A letter from a community member:
I am easily stressed and have struggled to stay calm and not yell since my son was born 2 years ago. He recently began screaming when upset. I know his vocabulary is limited. So, my first question is how do I deal with his screams? It’s always a struggle because I want to talk to him about what’s happening with him, but I know he can’t listen at that moment. I also experience both guilt and anger because I’m afraid I haven’t modeled a healthy expression of emotions. I’ve been reading ways to help him when he’s screaming, and want to share what I did yesterday and get some feedback for next time:
We were eating breakfast and my son kept putting his feet on my legs, which I’ve told him I dont like many times. When I began to tell him again, he started screaming. I wanted to explain to him that 1) if he needs physical contact with me there are other options, and 2) our bodies belong only to us, and if someone is touching us in a way we don’t like, we can tell them to stop. However, I knew I couldn’t talk to him until he stopped screaming and calmed down. After a few minutes of thinking I said, “I am not going to let you scream at me because it hurts my ears. If someone is hurting by body, I don’t have to let them do it. So I am going to walk away, and when you stop screaming, I will come back and we can talk about this.” Then I walked into the next room and he immediately asked me to come back and stopped screaming and we had a good talk. Do you think that was the right thing to do? Or do you think that made him feel abandoned at a time when he needed me? I don’t want to leave him when he’s struggling with an emotion, but I don’t want to be screamed at and have my ears hurt, either. I’m also thinking that’s a good lesson for him–to see me be an example of standing up for myself when someone is hurting me, and for him to realize how his actions are affecting me.
Thank you so much for this page! I am very grateful !
Learning how to meet our children’s needs and take care of our own needs is an important and often difficult part of parenting. It is evident you’re working to find this balance in your thoughtfulness and desire to respond to your so in gentle, purposeful ways.
Here is where I’d start…
Today, when he’s not upset and you two are cuddling, you can talk about alternatives to putting his feet on you. Let him come up with all kinds of ideas and embrace each of them with possibilities. Use curiosity questions to help him go deeper. This will help prepare you for when he next puts his feet on you.
When he first puts his feet on you can say, “I feel your feet on me. You want to connect with me. What are some other ways we can connect?”
Here you’re immediately recognizing his need to connect while avoiding any shame or blame, which can minimize any escalation.
Once he starts to scream take a deep breath, sit down, and offer a hug – no words. Once a child is overwhelmed with big emotions talk is useless and frustrating for everyone. You can empathize with a simple short sentence to deepen his emotional intelligence, “you’re having some big feelings.” If he doesn’t want a hug just let him know you’re there, “I’m here with you. Let me know if you want to cuddle or hold my hand.” If you are feeling triggered and are concerned you might yell you can excuse yourself while continuing to avoid shame/blame, “I feel like I’m going to yell and I don’t want to. I’ll be in the bathroom so I can calm down.” This not only models emotional intelligence and regulation, it also lets him know what he can do when he feels emotionally overwhelmed.
After the incident, when he’s calm and you two are reconnected, you’ll want to brainstorm some solutions with him, “earlier you had some big emotions. What can I do to help when you’re overwhelmed like that?” (listen, listen, listen) “What can we do so that we both feel safe with our bodies – I don’t feel safe with feet on me and you don’t feel safe when I leave.” (listen, listen listen)
Hitting and throwing animals is one of many ways children work through their own struggles and understandings of the world around them. You can read more about the therapeutic process of play in an article I wrote here: http://www.playathomemomllc.com/2011/10/the-therapeutic-process-of-play/
Hitting, like all behavior, always has a purpose. You get to play detective to first figure out what is going on, and then help gently guide him toward more appropriate ways to express his needs and get them met. Here’s an article we wrote on the subject:
Finally, self-compassion is a key component to gentle parenting. It creates more space inside us for staying connected when our children are feeling overwhelmed. We all make mistakes as parents, the key is to have compassion for ourselves and the difficulties we face in raising children. With self-compassion we free ourselves from judgment, which only serves to suck up more of our emotional energy and create more space.
Thanks so much for being a part of our community, for your lovely words of encouragement, and for being such a loving, conscious parent!