Stella, my two-year-old daughter, was an early talker, unusually verbal, and a very happy, silly, open little girl. About four or five months ago, she came down with an extreme case of hives. She was given a lot of steroids to try to make them shrink to no avail. She spent a lot of time at the doctor, a lot of time being poked at and prodded, and it was extremely traumatic for her. Her sleep patterns changed from sleeping in her own bed all the way through the night and for long naps each day, to waking every hour or so and refusing to nap.
Two months passed. We got nighttime sleep back to normal and she was doing okay. She clearly had gone through a change, though. She wasn’t as open. She hated crying. She avoided conflict and would often say things like, “I need a way to be happy,” followed shortly by a triumphant, “I’m happy now!” after each upset. She allowed no time to be upset. Her mood was lower. She wasn’t nearly as exuberant.
That’s when the stuttering began. It started with hesitance before she would speak and the occasional slurring of her speech. It progressed from an occasional stutter to peaking at stuttering 30-50 times per word! Often, she would give up and walk away. It was heartbreaking.
After the first day of intense stuttering, my wife and I talked and we decided that a part of the dynamic was coming from her older sister “bulldozing” her–talking over her, demanding more attention, etc. So we made a plan to give Stella a Special Time day.
We left our oldest with her grandma and spent the whole day devoting our attention to her and letting her lead the day. She didn’t stutter much, if at all that day. We felt good about it. But the next day, by mid morning, the stuttering was back at full force.
The following day, she was back in super-stutter mode. I did a lot of research and decided we needed to take her to a speech pathologist immediately. I was so indescribably worried. But something in my gut told me that she was still holding onto something from the sickness months back. Her whole extended family had noticed the change in her after that. Then it dawned on me… THE SLEEPING!!! SHE IS TELLING ME THAT NAP TIME IS THE TIME SHE FEELS SAFE TO RELEASE!!!
I had been trying to keep her from crying because she had been through so much and it seemed so traumatizing for her to go to sleep. That night I set up a listening partnership to work on my own anxiety and fear about the stuttering and crying.
At naptime the next day, I felt very confident and calm. We did a half hour of Special Time before naptime so that she felt safe and connected. I told her that she was going to take her nap in her bed, and nursed her as usual. She happily agreed and was up for trying it as I lowered her into her bed. And then it began.
“I don’t want to take a nap!” she screamed clear as a bell. No stutter. “Let me out! I’m trapped!!” She screamed and screamed.
I reassured her and told her she was going to be okay, that I wasn’t going to leave her, that she was safe, that I loved her, that I knew she could do it. She would then move into, “I need a way to be happy,” desperately pleading for a way to feel better.
I reassured her that she had a big sad and that sometimes crying is the only way to get the sad out. “I want to be happy!” she said. Then she would stop crying and start walking around her crib in circles, happily tracing her hand around the railing. So I told her, “I’m going to help you by laying your body down to sleep now.”
I gently picked her up and laid her down. She screamed, “NOOOOOOO!!! That’s not your job!! That’s not your job! That’s my job!” and stood right back up. That was the cycle for two and a half hours.
At one point she stopped walking in circles and turned to look at me and said, “Mommy! Your eyes! They’re still there! Thank you!” and then went back to protesting and crying. It was a very real validation for me that my support, love, and eye contact were making her feel safe.
At the end, she just lay down, asked me to wipe her nose and went to sleep. She didn’t stutter once through the crying and she hasn’t stuttered once since. She cried for about ten minutes the next day and an hour with my wife the day after that. Since then, she naps happily and cries more easily during the day.
She still pleads for a way to get happy, but once she’s done with a big cry, she says, “I did it! I got my sad out! I feel happy again!” Sweet girl. Every once in a while I will sense the hesitance that began all of the stuttering. There is usually an opportunity to support her through some crying or help her laugh a lot that will make the hesitance go away. But I am happy to say, no stuttering. None.
The Staylistening session was long–very long. It was hard on my body and hard on my heart. Doubt crept in a few times, but not for long. I knew in my gut that I was doing the right thing. I simply reminded myself that my job in that time was all about being present for Stella. I would redirect my focus onto her in those moments and all was okay.
I don’t think it would have been that easy had I not done the Listening Partnership beforehand, however. My back was probably the biggest problem, so I pulled up a chair and sat next to her crib with my head resting on the railing- relaxed and with clear eye contact. I was close enough that I could reach out and touch her, give her affirming contact without hurting my body by slumping over the railing.
The hardest thing about the entire experience was the sense of helplessness I felt through her sickness and the months of her not being herself and then stuttering. It was heart wrenching. I don’t know what I would have done without the Hand in Hand tools. I am so grateful.
I learned a lot about from this experience. I learned that I should always listen to my gut, the power of Listening Partnerships to keep my centered, open and patient, and how powerful loving listening is. I learned an incredible amount about Stella, too.
She is a little girl who will choose peace and happiness at any cost. She doesn’t always show her upset in the moment and one of the most important jobs that I have as her parent is to make sure that she feels connected, loved, and safe enough to cry and laugh out her upsets.
I also got a very big lesson in trusting that my kids are capable of showing me what they need to feel powerful and good. She was telling me all along, I just was trying too hard to find a solution from the outside. Our little ones are very capable. I followed her lead. She knew what she needed and still does. I just need to make sure that she feels connected and she can do the rest.
She has since returned to her normal, crazy, silly, talkative self. I stare at her sometimes and think, “I am so relieved to have her back! I am so lucky!” Lucky I am. As lucky as they come.
—Lauren Scout, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor
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