As soon as they pulled up, Mom went to get her five-year-old son out of the car, and he started kicking her arm as she unbuckled him. We talked about how inappropriate and unacceptable that kind of aggression is. Even if it wasn’t hurting her, allowing it to happen sent a message that his behavior was acceptable, and it is not.
She admitted that she is challenged in her ability to set consistent and clear boundaries with her son. I explained to her that she might say, “I see you kicking me, and I guess I can’t help you unbuckle from your car seat until you’re ready to show me that you’re calm and able to behave in a way that makes me feel safe. Being kicked by you does not make me feel safe. If you want to talk about how you’re feeling, then you can say what it is that you are feeling. If you are angry or frustrated about me unbuckling you, then you can say that you are angry and frustrated.”
He said that he was sad, which was incredibly informative. Then I was able to press on and say, “I don’t know why you’re sad.” This little boy was able to reveal to his mom and to me that he was sad because he wanted another minute to sit in the car before coming out. Once he was able to identify what he was feeling, he could begin to understand why he was feeling it, which enables us to uncover a solution. The solution was to begin to access our competence in knowing that we have the ability to have this conversation together, where he could say that he needed another minute.
Now Mom and her son are collaborating with one another in a positive and productive way, rather than in a violent and aggressive one. She told him that it was no problem for him to have another minute before coming out of the car. When Mom said that the minute was up, there was no kicking, and she was able to help him unbuckle and come out of the car in a safe and productive way.