Friday, April 25, 2014

Conquering an Emotional Mountain

Because I’m a REAL mom, I sometimes lose my cool. I get frustrated, I yell, I threaten time outs and sometimes I cry.

If you follow me on Facebook, then you know, THAT mom, is not the mom I want to be. I believe in parenting that encourages love and support, where we don’t inflict punitive punishment but rather help and encourage our children to feel their emotions and work through them rather than suppress them. Gordon Neufeld’s book ‘Hold on to Your Kids’ was the first parenting book to truly resonate with me and the way I felt like I should be raising my children.

According to the book, here’s the problem with timeouts:
  • Almost all misbehavior stems from feeling disconnected from YOU.
  • When you punish your child with a time out, you are physically increasing that disconnect.
  • This enforces their disconnect with YOU and introduces a level of separation anxiety.
  • Your child becomes stuck in a circular, disconnected, anxious state, which results in more misbehavior.

 The solution therefore to the misbehavior is essentially a time-in, which looks like:
  • One on one attention from you.
  • Permission to feel their emotions, cry and feel supported.
  • Validation that their emotions are normal and ok.
  • Love, lots and lots of love.

Which sounds all pretty on paper, but in reality this is tough stuff.

How on earth am I supposed to reward my 5 year old with dedicated one on one attention for getting on top of his three year old brother and pounding him in the back, or kicking him in the face, or pushing him on the ground, or overturning furniture? Particularly if there’s only one parent at home? It’s almost impossible, even when the hubs is home.

But it is possible and sometimes it works.

The more often I step into my boys’ world and try to feel their feelings, the more often time-ins are successful at diffusing the big emotions. Sometimes its simply a matter of perseverance and patience.

The point of all this, is that this week, I had a success and it felt so good. I came home to boys that were borderline raging and within moments the tears, screaming, flailing and hitting were all in full force. After about 30 minutes, I managed to get Bolt up to his room and I quite simply, let him be mad. 

I told him I wouldn’t let him hurt me and physically stopped him from hitting me or breaking his toys, I acknowledged that he was having big feelings and not only was that ok, but I was right here with him if he wanted me. I asked him what was bothering him and over the course of the episode he told me he was mad about his dinner, mad he didn’t have a new Skylander, mad his brother touched him and all sorts of random things that irritated him, but I knew weren’t actually the real issue. Then without warning, in the midst of his screaming, he verbalized what was actually bothering him.

I miss my old house.
I don’t like it here.
I want to go back to my old house.

He opened that door and I jumped in with two feet.

When prompted he told me he missed his old bedroom and he missed the train table in his room, which can easily be remedied, but I suspected that still wasn’t actually the issue. So I told him that what I really missed was our family and our friends, and he readily agreed that he missed them too. 

We talked about how hard it is to be away from the people that we love and that we will go and visit everyone soon. We talked about calling our special people on the phone and talking to them on the computer and I reminded him that soon they would come visit us again at our new house. That turned into a discussion about the spare room we had just painted and how much we thought that our family would like having their own room to sleep in.

Before I knew it, we were talking about the Skylander decals on his wall, laughing and giggling.

And when his brother finally came traipsing in, he said Simba, you can come and play with us, I feel better now.  Me and Mom were making up swap names for the Skylanders and that made me feel happy.

I know it was sharing our feelings that made him feel better, not the Skylanders, but I don’t care.

Bolt and I conquered those emotions together and I’m so proud of us, because now I know we CAN do it.

It’s a long road and we’ve been working on this for over a year and though we have had many small successes (and failures) this is the first time I truly felt like we connected and climbed the mountain together and it gives me SO MUCH HOPE.

If you're looking for resources, in addition to Gordon Neufeld, Aha Parenting has great articles and newsletters that I highly recommend.