I was in a beautiful toy store with my 3.5 year old daughter last weekend. After spending some time browsing around the store, looking at different toys and objects, she found two beautiful swans that lit up, sort of like a cozy night-light, One was pink, the other, white, and she was obviously captivated by them. She played with them the whole time we were in the store – so focused and peaceful. It was lovely.
When it was time to go, I gave my daughter a little warning:
“Soon, we have to go. I see you are playing with these pretty swans. You can play for five more minutes.”
Ironically, I myself was looking to buy a small night-light for her bedroom so I thought I’d surprise her and buy one of the swans.. When the five minutes were up I told her:
“We have to go now, but, you know what? I would love to buy one swan for you! Which one do you want?”
“I want both of them,” was her immediate answer, as she held them close to her chest.
“Ah, I see. You want both of them. They are so pretty, and it’s hard to choose… I understand, but I will only buy one.”
She struggled with the idea, and soon, I was running out of time, as my husband and our friends had already left the store, and were now waiting at a coffee shop across the street.
I told her that I could see she was having a hard time choosing, and if she needed more time, she could think about it over lunch. I reassured her that when she knew which one she wanted, I would come back for one of them before we went home.
At that point she was already crying, telling me over and over that she didn’t want to leave the store, and that she wanted both swans and not just one. I calmly empathised with her but at the same time, told her confidently that it was time to go.
“We need to go now, I’m going to pick you up and help you out of the store. Here we go…”
Once outside, she calmed down. She happily ate lunch and ran around playing with her friend until it was time to pack up and go home. I then reminded her that I was ready to go back to the store and pick up one of the swans like I had promised.
We didn’t have much time since our group of two families were leaving together. I told her that if she told me which one she wanted, I would quickly go in and get it before we left the area. But she was still not ready to make her choice, telling me that she only wanted both.
“I hear you. You really want both and you liked playing with the two of them together. They are so nice! But I’m not going to buy both. You have to choose either one.”
“No, no, no, Mommy! I want both!”
And just then, the taxi arrived.
“Ah, see, the taxi has now arrived and we need to leave. I don’t have time to go into the store anymore. The opportunity has passed, sweetheart.”
Confidently but calmly, I had to carry my disappointed toddler, who was by that point in complete meltdown mode, into the taxi – still empathising with her and acknowledging the loss of the two swans.
She cried and screamed, asking to go back, telling me that she was ready to choose – quickly adding that she still wanted both! All was expressed, and all was let out. I held her calmly in the taxi and welcomed the feelings.
Letting out big feelings of loss and disappointment through a tantrum is our child’s way to essentially accept the limits we give them, and to process their experience.
Letting out big feelings of loss and disappointments through a tantrum is our child’s way to essentially accept our limits and to process their experience.
This is one way children internalise important lessons that come and go in their daily life. When we accept their feelings and allow them to go through these emotions in their own time we help make the experience all the more valuable for our children.
It’s not always easy but this afternoon I was able to allow a natural chain of events play themselves out with my daughter and I witnessed see the incredibly positive effects in the process.
As parents we need to be willing to allow life to “happen” because through these real life lessons our children get a chance to learn how the world sometimes works.
Not being afraid of allowing natural consequences, and then being ready to support our children through the often disappointing experience that follows, is a gift we can give to our children. We need to trust that they can indeed handle the big emotions that come up, and allow them to go through them.
So often, we unknowingly rob our children of these learning experiences – usually driven by fear of the emotional outbursts, the big reactions, the dreaded tantrums. We then find ourselves running around, trying to meet their every need, even the ones that are unreasonable to us!
With all of this said, we still have to be mindful about where we are coming from. When following through with the limits we place or when we allow natural consequences to play out, our own energy, thoughts, and state of mind makes a huge difference in how our children internalise these lessons, or if they internalise them at all!
For optimal learning, we need to keep few things in check:
– This is not a punishment: When we come from a place of punishment, the need of wanting to “teach the lesson” in a punitive way quickly spills into the scenario and will actually take away from the actual learning experience. Children always sense where we are coming from, and if we don’t keep our emotions in check and become frustrated with the behaviour or requests being made, we will quickly be on the fast track to shaming and punishing.
– No judgement!: That means being mindful of our judgemental thoughts:
”She is such a brat! How could she even ask for TWO of the same toy!”
“I just bought her a toy last week and now, this!”
“Can she just STOP with the whining!”
“She’s throwing a fit in the middle of the store, right after I told her I’m actually willing to buy a toy for her. How ungrateful of her!”
It can be hard not to get caught up in judgmental thoughts. We need to be ready to reframe and force ourselves to see the world through our children’s eyes. Empathy is essential for the elimination of judgment, so acknowledging feelings and showing empathy will usually keep us on the safe side.
– Don’t rub it in: To make the most of a lesson that comes from natural consequences, we have to be extra careful not to “rub it in”. This is how shame usually creeps in and quickly ruins the beauty and fairness of a natural consequence.
When we add shame to the mix our children will often feel resentful towards the lesson – and us. Shame predominantly creates either of two feelings (often a mixture of both). Firstly, shame can lead a child to internalise the belief that they are indeed “bad”. Secondly, shame creates feelings of unfairness that will often lead to wanting to push back. It becomes more likely that they will dig their heels in.
Try to steer away from:
“Yeah, see? This is what happens when you can’t make up your mind!”
“I WAS ready to buy you one toy, but because of your actions, now you get NO toy!”
Children don’t need us to explain consequences to them in full detail. They will get it, they will feel it, they will understand in their own powerful way, they will internalise it and they will learn from it.
It is a challenge for every one of us to allow a sequence of consequences to play out neutrally. Holding an empathetic space with confidence for any experience is anything but easy. Trying not to take over or interfere with the experience and keeping our own emotions out of it is an even greater challenge.
It takes practice but it is so worth it. Not only will our children learn so much more from the experience but so will we!