I just wanted her to nap.
My energy was spent and getting her to sleep was my sole agenda.
Unfortunately, my cheerful, “Time for nap” was met with her “No” as she continued playing on the floor.
My fatigue and stress gave me little patience or understanding. I felt myself tighten and become more insistent about her napping “NOW”.
She mirrored me with ever growing resistance.
We were going into battle.
I lifted her onto the bed and she protested even more, fighting to get down. All I could think about was the rest and quiet I wanted.
The only solution I saw was to get her to nap.
But here’s the rub: you can’t make a toddler nap.
This One Understanding Shifted My Perspective
As our battle of wills increased a realization suddenly came to me and my perspective shifted away from myself and toward what was going on with her. Seeing her red, frustrated face and squirming body in front of me, her struggles became clear.
She had recently begun staying at preschool during nap time a few days a week. My nurse-to-sleep child was having to learn to go to sleep in a whole new way.
With that “ah-ha” moment in mind I looked in her eyes and said, “It’s been hard to nap at school, huh?”
Her eyes immediately filled with tears and her sobs told me I was on the right track.
My eyes filled with tears too. I acknowledged the change she was going through, how it was different from what she was used to, and let her know I was sorry it was so hard. We stayed close just looking into each other's eyes. Her relief at my understanding was palpable. Her body settled and so did mine.
In this place of emotional connection my tiredness and uber-focus on her sleeping drifted away.
I could see my girl’s hurt and frustration were driving her behavior and she was communicating in the best way she knew how.
After a bit she brightened and we snuggled up. I felt more flexible in my thinking too and realized there was more than one way for me to get rest if she wasn’t able to sleep.
The Difference Between Connection Versus Control
For me, this was a big lesson in the difference between connection versus control. I thought I was setting a much needed limit. In hindsight, I realized I was missing an important piece.
The Hand in Hand Parenting model teaches a three part process to setting limits.
Listen. Limit. Listen.
In the first step we take the extra time to listen and tune in to both our child and the situation. (Unless your child is in immediate danger of causing or being harmed – then jump to step two immediately and BRING the limit.)
During this check-in phase we can see whether a limit is truly needed or whether our child just needs more information, some empathy, or even encouragement. This extra step helps build trust and safety with our child as they see us truly considering them.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, agitated, or angry with a behavior give yourself space to calm your nervous system first.
Many of the things our children do fall into the category of annoying to us (versus mortal danger to anyone), so we can often take a couple minutes to soothe ourselves before stepping in.
You may even want to put in ear plugs if you know you get overwhelmed with the noise, scream into your pillow if you feel like blowing your top, or simply remind yourself that you’re actually safe.
Once your body feels settled, it’s easier to engage and attune to your child from that calm, rather than reactive, place.
I had, in my tired, exhausted state, zipped past that first stage. I had forgotten to listen first. As I tuned in, it made all the difference.
I moved from reactive to responsive. I saw that my daughter wasn't battling to annoy or infuriate me. She was battling because sleep had gotten hard. When I saw that, I relaxed too. I got my rest, but in a whole different way.
When I remembered that these tools were not about control, they were about connection, we were able to tune in and rest together.
Tired of hearing your child say NO? Try These 5 Ideas to Reframe
If you find yourself going to battle with your child or focusing on getting a certain behavior to “just stop” take a moment to slow down and check in:
- What is the “heat” that might be causing your child’s behavior to boil over? When we focus solely on stopping our child’s behavior, or trying to get them to do something they’re resistant to, we’re missing out on the bigger picture. It’s like focusing on a pot of water boiling over and reacting to that instead of realizing we can simply turn down the heat.
- What might their behavior be trying to communicate to you? It could be: “I’m scared.” “I need help.” “I don’t understand what’s happening.” “I have a lot of energy!” “I can’t feel our connection anymore.” “I’m so excited!” If they were able to say these words to you, how would you respond?
- Are you feeling stuck on a certain outcome? If you’re only seeing one way to resolve the current issue then you’re likely headed for a power struggle. Slow down. Take some listening time for yourself and see if new strategies become clear.
- Let your mind shift to your child’s perspective for a moment. Have you had one-on-one time together recently? Are there new changes they could be reacting too? Have there been emotional upsets they’ve been holding on to?
- Is this a persistent behavior or feeling that keeps coming up for you or child again and again? If so, you might have an emotional project on your hands. Learning to use all of the tools strategically will help you move through these challenges with greater ease and understanding.
What Is Your Child Really Trying To Tell You?
Remember: All behavior IS communication.
When we focus simply on stopping the behavior, we’re missing what our child is trying to say to us. Look at what your child’s behavior is communicating as often as you can so you can address the source rather than the symptom.
Go easy on yourself here.
No parent can listen and tune in all-of-the-time and luckily our children don’t need us to. But your efforts to keep reaching for your child and understanding them will help you build the safe, trusting, connected relationship you want with them.
If you're ready to turn things around and want to:
- Enjoy the day with your children again
- Feel confident in setting limits with love
- Handle meltdowns like a pro, AND
- End the day feeling good about yourself as a parent
Then join Michelle for her upcoming Hand in Hand Parenting Starter Class and make 2021 your year for more joyful and fulfilled parenting. Learn more about the class here.