I went to a friends house recently who has an adorable five year old son with the energy of a bouncing ball, zooming from one end of the house to the other in seconds. That day, there were 10 children over and the house was flying. Mom was frustrated because everyone dumped their kids in her house including me. At the same time we were working on catering a party. We were baking hundreds of cookies, assembling platters of hors devours and cutting lots of fruit. Talk about overwhelming!
This little boy only wanted his friend to come over. Granted there were 10 children there but not one was his age. He had the choice to play with the 3 year olds or torture his older sisters. And of course, as the day wore on this became too difficult for him until finally, he snapped. He pinched my son so hard that my son started to cry and his mother marched him upstairs for a timeout.
Oftentimes we say, “enough with this behavior.” We don’t take the step back that’s necessary to see why our children are acting in this way. As parents it is our responsibility to figure out how we can support our children to make better choices and to feel more contained in the chaotic world that we live in. Five year olds aren’t always so good at verbalizing their thoughts and feelings therefore it is our responsibility to notice when there is just to much stimulation and when our children are losing it. It is in this moment that we can notice when our children are feeling overwhelmed and respond to their needs with love and understanding.
During lunch that day he started climbing on the table and acting like a monkey. His mother said “just ignore him. He only wants someone to come over to him and invite him to the table to eat. He just wants someone to give him attention.” How interesting that we are taught to ignore the child rather than get down and dirty and figure out what is really going on. When we can take a minute to figure it out, we are showing the child that they are the most important, that nothing else takes precedence and we believe in them and their own ability to self regulate. When we punish children we are putting outside constraints on them rather than teaching them to regulate themselves. But we can’t ask them to regulate themselves if we are not mirroring for them their own behavior rather than our own annoyance. Mirroring for our children the emotions and difficulties they are experiencing validates their feelings. If we mirror our stuff then they can’t develop their own sense of self, of who they are. They just become a mirror of who we are or should I say who our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents are. It is remarkable because we have the opportunity to encourage growth in a child by just mirroring for them who they are rather than who we want them to be. It is our mistake to believe that we as parents can teach them what they need to learn without engaging with them. It is only in the moment getting down and dirty that the true lessons can be learned. If we come in with our own agendas, with our own history’s we don’t strengthen our children we strengthen our pasts.