One of the hardest things about being a parent is figuring out when to fix our kids’ problems, and when to just listen and offer support. I’m learning this lesson, right now, with my five year old.
This is how it all began:
Cricket was busy at her small wooden craft table, cutting out random shapes and taping them together to form some kind of reptile. From the kitchen I saw her stand up to tape her creation to the art wall. All of a sudden she was on the floor. I think she had slipped on either a colored pencil or a coloring book. All I heard was the sickening sound of bones hitting hardwood.
I rushed over to see her on the floor, her legs wedged between the table and one of the chairs. I stooped down to help her, probably saying something like, “Oh, my goodness what happened? Are you okay?” I tried to help her up, planning on scooping her up in my arms to comfort her. She started screaming at me to get away from her. And not just screaming: her face was scrunched up in anger and she backed away from me so I wouldn’t touch her.
I was stunned and a little confused. Wasn’t it just this morning at 4:20 that she was in my room, wanting me to console her for having that bad dream about an animal catching fire in our living room? And now she’s screaming at me to get away from her?
My husband Bill thinks her reaction was just a surge of adrenaline from being startled. But it’s happened quite a bit since then (I guess she’s kind of accident-prone) and the screaming was getting a little out of hand. I never knew when to help or when to hang on the sidelines. So we taught her to hold up her hand like a stop sign to let us know that she’s fine, instead of lashing out and yelling at us when we try to help. This sign language seemed to be working: She was able to communicate with us without yelling; we respected her need to be independent.
Today Cricket got hurt again; this time she scraped her thumb on the metal teeth of the tape dispenser. I heard her cry out in pain and walked over to her, waiting for the stop sign. I thought to myself, This is so far-fetched. I’m a mom. My daughter is hurt. She cries; I rush to help. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
But still I waited for the sign, but she did nothing. She just sat at her table covering her thumb with her other hand. I asked her if she wanted help and she said yes. After I scooped her up and hugged her, I said, “You know what Cricket? I think we need another sign. If you want help you can either say Help please or make a come here sign with your hands.”
Now when she gets hurt or seems really frustrated with something, I approach her slowly –swallowing my parental impulse to rush over and fix everything for her –and wait for her sign.
While I’m still a little hurt that she doesn’t always want my help, I’m thinking that long term, this nonverbal communication is going to work for us. She’s learning how to tell us when to help or when to just be there to support her; we’re learning how to respect that.