Ever since I started training to become a play therapist my perception of why children do what they do, especially when they are being oppositional, has changed. Recently, I had an experience with my five year old who had a two day surge of defiance. Our days went from mostly smooth sailing with sporadic refusals, to two straight days of complete refusal at everything I asked of her.
Being the trained therapist I am, I first assessed for the following:
1) Have there been any recent changes in her routine?
2) Is she coming down with a cold?
3) Is she hungry?
4) Is she tired?
Knowing that none were the culprit for her resistance, I was perplexed. I started to feel angry and resentful. My therapist part was telling me there was a reason for her behavior and I should be understanding but another part of me was checking out and wanted to be alone - away from her.
Fast forward to a few mornings after and my spouse told me about a conversation she had with him. My five year old disclosed she was upset with me because... wait for it... "Mama wasn't getting mad!" :0 In other words, my daughter was trying to rile me up. Her defiance was meant to spark a strong angry reaction from me.
Hence this blog post. While I'm generally a private person and don't like to share details of my life with people outside of my intimate circle, I did want to share my recent experience in the hopes it normalizes and validates what you and many parents experience at one point or another.
So, what is the lesson to be learned from this experience? Children often want us to feel how they feel. And, if they don't think we are getting it, they will find a way to make us feel what they are feeling.
In this situation, my daughter was trying to get me mad because she was mad. What she got from me instead, which I'm been working hard on and am proud of, was a calm, patient mom who validated her feelings but still told her she had to take care of her responsibilities. What she really wanted, however, was a mom who got upset because it would in some way validate her experience.
Now this may sound confusing but here is an example my husband reminded me of - have you ever been so mad and upon telling someone how mad you were, they just turned around and gave you a calm, non-expressive response? Do you remember How it made you feel? Did you welcome their calm energy or did it piss you off even further? Chances are, it made you more angry and even a bit confused. Why? Because you may have felt like they were not taking you seriously or were being dismissive. This is what some children feel.
So, does this mean we turn around and be mad at our kids? No, but we can be mad WITH them. We can join in their anger and perhaps share some of their energy so as to relate empathy. Here is what I tried and recommend:
1) Listen to what they are saying - after repeatedly telling my daughter, to brush her teeth, she replied, "I said no! Mama, you are making me so angry that I just want to fight you!" :0 Whoa! This statement triggered a strong reaction from me.
2) Detach from taking it personally - My vindictive part wanted to pull the parent card and show her "who's boss" while my compassionate part wanted to help her. So, I took a deep breath and channeled my compassionate part.
This is the part of me who doesn't see her statement as a threat/challenge but instead as a need. What was the need? I didn't know at the time, but I knew that continuing to push the issue of brushing her teeth wasn't the answer. The deep breath I took allowed me to disconnect from my own anger and frustration and remind myself that I'm dealing with a five year old who is still trying to make sense of the adult world around her.
3) Get playful - After coming to my logical senses, I realized I should try engaging her in a playful way that may help regulate her anger. I furrowed my brows, lowered myself to her level, made eye contact and said, "You want to fight me huh? Okay, come on, fight me. Let me see how much you can push my hands."
I placed my open hands in front of her and let her push them. I pretended she had so much strength that she was able to "push" me backwards. I said things like, "Oh wow, you are really pushing me. You are so strong and so mad." I then pretended to fall to my knees, which made her laugh thereby giving me permission to laugh. That then turned into some light tickling and led to some hugs. As I was hugging her, I then walked her into the bathroom and put the toothbrush in front of her. The result? She ended up brushing her teeth with no resistance. Yay!!! (Side note: I then collapsed on my bed and took some time to regulate my system).
While I realize it takes energy to embrace our playful side, put aside our agenda and our pride, I am the first to admit that moving forward, I will continue to assess her need and try to get playful first. Again, this isn't possible every time but it is doable and it works.
I would love to hear your comments and/or address any questions you have.
Feel free to share them below. And as always, thank you for reading.
In the last of my three part series, this blog post features ways parents/guardians can show love to their child through words of affirmation. For those of you familiar with the 5 love languages, the concept behind words of affirmation is basically to verbally express how much we love and appreciate our loved one. For kids, it can look a bit different depending on the age but here are a few suggestions that can be playful.
1). Write a note/draw a picture - in case you've missed it, food marketers now sell snacks with wrappers you can write on. See what I'm referring to here. These opportunities to write or draw a picture for your child while you are away from them can reassure them that even though you are apart, you are still thinking about them. Don't want to buy these kinds of items? I hear ya! Use post-it notes or good old-fashioned paper and tape. It's not about the item vs the note/drawing.
2). State what you love about them - during lunch/dinner or bedtime, finish the following statement:
I love your________ (eyes, ears, smile, laugh) because _________ (your eyes sparkle so bright, your ears hear so well, your smile lights up a room, your laugh is so contagious).
The purpose behind making such a statement is to highlight the greatness of your child. Avoid commenting on what they are wearing or how their hair look. Instead, focus on who they are. This can take some practice to get used to doing but with practice it is doable. If you find yourself struggling with this one, simply state what you notice about them. For example, I love your brown eyes!, I love your big smile., I love your loud laugh.
3). Sing a Song - for some parents, it can be hard to verbally express their love directly. This is where singing and dancing can come in. Under the guise of the lyrics in the song, a parent/guardian can lip-sync the words of the song to the child. The key to doing this is to make sure you are looking and pointing to your child so they know you are "singing" to them. Depending on your child's age, a lullaby can also help; Think, Twinkle, twinkle little star.
4). Acknowledge their attempts - while it is important for us to acknowledge success in our children, it is equally important to acknowledge the attempts they make in trying to to be successful. For example, you want your child to complete a task, he/she tries a couple of times but gives up because they get frustrated. Instead of focusing on them giving up, acknowledge the fact that they tried to complete it and it was very hard.
Recognizing this frustration and how hard it was for them is crucial because it validates their desire and willingness to try. The next few steps can be a little tricky depending on the task but offer them an opportunity to take a break from the task so they can regroup. After some time, check in with them and let them know it is time to try again and that you will be there to help if they want it.
Word of Caution: being able to verbally express yourself as a parent/guardian requires your patience and insight into knowing what you are capable of giving. It will also require you to not expect anything in return from your child. Words of affirmation are meant to celebrate your child's greatness. If we go in expecting our child will also say pleasant things about us, then it will change the nature of the interaction from one of unconditional love to conditional love.
Well, that wraps up the three part series that focused on how to show love to your child. Need a refresher? Missed the earlier posts? No problem! For games that focus on "seeing" each other, click here. For games that focus on touch, click here.
Have any questions or suggestions? Feel free to let me know.
Thank you for reading.
In February's blog post, I mentioned how difficult it can be to show affection and love to our children as they get older. And to be clear, when I say get older, I´m referring to children who are no longer infants. Such children are now more vocal about their needs, expressive with their discontent and can reject us in ways that sometimes trigger us. In that blog post, I highlighted four games that focus on eye contact that can bring a sense of connection and joy between you and your child. Check it out here if you haven´t already read it.
This month´s post will feature games that emphasize touch. Why is touch so important for a child and for us as human beings? Aside from the research that highlights how infants actually thrive when touched, nurturing touch allows us to feel connected and loved. Try to remember the last time you received a welcoming, embracing hug from your child or another loved one. Or the time you held your child's hand to stroll down the street. Or, how about the last time you got a high five or a fist pump with a proud energy behind it? These are the touches I'm referring to. They come with loving energy that helps us connect with each other.
Unfortunately, however, these are some of the first things we can forget to do when life gets busy and our children become more independent. So, below are a few games/activities you can do to help foster this sense of connection. Test them out and feel free to let me know how they worked for you.
As in my previous post I will offer a word of caution: some children are sensitive to touch. For some, touch can be too ticklish which can dysregulate them. For others, the proximity of having someone close to them may be triggering. If you find your child is not playing along and instead tries to hit you or to turn it into a different game, it could be a sign that they are uncomfortable. Try instead the eye contact games I mentioned in my previous post or if you believe it is better, don't play at all.
Stay tune for next month's post where I will be sharing activities that focus on words of affirmation.
Thank you for reading.
Christine M. Valentín
Welcome to my blog where I provide tips on learning how to connect with your child and how to feel more in control of your parenting journey.
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