How To Listen To One Child Cry When My Other Children Need Me


 Staylistening With Emilie Leeks

We have three children, and I must admit I do find it a huge challenge keeping on top of everything around the house, while also being there for each of them when they need it.

Recently my husband was away for work. Bedtimes are always a challenge for me at the best of times, so I was (not) delighted as I was getting all of them ready for bed and realised that my youngest son (aged 2) really needed some Staylistening.

We’d had a nice morning together whilst the older two were at school, but then towards the end of the afternoon I got the dreaded call saying our oldest son, who is 7, had a temperature and would I come and get him?

I bundled the youngest into the car, got the older one from school, and then raced home in time for their grandma to arrive (phew). She then went to pick up our middle child, aged 4, from school. Really, none of the children were getting much quality attention. It seemed we were a bit “here, there and everywhere,” and I think that discord built up over the afternoon and into the evening for my little one.

We got the children into bed and then grandma went home, at which point the youngest decided he wanted to “do a poo in his nappy.” He sometimes chooses the toilet, but not this time!

But then he didn’t want his nappy to be changed! I said warmly that I was sorry but I was going to have to do it, and although he cried and cried and said he didn’t want to, he understood that I couldn’t leave him in a dirty nappy.

Once I had changed him, he was still crying and crying, in fact, he put even more energy into it. He started saying “I want my pooey nappy back on.” He was very very upset, and kept saying the same thing over and over.

I had things to clear away, and by now our oldest had woken up due to the crying. He felt very, very warm and uncomfortable, and I wanted to give him some medicine.

It wasn’t an ideal situation, but I took the youngest one to his bed (his sister was also in there), and told him I would be back in a minute and that I was still listening. I left the door wide open so that we could all see each other as I moved around, and then I cleared up and then sorted our oldest out as well.

When I felt I needed to re-establish the connection with our youngest, I would say, every now and again, things like, “I hear you,” “I’m listening,” and “I’m near,” and I’d poke my head in as I went by so he could see me too.

Once everything else was done, I went back to our youngest and he said again that he wanted his ‘pooey nappy’ back on. I said “I know,” and “I’m sorry you can’t have your nappy,” and “It’s been a hard afternoon.”

I sat near him, and every so often I would touch him to see if he wanted that. For the first few tries he said “Don’t touch me!” but after a while he seemed to want it. He stopped telling me to get off and so I asked “Do you want a cuddle?”

He came over to me and we had a lovely cuddle, with him snuggling right into me. I listened as he continued to cry for a short while about his loss, and I really felt his sadness over it. He gradually started to quieten down with his crying, and then after a while (as he often does) he fell asleep on me.

The Value of a Good Cry

I know in the past, before I really knew and connected with how valuable a child’s cries are to them, I would have got cross that he didn’t want a nappy change. Then I probably would have tried to reason with him to try to convince him, which probably would have really upset him and maybe made him refuse to let me do it.

Although he really didn’t want to hear no, I’m sure that the warm limit I set meant he that he understood and trusted me. He could hear that I wouldn’t change him if I really didn’t feel I had to.

I also would have struggled with hearing his ongoing big emotions. I would have felt that “surely as the nappy change is now over, he ought to stop moaning about it,” and again I would have got frustrated.

I can still feel those feelings inside me a bit at those times, but it’s so much easier now to remind myself that it’s ok that he cries or does whatever he needs to do, and that I can still be there for him. I don’t have to get upset myself.

It is still very hard knowing what to do when I have multiple children who need me at one time, but this time I felt I did my very best, and tried not to get dragged down into panic mode.

I hope that our youngest still felt listened to. Even though I wasn’t physically there through the whole thing, he still had my calm, warm voice to latch on to, and he could see me coming and going, and checking on him, for the few minutes when I couldn’t be right there.

Want to set limits without yelling or threats? Learn a simple three-step approach in this free parenting call. Register to join or get a free replay here.

Read 20 Things to Say To Your Child Instead of Don’t Cry for comforting alternatives when your child breaks down.

Emilie Leeks lives in Berkshire, UK with her husband and three children. She is a certified Hand in Hand Instructor with additional experience in speech, language and communication issues.

This post was originally published on Emilie’s blog Journeys-in-Parenting. You can also contact Emilie through her Facebook page.

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