Tuesday, October 20, 2009
As James approaches the step-down on the patio, he is eager to practice his new walking skills. He readies himself to balance on one foot, while stepping down the four-inches to the ground. It’s tricky for a 13-month-old, but he’s READY! He’s been working up to this for months! Here goes…… But at the last second, a giant hand scoops down, picks him up, and places him on the lower level. “Watch it, Buddy! You almost fell!”
What did James learn from this? What is the message that came through as a result of the well-intentioned grown-up’s actions? “You’re not capable.” “You’re too little.” “I have to help you.” “Without me, you can’t do very much.” “Taking risks isn’t a good idea.” “Getting hurt is a disaster!”
Jessica felt a wave of sadness when her mom said goodbye and left her on Teacher’s lap. Being two, Jessica’ s preferred way of coping with, and expressing strong emotions is to cry. After ten seconds of loud wailing, Mom bundled Jessica into a big bear hug, and smothered her with kisses, promising not to leave, after all.
This emotional rescue made Jessica happy- sort of. But it also gave her some other, more complicated feelings. She felt a little disappointed that she wasn’t going to get to try to be ok without her mom. She felt a little scared about being able to control a big person like Mom with such a simple action as crying. She felt a little confused because Mom had told her that Teacher could take care of her, but now Mom is giving the message that only MOM can take care of her.
Lots of mixed messages here, and none of them really give Jessica a can-do feeling about herself. Most of it is all tangled up in Mom’s complicated feelings of not wanting Jessica to ever feel any pain or discomfort. But isn’t experiencing reasonable discomfort, and learning that you can cope with it and survive it a big part of life?
We grown-ups often don't take responsibility for some of the confusing and disempowering messages we give children. We're all guilty, because we’re human. Adults have emotional needs too. We want to give our children a sense of being loved and nurtured. We want to make sure they feel safe and secure. Most of all, we want to feel that we are doing everything we can to make them happy and safe.
But maybe if we can learn to think about what messages our actions are conveying to our children, we will sometimes be able to choose better ways to help our children grow.
Posted by ANNIE CASTLE DECKERT, M.ED.PSYCH.