One essential and hard-to learn skill is knowing how to respond when our kids are angry, unhappy, having a meltdown, or simply reject us.  Children who have suffered trauma are particularly liable to react in all of these ways.  The best thing we can do as parents of those children is learn how to let them emotionally bounce off us as they work through their trauma.  In this post, I’ll discuss why we should develop this skill, and in my next post, I'll discuss how we do it.

What it Means to Let Our Kids Bounce Off Us

You’ll find a lot of definitions for letting kids bounce off us.  I use it in the sense of not getting upset about our kids’ emotional storms and not letting them push us into a negative reaction.  Rather than responding in kind, we have to learn to maintain our perspective and remain calm.

I sometimes call it “being like gravity.” Kids can disagree with gravity and try to avoid it, but gravity is always there.  It doesn’t really care what people think; it just does what it does.  No amount of insults or anger will change what gravity is or does.

Of course, the analogy isn’t perfect because gravity can be very cold and cruel.  We need to be nurturing and give our kids a soft landing, but we do need to mimic the way that gravity is always there and unchanged.  In the same way, we need to decide what sort of people we want to be and remain those people no matter what our kids throw at us.  Of course, we aren’t impersonal forces of nature, and rejection always hurts.  We need to learn how to absorb that hurt and, like gravity, keep being who we are and doing what we do.

Why We Should Let Them Bounce Off Us

There are several important reasons to let our children emotionally bounce off us.  

Trust — The first reason is that absorbing our kids hurt without reacting negatively helps rebuild the trust that many of our kids have lost to trauma.  Allowing them to bounce off us without changing who we are creates a safe and reliable space that they can count on.

Listening — The second reason is that it helps our kids to feel heard and understood.  Many traumatized children believe that no one listens to what they think or how they feel.  By not reacting negatively, we give ourselves a chance to actively listen to them.  When they feel heard, they are more likely to be able to process and heal from their trauma.

Emotional Support — Finally, letting our kids express themselves provides emotional support that is essential for them to process their trauma.  Kids rarely have the vocabulary they need to process what they have been through.  They need help putting words to their emotions, and they will only do that when they feel emotionally safe.  Letting them know that we love them for who they are, no matter what emotions they have displayed, is an essential first step to helping them process and heal from their experiences.

Letting our kids know that we love them no matter what emotions they express is an essential foundation to a strong relationship.  Of course, as I explain in my next post, we have to set safe boundaries on how they express themselves, but we must be willing to absorb what they communicate.  Our kids who have suffered trauma need a safe, stable, immovable place to belong.  Our being willing to be there for them no matter what they throw at us is an essential first step in giving them that place.


Debbie Ausburn

Helping foster parents and stepparents learn how to be the person who is not supposed to be there.