I invited my kids to my room for a nap after lunch. I told them I would get their mattresses and place them by the side of our bed and we all would rest together. It sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? But as you know by now, I don’t write fairy tales.
Separation, Work and Rest
Last Friday I traveled to attend a fantastic Taketina workshop for 3 days. Before leaving home I decided to offer some Special Time to my kids. My eldest is almost 5 and my youngest is two and half. In my opinion it didn’t go that well because I was doing it with an expected result in mind: “If I do Special Time now, it will help when I say goodbye and leave for my workshop.” The incredible thing is this: if you use Special Time or any Parenting by Connection tool without expecting any results, they work. The moment you put too many expectations on them they lose their strength. Not because of the tool itself, but because they basically require you to be present and when you start thinking about a future outcome, you lose this presence. It is not by chance that I heard and felt the same thing at the Taketina Workshop.
I came back Sunday evening and the kids were already sleeping. The next day I was able to spend more time with them in the morning so we could chat about the weekend and play. Afterwards I started working on very important document I needed to send that night. My workday was terrible. I couldn’t concentrate. We had dinner together and went straight to do some Playlistening on my bed. We jumped, fell, rolled and laughed hard. We showered, and sat down to have our night tea, remembering the good stuff that happened during the day and thanking the people who helped us. The kids went to bed with my wife and I went back to work from 9pm until 4am, when I finally sent the document.
I woke up today at 9:30am still half asleep. My wife asked me to stay with our son while she took our daughter to her swimming class. I decided to do some Special Time with him and the only objective was connection in the present moment. He asked to play with matches and a candle. He tried to light the match alone but couldn’t do it, so he asked for my help. I put my hand on top of his and we lit it together. He took the candle with the other hand and marveled as the fire crossed from the match to the candle. He blew the match but put his finger on it and had a minor burn. He didn’t cry, but asked me to put some ice and water, which we did. Special Time was over, so we had lunch. By the end of our lunch I said: “Let’s take a nap together in my room. I can put your mattresses by the side of our bed.” Both kids loved the idea and followed me. However, my daughter had woken up really late and didn’t want to take a nap, so she left the room.
Setting Limits and Listening
My son was very agitated. He woke up at 6am and was tired by the time we finished lunch. To make things more complex, my wife decided a week ago that she would not nurse him when he is tired so he doesn’t fall asleep nursing. Of course, he asked to nurse and she said, “No.” However she kept offering him several alternatives. She will be “R” and he will be “L” in the dialogue below.
R: “Do you want to come and sleep in our bed?”
L: “I do.” He came to our bed but couldn’t stay still.
R: “Do you want to sleep on my lap?”
L: “Yes.” But still he wouldn’t calm down, and told her when she was already laying down: “I want you to sit down so I can go to your lap!”
His tone of voice and the kind of demand were two red flags. When he is feeling well and thinking straight, he would just accept the invitation to sleep between us in our bed. I remembered Patty Wipfler explaining that when a child’s limbic system is overflowing with emotions and he is not able to release them, he will start behaving in a way that is different from when he is feeling ok. Therefore, he needs limits in order to be able to cry and release some of those feelings. I kept listening, just to make sure.
R: “Alright, I will sit down.”
He climbed into her lap, but after a minute he went to his mattress that was placed by the side of our bed and started playing with the curtains. Bingo! It was time to act. I climbed down the bed, got near him, looked him in the eyes and said: “It is time to nap now. You are going to take a nap in our bed, between mommy and daddy.”
L: “No! I want to stay here!”
Me: “You are not going to stay here. I will move your body and you will rest with us.”
It is important to notice the difference between setting limits and coercion. I didn’t say: “Either you come to our be or I will grab you.” I also didn’t threat him with punishments: “Either you come, or you will not play with the candles latter on.” I also didn’t blackmail him: “Come with me and I will give you chocolate after the nap.” I simply told him, using a firm but calm tone of voice that this was the time to rest and that he would rest with us. Keep in mind that he almost always rests after lunch in his own bedroom and taking a nap in our bed is something that he loves.
It is also good to note that I was not setting the limits in order to “teach” him to sleep or to “educate” him so he becomes a “good boy.” I was serving as a limit, as something he could bang against in order to offload his feelings. I don’t know for sure which emotions needed to be released, but I could guess that he felt sadness when I traveled during the weekend and that he felt angry when he burned his fingers earlier. It doesn’t matter. We don’t need to and won’t be able to understand everything that is at stake.
I took him to bed and he tried to escape. I kept my arm in front of him, without holding him. He started crying and saying he wanted to go to his mattress. I kept listening, looking into his eyes and sometime I would say: “You are going to rest in our bed, now,” or “I know you want to go to your mattress, but you won’t.” These sentences help the crying to keep flowing so he can offload as much as he needs. He tried to jump to his mattress over his mother, and she helped me in keeping the limit. At one point he pushed my arm and said, “Take your hand off of me!” I took it off and kept looking into his eyes while he did a good heartfelt cry. Slowly he laid down on top of R’s body. I laid down on my side of the bed and we kept connected through our eyes until the three of us fell asleep.
Love and Connection
I woke up. He was sleeping by my side and R had already left the room. I left him in our bed and went to the other room, to work. I left the doors open so I could see him when he woke up. Fifteen minutes later I heard him climbing down from our bed and leaving our room. Most of the time he would look for mommy and ask to nurse, but this time he saw me and came in my direction. He had that beautiful look on his face of a child waking up, caught in between dreamland and real life. He lifted his arms and I grabbed him as he sprawled himself over me. What a sweet encounter. I started rocking the chair, caressing his back and singing melodies that resonated in my mind from the Taketina workshop. I felt profoundly connected to him. At one point I realized he fell asleep again. I stood up holding him in my arms. His eyes opened and he smiled when he saw me. I put him on the bed next to my desk and he fell asleep again. Ten minutes later he woke up, a happy camper. We played for a few minutes. I was sniffing him pretending to be a dog while he would push me away and I would exaggerate and jump away from him with every push. He was laughing contagiously. After a few minutes I told him I needed to get back to work (actually to writing this post) and he slowly climbed down from the bed, left the room and went to play with his sister and mom.
This post was written by Marcelo Michelsohn in Portuguese and English. Marcelo is a Parenting by Connection Instructor Candidate in training. If you prefer to read in Portuguese click here. If you would like to suggest his blog to Portuguese speaking friends, go to conexaopaisefilhos.com.