My six-year-old daughter often had difficulties with transitions, but it was difficult to predict when she might have an especially hard time. One morning, she, her nine-year-old brother, and I were doing just fine getting ready for school. However, when it was time to go out the door, she started to struggle. She couldn’t get her shoes on quite right. Her socks felt weird. She didn’t like the jacket I chose. She didn’t want to carry her lunch. Her issues were never-ending.
I tried hard to be nice and supportive when her issues started, but it wasn’t long before I started running out of patience. Time was ticking. I moved quickly from, “Honey, I know we can go out the door together” to “If I have to carry you out to the car, I will.” I could feel my body temperature rising.
Luckily, I was able to step back for a moment and observe what was going on. As I stood at the door threshold with a full armload of stuff, my daughter was sobbing on the floor with her shoulders slumped. She looked so helpless—and I guessed that was how she was feeling. How could she get out the door with this wad of helplessness inside of her? I knew I could grab her and carry her to the car, but none of us would feel good about it, including me.
I took a deep breath and decided to try a short Staylistening session. So I set down my armload and walked back into the living room, moving very slowly. I bent over, put my hand on her back, and said, “I’m so sorry sweetheart. I love you. I see you are hurting and I’m here for you. How can I help you?”
She sobbed for a minute or two, and then she stuck one foot up in the air. I straightened out her sock and put her shoe on. Then she stuck her other foot up in the air and I did the same to that foot. I kept trying to make eye contact with her and beaming my love at her. She put one arm out so I could put a sleeve of her jacket on her. Then she put the other arm out so I could put the rest of her jacket on. Then both arms went up so I could help her stand. She held onto my hand.
About four minutes into Staylistening, my daughter went from helpless sobs to doing everything she could to cooperate and help us get out the door.
I held her hand as we walked slowly and steadily to the car. She didn’t say a word and she continued to cry quietly. I stayed close to her and kept trying to make eye contact. I helped her into her booster seat, and she buckled herself up. I gave her a kiss on the forehead and thanked her for working so hard to get to the car. It really helped me to see how much she wanted to be cooperative, even when she was hurting. Getting to the car took about 6-7 minutes. The connection felt so good rather than me trying to carry her and force her into the car.
Once in the car and after another 5 minutes of crying, she asked me, “Are you going to help at school today?” We talked about what a fun day she was going to have at school. She got very excited about her day.
After that incident, we started having fewer issues with leaving the house. It marked a big shift for both of us. I felt increased compassion toward her feelings around transitions, and she cooperated more at transition times.
Sometimes, slowing down and listening instead of forcing the issue can really make all the difference!
— Kristen Volk, Parenting by Connection Instructor