I might not make it to bedtime; parenting struggles during COVID-19

Reminding myself to listen and connect before talking

Some days and some moments, I’m feeling strong. I totally got this. The glass is half full and I can truly say “I am SAFE at home.” Other days and other moments, “I am 100% STUCK at home.” I’m really struggling. I feel like I am being punished. Yes, I still know and can count my blessings, but the ‘right here and now’ feels lonely, mundane, and downright terrible.

Before 7:00 this morning, I could hear Keener using a harsh tone with Grace about how to build with Magna-Tiles. Then his tower came crashing down. Under “normal” circumstances, he is generally able to use a coping strategy to get through the disappointment of a crashing tower. This morning, for whatever reason, the disappointment was registering at a 10.

My thoughts instantly went to a negative place… “Oh goodness. It’s going to be a long day! How on earth are we going to make it through the next 12 hours? I feel like I am stuck on a hamster wheel. Why? Why?! June 10th is FOREVER away…”

Instead of continuing down this negative path, I stopped myself. I have been listening to some wonderful podcasts as well as reading some great books to try and help myself stay sane and calm. As a result, I have been reminded about a few basic skills that I am *trying* to utilize in an effort to help my kids, and myself, feel better.

Being a better listener

I’m sure many of you have seen the following quote by Emily King that Today Parents posted on Instagram. It is the best reminder about the power of connection.

In the book, “Are My Kids On Track?”, the authors also reminded me about the power of connection and the importance of listening. They ask the following 3 questions:

  • Do I listen without judgement?
  • Do I listen without correction?
  • Do I listen without giving unsolicited advice?

This morning, I initially violated all 3. I was judging Keener like crazy for letting Magantiles turn him into a whiny mess before 7:00 AM. I was attempting to correct him and offering advice on how he could get his tower not to fall. Needless to say, none of this proved to be helpful. In fact, it was making everything worse.

Once I washed my face and realized where we were headed with my current approach and mental state, I shifted gears. “It sounds like you had a really frustrating morning trying to build. It wasn’t working out the way you wanted and that is making you upset. Would a hug help you feel better and push reset on the day?” He came bounding over and fell into my arms. Just what he needed.

An incredible podcast that I highly recommend is Feel Better, Live More. Dr. Chatterjee hosts a variety of interesting guests and talks about a wide range of topics. Some of the episodes I have listened to are:

  • #54 Re-Defining Happiness with Professor Paul Dolan
  • #56 Becoming Stress Proof with Dr. Mithu Storoni
  • #67 The Secret to a Long and Happy Life
  • #75 What Every Parent Should Know with Philippa Perry
  • #76 How to Optimize Your Brain Health with Dr. Rahul Jandial

I just listened to #75. While I didn’t agree with what his guest, British author and psychotherapist Philippa Perry said about sleep training, everything else on the episode resonated. She reminded us to hear where the child is at. This means listening without judgement, correction or advice. As Philippa said, “Children don’t want to be fixed, they want to be seen and heard.”

We’ve moved on to puppet shows

Keener didn’t want me to fix anything. He simply wanted to unload his frustration. My initial response of trying to “fix” the situation only made his frustration grow. He wanted to be heard. Once I was able to hear him, we connected. And, things quickly improved for both of us.

Phillipa gave an example on the podcast that was poignant for many with toddlers; a toddler having a melt down about the color of their bowl. When this happens, simply say, “This is really hard and frustrating for you today.” Often as parents, we tend to talk too much. We may try to solve their problem or offer unsolicited advice when really, our kids just need us to hear them.

Try this next time your child starts complaining. Look past what they are complaining about and try and name out what it is they are really saying. To truly hear where your child is at emotionally. Some language examples may include:

  • “You sound frustrated and upset.”
  • “It sounds like your sister is bothering you.”
  • “It sounds like like your building isn’t coming together the way you hoped.”
  • “I’m hearing you say it’s hard to only see friends on Zoom.”

The idea behind this is that you are processing their feelings into words. Phillipa says, “They will feel got and be able to internalize that and do it for themselves.”

Perhaps this would work for all of us, not just our kids. At a time when thoughts, emotions, and feelings are especially complex and heightened, we all would appreciate simply being heard. Try it with friends, your spouse, family, and your kids to help strengthen a much needed sense of connection.

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