Recently I posted a blog about my struggles in parenting my gorgeous, “spirited” son. I revealed my soul and exposed my heart-ache in ways that left me with a vulnerability hangover lasting several weeks! Since that post, I’m stunned to say that we’ve experienced such a dramatic change in Kiva and our life has taken a sharp 180. These days we hardly ever get to the stage of a full blown tantrum, there’s barely any whinging and our happy boy is back. I’ve noticed myself missing him when he’s at daycare and I can barely wait to pick him up so we can sneak in some time together before his daddy gets home. Things at home are humming along beautifully and when we’re out, we actually have loads of fun. This is our new reality. So what happened between then and now that has left our heads spinning?
It’s true that the copious amounts of food he eats, together with plenty of sunshine and water, has had its effects both physically and emotionally. Kiva is growing up. However, this deeper transformation has its roots in something less tangible. After 4 years of searching, grasping, asking and praying for a better way, we finally came across a wonderful therapist in Bellingen who specializes in “The Circle of Security”*, an early intervention program that supports families who struggle with attachment and security issues. Week after week, myself and Asher would go for private sessions in lunch breaks to watch a DVD series, discuss our observations and receive guidance and support. Other times we just went to bawl our eyes out followed by hysterical laughter until the tears flowed again! I think we needed the release!
Week after week we would come home loaded with new tools, word-tracks and ideas to play with, mostly centralized around more time connecting, playing, listening with whole body presence when Kiva cried, laughed and everything in between. Where we were placing our attention and intention made a huge difference almost immediately, but there were still times where his intense eruptions left me feeling like I was a victim to his emotional rampage. Just at that time I had a great conversation with my friend in Singapore who mentioned a book called 1-2-3 Magic, and the success she had using this method with her son. After checking in with our Circle of Security Therapist to see whether this could be in alignment with the work we were doing together, she urged me to trust my intuition and find a way that worked for our family. She understood the stress and frustration we were experiencing.
I spent the next few days devouring 1-2-3- Magic, tossing most of what I read to the side, particularly sentences like “Controlling Obnoxious Behavior” and “How to Manage Testing and Manipulation”. Instead I focused on all the parts pointing towards boundaries and holding Kiva accountable for his behavior. The more I read on, digested and made sense of the material in a way that could work for our family, the safer and more and ease I began to feel about giving it a go. So basically we let Kiva know that things were going to be different around the house. We told him, as kindly as possible, that we would be counting any behavior that was counter-productive to having more FUN! He would have two chances to change his behavior and if by the count of 3 he was still carrying on it was straight into a “time-out” or some other consequence that held him accountable.
The first thing I noticed happening is that almost immediately there was little or no voices being raised in the house which was a huge shock to me. Using “that’s 1……that’s 2……that’s 3” with a calm, but firm voice was enough for Kiva to know we meant business. There was less threatening, bribing and blaming and therefore less guilt and shame floating around our house. At first, we would go into the room for “time-out” with Kiva and sit with him whilst he screamed and resisted every second of it. We had the timer on, so we all knew when the 4 minutes were up and it was time to move on without uttering a word about the behaviour in question!
The best part about all of this was that we had found a sweet spot between the 1-2-3 method and The Circle of Security. The former methodology gave us the boundaries that we needed to deepen into the later, connecting with our son. It was only much later when reading from Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, that I fully understood the power in our new practices. She writes “when we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behaviour or choice”. That’s when the penny dropped! By setting boundaries with clear consequences that we CONSISTENTLY followed through with, was in fact the most loving and compassionate thing to do. So rather than flailing around in a dark emotional soup, sinking into behaviour that was causing more shame and confusion, we had this other way of responding. Still, every day we are working on becoming better at being “bigger, stronger, wiser and kinder”*
The final piece that I wanted to share about THE NON SECRET SECRET TANTRUM TRANSFORMATION is this:
If we were only using the 1-2-3 counting method, I don’t believe things would have turned out this well. Here’s some other things we are trying along the way:
- We use our intuition – there is no single approach to handle each challenge we face. We try as much as possible to sense into the situation, step back and look at what else is going on that is not so obvious on the surface. Sometimes the answer is more food or more sleep…and that goes for Asher and I too!
- We spend more quality time together – thank god this year we bought a house with a swimming pool. We spend countless hours playing games in the pool. Kiva has definitely found his happy place in the water and so have we.
- We use a kinder tone – this one I really had to work on. I was raised in a house where aggressive and harsh tones were the norm. Our house feels so much more peaceful since I’ve been conditioning myself to speak with more kindness and warmth in my voice.
- We praise and encourage the behavior we love – instead of giving the crappy behavior all of our attention, we spend so much more time genuinely in awe of his great behavior. We started using stickers to praise him, but we all lost interest in them pretty quickly. Instead we stick to our routine and he gets what’s expected of him. Kids are generally pretty clever that way.
- We’ve loosened up a lot – maybe the most important important thing that has changed in our home is the vibe. I’m not sure if it’s the chicken or the egg here, but the results are palpable. We are all so much happier and “at home” with ourselves and each other in our new little Bellingen nest.
* Circle of Security is an 8 week parenting programme aimed at parents of children aged 0 to 5 years.
Each week during the Circle of Security group session, parents are supported and encouraged to increase their awareness of their children’s needs and their responses to those needs. They are also challenged to examine the patterns of relating that they learnt from their own experience of being parented, and to identify and be aware of the learned patterns that get in the way of being able to be bigger, stronger, wiser, and kinder parents. Parents learn how to respond to children’s upsets and emotions through “being with” their children, a process of reflection and empathy. They learn the importance of belonging and connection, and relationship repair.