(sung to the tune of Kool and the Gang’s Celebration, obviously. You totally got that, eh.)
On one of our trips away this summer we were rushing to get our train back. I jumped on before Ramona and Tim, determined to get us a table seat. We had so much luggage – all our camping gear- and there were three of us so I was feeling pretty deserving. As I entered the carriage I saw an empty one and honed in on it – unfortunately a businessman had spotted it too- entering from the other door. He pipped me to the post by about 0.7 seconds and with a triumphant flourish sat his un-heavy-laden solo self down. Fortunately there was another! It wasn’t over! I shuttled forward to the next table- and exactly the same thing happened again, this time with a women, arms full of shopping bags. There was no eye contact, just that same flourish.
OOF! I WAS MAD!
I carried on up the train in, yeah, what was bit of a rage, and came upon Tim and Ramona who had found a perfectly fine seating arrangement with bags of room. “You will not BELIEVE what just happened!” And I relayed the story, indignantly… “and the way they sat down… with such a triumphant flourish!!!” I was genuinely feeling a bit bruised by it.
Tim, kindly and very rationally, responded to my woeful tale with “Never mind. These seats are really perfect.”
I was tired. And feeling a bit harassed. And grumpy and bruised. I, er, didn’t appreciate his comment.
I huffed and puffed and sunk into myself. I might have even whispered something a bit mean.
You see, what I wanted was someone to understand my -albeit irrationally upset- feelings. I wanted Tim to agree “What?! That is WELL out of order! No wonder you feel cross!”
And as our train jolted forward it hit me – we deal with toddlers in this way all the time.
At least once a day I’ll hear a variation of the following -and yep, sometimes out of my own mouth;
“Oh, don’t be silly, we’ve been at the park for hours, it’s time to go home”
“You just can’t scatter cereal all over the floor, that’s the way it is.”
“C’mon, that’s not for you to play with – look! Have a ball instead.”
“Don’t cry about it- we can do it again later”
We discount our children’s feelings, sometimes outright by saying it is ridiculous, and sometimes more subtly and in a kinder way, by trying to explain why they don’t need to worry about it.
I have been trying to validate Ramona’s feelings since she was really small – but only in this moment of immaturity on the train did I feel like I was trapped in a toddler’s body – having my feelings kindly, but subtly, invalidated. (By the way. I honestly think I was being unreasonable on the train. I am an adult, with all the right wiring – I hope– and a –fairly– developed brain and my husband has a really good balance in understanding my feelings but also calling me out when I am being a bit out of order myself!)
Another one of our trips was to a farm with a friend and her two toddlers. She parented so gently and playfully, always validating her children’s huge feelings, even when they seemed unreasonable. It was such a delight to see her sitting on the floor next to her wailing child and, in a undramatic and calm way, letting her know that she understands how hard it is.
“I can see that has made you really upset. ”
“It is really frustrating when you can’t play with the things you want to, isn’t it?”
“You feel as if you should have longer in the haybales, don’t you?”
“It makes you upset when you can’t help me make dinner. Perhaps you could help me make the pudding?”
It isn’t rocket science, but it doesn’t come naturally either. I think it takes a lot of practice to make empathy and validation the first response, particularly when it is over something so blatantly trivial. I am constantly trying to understand that for Ramona the sense of the feeling is often huge, even if the cause of the feeling seems tiny and minor to me.
I think validating our toddler’s feelings often does avert full blown tantrums, and can often save time in the long run. But mostly I think I want to nurture a relationship based on understanding, to take every opportunity to connect with my toddler. I want Ramona to get that there is a place for her big feelings, and it is right to sometimes feel sad and cross and frustrated. She doesn’t have to bury these feelings, to distract herself by the next thing.
So, isn’t it great when we can learn something from a particularly low ebb in our adult emotional maturity? Really great. I just probably shouldn’t have slipped a special little revenge parcel in their bags to discover later. (JOKES)
Let’s all validate and have a good time!
PS- If you are interested in this I do recommend reading some of Naomi Aldort’s stuff. I am currently battling through her book, Raising our children, Raising ourselves- but her articles are a million times easier to read!