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I Get You, And I’ve Got You

a drawing of a father and son holding hands
My daughter has always hated traveling in the car. From when she was a tiny baby, car trips meant screaming and crying, usually for the entire trip. It was a complete surprise to me given I had always heard about parents who used the car to soothe their baby to sleep. This was unimaginable to me! I did lots of problem solving trying to figure out if there was something obvious I could solve – was she too hot, uncomfortable, feeling scared or lonely? I tried different car seats, playing music, having someone sit in the back, offering toys, singing, talking soothingly. Nothing really made much difference – she just seemed to find the car very difficult. And, so did I – it is incredibly hard to focus on driving with an inconsolable baby in the back. I decided to keep driving to a minimum, staying close to home and trusting that with time and development, she would get more comfortable.

And to an extent, this was true. I can now take her much further than I ever could in that first 6 months or so. But, as an 18-month-old, car trips are still difficult for her – she can usually go 10-15 minutes before wanting to get out (she can ask directly now) and if it’s much further than that, it usually ends in tears. And, given car trips are an inevitable part of our week, it’s been a challenge I’ve had to continue to grapple with.

But development has also granted me more access to her experience – her emotions are more differentiated and I have a much easier time recognizing what her need is in a given moment. It’s allowed me to have greater confidence in my role as Hands, and I feel able to tune into her different needs on the Circle.

Sometimes, sitting in the car is just plain boring– she can’t see much, she can’t move much and she seems to feel restricted and stuck. Her protests are a clear sign of frustration. In these moments, I see her as struggling on the bottom of the Circle, needing my support to Organize Feelings. She needs me to hear her frustration and stay calm, showing her that I get it. I don’t pull over, but focus on calming myself while we get to our destination. I keep in mind my wisdom that she will be quite pleased when we get there, because we’re usually doing something she likes.

At other times, getting in the car means the end of an enjoyable activity – at these times, she might go rigid as a board, angrily refusing to get into the seat. She’s sad to go home and wants to prolong the activity – again, bottom of the Circle. I know now that she needs me to anticipate this sadness and help her end the activity – she needs warning and an acknowledgement of her sadness. Often my simple recognition of how hard it is to leave is enough. She settles in and chats on the way home about what we saw or did.

Above all, I have come to reflect that she simply needs to know that I can handle her. There were many times in those early months where I was overwhelmed by her distress, unsure what to do or what to offer. I anxiously tried to soothe her while my heart was frantically racing. I am sure that this impacted her sense of calm in the car. I focus now on being calm and confident as I put her in the car, sharing my calm as we drive even in the face of her discomfort rather than madly searching for the “right song” on the radio. Now when I feel her emotions rise, my message to her, “I get you, and I’ve got you.” I can feel the difference it makes for both of us when I work at being Bigger, Stronger, Wiser, and Kind.

I invite you to share with me your comments, reflections, Circle stories and experiences with Circle of Security Parenting. Your submissions may be used in future blog posts, with all identifying information excluded, unless you specifically request to be identified. Contact me at brooke[at]circleofsecurityinternational[dot]com.