Engaging in a perpetual power struggle with your child? Perhaps it’s time to decenter.
*Guest Post by Tina Hamilton | Parent Coach at The Burnt Bean*
“You never let me do anything! I hate you!”
Hearing those words from your child can be triggering. You can find yourself engaging in an increasingly heated back-and-forth that leaves you feeling depleted, ashamed, and wondering what went wrong.
When you first had kids, you likely never imagined screaming, yelling, or snapping at them.
Why does this happen?
Children, by nature, challenge us. They are here to push boundaries because that is how they learn. Children – even teenagers – do not know how to manage their emotions or how to express their needs clearly. It is our job to teach them.
The problem is, if you were never taught how to do these things, it is impossible to teach your children how to do them. Worse, if you grew up in a house where emotions, needs, and boundaries were shut down or ignored, you will be inclined to shut them down in your children.
So then what?
When your children are having a difficult time or experiencing big emotions, you have to decenter yourself. This means to take yourself out of the equation – this is not about you. Your child does not hate you. Your child does not wish you were dead. They are pushing up against you because they themselves are feeling completely out of control. They need a safe place to land.
Your job as a parent is to be that safe place. You have to help your children process their big emotions and help them ground themselves. This is possible, but you can’t do this if you make it about you. You can’t do this if you put yourself at the center of their behavior.
Here’s what it sounds like when you are centering yourself in their storm:
✔ They are doing this to piss me off.
✔They push up against my boundaries ALL THE TIME.
✔They don’t respect me.
But here’s the thing, they aren’t doing this on purpose.
Childhood is the place where kids learn how to be in the world. This is the place where they are supposed to make mistakes, do foolish things, and push up against parents. This is where they learn how to fully feel and process their big emotions, how to set their own boundaries, and how to speak up for what they need or want.
So decenter yourself from their pain. This is not about you. But how?
THREE STEPS TO DECENTERING
Decentering is a skill. It means that you are able to manage your own emotions in the moment. It means that you are able to quiet the triggered parts of yourself. In short, it means that you have taken the time to heal your childhood wounds.
The first step in learning how to decenter yourself and heal your childhood wounds is to build awareness around your triggers. Ask yourself these questions:
● How do you know when you are triggered?
● What sensations do you feel in your body when you find yourself annoyed or yelling at your child?
● Where in your body do you feel these things?
By paying attention to the signals your body is sending us, you can start to tune in to the underlying message. What is it about your child’s behavior in that moment that is causing this physical reaction? When you were a child, what would the response have been from your parents if you were acting the way
By paying attention to the signals your body is sending us, you can start to tune in to the underlying message. What is it about your child’s behavior in that moment that is causing this physical reaction? When you were a child, what would the response have been from your parents if you were acting the way your child is acting in the moment? What message did you take away from those interactions?
Maybe you were taught to be grateful for anything you were given – whether you enjoyed it or not. Maybe you were taught that children are to be seen, not heard. Perhaps you were taught to ignore your own needs to take care of someone else. Whatever the message, chances are, your child’s behavior stands in contradiction to it.
As you build self-awareness, you will start to notice when you are triggered – and then you are able to start to process your emotions before you become wrapped up in them. You are able to identify the feeling and the message behind them, and you will begin to rewrite those messages using affirmations. Saying something as simple as, “this is an outdated message from childhood” will help you to separate wounding from current reality.
This takes practice and time, but even the smallest step toward awareness will begin to have ripple effects with your child. As you build on this practice, you set an example for your child and you will naturally start to decenter yourself from their big emotions. The more you realize that their behavior has nothing to do with you and instead has everything to do with their own inner messaging and emotions, the easier it will become to get curious about what they are feeling and needing. You can begin to lean into their big emotions and wonder, “what is at the center of this feeling?”
Decentering yourself means to keep your child’s needs front and center. What is it that they are feeling? What are they having trouble expressing in the moment? Once you keep them centered, you can focus on helping them to process what they are feeling.
Your children are holding a mirror up to your unhealed parts at all times. If you pay close enough attention, your children can lead you through the biggest transformation you will experience in your adult lives. You can heal your childhood wounds and show up as your authentic selves – free from the pain and trauma of your past.
Tina Hamilton is a former middle school teacher turned parent coach. She supports parents along their personal healing journey so they can raise their children without passing down generations of pain and failed messaging. You can learn more and jumpstart your healing journey today by downloading Stop Yelling, Start Connecting – a free guide to forming a deeper connection with your child.