Learning from my children 1: building trust and learning to be myself

Early December marks birthday season in our house (two kids’ birthdays in three days!) and with the excitement of Christmas round the corner, everyone gets very hyped. Which inevitably means overtired children, much bickering and frazzled parents. It’s an annual event for us, so we’ve become quite accustomed to the quirks and pitfalls of dealing with ‘crazy season’. For all the fun, I think it’s actually quite stressful for the kids, and can bring out tricky behaviours.

When Tiny and Small open their presents from friends and relatives, there’s always a moment when I hold my breath and wonder, “What will they say?!” As adults we have a filter that allows us to smile politely through the gifts that disappoint or bemuse us, a skill that most children haven’t mastered yet! It’s just part of being a kid. I’ve realised I spend a lot of time worrying about how the gift-giver might feel, and if I’m honest, whether my children will be seen as ungrateful and rude. I prepare to step in and limit the damage. As it happens, they both did really well this year and were genuinely grateful for each and every gift.

These breath-holding moments made me reflect on how embarrassed I can get by the things my children say, when really they are just being kids, honest and up-front. They are happy to let themselves be seen for who they are, warts and all. There is no need for social self-protection, something we adults constantly engage in, without being aware of it. Although it can be awkward and even painful, there’s such a beauty in the honesty of children.

At the moment I feel challenged to balance the need to guide them in respecting and loving other people with their words, against the need to make sure they are unafraid to voice what’s going on inside. And it is a balance – as parents, we need to help them understand the impact we can have on others, even unintentionally. I’m realising it’s about redirecting those responses and feelings to a space of complete openness and safety, and our reactions to the things they say will be what helps to build that space. I’m trying to stop myself showing embarrassment or jumping to tell them off when they say something that an adult might see as rude. Instead, I want to be calm, taking a moment to think about what is going on, so I can help give them a gentle way out of the situation and help them process it later. I never want Tiny or Small to be afraid to share what’s inside, in the safety of our relationship, knowing that as their parents we will always accept and love them.

And I believe there’s something I can learn from them about being myself, without holding back.

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