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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Why Mommy Needs Holding Time

The excitement of two little boys ready to take the world by storm deteriorated all-too-quickly into the exasperation of two little boys ready to take Mommy by storm with a battle of their wills at breakfast time.

And all over a simple cup of milk.

When the boys do not want to do something, they simply put the word "Uh-Uh" (as in "no") before whatever it is they are refusing. In this particular case, the phrase was "Uh-Uh milk! Uh-Uh milk!" while attempting to remove the cups from their highchair trays and onto a nearby counter.

It was first thing in the morning. With nothing to eat or drink since the night before, they should have been plenty excited to get something into their little tummies! But apparently ... not milk.

To ward off their efforts to get rid of the offending cups I moved the boys into the middle of the kitchen, away from other counters. I also took away Alec's toy which was keeping him wonderfully entertained while he refused to do what he was being told. In the meantime I continued making their oatmeal and encouraging them that they could eat as soon as they drank some milk.

Stoically they watched me work and continued to refuse their cups. "Uh-Uh milk" ... and they moved their cups to one corner of the tray. "Uh-Uh milk" ... and they scooted them to the center. "Uh-Uh milk" ... now to the other side.

I was annoyed but determined not to lose my cool. I simply took my time unloading the dishwasher, starting a load of laundry, and eating my own breakfast while encouraging them periodically to drink their milk so they could eat theirs. Finally, Alec caved and began drinking so that he could have his oatmeal. Yay! One down, one to go.

While Alec ate, Ian opened his mouth and whimpered for a bite. "Drink your milk, then eat." I must have said it a dozen times. "Uh-Uh milk! UH-UH MIIIILK!" he yelled back. I turned his chair around so he couldn't watch his brother anymore. A tear slipped down his cheek but he still refused to budge.

Alec finished his breakfast and got down to play. "Down! Down!" Ian requested. "Drink your milk, then get down." He didn't like my answer. You can already imagine his. "Uh-Uh milk! Uh-Uh milk!" By now my blood was starting to boil. We had been at this battle of the wills for nearly an hour. I began reciting his options. "Drink your milk, then eat. Drink your milk, then get down. Drink your milk, then play. Don't drink your milk, go night-night!"

And still he refused. He stubbornly, purposely, insistently, vociferously refused. I was at my wit's end and finally decided to put him back to bed. As I was doing so, the thought crossed my mind: Maybe I should do holding time.

Holding time is described in Dr. Martha Welch's book as using "intense physical and emotional contact to reinforce the connection between you and your child." It is a form of therapy initially found to be successful in her work with autistic children and their mothers, and basically involves a private, uninterrupted time of firmly holding one's child despite their struggles and often through their aggression while making eye contact and speaking lovingly to him or her.

This book was required reading for Pedro and me some years ago when working with a Christian adoption agency in the States, as the holding time technique is highly recommended for attachment therapy as well. I have been revisiting the book since Ian and Alec came home from Haiti and have felt on a couple of occasions a breakthrough with the boys while doing holding time with them.

So instead of laying Ian down, I arranged some pillows comfortably on the twin bed in his room and cradled him on my lap as we sat together on the bed. Knowing how he hates to be restrained (unless he is just waking up he rarely stays still on my lap for more than a minute or two) I wrapped a blanket around the two of us, tucking it under my legs so we were both securely snuggled together. As expected, Ian wrestled and cried at first but soon settled down. I sang to him and though occasionally he would struggle again, for the most part he relaxed against me. And then out of the blue and completely of his own volition, he touched my face and said "Saw-ry, Mommy."

In part this was an attempt to get down, as he immediately tried to sit up and get off my lap. But when I didn't budge he relaxed again and a few minutes later repeated, "Sorry, Mommy." I stopped singing then and began talking to him gently, telling him how much I loved him no matter what and how happy I was that he was finally home with us. As I spoke his eyelids grew heavy and soon he was fast asleep in my arms.

I held him that way for a long time, looking at his sweet face and realizing that I needed this holding time just as much as he did. I went into it so frustrated after an hour of battling his strong will. Yet I left it feeling only love for my precious child and empathy for everything he has gone through in his short life. Holding time is not just for my children. It's for Mommy, too.


Anonymous said...

That is beautiful!! Your amazing!

Terri Fisher said...

Great post and reminder, Steph! Keep up the good work with those precious boys!

Julie Anne said...

You seriously made me cry... I know we could have used some holding time on both sides at my house today!! thank you for sharing!!!

Molly said...

Aaw, that made me teary. Thanks for sharing that...I love it and am going to try it. This Mama and her little chicks need it, too!

Stacey said...

That is all we do any more is holding time. 3 to 4 times a day. We are going to attachment therapy and that is what she is recommending with both of the kids. She also told us that a child that is not contected needs 12 hugs a day. Keep up the good work with those boys. It will pay off in the long run. Your such a good mom.