Okay, in my last post I talked about how to share your child’s emotion, during an emotional response, to facilitate empathy and understanding. There are two more parts to the process of strengthening your relationship that I will talk about here. They are:
- Share her attention
- Share her intention
Share the attention
What does it mean to share the child’s attention? This doesn’t refer to giving the child attention or inappropriately rewarding attention-seeking behavior (although I do have certain opinions about that). It means that you tune yourself in to whatever she is focused on. When your child becomes emotionally escalated, ask yourself where is her attention at this moment? And then bring your own attention and the focus of your words around to whatever it is. For example, in the previous post I used the example of a child who wanted a cookie before dinner. The parent’s refusal to allow this resulted in the child screaming “Give me a COOKIE!” (accompanied by foot stomping, of course). Her attention is clearly on obtaining a cookie, and she wants you to know this.
So, after sharing the emotion with something like “Wow, you are really angry!”, you could share the attention with “You really want a cookie right now, don’t you?” This allows the child to feel understood and validated. He does not need to escalate his reaction because he knows you get it. He is heard. By recognizing where his attention is focused and stating that back to him, he does not need to become defensive or argumentative.
Many parents in this situation will simply try to distract the child’s attention elsewhere. They will offer a toy or an activity or something to divert her focus away from the source of conflict. However, it is important to note that, while this may work temporarily (and usually only with younger kids), it is simply a way of meeting the parents’ needs, and it misses the point of creating empathy and connecting with the child on a deeper level. The message is sent that the child’s needs aren’t important and should be pushed aside or ignored.
Share the intention
Along with sharing his attention is sharing his intention. These two components really work together to accomplish a similar purpose, and usually you will find that sharing attention without sharing intention is insufficient for a good, strong relationship. Sharing his intention means that you look at and recognize what the child’s underlying need is and why he wants what he wants. This can be a bit tricky and often requires some questions, which is why it is so important to follow the other two steps first. By jumping into the experience and understanding what he wants, the parent de-escalates the emotional reaction and allows the child to be in a place where he can process questions and give rational answers about his intentions. Once you show that you see what the child’s needs are, he no longer needs to throw a tantrum to be heard. He feels you are together with him in this and now he has an ally to help him problem-solve, instead of an enemy that he has to fight against to get his needs met. And then the two of you can work together to find an acceptable solution to the problem.
So, using the above example of the cookie, after sharing emotions and attention with your child, you could share his intention with something like this: “You must be really hungry right now” or “Are you feeling hungry? Is that why you want the cookie?” Of course, there are other possibilities such as maybe the child just saw the cookies and decided she wanted one, or maybe her brother asked her to get him one, or whatever. You can phrase your questions or statements to be appropriate for your child’s understanding. But the point is that you seek to understand the why behind her request, and then you can use that information to see if there are other ways to meet her needs or to better explain your position and why she can’t have the cookie at that moment. Often children don’t have the ability to recognize for themselves why they are doing what they are doing or want what they want. This process of sharing their intention gives them the space they need to learn how to recognize internal motivations, which is a powerful tool for success in life.
How Counseling Can Help
Sharing the emotion, sharing the attention, and sharing the intention are three important skills for diffusing emotional outbursts and teaching emotion regulation. If you want to know more about how to apply these techniques with your child and how you can build stronger relationships with your children, contact me. With parent coaching, family sessions, and play therapy, you have several options available to strengthen your family and improve your relationships. Contact me today and I can help determine what would work the best for you and your family’s needs.