*This blog post has been revised to include correct credit to the tools included at the bottom from Positive Discipline Tools by Jane Nelsen and Adrian Garsia.
Today I took my boys to the Fish Hatchery. I was pushing my youngest in the stroller while my eldest led us around throwing fish food into the ponds for the fish to eat. He got so excited when the fish went nuts for the food, splashing and jumping out of the water. We finally got to the last pond and it was very still. Though the atmosphere was more serene, the fish in this pond were way more interesting than in the other ponds. Some were very long and narrow and some were very large. I was surprised that my son wasn't more interested in the different looking fish. He was intent on throwing food in the water but the fish were lingering at the bottom of the pond, obviously uninterested. He kept throwing food in the pond even though I told him the fish weren't hungry. I could see he was getting frustrated and the tub of fish food was about to go flying. I parked the stroller and walked over to him.
As I bent down, I noticed that there was a glare on the water at his height. The lightbulb in my head went off. He couldn't see the fish underneath. No wonder he was getting frustrated that the fish weren't coming to the surface. No wonder he wasn't interested in the peculiar looking fish. I picked him up and pointed out the fish on the bottom of the pond. We talked about the long fish and the fat fish. He agreed that they must not be hungry. His demeanor flipped immediately back to that of an engaged, curious three year-old.
I wondered, how many times has this happened? How many times have I assumed that my son sees the world, experiences the world, the same way that I do? And how many times have I had expectations of him based on that assumption? In my brain I "know" that my children experience the world differently than I do. I "know" that their physical size and developmental level are HUGE in shaping the lens through which they experience the world. And yet I forget. I forget to put myself in their shoes. I forget to get into their world.
I was listening to a podcast the other day and the guest described a rare and enjoyable evening she got to spend doing a puzzle with her husband. It was relaxing and leisurely and they were enjoying themselves very much. She later wondered how she would have felt and reacted if someone had walked in, picked up the puzzle, and said, 'Ok, playtime is over. Time to go."
When I remind myself to get into the world my children live in, to bend down, to get on the floor, I remember that they often have a completely different point of view and a different set of priorities. There is a whole other world going on in my house that has no perception of time, that has no care for getting laundry done or floors cleaned, that doesn't even see the world above three feet most of the time. I know that if I want to be an effective parent I need to remind myself of their world. It is just as significant as the world I live in. It is real for my children and it shapes their perception.
So what can we, as parents, do? There are a number of Positive Discipline tools that can help us get into our child's world so that we can truly connect with them.
GET EYE TO EYE
Stop what you are doing. Get on your child's level close enough to see in his or her eyes. You will likely notice a difference in your approach and your child's response. From Positive Discipline Parenting Tools, by Nelsen & Garsia
Take time to sit quietly near your kids. If they ask what you want, say, "I just wanted to hang out with you for a few minutes." If they talk, listen without judgement or blame. From Positive Discipline Parenting Tools, by Nelsen & Garsia
ASK CURIOSITY QUESTIONS
Ask instead of tell (avoid judgement and blame). "What happened?" "How did that make you feel?" "What could you do next time?" From Positive Discipline Parenting Tools, by Nelsen & Garsia
TAKE A STEP BACK & OBSERVE
When we are in the moment, sometimes it is hard to see what might be happening for your child. Take a step back and consider the pieces of your child's world you may be missing in a given situation.