Our son is nearly three years old. He still goes through some separation anxiety when he’s without his mom. We usually put him to bed together, but the other night, my wife needed a break. So our routine began.
I read him a book, tucked him in and said goodnight.
The minute the lights went out, he got anxious and climbed out of bed, wanting to go find Mommy. He walked toward the door and screamed for me to open it. I gave in and opened it. He looked, but couldn’t find her.
He began stomping his feet and screamed out, “Call Mommy!”
I moved in and held him. He was frantic and kept crying, “I want Mommy!”
As I held him I said, “I hear how scary it is for you! I am here for you.” I carried him back into his bedroom and sat us both down on the floor. He was in my lap, and he cried hard into my shoulder. I kept holding him, acknowledging his feelings. “I am here for you and I will support you through this.”
Although he kept screaming for Mommy, after awhile I noticed a change. His cries deepened, and there was a sense of sadness. I stayed with him, telling him, “I will not leave you alone. I am going to be right here for you!”
He got tired and said he wanted to lie down. I carried him into bed, and he continued crying with me by his side. After a good while, he settled down.
He said, “Mommy needs space,” and I responded, “Yes, she needs a break. Mommy loves you very much.”
He then slowly drifted off to sleep.
Staylistening with my son felt different for me this time. Hearing his cries can be quite triggering for me when they are filled with fear and panic. This time around, I noticed that they reminded me of my crying as a little boy, but I wasn’t triggered by it. All that work I had done in Listening Partnerships had paid off. I am so glad that I was able to stay present, and help him through his fears.
The next morning he woke up happy. He was full of himself!
Why it Worked
There’s nothing that pushes a parent’s buttons quite like a child “needing” the other parent. We often feel hurt, or like something’s wrong with us. But a child who’s feeling discontent with one parent or the other is just lost in feelings, unable to remember how special each parent is to him.
It’s not about you!
This dad had worked hard in his Listening Partnerships on his own struggles and triggers, and so was able to stay fully present when his son needed him. Dad didn’t take his son’s words personally. Instead, he kept him close and listened to his upset, including his pleas for Mom. The boy was able to cry and cry, and eventually share his newfound understanding of why Mom couldn’t be there.
He was then able to relax, get a good sleep, and wake up feeling fine.
For more on why children save their upsets for one parent read When a Child Prefers One Parent
This post is taken from the book Listen: Five Simple Tools to Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges by Patty Wipfler and Tosha Schore.