It’s trying when your child has upsets again and again over the same darned issue. Perhaps it’s being afraid to go into an upstairs room alone, perhaps it's refusing to share during play dates. It could be hating homework, whining first thing every single morning, waking in the night, dawdling endlessly through every transition, or attacking a sibling. Whatever it is, he repeats and repeats his annoying behavior, no matter what solutions you try.
“Why?!” you ask. “Why?”
When your child does one nutty, difficult or out-of-touch thing again and again, you’ve got an emotional project on the table.
No wonder you’re coming to your wits’ end.
Emotional projects stem from fearful times, from illnesses, from times a parent was not able to help. And sometimes, they come from heaven knows where!
Children don’t cook them up to be hard on us. They don’t want to be difficult. They don’t intend to drive us nuts. They have some kind of emotional thorn lodged deep within them that hurts them every single day. That’s what they’re telling us with their rigid, disruptive or unworkable behavior.
But according to our time-honored tradition of pinning responsibility on children when they have difficulties, it looks like your child has the problem.
But both of you are involved.
If you look carefully, you realize that you, too, are emotionally spent. You have no patience, no new ideas, and at some point, you don’t want to understand your child anymore. You just want him or her to stop.
And that's the one thing your child can’t do.
Your child would love to feel close and relaxed with you. He would love to feel safe in every room of your house. He would love to share his things with other children. He would love to jump in and do his homework, preserving more time for play in his afternoon and evening. He would love to sleep through the night, move easily with you through the day’s routine, and to enjoy and appreciate his sibling. But he’s proven that, right now, he can’t. He’s too emotionally exhausted as well.
So it’s your move, Mom. Your move, Dad. At this ragged point, almost any move you make may be full of irritation. You’re going to expect the worst, rather than the best. Your teeth will be set on edge just by looking at your child, just by hearing his voice.
So how do you plan a strategy to get through an emotional project?
The very smart first step is to notice what goes on inside you. For that you'll need someone else.
Ask for the help you need
Parenting is a job that is almost never done better alone, and it’s not your cross to bear by yourself. Have you noticed the space you feel when you let off your feelings to a friend, or your partner? When you free the words festering in your head, you make space to see why you are feeling the things you feel.
One of the Hand in Hand tools is called a Listening Partnership. In partnerships parents are free to speak, question, cry, unload without judgment. It feels so good to say, “I’m so mad I could spit nails!” so freeing to utter those words you fear: “I’m so worried about my son!” or “All he has to do is look at me wrong, and I fly off the handle.”
Talk about it, and see if you can find the tears, find the fears, find the laughter as you let your Listening Partner know exactly what talk runs around in your mind, and what emotional heat runs through you. Release the feelings. Tell someone, and show them what enters your mind during these moments.
It might not be pretty, but it will be a relief not to deal with it all by yourself.
Weekly listening time is a good goal to shoot for. If it’s a big emotional project that has been festering for a long time, more frequent listening time might be in order. Give yourself the time it takes to figure out the underlying hurt on your side, and the underlying hurt on her side, release that hurt day by day and week by week, and grow back into an enjoyment of life, and of one another.
Have faith that you'll figure it out.
Ask a friend. Ask a minister, pastor or rabbi. Ask a school counselor, pay for a therapist who’s good with parents, or sign up for a consultation with one of our Hand in Hand instructors. We’ve all “been there,” at the end of our ropes. That’s how almost all of us came to Hand in Hand. We will help.
Special Time with a child who’s begging for help
Do it regularly. Lavishing a few minutes sole attention on your child sounds simple, and it is, but it can take you to tough places as a parent.Work with a listener on what you don’t like about your child or the play or activity she chooses. Special Time is not for sissies, but its has amazing abilities to bring you are your child closeness, and that will help loosen tensions in an emotional project.
Use the other Listening Tools
Use Playlistening, Setting Limits, and Staylistening, in concert with one another. These tools don’t always come naturally to us because our parents often didn’t have the emotional slack to attune themselves to us in play, or during our most passionate emotional episodes.
When you release the feelings that arise on your end, whatever they might be, you'll likely find them rooted in your own childhood. You might notice they’ve been interrupting your joy in parenting for awhile. By addressing them, you'll unlock them and send them on their way.
How Long Till the Happy Ending?
Some emotional projects will resolve in an afternoon, others take several years; with a refresher episode every now and then.
You don’t know before you start how big the project will be. But you also don’t know what growth lies ahead for you, what new freedoms you’ll earn as you dissolve the hurt on your side of the relationship. And these strategies will go a long way to giving you the headspace and understanding to need see you through.
You don’t know how flexible, generous and openhearted your child can be until you’ve found ways to let them lead, let them laugh, and set necessary limits when they’re off-track, so they can cry and rage.
Nothing—not consequences, punishments, rewards or distractions—can clear your child’s intelligence of troubled behavior like your love and your attention.
From the Hand in Hand Toolbox:
Read How One Mom Helped Her Daughter Through an Emotional Project
Discover the five tools that could transform your parenting
Find out how Listening Partnerships work in our booklet
Learn Hand in Hand's Tools with the support of an Instructor in our Online Starter Classes