…Oh, the shame.

by | May 22, 2024 | Culture

I recently had a client interaction at my in-person practice that really impacted me. A mother and her toddler had been through quite a serious traumatic event together, and I was helping them navigate her toddler’s dysregulation in the aftermath of this event (and let’s be honest, the mother’s dysregulation to a certain extent 😊). 

They were coming in for their usual session, and as they approached the door to my office, I could hear them. The toddler was screaming. Not just fussing or crying, but top-of-their-lungs, high-pitched, piercing screams. Mom came in carrying them, and I knew I needed to get right to work. Why? Here are a few thoughts that immediately jumped into my mind:

-A dysregulated adult cannot regulate a dysregulated child, and mom will need support
-The longer this tantrum lasts, the more of an impact on the child’s nervous system there will be.
I’m feeling activated in this moment, I had better not let my dysregulation add to the already chaotic environment.

So I ushered mom into one of our (thankfully soundproof) rooms, and I took her child into my arms, swaying back and forth, using minimal words and modelling deep breathing. Then I returned them to mommy’s arms, knowing that mom would ultimately be the external regulator (Synergetic Play Therapy term) that they needed. Additionally, I knew mom needed ME as an external regulator for HER, so I asked permission to put my arms around mom’s shoulders, and the three of us rocked back and forth slowly, until the child’s screams became cries, and then their cries became whimpers, and their whimpers became the shuddering, quiet breaths every parent knows well. 

So many things happened neurologically for the three of us! I gave mom the calm she needed in order to pass it to her kiddo. They felt soothed, realizing that a toy or treat would not satisfy their need like connection with mom does, and I felt grateful for the opportunity to model that co-regulation for them. It’s a win-win all around!

So, why does the title of this article mention shame? Because then, the mom apologized. Repeatedly. Begging me to let them return, assuring me that this behaviour would NEVER happen again. All I could do was look at her with compassion. As parents, we are trying to teach our children the rules of life, and sometimes this can overlap with social expectations. Children are expected to be quiet, happy, and calm in public, right? Mom felt in that moment that she had disappointed me, embarrassed herself, and that she had failed as a parent. I remember feeling that way too when my kids lost it in a restaurant or being carried outside of a Costco kicking and screaming. 

The thing is, teaching our children about their emotions, mood, behaviours will involve them testing the boundaries, asking us through their behaviour if we can handle their big emotions. If we shush and reprimand them because WE are embarrassed, we’re making their tantrum about US, not THEM. This teaches them to avoid discussing their feelings with us, which is the opposite of what we want. 

I said to mom: “Thank you for showing me what it’s really like. You are always welcome here. And I have to correct you…this absolutely will happen again, but next time, you’ll have the tools you took away from this time, and things will go differently.” She left with her child toddling happily next to her, tears glistening in her eyes. 

The next time you’re tempted to feel ashamed about your behaviour, send yourself grace and compassion. Sometimes, we will be feeling like that little child, swirling in emotional chaos. Who can you turn to as an external regulator in your life? What does their regulation look like for you? How does it feel in your body? Really get curious and notice that, then take those tools and put them to use. If you need to borrow someone else’s calm, that’s okay. Borrow it, use it, then move forward, guilt-free. You and I, all of us are imperfect human beings trying to figure out life. No shame needed. Just love.

More from Azi Counselling

Why is it so hard to change a habit?

We've all been there—the desire to change a habit that no longer serves us, whether it's biting our nails, procrastinating, or indulging in unhealthy snacks. Despite our best intentions, however, breaking bad habits can feel like an uphill battle. But why is it so...

I’m feeling anxious and I don’t know why! 

Anxiety is a tough feeling! It’s squirmy and uncomfortable and sometimes it shows up as a pressure in the chest. I even know a few people that have ended up in the emergency room because they thought they were having a heart attack, only to find out from the doctor...