We humans are social animals. We all need connection with others. And sometimes, when we are overwhelmed with feelings, relating “properly” gets hard to do, especially for young children. But opening your heart and your arms to the feelings that are overwhelming your child allows her to clear her mind. It lets her think and learn unhindered by emotional baggage. It also builds an essential level of trust and closeness in the relationship between you.
I know from personal experience, and I bet that you do too, that the gift of caring attention has helped me let out feelings. These feelings were interfering with my ability to relate well to someone I cared about. Being thoughtfully listened to leaves me feeling connected and understood, especially after I have acted cranky or unkind. It’s a gift that strengthens relationships.
It saddens me to think about the many, many upset, hurt or frightened children who have been sent off to the solitary confinement of their rooms until they can behave “properly.” I know parents love their children. They probably didn’t have any other way modeled for them growing up. But what a lost opportunity to nurture and support a precious child. That would be like my husband or my best friend telling me, “I have no intention of loving all of you. I only want to see the parts that work for me. Go away until you can be easy for me to deal with.”
Here’s how this change of perspective worked for a mother in one of my classes,
Now, whenever there is a tantrum, I tell myself that, “I am thankful for the tantrum. Because my son/daughter is trying to communicate with me, and I will be there for him/her.” I started really stopping and listening to their tantrums after the first class. However, the tantrums got worse! I wasn’t sure if this method really worked. But later on, I realized that it was because my son feels safer to express his feelings and tension to me. The second week, I did listen when my child had a tantrum, and we did Special Time. Amazingly, the occurrence of tantrums significantly decreased! Not only that, but both my husband and I enjoy the special time with our kids.
One day my son was upset that I didn’t give him something during breakfast. He started crying and screaming. I thought he was being unreasonable. In the past, I would say, “Eat your breakfast now, and don’t be unreasonable.” But I stayed with him and listened to his cry. After about 10 minutes, he said, “I don’t want dad to go to work.” I am amazed that as I listened to his cry, his real issue surfaced – he misses his dad.
This new way of looking at tantrums has completely changed our parenting approach. Being able to connect to our children becomes the first priority in our relationship with them. It transformed us and helps us to be more confident parents.
Contributed by Patty Wipfler of Hand in Hand Parenting and co-author with Tosha Schore of “Listen: Five Simple Tools to Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges.” To learn more about this unique approach to relationships in the family and get your own copy of Listen, click here.