Staylistening in Action
I participated in a Helping Your Child with Aggressive Behaviors class a few months ago and saw immediate and life altering changes in my children’s behavior.
I was amazed at how allowing them to cry seemed to bring them closer to each other and to me.
I signed up for the class because my almost-three-year-old had become quite aggressive, with biting, pushing and hitting. After a year of trying every gentle solution I could find, I was desperate.
Luckily, this time I found a class that actually had more than a temporary solution.
It took a few weeks for me to really get the hang of when to move in and facilitate a cry and when to just offer some closeness. I figured it out, and had achieved some dramatic successes. But nothing prepared me for what would happen once my daughter truly began to trust in the process herself.
We had guests come to stay with us from out of town. A few days into the visit, we were planning to go out to dinner when my oldest daughter started to give me the red flags that she needed to cry. She was bonking her head repeatedly on the couch, pushed her sister and bit my dress. The babysitter was on the way and I knew we would be late if I moved in to listen to her, so at first, I let it go.
Then, her sister picked up one of her toys and my eldest ripped it out of her hand and hit her. I decided right then to give up my need to be on time, and to give my daughter what she was clearly asking for. I scooped her onto my lap in her bedroom and held her.
At first, the crying was about her sister taking something that was hers. I told her a few times that her sister could never take her place. This seemed to touch a core upset for her and she cried off and on for a bit. Just when I thought she had started winding down, she looked at me and screamed that her ears hurt.
I gently moved my hands closer to her ears and she screamed at me not to touch her. I told her I was going to move very gently and touch her ears. Then she screamed that her head hurt. I lightly put my hand on her head and she literally exploded with upset. Her face contorted and she howled, “I can’t get out! I can’t get out! I’m stuck!”
I was taken aback by this, but could see she was working through something very frightening for her. She put her hand on her throat and rasped for a bit. She bucked and struggled and again called out, “I’m stuck, I’m stuck! I can’t get free!” Sweat poured from her brow and her facial expression was quite intense.
I knew our guests were in the living room with the babysitter and could probably hear her howling. For a moment my concern went to them, then I let that thought drift away and refocused on my daughter’s clear distress. I am not sure how long she cried while I held her, but it was quite some time. I told her that she was safe here, that she was free, and that whatever had frightened her would never happen to her again. I said it over and over.
The tears and struggling persisted. At long last, her little body relaxed in my arms. She opened her watery eyes, looked right at me and said “I love you.”
Her eyes shut and she fell asleep.
I sat on the chair holding her relaxed body, in a state of shock. What had just happened? Of course, I will never know for sure. But, when my daughter was born, her cord was wrapped awkwardly around her, and her heart rate dropped alarmingly. I was given a shot of adrenaline and a team came in to reposition her. They told me I might need a C-section.The next several hours, I was very frightened as the doctors came in and out, and her heart rate periodically dropped. I rolled this way and that and then at last I dilated. They had given me Pitocin to help move things along. However, it still took two hours of pushing before she came out.
She came out crying and it was months before she stopped. She could cry for hours in a car seat, in a crib or anywhere you ever set her down. I tried every technique in the book to stop the crying. I rocked her, bounced her, swayed her, fed her or set her in front of Baby Einstein. I achieved my goal, but ended up with a child that never stopped moving, who never wanted to be alone, who was a picky eater and evidenced real aggression.
I came out of her room after that shocking Staylistening session and shared what had happened with our friends. They were also stunned and were not at all resentful of the time they'd had to wait.
At dinner all we could talk about was what might her life look like, having been given the opportunity to let something like that go. What would have happened to her if she carried it around forever? When someone got too close to her as an adult, would she push them away for fear of being trapped?
At dinner, I wasn’t sure if she would be different in the days following, but now that a few weeks have passed I can tell you, the answer is yes.
My frenetic daughter, whom people often would suggest was hyperactive, is now calm and even-keeled. She remains an energetic, highly curious child, but no one would ever use the word hyperactive. I took her to a book reading at Pottery Barn recently. There were many kids at the start of the reading. One by one, each child left to play with other toys and wander around the store. Half an hour later, there was one child still sitting in her original seat. My daughter sat through the entire book reading happily watching and patiently awaiting her stamp.
I videotaped her because I was too shocked for words.
Two months ago, that would not have happened. Two months ago, I was worried that when she reached school age, someone would suggest Ritalin and I would be in for the fight of my life.
My picky-eater daughter, who has been a self-proclaimed vegetarian, has started eating meat. She now eats ham, chicken, turkey and, get this, chili!
It seems as if offloading her old fears has given her the space to try new things that previously seemed frightening. The last few weeks, she has been extraordinarily loving with me, her sister, her father, even her friends. She is generous in ways you would not expect a three-year-old to be.
I am left with the profound conclusion that my daughter has become the person she really was meant to be. I made a mistake when I tried to stop her from healing through tears in the months after her birth. I made that mistake because I thought the tears meant I was being a bad Mom, unable to soothe or provide whatever it was my daughter needed. I feel blessed to know that my mistake was not an irrevocable one.
I found Hand in Hand Parenting and they provided me with the tools I needed to help my daughter heal at last. The bouts of aggression and frenzy, followed by guilt and remorse are over. Not only hers, but my own.
As I watch her blossom, my heart softens and my chest relaxes. This is the life I wanted for her, one where she is free to choose how to be. She can be kind, generous, warm, creative or even grumpy, sad and angry. She can run full throttle or sit quietly to read book after book. Now, it is her choice, not a reaction beyond her control.
I intend to continue taking Hand in Hand courses and to pursue this work to wherever the journey leads me. What a gift to my child, to myself and to the world. If only all children had the chance to be who they were meant to be, what a different place this would be.
Are you looking for more ideas on how to end your child's aggressive behavior? Staylistening can help – Get your free video tips now
Staylistening is one of Hand in Hand's Five Listening Tools. Read about them all, with 100s of real-life examples in Listen: Five Simple Tools to Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges.