As I shared our family night lesson, my 3 oldest boys were sitting on the couch with less than thrilled looks on their faces, Emma was coloring Belle on the floor to my left, and my baby boy was dumping crayons and markers all over the floor. Amid all of the inattentive commotion of 5 kids under 10 years old I forged onward with an activity I hoped at least one of them would find helpful. As a therapist I’ve found that one of the most helpful and effective things I share with clients is an awareness of their emotions and some semblance of self regulation. My hope for the evening was to help my own kids learn a little more about their emotions, especially anxiety and how it effects them. I wanted to help them to take away one simple, age appropriate skill that could help them recognize, be okay with and resolve their fears or anxieties when they come up. I handed them all a piece of paper and one of the color crayons scattered across the floor. Then I asked one question, “What do you worry about most?”
Their responses were insightful and surprised me. I did not realize how much this one question would teach me about each of my children specifically my 6 year old son (Berkeley). He told us that he worried most about not getting hugs from Mom and Dad all day. This was a shock to me and quite honestly my first internal reaction to it was hurt and frustration, because I thought that I gave plenty of hugs and affection to him. Regardless, I sat with the discomfort of that revelation and went on to my other children.
This one simple question and my children’s sincere answers helped me realize…
What some of their specific physical and emotional needs are. I learned quickly that Berkeley has a more significant physical touch love language than I had thought. He not only needs to be hugged and cuddled more often, but it is one of the primary ways for him to reconnect and regulate himself after he has had an emotional meltdown. We hug a lot in our home but I found that he wanted hugs to help him calm and self regulate more often then he was getting.
Why they experience some of the cyclical behaviors each of them do. The resolve my wife and I have made to hug Berkeley more, especially when he needs help regulating himself or recovering from a meltdown has made a momentous impact on Berkeley’s self control, behavior and emotionality. Berkeley can become extremely angry at the drop of a hat, and when he explodes we are often concerned that he might hurt property or others. Understanding that he needs that extra physical contact has been huge in decreasing his tendency to snap.
Simple things I could be doing each day to decrease their anxiety and reactivity. When Berkeley shared his worry with us, it provided an opportunity for us to talk to him about asking for the hugs he needs whenever they are needed. He now asks for hugs regularly, especially before tackling a chore, or school assignment that normally would overwhelm him. It has increased my resolve to connect through physical affection more often and more deeply. I try to show my love in a verity of ways to my family, but I have found that my primary love language is not physical touch. It’s not that I don’t like it or don’t do it but physical touch is not the primary way I feel and show love, therefore it takes more personal thought to meet that need in my children that are physical touch oriented. This realization has helped me to be more conscious of my actions and recieve affection on their terms rather than solely on my own terms. Little changes like this can make big differences is kids’ feelings and subsequent behavior.
My original objective in asking my kids what they worried about was not intended to be for my own benefit, but turned out to be an incredible lesson in empathy and understanding. It helped us to talk to each of the kids about things they could do to feel less worry and stress as well as gave me and my wife perspective about their motives and triggers. It allowed us to connect and remember when we felt those same worries. It allowed us to relate to them and them to relate to us. It also forced me to confront an uncomfortable reaction in myself, a misguided perception and really learn how to bridge that perceptual gap.
Give it a try tonight!
Give it a try. Ask, “What do you worry about most?” You may be surprised by what your children share with you when you ask them what they worry about most. Share with them your worries as well. It can be a powerful exercise in vulnerability and connection.
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