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“Time In”: A True Life Example

A young single mom came to a Circle of Security Parenting (COSP) class looking for help with her two-year-old son. The behavior she was most worried about was how much he “bosses me around”. 

During the class, she was very reflective and noticed quite a few things about her parenting but she still struggled to set boundaries with her son and would give up quickly because she just didn’t know what to do. 

Halfway through the class, she told the group that she started setting boundaries but it would escalate to the point where her son was left alone in his room, crying and yelling until he became exhausted and fell asleep. She felt good that she was finally setting boundaries but mostly felt terrible about him being alone and angry. 

This particular COSP class had a volunteer so parents could bring their children if it was needed. On the final day of class, this mom had to bring her son. He tested limits over and over with his mother. She was very kind as she repeatedly told him no. Over time, his testing became bolder and louder. 

After class, the facilitator (who was a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and who had known this mom for a year) asked the mother if she would like support in walking through setting a boundary in a Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind way. The mother accepted. 

The facilitator asked the mother to pick up her son and bring him to a quieter place, away from other people. The son began to yell and squirm. The facilitator encouraged the mom to hold her son as comfortably as possible and to make soothing noises. The mom rubbed her son’s back. The facilitator said, “oh…what a rough day!” and “sometimes it’s hard to feel so angry” with a quiet, empathetic tone. 

As the child squirmed, mom continued to adjust the way she held her son. If he became louder, she got quieter and just offered gentle, soothing physical touch. Several times, the son tried to hit his mother. She gently held his arm while the facilitator quietly said, “gentle hands with your mama”. 

A few minutes in, the child became very loud and tried to get off his mother’s lap. The mom looked to the facilitator and seemed to be very overwhelmed and scared. The facilitator encouraged mom to hang in there with her son. This is when he needed her the most. 

The loud yelling and big movements lasted less than a minute. Then the son started crying and turned into his mother. He put his arms around her neck and clung to her as tears ran down his face. Mom held him close and gently rubbed his hair and back. 

A few more minutes went by and the son turned his body around and sat calmly on his mom’s lap. He looked up at her and smiled. He hopped down and asked his mom for help putting on his shoes and then went off to play with the other children. 

The mom looked at the facilitator. She had tears in her eyes and sweat on her face. Emotionally, she said, “that’s never happened with us. He’s never held onto me like that. We’ve never had a moment like that. That felt so good.”

The facilitator said, “you were so amazing. He needed you to hang in there while he had all those big feelings. He needed your strong body, your gentle hands and your soothing voice. Just when you were sure it wouldn’t end, it did. He calmed down and turned right into you.”

Both the mom and the facilitator took a moment to soak it all in and wind down from the emotionally charged moments. It had only been about 5 minutes total, but it felt longer. 

The facilitator said, “what you are feeling is the power of repair. The rupture was his big emotions when you said no to him. When he realized you wouldn’t give in and that you could hang out while he felt those big feelings, he melted into you. Something was fixed in that moment between you.”

Mom replied, “yes. Repair is needed between us on quite a few things. I can do that with him.”