I fell into darkness after some tough days full of almost constant crying and whining.
We try to keep a little perspective, parent playfully, and use gentle discipline. Lately, though, despite our best efforts, my daughter seemed so fragile emotionally that even her happy moments had a feeling of instability to them. She’s had night terrors for the first time, and I can sometimes hear her crying in her sleep.
I have been working hard to do better at controlling my anger and annoyance, to be more present and positive when I am with her and to keep her rested and active and engaged with activities. I’ve worn her in the sling when she asks if I can and nursed her more on demand than I was. All this definitely wasn’t making things worse, but I didn’t feel things shifting like I had hoped. I know she has been hit hard with this transition to having a sibling. I just felt like I didn’t know how to move forward, how to make things better for my family.
Then I listened to the tail end of Progressive Parenting‘s online radio show “Parenting from Stress to Success” with guest Kathy Witham of Parenting Beyond Words.
All of a sudden, I just felt a deeper well of inner resources. I now feel more patient, more compassionate, more present. Since then, I have just been having better and better days, and so has my daughter. I thought I’d write up a Tandem Nurturer update to share some more of my journey.
What I’ve Been Working on Doing….that Works!:
Drop down to her level.
I read on Kathy Witham’s site how dropping down to the child’s level can help create a safer feeling space. When I drop down, I am not towering over my daughter telling her what to do, usually raining frustration down from above. When I drop down, it feels more like we are together working on a solution.
The first time I did this my daughter was insanely poopy and needed to be changed and washed. I had my son in a sling and couldn’t do a whole lot of physical manipulating. (What a good thing because it led to an “aha” moment!) My daughter was standing, hysterically crying because she didn’t “want me to wash her bum bum.” I dropped down to her level. She sat down on the ground, and I sat all the way down with baby. That struck me, and although she cried for some time the tone was down a few notches immediately after I dropped down. I then gave her choice (see below) of whether to start with her shoes or her sweater, which seemed to have her feeling some control over the situation. I did this for each step. By the time she had to get in the water, she was over it.
Breathe out. More breathing, slow and deep.
Breathing, hormones and emotions are all tied together, sometimes in a big huge messy ball. I like what Kathy Witham has to say about breathing out first. This emptying, of the lungs and of negative emotions, creates a space to be filled more intentionally. Breathing regulates my heart and cools my anger. It helps me see the child before me.
The good thing is that you can’t breathe too much! My daughter often helps us breathe when we are angry. The other day my husband was still angry after one round of three breaths. She let him know he needed to breathe some more. He wasn’t totally fine, but every round gets us closer and closer to calm.
This is an active silence. When I am silent, I have time to consider all that is going on inside and outside the two of us. I can search my brain and reach for tools instead of just reacting. When I react my conditioning has a stronger influence. When I stop and breathe I make a space for my heart to guide me so I can consider my true priority: our relationship. I start to wonder: Do I really care about this mess? Do I really need things to happen right now? Is there something else I can do beside force her to do things my way?
Empathize or narrate out loud.
This post called “The Happiest Children Don’t Have to Smile” reminds us that children are human and have a need express their feelings, too. Even though we say it, no adult likes being told to stop having the feelings they are having. It makes sense, then, that part of my mothering involves listening to my daughter’s feelings. When I stay present with her through them, remaining calm myself, she learns that big, overwhelming feelings need not be scary and are not bad. I create and maintain a safe space for her to feel and offload emotions that might otherwise come up in sleep disruption or more daily strain.
I say things like. “You are feeling sad. You are feeling sad because….” Often times I will just leave the sentence open like that as an invitation for her to communicate her feelings. Many times, especially if it’s not clear what she might be feeling, I even just say “You are having feelings,” so she can think about what she feels and put her own words to it when she’s ready.
The other day I said this when she was sobbing because she didn’t want to put her coat on. While yesterday I let her go without a coat because we weren’t really going outside yet, this time she needed it to go outside and play (which everyone knows she needed to do). She said she was feeling sad because she didn’t want to put the coat on. I said “I see that you are sad. I noticed that you were sad this morning while you were sleeping. You were having a dream and crying. Why were you sad in your dream?” She said without hesitation, “I was sad in my dream. I was crying because mama and daddy were doing something together and I was crying for them to come.” We talked about this (we had indeed gone somewhere while she played with her grandmother). As we talked through this she cried a bit more and then calmed down. At the end she said suddenly on her own that she wanted to put her coat on and go in the car.
Offer choice using language such as “When you are ready…”.
This has had the biggest impact, I believe, aside from dropping down to her level. I have been trying empathizing, for instance, and offering choice for some time. However, I have begun to say “When you are ready” to let her know that she has the power to decide when something will happen. The effects of this are similar, I imagine, to the shift from “nagging” to “noticing.”
I did this for something not so important or upsetting when I told her she could help me put the groceries in a particular bag away. This was something I know she likes to do, but she was clearly engaged in something else. I let her know I would leave them there till she was ready. It wasn’t until right before going up to bed that she finally felt ready.
A more powerful instance, in that it was hard for me, was when she spilled the beans. Literally. All over the floor. On purpose. Again. I could tell I was at a complete loss, and I know that those are precisely the times when I get most angry and do my worst mothering. However, I have been working on seeing these times as opportunities. I breathed out and in my silence realized I didn’t need the beans to be cleaned up in any time frame. Still I was clear that I would not be picking up the beans alone, so I just said calmly said “When you are ready, let me know and I will help you clean up the beans.” She said I’m ready, so I thought “genius!” Turned out she wanted to “sit here and watch you pick up the beans.” I went back to cooking again and said, “I will wait until you are ready. You let me know and I will help you.” This happened over and over again. At least five times, though a time or two she got down on the floor with me and put some beans in a bowl before dumping them again. Finally, she said she was ready and I got down there again ready to get back up. But she really was ready and helped me pick up each and every bean. It took us about 15 minutes to get to this point, but it felt good that we got there without me doing it, without her crying and without her feeling forced, an action that surely would have created pent up feelings I would pay for later on.
Strangely, in my darkest hour has come my best mothering. I am onto something here. Where I was once fearful, I feel more confident and excited to see where this journey takes me….
Parent Reflection and Tools
- Progressive Parenting Program: Parenting from Stress to Success (Kathy Whitham, guest)
- Parenting Beyond Words: Free download of short list of tips (brief but powerful)
- Parenting with Perspective
- Parenting through Play
- Gentle Discipline (Setting boundaries and limits with love)
- Unconditional Parenting
- Tandem Nurturing
Crying and Feelings
- Understanding Tears and Tantrums
- Allowing Toddlers to Cry
- Letting Your Child Be Unhappy
- 10 Things Not to Do to an Upset Child, and a Couple Things You Can Do
- The Aware Parent: Becoming Comfortable with Crying (from Hobo Mama)
Sleep and Feelings