How To Connect Before Your Kid Bites The Doctor
Corrine, a mama friend of mine, was in the doctor’s office with her 5 year old daughter and baby son having a horrid time. I’m sure you’ve been there. Her daughter needed a shot. That sucks for everyone, no matter how old you are! Corrine had expected some tears and protestations from her daughter. But what actually happened was a whole different animal.
Her daughter fought her mom and the doctor at every turn. There was shouting. There was screaming. There was running away. There was struggling. There was crying. The whole thing culminated in the moment of the shot, where Corrine’s daughter BIT the doctor!
Needless to say, Corrine was mortified. The doctor handled it in stride, but Corrine felt the weight of judgement of her parenting skills.
She had done everything she could to prepare her daughter for the visit. They had talked through what would happen and read some books about doctor visits.
It had gone so terribly that Corrine started googling when she got home. She was looking for parenting advice on how to help her daughter in stressful situations.
Time and time again as she searched for advice, she found the same thing over and over again. The most important thing is that kids have a strong attachment to their parent. Then the advice would explain how to be more emotionally connected with your kids.
But… she already was! And I can tell you that this is true. This mama that I know had been an attached, connected, attentive, and gentle parent from day one.
So what went wrong?
Most advice about connection focuses on having a positive relationship with your child. That’s the big stuff. That’s where a lot of people need to start.
But there’s another layer that was missing for my friend Corrine, and that’s the everyday, moment to moment, in-the-now kind of connection.
Before I talk about that, I want to get a couple of disclaimers out of the way.
- No amount of positive parenting will prevent your kids from having bad moments. They will have strong emotions, big mistakes, epic failures, and crushing disappointments. I will never suggest that you can prevent that or even that you SHOULD. Life sucks sometimes, and that’s okay.
- Not every bit of a kid’s behavior MEANS something about their parents’ behavior. Kids are their own people, doing their own thing.
Disclaimers out of the way!
How can your parenting relationship affect your child’s ability to manage tough situations? Corrine wondered about that, and you might be wondering, too. Let’s take a look.
A Foundation of Connection
Parenting with connection starts with a strong foundation. This is the basic sense of positivity running through your relationship.
I like to ask, “What ONE word would you use to describe your relationship with your child?” When you have to pick one single word, you get a real sense of how you feel about it. Would you choose a word like strained, hectic, tiring, or hard? You might be generally disconnected in your relationship. How about a word like peaceful, fun, happy, or friendly? You are probably generally connected in your relationship.
This foundation level of connection is the big stuff, the total sense of how things are going. Are you having a good time together? Do you share a lot of loving moments? Are you happy to see each other? Can you rely on each other?
You nurture this connection through both big and little actions. It fluctuates some over time, but it’s the broad sense that YES you are having a good relationship.
Continuity is the the next aspect of connection to develop. This is maintaining your positive sense of each other through difficult times. It’s being able to be friendly even when you’re tired and cranky. It’s making space for peaceful moments together in the midst of a busy or chaotic time. It’s the skills to fight fair so that you can disagree – passionately, even! – while still maintaining love and care for each other.
Both of you will work on this level of connection together. But as the grownup in the relationship you have a lot of ability to help it along. This type of connection is one of the sections in my Parenting With Connection course. It’s common to need a little help here. A few mental shifts make this level of connection possible.
The Connection of Now
The last type of connection takes place in the now. Right now, right at any one instance. Right inside any particular moment.
This level is about mindfulness. About presence. About empathy. About vulnerability.
This kind of connection is possible anywhere, at any time. It’s doesn’t matter what has gone before, and it doesn’t matter what will come after.
It’s possible when you’re mad at your kid. It’s possible when you’re the happiest you’ve ever been. It’s possible when you’ve never done any other work to improve your connection. It’s possible when you’re an experienced expert at the art of connection. It’s possible when things are going along pretty well. And it’s possible when you just made the fuck up of the year with your kid.
This kind of connection only requires two things.
- You give your WHOLE attention to your child. You turn to them, go to them, look at them, listen, and touch if possible. And you block out everything else and give your whole attention to your child, even if only for a few moments.
- You care what you find there when you pay attention. Your heart is open and you care deeply about the child in front of you.
That’s all. You may or may not make any different decisions based on taking this mindful moment. Either way, you and your child will be more connected. You will be better prepared to meet the next moment together.
Everyone Gets Disconnected Sometimes
Now we’ve found the piece that Corrine was missing.
Yes, she was a devoted, loving, attached, connected mama. But as we talked it became clear that she had a lot of competing priorities during the doctor’s visit. She had her own nervousness about the visit. That’s why she’d done the prep-work with her daughter beforehand. She had her baby with her, which took some of her attention. She worried about what the doctor thought of her daughter’s behavior. And then there’s the discomfort of being 3 people stuck waiting in a small room. That can make anyone a little on edge!
It’s understandable how her 3 year old felt more and more alone and distressed.
Corrine could have used some focused, mindful connection earlier in the situation. That might have made a big difference for her daughter. Creative options for handling the situation might have materialized within that mindfulness. Who knows? But I do know that parents who learn the art of connection find themselves experiencing less confusion and distress about their kids’ behavior.
The Habit of Connection
With a little bit of practice, turning towards connection can become a reflex that will get you through many difficult parenting moments. Every question, doubt, confusion, and stumble can be answered by making more connections in the now.
It’s not possible to maintain 100% connection with your child. It’s not even desirable. You’re each different people. You both have different plans and priorities. You have other things you want to focus on than your child.
Sometimes you need to tune out, turn off, turn away, go away, look away, and otherwise be separate. Your child will feel safer in those times when you have a foundation of connection, a continuity of connection, and the ability to zoom in and reconnect in the moment.
Of course, none of that is to say that your child will never bite another doctor! Connection isn’t an artificial technique to guarantee “good” behavior. But it is a method of putting you and your child on the same team. You will feel like you understand your child and are working together with them to navigate the world, even if a few doctors get bit along the way!
If you know that you need more connection in your parenting life, I created the Parenting With Connection online course just for you! Through four weeks of study, you will learn the insights, practices, and habits you need to make your relationship with your kids absolutely full of joy, cooperation, and respect.