This past weekend we attended a Pow Wow. It was like a party for my senses - the drumming and singing were a haunting sound, the dresses and regalia were a beautiful sight, and the smell of the fry bread and sweet corn made my mouth water. However, I couldn't have been more out of tune with what was going on if I tried.
I realized I was getting no information about what was happening. The announcer made references I didn't understand and most of the dancers and attendees were silent. There was almost no verbal information. So I found myself trying to read the faces and physical movements of the dancers to understand what was happening. (Human beings use more than twice as much non verbal communication than they do verbal communication.) I had no clue-I was not able to read them at all. So much so that when one of the dances was over the announcer said thank you to those who were standing in the crowd and talked about how much it showed honor to the Veterans of this community. I was like, WHAT??!! Here's the thing...I was sitting down, NOT standing to honor the Veterans. I didn't have a clue that that was what was happening! I felt terrible! Of course I would have stood to honor these men and women.
I was thinking on my way home again about how bad I felt. But what also dawned on me was - this is how our kids feel ALL of the time. One of the most pervasive impacts of trauma is the inability to read non-verbal cues. I got it...at the Pow Wow I felt totally lost. Their non-verbal cues did not help me a bit. To me they looked a bit angry, not proud. The verbal cues didn't help much either. I missed the whole message.
I have to tell you I felt frustrated and like I was being left out. I wanted to understand better and I tried my best to make some sense of things, but I was clueless. I clapped when everyone else did, I oohed and awed over the regalia and I made sure no one knew how utterly confused I was. I have watched my kids and the children of my clients manage (or mis-manage) these same kinds of moments.
Except that they also hit other hurdles. It begins with them not getting what was really going on around them, feeling anxious and vulnerable, mis-reading the intent and expectations of those adults in the picture. Then, throw in the lack of emotional regulation and you have a triggered child - saying and doing things based out of Fight, Flight or Freeze.
It is very hard to have a healthy relationship with someone who is often in fight, flight or freeze. It is very hard to heal when you are in fight, flight or freeze and the more it happens, the more damage is being created. As Intentional Parents, we must parent from the understanding that MUCH of the time our kids miss the whole message. That they don't want us to see it so they just muddle through the moment - and sometimes when they can muddle no longer, it becomes a trigger. That fear or vulnerability, that belief that I can't measure up, that feeling like I don't fit in cause I don't get it, becomes ugly words or behavior. It becomes low self esteem. It becomes a wedge in your relationship.
What can you do?
Pair words with your non-verbal cues. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat...
Paint a picture with your words of what is happening.
Be the external regulator for as long as it takes.
See the moment and your child for what it really is.
BE INTENTIONAL in EVERY MOMENT!