Wednesday, February 12, 2014

I Want To Wear My Tutu!

I want to tell you a real life story. (The names were changed to preserve anonymity.) The result of which led Grandma to look at me in awe, and say, “You did it again. You are magic with children.” 

I don’t think it is magic. I think it is understanding the development of young children and embracing my role of ‘adult.’

One cold winter morning a few weeks ago, 2 year old Jill was wearing her frilly tutu and playing in the kitchen. 5 year-old Jack was getting ready to go with me to the park. Jill said she wanted to go too. Auntie said, “Take off your tutu so you can get your coat on.” Jill said she wanted to wear the tutu. Jill can be very stubborn and sometimes screams and yells (very loudly) as an often successful strategy to get what she wants.

Her grandma was in the kitchen and I could sense her lack of certainty as she said, “Let’s take off the tutu and put on the coat. Okay, Jill?” I could tell that she was tentative and was not going to be firm. She was going to let Jill decide whether or not to take off the tutu and wear the coat. Grandma later confirmed to me that she was not committed to the idea.

Auntie was also in the kitchen. She began explaining to 2-year-old Jill why she should take off the tutu (“It might get dirty, it would get in the way of playing at the playground, it might get ripped, your coat won’t fit with the tutu under it...”) and wear the coat (“It is cold, it is winter, you’ll be cold...”). Auntie was trying to convince Jill why it was a good idea to take off the tutu and wear the coat.

Jill said several times,“No,” she would not take off the tutu, as both Auntie and Grandma continued to talk to her and got closer and closer to her. I was watching this dynamic interaction of the three and saw Jill shaking her head, and her unwillingness so visible in her face. I was inwardly clear that taking off the tutu and wearing the coat was important. So I said, “Jack and Steve are going. Anyone who is coming has to take off their tutu and put on a coat.” Without hesitation, Jill took off the tutu and I helped her get her coat on. And off we went. Two happy children and me, ready to walk to the park.

So what happened? Jill responded calmly and easily when she heard the firm boundary - to go to the park requires no tutu and yes coat. No negotiating or wiggle room. So she relaxed and went along.

The words I spoke did not create a Steve vs. Jill situation in my choice of words. I didn’t say, “Jill, you have to take of your tutu to come with us.” I said, “Anyone who is coming...” It was not ‘me’ vs. ‘you’ for Jill. My words made the situation more objective, and less personal.

Also, explaining and trying to convince a 2-year-old is not effective for various reasons. One reason is the desire of the child takes up the whole thought and feeling world for them. Persuasion does not have a place at their table. Also, the child’s neurology is not sufficiently developed to process logic and reasoning. The frontal lobe doesn’t begin to develop for 10 more years. The adult’s intellectual approach of explanation does not meet in the child a neural structure suitable for processing the information.

When we are not clear in what we know is best for the child, when we lack inner confidence, the child senses this. And this is experienced as insecurity for the child. They need our calm and confident guidance and leadership. Of course we don’t know everything and are constantly learning. And hopefully we are observing the results of our choices and decisions as far as how the child is affected. This informs our future choices and decisions for the child. But it important to remember who is the adult. As an adult there are more neurological structures in place, more neural pathways, and many years of more experiences to draw from. 

Somewhere there is a middle ground between authoritarian parenting and a parenting style where the child is in charge. This is where the magic lives. This middle path my friend Margret Meyerkort calls ‘loving firmness.’ The young child needs our calm and clear and non-intellectual guidance that takes into account their stage of development, and well as their needs for safety and fun. 

I’d love to hear from you what you think of this post, and what YOU are struggling with so future blog posts can reflect what you are working on.

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  1. Great post! 'there is a middle ground between authoritarian parenting and a parenting style where the child is in charge' Yes!!! I am recommending this to all the parents I know!

  2. Yes! This is beautiful and wise. I will carry the words with me through out the next few years of toddlerhood.

  3. Thanks Steve! After a long weekend phone call with teacher Richard I am working on being more present for Myrahvai so that I can meet situations like the "tutu" with more understanding and awareness...I am working on developing myself in this way as her parent , realizing that my job as a parent involves growing myself and my communication ability. :)Somewhere along the way I think I forgot how important it was to stay curious about what she needs..rather than thinking I can get by constantly moving and being a little stressed. So lately I am working on cultivating more peace and less resistance. When Myrahvai has a moment of sadness or madness I can take a deep breath and ask myself what she needs right now and do my best to be what she needs me to be in that moment. I feel strongly that we as parents really need to wake up to this process of responding to all situations by being present first and many times we will sense that a healthy boundary is what is being needed to overcome temper stuggles...just letting Myrahvai know what we are "doing" and not giving her the option by finishing my requests with the word "okay?"....