I Want to Go to the Park

One summer evening when my son was 4.5, we were walking our dogs after dinner.  He really, really wanted to go to the neighborhood park.  I told him it was getting late, and we needed to go home and get ready for bed.  I promised that we could eat dinner early the next day and go to the park.  Usually my son is a very reasonable child, and this would’ve been enough explanation.

Playground SignHowever, that evening, he was stuck in “I want to go to the park” land.  He whined, cried and begged to go to the park.  I tried playing games with him to distract him, to no avail.  I made up a song about “I want to go to the park.”  He laughed a bit at that silliness, but soon returned to, “I want to go to the paaaarrrrk!!!”  I ran around him in circles and tried to get him to dance with me.  It only upset him more.  His responses to all my questions and actions were, “I want to go to the park!!!”  That was when I realized that it was not about going to the park.  He was setting himself up for emotional release.

So I let him.  I asked my friend who was walking with us to take the dogs home, and sat on the curb and held my son.  By this time, he was beside himself crying and trying to drag me toward the park.  He struggled against my arms, rolling around on my lap.  He kicked his legs back and forth like a pair of scissors.  I kept patting him on the back and telling him I loved him.  I said I was sorry he was disappointed but we could not go to the park that evening.  He kept crying and struggling.

Some neighbors walked by on the other side of the street.  They smiled at us when they heard his cry of wanting to go to the park.  I guessed they’ve been through that with their kids at some point, too.  I smiled back from the curb.  I was calm and didn’t feel I was being judged.  In hindsight, that was rather remarkable.  It may have been a turning point as a more confident parent.

My son continued to cry and began pushing me.  I let go of him and sat looking at him.  He walked a few steps away, then ran back and climbed into my lap again to cry.  When he pushed very hard, I would let him get up.  He would climb and lie down again in my lap, all the while screaming about going to the park.  As he cried, I held him and told him that I knew he had had a tough day.

In about 10 minutes, he stopped.  (Though it felt a lot longer at the time.)  He sat on the curb leaning against me.  The sky was just starting to get dark.  I asked, “Hey, where’s the moon?  Could we look for the moon on our way home?”  He calmly stood up and held my hand.  He found the pale crescent moon, and we listened for frogs as we walked home, hand in hand.  The next day, we did go to the park after dinner.

To this day, I don’t know what difficulties he had or what emotions he needed to offload.  I did learn from that experience that whenever my son appears to be stuck wanting something and starts to repeat one phrase over and over, it’s no longer about that thing he wants at the moment.  That signature behavior became my signal that some pent up feeling is bothering him, a lot, and a much needed Staylistening session is called for.  And more often than not, I’d be right about that.

–A mother in Fremont, CA

Read more about the Parenting by Connection approach in the Listening to Children booklets or hear Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor, Alaiya Aguilar discuss another example of Staylistening.

15 thoughts on “I Want to Go to the Park

  1. Wow, you are amazing!
    This sounds a lot like what I would do too, in this situation. My son is only 13 months, but I worked at a daycare for nearly 3 years before he was born. Children (and adults as well) sometimes need to have a good crying session. Life is hard!
    You are a super mom for knowing your son well enough to recognize this need and support him through it. Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing this with the world.

  2. Dionna,
    You are certainly welcome! We love the way this mother took time, listened to the situation, set the limit, and listened to all the things that had gotten piled up behind that “wanting” feeling.

  3. Thanks, Jessi!
    We were honored that this mother shared her story with us. We hope to share lots more stories like this to encourage parents everywhere. Glad you stopped by.

  4. This was linked in one of the blogs I read. Thank you so much for this. My son is two but sometimes this is what we go through. I never thought of it like this but now reading your post I know that my son does set himself up for emotional releases.
    I have a hard time with this because sometimes I’m like well it wouldn’t hurt to go to the park if he really wants to, but I bet sometimes he wants to hear no so he can realese his emotions. I just have a hard time in this gray area sometimes of letting him do stuff and knowing when we need to do something else.
    Anyway, thanks for the insight. This helps!

  5. Glad to hear you found this helpful, Cassie. Two year-olds can certainly keep us guessing about what they need when!

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  7. Thanks for sharing this! I think you’re right about those times when they get reeeealllly incessant about something: it’s not about that something. You’ve reminded me to consider the need for emotional release, even if I don’t know what it’s about. Thank you!!

  8. We’re so glad we could share this, Slyvia. We love it when parents send us their Parenting by Connection stories. We’ll be posting more like this through October. Hope you enjoy them!

  9. Thank you for liking my anecdote, Dionna, Jessi, Karen, Cassie, Jorje, and Sylvia. I’m glad you found it interesting and helpful in some small way. Reading your responses, I know you are all insightful, super moms who know and are supportive of your children, even when they are not feeling their best.

    This was a particularly productive StayListening session for us, and we’ve had many more since then 🙂 The Parenting By Connection notions that kids misbehave because they feel disconnected, that the misbehavior is their way of seeking help, and that allowing them to release those pent up feelings helps to restore their inner balance were real eye openers for me. Learning about Parenting By Connection changed how I view my kids, how I view myself as a parent, and completely changed the way I parent.

    I hope you will come back to visit, read other anecdotes like this from other parents, and share with us your stories. Thanks again.

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