Setting Limits Uncovers School-Time Hurt

My five-year-old daughter and I had had a really fun evening together: a mommy-and-daughter dinner date at our favorite burger place, followed by frozen yogurt nearby. We talked a lot and were playful with one another throughout, but, toward the very end, her behavior started to go off-track. She wanted to walk on high walls that weren't safe for her, and she didn’t want to go back to the car after dessert. I chalked it up to timing—Friday night capping off the second week of kindergarten.

When we got home, I asked my daughter to put on her pajamas and brush her teeth, but she said she wanted to watch a video on my phone first. I told her that one was OK, but then she wanted to watch another one. I realized that, if I said “OK” to another video, there would be another and then another, and that it wouldn't end until I set a limit.

So, I followed Hand in Hand Parenting founder Patty Wipfler's advice and set a limit early. “No more videos, honey,” I said, with warmth.

“Just one more! Pinky promise!” she begged.

“No more,” I said, my voice still soft, with my hand over her hand that was holding my phone.

Our dog, Tanto, was right next to us, and my daughter grabbed his tail and yanked it. I was afraid the dog would bite her. I let go of the phone and gently pried her fingers off the dog's tail.

“Be gentle with Tanto, sweetheart.”

My daughter started crying. I put a hand on her back, and she kicked at me and told me not to touch her. Then, she complained, “Tanto's looking at me! I don't want him to look at me! Sit here so he can't look at me!” I sat next to her, blocking the dog's view, and she collapsed into my lap and wept.

After a few minutes, she said, “I have two bossy friends at school, but one's really bossy.”

I asked her to tell me more. And she talked, crying intermittently, about a friend of hers with whom she has recently had challenges. I just heard her out as I would a Listening Partner, asking prompting questions that brought up feelings for her to release.

After a while, her tears stopped—her inner emotional storm had cleared. I said, “What do you think we could do?”

She suggested writing a letter to her friend, and we talked about how that might look. We discussed ways that she could get support at school when problems came up with her friend. Then she said, “Mommy, I'm ready to put on my PJs.”

After I tucked her into bed and we read a story, she brought up her friend again, and we talked a little more. I felt that she had gotten a good deal off her chest, so I thought I'd lighten things up before she fell asleep. I asked her, “What are some things that you love about [the friend]?”

She named a few things (one was, “She has good ideas”). Then, we cuddled, and I kissed my brave little girl—who innately seemed to know what needed emotional healing and went for it—good night.

— Susan Derby is a Parenting by Connection instructor based in Los Angeles, California. You can connect with Susan via email [email protected], or through her Facebook page.

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