Even before they understand any language at all, children are gathering impressions about the emotions and feelings being expressed around them. They know if they are being handled with tenderness and love or coldness and disinterest. They know if their parent is relaxed and contented or tense and upset. They are very aware of the emotional environment in which they live and experience their own feelings in reaction to it.
Children are People Too
Children have all the same feelings that we adults do. They may not know what the word for “embarrassed” or “humiliated” or “frustrated” or “furious” is, but they will experience these feelings if they are placed in situations that would cause them.
Example: A young boy of about three was climbing the steps onto the city bus one day when he spied the bus driver’s empty seat. His eyes lit up and his face cracked into the world’s most joyful smile as he hopped into the seat and grabbed the steering wheel, “I’m driving!” he declared to the whole bus. His uncle came up behind him and without a word, grabbed him under the arms and roughly plunked him into a passenger seat. “That’s the driver’s seat. You’re gonna get us killed,” he mumbled. With unmistakable humiliation on his red little face, the boy cried out, “You coulda asked me to move. I woulda moved. You coulda asked.”
You are their mirror. They will value themselves in direct relationship to how you value them. Too often, we send messages that say we love them…if they do something we value. Separate value from achievements.
Say: “I love you.”
Not: “I love how well you behaved today.”
Achievements should be appreciated for what they are, not attached to how much we value our child.
Say: “you are such a good jumper!”
Or: “you did such a good job of cleaning that up.”
This may seem like a very small thing, but it is not. Research into why teens are suicidal tells us that these teens report not feeling valued by their parents. They do not believe that their parents are glad they are in the family. Valuing your children is very, very important and it needs to start right at the beginning of your lives together.
Be aware of how your attitude affects your facial features and the tone of voice you use. This will have a very strong affect on a preverbal child and can completely change the meaning of words for a child who understands.
Children Face Frustration
Imagine what it would be like if you were required to learn how to crawl, walk, talk, use the toilet, hold a crayon, feed yourself and learn all the complicated rules around socializing with others…in a foreign country where you understood very little of the language. And to make it worse, you will have very little control of your life…someone else will tell you when to sleep, eat, socialize and play. And any time they feel like it, they can drag you around a hot mall all afternoon buying things they want, but refuse to give you anything you want.
The truth is most adults wouldn’t behave with as much grace as children do. Children face enormous challenges mastering all the skills they need to grow up and some days things just aren’t going to go well for them. When you’ve made sixty-five attempts to stand up by yourself and you’ve fallen on your butt sixty-fix times, it’s just not a good day. It wouldn’t be for an adult either.
Children who are in the throes of trying to master a new skill (like walking or holding a crayon and drawing) often experience such high levels of frustration that their short-temperedness and frequent tears make parents wonder where their little angel has gone. Have patience. As soon as the new skill is mastered, the child will usually become more contented and easygoing again…until the next time!
Try to anticipate how they are going to feel in particular situations and what you can realistically expect from them. For example: If they’ve been shopping in the mall with you all day, topped off with an exciting visit to Santa, don’t try to add on dinner in an “adult” restaurant. By dinner they will be exhausted and over excited, a combination that leads to tears and tantrums. Save the fancy dinner for a day when they’re rested and ready for the challenge of being on “restaurant behaviour”.