I’m Not Tricking You…

Raising Resilient Kids Can Take Time

I was walking near my house with my toddler and my dear friend yesterday. Predictably, just as we got close to home, my toddler wanted to stop at a picnic bench. It was getting dark, and we were already cold and wanting to go home. I had a choice; pick her up and carry her across the field (how nice that we live so close to a field now!), drag her by her hand while telling her that she’ll see that picnic table another time, convince her that the picnic table wasn’t as cool as she thought it was (not going to happen), or let her walk there and risk it taking longer than it would otherwise.

I had a calculation to make: Did I have an extra 10 minutes? Was it dangerous for her to check out that table?

The hardest question to answer is the “did I have an extra 10 minutes?” I could have said no. I could have thought to myself “Phil’s waiting for us to eat dinner, she’s already cold, isn’t wearing a hat, and it’s time to go inside!” That would have been true. It was also true that it was no big deal if dinner waited a bit longer, that she was already cold and an extra 10 minutes wasn’t the difference between cold and hypothermia, and that she really wanted to see the picnic bench, for whatever reason.
So we walked over to the picnic bench. She sat down, and I told her that now that she saw it it was time to go. My friend at this point was watching closely – what would happen in a battle of wills between me, a grown woman, and this tiny child whose brain is about 20% online at this point in her life. (Answer, as we know, is that toddlers win every time.) 

Here’s what I asked myself “How would I treat her if it was my friend sitting at the picnic bench, and my toddler standing waiting to leave?” (In other words, “what would I do here if my toddler was a person?”)
I told my toddler “Ok, you can sit here, I’m going to start walking home. I see it’s getting dark. Hope to see you soon!”

I could have done this in the way a lot of us do it – where those are the words I said but what I meant was “I’m going to scare you into coming with me because I know you don’t want to be in this field alone.” But, I tried to summon as much respect as possible. How would I say it to my actual friend?
First, I walked away and my toddler sat comfortably on the bench, watching me. As I got further away, I said “I’d LOVE to walk with you but if you need to sit there you can.”  And I kept walking. Reminding myself that I had time. She was safe. And if I needed to switch gears and carry her home in a football hold, I always could! 

Teaching Resilience Can Mean WE Have to Develop Patience

Part of my developing patience and perspective is leaning into my own resilience. Resilience is trusting that you can handle hard situations. I knew that if I had to switch gears, I could. I knew I could handle it if she melted down or if my giving her some autonomy didn’t work out (it doesn’t always..). 
I also knew that the more I model for her that she could make her own choices, the less she’ll feel overwhelmed by someone telling her what to do all the time. And the easier my life will get! 
And, as I got further away from her, I kept waiting. I reminded myself that I had time. After a few minutes, (ok realistically maybe 45 seconds but it felt like a lot of waiting!), she got off the bench and said “Mommy! I coming! Wait!” 

This wasn’t me pretending to leave without her. It wasn’t me asking her to choose between her safety and her autonomy. She was safe and she decided at that point that she didn’t want to be in a park alone at dusk anymore, or that she was over the cold picnic table, and came to meet me. She did that herself. 

The most important aspect here is that I wasn’t tricking her. I wasn’t pretending to do anything. What I would tell my friend in that same situation is “if you want to stay at this bench you can, but I am ready to go in. See you soon!” 

My friend saw this whole thing. Once we were all together again, she was like “phew! Glad that worked!” We talked about it (she’s such a good friend that she’ll listen to me wax poetic about how adults treat kids..), and I explained that this wasn’t about a trick that worked. It wasn’t even about it “working”. If that didn’t get my toddler to come in, I could have always done something else! 

What worked was my toddler having the experience of being treated like a person. And every time I do that, regardless of the outcome, it’s good for her. And it’s good for me. It stretches her autonomy and self-regard and it stretches my patience and instinct to rush. 

So, no tricks here. Just treating kids like they’re people. My wish for you is to ask yourself these same questions: Are they safe? Am I actually in a rush or do I have some time here? And move accordingly.

We learn how to do a lot of this in the Raising Resilient Kids program. A lot of this slowing down, and treating our kids as people, and understanding where their brains are.

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