One of the things I’ve been working on lately is discerning between power and comfort. Sometimes it’s obvious when you’re dealing with a power struggle, or a desire for connection and compassion, but sometimes they overlap, blend, oscillate, or mimic each other, perhaps especially when you’re dealing with a kid.
Karyn at Kloppenmum talks about Boring Cuddles as one way to deal with a fuss that is about comfort and connection, and Mindful Disconnection as a way to deal with a fuss that is about inappropriate power.
Boring Cuddle means you are there to hold the child warmly, without doing the problem-solving, making suggestions, giving instructions, or otherwise rescuing. You’re comforting, being a secure and safe and warm presence, while the child metabolizes her feelings.
Mindful Disconnection is disengaging from the power struggle — not getting sucked into endless argument. “That’s a shame” is a common phrase, instead of offering suggestions, counterarguments, explanations, repeated commands, etc. It’s turning away after you give an instruction, instead of daring the kid to disobey.
Yesterday, Amy and I were playing with her paper dolls. (I really need to take a picture of them; she takes a piece of paper, usually a long skinny piece of stiff paper from preschool, and draws the front of a person on one side and the back on the other. That’s the paper doll.) I confess I was losing interest and my glances at the clock were not as surreptitious as I thought. We were in one of those endless plays where something new happens, there’s always something else, there’s no closure visible. Still, I thought I was doing pretty well at being engaged and present and participating pretty fully.
The cuckoo sounded, cue for naptime.
She asked to finish, I said no gently, she started to kick. When she kicked me I told her there would be no naptime story (i.e. me reading to her). When she threw herself in a chair I asked if she would walk to her room or needed me to take her — she said take, but thought I was going to carry her — instead I took her hand and escorted her. She hit me, and when we got to her room I told her there would be no books at naptime today because she hit me. I closed the door, and she proceeded to bang on it for what seemed a super long time. I was getting irritated, close to losing my cool, and reminded myself to get the earplugs if it continued more than a few more minutes.
In the next few minutes, there was less banging and more crying. When the banging stopped, I went to her room and knocked, and was let in, and held her a while. She talked to me (I forget about what) so I answered her warmly, but didn’t volunteer further conversation. After a while she actually climbed out of my lap and lay down. I asked if she wanted to be covered, and she said yes. She was obviously still sad, but managing and ready to be on her own with it.
I left and closed the door.
I am sure there are things I could have done better. She likely felt that my interest in the paper dolls wasn’t as keen as hers. I think, given how I wasn’t enjoying the play much by this time, that giving her another five minutes of play would have been worse — I’d be more irritable and she’d be more anxious, perhaps. My consequences for kicking and hitting were not exactly natural consequences. (What would have been?) There’s probably more that I’m not thinking of.
But still, I thought it was a good example of seeing a power struggle turn into a fuss for comfort and connection, and I think we handled it pretty well.
(By the way, the cat is now locked in my bedroom with her litter and food and water. Hoping being removed from the cat might help Amy choose to stop stomping around the cat, chasing her, twisting her tail, and patting her ungently on the head. Amy is genuinely interested in petting the cat and enjoying her, and wants the cat to like her, but a) it’s hard to overcome ten years of this cat being in a childless house and over three years of the cat dealing with a young child incapable of consistently cat-friendly treatment, and b) her continuing to do these mildly mean things to the cat hinders her more friendly efforts and c) it’s a CAT — cats want to be alone a lot, sleep a lot, and are picky about the way they are petted.)