What to Take to the Airport?
Your Active Listening Ears
As I begin this entry, I am sitting on a plane with my 16 year old who made it through the entire airport process and settled down for a nap without any problem whatsoever. We are traveling carefree across the US this week to visit colleges, but boy, do I remember the harder days!
On a Facebook forum I belong to, someone will occasionally post this question: About to fly with my child/preschooler/toddler/baby. Any advice on what to pack? I always long to throw in my unconventional advice: your Active Listening ears!
Here's why, using a scene that's fresh in my mind.
The “I Want To Be In the Stroller!” Meltdown
It was a late night flight, long past bedtime for this boy who looked about five. His toddler brother had already fallen asleep in the stroller while they checked in. I could now see them up ahead as we made our way toward security.
The boy began whining loudly, and I saw his mother glance around. Then the boy kicked the foot of his sleeping brother, demanding, “I want to be in the stroller!”
The father looked exhausted and told his son to control himself and be a good big brother. The boy started to cry and pull on his dad's jacket sleeve, wanting up.
The mother threatened, “If you can’t walk like a big boy, I’ll remember that. No more vacations then until you can walk!” The boy continued to wail and the father had to hold him back from the stroller. The man started to whine himself, “I know you’re tired, but everyone is tired!"
At that point, we split ways so I don’t know how long passed until some sort of resolution. Just watching, though, made every compassionate hair on my body stand on end. I FELT the parents' rage and helplessness.
The P.E.T. Analysis
When we ask the P.E.T. first order question -- Who owns the problem? -- it is clear that both parties do. The child is tired and feeling jealous and the parents want the sleeping brother to stay that way!
"But," a P.E.T. parent might ask, "How on earth is one to do a Method III Problem-Solve in this case?" (That's the skill that correlates with Conflicts of Needs.)
The parent could point to several hurdles, such as:
- The child is upset so problem solving won't work. Right! When this is the case, it is more effective to first use the helping skills associated with the Child Owns Problem box. (Think of it as a top-down orders of operation rule.) Your child first needs the empathy and acceptance that Active Listening can provide. Later, if necessary, you might do a quick Problem-Solve but note that the first step of that is Active Listening anyway!
- You have no time. The time pressure is real, you have a flight to catch.
- You are exhausted. This is the last thing you want to do.
- You simply do not have any patience for this crap! He's trying to wake his baby brother. What in the world???!!! Your Line of Acceptance is so high that you don't want to help him. Wouldn't that just send the message that his behavior is acceptable?
When we are triggered, our child appears to be the "enemy." Isn't that the truth? This image is from Dr. Laura Markham whose website Aha! Parenting I regularly plumb for practical guidance. In her new book Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids she gives specific tips on how to go from being reactive to responsive in a case like this. I streamline them for you here:
- Active Listen yourself -- In Part One: Regulating Yourself, Dr. Laura says that what makes our angry reactions to our offspring so intense is the fact that "[o]ur panic in the face of our child's raw emotions is an issue from our own childhood." (page 25) She has a whole section on "embracing ourselves with compassion" because:
The secret work of adulthood is that we are all still growing up, and parenting forces us to learn to parent ourselves as well as our child. . . You deserve all the tenderness you would shower on a newborn baby. Giving that love to ourselves transforms our parenting -- and our lives. (page 29)
So a quick self-AL might be: Wow, this is so hard and painful. No need to say it, and you might put one hand on your heart (as both Dan Siegel & Tara Brach recommend in their books below).
- Help yourself discharge anger -- When you are in fight-flight-freeze mode, you need to help your body realize there is no emergency. Try breathing deeply, shaking your body or tapping, aka Emotional Freedom Technique. (Dr. Laura is a fan of EFT - check out her article. I recently became certified to practice using the more comprehensive method taught by Caroline Rhodes of The Body Group in Hong Kong.)
- Change your thoughts to change your feelings -- We start talking about this in Session 1 of the P.E.T. course. He is such a tyrant! He always wants his way! will lead to feelings of resentment and hostility. He is just doing his best with the emotions he has. I know he is trying to meet a valid need! more naturally give rise to understanding and empathy.
Once you've regulated your own emotions, you can move in with a heart capable of calmly ALing your child. In doing so, you reassure her that you love her no matter what emotion she presents with and that you will help her until her big feelings pass, which they always do.
You also convey that you believe your kid wants to do the right thing. Chances are, the boy in the airport already knows that his behavior infringed on important needs of his brother and parents; he just requires support and practice in making the right decisions in the heat of the moment.
The P.E.T. Do-Over
Dad: “Tommy, you are SO frustrated and it seems really unfair that Sean gets to sleep in the stroller! You wish so hard that you could be relaxing like that yourself!” (bending down to look him right in the eye)
Tommy: “Yes, I hate Sean! You love him more than me! Why didn't you bring MY stroller? I want the stroller!!” (voice rising and kicking again)
Dad: “I can see you are very full of angry feelings, even hate, toward Sean! However, we don’t kick.” (firmly but gently moving him away from the stroller)
Dad: “I'm guessing you need a big hug because it just feels so hard to walk!" (Dr. Laura's book shares Lawrence Cohen's wide array of playful parenting responses -- if you think your child is up for one, try this to give him some power in the situation: "Let’s hug, uh oh, don’t let go, don’t let go, oh no, you let go!”)
And then, once you’ve addressed some of Tommy’s needs for connection and compassion, he is ready to hear your assertive Confrontive I-Message. “When you kick Sean, I am so nervous he will wake up and need Mommy or me. We have to get to the gate real fast and I need my arms for pulling all our luggage."
And then move in with a suggestion or solution: “I wonder if you can help me pull this for just a while and once we are at the gate, it's going to be serious cuddle time, or even tickle Daddy time!”
True, this scenario might not play out so serenely. Some of it depends on the track record you've built up acknowledging your child's feelings. When this is not done consistently, those difficult emotions don't just disappear; they get stuffed into an "emotional backpack" (another great Dr. Laura image) that your child carries around and which may spill over in the form of a tantrum. The more that's stuffed in there, the greater the spillage!
But, for sure, every intention you have to Active Listen your child makes a difference. Even when you think you've done poorly, that is another experience that has the potential to make the next opportunity go a little bit smoother.
And one day you may find yourself in an airport not cringing at what others might be thinking of you but enjoying the ride of parenthood with kids who seem to be having meltdowns less and less.
Hopefully, that's way before they are 16! (wink)
If you feel, while reading this, that you've tried and tried and are just stuck, I hope you offer yourself more of what you deserve: self-compassion.
And please consider doing some inner child work! Many other sources echo Dr. Laura's message and working on myself in this regard has been key. I have blossomed into the mother I want my children to remember: someone full of love, forgiveness, benevolence and equanimity (not the one who was sometimes mean, harsh, punitive and unpredictable).
We live in the world of Skype so why not avail yourself of some in-person help?! Try EFT with a real pro, Caroline Rhodes, who has been practicing for 10+ years.
Or contact Kathryn Tonges for some personal coaching -- she draws on 30+ years of teaching P.E.T. to Active Listen and guide you through your parenting challenges.
Please also keep reading my Perfectly Good Day series and surround yourself with the following books:
- Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Laura Markham
- Mindsight by Daniel Siegel
- Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell
- Self-Compassion by Kristen Neff
- Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach
If you have other books that have made a difference for you, please do share below!!
My heart is with you,
Credits: Airport scene (http://holidaytoursim.com/tips-to-keep-your-children-calm-at-the-airport/); Redo button (http://windowsitpro.com/windows-81/asking-do-over-microsoft-pulls-windows-81-august-update-too).