What is it about holidays with children? Sometimes the lows are often as big as the highs. In Hand in Hand’s Building Emotional Understanding course Patty Wipfler talks about the ‘Spoiled Outing’ phenomenon, where children often end up in tears and tantrums at the end of a day spent having fun with their parents.
They soak up all that close connection. We’re no longer rushing around getting ready for work, or school. We have less household chores to do, and our children have a sixth sense for when we are available to listen. Happy times bring up memories, and hurt feelings, from all the times when life wasn’t so perfect. And it’s always sad when these perfect days come to an end.
Holidays can also be unsettling, particularly for younger children. As much as toddlers get excited by the new, they also like familiarity. New beds, new food, and new people, can easily make them feel overwhelmed. Holidays aren’t so much fun, when our children start waking early, get fussy about what they eat, and show other signs that they are struggling with all the change. One of the things I love most about Parenting by Connection, is that it helps our children adapt to changes, and be flexible. I’ve really come to understand that children who have their feelings listened to feel safe wherever they go, providing they have that deep sense of human connection. They don’t have to rely on the routine, of having the right bed, or the right comforter, to feel safe. They feel a more internal sense of safety, because they can release all their feelings of fear and upset, through the healing power of laugher and tears.
We’re having a lovely time on holiday in Cornwall with my in-laws, and my daughter is really enjoying all the extra attention, good weather, and freedom to play outside. She’s getting giggly in the evenings, running around with a ball, and finding lots of things to laugh about. There’s also been a fair share of tears. She’s cried because the peanut butter here in England is a different colour to the one in Switzerland, and she’s cried because we had to leave the beautiful sandy beach where she’d been playing all day.
My daughter was enjoying the novelty of having a TV in the cottage we were staying at, as at home, we only watch videos on the computer. Every morning she’d been in a routine of getting up and watching TV first thing. For a few days we let her, but I was starting to sense that we were feeling disconnected from each other. I was using the TV as an excuse to get on with things by myself, and she needed my connection. So today, when she woke up, I told her we would do a ‘no TV special time.’ We spent a lovely time with her pretending to be a baby and then eating breakfast outside in the garden.
Later I had to do a bit of work so her dad was going to take her to the beach, and she started crying. She said didn’t want to go to the beach, and she wanted to stay with me. I decided to set a limit about it. The trip would only be for an hour, and then she would get to spend the rest of the day with me. I was pretty sure the feelings were coming up, not because she needed quality time with me, but because she’d already had it! The special time we’d had earlier in the morning was like me saying, ”hello, I’m ready to listen now.” So the tears were coming up. She cried for a while, and in between crying, she began laughing, pulling a big cushion on the sofa, and then throwing it down the stairs. Soon she was just laughing and then she picked up her clothes to and bag to get ready to go out. Smiling, and completely at ease, all of that refusal to go out completely gone.
Sometimes a moment of upset is just like a ‘broken cookie,’ it’s not really about the thing that’s happening but it’s just a trigger for feelings to come out. We shouldn’t rush our children into doing something they don’t want to do, but we can set a limit, and see how things look when our child’s mind isn’t clouded with feelings. In this case my daughter was happy to go to the beach, when she was feeling happy again.
If I hadn’t of set a limit and let her stay with me, she wouldn’t have found that happiness beyond the sadness. I’d have been feeling resentful that I didn’t get the time to work that I desperately needed. And she wouldn’t have had that help she needed to process her feelings, to learn what so many of us adults never learnt, that bad feelings, don’t have to linger, for days, weeks or years. As the spiritual teacher Osho said, emotions, should be ‘in motion.’ They are meant to flow, not get stuck.
My in-laws are often commenting on how ‘good’ my daughter is. How relaxed and calm she is, and also how she doesn’t cry. On the occasions she has cried when they’re around they have acted surprised saying, ”oh she does cry after all!” I don’t like the use of the word ‘good’ in this way, as all children are good, even when they are having a hard time emotionally. But the secret is, that I learnt this amazing tool of listening to her cry, until she is ready to stop. So her feelings don’t come out in itty bitty ways throughout the day, but are over in a moment. Most of the time my daughter chooses to cry, when she’s alone with me or her dad, where she senses that we have the space and availability to listen. Then she feels light enough to go out into the world with a smile on her face.
Want to read more about holidays and feelings? Check out these articles from Hand in Hand Parenting.