What’s the matter?
Why are you whining?
If you don’t tell me what’s wrong, I can’t help you!
Sound familiar? As the parent of a toddler, I found myself saying this several times a day. S seems to be going through a bit of a phase where she will suddenly start that irritating whining noise, and carry it on for ten minutes at a time.
I ask what’s wrong; no answer. I ask again; no answer. And again; no answer. Do you want something to eat? No. Do you need a drink? No. Do you need something different to play with? No.
Have you heard of the idea of filling ones cup? It’s the idea that if your “cup” is filled with connection and love and security, you’re not upset by what goes on around you and can live a happier, more fulfilled life.
I’ve been reading Playful Parenting, a book I would recommend to any parent. The basic premise is that children “misbehave” or act out or whine or whinge because they feel disconnected. For children, they usually fill their cup through contact and attention from their parents. We are their base from which to start out on their brave adventures of the world, and a place to return to when they’re tired. Their cup is emptied by being tired or hurt, hungry or lonely. They come back to us to refill their cup. A securely attached child has a cup that is filled with love and affection. Some may be spilled out during the day, but they feel safe in the knowledge they can go back to their parents and refill it any time they want.
The idea is that your child may burst into tears over something you think is insignificant. They may whinge and whine over seemingly nothing. They’re not being deliberately naughty or trying to drive you round the bend (despite appearances to the contrary); their cup is running low and they don’t know how to get it refilled. If left like this (sent to their room, shouted at, told to shut up), children will often resort to what we might call “bad” behaviour in order to get some of that much-needed attention. They want their parents to notice them, even if that’s done with shouting. Any attention is better than no attention.
Since reading this book, whenever S is whinging or “playing up” and can’t tell me what’s wrong, I ask her if she wants a cuddle. Sometimes she says yes, and we have a cuddle. Sometimes she says no, to which I respond, Do you need a cuddle? The answer to that one is invariably yes!
We all live stressful, busy lives. I often feel that I don’t have time to just sit on the bed or sofa and cuddle with S. There’s washing up to do, the clothes need putting away, there are toys all over the floor and there’s probably a backlog of work or blogging to take care of. Often though, if I take a deep breath and ignore the work/mess/blogging and have a cuddle with my toddler, I fill my cup just as she fills hers. It’s impossible to cuddle up with your child and not begin to feel the tension ooze out of your joints.
On Saturday evening, I put S to bed as usual. On nights when she doesn’t have nursery the next day, S is allowed to have a dvd on when she goes to bed. On Saturday though, I went upstairs ten minutes later to find her jumping on the bed. The dvd went off, and was instantly replaced by tears. I sat on the bed with her and sang our usual round of songs, then put her into bed. She grabbed my arm and cuddled it. Every time I tried to leave, she said “no, mummy!” I put some music on for her, I sang her some more songs, I explained patiently that mummy had to do some work. Still with the “no, mummy!”
I was cross to find S jumping up and down on the bed when she should have been asleep. I was frustrated that I wanted to get some things done, and S was being all clingy and annoying. She had been in bed an hour by this point, and that was an hour of time I could have been winding down from a long day entertaining a toddler. I was fed up. I wanted to shout at her to shut up and go to sleep, to switch the light off and close the door and leave her to go to sleep on her own. Luckily, I managed to avoid that impulse.
I told her I would go downstairs and get my laptop, then sit on the bed with her. She let me go. I stayed downstairs long enough to switch everything off and grab my laptop and diary, and went back upstairs. I spent the next two hours with S’s head on my lap as she quietly snored her way through my blogging. In the end I decided to switch everything off and have an early night with S. We both slept like logs and woke up feeling much better.
Some of you may have noticed I have a bit of a thing for challenges with this blog. I’ve done several challenges in the last year, and am currently in the second of a 12-month Happiness Project. This time though, parents of the internets, I have a challenge for you.
This week, when your child whinges or moans or tips their dinner on the floor or refuses to get dressed or has a full-on meltdown in the cereal aisle in Tesco… fight against your initial impulse, and offer them a cuddle.
Just once, go against all the parenting ideals we were all brought up with. Forget about winning the battle or teaching them right from wrong or punishing bad behaviour and just once, opt for the hugs.
I am genuinely interested to see if it helps the situation at all for you. For me, nine times out of ten a hug and a bit of time can cure most issues S has. Could it be the same for your child?
NB I am not for one second suggesting that you are some sort of heartless bastard who never hugs their child. I’m simply suggesting that there can never be such a thing as too many hugs, and that sometimes we can afford to drop the whole”parenting is a battle” approach to our children.