Children thrive when their parents are emotionally available. What does this mean and how can you do it?
How to be an emotionally available parent
As parents, we have a lot going on. We’ve got jobs, commitments, adult relationships, and a LOT of thoughts and feelings. When we are with our kids, the thoughts and feelings are often related to parenting itself. Now, it is fine to think and to feel. But when our inner life is overwhelming, we are less attuned to the people around us. Being unattuned and unavailable will will affect your relationships with adults, and it will greatly affect your kids. Because when it comes to children, part of their healthy development is the experience of being in relationship with an adult who is available to see and to care for them. This doesn’t mean sitting and playing with them 24/7. It does mean that in the many moments when you are in a shared space, whether in the car together or while you are folding laundry with your child nearby, you are open and attentive to your role as a caring parent.
In order to be a good enough parent, you need to be emotionally available. Perhaps this sounds daunting. Here are a few suggestions to help you clear your head of the noise, and to parent with ease and presence:
1. Tap into the calm part of your brain
Sylvia Boorstein, a meditation teacher, once guided her students to close their eyes and notice the part of their brain that was quiet and at peace. Yes, there is already part of your brain that is completely calm, not filled up with thoughts, planning, or worries. GIve yourself permission to go there and get calm, at any given moment. It is a muscle you can build.
If you have never experienced meditation, you might want to try it out. It is a great experience to be familiar with, for letting go of the noise and being an available parent. Here is one short guided meditation from Sylvia Boorstein.
2. Observe your child with gentle curiosity
You want to try to let go of judgement and start to observe your child with gentle curiosity. Children thrive on being seen. When you “see” them, it means that you are not getting them mixed up with your own sense of self and inner life. Try to differentiate yourself from them, and get to know them by quietly witnessing them as they are.
This includes doing your best not to judge your child. Judgements lead us to project lots of thoughts and feelings onto them, and can leave them feeling rejected. For example you might think, “I can’t believe you are hitting your little brother, what is wrong with you!?”; “How can you be asking me to buy you treats, you’re such a pain!”; “Stand up for yourself! What a weakling.” One way to help yourself let go of judgements is to find out what is developmentally normal for children at each age. Your child’s behavior is probably much more normative than you think.
3. Guilt-free boundaries - for them and for you
Everyone has their style of setting boundaries with their kids. Some parents are permissive, some are authoritative, some are a mix. If you find yourself getting emotional or stressed about boundaries, take a step back and take stock: All children need boundaries. Again and again and again. It’s okay and it’s your job to give them. This can be done in a simple and non-emotional manner. If there are too many warnings and negotiations happening, take an action. Remove your child from the situation. You are the adult and that is that.
Also, know what your needs are, and respect them in as simple and guilt-free a manner as possible. For example, “I am still eating my lunch. I will help you fix your train tracks when I am done”. Kids can handle a very wide range of frustrating actions from their parents, but they all work better when we do them guilt-free.
4. Call in your resources
Whether it is a friend, a relative, or a professional - get all the help and support you can. Parenting is no simple feat and we are all determined to do it well! No need to go it alone.
Many people are trying so hard to be great parents. The most important and pressing thing you can do is to give your presence in a light, alert, and present manner. A lot of the rest will fall into place.