I was teaching the Connection Parenting teleclass last night and shared an example from my own life of a time my son wouldn't get in the car seat that happened several years ago. I had tried everything and even ended up forcing my son into the seat because we "needed to go." This felt so wrong on every level, but in that moment I was doing the best I could do. I drove for a few minutes with him screaming and then just stopped the car. I took the time to be with him, to acknowledge his feelings, and apologized to him for making him get in the seat. He calmed down, willingly got back into the car seat and we went on our way peacefully. From that experience, I decided it was better to spend the time connecting than to get my way and have him get into the car seat right that second. Nothing mattered more than the relationship. It didn't matter if I was late, really. Nothing was more important than our relationship. If he needed to have some time for his feelings, I would just plan for it.
Some of the class participants kept saying that they were in a hurry and didn't have time to stop to deal with the feelings. I certainly understand having time limits and outside obligations. And I used to put those things first. I guess some of my willingness to let go comes from my Cuban friend who taught me about "Cuban time." She would say, "I am going to be leaving the house at 7." 7 would come and go. She would be milling around the house, getting a bite to eat... not leaving. And the world didn't fall apart like I thought it would if we didn't leave by 7! I wondered what would happen if I had this attitude with my children? Where did this idea come from that we don't have time for our children because we have to be somewhere? We've made this whole thing up and put all of this external pressure on ourselves and it isn't good for relationship and it isn't good for our children.
I didn't go to the extreme of adopting a "Cuban time" lifestyle, but I let go of the pressure I was putting on myself to be there at that certain time AND I started building extra time into my schedule to allow for those setbacks so that I could still be on time. Most of the time, we were able to handle minor difficulties without it ever getting to the point of actually being late. I drive my son to school each morning and go back and get him in the afternoon. It is important that we are on time. However, we plan to be there 20 minutes early (as my older son likes) and then plan to be in the car an extra 10 minutes early. Is this time I could sleep? Yes. Is it worth it to stay in bed longer? No. Having that extra cushion means that it would take a major catastrophe to end up being late. It means that I can relax and just be present with my children without the need to rush them most of the time. A calm parent helps children to be calm, too.
So one morning recently, my 5 year old was having a very hard time. I had gotten him into the car and he melted down about something else. We didn't have the time that morning to wait any longer, but that didn't mean that I needed to ignore him. I spoke to him in the car, extended my hand into the back seat with him and held his hand, and told him how sorry I was that we weren't able to just stop. After a few minutes, he calmed down and we had a pleasant car ride. We ended up laughing and joking with each other. Amazing how quickly the tide turned. It doesn't mean that we never set limits because we plan on that extra time for feelings. Sometimes we need to say no. Sometimes it can't be what they need in that moment. But we still need to acknowledge our child and his feelings. There is nothing more important than relationship! Nothing.
It is interesting to note after several years of taking this approach that most of the time those things that start out as something that could turn into a huge meltdown don't. By allowing the time and decreasing my own stress, it allows me to be more fully emotionally present with my child because I'm not worrying about what will happen if I don't get him in the car in the next 5 minutes. What my son needs at that time is for me to be fully present with him. When that need is met, he is able to move through it on his own and is then ready to do what we need to do. It is somewhat of a paradox. Let go of the outcome and things will probably work out better than if you struggled to control the outcome.
A little extra time can make all the difference. Try it and let me know how it goes.