This is the next part in a series, which began here: Preventing Our Children From Developing Demons (And Healing Our Own).
Our eldest son, in particular, was showing behaviours of hyper-attunement to the needs of others and showing other behaviours in the cluster of traits we could think of as part of the Attunement Survival Style. He was: constantly conceding to his friends’ wishes; more worried about my emotional state than his own and very good at telling me what I wanted to hear; spending all his money; stock-piling stuff; and not able to manage his excitement or happy sensations (he’d just got really silly – a sign of being overwhelmed and not processing the sensations properly).
Some of the behaviours to look out for are: hyper-attunement to the needs of others at the expense of recognising/attending to their own; adaption to scarcity; sadness as a default emotion with anger poorly expressed; and a struggle to allow themselves to experience great sensations – otherwise known as surges of intensely ‘good’ feelings.
We’d already been using a few strategies to address these issues but included the Rori Raye one, from the previous post, as well.
1. I have always made sure that he gets a good dose of cuddles most days and to increase his ability to cope with ‘big’ happiness I’ve been snuggling/tickling him around his neck – the surges of pleasure are intense when these areas of our skin are stimulated appropriately, and he is definitely becoming more comfortable with sensations of pleasure. I don’t know how much longer I will do this as he is now 11 and I am very aware of the stage of development he is heading into. IYKWIM. I do this as part of regular tickle-fests with the 7 year-old and 3 year-old as well.
2. He and I did a massive spring-clean in his room and I am being more vigilant about the amount of rocks, paper-plans, half-finished projects etc that he has in there.
3. I have always been really fussy about finishing chores. That is: if the clothes are going in the washing basket then there are no bits hanging outside; if things are going in a drawer then the drawer is pushed closed afterwards; if the dishes are dried, they are also put away in the correct place, the bench wiped down and the tea-towel put into the wash. People with personality traits from this cluster are chronic underachievers and non-finishers and as a result they feel bad about themselves and have a really harsh internal dialogue. The boys don’t have a myriad of chores but those they do are completed properly – the more this happens the more self-confidence they show. Yes, there are other factors that contribute to developing self-assurance.
4. Except for the evening meal, when we have a set ritual and time together, the boys pretty much feed themselves. I insist on some protein and some vegetable matter every time they eat – otherwise it’s up to them when, how much and what they eat. This keeps them in tune with their food needs. They also do extra dishes if they have cooked. We have an open-plan kitchen/dining/lounge/office so there is no sense of them being isolated and I often help out when asked.
5. We talk about feelings of self-worth being tied to how much money people can hold on to (people with a chronically low sense of self tend to overspend and money ‘burns a hole in their pockets’ – they are adapted to scarcity and struggle to manage when extra money comes their way). The boys have complete control over any spending of money they earn or are given but they also endure the ‘how much do you value yourself’ information session when they are about to spend (:D). I also am cautious about them borrowing money from us to buy ‘stuff’.
6. Expressing anger has never really been an issue but we have made a big deal about the difference between anger (a natural reaction to threat or imagined threat) and violence. The Hand in Hand Parenting strategy of calling out random words or phrases when someone is melting down has certainly helped short-circuit the anger to violence reaction.
7. The Rori Raye technique has worked the most effectively of all. I have encouraged the boys to say: “I am feeling X, I want/don’t want X.”
8. I am also using this when I speak to the boys about things that make me feel frustrated etc.
a. ” I am feeling frustrated. I don’t want to nag you to get things done. What do you think?”
b. “I am feeling exhausted. I want to have a calm afternoon. What could we do about that?”
c. ” I am really sad. I don’t want to have to break up arguments all the time.”
(Note that I am not saying the word ‘you’ at all – they are being invited to fix a situation, not being made to feel they have failed me. Their internal dialogue is more of a “I can fix this” rather than, “I’m bad.” )
Of course, I don’t get it right all the time and it’s been a learning curve for us all.
The outcomes? Well, we certainly have a more composed 11 year-old than we had before, he seems more self-assured. He is more picky about who his friends are and I seen him just go off and do his own thing rather than just concede to what they want to do. He, and his brothers, are better at telling me what’s going on for them, assertively and with less drama. They’re: quicker to apologise and remedy a situation, seemingly from a deeper place of understanding; they’re more likely to spontaneously do pleasant things for me (not as if they’re trying to make me feel good, but as if they find real pleasure in doing so); there’s fewer unfinished projects around; and there’s more laughter. The seven year-old is more likely to share his anger rather than getting into ‘glass half full’ emotional blackmail reactions when things don’t go his way. In other words: so far, so good.