We have been having a conversation about this over at Donna Simmons’ forum, and it has raised many important questions about this concept. Several great threads have popped up about holding the space, please do come join us!
One of the most interesting concerns to me, though, was a question that came up regarding if holding the space was somehow not authentic, and how do children learn about emotion and managing emotion if not from us? I started thinking that the corollary to this is sort of: If we do all this inner work, then we will be calm all the time, right?
I love this! To me, “holding the space” does not mean we have The Valium House and we are deadened to the world. You are holding the space for your child, the most intimate thing in your life outside of your partner, because you are the adult and you want to help your child. You may very well be angry, but you are stopping to try to hold your reactions in check so you don’t do something you will regret. You are also doing this so you don’t pass on your baggage and check it into your child’s luggage! So maybe you go outside for a moment and come back if that is safe. Maybe you breathe. Essentially you are trying to take that moment to try not to be sucked into laying down on the floor and having a temper tantrum yourself next to your two year old. It is not at all about being a Valium Parent, it is about being authentic and genuine but also dependable. The child will learn they can push for a boundary against you and you will not crumple to the floor and then the child develops themselves even further.
Holding the space also means you can rise above your own feelings in a way to be constructive. You can show the child how to fix it, how to make things better. You can show your child what to DO with those angry feelings. That is the important thing. When an emotion threatens to topple you into the abyss, how do you regain yourself and how do you make it better? That is the part the child needs to see, and because they live in their bodies, they need to know through movement and action, the doing, not in this reasoning talk that many parenting books want to use. That comes at later ages!
Children under 7 DO have emotions! Of course! I like how Kim John Payne describes it in his book “Simplicity Parenting“, how small children have just this pool of undifferentiated emotion and if you do venture to ask them how they feel they generally will say “bad”. They really don’t have that same consciousness to it that we do, but it is okay to describe what you see in the moment. Sometimes when a child is upset or angry, we want so badly to fix it and sometimes the child just needs to feel it. A touch, a look, can all be supportive. Words cannot dam the flood! Warmth on the level of the soul! That is healing!
Again though, showing what one can do with these strong emotions to transform it, to make things better is important. We often want this sense of utopia for our children – peaceful, no conflict. I think the best thing though is to show how to transform conflict into something constructive, without a big speech about it. Or even just seeing how we cry and move on. How do you let go of things? Can you show that?
Life with little ones is in the doing, and with the doing comes the power of transformation and potential for healing.
(Part of this post I originally wrote for a thread on the Waldorf At Home Forum, but it has been somewhat transformed like strong authentic emotions )