"Thanks!" he said and he began playing with it. I said thanks too, since she managed to buy me extra time to check out easily with three kids along.
By the time we got into the car, the two older kids had already popped their balloons. But, they are 9 and 11 years old. No big deal. The little one (4 years old) still had his balloon and was happy. Great!
Groceries in car, kids have buckled up and I'm ready to go. Music playing, I'm thinking about what I'll make for dinner with some of the groceries I bought - POP!
The 4 year old popped his balloon.
"Balloney!" he cries, as he calls out the name he had given to his balloon. And right after, he starts to ask, no, actually more like state that we need to go back and get another balloon. Balloney has lost it's air and so he needs another one. And at the same time, he's sounds sad that Balloney is no more.
What can I do? We're just about home, pulling into our block, groceries in the car, including meat that needs to get into a refrigerator. I've got dinner to make and soon after, bedtime routines to start. I knew right away -- we are NOT going back to the grocery store.
As I park, the older boys grab a bag each and head into the house. I grab the rest of the bags, which are heavy. I open the door to let the little one out. But, I quickly learn that he has zero plans to get out of the car. His balloon is gone, he's sad, mad and he insists we go back to the grocery store to get another.
The bags are getting heavy and I've had a long day, I really really want to get into the house. Why don't we get into the house and talk about it, I suggest. And it's met with a quick shut down by the little one. My car is parked on the street, I can't just leave him in there until he's ready to go in the house. We have to get out. I have to get about my day. But, as most parents know, if I insist on this, I'll be carrying him AND the groceries, except one of them will be kicking and screaming.
Positive parenting. Because even as a teacher of positive parenting, it takes mindfulness to parent this way. I remind myself to not go into my auto-mode (which is usually..."because I said so!").
So, I put down the groceries.
I get close to him and make eye contact. I begin our connection phase - calmly and with the intention to understand him and to find a solution together.
Me: Nico, you're sad because Balloney lost it's air?
Son: Yes, it's gone and I loved Balloney.
Me: Who popped Balloney?
Son: I did, because I saw him (older brother) do it.
Me: And you didn't realize the air would go away?
Son: No and I want Balloney back. He's gone (really sad tears start to fall from his eyes).
Me: You're so sad that Balloney is gone.
Son: Yes (more tears)
And it was then that I saw his heart and I felt for him, I could feel his feelings. That's empathy and it's necessary to truly make a connection.
Me: Maybe we can come up with something? What if we draw faces on Balloney and that way he's still here! (hey, I thought it was brilliant...him...not so much).
Son: No! We need to go back NOW!!!
Me: Ok, we can't talk while you're yelling, so when you're calm we can continue (and he then changes his tone).
Me: You're sad that Balloney is gone, you want to go back, but we can't go back to the grocery store right now. I can tell you're really sad. During this week, if we can get a chance, we stop by the party store and get a Balloney.
Son: We'll get a Balloney? You'll go to the store and we'll get one?
Me: Yes, we'll see how the week goes and if there's a chance to, we'll do that.
And he is happy and I am as well. He felt understood and validated and because of this, we were able to move into finding a solution together. We both leave the car pleasant and satisfied.
Yes, this took time. But, here's what I learned. He was truly, genuinely sad. He was devastated about his balloon. Had I not taken the time to connect with him, I never would've learned his heart. I saw into his heart, using positive parenting, and it changed everything about how I was going to handle the situation.
If I went the "quick route" of just grabbing him from the car and gotten him into the house, we both would've been frustrated and neither of us would've learn anything at all from the situation. Instead, he learned that it's ok to be sad, that his mother understands, that he couldn't get what he wanted right now, but that we could together problem-solve and work together. I learned that he wasn't just trying to be difficult (as they rarely are, believe it or not), but that he was genuinely sad.
So, I choose that longer lesson of modeling validation, empathy and teaching problem-solving skills and communication. Yes, I felt like saying, do it because I said so (I had heavy bags, long day, dinner to make AND I'm human)!! But, would it have been worth the lack of connection, the lack of understanding, the lack of modeling good character?
It wasn't about Balloney. It was about the ability to see into my son's heart and to feel his feelings. Connect first, validate, feel their feelings and then find solutions.
Have you faced similar situations and want to learn how to parent in a more positive way? I'm happy to help.
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