Sobbing. Where is that crying coming from? You think to yourself. Opening the door to her room, Sandy is curled up on her bed, sobbing into her pillow. Sitting gently on the bed, your hand slowly settles on her back and she jumps. Quickly, she dries her eyes without looking at you. She sits up, looks at you, and huddles into the corner. The feeling of a distance so vast you’ll never cross it comes between you. How do I say ‘You are loved’?
I’ve got three kids under 15 and sometimes it feels like life is a roller coaster of feelings and sounds. One minute the coaster builds, going up and up to a great height of love and laughter, only to crash/bang/jolt to your back and pure terror barely controlled ensues. We can be rocking along at a steady pace and then a surprise upsets one or more and the feelings blow back in your face and you can’t even breathe at the pace of the change. How do we handle this whiplash? How do we show our children they are safe in such a changeable world?
When you get ready to ride a roller coaster, the attendant goes through a thorough and complete check. They check your seatbelt, push and pull on the safety bar, and do hand signals and announcements that let you know the ride is safe. Observing this makes the fear and terror fun. You know-that-you-know-that-you-know, you are safe. Families function the same way. Ups and downs come and go, but if a child really knows-that-they-know-that-they-know they are loved, everything can be ok. We can just enjoy the ride. But how can we really show our child we love them?
Step 1: Eye Contact
Looking a person in the eye and having soft, loving eye contact on a regular basis shows a level of care and commitment to that person. In our increasingly digital world, positive eye contact is rare. Putting down the phone, turning off the device, and having a face to face conversation creates an intimacy that fosters connection. My oldest son, who is extremely active, and I play a game every so often. I say “Let me see the blue sky” and he says “Let me see the green grass” and we stare in each others eyes. We usually laugh, hug, and go our way, but this sweet interaction allows me to check in with him and connect without a lot of fuss.
When the attendant comes over and adjusts our seatbelts and checks our safety, they look at us, they check us out. This look provides the first clue we are safe because we are seen.
Step 2: Physical Contact
Children need positive physical contact. Roughing up a child’s hair, snuggling on the couch, rubbing a child’s back, these are all ways that caregivers show love. We spend a lot of time going from one place to another and taking our children from one child care environment to another. We may miss the opportunity to slow down, give a hug, and spend some time in physical contact.
When the bar comes down on the roller coaster, it is tight and it is protective and it is noticeable. It is also comfortingly solid. This feeling provides another clue that we are physically safe on that roller coaster because we are locked in.
Step 3: Focused Attention
Uninterrupted, planned and focused time feeds our relationships and grows our feelings of connection. Our full schedule needs to include connecting time. Without this focused attention to the relationship, it can wither and become weak. Time and attention allow us to acknowledge feelings, talk about issues, learn about each other. Without this focused attention, our relationship might not weather the next storm.
The attendant spends a specific amount of time focused on the safety of this ride. They work quickly, efficiently, but they are focused. You know safety is their primary job and it provides the final clue that this ride is safe.
These steps come directly out of a classic parenting book: How To Really Love Your Child by D. Ross Campbell. I’ve used it for years with clients and myself. It has great information for parents of any age child because it has one basic idea. Parenting is about putting the lock bar in place on the roller coaster. Helping our kids to see the wild and crazy world of relationships and emotions as fun and exciting only happens in the context of loving and supportive relationships.
You may need help figuring out how to apply these steps in your situation. I’ve worked for 17 years with families and children learning how to create, maintain, and grow great relationships. Call me for a 15 minute consultation about how I can teach you show the love you have to those around you. 940-222-8703 ext 700.