Of love, fear, and anger

I have been finding some wisdom and good ideas through Hand in Hand Parenting, based on a philosophy of connection and what they refer to as four listening tools:

  • special time
    Paying devoted attention while your child leads you in playing together for a specified time. You follow her lead as long as it’s safe, enjoy the time together, and notice what themes or topics might show up in the play.
  • play-listening
    Using humor and / or physical connection to release tensions, such as around setting a limit or dealing with the grumps. Pillow-fights, chasing, wrestling, and so on — with the adult adopting the less powerful role, bumbling and falling short but good-natured and always hopeful. Physical play is good all by itself for fostering connection and confidence, and humorous physical play can be designed to help a child work through a particular issue as well.
  • stay-listening
    Remaining close and warm while a child cries or tantrums — calmly restraining if needed to keep the child (or parent, or others) safe. The idea is to support emotional release by providing safe and secure connection — too many words get in the way of the emotional work.
  • listening partnership
    Having another adult to vent to, someone who will not judge, be shocked, offer advice, but will facilitate emotional release so you can offload your feelings around the baggage that makes your child’s off-track behaviors so provoking.

Today Amy and I had an amazing stay-listening session.

The initial trigger — the small thing, the last straw, that opens the door on a backlog of pent-up emotion — was a box she could not figure out how to close properly. When I suggested she could either keep trying or bring the box to me and ask for help, she came upstairs (without the box), and as we talked more, she was pushing around a laundry basket — I asked her not to, and when I took it away, she hit me in the face, then backed up and stood looking defensive. I moved the laundry basket and reached for her, bringing her close and putting my arms around her.

For the next half hour or so, she cried, flailed a little, occasionally got angry and tried to hit or bite me, while I held her close, as loosely as I could whenever I felt she wasn’t trying to hurt me. Every so often, when there was a lull in the crying, I would express empathy about how difficult the box was, or that we weren’t having nachos for lunch. After a while, she told me to stop looking at her — I just said, “I love you.”

And here’s where we got to the heart of the feelings — between cries she kept saying things like “No you don’t” or “I don’t love you” or “You’re not supposed to love me” or “I’m going to run away” or “I’m going to break everything.” With that last one, I had the thought that she might be dealing with feelings about us being angry with her. I said a few things like “Even when I am angry, I love you” or “I love you no matter what you do.” It seemed we were nearing the end of the emotional outpour, and so I thought it was okay to get more verbal and discuss these important things. I remember saying something about how it’s okay to be angry, even though it doesn’t feel good, and that it’s not okay to hurt people. I remember her saying something like “You should stop being angry. If you don’t like it, you should stop doing it.”

We had to stop when lunch was ready, but it seemed both of us were ready for a break. While still lying down together, with my arms around her, I told her we’d take a break to have some lunch. She complained about what we were having (leftover grilled chicken), asking instead for a chicken sandwich. We negotiated how that could happen — that she could take apart her chicken leg and get out some bread for it, and that I or Daddy would do the mayo for her. Then we got up — I asked if I could give her a hug, she said yes with a smile, and as we hugged I said “I love you” again and she said “I love you, too.”

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5 thoughts on “Of love, fear, and anger

  1. Have you managed to get hold of The Science of Parenting yet? There is a similar approach that is suggested in there for Distress Tantrums (when the parent is calm). I am so pleased for you that you are finding strategies which work for you both.

    • Not yet, Karyn — a friend at our school said she would bring it for me to borrow but may have forgotten or not yet had a chance. We’ve had stay-listenings that have gone okay, some that have not gone so well, and some like this one that really seem fruitful — and then later this afternoon and early evening there was all sorts of various upsets that made me think oh yeesh, it’s not working — and then on a potty break after bedtime, she said, “Can you be with me while I have a hard time?” and I felt better — it reminds me of another time when she was two or three when she said, “Mom, you make my upsets better.” Maybe without today’s stay-listening, she would have gone even further off track this afternoon and evening. Or, maybe this stay-listening made her feel safe and connected enough to show more upset in the afternoon and evening. It’s not always easy to evaluate how things are going!

  2. I love your perserverance, and I agree it can be so hard to know whether or not things are working. It’s great that Amy is asking for you to be with her, she must really feel that you are able to help her through things when they get a bit tough or overwhelming for her. 🙂

    • Yes — I definitely need those moments. I was *not* able to be warmly with her through dinner and bedtime — her whining was just too provoking. I am sure she picks up on that, and I know she is communicating best she can at the moment… I do what I can, when I can, and hope that it will be enough to help with the things I can’t do.

  3. Pingback: Blog year in review | Becoming Three

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