My son walks out of the building dragging a heavy backpack, an overstuffed three-ring binder with a shoulder strap he never uses, a lunch box, and a water bottle. Because his hands are full, he struggles to get the door open to my vehicle. Finally, he manages it, and he unloads his things into the back seat and climbs in. He lets out an audible exhale as he buckles, and slumps into his seat, staring out the window.
“Hey love. How was your day?” I ask gently. “Ok,” he replies, his eyes not averting from his window stare. I can read the signs in his expression. Give me a minute. I need to rest. I don’t ask any more questions but my eyes dart from the road to my rearview mirror as we pull out of the school’s parking lot and make our way back to the freeway. I turn on his favorite song and crank it up. His expression softens, and he starts to visibly relax.
School is a place of unrest for my boy, as it is for many children. There is a constant pressure to perform, not only for teachers but for peers. Children have to navigate tough social situations, adjust to busy schedules, absorb tons of information, and are expected to act beyond their age and development. This is the reason we often get the after-school meltdowns, a release of pent-up emotions the child has been holding inside and now finally feels comfortable enough to let out. For highly sensitive children like my son, those feelings of unrest are magnified, as are all of their emotions.
Regardless of emotional sensitivity or personality, all children need emotional rest to grow well. Dr. Gordon Neufeld, a developmental psychologist and founder of The Neufeld Institute, discusses the need for emotional rest in his Relationship Matters course. See a clip here. To summarize, Dr. Neufeld mentions these three ways in which we can provide our children with emotional rest.
1. Some common discipline methods cause separation between parent and child, and they require that the child “work” to get back into our good graces. For example, “Go to your room and don’t come out until you can behave,” tells the child that we do not want to be with them unless they can “be good.” Yet, from a developmental standpoint, children aren’t always capable of controlling their emotions, impulses, and behaviors, and when they are having a hard time doing so, this is the time when they need us by their side the most.
As Dr. Neufeld says, “Children must never work for our love; they must rest in it.” When we make them work to earn our approval and positive attention, they cannot rest in the security of unconditional love, and it puts a burden on them to try and keep mom and/or dad close. He says our message should be there is nothing that can separate you from my love.
2. Providing “more attention than the child asks for” is another way to offer emotional rest. When they continually have to ask for our attention or compete with other things for our attention, they do not feel significant in our lives. However, by being the first to offer to play, the first to say “I love you,” and the last to let go during a hug, we can give our children the message you are worth my time. You are significant.