There has been this big reaction about a young matriculant and his art. I am not going to share the video of the person who shared it for various reasons. What I want to address is the way a parent handled this situation, mostly because we tend to parent this way and don’t even realise it…
Just for those who missed the whole debacle, here is what you need to know as it pertains towards this specific incident.
An adult man, saw art pieces done by a matriculant (child) and felt deeply offended and upset and on the surface one could understand why he felt this way. He jumped to a conclusion, and disrespected the child’s work by making a video of it and basically shamed the matric for what he has done. He touched the art work and showed deep disrespect for the art itself.
In the video one can see that there is actually rationales added with each artwork as the theme is controversial.
The matriculant did artwork that is deeply researched and explained in the rationale. His artwork is displayed in an area where there is limited access to it and there was specific warnings put up. He has done everything right. Art is subjective and usually tells the story of how the artist sees the world, or the subject matter. It is a journey and has to be seen as commentary about the world the artist finds themself immersed in.
So what does this have to do with parenting you may ask?
As an adult we tend to jump to “superior conclusions” when we deal with something a Child has done. We tend to do what the man in the video did.
There is a sign stating this content is controversial – Our kids put signs up with their behaviour or just the tone of their voice. It warns us as parents to tread carefully, mindfully and be ready to actually hear what is going on.
Our kids give us their rationale – yet we tell them to stop back chatting, fall in line and that their thinking isn’t as superior as ours. “Mother/Father knows best”
They share their lived experience with us, how it shaped them – and we dismiss their feelings and experiences. We tell them what they have to feel, think and that if only they would get with the program, they will see it our way.
They ask us to not share, touch or just respect them – and we make “videos” and share it with the world. We make it all about us and forget about them
That painful controversial art in the hearts of our children are being battered and abused by us, because we think we know best. We do not listen, we share their stories without their context and the hurt they suffer, ripples to others.
We wonder why our kids stop trusting us. Reactions like this, that is why. Why should our children trust us, when we negatively label their lives and jump to conclusions? We as adults can do better. Our kids are thinking, living, experiencing human beings. If they open the hidden corner of their life to you, the best you can do is, keep quiet and listen and learn. Adults do not always know best
The principle of sharing is stamped into our minds from very young, and we expect the same from our children. However this is a very difficult concept for a child to grasp. As parents we use the word share ambiguously, we share food and we share toys, we share a cake and we share a bike.
Children under the age of 7 struggle to understand nuanced words, as they are mostly concrete literal thinkers. So when we talk about the word share, it means literally having equal and fair amounts, all enjoying it at the same time. I can share cake or food, as we can all eat together. Food is something that can be divided up into fair and equal amounts. Toys cannot.
Children can take turns. Taking turns is easy to understand. You play now and then when you are done, I get a turn to play until I am done. This is a social contract that can be managed by the children themselves. This works on similar principles as toy sharing, but the language we use to explain this will either empower or disempower our children and others. Taking turns is a concept and word our children can both process and understand at a young age, whereas sharing is not
I cannot share a toy car between two friends, as one will play with the toy while the other waits. It also creates the idea or concept that the one playing with the car is not being a kind friend. This then places the parent in a position of having to manage or regulate how long a child gets to play with the toy. It eliminates the opportunity for the child with the toy to decide they are done, exercise control and learn from the social interaction. The child without the toy feels let down by the parent and then also struggles to learn anything from the interaction, except that they are feeling left out and rejected. Taking turns also creates opportunities to swap and negotiate use of the toys.
Obviously the younger the child, the more guidance they will need while learning this concept, but they will get the hang of it over time.
What are the rules for taking turns?
1 – When your child is playing with a toy and someone else wants it, they can ask for the other child to wait their turn.
2 – Your child determines when they are done with said toy.
3 – If your child wants a toy and someone else is busy with it, they can ask the other child to pass that toy to them when they are done.
4 – No parent is the gatekeeper of a toy or time played with said toy
5 – If your child is having difficulty waiting, help them find something else to play with while they wait.
Guiding your child:
It is important in the beginning to give your child the words to use, but not speak on their behalf, unless it is necessary.
Here is a list of sentences you can teach your child to say:
“When you are done, can I have a turn?”
“I am not done yet. When I am done, you can have a turn.”
“Thank you for remembering that it is my turn.”
“I will wait and play with something else.”
“Would you like to play with this toy? Can we swap when you are done?”
What would this teach our children in the long run?
1 – Delayed gratification and patience – Having to wait and not being the one determining the time they need to wait is important for impulse control and emotional development.
2 – Negotiation skills – learning to swap and negotiate for toys, will one day serve them well when they need to negotiate in adulthood.
3 – The ability to move on and find something else to occupy themselves with. Thus learning to manage and regulate their emotions and expectations.
4 – What they are busy with is important and they don’t have to sacrifice their own learning and development to satisfy someone else’s needs. – This is so important! Kids learn through play, so when they are busy with a toy, they are actually learning and developing their brain. Adults have the tendency to want to intervene and stop the play for the sake of peace, but we are really doing no-one any favours by intervening.
5 – Social contracts are there for them to manage – We want our kids to be kind and inclusive, both now and in their adult years. By giving them the skills to manage the playground dynamics and letting them learn this when they are young we are setting them up for success.
6 – Self-reliance and independence that leads to problem solving skills – They need to be able to learn to trust themselves and their own needs. We as adults won’t always be present all the time during their lives, so being there while they learn the skills, and allowing them to manage it themselves, gives confidence in their own personal skills.
When would a parent intervene.
1 – If a child gets so upset that they get violent – you block and remove the violent child
2 – When your child struggles to wait, you help them work through their emotions and redirect. You do not intervene with the toy situation.
3 – Block snatching of toys
4 – Allow your child to work through their emotions
5 – Keep giving the words to your child and empower them to use it.
Parenting a three and four year old is pretty intense. They are the concentrated essence of their being, their personality and everything in the world. This age is when they mirror us as parents the most. This is the age where they start whining (which is a good thing) pushing harder on boundaries and become bossy. This is the age where it feels as if you want to give up on parenting all together.
Each age has their moments, however it feels as if these two years are the longest and toughest years a parent will ever have to parent. These years creates in us the everlasting fear of the teenage years. They are not called threenagers for nothing.
At this age your child has basically completed a very big developmental leap. At the age of 18 to 24 months their brain disconnects the idea that, the primary caregiver and they, are one and the same person. The physicality of their being is now two entities. Only at the age of 7 does it dawn on them that they do not share a brain with their primary caregiver or anyone else for that matter. From age 2 years to approximately 2.5 to 3 years, this discovery is what they focus on. So they will start to experiment with independence in play, always using the primary caregiver as a homing beacon.
These skills takes time to develop and practice. They look to their parents for guidance on how this will look and they try to mimic everything we do. Their frustration levels is through the roof. Have you ever looked at something being done, try it yourself and it just did not work out? This is a constant for them. They can see how things are suppose to work, from social interaction to engaging with the material world, but the result is just wrong more often than not.
They get frustrated because we just don’t seem to get what they want and they struggle mid-frustration to use their words, just like us. So they scream and whine and cry. Whining is a sign that they are trying to override their emotions to interact with their rational brain, where they have a better command of words and better control of their body. It takes time, be patient with them and yourself.
So how do we parent through the emotional outbursts and the whining? The feeling of constant push back and willfulness?
6 Tips for parenting 3 and 4 year olds
1. Eye level:
It is so important to remember to go down to your child’s eye level and engage with them there. A towering person, feels threatening and increases the hormonal output of fight or flight. Make the effort to look them in the eyes when talking with them. First it is less scary and secondly it invites them into a conversation, instead of a confrontation.
2. Acknowledge their emotions:
Nothing is more empowering than knowing that your emotions are recognised, respected and valid. Help them through it with support, recognition and being present. Emotions are nothing to be scared of, if you run away from their emotional expressions, you are telling them that their emotions are bad and should be feared. That in itself stunts the developmental process they are engaging with.
3. Lean into the situation:
This is contrary to how most of us were raised. We were raised that negative emotions and expressions in behaviour should ostracize the person expressing them. They should remove themselves until they feel better or can better express themselves. This is not healthy. Yes you can move your child away from a public setting, but only to help them work through what they are experiencing and feeling. Never leave your child alone to work through these big emotions. Try to remain unruffled and matter of fact.
Things you can say:
“I am moving you to a different room, so that you can work through your emotions with me.”
“ I am not scared of how you are feeling, you are safe”
“I am with you”
“I love you”
“This is big emotions. I sense You feel frustrated” – (whatever emotion you can pinpoint at that particular point in time)
4. Don’t step into the power struggle:
Power struggles are only effective if there is two people in the struggle. Your child is trying to determine their own authority and abilities. There is no need, nor will there ever be a need to try and prove who is in control. The moment you as the parent start arguing with your child about who is in control, your child is in control of the situation. If you lean into the emotional expression and just calmly keep your boundary, there will not be a power struggle. The moment you feel like you have something to prove or have something to lose, that is when you stepped into the power struggle. In a power struggle no-one wins. Children find security in the calmness of the parent.
5. Give them real choices:
Children this age wants more autonomy. Giving choices, that are real choices for autonomy, will help navigate this learning curve. Real choices are important. A real choice is where no matter what they choose, their choice cannot and will not be overridden or punished. If the choices you give your child is choices that ends in a situation where you as the parent will have to override the choice or one of the options given is punitive, the choice becomes manipulation instead of empowerment. Ie Real choice: “We are going to a park with thorns. Would you like to put your shoes on now, or when we get there?” Manipulation “Put on your shoes or we don’t go to the park.”
6. Check your own behaviour:
This is the toughest one for parents to embrace. We are our children’s main sphere of information. They look to us for the “how, when, where and why” of behaviour. If your child speaks rudely or bossy to you, chances are that you have been speaking to your child and other that way for a while now. Children in this age group start to experiment with authority. Where do they learn how authority is expressed and engaged with? From you as the parent. So check yourself. Check how you speak to them. How often do you ask them to wait before you engage with them? How do you say no? If your behaviour has been dismissive and abrupt, go apologise to your child and admit it. Tell them you will try to pay attention to how you speak to them. They will internalize that apology and start checking their own way of doing things.
Lastly, give your child space to grow and learn.
Parenting is messy and fun. Enjoy it, learn and grow in it.
My eldest was just over a year, when a very powerful realisation struck me. I was not able to explain why I felt the way I did, nor could I verbalise as to why I spoke up. It just happened. Later it all made sense. My eldest was going through a developmental leap, he wanted nothing to do with any person besides his mom. Dad was proverbial chopped liver and so was the rest of the world.
We went to visit my folks, and as soon as anyone tried to take him away from me, he would wail and scream. Initially I would let him cry for about 2 minutes in the family member’s arms and then whisk him away to breastfeed. He would stop crying and calm down at my breast, but as soon as he was calm, another well meaning family member would try to take him away again. So the day continued. My son crying more often than usual, family members taking him, because they want to play. Me having to use breastfeeding as a shield and excuse to get him back so that he can stop crying.
I did not have the guts to say to them, don’t pick him up or take him. Just engage with him here in my arms. I swear I fed more that day than on a growth spurt. By the end of the day, both him and I have had enough.
In came my brother. He wanted to show him off to his colleagues over skype. He wanted to “bond” with my son. The moment he picked him up, my son started crying, for the umpteenth time that day. I have had enough. I asked for my son back. Which was refused, I asked again and my brother walked away with my screaming child in his arms. That was when I snapped and said “Please respect my child’s feelings. Now give him back to me.”My child was shoved into my arms, he stopped crying almost immediately and my brother stomped out of the room.
I was shaking angry and scared. That day the reality dawned on me, that I am my child’s voice, but I have been compromising him for the sake of family and my needs to not be rejected. I was angry at myself that I was so scared to cause a scene or a fight, that I did not protect my child. It took me almost eight hours, of a screaming child and then nursing said child, to finally not care that I upset a family member.
We so desperately want our family to love our child. We so desperately want the approval of our family members, that we forsake the very child, who needs us more, we and compromise on their needs, wants and feeling of safety and autonomy. A few weeks later, my brother informed me, that he can no longer love my child because of the way that I spoke to him, and the fact that I restrict the interaction (read when my child cries I step in and remove my child from the situation), he no longer feels like he wants to build a relationship with my son. That moment was when I found the words for what I have instinctively been fighting for and against. That very moment it became crystal clear.
To them, my child is an accessory to their happiness. He has to respect their needs. My child was not a human to them, but a means to stroke their ego and have their own needs fulfilled. My child’s need to feel safe and okay was not even secondary on their priority list, it just never featured. They wanted to be known as the uncle or grandparent who could calm the baby down. The uncle or grandparent who could make the baby smile. The uncle or grandparent who gets to brag about how cute this baby is. My baby became the the collar for their own self worth and I became the obstacle to their selfish drive.
They were taught no different while growing up. They could not see their behaviour as wrong, because that is just how things are suppose to be done. A child has to fit into the family, the family does not have to create space and change for the sake of the child.
From that day forward I had to learn how to be brave enough to set boundaries and accept the backlash it caused. With every boundary I enforced, I could see my child grow stronger in his own voice and he became more confident. I wish I could say that I never stepped into that compromised, scared and angry place again. That I always put my child first when dealing with the family. I stumbled on this new terrain of rejection and struggled as I grew. However I did grow and my voice became louder and prouder.You may ask, why is it an issue when we compromise for the sake of family?
It is simple really. While we teach our children to be afraid of stranger danger. We teach our children that their bodies are their own, unless it is a family member who just wants a hug, or just wants a kiss. We tell them especially at the infancy age, when they literally can only cry to announce their needs, that their needs does not matter when it comes to older family members. We try to keep the peace and ignore the cry for as long as we can stand it, because we are scared to make the family member feel unloved or scrutinised.
We allow our family members to override our parenting, because we are scared to be “that” parent, or we are scared to be ostracized by our clan. Our drive to belong creates an environment where we compromise our children’s sense of autonomy, safety and self, all for the sake of peace.
We don’t realise that we are teaching our children to compromise themselves for the sake of belonging. We teach them to compromise their safety for the sake of others. We look at the world and ask why do children so easily forget the values we teach them, yet we taught them that the core value of their personhood is compromisable for the sake of belonging.
Children and babies are not responsible to make adults feel loved and happy. It is not their responsibility to be brag worthy. It is adults’ responsibility to make kids feel loved, protected and safe. It is adults’ responsibility to listen and adhere to the rules of personhood. Adults need to learn to respect children as whole human beings and that their NO and STOP has the same value and power as that of an adult.