What’s the deal with kids? You have the most amazing time with them and instead of just saying “Thanks, you guys are the best parents ever!”, they start to whinge or complain or even totally meltdown?
Ok, parents and carers, prepare yourselves to breathe a huge sigh of relief that this is a legit, bona-fide, world-recognised thing and not just a special breed of heinous your own kids have conjured up! Hand In Hand Parenting call this phenomenon “Spoiled Outing Syndrome”.
My kids have just started the school year and I know this means intense meltdowns and off-track behaviour due to 6 hours a day of following rules. I know this and I prepared for it in theory but in practice it can be hard. My best connection vitamins to recommend are Special Time and Roughhousing which I try to do 10 mins and 5 mins of each day but with socialising and activities, sometimes we don’t get there. I could see there’s a need to reconnect our family each arvo/evening, though.
So for the last few days I’ve organised a family game and some rough play. First night was Hide and Seek (which is a fabulous game for working on separation issues) followed by Stacks On where we each piled on each other oldest to youngest. The next night was a game of Trouble (probably wouldn’t recommend something so structured and about winning as the game got flipped in frustration towards the end haha) and then we used a blanket to give each child a swing and then chuck them on the bed. My daughter mentioned wanting to play “tag” and I said our house is a bit small, etc.
Last night I had the great idea that we could meet their Dad straight off the bus in the field by the park on the beach. I made it very clear we didn’t have time for the park as it was 715pm at night and it was a big deal to even be doing this just before bed. So off we go and we played a fun game of tag, then Red Light, Green Light which turned into What’s The Time, Mr Wolf… we were just barely aware of onlookers admiring our amazing parenting and family togetherness (did someone happen to pop it on Insta?) and then off we went to the car, feeling nourished, fabulous and kicking parenting a**!
But wait… where is the eldest? You know… the 8YO who totally understands what amazing sacrifices we made to be this brilliant at parenting? The one who REALLY understands what time it is and what a special treat this was and knows her little brother will follow everything she does? THE ONE WHO FULLY COMPREHENDS WHY I SAID WE DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THE PARK!!! W.T.Freaking Fruitloop is she?!
The inevitable happens, he follows her to the park and I graciously go over to both kids and tell them nicely why I’m a little disappointed and LOSE IT because of all of the above! Finally get them in the car feeling really frustrated and annoyed. By the time we get home I have acknowledged the voice of reason in my head saying “this is classic SOS and don’t let it ruin everything”. I tell the kids “Thank you for a lovely time and we can forget about what happened after…”.
But why does it happen? Why do kids, as we sometimes see it, ruin a perfectly good time?!
When we feel connected, we feel safe. When we feel safe, we can show our hurt and be vulnerable.
When we’ve had a really amazing time, especially when it comes on the heels of harder times, we finally feel ready to unload the burdens of those other times. Off-track behaviour from a child is a signal “I need help”/”I need connection”/”I need a big emotional release to empty my emotional backpack so I can feel good” and children are very good at doing this. Setting Loving Limits is what they need at these times, what I should have done is come in close with warm eye contact and said to my daughter “It’s not time for the park now…” realistically, that may have been enough for her.
With the younger one, who was running away and being boisterous, I might have Brought the Limit by coming in close with warm eye contact and holding him so he couldn’t run and stating the limit “Now is not the time for the park…” for him and that probably would have led to some Staylistening as he offloaded his discomfort about how unexpectedly regular school days were and how it’s a lot to process and there’s not a lot of time to run around and there’s so many rules and he doesn’t hear or understand them all and he misses me all day and school kinda sucks and why does he have to go?! And I would sit holding him and staring into his eyes warmly whilst he thrashed and screamed or cried or sweated, whatever it would look like on this occasion and when he was done, we would go the car both knowing he got out what he needed to.
We are not all perfect and we don’t all have the answers or the resources to be wonderful parents but I have found knowledge like this to be supremely powerful. Forearmed is forewarned. In this case, I wasn’t quick enough in identifying the issue because I haven’t been supporting myself well enough lately. I definitely need more Listening Time around the many tricky issues on my plate right now but what matters is that I made the repair and we mended the connection before going to bed.
In future I will remind myself of the SOS and prepare myself to take on some Staylistening after. This may mean getting Listening Time before a fun outing, a trip or some other treat so that my cup is ready to face come what may! I also remind myself that it’s always better out than in, so whilst historically we have been told children should be “grateful” and “appreciative” after a special treat, we know that that closeness, warmth and connection has freed their bodies and mind to do their very natural and very powerful best emotional work.
Sending strength, love and compassion for your next SOS!
Love Aunty Ask xx