In our fast-paced, busy lives, it’s easy to overlook the simple things. I believe that one of the greatest gifts we can give our kids is to hold space for them in all their shapes and forms. The good, the bad and the ugly. 

This practice can be so simple, and simple rarely equals easy, that the process can become quickly overcomplicated. By following the steps below and mastering this skill, one you were likely not modeled as a child, you will deepen your relationship with your child. It is this foundation that will carry you through adolescence, the teens years and beyond.

What is Holding Space?

I’m sure you can recall a lunch you’ve had with a friend who couldn’t stop talking about something they had been through. A fight with a spouse, trouble at work, the list is endless. 

When we feel the need to tell someone about an experience we’ve had, this is called discharging. As emotional beings, we have to get it OUT.

Another good example is a bad dream. I remember one morning after I had had a bad dream as a child, my mom encouraged me to tell her about it. I still remember to this day how much better I felt after I told her all about it. While other programming was encouraging me to keep the ickyness to myself, it was my mom’s ability to hold space that allowed me to move on. We have countless opportunities to do this for our small children. Each time we do this, we are lending our big brains to their immature brains, slowly but surely building the blocks for them to be able to master this skill themselves. Hello happy, resilient, emotionally mature adults! 

What Does Holding Space for Little Ones Look Like?

The short answer – loud, messy, embarrassing and inconvenient. But it gets easier. Once you see the magic that happens on the other side of the loud, messy, embarrassing inconvenience, you’ll be hooked. 

The first step is accepting that your child’s upset doesn’t need to make sense to you. The point here is to support them through what THEY are upset about. Not to make it ok, not to fix it, and not to try to talk them out of it. It doesn’t matter how silly it is, for your child, the feelings are real and very serious. I have supported my daughter through all kinds of emotion stemming from the silliest things. 

Everyday things like, having to leave before your child is ready, time to get in the bath, not having cookies for dinner – all opportunities to hold space and build a brilliant, resilient brain! 

How to Hold Space

When your child is expressing their emotion, simply be with them. This is where the simplicity can feel confusing. Emotion in general and especially in children has not been acceptable in families and culture for several generations. This is where the desire to stop the emotion or behavior comes from. Having rarely experienced this ourselves, it’s understandable that we have a hard time patiently waiting for our child to throw their fit. 

Quietly being present with your child is enough. Focus on keeping yourself calm, and feel a deep empathy for what your child is going through.

If you feel the need to say something, do so by expressing that you see and hear your child. Offer them words for what they are expressing. “I can see that you are really frustrated,” “You want to have ice cream for dinner, and Mom said no, that’s really frustrating!”

Before you know it, the storm will pass and you will have a happy child again, likely ready for a little hug before moving on. It’s leaning into this loving space 1000s of times as an immature child, that will keep them coming to you later in life.

 If we expect our teenagers to keep their doors open and come to us with their heartache and problems, we have to show them that we can handle them – the good, the bad and the ugly.

For the science version of holding space, check out my blog post on supporting emotion.

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