He woke up on the wrong side of the bed. That quickly became obvious as he breezed past me in a huff while I was working, followed by a slammed door.
When I went to check on him and see what was going on, he was angry about everything. He said cruel things about someone who was helping us and it was really over the top. Everyone was triggered by this outburst and we were all having our own reactions to this overflow of pain and anger. We’ve all been through a lot lately and we’ve recently settled into a new space. Now that we’re no longer moving around, it makes sense that the feelings are all bubbling up now.
Breathing, we all went to our separate corners to regroup. We were all clear that this wasn’t ok and couldn’t continue.
In situations like this, it is easy to go blasting back in and try to put someone into their place. But what does that do? It creates more pain, more disconnection, more of what we don’t want.
And in the case of a growing person, a teen, it is an opportunity to learn about oneself, to grow, to come back into connection in a way that others can actually hear. It’s a learning opportunity.
But first, we all need to feel safe. We all needed a pause.
I waited until I was regulated enough to have a conversation*, which wasn’t long. What I said next could make or break it. He was downstairs eating something, which was well overdue and hadn’t helped the situation that he was hangry.
“What’s going on with you? You don’t seem like yourself.” It was said with compassion and curiosity, not in the accusatory tone one might expect or that maybe would have been used with you when you were growing up.
This opened the conversation instead of shutting it down. I genuinely was concerned and curious about what was happening for him and wanted to create the space for him to share and reflect, to discover what he was really feeling and what he needed, so he could try again at expressing everything in a way we could all hear.
And this is exactly what happened. We created the space for understanding what was happening for him, for the feelings to come tumbling out in the safety of our relationship. And once the feelings had been expressed, we were able to problem solve and decide what was really needed next.
When he came downstairs and left in a huff, he was on red, back in his survival brain. That’s what I saw in his behaviors and in mine, too. And I approached him as if he was in his survival brain by creating safety for us both by first getting myself out of my own survival brain. That’s taken me a while to master, but it has been such a critical life skill for me in some many ways.
When one person is in survival, like the gazelles in the wild who hear a noise in the grass, everyone is in survival. It takes one person to look around and realize there are no wild beasts nearby threatening to eat us all to help everyone calm down and reconnect.
When we realize that and respond accordingly, we can move back into connection. What he really needed was some compassion and some support. He needed someone to get where he was coming from and support him in moving out of the dark place he was in, not someone to make things worse.
*When I first started learning to regulate myself, it would take me days sometimes. I sucked at it. I would be in my own loops for a long time and have trouble getting out of them. When I first started learning how to move out of my own dysregulation, I needed support of other regulated people. I needed someone else who could see that there wasn’t a lion in the room with me so that I could learn to calm my own nervous system.
Want more information and support for parenting pre-teens and teens in a connected way?
Sign up here for more info and details of our online pre-teen and teen course and support to help you all find your way together.