Afterthoughts of the First Moms’ Meeting

The First Moms’ Meeting on Empathic Discipline was a success! Lots of moms have already started using the techniques with encouraging results!

Here are some things I thought of after the meeting:

Talk to your child the way you would talk to your best friend. You wouldn’t let your best friend get away with some detrimental behavior, but you also wouldn’t yell at her or speak to her in any way that might suggest you’re not there for her, or that your friendship is somehow in question. Why do we hold ourselves to a different standard of behavior towards children than towards grown ups that we love? (It is pertinent to note that grown ups often use a harsher tone towards themselves than necessary. Talk to yourself like your best friend as well. You deserve the same compassion that you show everyone else.)

I don’t like the word “adult” and always use “grown up” instead. To me, “adult” implies some kind of fundamental change that makes an older person somehow totally different from a child. This is a myth. While our bodies and brains do undergo many changes as we age, the base structures of our brains remain, often including triggers of fear and anger, and coping mechanisms. I prefer to say “grown ups” because it is more accurate. Older people are just that: we are children that have been alive longer. Our status should be based on experience and training, which comes with age, not on age alone.

We spoke briefly about investigating what threat a child might be perceiving to trigger a meltdown. I wanted to bolster this investigation with some reminders. A person’s identity and sense of self develops as they age. While we grown ups identify in many ways, including culturally, professionally, spiritually, etc., children identify themselves based on much less complex schemata. I like to think of it in terms of basic questions to which the answer defines the identity. For example, a baby asks “What do I perceive?” The answer is “my home, my family, love, food, language, etc.” Therefore the baby identifies with these things. There is almost no grasp of being a separate entity from these things. A bit later, I think two questions have equal value to the identity: “What can I do?” and “What can I say?” As very young children start speaking and developing gross motor skills, these skills define them. Next, as they begin to discern right from wrong, they begin to ask “Am I good?” This naturally brings all kinds of social understanding into the identity. It gets more complex from there as teens start to question their place in a social order, college students question their abilities to live independently from their parents, young professionals search for a niche in the grown up world, and young parents question their abilities to parent. Etc.

All this is to say that a simple identity is much more vulnerable than a complex one. It can be threatened by a small difficulty or defeat. Meltdowns are results of threatened identities. In order to empathize with a child during a meltdown, we have to be tuned in to how this child identifies him or herself, and how the preceding events may be perceived as a threat to that identity.

We can also use this information to help the kids develop identities that are more complex and robust. Teach them to identify more with “I try hard” than “I get it right.” Then, when they don’t get it right, the identity is still intact as long as they tried. How do you teach that? You model it, you talk about it, you reflect together on situations through that lens, you point out examples of other people who do and do not model it, and how they fare.

I’m sure I’ll think of more, but that’s good for now :o)

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