After we moved, my son asked if we could set up play dates with some of the children in his new school. I felt uncomfortable so I invented excuses why we couldn’t. His request triggered me because of rejection I had experienced, and I told myself that I didn’t want him to feel that same sadness.
Sometimes we don’t support our children’s needs because it triggers us. In Circle of Security Parenting we call these triggers shark music: feelings, needs or situations that are safe but remind us of past threatening experiences.
Through conscious actions or unconscious intent, we may place our comfort before their needs. For example if we feel we are being abandoned when they do things without us, we may undermine their activities: “Are you sure you want to go see your friend? Maybe you should go another day.” Or we may say yes to a request that turns on our shark music, so our tone of voice says no. Finally, if being close to others causes us to feel anxious, we may grimace or wince when they need reassurance.
Studies show that children as young as eleven months sense when we become uneasy, so they stifle their need to satisfy our desire to feel calm. Not only does our response result in their needs not being met, but also our reaction causes them even more distress. They may question why their request would be threatening to the person they most love and cause them to doubt their own needs and judgment. Or they may fear that if they upset the person they are most dependent upon s/he will withdraw from them leaving them alone.
Sometimes our shark music is so loud that we block out children’s needs for reasons that begun generations earlier. For example, when a person suffered abuse as a child, as an adult she may be emotionally distant and unable to tell her children she loves them or to comfort them. To cope with the trauma, she may focus on her work and abandon her children’s emotional needs, which makes it harder for her children to show affection, her grandchildren and later generations.
Now when my children and grandchildren ask for something, I pay attention to what I’m feeling and ask whose needs am I meeting.