Karen turned off the automatic notifications of missing assignments from her daughter’s school. Each time her phone would ping, she experienced a tightening in her chest, and a pit in her stomach, that gradually intensified, until finally each new ping brought panic and rage.
Karen’s daughter, Chelsea, had never been great at turning in homework, but the last couple of years things had gotten worse. Chelsea was a bright child, but had struggled with some executive skills, and regularly forgot assignments, or just didn’t want to do them. Her grades showed straight A’s in classes she enjoyed and F’s in classes she didn’t, with very little in between.
Karen wanted to see her daughter succeed, but worried that her apparent lack of motivation spelled doom for her future. Karen enacted more and more control over her daughter, limited activities and free time in hopes of “inspiring” Chelsea to “be more responsible”.
Instead of helping, it seemed to make the problem worse.
Karen’s attempt at control stemmed mainly from the shark music. We all recognize those two little notes. Duuh duh…duuh duh… duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh, then bam, the shark appears. With those two little notes, our breathing speeds up, our chests feel tight, and fearful anticipation makes it difficult to think about anything other than the impending danger.
Dan Siegel describes shark music as the “background noise caused by past experiences and future fear”.
Karen’s shark music started to play anytime her phone pinged with a new “missing assignment” notice because a new missing assignment made her fears for her daughter’s future replay in her head. This fear made it difficult for Karen to address what was really going on with that specific assignment, because every assignment blended together as one big problem.
Learning to recognize when our own shark music has started playing is the first step toward a more intentional, less reactive response to our children. Without the shark music, Karen could calmly talk to her daughter about specific assignments, and they could come up with plans to address the problems behind each situation, giving Chelsea the opportunity to learn important life skills.
For her missing math assignment, perhaps Karen would learn that Chelsea sat by her best friend in math, and often missed writing the assignment down because she was busy talking. Brainstorming with Chelsea would teach her how to solve problems rather than put her in a reactive position to her mom’s “meanness”. For a missing English assignment, maybe Karen would learn that Chelsea hadn’t understood what the teacher was asking for, and a solution could be to talk to the teacher after school for clarification.
We all have our shark music, whether it has to do with our child’s education, the time they spend with friends, or what their eye roll *really* meant, allowing ourselves to get pulled into the shark music causes us to miss out on what is really going on with our kids. After we recognize what triggers our shark music, we can acknowledge our fear, and then refocus on what lesson we really want our child to learn.
Learning to recognize what triggers our shark music can be a challenge. It involves examining our impulses and past experience. Sometimes the most effective way to do this is with the guidance of a professional. If you feel stuck in your own shark music and are ready to learn a new way of interacting with your child, call 801-944-4555 to schedule an appointment today.