I’m a big fan of reading a lot about things that interest me. This, combined with hands-on experience, and listening to people I respect, is pretty much how I figure parenty things out. I’d love to say that I simply trusted my instincts on everything but things are not always as clear as that. For me, at least, I don’t always feel there is one obvious answer. I can get caught up in the many options of approaching something unless something or someone pulls me out of my own head.
So I’ve been doing all the above recently and contemplating Ava as she is now – in the full throes of complicated toddlerdom. Any description somehow falls short. If I were to tell you she is serious, I would be reminded by some of how joyous she can be. If I were to call her laid back, I’d be reminded of how intensely she can feel things. And that is as it should be – the palimpsest nature of a personality forming, many things at once.
And then, also, I’d be reminded by those who have toddlers of their own that they are a very complicated lot. In fact, I laughed out loud reading an article a couple of days ago about a toddler’s ability to freak out over anything. It’s true. Sometimes, any little thing can be the BIGGEST DEAL IN THE WORLD.
What is easy to forget though is our own personality that is always a factor too – How we are, how we feel and approach things is also thrown into the mix of behaviour and reaction and the outcome is all the messiness and intricacies of a relationship between two people.
I look at Ava and I think that, if I had to catgeroize her as a personality ‘type’, she’d be ‘the serious child‘. That is, her resting point if you will, is one of serious contemplation. She is an old soul. She has little time for dealing with the annoying constraints of being a child. She loves adult company as much if not more than other children’s. And I haven’t articulated this before, but just as the description of ‘serious children‘ suggests, what she wants and needs more than anything is to feel respected.
Much like her father, like most Librans I know, I sense that she has little time for…well, bullshit. She is comfortable around people who let her be, who don’t ask her to perform or who don’t try to control her. This is definitely Ava, but is it not also most children, too? Serious or light-hearted (as I expect Ezra is), whatever it is they need and want has to be respected otherwise everything else goes out of kilter, too.
It is often as simple as taking the time to explain why we can’t do something, and offering an alternative, rather than simply saying, ‘no, not just now’. I can see the difference immediately, in Ava’s face, in her behavior.
And trying not to make a big deal out of things has had the biggest effect of all, recently. I think it easier for children to act positively (and I don’t mean compliantly, but rather, in a harmonious way with themselves) when they are not acting out of resistance or rebellion.
Ava has a strong sense of personal space, although you might not know that if you are someone she is very comfortable with (in which case she might be draped across your shoulders or hanging round your legs). And she has strong emotional responses to certain things (although I do understand this is part of being a toddler). I suspect that like me she is very sensitive to subtle things. And with sensitivity like that comes empathy too, and compassion, which needs to be respected and protected.
Particularly at this stage when they are testing out how to be, what is and is not acceptable, the reactions of those around them have an incredibly significant impact. If these big emotions are not accepted, are ridiculed or discouraged, then they learn not to show them. They learn disconnection instead of connection. And something quite terrible about the world around them – that it is more acceptable to be emotionally abstemious than it is to feel things fully. That in order to be accepted you must conform, hide, be less.
Sensitivity is a gift and all children should feel that (I’ve been told that I would become very sad if sad music played when I was very young. Ava is like this too, and becomes concerned if anything seems sad. She talks about books and films and songs as ‘happy songs’ and I can see from the way she focuses on this, and needs to talk about it, that it really affects her when something makes her feel sad).
Two nights ago Howard showed her a video he’d taken at work – a toy rocket ship being launched into the air then hitting him, and him pretending to fall over. Well, Ava was inconsolable. Sobbing her little heart out, and repeating, ‘Daddy got hurt, Daddy got hurt’. We explained about just pretending and she asked to see it again.
So we showed her again. And, yup, she became inconsolable again. And we felt very stupid for showing her it again. All evening she kept talking about it. About how the rocket went up and then fell and then hit daddy and Daddy got hurt but he was just pretending. She obviously really needed to work it out, and this coming back to it again and again was her way of talking it through and accepting it.
This is true of behaviour too, and I’ve not considered how important that repetition is until a friend said something yesterday – and it makes sense. Repetition is how we learn. We do it ourselves skillfully, we do not need to be told to do things repeatedly. And if it is a thing we want to learn or need to learn as part of our development then we will recreate experiences again and again which allow us to work through them and learn
(And as an aside, I do love how the more we parent the more obvious this unschooling way of life becomes for us – everything we read about and talk about is proved again and again just by living – the way we learn, the way children learn, is so fascinating. It is so innate and instinctual and needs so little from us besides support and assistance when asked. More on that in another post)
So right now Ava is working a lot of things out – where she ends and the world begins. How to share. The need for boundaries. I think toddlerdom is so hard because it is really the first time that they see themselves as part of the world – their sense of ‘other’ is now challenged and adapted to include not just ‘mother’ or ‘father’ but everyone. Their deperate need to be free and explore combined with a need to feel held and protected too. And like every stage, it changes quickly, and so much is learned every day that it can be hard to keep up.
Ava suits being a big sister. She likes to teach. After the rocket ship video incident, she kept reassuring Ezra, ‘It okay Ezwah, Daddy just pretending’. And it was a heartwarming thing to see, as it is every day – a relationship between two siblings that is their own. The adoration in Ezra’s eyes for his big sister, no matter how many times he gets banged or squished. However many children we end up having, the way they teach each other, love each other and exist alongside one another will be, I think, the most amazing thing to watch unfold.