On Raising {Emotionally} Responsible {Smart} Children

Originally Published December 7th 2014.

After stuffing her little legs into tights, putting on a leotard, driving through the city and trooping through the wet parking lot we made it to the dance studio. She ripped off her outer layer and skipped through the studio door without looking back as I took my seat next to a mother in the front row of chairs. The mother next to me had brought in her hysterical little one who absolutely did not want to go inside. With a flick of her wrist this mama told her daughter "leave now please" and her daughter sulked into the doors sniffling back tears.

Five minutes later when Grace came tumbling through the door in near hysterics straight into my lap it felt awfully familiar to the previous incident. After years of this caregiving thing I have learned something that I think revolutionizes how we interact with all children. Little ones do not respond well to words. Little ones are action based, they need life modeled for them.
With that I have stopped asking a sobbing children with great concern and a booming voice "WHAT IS WRONG?! WHAT HAPPENED?! SHH SHH TELL ME WHAT HAPPENED?!" Instead I model calmness in my body, I steady my breath to a matchable pace, I rub little backs and I let them cry. My goal is not to find out exactly what happened right away, my goal is to give the child an inbreath in an outbreath world. When we as adults are upset, near tears (or already there) in public the last thing we would want is someone asking us one hundred questions. We would go to the bathroom, calm ourselves down and decide what we need in that moment.

These are sacred moments, one does not rush into sacredness.

Raising our voices to a panicked level, and being concerned ourselves does not calm a child. Asking questions that a child is too upset to answer or even understand does not work. Dare I say when we start asking questions and saying things like "SHH Calm down!" we are belittling feelings, feelings that we will beg children in a decade to please share with us. Feelings that in two decades they will have stuffed so deep that they do not even know they exist any more.
So I model calmness, I model breathing and in a few minutes Grace calms down. She slides off my lap and takes a few long breaths. She has seen me do this when her brother does something he was asked not to do, to calm down my own body and take some breaths. Modelling is how little ones learn.

With that she marches right back into that dance room and when she comes back 30 minutes later she chats on and on about how wonderful her class was, how she loves her little friends and her teacher. To the shock of the lady next to me I never even mentioned the tears, they had passed in a long wave of preschool emotions.

When Grace marched back into that room that same mama leaned over and asked half shocked and half annoyed what I would have done if Grace wanted to go home. I gave her a smile, as a young caregiver I give into an inferiority complex easily, forgetting that we are all mamas in spirit just trying to make sense of this world. In a tone much too low I told her simply that we would have gone home.

As adults at some point in our lives we have all decided to cancel on something last minute, to leave an event early, to say no to something, to decide we are too tired/sick/weary to do something. We get that choice as adults and yet we never award it to children.

When a child decides they are too tired or just do not want to go to an event we force them, we say it is responsibility in action. But maybe the responsible thing is what the child has already done, they have taken check of their own emotions, and they have decided what they can and cannot handle.

Maybe it is our job to shepherd that choice in littles, to let go of trying to teach them adult responsibility and obligations and instead show them responsibility to themselves. These little ones are wired for self-care, they are wired to know what they do and don't need. Yet we rewire them to fit into adult obligations and responsibilities and then 20 years later we get annoyed when they are burnt out after college because they never took care of themselves, or maybe we helped them forget how.
The goal is to raise children into balanced, well rounded, confident people who are innovators and free thinkers, not anxious followers desperate to fit in. -Emily Bartan

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