3 Reminders About Honoring Our Kids’ Emotional Experiences

This morning Asher had to get pricked for an allergy test. He’s still fairly traumatized by the blood test he’d had several months ago, so the unknowns about this further poking were kind of a big deal.

Last night at bedtime when he remembered what the morning entailed, he started getting anxious, and doing what we call in our house awfulizing. Derin helped him with some reframes and turned out the lights, fingers crossed he’d be able to sleep.

He did. But when I woke him up, I instantly knew he wasn’t in a good space and I braced myself for some serious pushback. I was filled with the dread of what I just knew was coming—tense energy, fight or flight response, and all-around grumpiness, with me as the primary recipient. Before even a minute went by, I found myself already losing patience and frustrated with what I perceived as his default reaction of making a big deal out of something that wasn’t that big of a deal.

In other words, I was worried about how Asher’s allergy test was going to affect me and my day. (Not my best mama moment…)

Luckily, I realized this before he even jumped down from his top bunk and I managed to shift into empathy mode. I offered to make him a toasted bagel, suggested we take the tram to the appointment rather than bike in sub-freezing temperatures, remarked how responsible he was being by taking care of his body, and asked him if there was anything I could do to help make the morning easier for him.

For his part, he surprised me by moving out of defense mode and getting dressed without any big delays. He happily read his Kindle while eating breakfast and, when he was finished, put on his shoes and coat without any reminders. And when it was time for those eleven pokes on the inside of his forearm to test for reactions to things like grass, dust, and cats, he bravely rolled up his sleeves and laid his arms out on the table.

Spoiler alert: The test wasn’t bad at all. He barely felt the pokes. He only reacted to one allergen…grass. And the rest of our morning went on as smoothly any morning would.

Though the allergy test didn’t reveal any life-changing information regarding Asher’s allergies, it did present yet another opportunity for me to get totally and completely schooled from a parenting POV. In fact, I can pinpoint as least three takeaways from this morning’s events:

One: While we frequently remind Asher of the dangers of “awfulizing,” that’s exactly what I was doing. I had jumped to a conclusion about how bad things were going to be today without any evidence. Had I not checked myself and shifted my thinking, I could have actually created the exact outcome I was trying to avoid.

Two: Asher’s emotions are his and absolutely valid. If I don’t like them, that’s on me. Had I allowed myself to get frustrated by Asher’s legitimate feelings (nervousness, fear, annoyance), I wouldn’t have been honoring his experience. And as a result, he would have missed out on the chance to develop some emotional literacy, gain self-knowledge, and feel good about his ability to get through the morning.

Three: Our kids are always growing. When we respond based on old patterns and behavior, we’re doing them (and ourselves) are great disservice. And in fact when we can recognize and acknowledge their growth, we’re helping them make deeper and positive neural connections.

As it turns out, growth begets growth. For our kids and for us.

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