Mindful Disconnection: Practical Ideas Pt One

In my previous post I talked about the biological need (and that’s the key, this is not my opinion) for our children to be raised in both a highly emotionally connected environment and to sometimes experience Mindful Disconnection here: Connection and Disconnection: Optimal Parenting Part One.

The first thing I always check, if our kids behave as they shouldn’t, is what’s been going on for them. I wrote about identifying and dealing with different types of meltdowns here: Tantrums: Different Kinds need different Strategies.

Sometimes, I’m both dealing with the distress side of a tantrum and Mindfully Disconnecting to set a boundary. For example, I fully understand that a child with low blood-sugar needs feeding and it’s still not OK for him to belt his brother. (New visitors: I use his/he because I have three sons.)

Here are some brief ways that we Mindfully Disconnect with our kids when at the baby – age three stage.

These are ways we do things and are just suggestions. They work and don’t involve being ferocious, in most situations. The key is that Mindful Disconnection is not a time for explanation or reasoning. It’s a time for a not-intense, but firm, boundary. It’s a time for pretending that you are a rock. (You are immovable and silent once you’ve made your stand.)

Birth to Crawling: Almost None. What baby wants baby pretty well gets. Keeping in mind that his/her body language will tell you if s/he needs to sleep/eat/get away from Granny. Crying is last a ditch attempt at communication for babies.

However, when baby bites Mum’s boobs while feeding he needs his first Mindful Disconnection: hook your little finger into the side of his mouth and detach then and say firmly, No. Re-latch after a very brief pause. If baby bites again, do the same again. Do the same for other unacceptable behaviours like pulling hair (detach hands gently) and biting skin. Breaking eye-contact and saying, No, to biting can be enough with wee ones. Just make sure you do it every time.

Crawling to age three: Mostly none. Introducing “Uh-uh”, “No” and “Not for touching.”  You don’t usually have to raise your voice much and you certainly don’t need to get angry. It’s all about getting off our bums and actually ‘doing’ boundaries at this stage (Yes, that’s two and a half years of active boundary setting). Examples:

1.Crawling baby approaches buttons on tele with intent to play, I say “Uh. Uh” or “Not for Touching” and shake my head. If baby persists, I’ll get up and move him and say, “Not for touching, buttons.” I’d do the same for pretty well anything else a baby wanted to touch, but it wasn’t appropriate for them to do so. (Some people put precious things away, some don’t – whatever works in your house.)

 2. Toddler wants to go with Dad in the car, it isn’t appropriate. I say, “No you’re not going” and give a Boring Cuddle. ( Quick Way to Stop Children Fussing. ) As the car pulls out of the driveway, I sometimes say, “Yes you’re sad but you can handle it.” Then I’m silent again.

3. Toddler wants to go outside and look at the stars each time he stirs in the night. Once established crying-noises are not pain, hunger or thirst. I hold him in my arms (gently but firmly) and say a few times, “No going outside now, byes time.” Then I am silent, but hold him until he understands he’s not going anywhere and goes back to sleep. (Yes, you might have to repeat this through the night – the amount of fuss will shorten/lessen over time if you stick to your guns.)

4. Toddler reaches to turn on the hot tap. I say, “Uh. Uh” or “Not for touching” and  physically move him away, perhaps into a different room.

5. Toddler doesn’t want to wear a sun-hat, I put it on his head every time he takes it off. Yep, 100 times in a day if I need to.

6. Toddler comes to me upset because Craig won’t let him use the battery drill. I say firmly, “Daddy’s allowed to say, No.” If he wants a hug I’ll give him that for emotional support but I’ll not give in to his request if Craig has said, No.

7. When he has been told several times not to tip milk into the drawers I might raise my voice, say “No” and glare/frown. I would definitely remove the cup from his hand and turn my body away from him.

8. Supermarket screaming? As long as you are sure it isn’t related to pain, hunger or thirst: no eye-contact and keep moving.

 At this stage, I’m not using anything that looks like a Time-Out or ferocious discipline. This is the stage where I rarely finish a sentence or a meal. At the end of this stage I should be size tiny. Ha. Ha.

It is a PAINFUL stage for me, and it ends.

Sometimes just turning my body away or frowning is enough of a Mindful Disconnection. It’s about showing disapproval at the behaviour NOT the child. So, I am also mindful to reconnect with a Cug (Mr Butterfly’s word for cuddle/hug) and with positive eye-contact afterwards.

As long as you don’t give in when you have set the boundary, you can hug them as much as you want/they need.

Night separations are a big deal for children and are NOT the time for Mindful Disconnections. Night separation anxiety comes about because of their biological emotional need to be with us. They can’t help it. Our boys as small babies until the age of around 18 months slept on Craig’s chest in the lounge at night until I was ready to go to bed. From 18 months were settled in the family bed and if they woke one of us, usually me, would go to them and resettle them by lying next to them. Yes, it’s inconvenient.

Emotional support first. Set the boundary second: mindfully. Reconnect third.

Next lot of ideas can be found here: Mindful Disconnection – Practical Ideas Pt Two.

(This is officially how I help put food on the table. If you’ve found this article useful, please feel free to use the Koha button just above my blogroll. Even the smallest amount is appreciated. 🙂 )


About Karyn @ kloppenmum

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I'm part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. I also know some stuff about adults. I have also had articles printed in The Journal for The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Children and Young People) and the US parenting magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, as well I regularly write for World Moms Blog (named as one of the Forbes 100 most useful blogs for women 2012 &2013). You can follow me on facebook (kloppenmum) pinterest (Karyn at Kloppenmum) and twitter (@kloppenmum). I'm also vaguely on LinkedIn (Karyn Van Der Zwet). Thanks to Joe (Mr Hare) for taking the photo. Cheers, son: xxxx.
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26 Responses to Mindful Disconnection: Practical Ideas Pt One

  1. Marcy says:

    How do we know kids understand the difference between disapproval of behavior vs. person? Maybe they think mama didn’t like me then, and now she likes me again, without making the connection to the behavior?

    I am thinking about mood and consistency. We’re supposed to be consistent, to always be the same person, and yet everyone has moods. Some days I am more in the mood to play Cinderella for the hundredth time and some days I don’t even want to hear “Mom will you play with me.” Does a child feel that as bad inconsistency, or as normal mood variation? How to help?

    And this long day in particular has me wondering what a day is supposed to look like anyway. Is she getting enough of anything… time with me, time by herself, time near me… how much is my aversion to her frequent nastiness (and even just frequent demands, even when not nasty) keeping me avoiding her unkindly, and how much is my sense of obligation to do more with her correct…

    I like “Yes, you’re sad but you can handle it” — when I try this and my four-year-old insists “No, I CAN’T handle it — NOTHING will make me feel better” — do I remain silent? Do I bring it up at a later calm moment or let it go altogether?

    • Marcy says:

      That second to last paragraph is kind of getting at connection — how much is enough, and what to do when the child seems insatiable…

      • …so you are thinking that she needs more emotionally than you can give her? As long as her eye-contact with you is good, she is probably getting enough emotional connection. I would go down the Boring Cuddles route, when appropriate and as much as you can stand, and make sure you have made steady eye-contact with her after she has been naughty ( and had a consequence, time-out or whatever approach you take).

        • Marcy says:

          Yes, it seems so; whether I spend ten minutes or two hours directly interacting with her, she seems most often just as fussy when it’s over. It leaves me wondering what’s the least I can get away with, on the one hand, or what’s the most I can sacrifice for the sake of peace and connection and nurture and emotional health, on the other.

          Eye contact is usually good, I would say. So — if she’s demanding that I play and I’m either not in the mood or have other things to do, do I offer a cuddle?

          And then there’s “The only thing that will help is if someone will read me a story.” (This from previous efforts to put the problem-solving on her plate — i.e. “what do you think would help”)

          I’m guessing I need to toss my need to lecture / discuss, even in calm times? That she probably already knows the rules / principles / whatever… and that if the problem is accessing that info during distress, then lectures in calm won’t help anyway.

          • Yep, I would say stop discussing and reasoning with her. She’s old enough to know your house rules.
            Yes, I would offer a Boring Cuddle if you’re not up for a game.
            And I wouldn’t buy into the “I need a story,” I would go with the ‘that’s a shame’ line and leave her be.

          • Marcy says:

            I should add that I’m insatiable, too; it’s been a long battle for me to accept that good moments are temporary, that friendships sometimes fizzle, and that sometimes friends can dislike things about me, or not be in the mood for me, and they’re still friends.

            • That’s the problem with being parents. Our children rip us raw to our basic emotions and expect us to pick up their pieces. It is hard. Especially when we are trying our hardest and it doesn’t seem to be enough.

    • I asked my six year-old to tell me how he knows that I still love him but not all of his behaviour and he said, “I can feel it.” More practically I do these things: I tell him while he’s having a melt-down that I love him but I don’t like this behaviour, and walk away or put him in his room to tantrum alone (if it’s a power tantrum). I criticise the behaviour not him: ‘that is naughty’ not ‘you are naughty.’ And I try to stay as emotionally available as possible (that is, I will give him as many Boring Cuddles as he needs and I can manage when he is not having a power tantrum).
      You don’t have to play constantly with a four-year-old. I will quite often state that I am doing something like eating dinner or reading and I am not going to play (with our older boys) just at the moment. They have the choice to go and play alone (even nearby) or have a moment about it. ( I do try to do something with them at a later time.) If they try a power tantrum they are sent to their room to calm down and can come out (and reconnect with eyes B-C’s) when they are behaving like human beings again. It’s normal for people to have good days and bad ones, attuned ones and misattuned ones – children who are generally well nurtured (have good eye-contact with their Mums) become resilient when they experience this.
      With the mean words I would say, “That’s a shame” and not buy into the emotional blackmail (I learned this from Diane Levy a family therapist)…so walk away, put her in her room, ignore the ferociousness…just a calm, ‘that’s a shame’, and not engaging.
      I hope these are helpful Marcy. It is hard to help when I’m not in the room with you! Let me know how you get on.

      • Marcy says:

        Yes, it’s reassuring. Amy shows little to no sign of really understanding the difference between behavior and person, feeling and expression. As much as I hate the nastiness, I feel bad seeing her brightly fake-smile and assume a cheerful attitude. It’s good to know that maybe in a few years she’ll have a better handle on these distinctions.

        I kind of wish I had a time prescription — spend x amount of time each day doing something together. I know it’s individual, and some days need more than others, but it would be reassuring!

        Sometimes it goes well if I say “I’m knitting right now” and other times she keeps bringing me pretend things to eat or asking me to look. Sometimes I think oh I’ll just take this one or two things, look this one or two times, and then it multiplies and I feel annoyed.

        I think I have a good handle on not seriously taking her nasty speech personally — I mostly know it’s not about me at all and is impulsive. That helps a lot. But the nastiness still takes a toll.

        • Absolutely they would take their toll. The ‘that’s a shame’ line (when used at these times) stopped our kids from talking to me like that, and now the older boys are six and nine, I just raise my eye-brows and they apologise.

  2. Marcy says:

    I’m going to bed feeling better. Thank you.

  3. Judy says:

    Karyn, it is fascinating for me to be reminded of infancy and toddlerhood while dealing with teenagers. My daughter does not want to do things for herself, and it has been such a challenge for me to push her to do the simplest things. I must use the disconnect also, because she becomes angry and pushes all my buttons. She wants the mom back who used to dote on her and do everything for her. I have changed! So as my children become more self-sufficient and independent, they hold onto a lot of anger toward their mom who stopped fixing every little thing for them. It helped to read your post, because all of this is really more of the same – just like when they were little, each step of the way we guide them. Even when they don’t like it! Good subject, and as usual – your writing is insightful.

    • Thanks Judy. I am rapidly (it seems) approaching those teenage years and it is great to have people like you drop by and point out the similarities between teens and toddlers. I shall be picking your brains in a year or four! 🙂
      PS I believe it is a very common reaction to think that the person who is refusing to rescue us is our persecutor…

      • Judy says:

        Oh, I love your last line! My unapproachable and angry daughter wants tender hugs the most! This has been the greatest challenge of my life. I will be here for you to pick my brain and I look forward to it. I want to reach a place where I have passed through this difficult stage. I know it’s very common and universal. The uniting element between all stages is love. Even if I am viewed as a persecutor, I do everything out of love and pray that will be understood when she is grown. I have also learned to show my children that passion and joy for my own desires is valid. I am not a doormat at their disposal anymore!

        • I think that is *hard* for children to learn that we are not at their complete disposal once those early years are finished. I will look forward to being in contact for a long time, Judy. 🙂

          • There’s a solution to that. Never be at their disposal. 😉 That also has the effect of teaching fierce skills in self-sufficiency and independence. 🙂

            • …which isn’t an ideal outcome…

              • Perhaps not ideal but less ideal is teaching dependency and that others are there to meet their needs.

                • Hi Allycat,
                  I personally think ‘teaching dependency’ and ‘knowing that others are there to meet your needs’ are two different things. Babies are born intensely emotionally dependent and if these needs are not met enough it is *very* hard for the child to naturally become independent. And I hope our kids always know we’re there for them – not to rescue them, but to help them to manage. If you’re interested you could read: Becoming Attached by Robert Karen.

                  • Babies are born intensely emotionally dependent and if these needs are not met enough it is *very* hard for the child to naturally become independent.” – True in some cases but you have overlooked the other response, which is extreme independence.

                    • I agree some babies are more sociable than others, and I don’t believe any healthy child is extremely independent at an early age. All of the psych research points to children turning into sad adults if they are independent too soon – largely because they can’t trust others to support them when they are needy, so feel lonely – which is the root of many a western problem. But I also agree that some parents interfere with their children’s natural drive for independence, and others still don’t set boundaries in a useful way – so those children grow-up as if they have no map for adulthood.

              • Marcy says:

                Seems to me you don’t want to push either dependence or independence beyond what is appropriate to the development of the particular child. Infants ARE dependent. Toddlers a little less so, and so on.

                By the way, Karyn, I sent you an email last night.

                • Hi Marcy,
                  Have been busy with sick kids, so didn’t get to your email until an hour or so ago. Have replied. 🙂
                  I agree with your comment: babies are intensely emotionally dependent and it’s useful to children to be able to become independent in their own time.

  4. Your threaded-comments setting allows no more comments in that thread, hence the unthreaded response. It’s understood that by independence, I did not mean that an infant is up on his/her feet warming a bottle at the stove at age 1 month. ;D — though there are certainly parents who would want that. Truth is, some parents want nothing to do with their children or are so lacking in nurturing and/or connecting ability that fierce independence is forced upon a child simply to survive. Then at the other extreme are the Smothers – almost always the women – who encourage toxic codependency from their own selfishness. All in all, there’ll always be a need for therapists in this world! 🙂

    • Yep. Agree. Sadly. If parents are at least be aware of their own patterns, they have the starting point to make things better for their own children – despite what happened to them. Patterns can be changed (from either extreme) but it takes phenomenal effort and self-awareness – and good information – to be able to do so. 🙂

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