Friday, January 19th, 2018

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Show Rather Than Tell

Mother holding handYesterday my caregiver called in sick, which meant I adjusted my workday to spend the day with Ian.  If you’ve read my blog before you’re aware that Ian has autism, is pre-verbal and he is highly sensitive to all the non-verbal cues in his environment.

I let him know I wanted to run some errands (my need) and he walked to the car, opened the door, climbed in and was ready to go.  All was calm.  First stop, the bank, which took longer than expected.  I noticed he started to get antsy.  I checked in with my own body and felt a little tense.  (my feeling) Hmmm, he was mirroring my energy perfectly.

Second stop, CVS.  I already had the thought that the bank took too long and going to CVS might push him too far.  I wanted to get a money order and a couple items.  Ah, I realized I was attached to the outcome and as we walked the aisles he started to get vocal. I took a couple deep breaths, let go, returned to the present moment and started to sing to him, which calmed him down.  We both relaxed, I found the item and we headed to the checkout.

Several people stood in line before us and I thought, “I don’t know if he’ll be okay waiting.”  Guess what?  He wasn’t. He yelled.  People turned towards us with that expression of “what the heck was that?” They had a look of confusion as they saw this 9-year-old boy making strange noises. He felt their energy and yelled more.

I took a couple deep breaths and noticed tension in my own body and thoughts arose that he was disrupting the store and the shoppers. Then I paused, came back to the present and trusted I had all the power to lead him through this experience safely and calmly. He just wanted to feel safe and be led.  (his need) It didn’t matter what the shoppers thought, that was their business.

He didn’t feel safe and he let me know with his behaviors. At this point he even hit me a couple times to really get his message across because it was taking me a bit longer than usual to come back to the moment.

I set a boundary with love and compassion and let him know I heard him.

I connected with his need to feel safe.  I reassured him that he was perfectly safe, I was there with him.

My voice was calm and loving (because the words don’t matter) and let him know I trusted he could do this.  I asked him for patience and to stay with me.  (my request) I found my way back to a peaceful state and he began to calm down.

He did go towards the door one time where I gently redirected him back into the store.  I didn’t physically stop him; my body blocked him from about four feet in front of him.  Then my hand extended an invitation to go back inside.  I reiterated that I trusted he could do this, waited for him to take my hand and led him back to the checkout counter.

He expressed himself a couple more times and I didn’t react or give it attention. We completed the purchase and as we walked out together I thanked him for his understanding and patience.

He had the room and freedom to express himself; I didn’t try to stop him from yelling.  I made requests and he granted most of them and the ones he didn’t, I set boundaries.  I didn’t physically restrain him or force him to do anything.

In the past, before working with the horses I would have spiraled into a state of stress and anxiety right along with him.  I likely would have left frustrated before making my purchase and felt like an bad mom. It also would have shown him that type of behavior worked to get out of the store.

Thankfully, I now have another way to navigate these experiences when I stay present, calm, aware, unattached to a specific outcome and connected with both of our needs.

If you’d like to learn how to restore calm in your relationships and lead from a place of peace, I’m here to show you there is a way and it feels like freedom!

The Process

So how do we as parents teach our children what is important in life without telling them what to do?  Here the process I use and I hope by sharing the example above you have a feel for how it works.

The short answer – you show rather than tell.

You invite without attachment to outcome.  You lead by example and give your children the space to express themselves so they have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.  When their behavior doesn’t feel good, you set boundaries with love and compassion.

What keeps parents from doing this?  Fear.

Fear that if you let go of control chaos will result.  Do you relate to this?  I sure do.  I’m a self-proclaimed recovering control-a-holic and have been in a state of deep letting go for two years now.  If you answered yes, what do you fear will happen if you allow your child the space to express himself and make mistakes?

When we tell our children what to do we squash their basic human need for autonomy and this is where resistance and power struggles arise.  We teach them to behave to please others and disconnect from their own inner guidance system.  I’m not saying allow your child to do whatever he or she wants.

I’m saying lead your own life and allow them the space to make choices.  Let them know when their actions and behaviors make you uncomfortable and set healthy boundaries…with love and compassion.

I’ll say it again, set healthy boundaries with love and compassion, not with frustration and demands.  These are two very different approaches.  One represents true leadership and the other, control and domination.  How do you feel when someone tells you what to do and you feel you have no choice?

There is another way to parent from a place of peace.

One rapid way to learn is step into a round pen with a horse.  But since you’re likely sitting in a chair reading this from some type of electronic device here’s a list of steps to help you find your place of peace.

  1. Awareness – Notice when when you feel any sort of tension in your body or emotion that creates stress.  Notice what happens in your body and where.  Your child will feel your stress.
  2. Identify your need. Ask yourself what you need in this moment to return to a state of calm.  Sometimes it just takes a pause and a couple deep breaths.  Other times it may take a lot more including some thought work.  Have compassion for that part of you that’s struggling.
  3. Identify your child’s need. What is the need behind the expression/words/behavior from your child.  See if you’re able to see past the behavior and hear the need your child is trying to communicate no matter how distorted it’s getting expressed.  Every behavior is a form of communication.
  4. Connect with your child’s need with compassion, understanding and empathy.  This may not require any words.
  5. Set healthy boundaries with love and compassion when your child’s behavior doesn’t feel comfortable to you.
  6. Make a request without attachment to whether the request is met or not.  Allow them the space to make a mistake and learn from that experience as long as it is safe to do so and set boundaries where you need to.
  7. Stay present throughout this process.  If you notice yourself getting all wound up in thoughts and emotions ground yourself back in the present by focusing on the five senses.  What do you see, smell, hear, feel, taste?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Please share in the comments what works for you or where you find yourself getting stuck.

About The Author

Diane Hunter As a Mind-Body Coach, Diane guides clients from a state of pain and overwhelm to a place of calm and deep connection to love and joy. She offers a unique experience with horses where individuals step into their leadership and learn to build trust and gain a deeper understanding of the power of non-verbal communication.


10 Responses to “Show Rather Than Tell”
  1. Meredith Whitney says:

    Thank you for your article Diane, “Show Rather Than Tell” in your After Autism March 2011 Newsletter. I’m still working on how I react to others and setting boundaries. I have to check in with myself on whether the anxiety or stress I’m feeling is mine or someone else’s. I am an Empath and it’s an everyday battle. I have even been eating more vegetables and fruits and trying to cut down on my sugar intake, since sugar can affect my mood. I have cut out red meat and fish, and trying to cut out chicken too.

  2. Diane Hunter says:

    Meredith I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. Yes, when you’re an Empath, setting boundaries is so important for maintaining balance and peace within. When you notice your body getting tense and clenched check in to see what thoughts are roaming around in your head. If your mind is clear then likely it’s a good time to look around to see where boundaries may be in order to restore peace within. However, if you notice your thoughts are spiraling you into a state of stress and anxiety it may be time to find the ones you’ve attached to in your mind and break them loose. I a big fan of healthy eating so congratulations on showing yourself some self-love and taking good care of your body. Much love.

  3. Dana Frost says:

    Diane, I appreciate that you described the process in detail. It is helpful to know exactly how you handle delicate situations. It has become clear that my children effortlessly entrain with my energy.
    We’re all learning from your transparency. Thanks for sharing. The process you described relates to all relationships. I’m reposting. Can’t end without sending you a big hug! xoDana

  4. Diane Hunter says:

    Ah Dana, thank you and I feel your big hug. :) Your statement that the process relates to all relationships is SO true. Just replace Child throughout the process with whomever you want to connect with and the model works. Thank you for sharing. xoxo

  5. Kate says:

    Hey Dianne
    LOVE this! Yesterday I was walking home from the park with my 2yr old, we were walking through a field and a friend rang on my cell. I was talking away on the phone, and noticed that Anya had stopped picking flowers, and was pulling her pants off, she then crossed her arms and sat down. (how could I not laugh??-or stay on the phone?) her message seemed pretty clear to me “mum get off the phone, I want to have your full attention again” But I have to say it was harder after that to get her to follow me. and as I type this Im realising that my need was to get home, so I forgot about having fun on our walk and tried to hurry her. Her need was to have my love, and attention and have fun. I could have had way more fun with her, and got home meeting both our needs! but instead I started to threaten with hurry up now, its time to go, if you dont come now mummy will start to get cross…..hmmmm feels a little bit like control – and what the heck will I do when she gets too big to be carried!! I cant wait for another situation to come up soon, and try your techniques :) I love how you’ve broken them down, very clear and simple….yeaaaa time to practice! Thanks xxx

  6. I love how “real” and “gritty” you are. It’s not all sunshine and roses. You do get upset or feel uncomfortable when your kid does something you don’t want him to do. But you have this tool to come back to the moment and figure out what’s really important. It gives me confidence I can do it too and that you didn’t just win the “easy kid” lottery.

    I remember once you taught me this great lesson. I was talking about how we were always late for school because mornings were such a struggle and you asked me why it mattered if we were late. The fact was, there weren’t very many good reasons! Once I let go of my attachment to the outcome of getting to school on time, mornings have been sooo much easier and, ironically, we get to school on time more often rather than less. It’s hard to remember that being attached to the outcome doesn’t always make that outcome more likely – and often makes it less likely.

    You are an amazing coach. I learn so much from you and I’m so grateful! I bet my kid is too :-)

  7. Diane Hunter says:

    Kate, what a beautiful story of awareness which is the first step and you see you have a wonderful teacher right in front in your daughter. I love that you’re looking forward to the next opportunity to notice and practice. xoxo

  8. Diane Hunter says:

    Ah Angela, thank you for sharing your story about the mornings and what a gift you’ve given both yourself and your son with letting go.

    I do get out of balance, sometimes several times a day and what I love about this approach is it’s always there to help bring me back to the moment, find my balance and lead from a place of peace and connection. And it’s not good or bad, right or wrong, it’s just noticing when it feels a bit off. You so can do this and you ARE doing it every day. We just get disconnected with all of our social conditioning and long lists of should’s and have to’s.

  9. Lisa Chu says:

    Hi Diane,

    A childhood friend’s son received a diagnosis of Asperger’s recently, and I referred her to you, even though this is my first time reading your site and all of your stories. What a true, deep gift you are offering all of us through your purpose in life. What you describe is so important and I thank you for the details that you are able to put into words.

    I spent 5 and a half years teaching and observing many children and parents, and eventually burnt out, mostly because of attachment to outcomes. I realize now that my pain from this experience came from not having the ability to embody – to show – the energy I was trying to “tell” them to have, and not having any idea what it meant not to attach to outcomes. I was ALL about outcomes! I was not aware of my own energy and how my words were not as important as my way of being.

    Now, with some time and a lot of my own ongoing personal work, I can begin to really understand what you’re talking about.

    Thank you again for being you, and for SHARING your self with us.

    Love love love!

  10. Diane Hunter says:

    Lisa – thank you for sharing your experience of awakening to your own awareness. Beautiful! It comes through so clearly now in your energy…your non-attachment to outcome. :) Love you right back!

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