Supporting our Children to Release Accumulated Feelings

AUTHOR: JOSS GOULDEN
DATE PUBLISHED: 5 Sep 2023

When Feelings Seem to Get Stuck.

When we discover Aware Parenting, it often immediately makes sense that children have challenging experiences and are able to release and heal the stress and trauma with our support using their natural healing mechanisms of crying with loving support, play and laughter. We understand that children know how to heal and that they need us to create the right conditions to support this healing to occur. 

But clients often tell me that they might understand this, but have difficulty putting it into practice and what is frequently hard for parents, is when their children's feelings "get stuck" and their children won't cry, even though it is obvious that they need to. It can be so frustrating seeing that our children have lots of accumulated feelings and wanting to lovingly support them to cry, but there are no tears, or not enough tears for them to come out the other side, relaxed and back in balance. 

So parents often ask me how can they support their children to use these powerful healing mechanisms when something is blocking the process. Here are some suggestions that I have found really helpful over the years:

Supporting our children to release and heal by creating emotional safety. 

  • Exploring their current sources of stress and seeing what we can change and adjust in their lives to reduce the stress that they are being exposed to. 
  • Meeting their needs - trying to explore like an emotional detective, what their unmet needs might be and finding ways to meet them. This is also often an invitation to explore what our unmet needs might be and find small ways to be focussing on meeting them for ourselves too. This supports our children to know that their needs matter and that we care about them. And, when we meet our needs, we have sufficient capacity to listen to their feelings - often children won't share with us what they can sense we don't have space for. 
  • Offering lots of physical closeness and prioritising attachment. This helps to create emotional safety and to remind our children that we are close and loving and safe. 
  • Trying as much as we can to be offering respectful connections with them, which means talking to them lovingly, trying to avoid being a source of stress for them and ensuring we repair after the inevitable moments of rupture so they feel safe and loved again. Family meetings are also really powerful to create a sense of deeper connection and safety. 
  • Offering non-punitive discipline which means not having punishments or threats in the family. Children cannot feel safe to release feelings if they are worried about being punished. 
  • Look for times when we might be inadvertently suppressing feelings, e.g. times when they are being inflexible and demanding and we are finding ourselves trying to placate or distract them from their feelings. 
  • Whenever we have capacity to do so we accept their crying and tantrums and just offer them our loving listening and attention, without trying to reason or explain, without getting angry, without minimising or dismissing their feelings. This also means trying to learn to accept all their emotions, even the ones we find uncomfortable. Then they feel that it is safe to bring their feelings to us. 
  • Offering attachment play regularly to them, is one of the most important things we can do, particularly non-directive child-centred play where we pay them close attention, giving them our undivided focus and following their lead for a short, set period of time. Power-reversal play, where they get to be the strong one, the fast one, the capable one and we complain in a jokey way about how unfair it is, can be very helpful to support the release of feelings. Can we create more laughter so they get to release feelings through laughter too? Can we bring some props or suggest some themes that they can then play with to play through something that was traumatic for them? 
  • Recognising when their behaviour is showing us that they want to heal and/or when they are inviting us to play with them to heal. The more we can see their challenging behaviour as a sign that they want our support to heal or that they are inviting us to move in with play, the more they feel our attuned connection and our support with the process. This includes recognising the broken cookie phenomenon as an attempt by them to come back to homeostasis and balance. 
  • Offering the balance of attention - where our children are connected to the their feelings of distress and reminded of the trauma trigger, whilst also feeling safe with us to heal. We might need to adjust the words we are using or the movements we are making to support them to keep feeling safe whilst also feeling connected to the feelings of distress.
  • Sometimes we need to offer loving restraint, where we might for example hold their hand in a loving way or their feet, and then listen to feelings. This is especially helpful if they are going into aggression. We are always aiming to use the minimum amount of force necessary and sometimes holding them in a space e.g. taking them into a room and staying in there with them, with the door closed, can give the necessary support to get to the feelings. If you are unsure, can you experiment once, checking that you are being loving and kind and then observe them afterwards to see how they are in their bodies
  • Loving limits are a powerful way to create an opportunity for children to access and release accumulated feelings. If we are suspecting that there are feelings there, can we say a loving "No" to our children and put a limit on what we are willing to do or willing for them to do to help create an opportunity for them to cry with our loving support? 
  • Observing and tuning in to our children when we see them using Control Patterns - the behaviours they use to suppress feelings when they are not experiencing the emotional safety to release. Can we move in there to offer connection and empathy, can we offer loving limits in these moments or can we connect playfully. 
  • Trusting our children - can we come back to trusting the process and reassuring ourselves that the feelings will come out and that we cannot force it. Instead we keep coming back to the basics that I am describing and remind ourselves that all the steps we are taking to support them are significant and will create the space for healing when the time is right. 
  • Taking care of ourselves is crucial too, so getting support and listening for us is vital for us to be able to then offer support and listening to our children. 
  • What is in this for me? It's not about blame or about giving ourselves another thing to beat ourselves up about not doing "properly". This is a curiosity to explore what might be ours to explore in what we are struggling with in relation to our children. I remember in an early session with Marion Rose many years ago concerning my son's sleep, she invited me to look to myself and see what might be underneath his behaviour for me to explore about myself. I remember having lots of big feelings about that, not wanting to explore that at all and just wanting a solution to fix my child! But Aware parenting is a long game and, time and time again, I have seen profound shifts for my children, when I have had capacity and support to unpack my part in the challenge. 
  • This also includes exploring our thoughts - if we are telling ourselves that our children won't ever cry, or that they are being difficult or that we have obviously failed as a parent and are not doing Aware Parenting properly, then it is very hard to stay connected and loving with our children. Finding spaces to explore and share our thoughts can help identify when we are inadvertently creating blocks and come back to clarity is so important. 

Questions to ask ourselves when the feelings are not flowing:

Can we bring in more safety for our children? 

Do I need more listening? 

Can we offer a loving limit?

Can we prioritise offering more Special Time and then observing what themes might be coming up?

What is here for me? 

What does my child's behaviour remind me of? 

What does this situation remind me of?

When did I last have a big cry? 

What do I need to feel more safety to express feelings too? 

What am I telling myself about this? 

If you would like support to explore this more for your own family, then I am here to help. It is so helpful to have guidance and safe space for us in order to be clear how best to support our children.

Your parenting coach and mentor

About Joss Goulden

I am a trauma-informed Parenting Coach and a Level 2 Aware Parenting instructor, certified with the Aware Parenting Institute. I have been practising Aware Parenting for 17 years and am the mother of 2 children, aged 19 and 17.

I am also passionate about Homeschooling and Natural Learning. I have homeschooled my 2 children and I have been supporting families with Homeschooling and Natural Learning for many years.
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I am so passionate about sharing this beautiful approach with parents. I believe that Aware Parenting is THE solution for so many of the challenges facing the world. - Joss Goulden, Aware Parenting Instructor
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