Dinnertime often seems to become empathy and emotional download time for my kids. I usually ask them how their day was. I had noticed how they often talk about the negative things that happened that day more than the positive. Judging this to be negativity bias, I would ask them to also tell me positive things in addition to the negative, or we’d do gratitude practice, or a positivity sandwich – they can only say something negative if they say something positive before and after. But, despite my best efforts to “train” my children out of the so-called negativity bias, when they start to tell me about their day, it can turn into a big story about something they are experiencing at school.
Last night, I realised that just listening and being compassionate is such an opportunity to be there for my kids, to support them through whatever they are going through. It’s not up to me to “train” them into being more positive – in doing that I’m just giving them the message that their difficult experiences are not ok, their so-called “negative” emotions are less welcome than their happy feelings – in other words, I’m reinforcing society’s extreme discomfort with difficult feelings and strong emotions.
Last night, I surrendered and relaxed into the story that my daughter told about what was happening at school. It turned out it had been going on for over a week and she cried as she talked about it. Her brother and I just listened. Eventually, the energy of intensity eased and we started to talk about what she could do about it. I asked if she wanted support to work through the issue with her classmate, for example asking an adult to mediate. She considered that and said she first wanted to talk to her classmate about it directly. She talked about other ways of dealing with the issue and my heart warmed as I sensed that as I’ve been developing my skills to deal with life, they are rubbing off on her. She told her story about what was happening, she released her feelings, she connected with her needs, and she considered different options for what she could do about it.
A little while after dinner, she came up to me for a big hug. I asked her why she hadn’t told me about what was happening at school if it had been going on for so long and was upsetting her so much. She said “I didn’t realise it was upsetting me this much until I started talking about it at dinner. I feel better now.”
It was a good lesson for me in learning to just be with someone where they are at – child or adult – and not to try to shape them into who or how I think they should be, what I think is good for them. She has the wisdom inside of her, as do we all.