This post is about building connection with your young child when things get challenging.
Recently a good friend told me that he was having trouble with his 6-year-old son, who has been having accidents. I know these friends well, and I know their son uses the toilet but can sometimes lose his body’s sense of rhythm in order to make it there in time—in other words, we all knew he was capable of preventing these accidents…. but something was getting in the way.
Now, anyone who has been through this with a young child knows that even harder than having to clean up the mess, is having to deal with the feelings of failure—for all involved. This father confided in me that he felt he was failing his son by not being able to figure out how to help him. Of course, the child’s mother had strong feelings too.
Sometimes, those strong feelings were resulting in reactions that were natural—anger, frustration—but weren’t helping the situation. They felt stuck.
I asked my friend how he thought his son felt. Sometimes as parents, we get so preoccupied with our own worrying about a difficult situation, that we forget to ask our children how they are feeling about it. He thought about it for a moment, and said, “I think he feels bad about it”.
As he said those words, I could see his eyes soften, and tear up. He was pausing enough to realize that his son was feeling stress, too. And we agreed that when we feel stressed and anxious, we don’t always feel in control of our bodies or minds. So it makes sense that the same is true for our young children.
So what is the solution?
Well, we all have our own ways of communicating with our children, dealing with stress, and solving problems. But, there is one phrase that I believe we can all use, no matter how our cultures or styles may differ.
That phrase is 3 small words:
I trust you.
I asked my friend what he thought would happen if they took a break from their typical response to the boy’s accidents, and instead simply said, “I trust you. I know you can do this, and I see that sometimes it’s hard, or you forget, or it’s just too late. That’s okay, because I trust that you can do this. We can do it together. I trust you.”
My dear friend smiled, and I felt so much of his anxiety melt away as he imagined saying those simple words to his son. Here’s the thing—those words are the most natural in the world for this father, because they are TRUE. He DOES trust his son. He trusts him, and loves him, and supports him, and has made enormous sacrifices for him. He just needed someone to remind him that some of the other responses were getting in the way of what he truly feels—trust, and connection.
When we connect with our children, by saying “I trust you”, we are letting them know that no matter how hard things get, we do not forget the foundation of trust that we have as a family. We are reminding them that they are safe with us. That they can “mess up” with us.
And you know what? When we do that, they will be able to do the same for us. We can “mess up” too—and they can learn to look us in the eye, forgive us for losing our control, and say to us, “I trust you”.
What words could be more important for a parent to hear from their child?
I checked in with my friend a week later, and found that they had turned a corner. He said to me, “He’s doing much better. He’s going on his own and he likes to show me every time, and I can tell that he’s proud”.
Proud! Just think, this little, strong, capable boy went from feeling out of control, to feeling PROUD of his ability to control his body and take care of himself. And the person he most wanted to share that feeling of pride with, was his dad.
When things get challenging and emotions or worry take over, ask yourself: How is my child feeling? Is there stress or overwhelm? There are many ways to handle those situations, and to seek help. But one small way is to remember to tell them: I trust you.