The other day when we were walking home from daycare my son refused to hold my hand as we were approaching the street.
“No!” “Leave me!”
Sigh. Normally I would have scolded him for not listening and grabbed him and MADE him cross the street but I decided to try reasoning with him. “Would you please hold Mommy’s hand so we can cross the street?” I asked with a smile. “NO!” he replied. “I want to hold your hand and when we get across I’ll let go OK?” to which he replied (you guessed it) “NOOOOOOOO!” and backed away from me and leaned against a gate.
At this point, I was beginning to notice other people noticing me and was trying to figure out how to do this without losing my cool. I knew reasoning wasn't going to help and each time I asked him to hold my hand he appeared more and more agitated. In the 15 seconds or so while I was scrambling in my head how to handle this situation, he began to cry.
I got down to his level and said “Do you want to give Mommy a hug?” and he ran into my open arms and just cried. I gave him a kiss and told him I loved him. He told me loved me too and said “Mommy, I want to hold hand” and we crossed the street hand in hand.
I’m sure he was cranky because he missed me since he was at daycare all day, or because he was hungry because it was dinner time or he was just being a regular toddler asserting his independence. Whatever the reason, I've learned since reading Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids that it is important to be empathic and show our children we care about their feelings and that they are loved. He was obviously upset and was acting out as a result. The best solution? A hug and a kiss to connect, make him feel better and want to do what I asked.
I was a little skeptical about trying the no yelling, no timeouts empathetic approach and have felt I've made some progress. I have yelled about 3 times since originally writing this post but it is a big improvement from yelling nearly every day, sometimes more than once in a day. I have also drastically reduced time outs.
So far, here are some things I have worked on:
Controlling MY emotions and MY behavior
What has worked best for me is always thinking about how my behavior is helping to shape his behavior. Do I want him to constantly yell to get his point across? Is yelling an effective means of communication? Do I like being yelled at? How does it make ME, an adult feel? Not very good. And when you don’t feel good on the inside, you act bad.
Its Ok for him to cry or throw a tantrum when I set boundaries he doesn't like. It seems kind of weird saying that but so far, when I stay close or talk him through a tantrum, he seems to not cry as long and he’s happy right after. He’s feeling emotional, angry and frustrated and needs to know that I care about how he feels. Even when he says “leave me”, I back away but stay close so he knows I’m there in case he’s ready for a hug. Normally, I would walk away and leave him alone to throw a tantrum to “prove” I didn't to hopefully discourage him from throwing another tantrum. According to Dr. Markham, showing compassion helps our children learn to deal with their emotions and move past them.
I have decided to embrace the fact that he’s been waking up at 6 am every single morning by using that time to read books and play before daycare and it also allows us to not have to rush in the morning. We can stop, look at flowers, talk about every single vehicle that drives by without me feeling anxious that we’re going to be late. I have also decided to spend less time cooking and on housework while he’s awake so that we have even more time to bond after daycare and on weekends.
You know what? Spending more time bonding, playing and talking has been really nice. I'm really enjoying the time I'm spending with him and I hope he feels the same. I also don't walk around feeling guilty because I yelled and lost my cool or deal with the "how am I going to deal with him when he's older?" question when I feel inept at not being able to control his behavior now.
I think I’m finally ready for The Orange Rhino challenge.