Peter and the Wolf, Love-Bombing and Difficult Stages
When my mom was a little girl, she stole something from the store. Her mother found out, and instead of scolding or punishing or dragging her back to the store by her ear, my grandmother picked up my mom and held in her in her lap and told her she loved her.
I don't think this was the way my grandmother usually parented and yet, in that moment, I think my grandmother did some of her finest parenting.
The other day I read a post about a parent whose six-year-old child is not being his most lovable endearing self around the parents. One of the commenters referred to a technique called "love bombing." I googled it and read it and thought it was a bit goofy, but also thought there was something to it. The idea was that you re-set your child's emotional thermostat by spending a couple specially chosen days just loving and listening and following your child's lead. By doting on your child during this scheduled event (such as a weekend away from home), you somehow let them know that you are really there for them and that in turn, allows them to reconnect with you. It makes sense in the same way that my grandmother's hug made sense.
I've learned, as an educator and just as a person, that sometimes the people that are the most exasperating are the ones that need the most love. And, once you give them that love and attention and authentic relationship, they sometimes become the ones you love the most. So, as much as I want to respond to kids with consistency and high expectations, I also think sometimes they (me too) just need whatever it takes to feel loved and cared for -- and with that in place, then they are able to pull themselves up and continue forth.
All this goes through my head as I grapple with my little boy.
He's three. He's got some good language skills. He's pretty sensitive and amazingly aware of big concepts. He has grieved the passing of the seasons and asked us about death. He makes connections between real life and the books we've read. He's imaginative and often thoroughly immersed in a world of pretend play.
For a while now, we've noticed that he incorporates any scary element from books into his play. At first I was concerned. My boy was playing the part of the huntsmen after reading Snow White. Why couldn't he be a different character? He was trekking through the house preparing to cut open the wolf's stomach to rescue then grandmother. Then, my boy was the wolf. I want my boy to be the good guy. I want my boy to be the hero, not somebody greedy and selfish and mean and violent.
I googled the reasons kids play the parts of bad guys and came back with a lot of things that validated my feeling that it probably was okay to play the bad guy. It's play! It's how kids learn about the world and process the characters. It's how they can feel big and strong and in control. And heck -- it's fun. I love pretending to be a monster so I can eat up my kids or chase them and hang them upside down while they scream in glee.
Later that week I also had the added realization that when my boy takes on the antagonist and I scream or cry in mock fear as he comes to eat me or cut open my stomach, he gets to see that I'm not REALLY afraid and that things really are okay. It validates that this is a world of pretend and that everything must be okay because, I, his parent am not flustered a bit. I actually think that this is where he does the most shedding of his fears.
Overall, I'm amazed at the amount of self-regulation my boy has to develop to go through these scenarios. Not only is he processing the fearful parts from the story and acting them out and interacting with others, but he is doing so without crossing the line from pretend acting to real-life behaviors. We have talked about how it is okay to wield a pretend axe, but not to really hit someone. It must be very hard to be totally immersed in pretend world, but to hold back enough to not actually do any damage. He pulls it off.
But now my little boy has started something new. He's helpless. It began after a two week trip. Last year after we traveled, he stuttered for a couple weeks. It was his way of working through his anxiety suggested a speech pathologist. We did not respond to the stuttering and it went away. I expected some type of post-trip reaction this time too because I knew my little guy was so "on" while we traveled.
He was aware and curious and concerned about our plans. He took an active role in remembering what we had done and what we were planning on doing. He was a blast to travel with and I expected he would have to decompress a bit.