By Guest Blogger, Annabelle Safinia, AMFT
“I reflected her words back to her to validate her feelings and in doing so I hoped she could learn that being vulnerable with me was a risk worth taking.”
I recently had an experience with my four year old that reminded me of the power of the mindful parenting model we practice in our Loving Discipline Class. I saw first hand how helpful it is in repairing relationships after a rupture has occurred. It’s not easy to stay present or grounded when your child is having a meltdown, but on those occasions when you are able to, there is potential to deeply understand your child and as a result, for the attachment relationship to strengthen and blossom.
I hadn’t been spending as much time with her as either of us would have liked and this is how it played out in her actions and my response. We were out to lunch one day when out of nowhere she started getting irritated by people talking too loudly. I let her know I couldn’t fix the “problem,” which only made her angrier. I decided to take her out of the restaurant since she was disturbing everyone around us. As I carried her out she didn’t let up and was now pinching and scratching me. I realized that she was really struggling with some deep feelings and was not open to reasoning or logic. Somehow this enabled me to not feel triggered by her behavior. I made the decision to stay calm. Finally we made it to the car, and I said calmly to her, “I’m not going to let you hurt my body.” As she registered my words I got a clear sense that behind her anger was a much deeper emotion that was overwhelming her. Taking a chance that my mirror neurons were working well, I said, “Sweetheart, you seem really, really sad to me.” She broke down in a flood of tears and threw herself into my arms sobbing. I held her for some time while she let it all out. When she calmed down I asked her what she was feeling so sad about and without pausing she said, “Mommy, you aren’t spending enough time with me.”
She was right. I reflected her words back to her to validate her feelings, and in doing so, I hoped she could learn that being vulnerable with me was a risk worth taking. She elaborated on all the things that hurt her feelings. I was conscious that we were in the all-important repair process that is so essential in our intimate relationships. She needed me to listen and not rationalize or make excuses. She needed me to understand her perspective and not judge or teach. Once she had finished telling me her feelings I let her know that I understood and wanted to make things better, that in the future I would work on having more special time with her. I knew at that moment that I would need to discipline myself to be more present around her and to not be constantly on my phone or let her watch TV as a distraction tool.
After discussing it with her we decided together that instead of watching TV we would read books or play, and I was amazed at how readily she agreed. Over the next two weeks I noticed my impulse to turn the TV on when I felt tired or needed a break, but sticking to our agreement I was able to push past it. Those times that I needed a break, I would explain to her that she could play by herself while I rested, cooked, or checked emails, then we could have special time later on. Because we were spending more quality time together, she was willing to let me have my breaks. And because she was watching less TV, she had developed her imaginative play whereby knew how to occupy herself. There were a few more moments of hitting out of frustration but with the help of some great library books that suggested I encourage her to “use her words” we slowly got back to normal. Children first communicate through their actions not their words. It is up to us to help them develop the capacity to express themselves verbally rather than act out in frustration.
I learned a valuable life lesson that has helped me in a broader sense, that relationships don’t do well when hurt feelings remain ignored.