Don’t Look at Me in That Tone of Voice: Triggers and Opportunities

Have you ever walked into the room, and your child’s whole demeanor changed?  You watch her face go from relaxed to stressed.  Or his body tenses up in anger or frustration.  You have not uttered a word, yet your child has heard an entire lecture and is already reacting.

Ok, perhaps there was something you planned on reminding your child of, or maybe you weren’t happy that he left his clothes in the bathroom, again.  But at this moment you really intended just to let her know that dinner will be a few minutes late, or that you will be going to the store later and wanted to see if he needed anything. Yet your child is acting as if there was a battle, and you were left wondering what happened, and perhaps reacting yourself.  

Maybe as you walked in to speak to your child, your mind was still on the meeting you had earlier today, or you were thinking about the important errand you forgot to run, or you were feeling stressed about a discussion you had with your friend.  The expression on your face may have reflected your feelings that were entirely unrelated to your child at that moment.  And yet – before you know it, he is now triggered, and it feels like you are off course with one another.

It is so easy for us to misunderstand one another as we speak.  Sometimes, the misunderstanding happens before we even open our mouths.  And especially for kids who struggle with their emotional regulation, this can lead to tension, even battles unnecessarily.

An essential part of my work with parents involves improving communication skills with their children so that each person not only feels heard but knows how to ensure that they are not missing the chance to have their needs met.  But communication is not just verbal.  It’s also not always about what we think it is.

I once heard Toni Morrison speaking with Oprah Winfrey, and she said: “When a kid walks in a room, does your face light up?” In truth, that is what their soul is seeking.  We each want to feel appreciated and validated.  So much of our self-esteem comes from the feeling that we have value in someone else’s eyes whom we love and cherish.  Not from the words we hear, but from the way that person makes us feel.  This level of connection will help reduce the defiance and rude behavior that often creates so much family stress.

So next time, before you walk into your child’s space, take a moment, and pause.  Let your face show your love.  I promise the rest can wait a millisecond until you have connected.  And as they walk into your room, interrupting you yet again, pause.  Realize that in their world, maybe their need is urgent, and they don’t have the ability at the moment to do their own pausing.

At a quiet time, when things are calm, perhaps you can talk to your kids about the art of interrupting, the importance of noticing what someone is involved in, and that sometimes we may be in our own deep thoughts and that our expressions may be based on our internal thoughts, not about the person we are now facing.

Remember, what may seem obvious to adults are still lessons to be learned by children.  Our loving connection with them will always give us greater opportunities to teach and be heard.

“Let your face speak what is in your heart.”  Soften, slow down, pause.

Be well.  And reach out if you are in need.