It’s time to go, but our child says no. We’ve tried explaining, coaxing, bribing, scolding. We’ve given choices, played games, filled our child’s cup with attention and quality time. We’ve even tried half-heartedly acknowledging, “I know you don’t want to go, but we must…” All to no avail.
Frustration mounts, guilt and doubt seep in… What if she really dislikes her school (we’ve chosen the wrong place!) or she isn’t ready yet (she’s too young!) and we’re forcing her to go? If we work a day job, we might worry that we should be staying home. But even if these are legitimate issues to consider, this certainly wouldn’t be the time.
We finally resort to begging and pleading, or perhaps even consequences and punishments. And still, our child won’t budge. It’s maddening.
But there’s one thing we haven’t done: Just let the feelings be. We haven’t given our child the time, space, and silence she needs to be able to share with us, to know she’s been heard, and to feel the safety of our calm acceptance.
Really? Won’t this open the floodgates and completely undo us? We have concerns, BIG concerns like these:
Letting feelings be will take too long. It’s the opposite, in fact. Acceptance only takes a moment or two and actually ends up saving us time we’d be spending in power struggles with our child.
Letting feelings be will mean we must sit with our child while she’s upset when we actually need to finish getting ourselves together and/or care for other children. A little wholehearted acceptance goes a long way. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “I need to go do such-and-such now, but I’ll come back in a couple minutes to check on you,” after we’ve calmly made eye contact and genuinely acknowledged, “You don’t want to go today.” Acceptance is a passive practice that doesn’t require us to do something or stay there waiting for our child to feel better.
Letting feelings be will make my child think that I’m giving in and that she won’t have to go. Not true. Not when we perceive the clearing of her feelings positively and receive them with confidence. Not when we embrace these difficult moments as golden opportunities to:
relieve our children of stress and nervousness
relieve our children with the knowledge that their feelings are healthy and safe and they can handle them.
relieve our children with trust in us and in themselves.
Heather’s story illustrates:
I wanted to share a success story with you! My husband and I enrolled our 4 year old daughter in a 2.5 hour per day, 5-day-a-week public preschool. It was not our first choice, and we are taking a few weeks to assess whether or not it will be a good fit for her long term. We only enrolled her to have opportunities to socialize with children her age, since none of our friends have young children.
This was her first week, and it was extremely rough for her. I have always stayed home with her, and we are together the vast majority of the time, so going to school was a huge change.
Yesterday was the worst day of the week. She cleverly hid all her shoes so I couldn’t find them before school, so for an hour I was frantically searching for them. When I finally found them and got them on her feet, she kept kicking them off screaming, “I don’t want to go!” over and over again.
When we got in the car, she kicked off her shoes again and was spitting on me from the backseat the entire way to school. Spitting is entirely uncharacteristic of her, so I knew she must have felt extremely uncomfortable.
That night I re-read a bunch of your old blogs and realized that though I was acknowledging her fears, it was on a very superficial level — just saying the words but not connecting with her first — so they were essentially meaningless. I also realized I was trying to “convince” her to have a good day. I would say, “But you will get to make so many fun projects! Will you make one for me?” I realize now that though well-intentioned, statements like that can be invalidating.
Today I took a completely different approach. When the time came to leave for school and she started screaming that she didn’t want to go, I kneeled down in front of her, looked into her eyes and said, “You really don’t want to go to school today.” She kept screaming, and I repeated myself a few more times. She stopped screaming, helped me pack her backpack and put it into the car, and then we had time to race up and down the driveway a few times before she jumped right into the car and into her car seat.
When we got to school, she got right in line with the other pre-k kids and waited for her teacher at the door. I gave her a kiss, said goodbye, and walked away. I am realistic enough to know that the resistance to school will probably happen over and over again, but I now know how to approach it. Thank you!”
Here’s another story, a message I received from Marion while I was writing this post (which I saw as a sign that it should be shared). Her daughter Marlowe is a recent “graduate” of one of my RIE Parent – Toddler Guidance Classes, and this experience made me miss her more than ever:
A quick thank you for all I learned in your RIE class. Marlowe had her third day of preschool today, and I sat with her, witnessing her cry and holding her hand before we left. I didn’t try to change her mind about being upset. I got her a little wet wash cloth. She cried for 20 minutes.
Then she just got up and said, “Ok, let’s go Mommy. When you leave, I’m going to draw you a picture”.
(Thank you to Heather and Marion for allowing me to share your stories)
Here’s a related podcast that might find helpful:
For more, I recommend these resources:
Helping Children Say Goodbye Without Distracting by Emily Plank, Abundant Life Children
I Accept the Mess: What Setting Limits Looks Like by Kelly Meier, Respectful Parent
5 Steps to a Peaceful Day Care Drop Off by Kate Russell, Peaceful Parent, Confident Kids
My podcasts, particularly the one above and also “When a Child Can’t Get Her Act Together in the Morning”
I share a complete guide to gentle leadership in my book,
No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame
(Photo by Bradley Gordon on Flickr)