Here are a few things that I need in order to thrive in this great big world. From my heart to yours, here are some secrets to this journey we walk together.
- Nourish my body with healthy foods and make sure I get enough sleep. Please don’t keep me up too late or give me too much sugar and then expect me to behave well. My body isn’t capable of regulating itself in the same way as yours. I need all the help I can get to navigate this world, and it all starts with food and sleep.
- Provide structure and routine to my days so that I know what to expect. Even though I may resist some of the events you put in place (ahem, nap time) I promise you that this structure makes me feel secure. There is so much about my world that I cannot predict, but counting on you to provide me with this stability will settle my little soul.
- Give me the opportunity to make appropriate choices, but remember that too many choices overwhelm me. I can choose my clothes, the stories I read at night, the utensils I use at meals, and so much more. The secret is to let me choose between 2 options that you deem acceptable. I don’t know any different, and these choices make me feel empowered and like I matter in this great big world. They are a win-win for everyone!
- Talk to me, sing to me, read to me. Then let me have the opportunity to do things by myself. My mind needs time to process all the things I absorb from this world, so it’s okay for you to expect me to entertain myself. If you are always there, then I will never learn how. Plus, it’s in those quiet moments alone that so many things come together for me. This is also a time for me to practice my concentration and to develop qualities like persistence and determination as I learn to do things on my own.
- Realize that almost every single thing I do has a purpose. Whether I am rocking back and forth on my hands and knees preparing to crawl, picking up every stick I find, or lining up my dolls before I go to bed, these little things are what define me right now. I am driven by the inner need to explore, to organize, and to practice. Although it requires great patience on your part, I need you to give me the time to do this.
- Be consistent with me. It’s confusing if you allow me to jump on my bed today and then admonish me about that tomorrow. I want to do what is right; I need you to teach me that, and I need you to teach me the same way every time. Similarly, it’s especially helpful if both of my parents are on the same page too. There’s nothing more confusing to me than one parent permitting something while the other one gets frustrated with me for doing that same thing. Align yourselves on the important things so that I know what to expect.
- Validate my emotions and help me to learn about them. Instead of telling me I am okay or not to cry, please try telling me that you know how much it hurts to fall down and that you are sure I was surprised when I hit the ground. Tell me that it’s frustrating to fall, so that I can have a name for this feeling that washes over me when I feel my body unexpectedly hit the ground. Offer me your hand to help me back on my feet, and most of the time that will heal my heart too. Validating my emotions doesn’t perpetuate them. Rather, it results in my increased self-awareness and my ability to regulate.
- Open the door and let me play! Give me time in the backyard, time in the front yard, time at the park, and time in the pool. It’s fun to have activities like sidewalk chalk or bubbles, but I also love just exploring nature. Spiderwebs, ladybugs, leaves, rocks, and puddles are all interesting to me. I haven’t been here as long as you have, so I really delight in these things. I can remind you how to do that too!
- Get quiet and give me time to show you that I understand. Remember that my processing time is much longer than yours. Ask me once, and then wait for me to respond. Sometimes it looks like I am ignoring you, but truthfully my brain is on overload as I am trying to sort out the 5 commands you just gave me. Count to 10 and then ask me again, or better yet take my hand and show me what you want me to do. Too much talking overwhelms me anyway.
- Tell me what I can do. Remind me to have “walking feet,” “gentle hands,” and a “calm body.” Tell me that my food stays on my plate, the pillows stay on my bed, or the water stays in the bath. I respond so much better to these kinds of statements rather than the “Don’ts.” Don’t hit, don’t yell, and don’t run just highlight the behaviors you want me to avoid because all I really hear is “hit, run, and yell.”
You never hear this enough, but let me tell you with my whole heart that you are doing an incredible job. I know that you carry a lot of responsibility on your shoulders and that you worry about everything as it relates to me. You, however, make my world a better place. You are the reason I can put my head on my pillow every night and drift off into a peaceful slumber. You are my everything: my safety, my security, and my world. Thank you for all the sacrifices you are making on my behalf. I promise to make you proud.
Jessica McCauley, M.Ed. is a parenting coach/consultant. She draws on her background as a Montessori educator and Child Life Specialist to help families navigate the challenges of the early childhood years. Contact Jessica at http://smallhandsbigsteps.com/contact/ for more information or to schedule a consultation.