Seeing Children

Way back when life was, well the way it was before the way it has been for the last 5 months, I was in my neighborhood grocery store, snagging a bunch of bananas for a class later that day. As many of you know, I prefer my bananas to be just this side of green…if there’s a hint of brown, it’s time to freeze it for banana bread or a smoothie…Thus, those are what I also preferred to serve in class, so I was a frequent flyer at grocery stores each week (or the occasional 7-11: they have good coffee and decent, if over-priced, bananas; pro-tip).

I digress…so I was in the store, and I was checking out with my favorite checker, Brenda. Brenda is one of the most authentic women I’ve ever met and I love chatting with her. We bonded over the fact that we’re both from the South, and she’s met and always asks after my Dad. I love running into her. On this day, a random weekday, she asked me if I had the day off…I mean, who else is in Ralph’s, midday, just buying bananas? I explained, no, I was picking up supplies for the class that I teach. She asked about the class, and my answer was something along the lines of “it’s a class to help parents develop a positive and respectful relationship with their children, from the very beginning.” And as she nodded along and I slid in my card, the checker behind her, a guy I’d only seen a couple of times previously, couldn’t contain himself. He exclaimed, “I wish my parents had taken that class when I was a kid!! They just don’t understand me!!!”

Let me tell you, my heart just went out to this guy: that exclamation was torn from the depths of his soul! He went on to say that his parents always pushed him to do things he wasn’t interested in and didn’t like, and never saw value in what he was passionate about. He grew up never feeling seen by his own parents…and it made such an impact on him that overhearing me casually give the barest of bones of a RIE overview caused him to cry out.

I was reminded of this event recently as I was reading The Power of Showing Up and came across this line: “…would he end up talking about how his parents always wanted him to be something he wasn’t, or didn’t take the time to really understand him, or wanted him to act in ways that weren’t authentic in order to play a particular role in the family or come across a certain way?” (p. 122). Yes, this guy in his 20’s was still talking about his parents never saw him for who he was…and maybe some of you can say the same.

In fact, making children feel seen is one of the critical 4 S’s of “showing up” and helping children develop healthy and secure attachment. (Two weeks ago, I talked to you about the first S: Safe…I’m doling them out ssssslllowly….). It’s vital on the most basic of levels because we all know what it’s like to have a conversation with someone who gets us, right? Just the other day, I was deeply dismayed by something and I called my friend to discuss it, and she immediately understood where I was coming from and was just as angry. I didn’t have to explain or justify myself: she saw me and understood my frustration and we could go immediately into dirty dishing. It was a relief…she saw me. Of course she did, she is my dear friend, and attuning, after all, “is the basis of a healthy relationship” (p. 120).

When we are able to tune into another person’s internal mental state and try to understand things from their point of view, we help them ‘feel felt’ and understood on a profound level. And when you can demonstrate that understanding through action or word, e.g., respond contingently, you complete the ‘triad of connection.’ Hopefully, we do this routinely with friends, family, and spouses…and most importantly with your children. “When we know our kids in a direct and truthful way, they learn to know themselves that way, too” (p. 111).

This is why this Approach asks you to pause before you jump to comfort your crying baby. Yes, it is for you to assess your own inner state and gut reaction, but it is also to approach with a true sense of wonder and seeking…to use your own imagination to see what’s going on inside of your child’s mind. Of course, we aren’t mind readers, and no one can perfectly read their children all the time…we may think we’re laughing with them, but they think we’re laughing at them, or we may be missing pieces of the puzzle…but when your goal is for this type of communication, you’ll be hitting the mark more often than missing it, and that’s what counts.

Seeing children also involves looking behind the behaviors they are demonstrating to the real issues that are the catalysts. A toddler melting down over getting out of the tub might be over-tired…and a sullen spouse may be withdrawing because of a rotten day…using mindsight can help you bring up some empathy…Magda taught us that we treat others based on how we see them. It’s easier to be empathetic with a tired toddler and a bummed-out spouse than a screaming tyrant and an aloof jerk, no? And turning the bright light of mindsight internally may also help…am I triggered more easily tonight because of my day…or my own history, the way I was raised? “After all, some of what you experience in the middle of conflict or tension might have nothing to do with your son’s bath time…” (p. 120).

When you see children in this way, trying to see through the behavior to the mind, you are also helping them to “feel the fullness of who they are. It’s about making them feel free to share their feelings, even the big and scary ones that threaten to overwhelm them” (p. 129). The fullness of who they are…yes!! We are light and we are dark! As I said on the zoom today, I’m not RIE all the time!! What I meant was, I’m not RIE-zen all the time: I’m not patient and accepting with firm and kind boundaries every moment of every day…not even close. But that’s the good news because very few people are authentically that all the time…we are full humans with a spectrum of emotions and feelings, and so are your children! And they are keen studies of you and your ideas about that spectrum. Child Development books call it “social referencing;” Magda called it “learning what it is to be human.”

My favorite part of this chapter is when TPB and DJS outline the two steps to helping children be seen…1) slow down and simply observe without agenda and 2) be present. We do this every week when we’re in RIE class.

Practice it every week at home.

And enjoy.

And my Saturday musings wouldn’t be complete without a reading from The Parents’ Tao Te Ching:

24. Agendas – Yours or Theirs?

If you push your children,
they will lose their balance.
If you are always running them here and there,
they will get nowhere.
If you put them in the spotlight,
they will be unable to see their own light.
If you seek to impose upon them
your own ideas of who they should be,
they will become nothing.

If you want them to thrive,
do what you can for their safety,
then let go.
Do you have agendas for your children
that are more important that the children themselves?
Lost in the shuffle of uniforms,
and performances,
can be the creative and joyful soul of your child.
Watch and listen carefully.
Do they have time to daydream?
From their dreams will emerge
the practices and activities
that will make self-discipline
as natural as breathing.
Encourage these.