When I arrived home from work the other day, I was looking forward to cuddling my children and having some fun spending time with and connecting with them. Instead, I was greeted with the sounds of children in distress and a husband at the end of his tether. It had been a long, sick week for the family and being the only healthy body in the house, my husband had been on night wake-up and child minding duty all week.
As he began reluctantly to make his way towards his screaming youngest child, I told him to stop, sit down, relax, have a drink; I would get this. I was feeling better. I missed spending time with my girls and this was my opportunity to reconnect with them.
I walked into the bedroom and found my daughter sitting on the floor, quite distressed, trying to get her clothes off. I greeted her and acknowledged that she seemed upset. Her response was not what I was expecting. She screamed with venom ‘I want Daddy! I don’t want you! Go away!’
It was like a stab in the heart. What did she mean she didn’t want me? I’m her Mum, of course she wants me. Right? Well, right, but not just at that moment. At that moment she wanted me to hear something that was hard to hear but it was important to her that I heard it.
As I listened to her angry shouts, I reflected. I had been distant from her that week as I struggled in bed with the flu. I hadn’t changed her nappy in days. I hadn’t gone to her in the night when she woke crying. I hadn’t even been putting her food on the table. Her father had taken on all these connective care-giving roles whilst I looked after me.
My little one didn’t like it, she was mad at me and was making that clear. This was my opportunity to connect. She was handing it to me on a platter and I just needed to be open to it and accept that whilst it would be nice to connect with cuddles and fun, being there for her in this moment, for her to release her emotions to me and for me to hear her and be okay with it was exactly the repair our ruptured relationship needed.
She needed to know that it was okay to be mad; that I understood and my love for her remained unwavering. That would be the ultimate in connective time spent together.
I acknowledged her feelings: “You sound really upset. [Pause] You seem mad and want me to go away. [Pause] I’ll move back here a little to give you some space. [Pause] I want you to know I love you and want to help you.” I Stopped and waited for her to indicate she was ready to connect. I sat on the floor of her room for about half an hour. We said nothing. If I tried to, she would scream at me in anger.
Eventually, she began playing with her teddy. She didn’t look at me or acknowledge my presence but I knew she knew I was there because she was deliberately keeping her eyes averted. After about five minutes, she brought her teddy to me, placed her in my lap and walked away. She still didn’t look at me so I gave her a little more time. Two minutes later she removed the teddy from my lap and sat herself in her teddy’s position. I tenderly wrapped my arms around her and held her.
We reconnected and she was able to see that no matter how much she yells at me, no matter how much anger she has bubbling up inside, I will be her rock.
Nothing will shake my love for her even when I can’t be there to take care of her.
That night when I kissed her as I tucked her into her bed I spoke with her gently. “You know, I love you even when you tell me to go away. I love you even when you are angry with me. I will always love you and nothing will ever change that.” She gripped my neck as we cuddled and did not want to let go. I sat with her on her bed and drew circles on the palm of her hand as she relaxed towards finding her slumber
She no longer wanted me to go away.
You might also enjoy reading:
Toddler Tantrum Therapy ~ Kate Russell (Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids)
Go Away, Mama! ~ Janet Lansbury (Elevating Childcare)
My parenting is inspired by Magda Gerber’s RIE approach. If you are interested in learning more you can find some good information here or I highly recommend these books (affiliate links)
Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect (2nd Edition) ~ Magda Gerber
Your Self-Confident Baby: How to Encourage Your Child’s Natural Abilities — From the Very Start
~ Magda Gerber
Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting ~ Janet Lansbury
No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame ~ Janet Lansbury
Thank you. I love this. Those big feelings are so hard to handle.
Beautiful post, Kate! My 4yo has been super clingy and crying all the time – it took a full meltdown for me to realise he just wanted me to engage rather that running around on autopilot as I have been during a super-busy week. All it took was a few rounds of a card game and a bike ride and he was back to his cheerful self. They’re such incredible creatures and have so much to teach us about tuning into our emotions!
I love that, Jo! You are so right about them being in tune with their emotions. I love that at that age, they are still free to express all kinds of emotions to us and I can only hope that they still feel safe enough to express their inner feelings as they grow.
Thank you for your comment!
what a beautiful moment! Thank you for sharing 🙂
Sometimes I think those words are either said because they know the other parent isn’t available and they are angry at them for that – or they know it hurts the present and they want a reaction. I know I shouldn’t take it personally but I totally understand the stab to the heart feeling!
Yes, I think you’re right, Meetoo. Often it is them testing us out to see what our reaction will be and whether we still love them if they bare their feelings in this way. It is hard not to take it personally but I like to think that these off-the-cuff comments that fly out in heated moments are not well thought-out or considered. Our kids don’t think like this all the time so we can assume they are just speaking these words out of a lack of being able to articulate what is truly bothering them.
Thank you for commenting.
Oh that gave me tears Kate. It’s so easy to feel frustrated and hurt in those situations when all they need is to express their feelings and know that you can handle them. Love this, sharing.
Thank you, Sara! It sure is hard not to feel hurt!
How beautiful was that ending to the night. I loved reading that. A lovely reminder to watch our words and tell them we love them.
Thank you, Penny! It turned a difficult night into a beautiful night for sure!
Beautiful Kate, and you have such patience! I love reading about the wonderful connection you have fostered with your girls.
Such a sweet post and something I truly believe and try my hardest to do too!
Reblogged this on TIAAA! and commented:
What do you do in the face of a child’s upset or anger? Kate Russell describes a beautiful way to respond. Acceptance, presence, patience, connection, love.
I love this alternative approach.
Love this post so much! Beautiful!!
This is such a wonderful post! Showing kids that negative emotions are natural and not scary is SO important.
Beautifully written, wonderful mama x
Once again, your openness about the realities of parenting make the road less lonely as we Moms journey this life with littles. I appreciate you sharing it with us.
Wow! Thank YOU, Ms. S!
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It sounds really good and definitely the definition of unconditional love. I love some of the examples used. I have a question though. When we love our children through their sometimes atrocious behaviour, their nasty comments, rudeness and tantrums are we also sending a subliminal message that its ok to treat people in this way because we are not showing that this behaviour is not acceptable? I understand that the aim is to keep the relationship and communications open which is the most important aspect. When do you show a child how to act in a certain circumstance? Danny Silk’s Book, “Loving your children on Purpose” shows how to love a child through these events but also allows the parents to deal with the unacceptable behaviour by facilitating the child towards making wise choices and self control.
Great questions! One of the things I have learned over time is that my children know their behaviour is not acceptable without me needing to teach it through punishment or illogical consequences. We have to trust in the inherent goodness of our children and when you understand that a child’s decision making, rational and emotional brain is still extremely underdeveloped, this is much easier to do. Often when a child is acting out they are doing so because of their incessant need to test, retest and retest again just to make sure they are in fact safe, secure and loved no matter what. If their tests are not met with a confident, unruffled parent willing to set a limit and enforce that limit (with love) they will feel unsteady and will need to continue testing.
We show children how to act in certain circumstances by the way we act in those circumstances. If we are unkind or unempathetic to them or other, that’s what children will learn above all else that is dished out to them as punishment, lectures or other lessons they may be taught. By not being punished, it will take them longer to internalise the correct behaviours (it will happen naturally as their brains mature and learn to see the world from other’s points of view) but in trusting in this process, you will build a child who is confident in themselves and a relationship with them that is open, honest and strong.
Thank you for taking the time to ask these questions. I hope that has helped you understand a little more?
Sniff. Sniff. Thank you for the advice. My 4 yo becomes so enraged. Sometimes I’m on the verge of tears because I am so sad for him. I want to say exactly this to him, but he is screaming at me to go away, louder every time. He gets more angry when I keep talking. He storms and stomps, throwing everything on his path and hitting (mostly my husband.) How do I send the message without making him angrier and angrier?
My eldest gets quite physical too when she is angry. In these moments my first priority is to keep everyone/ everything safe, including her. I let her know (through her screams) that she is feeling angry and that I can’t let her hit etc. I carry her (kicking and screaming) to her room where it is safest for her to meltdown in this way. If she is directing her aggression towards me, I say “You’re really mad right now. I am going to leave the room and wait outside for you to calm down.” Sometimes she comes after me so I have to shut the door behind me and wait on the other side until I hear her screams turn to sobs. This can take a long time so patience is key. At this point I let myself back in to the room, gently knocking on her door to test the waters first. If she doesn’t answer the knock I know its ok to enter. Then I go and connect. “Wow, you were feeling really angry, huh?” Sometimes I say nothing except “Is it ok if I sit with you a while?” Then I just sit there and wait for her to come to me. She always does.
Good luck, I know how hard this is but I am confident you’ve got this!!