You pick your little sister up for a coffee date and she goes to throw her bag in the backseat, where you have a million things piled up from your recent thrift store splurge. You tell her she might not want to place her bag back there, as she’ll lose it, (quite possibly forever). “Oh, I’m sorry!” She says as she stuffs it between her feet. Yet she doesn’t have to be sorry. The two of you decide to take the coffee with you so you can drive around listening to some throwback tunes, catching up. Your sister demands that this round of caffeine is on her, and hands you $6. You give her $3 back and tell her it only costs $2.55. She immediately apologizes. You then ask her to hold the tray of drinks, but she doesn’t hear you. She’s daydreaming. You ask again, and she quickly snaps back to reality, “Oh yes, here, pass it to me, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!”
We all know someone who has this obsessive apologizing habit. The truth is, it’s probably not solely the fact that Canadians apologize so much, and she most likely didn’t exit the womb apologizing to the doctors and nurses for her late arrival. Or for all the noise she made when she got there. It’s also safe to say that she didn’t apologize to your mother for finger painting the walls with the contents of her own diaper on her first birthday.
No. Of course she didn’t.
Your sisters constant need to apologize is a learned behaviour. This seems pretty obvious put this way, but the thing we tend to not understand frequently enough, is that WE are creating these habits in the people around us. I mean, apologizing all the time isn’t a toxic one, but there are plenty of behaviours that are.
You know that “annoying” kid down the street? The one that everyone is always saying “just wants attention” and “never stops talking”? Perhaps his parents often hand him an iPad or put on a program for him. When he speaks they don’t make eye contact, when he asks questions they’re too busy. He goes out for lunch with his mom and her friend and they gossip the entire time, talking over every word he says.
Now, we know very well that no parent is perfect by any means, but when these tendencies are occurring regularly, the child now seeks the attention and attachment he is lacking at home, wherever else he can find it.
I have been interested in the different traits and habits people have in their personalities, and why they develop them, for as long as I can remember.
Growing up, I always said I wanted to be a teacher. But, out of high school, I was quite honestly a bit lazy when it came to this dream. I “settled” for Early Childhood Education. This ended up being the best half ass decision I ever made (other than conceiving 🤷🏼♀️).
I went into this program thinking it would be all creating puppets and singing, and while I indeed had to make my own puppet at home and go to class and sing with it… in front of the entire group…. It did become much more than that. A large majority of people have the wrong idea about those in the field of Child Care. They essentially think of it as glorified babysitting, playing all day. While it can be both of these things, the impact is much larger.
In my second year of classes, I went to my Child Development classes thinking it would be more on the “boring” side of things (so young, so naive). This class ended up becoming the highlight of my week. Every week. I was completely intrigued. I learned about the connection between the things we SAY to children and how it develops their little beings, and how remarkable it is. Both good and bad.
Think about it: Children are born with a blank slate. They learn through play; exploring their worlds as little scientists, and also, through their attachments- those big people they rely on, one interaction at a time.
Now, for a little perspective here, I have a question for you. Have you ever heard an adult tell a young child to “put their tears away”?
First of all, if they are CRYING, they aren’t doing it for the wrong reason. They’re doing it for a reason that is valid. Maybe not to you, but to them. And that’s okay. They haven’t mastered the art of completely grasping their emotions yet, and we need to be their support through this, instead of shutting it down. Perhaps the child is overwhelmed, or tired. Perhaps all of the above. We just don’t know their definite feelings, as we are simply not them. Children are their own beings, with their own feelings.
There is a few problems with telling littles to “put [their] tears away”. This is directly ordering a baby to stop showing their emotion. You are invalidating why they are upset, and also telling them to internalize it. How would you feel if you were super exhausted, overwhelmed, and just had a terrible day at work, and you felt safe enough to break down to your husband that night, but he responded, “Stop crying. I won’t speak to you until you stop”. We’ve heard this one said to children too, we just don’t use “put your tears away” for adults. I’m going to assume that you would feel as if this was incredibly demeaning. You would most likely be even more upset than you originally were. I know I would. In fact, wouldn’t we consider that to be at least borderline emotional abuse? Why do we expect it to be any different for the young children in our lives? If anything, we need to be MORE (not less) compassionate towards these fresh little beings, who lack the adult perspective and the ability to say, “that person is just being mean, of course I’m allowed to show my emotion”. They are LEARNING through every interaction, and what we teach them this young, they start to believe. This is what they now know.
If through these ages they are simply accepting what the big people close to them are teaching, we want to support them in regulating their feelings. The same way we would support them in learning to ride a bike. However, I’d argue this particular life skill is slightly more important. We want them to tell us how they’re feeling. Trust us. Learn these emotional habits to flourish through life with.
Here’s a challenge- next time you can’t help but notice someone’s bizzare behaviour or toxic personality traits, try to keep in mind what their childhood might have been like, and how this could have developed. I’m not saying it’s impossible for them to bloom from a caterpillar to an asshole in adulthood, but seriously. Be empathetic. Learn about their childhood. It’s miraculous.
Research is always being done. We’re receiving more and more information. We now know that the early years, from birth to 6, are critically important for building the brain. A child’s brain develops RAPIDLY during this time, (especially the first three). It’s now been found that they are THEE most crucial, over any other time in our lives! I was just talking to one of my closest friends, Ciara, who is a Registered Early Childhood Educator, who also has big passion and dreams in this field (and everyone who knows her sees it). She was learning in class the other day, about the “sensitive” period, vs the “critical” period. The critical is from conception to around 3, and the sensitive around 3-6. When we, as adults, give children a negative impact during the sensitive time period, these things can be worked on and fixed, with help. The critical, though? It’s 100% irreversible. It’s simply a negative effect. Is this not crazy to think about?
I am enthralled by the psychology behind all of this. The arrival of my son last year was the utmost amount of motivation to continue learning and practicing these passions more, as the thought of someone saying something to him that could alter his personality/relations in life pretty drastically.. kinda sorta haunts me at night.
Of course we can’t shelter our children in hopes that someone won’t tell them to put their tears away, but what we CAN do is respectfully educate others, and mostly, practice this ourselves. We can always find positive statements/reminders instead of potentially damaging ones.
* It’s okay to be sad
* I’m right here with you
* Tell me about it
* I hear you
I still hear people who are Registered Early Childhood Educators saying this to children. I’ve heard it said to infants. Who tells an infant to put their tears away? Honestly.
Of course, this is only one example of a phrase we need to steer away from. We can actively practice positive interactions in general by encouraging children to share their feelings, VALIDATE them, honestly make the effort to listen regardless of how many times they’ve repeated themselves or asked the same question, be kind, be understanding, be PRESENT, and speak to them like their sun shines out of their ass. They’ll start to believe it. We are responsible for SHAPING them. This is a big deal!
Personally, I don’t feel as if working this 9-5 in childcare will always be enough for me.
Everyday that myself and all educators go into work and strive to be this positive, warm attachment in a critical time, means a difference is being made.
This is changing the world. You are positively impacting who this child becomes, and how they interact with the world from here on out. This is YUGE.
All this being said, I feel like I can offer this world more. I WANT to offer this world more. My dream, and what I will do, is make sure as much children as I possibly can are affected by positive language in the early years. Not just the ones in the one child care centre I work at. Everywhere.
This will be my contribution to the world- large scale.
Since I took the Child Development class that changed my perspective, I’ve spent a majority of my time thinking about how necessary this truly is, for all educators, parents, grandparents, babysitters, neighbours, and Aunt’s-three-times removed to know.
I plan on returning to school to further my education, and keep moving up the ladder to push my passions forward. My first step, however, is this blog, and you- the sweet soul that took the time to read these words today. I ask that next time you’re talking to any child you have the ability to make a difference in, that you ask yourself what this interaction is instilling in their minds. Is it positive? Beneficial?
Now, just a final side note: this has nothing to do with the “you’re creating snowflakes” stupidity. Stop that. There’s not a damn thing wrong with pouring healthy love into our children. You can not build an attachment too secure. You can not love them too much. It’s 2019 and we have the research on what is and isn’t damaging. We will keep obtaining this knowledge. My goal is to let more people know how crucial it is. We are creating future emotionally strong humans, who know how to trust and love, and communicate how they feel. We are changing the world.
In the words of Pam Leo, an Author of all things Parenting and love orientated, “Let’s raise children who don’t have to recover from their childhood.”
Please feel free to share something you’ve said, or heard someone else say to a young child, and why or why not you thought it was effective in shaping their little brains! I l i v e for this stuff.