Holding hands

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"You're Not Listening!"

Last week I was grocery shopping in my local coop. While waiting to check out in the tiny, crowded aisle, I saw a young mom winding her way through the crowd with her young son in tow. He was protesting about having to hold her hand. She seemed understandably frazzled trying to shop and manage a small child at the same time. The aisle was packed with people, shopping carts and boxes being unloaded, not to mention shelves at a child's eye level full of distractions. It was an over-stimulating and overwhelming environment even for me as an adult by myself!

I overheard mom say, “You have to hold my hand because you’re not listening.” The child whined through tears, “I’ll listen!" I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about. I know that could have easily been me when my kids were small!

As I listened to this interaction, it struck me that the unintentional, underlying message to the child was something like, "It's your responsibility to deal with all this stress. Since you can't, I'm going to have to punish you by holding my hand!" Whoa! I had never thought of it like that! It was like a light bulb. It just wasn't possible in this environment for this young child to “listen” (which means stay focused and do what mom says without getting distracted.) It was an unrealistic expectation.

So what can you do as parents to make these necessary experiences less frustrating and more enjoyable?

1. Anticipate the situations you know are stressful for you and your child.

2. Prepare ahead of time. Tell your child, “We’re going to go into the store now and it’s very crowded. I really love you and it’s my job to keep you safe, so while we’re in the store I’m going to need to hold your hand. I know you might not always like that, but it’s the best way for me to keep you safe.” That just shifts the whole thing off the child so he is no longer responsible for stress and overwhelm that is beyond his capacity to handle.

3. Have realistic expectations.

4. Learn to see your child's behavior as a stress barometer.

5. Try to interrupt the stress with a joke, a few deep breaths, a hug or maybe even a quick break outside or in the bathroom where there is less stimulation.

I wouldn’t have thought like this back when my kids were small. With the perspective I have now, though, it seems to make a lot of sense and I wonder if it makes sense to you. Please share your thoughts and opinions. I'd love to hear them and also know what’s worked for you in similar situations.

PS: With the new year, I have 4 spots left for private clients. If you would like a complimentary consultation to explore your unique challenges with your child and find out whether Parenting Beyond Words coaching is right for you go to: www.parentingbeyondwords.com/coachingsystem.htm