What to do when your kid is driving you crazy?Sep 21, 2022
What do you do when it feels like your needs and your children's needs are in direct conflict?
Your child is desperate for you to read them books and snuggle them to sleep, but you’ve managed too many meltdowns today and simply cannot handle doing bedtime too. You go in your room and lock the door, ignoring your child screaming for you in the other room.
Your ears are ringing, but your child needs to screech like a dying pterodactyl. You put your hands over your ears and scream at your child to shut up.
Your child needs to touch your body for co-regulation, but you feel like your skin in on fire and you’ll scream if anyone touches you again. Sure enough, someone pulls on your arms and wraps around your legs like an amoeba, so you aggressively shake them off and send everyone to their room.
These instances are when people pull up boundaries as a kind of protection around the adult. The “I can't get overly tapped out, or I won't have enough for you” mentality. The “put your oxygen mask on before your child’s" approach. This is a very understandable response for an adult that is overwhelmed and overstimulated, but there is another way.
Using boundaries in this instance will likely further dysregulate your child and further break down the trust that's building between you. If your goal is stability, if your goal is deeper trust and connection, if your goal is more flow and ease, traditional boundaries will not serve you. There is another way.
Let’s look at what's actually happening in those situations where your need and your child’s need feel like they can't be mutually satisfied.
When you put up a boundary in that moment, you are essentially saying, “I can't trust this. I can't trust this relationship to get both of our needs met. It's either me, or it's you.”
When you're in that headspace, you’re likely going to use more "me versus you” style responses and tools. You’re likely to come across as firm and rigid. Your protections are going to pop up. You’re operating out of fear. Your thinking will be more black-and-white. And the cumulative effect is distancing and frightening for your child.
If this is happening to you, it’s good to recognize that this is a very normal system arising in your body in order to protect you, but you don't have to stay in that automatic, subconscious reaction without questioning it. You can take a step back and wonder if there's a more collaborative, more mutual way of meeting both of your needs that leaves you both feeling whole and connected.
So what do you do?
Anything you’re using the low demand approach. it's specific. It's contextual. It’s about you and your specific child. There are no generic, silver-bullet solutions to slap down on a problem. Your next steps will arise organically in your leadership role as parent, and in the trusting and respectful relationship you have with your child, in their leadership role as the captain of their own ship. By listening deeply to yourself and your own needs, and listening deeply to your child, that's the way through.
Step 1: It won’t work in the moment. You have to work ahead.
Let’s say you're really exhausted, and you're trying to take a nap, but your child is committed to crawling all over you touching every part of your face, sticking their fingers in every orifice, and begging you to come and play a game with them. And you are feeling like there is no way for me to get my needs met at the same time as I provide constant co-regulation and stimulation for my child. This is a valid expression of your experience in that moment, but in the moment we're not going to be getting past these dueling solutions.
We're going to work in advance. We're going to work ahead. We’re going to work proactively.
Step 2: Ask, “What is my need?”
You are desperate for a rest. That’s a solution to a problem. Step back and ask, "Why is a rest my solution? What problem am I solving by having a rest? What need is creating that situation for me?” It could be that you’re overstimulated and need a dark, quiet space. It could be that you’re scared, and retreating to the bedroom is a safe space. It could be that you didn't get good sleep last night because the toddler tried to squeeze in your double bed again, and so now you’re totally beat.
Step 3: Ask, “What is my child’s need?”
Like a detective, you are going to look at the behavioral clues (and words they use, if your child uses words) for indicators of what problem your child is solving by crawling all over you, sticking their fingers in your ears. Are they getting sensory needs met? Did they have a stressful morning that now requires extensive coregulation? Are they bored, and they lack to skills or the structures to determine what to do next?
Step 4: Work ahead to meet the needs.
You aren't going to be able to solve this nap-versus-play situation in that exact moment. In that moment, you have your chosen solution and it's "take a nap,” and your child has their solution and it's “watch my TikTok video.” Instead, you're going to work ahead of time. You’ll ask, “What can i do so that I'm not so exhausted at this time of day?” Or “What options can we brainstorm with my child so that they have another way to solve their problem?”
Step 5: Recognize that adults often use demands to meet their own needs.
The low demand strategy is to meet your own needs proactively in a way that doesn't ask any more of your child. You don't have to rely on your child to be different than they are. Tomorrow, they're going to be exactly the same kid as they are today. Rather than waking up and wishing that you could just have a different situation, a different child, you're going to change the scenario by meeting your own needs. Which then enables you to accept your child, right where they are.
Traditional parenting places demands on kids to meet adult needs — needs for control, for silence, for space, for confidence. In the low demand way, we will meet our own needs without making any demands of our kids. Our kids gain acceptance, understanding, and compassion. We gain the grounded confidence that we can identify and meet our own needs.
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