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.
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.
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.”