I was working in the cafe last Saturday, churning out flat whites and cappuccinos, when a friend came in to order a coffee. We got to talking about our children and their little ways. He mentioned his son was transitioning from nappies to undies…I asked him how it went, as I knew there had been some resistance. He said that his boy protested fiercely for some time. Later that day, he went to the toilet with his mother’s help – she soothed him and listened to his fears, and he went. When he realised what he had done, he felt proud. He felt empowered. When his daddy came home, he excitedly shared the news.  He’s had a couple of ‘accidents’ since, but his parents are OK with it. They don’t get frustrated or upset with him. They don’t expect him to be perfect. They’re allowing him to build his own awareness and confidence, so he doesn’t feel fear about being nappy-free. The little boy hasn’t looked back. He doesn’t ask for nappies. He’s enjoying his new freedom, independence and being a member of the Family Toilet Users Club.

I thought this was a really beautiful example of giving a child the space and time they need to feel and express themselves; of giving a child the opportunity to pass through a difficult experience.

We experienced something similar ourselves with Elka the other night. She had been very clingy for a couple of days, falling down in dramatic displays of emotion if the tiniest thing didn’t go her way. She was fixated on issues like needing her “froggy” bib, or having to watch another episode of Playschool, or her naughty parents getting the wrong dolly… there wasn’t much rhyme or reason to the madness. It was about everything and nothing. The poor little chicken obviously wasn’t feeling herself.

We had talked about going out to the lantern parade, and she had been looking forward to it all day. When the time came to leave, she collapsed in a heap, howling. She didn’t want a hug, a kiss, a jutie…she just needed to cry, she told us. We were keen to leave so we didn’t miss the parade, but realised there was no point pushing her. Gregor held her and I sat on the floor in front of her and she wept and screamed. Suddenly, it was over. Like a storm, it passed and there was calm.

“I’m ready to go now,” she said.

As I said to my friend at the cafe, we are fortunate to have the time to give children the space they need to express and explore their emotions in a contained, safe environment. People who are always working and busy with other activities, who live on tight schedules and deadlines and who don’t get enough support must struggle to find that space. I know for myself when I have a lot of work to do, my priorities switch around. I am determined to get done what I need to do, rather than just sitting quietly for a moment to give my daughter her space to feel. But when we make a decision, we can make a slot in our busy schedules to give children what they need emotionally.

A similar message came up when I was seeing a psychologist a few years ago. We were talking about dealing with stress and difficult emotions. Her advice, which was essentially mindfulness, was to give the difficult feeling air. To allow it to be there. To acknowledge it. Give it a name. Identify its characteristics – Where is it in the body? Is it warm or cold? What is its colour? I really responded to this, and use this technique in so many situations. I used it when I was wincing from searing pain caused by breastfeeding for the first time. Or when I had to sit for several hours in the middle of the night feeding, forcing myself to stay awake by listening to music. Or when Elka has a tantrum and nothing seems to work. I acknowledge the pain this experience is causing me. I let it be there. It passes.

Giving children that space is demonstrating to them that it is OK feel like this, and that this feeling will change. It is not forcing or pulling. It is simply accepting and allowing. More Relaxed Me. Happier Elka.

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