First a disclaimer: We are totally AP parents. If that infant cries, we pick hir up immediately. We’re also not heartless– if a student’s grandma dies, ze can take time off and turn in assignments late. And so on. This post is not about big deals, but about moderating moderate upsets. End disclaimer.
Sometimes kids get heart-broken over things that really aren’t that big a deal. Falling down (but not damaging anything). Dropping a candy (when they have more that haven’t fallen). Another kid accidentally pushing them (again with no injury). And so on, with age appropriate examples.
Yeah yeah, some parenting philosophies say you’re supposed to tell kids how they’re feeling. And some say that you’re supposed to empathize no matter what. Sometimes we’ve seen this in action and instead of soothing like it’s supposed to, it lengthens the amount of crying and angst. (Possibly a misapplication of the philosophy.)
We sympathize with disappointment, to the appropriate degree. Kiss the owie to make it better and go off to play. (Occasionally a crying jag can be broken if you exaggerate for effect, OH NOOOOO, the world is going to end… that usually gets a giggle.)
It’s important to fix problems (had to take a break from typing this because DC1 got soap in hir eye), but once they’re fixed, they don’t necessarily need the post-game analysis.
Kids pick up on our cues. If they’re not sure how bad something is, they look to us. How upset are we? How upset do we seem to think they should be? Is this a quick peck and then you run off to play, or is this something that requires lots of sympathy (even if the kid has forgotten which leg got hurt by this point)?
When we make a big deal out of something that isn’t such a big deal, we may be prolonging the angst and the pain that might quickly have been forgotten otherwise. When we provide too many cushions, we may be denying our children the chance to grow and to find inner-strength. Bending over backwards as if to keep a delicate flower from being crushed over a small thing may keep that flower from being able to move with the wind. Our reaction should be appropriate for the upset.
My mom liked to tell me that I was building my character whenever something didn’t go my way. I remember telling my mom once that my character was buff enough already, thank you. She said, and I quote, “Oh ho ho ho. Very funny.” Ah mom.
But the lesson is a good one. Yes, we can recover from life’s little setbacks. We can regulate our emotions. We don’t always need to be rescued. We can grow and find our own inner strength, and build that strength.
Spoiler Alert: I’m currently rereading Foundling by Georgette Heyer, about a little duke who has been coddled much of his life and yearns to break free. One day he sneaks out, just to see what it’s like. He spends an uncomfortable time out on his own, but he also grows a lot too. He comes back with a greater appreciation for the people who love him, but also with his own inner strength. Life isn’t always about being protected from any potential upset.
So what brings this up? Mother’s in Medicine had a post discussing whether or not it was ok to keep your kid at daycare if you yourself are on vacation from work. The original commenter clarified:
This incident stuck with me because the child was very, very upset each morning, much more so than at a regular drop off. The conversation was about making sure you forge a good relationship with your kids while they are little. Perhaps this mother did need a break; however it seemed that perhaps her child needed a bit of vacation then, too.
Assuming that the reason for the kid’s increased upsetness was mom’s being on vacation and not say, staying up too late the night before (because of mom’s vacation) or something completely unrelated like teething, this kind of thing can be a learning experience for the child.
Mom may take a vacation without you. She may drop you off at daycare and you may imagine that she’ll spend the entire day eating ice cream and going to the zoo without you (more likely she’s going to do boring adult things). But she’ll pick you up at the end of the day just like always (or maybe daddy will get you like always) and maybe she’ll be relaxed enough that you can do something fun that evening. It is highly unlikely that a kid is going to be scarred for life by not taking a vacation when he’s supposed to be going to school. So buck up. Mom’ll be back and you’ll have plenty of time to have fun again in the future.
And that’s a good thing.
What isn’t good is mom freaking out and feeling guilty. Because that teaches the kid that this kind of thing is a big deal, which really it isn’t. Everyone is much happier when we give reactions that are proportionate to events and don’t make a big deal out of nothing.
Ok, Grumpeteers. Your turn.