles themselves so that they don’t become reliant on Mum or Dad facing uncomfortable situations. Let them face small issues by themselves so they can face larger ones down the track.
3. You have to BE the lesson before you TEACH the lesson.
If you don’t have respect for the process or your child’s teachers, they won’t.
4. Empathise with your child’s feelings. I’m not saying deny them!
Little Sally is feeling sad about not being the lead in the Nutcracker? Don’t deny her feelings. That’s a normal thing to be sad about as a young ballerina. Instead, offer some encouragement or ‘plan of attack’ to work towards obtaining the role next time. Let them feel. Let them cope with being sad, disappointed or confused without trying to fix it or saying that they shouldn’t feel that way.
5. Ask yourself what it means to you. Don’t confuse their needs with your own.
Oh my god! When I see a young child who really doesn’t want to dance, but the parent did dance as a child (or worse, never got the opportunity!) and is pressuring their child, it kills me. If your child is deeply unhappy; why are you making them continue? Is it because you’re trying to fulfil your dream? Or is it because you’ve paid the term fee already… if it’s the latter, then they should probably finish off the term. Often, if you feel incredibly emotional about something, it’s because it’s about you, your childhood, your history – not your child’s.
6. Don’t trade feelings for food or gifts.
Children need to know what it’s like to self soothe and be with their emotions alone. A present stops the child from moving through their emotion and seeing light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a ‘quick fix’ and we all know quick fixes don’t work.
There are definitely times when adults and parents need to step in. But for the most part, give your children the beautiful gift of letting them work through their feelings themselves. And please, if your child’s teacher is positive, thoughtful, passionate and hard working – trust them.
As I always say…
Grit AND Grace,