An event I witnessed during vacation helped me pinpoint the core of my mission. This week I wanna tell you all about it.
I was getting breakfast at our hotel and I saw it. A 10-year-old girl having a rage attack.
She was standing beside a large, round table filled with adults. All were female. They seemed to be the mom, aunties, and grandma.
The 10-year-old's rage was directed at a younger girl at the table. I assumed they were siblings.
She was so mad at her that she was yelling, cursing, calling names, and pushing chairs. Her emotions had gotten hold of her. She was burning with anger.
Oddly, her adult companions seemed quite relaxed. They were going on with their meals, eyes on forks and knives, backs turned against the raging kid.
"Just go wash your hands," one of them said laxly. The situation was likely related to her hand getting dirty because of something the younger girl did. The raged girl got even madder.
At this stage, her face had turned red, she was stomping her feet in—what seemed to me like—an attempt to regulate her body. She could barely hold her body from attacking the sibling.
She then—somehow— took control of the situation, though angrily, and placed a distance between herself and her family by sitting at the table at the back, crying, all by herself.
I was watching in awe. I almost felt like a wildlife photographer eyeing an antelope versus a lion scene, too scared of my attention ruining the whole thing, but dying to walk into the scene and just save the antelope.
Yet I did nothing. I could do nothing. She was in the company of at least 5 adults. Though none cared about her emotions, their presence was mighty as a rock, keeping me from entering the scene and talking to her.
Then something unexpected happened.
The younger girl—the object of anger—got sick and started throwing up. Her panicky mother yelled, "She's passing out!"
Just like that, the entire scene changed. The girl was laid down on the floor. She was unconscious.
The adults at the round table rushed to attend to the sick child. She was getting all the help she needed.
My girl was left behind.
She was crying frantically. This time she was physically alone too.
I could hold it no longer. It was time. I got up and went next to her.
Trying not to violate her personal space too much, I gently touched her shoulder. She turned to me, eyes soaking wet, terrified, and caught by surprise.
"You must be feeling so scared," I said. Her face softened. She turned around and kept weeping.
I kneeled, "It must be a hard scene to watch, seeing her this way."
Then, to my surprise, she turned to me and asked, "Will she ever be alright?"
I, a stranger who had just walked into the scene, had unlocked her biggest fear by just doing one thing:
Validating her feelings.
I wasn't there to fix her. I wasn't there to tell her it was okay. I wasn't there to prove her wrong. She was witnessing something catastrophic in her capacity.
Would she ever be alright?
I was a total stranger. I didn't know. How could I give her an explanation?
I turned to the grandma standing next to us. "Does she have a serious illness?" I asked.
"No," she said. "She ate Nutella on an empty stomach and she probably stayed in the pool too long yesterday." Now I had the knowledge. I could translate to her what was happening.
"Is she your sister or your friend?" I asked. She was her cousin.
Patting her silky soft hair, I said, "Your cousin is going to be all right. She probably feels sick because of something she ate. She also might have caught a cold yesterday. Her body needs a bit of time to heal but she'll get better very soon."
I then gave her a squeeze on the shoulder and stepped away. I thought I had done my part and beyond this could offend the family.
As I moved back to my table, I was blown away by what I had just witnessed. Her unattended rage. Her lonely battle with her emotions. Her worry. How my words cracked her open.
I tried to go on with my day, but just a few minutes later, I saw her again. My part wasn't over.
She was running alongside the pool, crying, desperate and lonely. I dropped everything and went after her.
I followed her into her family's room. The door was open. The family was still attending to the sick girl who was lying on the bed.
I knocked on the open door, "I'm terribly sorry to intervene but I saw your daughter running around crying and I was wondering if I could come in to accompany her."
They let me in. The room was chaotic. The adults were yelling at each other, blaming each other for the sickness of the child.
The grandma was yelling at the mother and the aunt for letting her eat Nutella.
The aunt was yelling at the mother for giving her meds.
The male figure who I assumed was the grandpa was yelling at everyone else.
In the meantime, my girl was sitting on a woman's lap and crying her heart out. The adult was repeatedly telling her, "Nothing's wrong!"
Everything was wrong.
Since I had nothing to lose and the adults in the room couldn't care less about the crying girl, I kneeled and asked, "Hey, would you like to step out and talk for a bit?"
She nodded and hopped off the woman's lap. We moved to a calm space and sat down.
"I don't get it," she said. "We ate the same things. I stayed in the pool for as long as she did. Why did I not get sick and she did?"
Blown away by her reasoning, I was slowly getting a glimpse of what she was getting at.
"I kind of saw you were a bit mad at your cousin before she got sick. Can it be that you are feeling guilty for what happened to her?"
There it was: the root cause. She was feeling guilty because of the anger she couldn't manage. She was relating two unrelated things.
"It makes total sense you feel this way. You get mad at her and she gets sick. It's a tricky situation."
I told her that we sometimes get angry at the people we love and that it's okay. That we can always talk things out.
After I felt that she felt seen and validated, I went on, "I have another explanation for why she got sick."
I explained to her how our bodies can sometimes react differently under the same circumstances. I presented the possibility that a microbe could have entered her body.
And that her anger at her cousin had absolutely nothing to do with her sickness.
"Oh," she said. "Sometimes she forgets to wash her hands after going to the bathroom. Maybe that's why."
Kids are brilliant. They understand much more than we assume. They deserve honest and open conversations.
As parents, it's quite tempting to say, "You have nothing to worry about."
Reassurance is well-intended. But words can't undo emotions. Words can't erase emotions. Words can only validate emotions, let them be seen, and do their job.
I read, write, ponder about emotions a lot. But what just happened had hit home.
I saw firsthand the effect of emotional coaching on a hurting kid.
I saw how loving parents can leave a child's emotional needs unattended.
And I saw how, with just a bit of guidance, this little girl can grow into an adult who is in touch with her emotions. And how the lack of that guidance can leave her in turmoil time after time, throughout the millions of incidents she'll encounter in her life, just like the one I witnessed.
Emotional coaching for the win.
I thought about what happened that day a lot. The picture of the family sitting at the table and the unattended anger of that little girl helped me discover a burning problem. A problem that haunts every family: we don't know how to coach children's emotions. Heck, we don't even know how to coach our own emotions.
There you have it, friends, the niched-down mission of Apparent: help every parent on Earth become an emotional coach to their kid.
P.S. The sick girl recovered the same day and went back to playing in the pool. :)
“Emotional intelligence is not the same thing as common sense, nor is it something we improve upon just because of life experience. Skills like emotional intelligence must be learned and practiced.”
Excerpt from: “The Everything Parent's Guide to Emotional Intelligence in Children” by Korrel Kanoy
Kids who are aware of their body, their environment, their thoughts, and their feelings? Yes, please. Here are 4 ways you can start practicing mindfulness with your child.
What hurts them is BEING ALONE while struggling with feelings. Parent's emotional coaching says: "I'm right here with you—in this shithole."
Consider becoming a premium member to support Apparent, learn emotional coaching, become calmer, and lead your child's brain and emotional development to its full potential. » Become a member
Here's a preview of some of the member-only content. :)
Attachment is not a parenting buzzword. Neither is it a parenting philosophy. It’s how we bond with our caregivers, make sense of the world, and build relationships. Parenting philosophies may come and go. Attachment is here to stay.
That's it for today! ❤️
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See you next week!