In the past few months Aiza (4.5) and Rania (almost 3) have constantly been at each other’s throats! They literally cannot spend two minutes in the same space without breaking out into a fight. So we decided they needed some healthy separation.
I signed up Aiza for a local camp for one week. This week I’ll bond with Rania and the baby at home. Next week, Rania will go, and Aiza will spend time with me. After all these heart to hearts, hopefully we can resume our usual summer daze and bonding.
I’ll keep ya’ll posted on how this all plays out.
Anyway, Aiza still has separation anxiety, so dropping her off anywhere is a task… even if she is comfortable with and knows the place or people. It’s day 4 of camp, and as I was kissing her goodbye this morning, she was clingier than usual and insisted that she wanted to skip camp today. She’s been having so much fun, that I knew this just had to be the separation anxiety talking.
The main camp counselor saw it, and came over to help.
C: “What’s wrong? You don’t want mommy to leave this morning?”
A: Mumbling. “No, I don’t want to come today, I don’t like camp.”
C: Dramatic production of shock … “You DON’T LIKE CAMP?!?! Why not???”
A: Trying to suppress a giggle, then mumbling sadly: “Because we didn’t get to go swimming this week because of all the rain.”
Now pause. If this were a conversation between Aiza and I, my response at this point would’ve been – I know sweetheart, but it’s not my fault it was raining outside, I’ll take you next whenever I can. There’s no reason to get so sad – go do something else. Move on. Cheer up. Etc. And then I would probably go back to whatever else I was doing at the moment.
But that’s not what the counselor did. What he did – is what every parent should try to do if they want to ensure their child has emotional security and feels validated. Here’s what he said:
C: “You’re definitely right about that, and it’s so disappointing right? Swimming is so fun.”
A: A little more confident now. “Yeah, and now we didn’t get to do anything fun.”
C: “Well, we still did a lot of other fun things right?” (She nods) “But you’re right, we didn’t get to do any fun wet activity. Do you like getting wet?” (She nods). “I’ll tell you what, if we don’t get to go swimming today, I’ll let y’all play outside in the rain for a few minutes. And even better…you can be the first to jump in a muddy puddle!”
Guys – Aiza’s smile was so big that it was barely fitting on her smushy little face. She happily trotted off inside after that.
So what did he do right?
He validated her feelings. He treated her like a human being whose emotions are important. Granted it was something minor like swimming – but at her age – this is the biggest tragedy ever. Just like we seek comfort and understanding from our friends and family when we are upset over issues, so do toddlers. And often they are seeking it from tired or distracted parents.
Us telling them that they shouldn’t be upset about something is the single worst thing we can do as parents for their emotional development. Kids process the world with the same emotional sensitivity as we do… their world is just filled with more innocent things. You don’t want to push your kids into not sharing their feelings with you eventually, or bottling up their feelings because of your constant disapproval.
Kids need us to acknowledge that it’s okay to be sad or angry. We should then show them a way to identify the problem and come up with a solution OR refocus those feelings into something positive. Like the counselor did above – the problem wasn’t that camp wasn’t fun, it was that they weren’t doing a wet activity – so lets find another wet activity that’s fun instead. He even went out of his way to make her feel *special* and offered to let her do something first. In other words, she wasn’t punished for being sad – she was rewarded for sharing her feelings.
I’ve read countless articles on the importance of how we speak to our kids in various situations, and I get it. It all makes sense – and I understand how to apply it. But when it comes down to it and I’m in the moment, I’m either distracted or cranky or rushed and just end up nodding my head through whatever they’re saying or rushing to get them to be quiet and cooperative again.
Moms of littles are just trying to get through each day so this interaction seems harmless. But the ability to talk about our problems, to acknowledge and assess our feelings, to learn how to solve problems and think positively all begins as toddlers and how we learned to deal with our emotions with our parents and siblings. In order to set the foundation for healthy emotional development – we need to take every word out of our mouths to our children a LOT more seriously.
They may be little, but their feelings definitely are not.