Sometimes the best thing we can do is hold the space
During my time working as a therapist with children and adolescents, a large portion of the kids I worked with had a history of trauma. I found that when working with these children, I often was the one person who could be a container for all of the negative feelings and experiences that they hold onto.
So what does this mean? It means that sometimes, i just sat with hem. I sat with them while they raged, I sat with them while they cried, I sat with them while they told me their story. In those moments when they needed me to "hod the space" I didn't offer advice, I didn't offer a way to process, I didn't offer a way to cope. I offered space to let it all out. To feel those feelings. I offered support, company, and a judgement free safe place to let it all out.
Sometimes I struggled with feeling like I wasn't doing enough.I am by nature a doer. I had to learn that holding a space and being in someone's presence during difficult moments is enough. It can be more than enough. It can be life changing.
I often draw on this parenting . There are many times in our children's lives when we may just have to hold the space for them. There will be situations we can't fix and emotional pain we can't take away. While there is a time and a place for lessons, processing, and guiding ,we cannot forget the importance of holding a space for our children. For being their container when they are overwhelmed and need someone else to help them contain it. There will always be time for teaching, guiding, exploring , and problem solving. In order to have children who grow into adults that can identify and manage their emotions, we need to let them feel theirs.
So how do we do this?
1) Listen. when your child comes to you upset and in pain, needing to let it out, just listen. I mean really listen. Listen deeply. Listen so that you understand where they are coming from. Listen with your heart so that you can feel where they are coming from.
2) Maintain Compassion. In therapy speak we call this "maintaining positive regard". Basically it is remaining compassionate, respectful, and seeing the person with positive regard no matter what they have done. This is important to the relationship. This does not mean we agree, but simply that this doesn't cause us to think negatively of the person. When we are holding the space for someone who is possibly unloading a lot of emotions, thoughts, and information, it is important that they feel accepted and feel the compassion.
3) Sit in it. Sit in the feelings, allow your child to express what they need to express. Be present and in the moment with your child. Allow them to feel what they are feeling and accept what comes.
4) Don't let this become about you. When our children share their pain with us it may bring up our own pain and feelings. We are their container, they are not ours. You must remain clear that you are holding the space for them and that in this moment it is not about your pain or struggle. This is also why it is really important for us as parents to have our own support systems (so we can also have someone hold our space when we need it).
5) Don't fix anything. When we are holding the space for our children we have to fight the urge to fix things. This is hard for us as parents. We want to help, fix, and make everything better. We don't want our children to feel pain so we try to make it go away or fix the problem or fix their feelings. The problem is that sometimes when we do this we may inadvertently disregard our child's feelings and make them feel more isolated and less understood. Sometimes the only way to manage these overwhelming negative feelings is to go through them and come out the other side.What better way to do this than with your parent holding your hand the whole way.
Claudia Glassman is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Registered Play Therapist, and Parenting Coach who offers one on one coaching services. Claudia is passionate about helping parents find joy and gain confidence in their parenting abilities. Her vision is to share her knowledge and bring awareness to the importance of the relationship that we have with our children.