My daughter is strong and brave and very animated. When we were out in the forest the other day and she started to for lack of a better word "freak out" about a tiny spider that had spun a web near where we were climbing I thought for sure she was just hamming it up. But no, she wasn't. She was really scared. How do we respond when our children are reacting in ways we don't understand? Can we be compassionate and hold space as they whine and grasp and cry/scream? I am learning from Al Tinholt - teacher of Language of the Heart (aka NVC) to attend quickly to my own needs and anchor to my breath. I'm still learning so its not automatic yet but eventually I did that and got a bit more centered.
My default is to want to convince her that there is nothing to be afraid of and to get her out of this fearful state - i.e. tell her how the spider is probably more afraid of her. In the past it has worked to talk about the fear in a way that invokes some curiosity and distracts from the intensity of fear - for example I would talk about/to the spider in a playful way wondering out loud how old the spider is and where the rest of her family is and maybe thanking her for catching mosquitoes in her net and wondering what's she doing tonite…. distraction/redirecting has helped ….in the past ….sometimes ...
My daughter is 7, almost 8 years old now and could see that in real time this approach was only escalating the situation. So, I kind of gave up whispering a frustrated help into the ethers … In that giving up I let go … of my need to change anything. I sat with her and held her and breathed - tried to stay as present as possible - constantly bringing my mind back with my breath.
"It's safe to be scared" I heard a voice say. Turns out it was my voice. I stroked her hair and repeated it ever so gently, ever so often … it just came out when and as it did . I was surprised at the effect this had on her and on me. "It's safe to feel scared of this spider right now." We both sat together for a little while and then walked down the path home. Who knew?