As I approached bedtime with one kid last night it was glaringly clear that it was going to be a disaster.
Bed time is not always kind at our house. One of my kids has always been a sleeping champ. The other? Not so much. TBH, I feel like it’s partly my fault – I am the slowest person getting ready for bed at night, regularly puttering and wasting time before finally calling it a night. She comes by it honestly.
Last night however, the pre-bedtime show was unusually epic. There was anger. And shouting. And general jerk behaviour. It sucked. Big time.
Years ago (before I did my own EMDR work) I’d have joined in to the ragefest and helped escalate things. Thankfully my own body was able to stay present and grounded and with her in her experience.
“Leave me alone,” was yelled a number of times as I tried to help her get herself to bed. Which naturally made me think of a song by Moist from the 90’s maybe? I pulled up Leave It Alone on my phone, an act that is not infrequent when my kid say lines from 80’s or 90’s songs, and proceeded to play it for her.
My hilarity was met with fury and I never even made it to the best parts of the song.
Minutes later I tried again to connect, and eventually managed to make my way onto the far side of her bed. She curled up against the wall so I couldn’t touch her, and then she started talking. And talking. With tears. And frustration. And she told me all the important things she had been holding on to that were feeling big and overwhelming.
I listened. I offered empathy. She got upset at empathy. But calmed again and kept talking.
We didn’t solve her distress last night. But eventually she made it to sleep. And I cashed in a free slurpee and checked out on the couch after that evening marathon.
What struck me about that experience is that the conversation I had with her was so much like conversations I have in counselling sessions with clients. The struggles, the themes – they are the same.
Even at 8, we circled around boundaries. Around relationships. Connection. Disappointment. Taking care of other people’s feelings. Taking care of your own feelings. Exclusion. Inclusion. Feeling stuck. Feeling emotionally manipulated. Life as unfair. Rupture and repair. How to ask for help. Safety. Aloneness. Advocacy. These are things I speak about daily in my work as a therapist. And here, at age 8, they are already alive experiences for her.
Sometimes I think we forget that the human needs for connection, for safety, for belonging – these are not exclusive to older people. Our little people feel the same needs and want the same things. Only they are generally less skilled with less language and don’t always know how to articulate what’s going on in ways we can understand. They may not be able to articulate their aloneness, but they might scream and shout and throw things. They may not be able to talk about how they feel about the bossy kid at daycare, but they may boss around their sibling and be aggressive in order to feel a sense of power. They may shout at bedtime rather than comply, because they have been holding stress and frustration around a friendship, and are struggling to know how to respond.
I was reminded again that behaviour is just data. Information that says, “Something is going on here.” And I am reminded how important it is to remain curious to behaviour, making room to hear the story underneath. This goes for the little people in our lives – and ourselves. Let’s practice curiousity and compassion today in extra measure, recognizing that we are all doing our best to manage the experiences we hold. And that sometimes we need a little help in holding it all.