Presence, eye contact and cryingThere is an interesting relationship between eye contact, presence, feelings, and protection from feelings.
When we go for eye contact with a baby or child who is upset and protecting themselves from feelings, this helps them know that we really are there with them, and we really are listening, and we are going to stay there with them when they are crying.
Babies and children may well close their eyes when in the depth of crying; however, if they are avoiding eye contact and avoiding crying, our loving gaze, and the reassurance that we are totally present with them, is often just what they need to fully feel the feelings that are there.
The aim in Aware Parenting is not just about helping our babies and children about expressing upset feelings or releasing stress and tension, it is about the depth of connection and presence we offer them. Their expression of their feelings is a by-product of that. There is a sense of active connection and presence that goes with being with them in their feelings.
Looking into the eyes part is one way that our babies and children know that we are really present with them (although I'm sure that they can also sense it by the level of presence in our bodies too).
When they see we are really present, any beliefs they might have acquired:
about being on their own when they are upset;
or it not being safe when they are upset;
or that we don't want to listen when we are upset (which can easily occur when we inadvertently stop them crying thinking that they have another need, or are tangled up in our own feelings so that we are not present);
are all challenged.
Our love and our presence shines through, and in the face of that, the feelings flood out!
When babies and children have feelings that they are protecting themselves from, they may avoid our gaze. Our loving gaze helps them to connect to their feelings, and they may try to protect themselves from the feelings by avoiding our gaze.
This is a bit like when we are with a friend and we are trying to stop ourselves from crying for some reason, and they look into our eyes and say, "How are you?" with love in their voice, and it is almost impossible for us to stop the tears from falling!
Often parents wonder what to do when their older children, if they are upset and run off and shout "go away". If we look back to our own childhood, we will probably remember that what we would have most wanted in those moments was loving arms and loving words and eye contact!
The essence of Aware Parenting is warm, loving, present connection. When our babies and children really sense that from us, it is very difficult for them not to be with what is in that moment, whether it be painful feelings, or joyful ones!
Edited April 2012