Fearless Parenting Blog

Tammy Fisher, M.Ed. was named Washington State School Counselor of the Year in 2014. A former junior high teacher for 11 years, she has been a school counselor for the past twenty years, working with all levels: pre-K to high school. Parent, educator, counselor and researcher, Tammy has coached hundreds of adults with her books, columns, and published articles; supporting parents in managing the ongoing, ever-changing, challenges and joys of parenting children/students of all ages. In addition to her work at St. Thomas School, she is also a full-time doctoral student in Counselor Education at Seattle Pacific University.

Which comes first: the thought or the feeling?
Tammy Fisher, School Counselor

The phone rings, and caller I.D. says: ST. THOMAS SCHOOL. What happens first? Does your heart race? Excitement? Fear? Worry? Or is it the brain that kicks in first? What has my child done now? Is someone in trouble? Is my child sick? Is everyone safe? As I coach kids in understanding their feelings, practice problem-solving strategies and increase self-awareness, I often visit the idea that feelings are actually FED by our thoughts. Can we control our feelings? We certainly can reduce the negative impact of negative feelings if we take command over the messages we give ourselves. Experience (and research) demonstrates that if we feed our minds with the powerful words of good-intention, we can master the challenges of our variable world. If we see people as our allies, and focus on solution, we can help ourselves be calm and capable.

Of course this is easier said than done. So often, the first place we go emotionally and in our thinking is one of self-doubt and fear. Does our boss want to talk to us because we did something wrong? Is the teacher from school calling because we have not been a diligent parent? Is the email from your brother cancelling the plans? It is almost universal that most of us move toward negative emotions on default mode. Being aware of this fact is our first step in empowering change. We are so likely to go there initially, so how do we shift? I would say the next step is compassion. Imagine each person or moment in our life designed to help us become the best version of ourselves that we can be. The difficult conversation, the challenging relative, the stubborn child – all there to remind us we are great, we can handle it, and we will come out the other side of this moment with insight and strength. Imagine each problem as an opportunity – and each person (even one of those negative, complaining ones I, ah-hem, 'complain' about J) intentionally in our path as an learning moment. Each challenging conversation/disappointing situation or difficult relationship is actually an opportunity to build relationship; an opportunity to scaffold our strengths, to lean in with compassion, to recognize good intention (despite, perhaps skill deficits), and an opportunity to model calm and capable for our children.

If we can get there ourselves, you can see how powerful this emotional shift can be for your children. If we can remind ourselves that their broken rule, their little 'fib', their moment of forgotten greatness is not personal. If we can assume good intention, and compassionately see them as simply unskilled, we can let go of the place of frustration, resentment, anger, and chaos. We can breathe first. And we can exhale confidence in their capability to come out the other side alongside of you to greater relationship and insight. Even a small child who tantrums, argues, or denies their culpability in an event does this from the place of Worry, Misery and Doubt (Howard Glasser, creator of the Nurtured Heart Approach®, calls these our parent version of Weapons of Mass Destruction or WMDs). What a brilliant coaching opportunity for you to help your child to FIRST assume another child's "mean words" actually came from that child's OWN fear, worry and doubt, rather than some other place of cruelty. To help them look at compassionately to that person (because they can!) and then to move energy to a positive place of solution.

So when that phone rings from school, help your feelings stay compassionate by assuming good news, celebration and, at the very least, another great opportunity to build relationship and scaffold strengths. Isn't that good news, after all.