It had been a long night and I was so close to being on the other side of it. Then halfway through the last verse of the last bedtime song, you lifted your head up. “Wawa?” you asked. I took a cursory glance around the room, knowing I wasn’t going to see a sippy cup. “There’s no water up here. You’re fine.” “Wawa?” “Honey, no.” “Wawa!” More insistent this time. And my anger flashed to the surface, fast and red and hot and fiery. A quick intake of breath. My body stiffened, my teeth clenched. And of course you felt it. Despite my quickly stifling it, you felt it as clearly as I did and you melted into me. Your tiny body shook with sobs because the person you love most in the world, the person who you depend on for everything you need, turned momentarily monstrous because you wanted water. Because you were thirsty before going to bed and you have no autonomy with which to resolve your problems.
Imagine living life with that kind of lack of control. We talk a lot about how hard it is to be a mom, and with good reason — this gig is anything but easy. But the second week of April is “The Week of the Young Child,” and in its honor I’d like to acknowledge how hard it is to be a small child.
As a therapist, I often try to imagine what life is like for young children. If I want to find a solution to difficult behavior, I first have to try to understand it. And each time I put myself in the shoes of a young child I come to the same conclusion: Not a single one of us adults could cope with the things they have to cope with.
For starters, think about being told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it — endlessly. Eat this thing that you’ve never seen before. Don’t make a rude face (what does rude mean?). It’s time to go somewhere you don’t want to go, and hurry, hurry, hurry to meet an arbitrary timeline that means nothing to you.
Imagine failing as much as a young child does. Not being able to make your hands move the right way to cut the paper, stumbling as you run across the lawn, spilling the milk you so desperately wanted to pour (and here I am, exasperated with him again).
Another bedtime example:
“Dad, tell me how the guy got up there.” “He climbed.” “NO, tell me how he got up there?” Over and over again, our son becomes more and more frustrated until I realize he meant to say, “ASK me how he got up there?”
One wrong word changing the whole sentence and causing all that frustration. Imagine constantly failing to effectively communicate with the people in your life. Day after day, struggling to find the right word, saying one thing when you mean another, mispronouncing words so much that nobody knows what you’re saying. And then having people get frustrated with YOU, lose patience with YOU.
One of my favorite books to read with the kids is “Everywhere Babies.” The last page reads, “Everyday everywhere babies are loved. For trying so hard, for traveling so far, for being so wonderful, just as they are.” I tear up almost every time I read it because it’s so true. In spite of it all, they try and they try and they try again. They greet their days with smiles, enthusiasm, and excitement. They forgive our mistakes, our flashes of fiery, unfair anger. They meet our impatience with patience (at least sometimes), they laugh and live and love with reckless abandon.
So when they push us to the edge of our limits, let’s try to remember that we’re doing the same thing to them.
Happy “Week of the Young Child”!