Pause is all about breathing. When we use Pause, we support our child to stop and take a slow, deep breath (or 3 or 10). Because oxygen is a gift to the brain and nervous system, it is a very quick and effective way to bring calm to our child’s very emotional brain. Maybe sit down next to your child and get them to copy your nice, long, deep breaths – that way your brain is getting the benefits of oxygen as well!
In getting our children to ‘Hold’, we are supporting them to be curious and ‘visit’ their inner world. The first step is to guide your child to name the emotions they are feeling. If your child struggles to find the ‘emotion words’, be curious and put in a guess or two – they will let you know whether you guessed right or not!
With the second step, we want to show our kids that we understand and accept their emotions. Here it is more about what NOT to do. Avoid second-guessing the emotions they share. No matter how left field, remember that it is their emotion, and therefore very important to them. Simply empathise and let them know that you understand. You could say something like: “I’m sorry you feel so sad. It must be so hard to have such a big feeling”.
This is a great opportunity to show them how to be curious about their inner world.
Thirdly, explore with your child about why they may be feeling that way. Although you may have a very strong idea about why your child is angry, frustrated or disappointed, your child may not. This is a great opportunity to show them how to be curious about their inner world. Use phrases such as:
“I’m wondering whether you’re feeling so angry because….”
“I guess I would feel sad too if…”
This will get your child thinking about how what is happening around them can influence their thoughts and feelings. Remember, it is a brave thing for our children when they face up to their big emotions so try to stay understanding, empathetic and compassionate throughout.
Engage is the problem-solving part of the process. Once you’ve helped your child to name the emotions and understand why they occurred in the first place, you can support your child to come up with a solution or strategy to manage the emotions more effectively in the future. Of course, the solutions will vary depending on the situation and age and stage of your child. But here are some helpful principles to remember:
Encourage your child to focus on the things they can control.
Our preschooler may not be able to control the cancelled fluffy date with Grandma, but they can participate in organising a Skype call with her. The teenager can’t control the fact that the netball season is cancelled, but she can still organise a Facetime sleepover with her teammates.
If your child’s behaviour and underlying emotions caused someone else in the household to be disrespected or hurt, ensure that part of the problem-solving involves apologising and making amends. It is a wonderful life skill to be able to connect and reconnect with those closest to us. It deepens relationships and helps us to trust that we’ll be there for each other, no matter what.
Encourage your child to keep paying attention to their emotions.
Even though we might take the time to pause, hold and engage, emotions can continue to simmer under the surface for a while longer. Frequently checking in with your child can keep those emotions from boiling over. Over time it will also help your child to develop an understanding of things that ‘press their buttons’ and they will be able to come up with ways to deal with those things before they become overwhelmed.
So that’s Pause, Hold, Engage. Like any skill, it takes a bit of practice and we shouldn’t expect to be experts at it from the get-go. A good way is to start with only the first few steps and then add the others as you become more confident. As someone quite wise once told me: Don’t wait until it’s perfect to practise. Practise until it’s perfect!
This article first appeared on our Lockdown Hub during Level 4 of New Zealand’s fight against Covid-19.