Holding the expectation that my son dress himself, helped to clear stored up tensions
Emma Cheers, Instructor in Training
It had always been difficult dressing my five year old to go out. He seemed to have a lot of stored up feelings wrapped around getting changed and putting his shoes and jacket on to go out. At times, it was so bad that we didn’t go out because of it. Previously I have resorted to doing things for him, feeling the whole thing too hard. I found it difficult to stay with him in his messy feelings and tried in a way to push him over them. If he refused to put his shoes on himself, I would do it for him. I began to realise that by doing this I wasn’t giving him the opportunity to meet his frustration and fears head on, and that he wouldn’t be given the chance to work through them.
Personally, I had just worked through a huge emotional block in my Listening Partnerships. I felt more energy to help my son. I was more able to listen to his big, messy feelings. He can get very loud and aggressive when he is upset and often tries to physically fight me. The work I had done in my Listening Partnerships gave me the energy to meet his aggression and fear with calmness and connection - I didn’t find his behaviour so overwhelming and was less triggered by it.
One afternoon, it was time for my son to get ready to go over to a friend’s house. I felt resistance from him to get ready. It was a light bulb moment for me when I thought, “Why don’t I just stay with him, roll with the feelings and listen?” Along with that, I felt the emotional availability to follow through and really stop and listen to him. (A bit embarrassing that it took me two years of learning and practicing Parenting by Connection to get to this point, but an important step nonetheless.) I told my son calmly that it was time to put his shoes on to leave. His reaction was immediate and hearty. He became very angry and told me that he couldn’t. I replied reassuringly that I thought he could. I listened to his anger and responded with calmness and connection. He kept telling me that he couldn’t, or that he wouldn’t, or that he didn’t want to. He began to yell at me, asking me, “What are you going to do?” or “Why aren’t you doing it?”. I remained calm and listened. I repeated that I knew that he could do it. I told him that I was right here with him, that I would help him if he needed it. I kept my voice calm and warm as a counter to his anger and frustration.
After the anger, my son got aggressive and tried to lash out at me. I held him in a way so that he couldn’t hurt me. I stayed with him and listened. Sometimes he screamed and raged. Eventually, he cried. I repeatedly told him that I was there for him and that I loved him, and that I knew that he could do it.
After a short while, there was a pause in his feelings and he began to put his shoes on. At first, he put his shoe on the wrong foot and asked me, “Does this look right?” I thought that he already knew that he had put it on the wrong foot so I took his lead, looked at him in the eyes, smiled and told him well done, that looks right, doesn’t it? He replied to me laughing, “No, that’s not right, it’s banana feet!” I laughed with him and said “Oh yeah! Look at that - banana feet!” He then put one shoe on the right foot and proceeded to put the other shoe on the same foot. He asked me, “Is this right?” I said, “Looks good to me”. He giggled some more and said “No it’s not!” I laughed too and said “Oh yeah! That’s not right.” After that, he put them on correctly and I told him how well I thought he had done.
I reminded my son that he needed to put his jacket on next. He became angry once again and repeated what he had said earlier about putting his shoes on; that he couldn’t do it or that he didn’t want to do it by himself. I did as I had done before and listened to his anger and frustration. I held the expectation, and repeated that I thought he could do it by himself, and that if he needed help I was there for him. He lashed out at to hit me and I stopped him and held his hand. He looked at me holding his hand and started to push me back. I resisted him a little, and then made a big deal out of losing my balance and falling backwards a little. He smiled and grabbed both my hands and pushed me, again. I offered enough resistance for a challenge and let him slide me backwards. We did this a couple more times. The last time I fell over right into a pile of toys in his room, which made him laugh. He asked me if he could do that once more, so I let him push me right over into the pile of toys. As I fell I tried to make a lot of noise and stumbling, and said, “Oh no, I’m falling!’” I continued clowning around, waving my arms about, and, as I landed I said, “Ouch, that hurt!”
I then came back to the expectation and asked my son to put his jacket on. He just went and put it on. It seemed that through his raging, as I Staylistened, and then through laughing as I Playlistened, he had worked through enough of his feelings that had been getting in the way of being able to dress himself. Through my Listening Partnerships, I had worked through enough of my feelings about how hard it was for me to listen to my son’s feelings, to be able to set and hold an expectation, and to resist the urge to give in and do it for my son.
The next day my son woke up and dressed himself, which he almost never did! Gradually, my son got much better at dressing himself, and going out became much easier. From time to time, his feelings came back and got in the way of that ease. I listened to him when I was able to, and eventually going out became much easier for both of us.