Early one morning, my toddler son and I were making toast in a toaster oven. He was eagerly standing on a chair to see, learn and experience “toast”. I talked him through it, showing him the bread, placing it on the rack, pushing it inside and turning on the toaster oven.
When it was done I used the oven glove and pulled out the toast, buttered it and placed some nice red strawberry jam on top. I sliced it in two and we each had one.
I put in a second piece of bread and pushed it in. I told my son I needed to go to the bathroom.
I told my son not to touch the oven or rack as it is now getting ‘hot’. This was a word I used many times to him. I pointed at the glowing red coils inside the oven which are heating up, telling him it was now very hot. He was fascinated.
I told him not to touch the oven, again and then I stepped out of the room, intending to return fast so as not to burn the toast.
I came too late.
What I saw when I turned the corner was my son, still standing on his chair, holding his pointer finger up in the air… burning his finger tip..
He had opened the door and touched the rack the toast was laying on. He looked at me with open eyes. He was not crying or complaining, just observing and wanting answers.
All I could do is tell him that he “burned his finger”, giving terms and logic to his new situation. I carefully dressed his wound with lavender essential oil and put a bandage on it.
We then enjoyed our toast. He did not shed a tear or show much emotion about his learning experience. He had gone where I wished he had not. Perhaps if I stayed there he would not have done it, yet….. would he have learned as much? Would he try to cook his own toast when I was not around? My mind was swarming with what-ifs.
So many times we walk in to situations where we must fully experience all that we can in order to get all the information we need to move forward. It does not matter who said what warning; a person will do as they need to. This is the nature of learning.
After something has happened, especially with children, this is the time for sharing the truth about what we can about the situation. Share your own unique knowledge and experience. It is time to explain in clear adult words. It is a time to be kind and have the child talk about what they experienced. What children receive out of something gone a bit wrong is very valuable. It is how we all learn, naturally.
It is when a parent overreacts, whimpers or cries, or screams at their child (when they needed to listen to their child) is when all things can go very wrong..
The parent has lost control. They are only in their own ego and fears, and not really WITH their child and the experiencing going on. Parenting needs empathy towards the child so that the child can build conscious information about the world they live in.
A parent must also be empathetic towards their self, and recognize that they have fears and they do not need to pass “fear” on to a child who is in a situation. After the experience has happened there will be many opportunities where you can talk with your child about all the pieces so that they learn how to stay safe through their own consciousness.
Parents are not there to make things worse, through passing fears, or screaming, blaming or punishing a child. We are not there to mimic what the child might feel. Not a time for ‘baby-talk”.
We are to be the Rock of Understanding and help the child put this experience in to a logical order for their own Life Library. Situations build upon each other. No two situations are alike. No two children are alike.
My son was not crying when I saw his finger. He was looking at it like a scientist
Inside I was chastising myself for leaving him alone, but on the outside, I was kind and clear with him. Yes, the rack he touched was very hot. It is an oven. Ovens cook things. We do not cook our fingers. Your finger needs some help but it will be fine as it knows how to heal itself.
I showed him the oven mitt I use to move the hot tray so fingers would not get burned. Teach him all that he needs if he were to do this when no one was around, yet also telling him he needs someone around as he is young and might need help. He needs permission from his parents to use this oven or the stove..
For in my mind I was thinking, he might just try to cook something when I least expect it, I must show him how it is done. He never really did, instead he trusted me to show him how to do things, following me with curiosity. The key word here is “trust”. He is learning both how to work the oven, but also trust.
Because I did not yell at him, but taught him in that moment, he felt safe to learn more with me, instead of behind my back like many children do after their parents get scary.
He even wanted to wash dishes (Oh Yea!) to see what that was about…. but it was just once. (shucks!)
I thought back to when my cousin, about four years old, was wanting to string popcorn with his older siblings and me. He kept reaching out for the needle and thread, but his mother was hovering over us telling him, “NO!”
When she left the room, I handed him my needle and thread, and showed him how with his holding his hands and making the threading movements and angles.
He pushed the needle through the popcorn and right to his hand and poked it. He tried again and poked his hand with the needle.
He looked at me without a word and handed me the needle and thread, content to hand me popcorn one at a time.
It just took twice for him to know he would not be doing this. He had not punctured his skin, just felt the sharpness. He now knew “why” his mother was telling him no. He had more information for his growing curiosity. I gave him the safe space to learn his own way.
Would his mother be angry with me for letting him, and especially because he stuck his hand with the needle? Yes. Because she was over protective and wanting her child not to grow up. But all children grow up, and fast. Its best to be with them and help them experience than to leave it for a later time when there is no one with them. I was there to stop anything from getting dangerous.
If his mother was in the room, she would have instilled fear and anger by yelling at him. She would have made him angry by insisting he was too young to try.
I allowed his experience. He watched me and my eyes as he was trying it. He was fearful that I would yell at him. He was used to yelling as communication. Now he knew why his mother was afraid and why he was not invited to do it. He was satisfied. Needles can hurt. It takes hand control.
I showed kindness by gently guiding his aim of the needle so perhaps he could succeed. He came the same conclusion as his mother, no, he is not ready. This was valuable to him and satisfied his hunger for learning.
His parents were ‘screamers and naysayers’ about most everything. They taught me how that approach has many negative outcomes. Yet in this moment, perhaps he also bridged the reason ‘why’ his parents yelled, that they did know what they were talking about.
I am not telling this to show off that I am a great parent, for there are other stories that might make you cry about my own learning about being a parent. I am giving stories about what works, Parenting is not a set of paths and rules. It is a hard road of which one must take time for self reflection, cause and affect, and understanding what the child might be thinking, feeling and learning.
Generations of teaching through example was/is the way for indigenous peoples. They had children watch and learn.
Few words were even spoken as the child knew from the beginning that it was all in watching, catching the details and movements, the sequence of things and how to treat items.
When did this style of teaching change in to the constant yelling and hitting of children, “…don’ … no … I told you…”, and other very hateful actions? When did we also chop knowledge in to segments for the day and leave out the full sequences so that it never makes sense for some time?
Parents are the first teachers and when a child gets one too many screams, they develop differently. They become scared to include parents in their life. They try very edgy stuff out of spite. They try to shield themselves from the hate and anger the parents show when all the children wanted was to understand and know how to deal with something in the future.
Children can react to the yelling and hitting in many different ways. Some just let it go, as they see that is what parents do. Some will resent it, as it is a message that tells them they are incompetent. Some children will shrink and feel bad, like they are bad, something that over time is very hard to overcome. Some will become defiant and start doing things behind their parents hovering watch. Most children feel badly in many ways to hear their much-loved parents telling them they did wrong.
Children want to please their parents, naturally, until a point where the parents made it too difficult for them to be pleased. Then the children feel alone and unsafe. As they become adults these feelings are an unfortunate foundation for their life and choices.
Ironically most parents think they that yelling to stop or no is making things safe. They are too distracted to even know what is going on. They are oblivious that their chld is growing minute by minute towards being an adult.
If a parent always disapproves and does not guide with words or showing, then a child’s world becomes very unsafe for them. Growing in to an adult with only a child’s level of learning, makes for a dangerous life. They can learn as adults and restructure their beliefs, but it is difficult to see the details.
Kindness and guiding, choosing clear words to build knowledge, while also listening to the child tell their experience is the parenting way, or like I love to call it, we are “tour guides”. We show them the ways of our world so one day they can go it alone and in a wise way.
As I carefully watched my son eating his yummy toast, I could see he was content. He now had knowledge and was comfortable with his finger. In the days ahead he would watch how his finger would heal and learn something from that too.
I knew he learned more vocabulary which will help us both in the future. And he now knows how to make our golden toast! I learned much that day, about myself and my son.
Parenting is an on-the-job training. Love, compassion, kindness and a steady mind can take the whole family far, instilling confidence that was learned naturally.
~ Carolyn Thompson
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