A Shark Attack on my Child’s Feelings

I took my boys, 6 and 7, to the Museum of Natural History to see a 3D movies about marine dinosaurs. The youngest is especially sensitive to traumatic events in movies and games, so I had checked that the movie’s rating was age-appropriate.

However, instead of having an impersonal nature movie, the plot was a mommy prehistoric dolphin who gave birth to two babies, and the story centered around their lives. Just at the description, I started feeling wary. I’ve been surprised so many times about what is considered appropriate children’s culture. Sure enough, halfway through the movie the mother got eaten by a huge shark. Our youngest turned to me wide-eyed and asked if the young siblings were okay.

I said yes, but a few minutes later the brother was also killed and the sister was injured by the large shark. By then I knew that I would have some emotional cleaning-up to do later that day.

I had promised them a look around the museum shop before leaving and my youngest came running to me with a (no surprise!) 30-dollar plush Great White shark which was way out of his budget. He was heartbroken when I said that we weren’t going to buy it. He balked, pouted and whined all the way home. At home he kicked and screamed and would not eat any snacks. I began making contact with him and he said that he really wanted to buy the shark so that he could play with it and (again, no surprise!) his own toy dolphin.

I said that his big brother had a blue soft shark that he could play with but no, he wanted a grey shark, THAT grey shark. My mind was racing, trying to figure out how to help my little guy unload his feelings. I was pretty upset, actually, so play was far from my mind. I found a grey long-sleeved t-shirt and wrapped the blue shark in it. Only the teeth were sticking out in the front. My son whined that the tail was sticking out and it was blue. I saw that he was wearing grey socks and playfully pulled one off to put on the blue shark tail. And then I approached him with the ill-disguised blue shark which looked so ridiculous that we both started laughing very, very hard.

Until then I wasn’t really focused on playing, more on “seriously” providing him with a good-enough grey shark. But that was just not going to happen, and instead we got something much better in return. From then on, it all unfolded beautifully. I could start being creative again having found an inroad to his feelings. I played stupid and kept telling everyone that he was an authentic, grey, terrifying, prehistoric shark, in spite of his terrible disguise. I also played the scared shark who swam away screaming with fear when the dolphin stuck out his head from hiding. The whole family was shrieking with laughter. Later we also re-enacted the killing scene but the dolphin killed the shark instead because the shark was too full and sleepy from eating and had a tummy ache, etc… After this the boys took over the game for a couple of minutes and played out other unrelated scenarios, and little brother was his happy self again, ready for a snack and more good times!

Are you ready to learn how to employ parenting techniques like this, and turn troubling moments into ones of connected play time? Sign up for one of our core classes, Building Emotional Understanding.

My Daughter’s World Becomes Safer

My daughter, who is almost four, has had a fear of black people since she was a baby. I first became aware of this when she was about nine months old and my wonderful black African hairdresser walked into the house and my daughter started screaming.

I was surprised, as this wasn’t a normal reaction, and I didn’t realise it had anything to do with her colour at the time. It became obvious later on, when she started to cry every time she saw a black person, including a friend’s boy friend, who we happened to go on holiday with. The whole time, my daughter was very wary of him. By the time she got to the age of three and was still terrified every time our hairdresser came to cut our hair, I realised it was time to take some action. We live in a very white town where few black people live, so there wasn’t much opportunity to work with this issue.

I suggested to my daughter that the next time my hairdresser came to cut my hair she could also cut her hair. She said, “OK, maybe,” but she also said that she didn’t like Sheena, which she has said many times before. I also did some role-playing, using her dolls around being scared of black people.

My daughter was fine until the moment the doorbell rang, and then she hid in the
corner of the room and cowered in fear. I went to let Sheena in whilst my daughter stayed with her Dad. When my daughter heard her enter the house she started to cry and immediately went upstairs to get away. I asked her Dad to keep setting the limit with her, saying, “OK, let’s go down stairs and say hello to Sheena now,” and then to listen to her feelings, but not forcing her to come down.

Whilst I was having my haircut downstairs, I could hear my daughter screaming and crying on and off. When my hair had been cut, I went upstairs to see her. She had spent the whole time crying in her Daddy’s arms with her Daddy encouraging her to come downstairs and say hello, and then listening to her cry, and reassuring her that she was safe and that Sheena is a lovely person and nothing bad was going to happen.

I asked my daughter if she wanted to come down and say goodbye to Sheena because she was about to leave. She said she wanted to. She came downstairs and Sheena was very friendly and playful with her. Although my daughter was trembling a little, she interacted with Sheena, and it was very sweet. They were talking about what my daughter was going to be cooking in her play kitchen, and she told Sheena she would make her some food next time she came round. They also talked about her new doll that she had got for Christmas. This went on for a few minutes before Sheena had to leave.

Once she had left, my daughter said that she liked Sheena, and then she said that she loved Sheena and began to plan for the next time she came round. She said she would stay downstairs the whole time whilst Sheena was here and play with her.

I was so happy, because this had been an issue for so long and by using the Hand In Hand tool of Staylistening, which is simply listening to a child’s feelings rather than distracting her or trying other ways of getting her to stop crying. It allowed my daughter to move through her fear and feel brave enough to come downstairs and interact with someone who she had been very scared of for a long time. My daughter was totally elated after this incident and felt great! And I’m really looking forward to getting my hair cut again!

-S. Parker, England

When I Grow Up Will You Recognize Me?

When my son was 4 he went through a period when he was very resistant to getting dressed. It didn’t matter if he was dressing himself or if I offered to help him, it was a struggle every morning. Over the course of a few weeks I attempted all sorts of play to try to loosen the tension. I pretended that his clothes were talking to him or hiding from him because they didn’t want to be worn. I tried to put his clothes on myself and acted dismayed because they were too small. I pretended I couldn’t figure out where his shirt went and tried to put it on his feet. Despite my efforts, and a few smiles here and there, getting dressed remained a daily struggle.

One day I decided to hold out the expectation that he get dressed and see what would happen. I told him it was time to put his clothes on. When he tried to run away I pulled him onto my lap and restated the limit, saying ‘it’s time to get dressed now’ without elaboration. He started to cry and thrash, attempting to get away. I kept him with me and listened, holding his arms gently when he tried to hit or scratch. He’d periodically interrupt his crying with distractions, which took the form of asking me questions about planets, one of his passions at the time. Having been through lots of staylistening previously, I knew that when he asked questions one after another, especially questions that he already knew the answers to, it meant that there were still difficult feelings coming up. In response to ‘Mommy, is Mars bigger than Mercury?’ I drew his attention back to the limit and told him again that it was time to put his clothes on. This led to more crying and I stayed close and listened.

After what felt like a very long time he stopped struggling, sat up in my lap, looked right at me and asked if I would still recognize him when he grows up. I reassured him that I’d always know him, always love him, and always be his mom, even if he looked different. It was like a switch had been flipped. After offloading the fear getting dressed was no longer an issue.

-Join Michelle Kokel in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding course, beginning May 3rd.

Setting Limits after Dinner

(C) RayaGr 2012

(C) RayaGr 2012

My daughter came home from a play date happy and easy to be with, but around dinnertime her tone changed. She began to fuss about random things and used a sharp tone of voice. I figured she needed some more reconnection time after being away.

Her dad and I stayed warm and loving toward her, trying to reconnect and trying to diffuse the tension with laughter. But still, she kept returning to that sharp tone and finding fault with one thing after another. Our attempts to reconnect with her just weren’t getting through.

She didn’t eat much at dinner, but immediately asked for a snack as we cleared the table. Now she knows the rule in our house: if you’re hungry right after dinner, you can eat more of your dinner or pick a fruit or veggie.

When I reminded her of this she immediately began crying, “I’m not going to eat dinner. I’ll dump it out if you give me dinner!”

I crouched down to her level and said gently, “You don’t have to eat dinner. You can choose a fruit or veggie snack.”

She cried more and still talked about dinner. “I’m not going to eat dinner,” she repeated. “Even if it’s yummy, I’ll dump it out.” I stayed close to her and reminded her she didn’t have to eat dinner. She could choose a fruit or veggie.

This brought out more frustration and she tried to hit me so I gently held her hands and told her I was going to hold them while they wanted to hit. She squirmed and cried with her eyes shut tight.

When she calmed, I told her I loved her very much and reminded her she could have any fruit or veggie she wanted.

This just brought on more tears. She fought and cried saying, “I’ll never eat a fruit or veggie until I’m ready!”

I told her that was ok, I would wait for her to be ready. Occasionally, I listed a few fruits and veggies we had in the house, but mostly I stayed quiet and present to her. She alternated between quiet snuggling in my lap and then back to crying while trying to kick and hit.

Whatever upset she was carrying, she was working hard to let it go.

After about 10 minutes she said, “I want raspberries.” I said ok, but then waited to see if she was really done crying and fighting. I nuzzled her playfully and asked her if she could look at me. She smiled and made eye contact.

With the tension gone (and who knows what caused it!) she ate all the raspberries and then asked for celery and almond butter which she also ate happily while we played a card game. We had a really enjoyable evening together and I was reminded of what a gift a limit can be when it is set with lots of warmth and patience for our child to go through the process of releasing their upsets.

– Michelle Pate, Parenting by Connection Instructor and Consultant, join her upcoming BEU class starting March 14th. You can also connect with her on Facebook.

You can learn more about Parenting by Connection in the Listening to Children booklet set.

Setting Limits Around Sleep Struggles

The night before last, my three-year-old, awoke at 4:30 a.m., crying and very kung fu pandascared. He kept asking, “Is someone gonna come?” He had watched Kung Fu Panda with us earlier that day, a movie that he’s seen many times and likes, but this time it seemed to get to him – at least subconsciously.

I had gone to sleep very early, and actually wasn’t so tired when he awoke. Something similar had happened about a month earlier, where after watching something that didn’t seem to scare him in the moment, he awoke scared in the night. At that time, I was not rested, so when he woke up and came to our bed, I just cuddled him up and we both fell instantly back asleep.

The problem was that this went on for several days, and I was starting to feel resentful – not to mention exhausted. And my husband was moaning about how he was falling off the side of the bed. All in all, this “solution” was not working for 3/5 of the household.

So, the night before last seemed the perfect night to put my limit-setting to the test. When my son woke up and wanted to come to our bed, I said in a loving tone, “No. I’m going to go sleep with Dad, and you are going to stay here in bed with your older brother.”

The terror and tears came flowing out. “No! I want you to stay with me all night!” I tried laying him down in bed and laying across the bottom of the bed, holding his hand. This quieted him, but no matter how long I waited before gently removing my hand from his grip, he would sit bolt upright, call my name, and grab for my hand. I realized this was not going to get me anywhere. A couple of times, I did “escape,” but no more than a minute later, he would show up at my bedside again wanting to sleep with us. I took him back to his bed and repeated that he was going to sleep in his bed and me in mine, and, again, the tears flowed.

I sat on the edge of his and his brother’s bed and held him as he screamed and cried that he wanted to sleep with me. Then he quieted down and explained very creatively that I should get in bed with his brother and that he would go sleep with Dad. Uh, nice try! Again, I set the limit and he cried and screamed. He actually woke my 7-year-old in the bed next to us (and my kids don’t usually wake for anything), and he was very sweet. He said, “He can come sleep with me.” But the youngest would have nothing of it.

I just kept holding him and he kept crying and screaming for a whopping two hours. At 6:30 a.m. he fell asleep in my arms, I laid him in his bed, and went back to sleep. I felt great knowing that he had been able to shed all that fear, and even greater when last night he slept right through as he usually does!

Yes! I would like more free resources on helping my children sleep. Click here.
Tosha Schore~ Tosha Schore is a Certified Parenting by Connection instructor in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Setting Limits at Dinner Time

One Saturday, we took our family to a club with an outdoor swimming pool in Petaluma.  My step-daughter loves swimming and my son is starting to enjoy it more.  There were two beautiful outdoor pools, a water slide, and a hot tub cool enough for kids.  We had a lovely day.

On the way home, my son took a short nap in the car, but woke up grumpy and irritable.  Nevertheless, he played by himself for a while as we made dinner.  But when it was time to come to the table, he said he wasn’t hungry and didn’t want to eat.  I told him we were all going to eat together and it was time to come sit down.  He walked into the kitchen complaining about wanting to play more.  “And I’m not hungry!” he whined.

When he saw what was for dinner he started to whimper and whine more and said he didn’t want chicken and vegetables.  “That looks yucky!”  He cried.  He went to the refrigerator and pulled out a loaf of bread.  I told him we weren’t going to eat bread for dinner, we were all going to eat chicken and vegetables. But he brought the bread to the table crying and he tried to undo the tie on the plastic wrap.  I put my hand gently on his hand and said, “Sorry sweetie, we are not having bread tonight.”  He cried more and threw the loaf of bread to the floor.  He pushed away his chicken and vegetables and told me to leave him alone.  I told him I didn’t want to leave him alone with these feelings.  His sister got up from the table and put the bread in the refrigerator and he cried more.

I decided to take him to the other room so that the rest of the family could eat.  He sat on my lap and cried more.  I was hungry and wanted to eat, so when his crying slowed down,  I gave in a little and offered him avocado (instead of the mixed vegetables that were on his plate).  He agreed to eat avocado and came back to the table with me.

When we got back to the table he ate half of the avocado and then tried some of the chicken on his plate that he had pushed away.  A few minutes later he had devoured all of the chicken, another half of avocado, and two servings of the mixed vegetables that were on his plate!  He was chatty and sweet at the table and lovely the rest of the evening.  I couldn’t believe how much dinner he ate that night!

Join Certified Instructor Julie Johnson in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding class, beginning March 12.

Setting Limits Around Nursing in the Morning

Max is Too CoolI wanted more flexibility with my 4-year-old. He had been acting with increasing rigidity throughout our day. So, I started to think of all the areas in which he had a lot of emotionally charged and demanding behavior, where setting limits might actually help him. Bingo! His feelings about nursing first thing in the morning were very strong. He had to have it first thing, no ifs ands or buts about it.

It was time to wean him. I knew this would release stored-up feelings for him and me. I was excited to take on this emotional project and I was in a good place to set a loving, gentle, clear-minded limit with him.

I began to talk about my plan with my son. I told him that in 4 more days we were going to stop nursing in the morning. I would remind him every morning about what was to come. He would protest and say, “No!”

I would listen and say, “I know it’s hard to stop things that you love, it’ll be hard for me too. I’m sad about not nursing anymore, it’s hard.” I even remember crying a bit about it myself, right there with him. I loved our nursing in the morning and all that we shared during that special time.

The night before our first morning without nursing, I gently set the limit, “ Now, tomorrow morning we won’t be nursing.” He said okay, and to sleep he went. The next morning he woke up and reached for my breast first thing. I softly put my hand on his and said, “We’re not going to nurse in the morning anymore.”

He was not happy, and began to cry, scream, and beg to nurse. I Staylistened with him and reassured him that I was there, he was safe, and I loved him. This went on for about 15 or 20 minutes, and then he was ready to move on with our day. “Phew,” I thought, “that went well!” I was able to be warm and loving, and I felt very clear and good about my choice to set limits on that nursing. I knew it was time.

Every evening before we fell asleep I would remind my son about not nursing in the morning, and each morning he would cry for a few minutes and be done. The crying in the morning only lasted a couple of days. I was amazed! I thought it would have been much more difficult, but I guess that one big cry was enough to release important feelings and allow him to move on.

I noticed a big difference in my son afterward! He was more relaxed, flexible and happy as he went through his days. “This,” I thought, “is amazing! Give me more of this!” I was encouraged to think of other issues my son had an emotional charge about, where some gentle limits would also be helpful.

– Christine Ashe, Certified Instructor

You can learn more about Parenting by Connection in the Listening to Children booklet set.