The Dryer Stops When the Cycle is Over – A RIE Chat Summary

(Beginning in mid-March 2020, when the world shut down, I began a bi-weekly conversation with the parents who had been in my RIE classes. Since not every family could make it to these conversations, but each conversation touched on important elements, I would often write up a summary of the conversation. What follows is one of those summaries.)

The dryer stops when the cycle is over. It turns itself off when it is done. If you don’t let it do what it needs to do, the clothes will never get fully dry and you’ll have to start it all over again.

This afternoon, I ‘virtually’ sat in with a Mother and daughter during a very fraught conversation about their dryer. Their lovely, but audible through the closed laundry room door, dryer. The dryer that this toddler absolutely, 100%, emphatically and clearly did not want to be left on. She went from happily playing and chatting to her mother and sometimes to me to positively distraught when she heard that familiar rumble. Her face fell and her voice trembled as she hurried, stiff legged, out of camera-shot, and her mother, knowing the trigger, said “Oh no…the dyer!” as she jumped off to trail after her child.

Pointing at the dryer, the child cried and repeated “turn it off! Turn it off!” Her mother brought her phone in with her and said “We can’t turn it off yet. The clothes aren’t done. It needs more time.” To no avail: her daughter just kept wailing and asking for the dryer to be turned off. As her mother’s hand reached for the controls, I’m not sure what came over me, but I said “Stay with her in this moment. Just repeat what she is saying back to you.”

And she did:

“You want to turn the dryer off.”

“Okay. Turn it off!”

“Yes, you want it off.”

“Okay! Turn it off!”

“I’m hearing you say you want me to turn the dyer off.”

“Okay!!”

I was about to suggest Mom change her phrasing because I think her daughter was hearing it less as an affirmation and more of an action item when she suddenly walked out of the laundry room and back to where she’d been playing…calmer, but not completely calm.

I took the beat to say to her Mom that this is what I recommend you do when children get upset…just try to stay with them emotionally…empathize, don’t solve. When our hearts are broken, when we’re livid, when we’re distraught, we don’t want logic and facts…we can’t use information, and we absolutely don’t want to hear that what we want cannot happen…we need empathy and connection in order to feel safe and heard, and then…as we calm, we can take in information and maybe come to terms with what is causing our upset.

And so, either having her Mom stay with her emotionally…or maybe using some language herself…or maybe just being a little thrown because, by Mom’s own admission, the dryer was not turned off…which is different than what usually happens in these situations…this young child calmed down and wasn’t so upset.

Until she was again.

She was calm for about as long as it took for Mom and me to debrief and then she began to cry and walk to the laundry room again. This time I did suggest Mom change her phrasing to things like “I hear you saying you want the dryer off/I’m listening. I’m here with you. You really don’t like it. You seem really frustrated.” This, combined with Mom sitting down on the floor (either because she was tired of standing over her child or maybe instinctively…yeah, let’s go with instinctively, go Mom!), helped her daughter calm down again.

In the calm space, I reiterated the importance of simply empathizing and letting her daughter know that she was being heard, even if Mom wasn’t complying and turning off the dryer. There are times in our lives when there are things that will enrage, infuriate, devastate us…and there is nothing that even the most powerful people we know can do about it…but having care and empathy in those moments will help us survive them.

Of course, as it was calm and quiet, the dryer’s rumble loomed large again, and so did this child’s feelings…but this time she walked away from the laundry room. Her Mom got up and followed her, then sat down again…and this time when she sat down, her daughter calmed more readily. This is a tip I learned from Tina Payne Bryson…not just getting on the eye level with your child, but below their eye level, calms both you and your child.

Skeptical? I can attest to feeling the impact of this myself:

Recently, I was working on my website with my webmaster (aka my husband). I was at my desk, in front of my computer, attempting to wrestle down my categories (I had about 20) to a more manageable number. He stood next to me, patiently explaining to me why each of my lovingly and thoughtfully categories were “too specific” “too wordy” and “unnecessary.” Granted, I was tired and probably hungry. Definitely stressed and definitely defensive; I was feeling attacked. And it clicked for me, I said “you need to sit down.” Of course, it came out as a snap YOU NEED TO SIT DOWN!! But I followed it up by standing up myself and then standing on my chair so I was on eye level with him (the man is almost a foot taller than me!) …I said, “I appreciate your help and suggestions, but when you’re standing over me, it makes me feel more vulnerable and kind of attacked, and since we’re dealing with something I have all kind of feelings wrapped up in, I think it would be better if we sat next to each other.” And we did (after a dinner break). And it worked much better.

Just sitting down sends the non-verbal message of “I’m here for you while we work this out. I’m not going to just suddenly walk out or scoop you up and carry you off.” Further, it helps you relax and feel better, which helps you project more calmness to your child. When your shoulders come down and your breathing comes more easily, so can theirs.

But there was one more crescendo of stress and upset: her nose was running and Mom reached up to wipe it and that was a bridge too far and her daughter melted down again. This time was a different: we could both see that she was either emotionally just wrung out or maybe reacting to the lack of a nap and she was close to hysterical. Her Mom suggested that they go upstairs, which was met with an emphatic NO! So, she offered a tissue, which was also not okay because her daughter wanted toilet paper, and then didn’t…it was devolving…and then:

Chime, Chime, Chime….

The dryer stopped. The upset didn’t, but the dryer did. Mom gently asked her daughter to listen and when she did, it was like the sun coming out on a cloudy day. They wandered into the laundry room together and talked about how it was over…and that’s when her Mom said it:

The dryer stops when the cycle is over. It turns itself off when it is done. If you don’t let it do what it needs to do, the clothes will never get fully dry and you’ll have to start it all over again.

And it hit me…yes, the dryer stops when the cycle is over. And the tantrums end when the feelings have all been let out. You have to let them all out, or you’ll have to start over again.

Of course, this will happen again: Mom has noticed her daughter can be sensitive to sounds, and the dryer in particular. So, when the dryer is run again, the feelings will likely come back. But we both saw that there were moments of calm and peace during this episode, so I think this is a case of sensitivity, but not a sensory processing concern. I asked the Mom to help her daughter process with a story:

“You heard the dryer. It was loud and you cried. You wanted it to turn off. You cried and I hugged you. We walked away. And you played a little and you cried a little. You really wanted it to turn off. And then it did! The dryer turned itself off! The dryer stops when the cycle is over. It turns itself off when it is done.”

Further, the next time it is time to run the dryer, I suggested she tackle it head on by telling her daughter the story again before the dryer is turned on. And to schedule laundry time when she had time to be present with her daughter as she worked through her upset: she needs her Mother’s presence to work through her feelings…until then, yes, scheduling laundry for when her daughter is out of earshot may be necessary.

Interestingly, directly after this, her daughter zeroed in on a new bath toy, an electronic swimming shark, she found in the living room. Why is that toy in the living room? Because when you put it in water, it is activated and it starts to play a song and MOVE in the water…she’s terrified of it in the water…so, it’s in the living room. Turns out, she’s also a little afraid of it in the living room…she asked her Mom to hold it. Then she got another toy, a little fish that doesn’t move and make noise in the tub and she held it, repeating “Mommy has the Mommy Shark. I have a fish.” Then, she asked her Mom to put the shark down, well away from her, where she could watch it.

I found this interesting because this child had just dealt with something big and frightening…and then she immediately sought out another scary situation. She’s facing her fears! And self-scaffolding them…asking her Mom, the person she trusts to keep her safe, to hold the scary object while she watches…to put it someplace she can see it, but it can’t get her…she’s practicing doing what will make her feel safe.

I asked you what you learned from your children last year, and the lesson I learned from this toddler today was a big one: face your fears…do it a little at a time, do it with someone you feel safe with, but do it.

13. Fear of Failure
Beware of teaching your
children to climb the ladder of success.
Ladders lead down
as well as up.

If you overly protect your children
they will fear failure
and avoid pain.
But failure and pain
are twin teachers
of important lessons.
Unless your children fully experience both
how will they know they have nothing to fear?

**

Your children do not learn from their successes.
They learn from their failures.
They must have complete permission to try and fail,
and discover that they are still OK.
What has your child failed at recently?
How did they react?
How did that make you feel?
How can you each learn from this?