Most parents want to raise happy self-confident, and emotionally secure children. Many of us, however, parent in ways that were handed down through the generations. Some of them are helpful. Some of them are not. As humans continue to evolve as a species, our parenting skills can directly impact the neurological evolution of our children.
One way to positively influence your child's development is by making "reflecting statements." A reflecting statement is a verbal way of holding up a mirror. Think about what you do before you leave the house in the morning. Do you look in the mirror? Why?
Most likely, you do look in the mirror before you leave to make sure your collar is straight, your hair isn't sticking up, and there is not something caught in your teeth. Your reflection in the mirror provides valuable information. With this information, you can take action.
Reflecting statements about emotions or problems work in much the same way as your morning glance in the mirror. For most of us, when we are upset or caught in the midst of a crisis, there is too much internal information to make sense of what is going on. It can be immensely helpful for someone to hold up a metaphorical mirror to our experience. This is what therapists do every day.
Reflecting statements are especially important for children because they are trying to form a sense of personal identity...that they exist in the world as independent beings. When you, the parent...a God or Goddess in the eyes of your child...make a statement like, "You look sad," or "That sounds like a very scary monster!" you are validating your child's experience and letting them know that you see them. This helps them to feel met (rather than alone) in their experience and to contextualize it. Reflecting statements often help put words to what the child can experience as overwhelming bodily sensations (emotions). Reflecting statements can be tremendously empowering and help craft a beautiful parent/child relationship.
Reflecting statements don't come naturally for most of us, so let's look at some examples:
Example 1: A child wakes up in the middle of the night screaming because, "A monster tried to get me!"
One Parent's Response: "Why are you crying? There's nothing to be afraid of!"
Effect on the Child: The child feels unseen and ashamed for having an experience the parent sees as invalid. The child is likely to feel more anxious instead of reassured.
Reflecting Statement: "Wow! You look really scared! That monster must have looked really mean!" The parent might then follow this statement by pulling out an imaginary "monster detector wand" and wave it all around the room, under the bed, and in the closet. He or she might then announce that, "The coast is clear!" and sprinkle some magic invisible monster-zapper dust around the room.
Effect on the Child: The parent has validated the child's reality, joined in his or her experience, displayed a sense of play and imagination, and shown the child that his or her experience matters to the parent. This kind of interaction will help your child understand how it feels to be honored in a relationship with another human being. This personal sense of relational safety will influence his or her relationships for a lifetime.
Example 2: A teen comes home looking sullen and withdrawn, plops down on the couch, and stares at the floor.
One Parent's Response: "Why don't you smile awhile! Life can't be that bad!"
Effect on the Teen: Although the parent's intention is likely to cheer the teen up, the teen feels criticized and alone in his experience. He or she is not likely to divulge what is wrong after a parent makes this kind of statement.
Reflecting Statement: "Looks like today was a hard one." In this case, the parent is simply noticing and reflecting the teen's experience. The parent is not asking questions, which to most teens, feels like interrogation. If a statement like this fails to bring a response from the teen, the parent may might "hang out" in silence nearby the teen for a while, while focusing on something else. Eventually, the parent might make a personal statement that goes along with the reflection, such as, "I hate it when I have days like that...everything just feels kind of black." If the teen remains in a sullen stupor, the parent should not push for information. The most helpful thing might be for the parent to remain in the teen's presence, sharing their loving affection in the silence between them. In some cases, it is appropriate to give a hug or say something like, "I'm here for you." This lets the teen know the parent is allowing the teen the dignity of having his or her own process, but is also available for help if needed.
Effect on the Teen: The teen feels honored as a human being in his/her own right by the parent. The teen feels respected and seen. This improves self-confidence and emotional stability during a tumultuous life-stage. The teen is likely to feel that the adult is honoring his or her boundaries, and because of this, feels less compelled to rebel against the parent's interest in his or her life. If the parent repeats this kind of interaction, the teen may eventually feel safe enough to open up on his or her own. It is developmentally normal for teens to desire to keep adults out of their business. It is also developmentally normal for teens to secretly want to know that their parent is interested in their life, cares deeply about them, and is available for help if needed.
If you have questions about reflecting statements or other aspects of parenting, please respond to this bogg. I will make an effort to answer all blog discussion questions in a timely manner. By sharing your experience and questions, you can be of benefit to others who may be going through the same thing. I look forward to hearing from you.
Remember, that if you hit "reply" to this blog, your response will be seen as part of a public blog conversation. If you would like a more private conversation, please go to the "Contact Us" page for a confidential email link and phone numbers.
Good luck with your reflecting statements!