Helping my Child Become Who She is Meant to Be

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.

Photo by Gloria Plunkett

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.

end aggressiveAre 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. 

18 thoughts on “Helping my Child Become Who She is Meant to Be”

  1. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story. It is inspirational and just what many parents need to hear as they struggle to make sense of their child’s off-track behavior. I am so glad you found the No More Hitting class, Hand in Hand is such a phenomenal resource for parents. What a lucky daughter you have!

    1. Thanks, Dani. We are so often moved by the incredible stories parents send in to us about their experiences with children. We are proud to be part of this community of caring parents.

  2. Wow! I can’t write everything I want to write, but I have been working on Staylistening for some time…aaages and been managing to do it more recently with great results…this spoke to me soooo much. I pushed Maya for 6 hrs!! Wow – this explains a lot – I am just overwhelmed, will write and explain more soon thanks x x x

    1. Hi Rebekah,

      Glad to hear you’ve been getting good results at your house with Staylistening. Good for you! It’s not always easy to listen when our children are upset, but it can pay-off with such closeness and relief. We’ll look forward to hearing more from you.

  3. Great work! Around age 3 my daughter had a period of time where if she was crying about anything she started saying you are holding me too tight or that she was being squished even when my arms were very loosely around her. One time in the middle of this I asked her if it reminded her of being born and she cried very hard and long. We didn’t talk about it other than that and after a while, as with most things that feel so intense at the time, she no longer cried about feeling squished. It is very powerful to really listen even when we don’t know for sure what is underneath all the feelings! This is good for adults too! Peace

  4. This is a such a beautiful story… thank you so much for sharing! Your daughter is so lucky to have you work through this with so much love and caring. You successfully helped avoid all the labels that might have come along by simply staying and listening to your child.

  5. Thank you for such a wonderful story. My daughter works with the mentally ill. I wonder how many would have had a very different life if they experienced that type of parenting?

    1. Ellen,

      I was just reading some of the research on Adverse Childhood Experience and it’s affect on later mental and physical health and wondering the same thing myself. Getting simple tools like these to parents can make a difference for generations.

  6. Amazing story, thank you for that. My son had a very, very similar birth. He was tangled in his cord, and during the birth was trying to pull it away from his neck – the ob had to while I was pushing manoeuvre him around, untangle it and try to get the cord out of his hands. It took hours to push him out – with his heart rate dropping – the midwife was a bit panicked and wanted a c/section but my ob who I trusted thought it would be safer and quicker to push him – he had a poor initial APGAR of 4, but recovered quickly – after 10 mins he even opened his eyes and turned his head towards my husband when he heard him talk for the first time with a look of recognition like so that is what you look like (my husband read stories to my pregnant tummy every night).

    My son also screamed for months – in large part due to food allergies (he would get mucous and bloody diarrhoea) and when we finally sorted out the allergies and it settled down the crying eased a little but he still would scream for hours. Often there was absolutely nothing that I could do but just hold him while he screamed and be there for him.

    Some times it even seemed like grief – it was the desperate sobbing of someone who had lost someone – I often wondered if he was missing where ever it is that he came from.

    He is now 2.5 years old and is seriously hyperactive. As clever as can be, but very hyperactive. And occasionally he still sobs like he did as a baby. The other day he woke up from a long nap – he is usually really happy when he wakes up, but this time was sobbing like when he was a baby. I asked him what was wrong, and he said he had a dream, and when I asked what happened he said that they were gone, all gone, then started sobbing – this lasted for an hour and he really did look like he was grieving. I just cuddled him, and said we would always be there for him, and we are so grateful to have him here with us, and we love him.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story about your little one. I had always thought (or hoped) that little ones could not remember their birth – as I am sure it was traumatic for my son (he wouldn’t let any t-shirts or jumpsuits be pulled over his head as a baby, even as a newborn would try to pull them off as I pulled them down – ended up having to buy all new jumpsuits that wrapped around and were done up in front. Even to this day he panics if a t-shirt gets stuck when putting it on. It really helps to hear the other people’s experiences. Thank you.

  7. Thank you. I need to do a course! I have done a tiny one, but wow. I have often wondered how my child’s traumatic stay inside of me and birth affected him and see this in him but never know what to do about it. Thankyou for sharing that something can be xx

  8. I have been following Janet Lansbury and Aha Parenting for sometime and often your posts pop up on their feeds and tonight I finally started officially following you on facebook. This article was amazing and my son had an almost identical birth. He is four in a month. I thought I was doing stay listening until I read this and then right after found the article about helping your child deal with aggression where the man holds the little boy on the bench long after the child asks to be let go. This dealt with something that has popped up in our house recently. I have a four year old boy and a 15 month old daughter. My son has become quite aggessive lately and I knew it was because he thought we were spending too much time with his sister but couldn’t get him to let it out. She has recently started walking and becoming much more active and therefore needing much more attention. Tonight he started hitting me out of nowhere while we were snuggling on the couch, just hours after I read the articles. I told him you must be very mad to do that. Lets go upstairs. I took him upstairs and hugged him and hugged him through his hitting, scratching, biting and yelling and telling me to let him go, telling me that I was hurting him (I wasn’t).. I just kept saying you are so upset, you are so upset. I”m not going anywhere I’m right here to help you. I love you no matter what, but I”m not ready to let you go, you are too upset. It took about 15 minutes until he started crying. Then he started talking. He thought his dad didn’t love him as much as he loved his sister. He thought daddy only loved his sister. Why doesn’t daddy love me, why does he only love Anna? He only plays with Anna! I don’t want to share my daddy! This much I suspected was the problem, but then he started the really messy crying and said “why doesn’t my sister love me? Why can’t she say my name? She says your name and daddy’s name and she even can say the dogs name! Why won’t she say my name? She doesn’t love me and I love her! I have to say this was stunning. I had never felt comfortable forcing him to get out his feeling, thinking he would do it when he was ready and I respected his wishes to be alone when I knew he was upset. This time I didn’t, because of these articles. I may not have gotten it just right, but it was such a relief to see him get that all out. He has just fallen asleep on the couch just 30 minutes after all of this happened and now asleep in his bed. Thank you Thank you for making me understand staylistening better.

  9. Pingback: Helping my Daughter Become Who She is Meant to Be

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