Kim Sutton - Certified Instructor, Australia
Staylistening on a Camping Holiday Helps our Son with his Fear of Transitioning to Kindy and Empowers him to take a Developmental Leap
This summer holidays, between my son finishing up one day a week at childcare, and starting kindy 3 days a week, we went camping as a family together for 4 days.
There had been a fair bit of off-track behavior from him, mostly directed towards his younger sister - hurting her and being too rough. I pretty much couldn’t leave them together unwatched for even a moment. Also, my sone was crying lots when he had small physical hurts from falling off his bike and he was picky – the usual “Help – I’m feeling Disconnected/Need Reconnection” signals!
On the first day of our trip, we decided to do a small bush walk, mostly down hill on flat trails – easy for my sobn to walk the whole way, but my daughter, being younger and smaller, would need to be carried.
As we started out on the dirt road leading to the trailhead, my son was protesting about not wanting to go and, as soon as my husband started getting our daughter comfortable in the baby carrier, he started tantruming big time. He was ‘too tired’ (it was morning); he wanted to be carried too! Also, he didn’t want to do a bush walk, he wanted to go back home, etc. He got very stuck in wanting to be carried, demanding to be picked up and slumping on the side of the path in protest, and crying and kicking his legs. We were pretty much out of sight or ear shot from anyone else, so I calmly chose to sit down with him, and encouraged my husband and daughter to do the same. Then, I set the limit about the bush walk. I gently, but clearly, told him that we would not be going back home, that we would not carry him, and that he was capable of walking, that his sister was being carried because she was younger and that he was capable of walking because he was bigger.
He cried big and hard and continued to demand to be carried or to go home. A couple of times, a car drove past with faces turned to inspect the family sitting on the side of the dirt road with a tantruming preschooler in the middle of the group.
I considered trying to give him a piggy back, or promising him rewards upon return, but I knew that these were just old patterns and default thoughts. So, I maintained the limit, and we all sat and listened. Once or twice we were able to get up and continue walking, but he wasn’t over it. Right at the trailhead, he finished up with a massive release of emotions. As I listened, I discovered that the crux of the issue was that he wanted to be carried, he wanted to be like a young toddler, and not have to be a big boy, because he didn’t want to grow up and be a Kindy Kid - he wanted to stay our baby. Kindy was scary, it was unknown, and he wanted the security of being carried.
He finally came to his own ending of the outpouring (we hadn’t stopped him but, rather, we had stayed listening to the end) and he started out upon the trail. He was instantly a delight to be around. He led the way, skipping ahead and pointing out things as we went, finding sign posts and chatting away. He was also wonderful for the rest of the camping trip. Any falls or stumbles off his bike were met with giggles instead of tears, as per previous days. He was open to playing with new children at the camp ground, and was an obvious leader in their bike riding adventures, despite being the youngest, by as much as 6 years!
It was also really interesting to see how far he would ride without us accompanying him. He would ride all the way to the edge of a crest, where the road dipped away out of our sight, about 100m from our campsite. He would stop there every time and return at that point, also encouraging the others to do the same - it was as though an invisible rope joined us. He was connected to us well; he knew where the limit of ‘too far’ was, and where we would probably have called him back had he passed that point. At no time did we need to set any limits on how far he could roam around the campsite without one of us with him - once he had re-connected well after the Staylistening we did with him, he found that safe limit himself.
It seems to me that this was clear example of the way his pre-frontal cortex was being powered by its connection to his limbic system, enabling him to use the abilities his pre-frontal cortex has endowed him with - such as risk analysis and planning, and good judgment, in order to keep him to safe (appropriate to his particular age). The super-protective factor that connection.
Post Script two weeks later: My son has gone through a huge language development since that melt down - other people, including friends some of whom are teachers, have commented.
Parent Success Story