There’s something very reassuring about being seen and affirmed like this.
Describing what you observe is happening in a non-dramatic, non-judgmental tone of voice is called mirroring, and can be used as a positive discipline technique as well as an attunement exercise in learning how to respond with sensitivity.
The simple act of mirroring can be very helpful to prompt someone out of their “reptilian” midbrain and into more rational thinking and behavior.
We can also mirror what our child says: “So you’re extremely angry because he got a bigger bowl? I heard you say that you want the same size as he gets. Is that right? You feel he always gets better things.”
Reflecting back to someone what they’ve said is a quick way to help them feel heard and understood. And when we feel that way, we have less reason to do big, disruptive things to get our needs met.
Like any positive discipline technique, mirroring shouldn’t be the only tool in the parenting toolbox and it shouldn’t be used too early during a meltdown, or too often. After all, we want our children to fully feel their feelings and process them. But at a certain point — discerned by a connected parent — mirroring can really de-escalate a blow-up.
Mirroring works so well in my family, that I even appreciate it when my spouse does it for me! I probably wouldn’t appreciate it very much if a stranger or mere acquaintance began giving me their view of my play-by-play, but in an intimate, trusting relationship, one or two observations can generate just enough of a pause for calmness to get a foot in edgewise. Or it might prompt the last explosive outburst and then calmness.
Mirroring also encourages self-reflection. Self-reflection could be described as mirroring for oneself.
I sometimes forget to do it, but I’m training myself to remember: When I’m feeling big, bad feelings, I need to stop. And access the feeling. And name the feeling. And acknowledge the feeling. Then go on. It’s like the feelings are trapped inside, zinging and pinging around, but naming them gives them an escape route. Very cool.
As someone who has practiced meditation for a long time — another excellent parenting tool! — I’ve always benefited from attempting to become a “witness” or “observer” to my life. I think mirroring is helping my kids develop this mentally healthy ability, too.
Emotions and feelings can get very big and amorphous. Getting grounded in our bodies is a “state-regulating” tool that will help me and my children for our lifetimes.