When a difficult situation comes up with our children, we sometimes falsely believe we’re responding in the here and now, based on what’s happening in front of us. In reality? We may be overreacting from our own childhood.
Learn to distinguish old feelings of the past from appropriate feelings of today.
Memories of our forgotten feelings and the reawakening of them influence our dealings with others — especially with our children. How? They have access to and manage to trigger these old feelings in us. Why? Because we are emotionally and deeply connected to them. Without being aware of it, we don’t always respond appropriately in the present, but instead, we allow reactivated feelings from our childhood to take over. When dealing with our child’s misbehavior, our frustration or anger can sometimes shock us. As we’re inundated with powerful emotions, it’s hardly the time for reflection. Yet, these feelings are most likely childhood memories — strong emotions that cause us to react as a child would, rather than as an adult.
Imagine that your daughter comes home from school, throws her backpack in the corner, and screams, “That stupid Nina. She’s not my friend anymore!”You immediately have plenty of advice to offer in this situation, but be aware: you may be the one feeling disappointed, and at the same time, have feelings of anger. But your daughter may not actually have those same feelings. Your anger originates in the experiences of your childhood; you are triggered. But take the time to make sure what your daughter is really feeling. You may have forgotten to check her present reality, as opposed to reacting from the experiences of your own childhood. The advice you conjure up for your child is from your own memories. Whether or not it would really help her is debatable, nor do you consider if the advice would have even really helped you back then. You are not in the here and now. You are still trapped in the memory of your old emotional experiences in your past. Is your daughter only disappointed about the behavior of her friend, or is she actually angry as well? Take a deep breath and check reality. For instance, ask your daughter, “What’s going to happen with you and Nina now?” Imagine your amazement when you hear her answer, “Oh, she’ll definitely call later and want to play with me again.” All she needed was to vent. Not a lecture. Not anger towards her friend.
Live in the present. Let the past stay in the past.
So, you have confused your childhood with your daughter’s, and at the same time, a sore spot has been triggered about how you deal with anger and disappointment. The old feelings from your childhood have come back to you. You could have overreacted, getting ready with all kinds of advice, and then have passed on – unchecked – your own problem of dealing with disappointment and anger to your child. These old feelings belong in the past and have no place in the here and now with your daughter.
Respond instead of reacting.
Asking appropriate questions of your child can help you be more understanding and help you guide them. Another option in such a situation would be to talk about your past. In first-person, tell how you were in a similar situation as a child and how you felt and what you did. This could be very liberating for both mother and daughter. Engage in thoughtful conversation instead of reacting. Evaluate your emotions to uncover your triggers and live in the present. When are you triggered by your child’s behavior? When are you triggered by their emotions? How are these related to your own memories from your childhood?