We had a major meltdown from Little Cat (3) in the woods today. We had been talking all morning about going for a walk. We had packed a picnic together. He had been excited and decided to bring his dinosaur backpack to carry the camera in so he could take photographs along the way. We arrived at the forest. He jumped out of the car and ran joyfully up a hill.
We began walking, I was soaking up the bliss of being surrounded by nature.
Then, suddenly, it all went drastically to pot. Little Cat began to cry and scream. “I don’t want to go for a walk! I’m too tired. I want to go home, I can’t do it!!!”
He got himself in such a state we thought he was going to be sick. It was a very out of character reaction from him, though this past few weeks he has been working through some really big emotions so we weren’t taken completely by surprise. There was no apparent trigger, though after a bit of reflection when it had all cooled down I think it was a combination of starting the walk with an uphill slope (all be it a gentle incline) and him knowing that there was a play area nearby which he had secretly been wanting to go on first. But at the time, we were stumped.
We walked on for a bit, we stayed calm and tried to distract him, but all the while he got more and more angry and upset. He could barely talk he was crying so hard. So we stopped, we talked about what we were doing and why. We explained how much Mummy and Daddy needed to have a walk, how we could all do with some fresh air and exercise. We cuddled, and we empathised with him, we asked him what he needed and why he was feeling so sad, yet he was still firm in his wish not to walk.
So we used the one thing we had left. The reset button. For us, that is taking away the big thing that is bothering him for long enough that he can calm down and we can start again. In this case, it was walking. So Daddy offered to carry him for five minutes until we reached the top of the hill. He accepted and though he was still sad, it had an immediate effect on him and he began to calm down.
When we reached the top we found ourselves in a beautiful wooded area, perfect for hide and seek. Just as Daddy put LC down and his lip began to wobble, I rushed off into the trees shouting “I’m going to hide! Come and find me!!”
This sudden change of pace meant that he was pulled from what could have quickly become tears and anger at being put back down, and instead became fully involved in the game. We played hide and seek for twenty minutes and then headed back to the path, where we embarked on a five mile walk which was the most idyllic family time imaginable.
He hunted for toads, he collected sticks and dug in the mud. We found slugs and ants and spiders. We ran and walked and laughed. And somehow he found the energy to do it all without another word of complaint.
And when we got back to the car park, he managed to summon up even more energy and have a long play in the play area.
We all came home happy and fulfilled, and what could have ended with us giving up and storming off home in exasperation, was somehow transformed into a wonderful family day out.
Sometimes distraction and discussion are not quite enough to get back on track, and when things are spiralling out of control, resetting the situation can be the best approach for everybody. It may feel counter productive to carry a child who is refusing to walk, but it is important to remember that this is your way of regaining control of the situation and restoring peace. It is not giving in or being manipulated, it is working with your child to come to a solution that works for everybody. We knew Little Cat was capable of walking, we knew he had done this walk and much more difficult walks numerous times before. That wasn’t the point today. Instead the point was that in this case he had created a block over walking which he couldn’t get past without our help. By offering to carry him for a few minutes and then initiating a fun game to distract him, we were able to reset his mood and set out once again on a positive vibe.
So next time you find yourself in a situation where nothing else seems to be working, try and identify the one big block and see if you can find a way to press that reset button. It might just transform your day.
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