Ways to soothe an upset child work for adults too
While riding the ferry in Sydney harbor with my granddaughter, her father and my husband, all was going fine until a moment of fear on a young child’s face, unmistakably echoed by her words, “Where’s my daddy?”
It was only a 2-minute absence – her daddy went to the concession to get a sandwich – but because she didn’t know, daddy didn’t say, “I’ll be right back,” her mind instantly went to a fear state. And if daddy had said, “I’ll be right back,” naturally, she would have protested and wanted to go with him.
This simple moment on the ferry illuminates how our human brain is wired for safety and security. We come in with it as a day old baby.
As I tell my clients, “We’re not turtles~!” Mom doesn’t dig a hole and leave us to fend for ourselves, hopefully navigating towards the ocean awaiting us successfully. No.
We are human beings who are dependent on our caregivers from the start and depend on a level of nurturing that helps us (and our brain) to feel safe and secure.
Even as an adult, I can wake from a bad dream, wrapped in my husband’s arms, as I did this morning, feeling disoriented, sad and angry because I was left alone at a (dream) concert, my husband (and safety person) no where to be found.
In the dream, I felt the fear. I felt the bitter taste of feeling left without knowing why. And in those first few minutes of waking, the knowledge of being literally held by my husband mixed with the very real feeling of the Dreamtime scenario of NOT SAFE.
No matter what age, wherever we are in our life, there is an inescapable desire to feel like we belong. To feel like we are safe and secure in our surroundings. And no matter how much our parents try to keep us safe, there can never be enough of saying (and behaving in a way) that says to a child:
I’VE GOT YOU. YOU ARE SAFE. EVERYTHING IS OKAY NOW. I’M HERE.
For as soon as her daddy arrived with that sandwich, her facial expression turned from fear to relief. Her daddy smiling and saying, “I’m right here. I’m back.” All was okay again.
And in my husband’s arms this morning, in those first few minutes, my dream mind wanted to be mad at him for leaving me in an abandoned state (in my dream world) while my conscious awareness was also making sense that all is well, I’m OKAY. He has me.
So the next time your child or partner is sad or angry, feeling disoriented, and you see a look of fear on their face, go for the language of safety and security first. Asking them WHY they feel it will never be the cure. It will only confuse and make the problem worse.
Instead, go with, “I’m here. I’m sorry you feel upset. Everything is okay now. I’ve got you. I’m not going anywhere. Can I give you a hug?”
Any of those can work. Test them out. And see how Leading with Relief is the best medicine.