Fearful Fantasy Land (a toddler’s dream)

The stove was covered in hot pots and pans, bubbling and boiling away with the contents of what would soon turn into two meals for my sister-in-law (now a mother of two! Yay!) Glass of wine in hand I had just settled into the grove of a cooking marathon.

Then the peace was broken.  Through the monitor came the heart-broken cry of my boy.  This happens pretty rarely now (and as I type this I worry I am disturbing the gods of baby sleep by admitting how often I get to sleep right through the night).  When it does it is usually a sign that illness is creeping in, if we are lucky its just the call of a sweaty baby who needs the gentle breeze of his ceiling fan.  This cry most certainly didn’t sound like a sweaty baby cry.

On this night he was crying and screaming as if in pain.  He seemed to be grasping at straws hoping to find a way to get out of his room.

Our dialogue went a little something like this (my internal dialogue is in green):

“Iiiicieeee, ICY!” he cried.  Daddy, upon hearing this runs one up the stairs. Maybe he is hurting? Does he have a fever? An ear infection..oh great..could he have just scratched himself or something?

“Nooooo, MY get it!!” thwack the icy hits Daddy in the foot. “Sorry Bubs” I reply “We can’t go to the kitchen right now, it’s sleepy time.” He obviously doesn’t really hurt or he’d take the darn icy…or does he? Maybe it hurts so much he can’t think? Or he needs something else….what does he really need?

“Medicine!!” “Is something hurting Bubba?” I ask gently.  “Med. uh. sin. Mammaaaa!” Daddy brings in some meds.  Well if his ear is hurting maybe this will help? He’s never been like this befo-“No MY get it!” He screams at Daddy. He wants to get is own medicine? and go downstairs and..“Water, my fill it up!” and get his own water from the bathroom.  It seems like he just want to get out of his room.  

“Maybe he had a bad dream?” My husband proposes.  A bad dream? How could I know if he had? And how could I make it better…oh great, is this a new thing? My pasta is probably boiling over.  I have no idea how to fix this, much less quickly.  WAIT…its not my job to fix it.  I need to get back to what he needs.  Maybe he needs to just cry.  I’ll just listen.  

I held him for a few minutes as he sobbed, gurgled and occasionally struggled to get down and run for the door. I can’t change his feelings, I need to just be with him now, in this moment.  I can be his calm.  

As he continued I replayed what happened.  He really wants out of here.  He seems mad or frightened.  Maybe he did have a bad dream? 

Just say it out loud, it couldn’t make it worse.  Come on…You had a bad dream, you feel upset.  What if he never wants to sleep in his bed again…what if he just won’t sleep there tonight?!? What if speaking the truth allows him to recognize how scary dreams are and he never sleeps alone again!? (oh, inner dialouge…)

It usually helps him.  You know him.  He wants to connect, he needs your support, your calmness, your clarity.  He already KNOWS he’s scared and upset silly!! 

“Bubba? I whisper.  “Bubs did you see something scary in your dreams? While you were sleeping?” His crying instantly lessens and he snuggles a little deeper into me.  “Mamma and Dada are right here, we are always here to keep you safe.” I hold him tight.  “Dreams are pretend even though they make you feel lots of feelings. Mamma and Dada will always be here to help you.” By this point he had stopped crying completley .  He softly murrmured “yeah, yeah” as he fell back to sleep.  He barely opened his eyes, pointed to his bed and asked to be put back in his crib.  It was amazing.

What is amazing isn’t that my husband (though I’ll take the credit) figured out he was having a bad dream. It was that what he needed was to feel, to be with me and have me be calm for him while he was not.  Essentially what he was asking for was for us not to fix it.  Holding him, feeling him and listening to him I didn’t take on any of his emotion.  I was his rock in that moment.  I let him feel what he needed even though I didn’t understand it.  I was able to manage my own confusion and emotion calmly.  Then finally I was able to put words to what he was going through.  Finally he was able to offload it all and fall peacefully back to sleep.

Three cheers for recognizing your child’s truth, staying calm and speaking it out loud (even if your inner voice is unsure).

Thanks for reading!

Melissa

Simple Sunday-Simply looking beyond the “seen”

Last week at nap time, admitedly the roughest part of my school day with Collin, we lost connection.  He was yelling at the top of his lungs, other children were trying to sleep, my co-teacher and I had things to do (wash dishes, take lunch breaks) and he just. would. not. stop.  In anger I walked out of the classroom leaving him with another teacher to help him fall asleep.  I am sure this may seem fairly benign to some, but I have NEVER left him without a proper ‘bye-bye’ I always let him know where I’ll be even if it means a few tears and he is usually fine with this arrangement.  On this day however I said “Fine! If you don’t want mommy to put you to sleep then Sandra can” I grabbed the dishes and left the room as he began to scream and sob for me.

I wasn’t gone long, I did my dishes and came back to the room to my boy sweating, sobbing, and gagging.  He wasn’t just angry that I left he was heartbroken because in essence I had said “Fine, if you won’t listen to me you don’t get my love right now” He was confused, sad and disconnected from his Mamma.  It hurt us both.

The beauty of something like this though is that we can grow as parents.  Our relationship can grow as Mamma and son.  We can reconginze our selves as fallible human beings with emotions that pass through us.  As the emotioal cloud lifted I looked to others for support and discussion.  My husband is always great at talking me down and reminding me that it is no good for a child to have a mother who never feels, mistakes happen and you will work through this.  I checked my phone and found this wonderful writing from Lu at Parent2ParentU

Imagine that, instead of LOOKING at our child’s BEHAVIOR, we thought of what is happening behind the scene…BEHIND THE SEEN. 🙂

So, our child is screaming and writhing on the floor, and we think immediately about the state of her BRAIN in that moment. 

Or our child is sullen, anxious, withdrawn, and we think immediately about the state of his brain and what’s weighing on his HEART.

Our child is agitated, hiding, dangerously impulsive, quick to blame, and we think immediately about his learned STORY, his internal TURMOIL.

Behavior is NOT automatically a story of (im)morality, future trouble, failure, or deficiency. But, if we don’t practice “parenting BEHIND THE SEEN”…we can unwittingly co-create this story! ♥ Lu Parent2ParentU

Aha! That is exactly what I was doing! I was focusing on just what I saw, just the immediate moment of him not being quiet.  I was already worked up and ready for a break.  This was a beautiful reminder to look beyond what is going on right in front of us and look deeply into our children’s emotional lives.

I don’t know about you but it can be hard for me to ‘take a deep breath’ or just calm down when I have anger coursing through my veins.  My mind knows I am not reacting in the most compassionate or considerate way but I need a tool to get me back to ‘home’.  After reading this I jotted down three simple questions to ask myself next time I was in a similar situation (read: a situation where a power struggle was brewing and a behavior was escalating)

So for next time, my “Three questions to see behind the seen” :

  1. What need of mine am I expecting him to meet? My need to not have people or property harmed? Alright…but my need to have calm and quiet? How can I reasonably expect that from a 23 month old? In many cases where a power struggle is brewing we see a parent expecting some need to be fulfilled by a child.  A need for order, a need for quiet, a need for them to eat ‘healty’ food.  This reflection allows me to look more deeply into what may be causing him to behave in a certain manner instead of continuing down a path of control.
  2. Have I stopped to think about the his need behind the action? If I have yet to stop and think about why (in this case Collin is rarely if ever tired at the time I was trying to lay him down for nap) If I neglect to take this step I will be fighting a losing battle from the beginning.
  3. Who has the ‘burden’ of solving this problem? If Collin reaches out to hit someone I hope to be able to hold his arm and say “I can’t let you hit him” The burden of solving the issue should be on me as I am the adult in any situation (even if I forget to act like it on occasion) As he grows he will be able to take more responsibility for himself and his problem solving but I will always be there to offer support and suggestions.  I never plan on leaving the entire burden of solving any major problem on him if he is making it clear (with behavior or otherwise) that he needs the help.

There you have it…here’s hoping I’ll just do better next time!

Thanks for reading!

The most primal cry

A Baby’s Urge to Be Heard | Psychology Today.

I came across this article today thanks to Janet Lansbury and her wonderful blog.  I felt it was worth sharing.

1-This is Psycology today.  Meaning unbiased truth about how our brains develop from birth.

2-There is a long standing debate in the world of ‘parenting education’ regarding ‘Cry-it-out’ that, in my humble opinion, deserves more than just a passing mention.

Now, a little editorializing…

Decade after decade there have been new and ‘proper’ ways to raise your chlid.  There will always be well meaning friends, relatives or strangers who deeply believe that what they tell you about child rearing is the best.  This is most likely because it is how they were raised or how they raised their children.  I understand these paradigms are hard to escape.

However, there is a reality to how our brains develop. The more we learn about how to build cars, the better the cars are.  As time goes on we have gone from room sized computers to idevices in every pocket.  Why then wouldn’t we use that same growing wealth of knowledge to help guide our precious little humans into the most secure, healthy and loved people they can be?

As the article states crying isn’t brought on by cognitively based manipulative thoughts.  To the contrary hormones within your baby’s brain cause them to cry out of a need for YOU.  For your comfort, your food, your touch and the reassurance that they are not being left, quite literally, for the wolves.  Being left in a dark room crying doesn’t teach a baby anything except to give up on you.

This article is not meant to anger anyone. Though I am sure it will. I understand deeply how confusing and painful it can be to try to do the right thing for your family and child when your little baby just will not sleep. I offer no judgement. I also do not propose a completly cry-less life for your child.  To the contrary I believe that emotional expression should be allowed to develop fully along the broad spectrum of human feeling.

What I hope for is a broader debate.  Freedom from guilt ridden ‘sleep training’.  What if as parents we grew to understand more developmentally appropriate sleep patterens? What if we talked more openly about how hard it can be to stay calm, gentle and helpful to our darling babes at 3am?

What do you think? This article serves as just a beginning to what I hope will be an ongoing dialogue.