The Whispers of Your Heart

Dear New Mama,

I once was you. Scared and new. Looking for direction where no direction seemed to be. Everyone said different things, and the things that they said didn’t seem to match what my instincts called out for me to do. I was confused. I was worried. I was wondering if everything that seemed so right was breaking some kind of rule. Loud and boisterous voices told me “put the baby down” “it’s okay if they cry”, “get them used to the bottle now”, “you can’t hold them forever”.

I’ve been getting a lot of emails and messages and comments lately, asking so many different things.

Mama. Listen to your heart. What does your heart say? What happens when you forget about all the things that you’ve read, all the things that you have been told? What happens when you push those voices to the back of your mind? When you sit in silence and in peace and hold your baby in your arms in front of you? What happens when you look into those deep blue, brown, green or gray eyes that stare right into the depths of your heart and soul?

Listen to the whisperings of your heart. The tug that you feel. That tug is what guides you. It need not be loud. It need not be forceful. It is not trying to convince you to do something that you do not feel is right.

That is why the books are loud. That is why the advice is loud. That is why people may scoff and try to make you feel odd about following your heart.

It has to be loud. Because how else will it drown out what you feel inside?

Let it wash over you. Loud like thunder, loud like crashing waves in a storm. Let it blend together into a wall of white noise.

Listen to the coos. The cries. The unspoken things that your baby’s body and face communicate to you when he roots and when he rolls and reaches. Listen to his babbles. Listen to the silence and the intensity when the two of you lock eyes.

Trust yourself. The whisperings of your heart contain much wisdom.

<3 A Mama Who Once Was New

Out-Tantruming a Tantrum is a Silly Notion

The only path to peace is through making the personal choice to be peaceful.

I can’t out-tantrum your tantrum. I can’t out-hit your hit. I can’t shame you into being any less sad or any less angry. That is suppression. Things that are suppressed and held down and intimidated into hiding… Still exist. They eventually come out.

No. If I want you to grow peacefully I have to be that peace. I have to show you that this is what people grow into as they grow bigger. Quieter. More calm.

I can’t stand there angry at your anger and insist that you stop being angry RIGHT NOW. I might as well stomp my feet and slam the door on the way out. I don’t need to show you that adults have tantrums too. Either tantrums are something that people can control, and I can show you that by controlling my own and understanding that is something that you are growing into…

Or tantrums are something so seething and wild and beyond our self control that even I, as a grownup, will throw them. If that’s the case what… the… heck… am I doing standing here as a grownup and looking at you, a two year old or a four year old or an eight year old and telling you to control yourself?

That is teaching you nothing.

I understand that you’re angry, child. I know what anger feels like. It’s not a comfortable feeling. It is okay to be angry and you can learn how to calm that feeling.

You may not always get it perfect. I still slip up at 34. I am trying hard to change that, though.

Cooperation and Compliance are Not the Same Thing

When people talk about a child being “uncooperative” it can often be helpful to consider that cooperation and compliance aren’t the same thing.

Cooperation is working together towards a mutual goal. If one person does not share your goal it’s not being “uncooperative”, it’s being non-compliant. Thinking about things in this way helps me shift my thoughts onto a different path.

Compliance is “you do what I say” instead of “working together on a shared goal”. We often mis-label cooperation and compliance when it comes to young children.

So if we want our child to cooperate we have to figure out how to get them to share our goal instead of simply saying “You are going to.” At this age “no” is still a valid answer to “please” and “it’s time to.”

Children at this age also have very very little impulse control. They are locked into their own thought process and are still developing empathy and the ability to control their impulses. This is not something that they’re taught to have, this is something that is linked to brain development.

A toddler’s brain is not an adult brain. The part of the brain that allows a person to control themselves and their impulses is NOT fully developed until a person is in their early 20’s. It develops gradually between birth and adulthood.

So how do we get a child to “stop banging her spoon”? We have to help her change what she is doing, shift her thought process closer to what we want it to be. She has to be engaged in something because trying to pry her mind out of the gear of “bang the spoon” is not going to work too well. Think of a car. Drive. Reverse. Neutral. If you’re on a hill and gravity is pulling you down the hill and you want to back your car back up the hill then shifting from drive to neutral isn’t going to reverse you up the hill.

“Stop” with a child is sort of like shifting into neutral. The child’s brain is committed to the path that they’re on. If we want them to change direction rather than temporarily stop and continue, then sometimes we need to provide them with a new direction instead of simply trying to get them to “stop doing that”.

“Are you my baby bird? Oo, look. There is a noodle worm in your bowl. Can you scoop it out?”

“Are you all done eating? Can you help me put your bowl and spoon into the sink? We can wash it together.”

“Where do the bowl and spoon go when you’re all done eating?”

“Is your spoon a drumstick? Nooooooo That’s silly! It’s a spoon. What do we use spoons for?”

What about a child cooperating as you get ready? Resistance to shoes, for example?

“Where are your shoes? Do you know? Oo, what color are your shoes? Do they match your pants? That’s fun! Do you know how to put them on or do you need me to put them on for you? Do socks go on first and then shoes? Or do we put your shoes on and then your socks? Is that comfy? No? Let me fix it. ::swoops finger around the back to make sure that the shoe isn’t folded over:: Now you’ve gotta walk and jump to make sure the shoe’s all the way on! Okay, what do we do next now that your shoes are on?”

What about when the child is trying to change every single option as soon as they have the option? It can easily become endless and even more frustrating as the child is overwhelmed and needs some sort of boundary for their choices. If I’m regularly stuck in that type of cycle I try to sort of shut off the other options once a choice has been made. Pink shoes? Awesome. Let’s go sit on the stairs and put them on. ::shuts closet so that the other options aren’t available::

“oh, you want the sparkle shoes now? I’m sorry but we already picked and we need to go now. Would you like to wear the sparkle shoes next time?”

I also try to figure out if there’s something that is bothering them. For example if the child is saying that their shoes are too tight or not comfortable, what do they mean? The automatic reaction is “The shoes are your size and if they’re any bigger you will fall on your face.” But what if the shoes are too narrow? What if your child’s socks are bunching up as they slide on? What if the socks are pulling uncomfortably on their toes no matter how big the shoe is? What if the back of the shoe has folded over and is digging into their heel?

It’s simple to dismiss a complaint as “The toddler is being a toddler and is uncooperative”. My daughter objects to the car seat frequently saying it is “too tight” when what she really means is that her dress or shirt have ridden up behind her uncomfortably or the harness is putting more pressure on one shoulder than on the other, or the lap belt part has gotten caught lower on her legs rather than sitting on her hips. The harness is not “too tight” in a way that requires me to loosen it to the point of it being unsafe, but it is uncomfortable and something does need to be adjusted in order for her to feel that it is not “too tight”.

One final thing is that I have found that the more my children are forced to comply the less cooperative they become. Mondays are difficult for us because others in the house are more inclined to utilize force and distractions which have a long term negative impact on actual cooperation. A child who is regularly “made” to do something will often resist until they are made to do it, and will try to resist even then. Sometimes taking a step back and re-evaluating which battles we are choosing can be a good and healthy thing.

What is necessary?

No. You can’t run with the knife. I am sorry.
No, I won’t let you go out into the snow without boots. You can put your foot in the snow to feel how cold it is, but if you won’t put your boots on we will stay inside.

On the other hand… Do I really need for you to sit on the high chair instead of on a regular chair? Do I really need for you to eat your chicken with a fork or do I just need for you to clean your hands off before you get up? Do I really need for you to learn this RIGHT NOW at two and a half or three, or is it a skill that you can approach when you are more comfortable with your fine motor skills and when you have more of an interest in keeping your body clean?

Not everything has to happen perfectly RIGHT NOW. Some things can develop and grow over time. A two year old is very different from a one year old, a three year old or a four year old.

“How to Discipline a Tantruming Child”. Wait. What? Discipline Feelings?

I’ve drifted pretty far away from conventional approaches to tantrums. I simply see them as emotional reactions. Disappointment, sadness, frustration, overwhelm, over stimulation, confusion, over tiredness, hunger, fear, an inability to parse words into sentences, an inability to vent a sudden strong feeling in a slower more calm way.

When I see my child having one of these reactions I don’t really view it as a single unified thing. It’s many things that manifest themselves loudly and with tears. Sometimes with hitting, foot stomping, yelling, crying, storming away or clinging close.

I still read a variety of pretty traditional publications, though. And so I see tantrums being talked about in terms of manipulation, “getting their way”, breaking the tantrum, disciplining the tantruming child, isolating them, ignoring them, training them to not tantrum.

It’s odd for me to read because I start asking “Is anger manipulative? Is sadness manipulative? Frustration?”

Truth is, many adults throw tantrums too. They curse. They throw things. Some even punch holes in walls. Some yell. Some storm away.

I learned as a young adult that what I feel and what is happening are separate things. I learned to slow down and try something else. To walk away from a frustrating thing and try again later when I am calm with a clearer head. I learned to seek help, to watch, and to try again myself once I had a better picture of what it was that I was trying to accomplish.

I am teaching my children those life skills now as they are small. I believe that they are learned skills that can be mastered and used throughout life.

I don’t believe that I need to ignore, to isolate, to break, or to give in or bribe a child to stop feeling something that they can slowly and surely learn to harness and control.

Kids are people. They’re immature people with strong feelings and not much experience with how the world works. They need the years to learn that and to experience things and for their brains to grow and develop to the point where everything is in place.

There’s a name for that. Maturity.

You can’t wave a magic wand over a fifteen month old or a two year old or a four or eight year old.

It’s something that they grow into. With support, patience, and teaching.

Learning to Let Out the Feelings in a Safe Place at 2.5

Upset, she hits the air in front of me, then pulls her hand back and holds onto it. She looks miserable.

I hold my arms out in an offering. She stomps one inch closer instead of stomping away. I envelope her in an open hug, my arms circle her, but I do not pull her near

“I am your mommy bunny, you are my baby bunny, this is our nest.” I say, taking a snuggle time game that she plays and reminding her of the peaceful closeness.

She curls into me like my baby bunny does, pulling my arms snug around her. Tears run down her face.

We sit quietly and I stroke her hair, pushing the tear soaked strands back from her eyes as she surrenders into the sadness and spends some time releasing her feelings.

When her eyes open back up and she looks up at me, I whisper quietly.

“It is okay to be angry. It is okay to be sad. It is okay to be frustrated. It is okay to be upset.”

Two and a half is full of rampaging emotions for this little one as she has things she wants to communicate but lacks the detailed vocabulary to be as specific as her imagination can be.

It’s okay to be angry, frustrated, sad, annoyed, upset, confused.

It is okay to want to be left alone and have some space.

It is also okay to curl up in someone’s arms and let it all out in a safe place.

She is learning that this option is there for her, too. That she has choices she can make about what she needs in the moment.

When she is done crying I ask her if she wants to try again to find the words she was looking for. She tries, pausing often, looking inside her head. She pieces it together in a way that she was unable to do before when her head was not quite as clear as she needed it to be.

See, baby girl? When you let out those strong feelings everything works better again.

Manipulation is a Cloth Woven From Ordinary Feelings Warped by Bad Guesses

Dear Kids,

A random ordinary thing happens in our lives. You react. With joy, with glee, with sadness, with anger, with fear, with uncertainty, with hesitation, with upset, with confusion, with jealousy, with assertiveness, with argumentativeness, with a refusal to budge.

A memory pops into my head. A memory of being small. Intense. Vivid. Photographic. All the details are there. I remember feeling that feeling that I see on your face. But I was your-size not my-size. I was small and tiny and this memory is long ago with me surrounded by adults that reacted in many different ways.

I want to tell you about how I discovered some important truths about the perceptions of adults and how self fulfilling prophecies about manipulation and manipulators come to be. The truth, kiddos, is that manipulation is a cloth woven from ordinary feelings warped by bad guesses.

I’m deaf. I have a reverse curve hearing loss. This means that the low sounds disappear and the high sounds are what I can hear clearest. Most deaf people hear low sounds better than the high ones.

When a thing doesn’t conform to what people know about a thing, they make many bad guesses. Especially when combined with the assumption that children are manipulative and liars.

My experience was driven by ever-rising pure tone beeps blasted in to bulky headphones in a soundproof booth full of toys. Little dots etching out a curve that contradicted what people knew about “deaf”. A little piece of paper showing a curve that labeled me as deaf without the words to explain to the every day ordinary people that I would interact with as a child.

Then when I left that booth.. When I walked into the real world where I could hear the hiss of a car’s wheels through the pavement but not the roar of its motor. When I walked into the real world where I could hear the ringing that a jackhammer made when it struck against stone, but where it was otherwise almost silent. Where I responded to quiet sounds but seemingly ignored a person speaking to me across the room or even just behind me.

I remember as a child having to learn that people made bad guesses. That I would be called a liar when I was telling the truth. I remember being caught between desperately wanting to conform to expectations that I physically couldn’t meet. I remember pinballing to the other side of not caring. Not really “not caring” but trying desperately to not care.

As a child this made me aware of the assumptions that people made. I think that most kids learn that they are manipulative. I learned to watch myself. To take snapshots of what I was feeling and experiencing. To try and piece them together later.

What I learned from this experience was that I was not trying to manipulate anyone. I was trying to meet a need that I didn’t understand. Sure, I was making bad guesses sometimes.

I was six years old. Seven. Eight. Ten. Fourteen.

As an adult I am able to understand my needs better. I’m able to dig down deep and figure out what it is that I’m feeling and why and what I can do about it that will actually help.

I couldn’t do that at six. I couldn’t do that at four. I couldn’t do that at two.

I could only make guesses.

I see my children making those guesses today. I help them dig around and  figure out what is really happening.

So instead of getting angry because my child is throwing a fit over a doll in a store.. Instead of thinking “YOU ARE MANIPULATING ME AND EMBARRASSING ME IN PUBLIC…”

I think “You are upset because you are tired. You saw a doll that you really really want and you’re upset that you can’t take her home with you today and you can’t play with her because she’s in a store and we’re not going to buy her. The upset feels REALLY FREAKING HUGE because you’re tired and you’re stressed out and you’ve had too much big stuff build up inside of you without the rest and reset that you need. So you are crying. And I’m sorry. I know how hard it is to deal with disappointment when you’re not at your best. Let’s go someplace safe away from bad guessers and we can get you the rest that you need.”

I understand that you’re making two-year-old or four-year-old or seven-year-old sized guesses about the reasons for the strong feelings that you’re having.

I don’t need to make thirty-four-year-old  bad guesses that draw on years of hearing terrible negative things about children. I can make my guesses from a place of understanding your developmental level, your stress levels, and by believing that you are fundamentally a rational whole human being that simply hasn’t experienced everything that I have just yet.

You’ll get there. Even if most adults sometimes seem like they never made it there.

If I view you as manipulative instead of trying to help you learn to organize your thoughts and feelings.. You’ll just learn that you have to learn to be a better manipulator if you ever want those needs of yours met.

I don’t want to teach you that. I want to teach you to understand your feelings, to live with them, to cope with them, to embrace them, to understand them, and to build your own road-maps to feeling okay.

It is okay to be angry.
It is okay to be sad.
It is okay to be frustrated.
It is okay to be upset.
It is okay to not understand why.
It is okay to struggle.
It is okay to have a bad day.

Slow down. Spend some time in your moment. You’ll find your way out.

Manipulation is a cloth woven from ordinary feelings that are warped by bad guesses. It is a self fulfilling prophecy. A child has a feeling. Makes a bad guess about what that feeling is and what the solution is. Asks for the solution. The adult gets angry at the child. The child never learns where the feeling came from or what the real solution is, just that they have to lie and manipulate in order to get what they assume (often incorrectly) will make them feel better.

Why would I teach you that when I can teach you that feelings are okay, that feelings are not always a reaction to what has happened but sometimes they are a reaction to ourselves.When I can teach you that you can survive the intensity, ride it out, come out on the other side.

Why would I teach you that you should just suck it up, that your feelings will make me angry, and that the only reason you have them is because you’re hoping to make me a puppet that will dance on your strings?

Your feelings are real and valid things. You’re learning to understand them and control them now as a child so that you won’t have to spend years struggling as an adult.

<3 Mama

Mondays and the Transition Back to the Week

He wiggles into bed next to me. I smile. This is a part of our daytime routine that I love.

Then he growls the way he does when he’s really angry. And he pokes me in the face twice. “MOMMY. WHERE IS DADDY?” he says in a loud angry voice.

Okay, this won’t be one of those snuggly mornings. And apparently I left some random jagged piece of fingernail behind when his nails got clipped. Gotta find that sucker and clip it off. Ouch.

“Please don’t tap my face, Alexander.” I say. “You can tap my shoulder if you want my attention.”

“Where’s daddy?” he repeats, tapping my shoulder none too gently.

“Daddy is at work. Today is Monday.”
“Where’s grandma?”
“Grandma is at work. Today is Monday.”
“I’m hungry.”
“Would you like me to make you something to eat?” I ask him.

And the snuggles come. Alexander style. It’s a bit like trying to snuggle a 50 pound pit bull puppy. He wiggles, he climbs on top of me. His head bangs into mine but his thicker skull doesn’t seem to register that as being something to avoid. He wiggles around. Elbow to the ribs. Knee to the groin. Then he settles down and hugs me and gives me the biggest most morning-breath smelling human-puppy kiss ever smack dab on the nose then stays there smiling at me and my offer to make him breakfast the way I do five out of every seven days of the week.

“You do know that I need to get out of bed in order to make breakfast?” I say.

He does. But wants to snuggle first anyway. So I grab the coffee Alex has helpfully left in an insulated mug by the bedside, and we snuggle down and I drink my still slightly warm coffee while trying to keep it from spilling all over us as Alexander snuggle-wrestles.

It is Monday. This early morning grump-moment is how the day will go. The transition back to being our week-day family after dad and gramma and grampa have gone back to work. The transition from having a one to one adult to child ratio for two whole blissful days to being one adult with three kids who will take the day to remember how to share. Me. Toys. Space. Time.

Right now they’re immersed in Playdoh, playing well and sharing. I’m on my second cup of coffee and taking a moment to organize my thoughts about today.

I used to hate Mondays.

I’m still not entirely sure that Monday and I are good buddies.

But..

It’s become more of a day of mindfulness for me. Staying mindful of my own feelings. My own transitions between what life is like over the weekends and what it is like the rest of the time. Being mindful of what my children are acting on when they are acting out. What are they feeling?

We talk about the people that we are missing and we talk about how awesome they are and how much fun we had. And we daydream about the weekend that is coming up and we talk about what our week will be like between now and then.

Slowly the day shifts away from how it started.

As they get older this will become easier. They will understand more. They will be able to focus on the things that they are looking forward to and have less sadness over the lack of continuity between the weekends and the weekdays.

And now… Playdoh time has lost its appeal. My Monday calls. Catch you on the flip-side!

The Misrepresentations of a Spanking Culture

At the grocery store. The two year old is walking and the four year old wants to ride in the cart.

They want to buy many different things. “That is not on the list.” I say. “What IS on the list?” my four year old asks. I let him know what is on the list, and ask him to help me find those things.

He still wants to talk about all the things that excite him, that make him wonder. My two year old still wants to look at everything, but holds my hand as we walk.

We take it slow. I answer questions. “Can we buy this?” “Not this time, no.” “What is this?” “It is a rubber spatula.” “Why is it rubber?” “So that it can scrape the sides of things.” “Why?” “Sometimes when you stir something up everything sticks to the sides. Like when we make banana bread. This lets you scrape every last bit of it out.” “Can we get one?” “I think we have one already, I just always forget to use it!”

In the checkout aisle my daughter wants candy. “I WANT CANDY!” she shrieks. “You want candy.” I say. “Do you remember all your Halloween candy?” I ask. She says she does. “We have ALL that candy at home, right?” She smiles and says “yesssssssss we doooooo.” She still does not want to be carried, so she’s down on the ground near the candy, but she’s leaving it alone.

My four year old son wants to swipe my debit card. He asks to hold it. I tell him that he can, but that if it gets dropped I’m not going to be very happy so please hold tight. And he does. Then he pauses to show me how he wants to swipe the card. I show him that it has to be held a different way. He swipes too slowly. I say “Try again, quicker this time.” and show him with my hand. He does it quickly and it goes through. He wants to do it again. I say “Nope, it worked. We cannot do it again.” and open my wallet so that he can put it away.

My daughter has her arms wrapped around my leg and she is asking for one of the strawberry yogurts that we just bought. “We will eat those at home.” I let her know. And she asks me again. I repeat myself again, and she decides that she wants to be carried after all. I sweep her up as the clerk hands me my receipt. I give it to my son to carry and we all push the cart outside.

I remember before I had kids. I saw a lot of children in grocery stores. I saw a lot of parents getting really upset when their kids threw tantrums. I saw some spankings. I saw some well behaved kids. I saw some out of control kids. I saw so many memes on Facebook that said that if we whooped our kids butts as a nation, all the rudeness and problems would stop. I saw many of these referencing the tantrums that a “spoiled” child would throw in a store and how a good whoopin’ or “not tolerating the manipulation” would make those tantrums disappear.

And I remember it somehow… Making sense.

It somehow made sense that if your children feared you that they would never misbehave. Even though I saw plenty of spanked children misbehaving when I was a child, myself.

My kids talk a lot in the store. They ask a lot of questions. Sometimes they get upset. Mostly, though, they follow me through the store and stick by my side. They help me find things and they help me load the conveyor belt.

Some kids have a harder time.

But… when these kids of mine throw a tantrum? I give them empathy and not a time out. I don’t ignore them. And I don’t swat them to get them to stay silent. I give them hugs and tell them that I understand, and that we all want things sometime that we can’t have right away.

And they accept that.

Most of our trips are the way they were today.

No whoopin’. Just patience and empathy.

The spanking culture misrepresents a lot of things. It misinterprets them. It says that the only way to set a child onto the right path is to spank them off of the wrong one. I do not choose to believe that is true.

Pre-Teaching About Dangerous Objects That We Use Every Day

UsingKnives
“What about situations where natural consequences are unacceptable”?

I teach about the object before the child approaches the object.

Knives, for example.

Here’s a picture of me peeling potatoes with two toddlers and a four year old. I don’t do this on the counter while my kids stay away. I keep them close. They’re engaged. I have them hold the potatoes, have them take the peel away from the potato after it’s been almost cut all the way through. When they move too fast they are reminded that we are careful around knives. I talk about how I’m holding the knife, how the sharp edge cuts the potato. How the potato is harder than their skin is but the knife can cut right through it, how the knife can cut skin too so we have to be REALLY careful. I show how the knife moves under the skin of the potato and under my thumb not into my thumb.

They watch. They dance around a few feet away but when they approach me they slowwwwww down. And I always remind them to slow down even more.

Even the little boy in the lower right who is a friend’s child.

While I’m peeling the potatoes I’m careful to keep the point of the blade pointing into the pot if there is a child in line with it. I make sure they move away from the point of the blade otherwise I can’t continue peeling. I’m ready to turn my arm so that they would run into my elbow rather than the knife, if they are moving too fast. (Which has never happened. I’m just always prepared to do that when I see them moving towards me.)

I talk to them about how when I carry the knife back inside I make sure that the point is pointing down inside the metal pot because if I fall I don’t want to land on the knife. And how when they’re bigger they can help me peel potatoes too.

They see my caution. When they are invited to touch the knife they touch the flat part, not the tip or the cutting edge. And they wait for me to touch it first.

It’s not a “thing mommy plays with”. It’s a thing that mommy uses VERY carefully. It’s not something that they’re kept away from or punished if they touch. It’s something that mommy is VERY cautious with.

If we use punishment then a child is punished for taking a cookie from a cookie jar. They’re punished if they reach for a knife. They can’t differentiate between “cookie” and “knife” in terms of what their experience with it will be. They don’t learn from punishment that the knife is dangerous. They learn that mommy will get angry if she sees them with the knife. Just like mommy will get angry if they take a cookie.

This way they don’t want to touch it because they understand that IT is dangerous. Not me seeing them try to touch it. But them touching it. They are cautious with the object itself.

Q: When do I start teaching this way?
A: When my child is able to push chairs around and climb onto them. This is when knives start to concern me. By this point my child has already learned to be gentle with things like caterpillars and worms, has the fine motor control to touch without grabbing, and is able to approach things with caution. So… Closer to two years than to twelve months.

He Had a Bad Day.

He had a bad day. I could see it on his face as he walked off the bus.
“How was your day?” I asked.
“I don’t want to talk about that.”

So I let it go.
Then when he was ready he cracked wide open and told me about the things that were bothering him.

I said that they would bother me too. That I experienced some of those things, and that they taught me compassion for others and clarified who I wanted to be.

Some things we don’t think about until they happen to us.

Then I helped him come up with strategies for next time.

Perspective.

Sometimes kids tease because they are teased. It is not nice or right, but their parents value toughness and thick skin over compassion. We value compassion over thick skin. So things that seem normal to some kids seem cruel to ours, even if they are far from bullying.

Children repeat how they are treated.

So the child who is told not to be a crybaby will tell other crying children the same thing. Not out of malice, but because this is the response that he has learned.

We talk about safe places and true friends. About the difference between family and aquaintances.

We talk about how he feels in the moment where he says or does similar things to his brother or sister. About honesty and about kindness. About finding out more about ideas before dismissing them. About how to present an idea that you want people to listen to. About making sure to listen to the ideas of others because very few people are open to listening to people that don’t listen to them.

Long slow conversation that took many turns as he tried to piece things together in his head, gave me more examples of situations. Asked me what-ifs.

He was too fragile to be nice to anyone, so I made sure that he had space, books, his bed. Calm. He chose to accept this retreat I offered, and I checked in constantly offering head rubs and shoulder hugs.

Then later that night dad put the little ones to bed and we spent time in the big overstuffed chair in the library reading some books together and snuggling.

He had been building up all the little stresses for some time before he boiled over.

He went to sleep happy, loved and at peace.

I could have gotten angry about the negative things he was doing and his short fuse. I could have felt manipulated by his tears of frustration when he was unable to quickly and easily complete a task he does each day.

I didn’t.