I did it!! I finally did it!! I responded the way that I wanted to – parented in a way that I feel good about – when my child was acting like a monster. It’s a freakin’ Christmas miracle. Let me set this up for you…
So I don’t know what hell was up my 3.5 year old’s butt this morning, but the moment he started speaking, I knew it was going to be bad at some point.
First the dramatic breathing. Mamas, you know what I’m talking about. It’s a combination of a sigh, a groan and a whine all at once with a little fake hyperventilation thrown in there just for good fun. Whenever that’s the first sound I hear out of his room, I can practically hear the imaginary bomb start to frantically tick.
Then the slow, fake cry. “Mommy…(crying sound, crying sound without any actual tears or actual distress)…I’m still tiiiirrrrreeed”.
We’re into full blown whining now.
And at this point, it doesn’t really matter what I do, but I try anyway. I try talking quietly, in a soothing voice, letting him know that he can stay in a bed a few minutes longer and wake up slowly….
Hmmm. Ok. “Buddy, that’s not very nice, but it sounds like you are pretty sleepy so I’ll just let you take a minute. Maybe a little space will help”.
“I don’t WANT space!?!?”
“Would a hug help?”
Ok so I’m done for a hot second. I’ll let him mellow. Maybe he’ll pull himself together in a few minutes.
Twenty minutes later he is still in his room laying in bed and none of my attempts to diffuse have been successful. Well I won’t give you the rest of the story as a play-by-play, but suffice it to say that it got ugly despite my best attempts to work through it rather than provoke a full blown melt down.
He screamed, he threw his precious lovey (which makes me INSANE!!), he refused to eat (initially) even though that almost always makes him feel better. I mean…he just pushed every button imaginable. And typically, after he’s been at this level of shenanigans for this long (we’re going on 30 minutes of it folks), I would’ve lost my shit in some way. I would’ve engaged in some power struggle. I would’ve broken down and yelled. I would’ve punished, which just would’ve escalated the situation and made it worse.
But then I remembered…
I remembered that children cannot calm themselves in the middle of a meltdown.
I remembered that the only way children learn to soothe themselves is by experiencing other people soothing them.
I remembered that he didn’t WANT to feel this way – behave this way – he simply didn’t know how to do anything else.
I remembered that he wasn’t giving me a hard time (well…), but rather he was HAVING a hard time.
I remembered that he was only 3.5 years old and something was really wrong that he didn’t have the brain power/faculties to articulate.
But most importantly, I remembered that I was his Mommy. And he needed me. And if he couldn’t count on me during a dark time, who could he ever expect to count on??
So I sat with him on the kitchen floor and hugged him and kissed him and cuddled him. I let him curl up on my lap as though my knobby legs were a couch. I told him that I loved him endlessly. I stroked his beautiful hair and face. And I had the pleasure of watching the stress, sadness and anger drain out of him, like some poison that was slowly being extracted. I watched his breathing slow. I watched his skin turn from bright red to alabaster again. I watched the tears stop forming and falling.
And pretty soon my little bug was back.
Now, to be clear, I am under no delusion that simply because I was able to do this today does that mean that I will never have a moment of parenting that makes me feel guilty. I know I will yell again. I know I will punish at the wrong time, in the wrong way, for the wrong reasons. I know my patience will falter. Because I am human. And he needs my humanness too so I’m gonna try not to beat myself up too much for that either.
But today? Today was just glorious.
What’s your biggest parenting win lately? Had a revelation about how you affect your kid’s behavior? Tell me about it on my Facebook page!
Dr. Colleen Cira is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, trauma expert, clinical supervisor, writer, speaker, wife and Mommy of two little ones. She has a practice in Chicago’s Loop and Oak Park. To schedule an appointment with her, please visit: http://www.cirapsyd.com/