Parenting the Animal - Los Angeles News | FOX 11 LA KTTV

Parenting the Animal

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When parenting gets rough we parents probably need true understanding, and maybe a validating and compassionate hug, more than we need advice, admonitions and lectures. 

So it is with our children when being a kid gets rough.

"I think therefore I am," has shaped centuries of life on planet earth—but it is an abject failure when it comes to parenting in the heat of dark moments (not to mention love and the making of art) simply because we feel before we think—and when we feel raw passion we need some safe space to rage and then we need animal soothing not intellectual structuring.

The art of parenting, when the going gets tough, is to put our children and their raw animal experience ahead of our ideas, no matter what those ideas may be.  Instead we must use our own animal selves to connect with, and soothe, the splendid wild animal that is our child.

No matter how old your child is (or yourself for that matter), when triggered into fear and anger our inner teacher-scientist gets dragged behind our runaway beast.

Like in some old Western movie, if you find yourself parenting a runaway horse of a child (prompted by anything from a nightmare to a "no" in the face of a pre-dinner cookie) this is no time to explain things, this is the time for metaphoric action—time to jump up onto  your own humble hobby horse of an aging body and gallop after him or her.

It takes an animal to calm an animal.  Thus while limits are important, love rules the day—especially in infancy and in any breakdown moments that look like regression to infancy—when words and thoughts fly out the window in a swirl of feeling.  When the animal who is our child is scared or enraged they have only one question:  Am I safe?  They have only one goal:  to survive.

When the animal who is our angry or frightened child appears to be in the heat of battle with us, it serves for us to be gallant riders upon our humble horses; a rider who can get down from our intellect (which is useless in such moments) and remember the animal that once was, and still is, our Self.

When parenting goes code red we must grasp that the child is scared—this is almost always at the root of her anger.  We must make ourselves small (not big to further overwhelm or dominate, as this just fuels her need for bigness to counter); we must find our calm (not out-rage her storm); we must be the eye of the hurricane, a calm bowl to hold her broken teapot self and the tempest that has shattered it.  The continued breaking and rebuilding is how the vessel of Self gets forged solid and sturdy.

No matter how fierce your kid's rage and terror in the heat of frustration, picture your baby as a frightened bird who flew into a window (i.e. your limit, her own frustration) and does not know what hit her.  Strive to use your heart like cupped palms to hold the dazed bird and keep her safe as she regains her instinctive wits.

Then, depending on her age and level of development, you can talk about whatever ideas you wish to teach.

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