The Things You Lose When You Look Down at Your Child
I was trying to do three things at a time: force my son to stand still with one hand, not spill the medicine I was holding in the other hand, and not curse. I failed at all three and was at my wits’ end. Something had to change.
I told myself I could: A. Sit there and cry. B. Fantasize about tying him with a thick rope and forcing him to take the damn drops. C. Get down on the floor, look into his eyes, and try to connect with the human being that I knew was hiding behind that little alien octopus.
That’s when I had my f*** moment…
I forgot to connect with the child.
(In all honesty, that moment came after I tried A and B).
Doh! I was counting on a child’s cooperation with no warm-up, and for what? For making him take his medicine through his nose — something that even adults hate, let alone a two-year-old.
So, I eventually came down on the floor and asked him — “What’s wrong, Mathew? Why don’t you want to take your treatment?”
The little boy pouted. He pressed the napkin against his runny nose really hard and then wiped off his tears (yes, with that very same snotty napkin). He looked me straight in the eyes and said — “It is not nice to take the meds.”
Of course, it is not nice. What was I thinking?
It Takes Two to Tango and Two to Connect
I’ve been a parenting writer long before I had my child. (I know, funny, right?) In any case, I’ve been reading lots of parenting and childcare education books and blogs, and they were all preaching the wonders of connecting with the child.
Find 5 minutes a day to snuggle with your little one, they said (multiple times a day, if I may add), and it will save you a couple of hours of fights every day.
Still, I always believed that this connection was all about the child. He was the one who needed to feel the parent’s warmth and closeness before he could give in and act as he was expected, even though it wasn’t something he necessarily wanted. Children do well if they can, and connection helps them get to that stage where they can, faster.
It never occurred to me until that day that I needed to connect with my son just as much as he needed to connect with me. He was caught in his overwhelming world, with his own priorities. I was caught in mine, with my own fears, insecurities, and urgencies.
In this particular situation, I was so stressed about his cold because of his multiple food allergies and respiratory sensibilities that have always dragged us from the simplest cold to bronchiolitis. In my mind, he was going to get into pulmonary complications anytime soon, and I just had to shove the medicine down his nose.
Yet the moment I paused and tried to connect with him, everything changed within a few short seconds. I went from seeing him as an alien to seeing him as a little savage. And, from there, I saw him as a little boy who’s not feeling well, who can barely breathe, and who doesn’t understand why the heck did his mother start running him around the house trying to do to him a horrible thing.
I, too, have connected with him.
Parents Need This Connection Just As Much as Children Do
Just to be clear, my son didn’t miraculously decide to cooperate with me right then and there. Yet, our brief connection took an unexpected turn because it allowed me to connect with him and see my son for what he was in the moment.
As I established eye contact and saw this tiny human being so rightfully upset, off the tension went. Looking back, three things happened at that very moment, things that allowed me to take a step back and rethink my strategy.
- He reminded me that it sucks, indeed, to have liquids dripping down your nostrils;
- He made me smile — I could have laughed, too, since he was so funny in his seriousness, but I felt I should refrain from doing so;
- He made me sympathize with him and start a dialogue.
Once I got to relax a little bit, I had the inspiration of asking him if he wanted to try to clean his nose by himself — which did work, to some extent. Then, I was struck by inspiration for the second time and promised him a pickle and some cranberries as a reward for taking his meds — which he accepted with a serenity that nearly shocked me.
Still, the biggest win of our dialogue on the floor was that I realized how much I needed to connect with him. Since then, our relationship improved considerably because I consciously seek opportunities to connect with him throughout the day.
When I want him to do something, I get down on one knee, so I can stay face to face with him and look him in the eyes while I tell him what we’re going to do.
I play dumb and ask him how to do some of the things we need to get on with, sometimes doing it wrong on purpose, to make him laugh.
And I do my best to touch him on his shoulder, arm, or head as I gently push him in a direction I need him to go — I don’t just say “go brush your teeth,” but rather hug him from behind and tell him “time to brush the teeth” while I gently push him towards the bathroom.
We connect with purpose and without. Throughout the day, during our small interactions. And early in the morning, or late at night, simply to rejoice our time together. It has made a world of difference in our relationship.
You, Too, Can Connect With Your Tot in Under 5 Minutes
I know you’re stressed, often in a hurry, and more often than you want, you’re feeling resentful because you need to make efforts to make the relationship with your child work. But connecting with the child can really take under 5 minutes, and it is worth its weight in gold. You could try to:
- Initiate a hug and let him be the one who initiates the separation — you hold him until he starts to fidget and shows he’s had enough (you could and should try this more often throughout the day);
- Look him in the eyes when he comes to you excited about something he did;
- Deliberately show the child that you’re all ears by putting away your smartphone or laptop or whatever — that, of course, if you’re not quite during your working hours and in the middle of a call with your boss;
- Slip in some crazy mismatched dancing socks when he expects it the least, with a funny song and some funny moves — don’t worry, your child is your biggest fan, not a critic (and if he crosses his hands in a sign of “I’m serious and we’re not doing this”, you can always imitate him and ask him “Oh, is this your newest dance move? I’m lovin’ it!”);
- Chase him around the house and be the one who doesn’t get to catch him — you could and should theatrically fall right when you’re about to get your hands on him;
- Take out an old photo album — children love to see pictures of their smallest versions, and you, too, could use remembering their cheeky, toothless smiles from once upon a time;
- Smile when he enters the room and greet him with excitement — at least once a day, even when you don’t necessarily feel that excitement (your brain can’t tell the difference and will soon start feeling the excitement);
- Sing instead of yell — you will inevitably feel the need to raise your voice at some point, so you might as well try your opera singer voice and watch for the reaction you’re going to get;
- Make up silly rhymes if you’re good with words — children don’t just love a good rhyme, but they also experience enormous benefits from listening to rhymes.
- Use affectionate names — you can use as many as you’d like and see what the child resonates with; I call my son by many different food names because he loves food — he’s my flavored strawberry dipped in chocolate, my juicy, sticky chicken wing, my sweet and sour cherry pie, my soft and fluffy dinner roll, and so on).
We Could All Use a Bit More Closeness
As I was once playing with my son on the floor, I experimented with staying there and looking at everyone around us from that level. I simply observed what a small child sees and how always looking up for adults makes him feel. If giants surrounded you, you probably wouldn’t feel too comfortable either.
Here’s the thing, though…
Children look up at us while we look down at them. It’s always like that. Don’t you think we could all use meeting each other halfway? Connection is one of those rare moments of the day when we’re at the same level as our child. I guess that’s why it is so powerful because it grounds us in our relationships and makes us see how the other person looks and feels when we’re 100% present in the moment with them.
When you’re sitting above or below the person you’re trying to interact with, it’s easy to get distracted, make the wrong assumptions, or go on auto-pilot.
We could all use a little more closeness. It’s what gets us through the day.
Before you leave… Take a peek at my other articles:
Mama, You’re Not Selfish If You Change Your Mind
“Self-love is the greatest middle finger of all time.“