Parents need to learn as their children do

Have you ever heard a parent tell their child they were going to leave them behind?

The other day I was in a public facility and I overheard an adult saying, “I’m going to leave you here – goodbye.”

Still, the little person being addressed was slow to respond to the potential change in location. As a mother of three children now aged 12, 9 and 7, I know I have said the same words to my kids. It’s hard to motivate some children that the time has expired and you must relocate.

Sometimes it’s very hard to take off our adult hat and look at the situation through the eyes and understanding of a child. Children are very good at living in the present moment. We as adults are sometimes focused on the future or past, rather than the here and now. Children’s senses are immersed in the ‘public facility,’ the beauty of the environment, and the materials or goods that are staring them in the face. Their childlike mind is not considering the past or future while they enjoy the present.

Foundational to all our interactions with our kids is physical safety, followed by emotional safety. When those needs are met we have the opportunity to respond or react to the situation at hand. There are two things to consider when dealing with the common problem of the parent needing to leave and the child who is not ready yet: temperament and language skills.

Temperament should be taken into account here because some children are quick to move and change whereas others are slow and methodical about how they process change. Some children need a warning every few minutes that the time to leave is coming. Others respond immediately and are ready to go. As you study your child you will begin to see what will help them be most successful when it’s time to leave your current location.

Beyond considering the temperament of the child, one thing I have learned in my journey of parenting and working in early childhood in our community that is invaluable is that we need to state what we desire to see.

For example, “When the big hand is on the 12 and the little hand is on the 2 we need to be in our car.” So, the opposite example would be: “Don’t think about a pink lizard.” Now, why would you ever think about a pink lizard except for the fact that I suggested that you not do so, right?

Children see in their mind what we say. “Don’t run.” – they see running because they don’t have a picture of “not running.” They can picture being in the car when the clock is on a certain number.

This idea really sank in for me when listening to Dan Hodgins speak during Parenting Awareness Month regarding the differences in mother’s and father’s parenting styles. A dad might say, “We are going to the park. Get in the car.” A mom might say, “Get your sweatshirt, did you feed the dog, we need sunscreen, how about a Frisbee and a water bottle?” Is this how it is at your house too? How is the asking interpreted by your children? It depends on their age, gender and temperament, right?

I learned to adjust my message to say, “I want to see three kids by the front door, ready to go to school.” In their mind they can see this – coats and backpacks on, lunch bags in hand, ready to get out the door. It has simplified my life.

None of this learning comes easy. It sometimes seems we learn it too late to be useful, but tools that improve our relationship with our kids are good investments of our time. It takes some consciousness of your words and interactions and with a few minor adjustments we can help our children be most successful and enjoy the journey of parenting.

Cynthia Corey is the Manistee County child care specialist for the Great Start program.

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