This week my middle child started school. For the first time ever my youngest is now at home with just me (in addition to a day with Nan and a day at preschool!) In the weeks and months leading up to it, I have been simultaneously looking forward to and dreading it. You see, my youngest is a firecracker. She is hilariously funny, incredibly inquisitive and extremely loving. She also has those traits that are often seen as negatives – she is fiercely independent and likes doing things her own way (which often turns a 5 minute task into a 45minute one!) and can be somewhat “bossy.” With her siblings she has a tendency to be rough and dominating and needless to say, when all three of them are together, it does at times turn into an episode of the WWE. At almost 4, she definitely has some “challenging behaviours” which can make the days feel long (let me reiterate though… she is a whole bunch of awesome, funny, loveliness too!) Primarily, these things are just her personality… it’s just how she rolls! She is an incredibly social (once she warms to you!) human and thrives on communication and connection. So, I wondered how she would go without her big sister, her constant playmate in doll picnics and block building and hide and seek.
Today was the first day we had together… just the two of us. We ducked into the office after school drop off for a quick visit, then headed to the library. We talked about each of the books she wanted to borrow and she delighted in handing her library card to the librarian and having a bit of a chat. We came home for lunch and sat and played hairdressers for a while (I’m sure many of you can empathise with the knotted, hair clipped birds nest I now find myself with, but I digress). We then decided to go for a walk/bike ride before the school pickup. And it was here, as we walked/rode and chatted, that I realised that this is what she craves. She needs this 1:1 time (and in a household of 5, this can be hard to get!), despite being a highly social being. Not once today was there a moment of defiance, or “challenging behaviour”. We walked/rode and talked about the old train tracks, she asked questions about the plants, we wondered about the markings on the path together. And as we did, I realised something – she didn’t just need it – I needed it too.
As a caregiver, dealing with the behaviours/personality traits that we find challenging in a child, it can be easy to become bogged down in it, to feel like this is all they have to offer. I remember working with some children over the years in early education and care services, whose behaviour challenged me. There were children who bit, some who threw things, others who yelled or pushed. But they weren’t “bad” children! When you stopped and took time, just with them, to connect and play, those behaviours often disappeared. This 1:1 time is the perfect way for US to overcome the challenging behaviours, for us to see that there is so much more to this child than the behaviours that grab our attention and lead us to at times question our parenting/educator capabilities!
Connection is key. This is not new thinking and by know means do I claim to be an expert on children’s behaviour, yet as I spent true 1:1 time today with my youngest, I was reminded again of just how important it is. It’s not always easy to achieve in an early childhood setting, but when we see children who are acting in ways that challenge us, that impact on others, we need to remember to draw them in rather than push them away. I like to think that “time out” isn’t used in education and care settings, but sadly, there are forms of it still occurring. Children who behave in ways deemed inappropriate are removed or isolated. While I’m not suggesting that we dismiss or ignore behaviour, I do feel we need to look deeper at what’s behind the behaviour and also respond from a place of love.
Imagine you have had a rough morning on your way to work – you burned your toast, got road raged by an angry driver and lost your wallet. You walk into the staff room and someone asks why you didn’t put the washing machine on last night before you left and you snap at them. Would you rather they respond with “are you okay, do you need to talk?” or “get out of the staff room and sit in the bathroom by yourself and think about the way you just spoke time” before giving you the silent treatment for the next half hour? Sure – it’s an extreme example, but we need to remember to come from a place of love and as the saying goes “treat others as you wish to be treated”.
So, what’s the takeaway message? Connection. Next time you find yourself faced with behaviours or personalities that challenge you, ask yourself: “How can I connect with this child?” Spend time with them, communicate, be kind… play.
Written by – Nicole Halton