This is a draft of a new project I am dreaming of: creating little poems and illustrations to share with infants and young children before going to bed. Hope you enjoy it`s simple outline and sweetness .
Warning: You are about to depart into an incredible flight. This is a longread post, much worth every word of it. Get yourself a coffee, turn off your phone and be ready to enjoy one of the most healing love stories ever. It is 100% real, I only changed the children’s names.
The effusive kiss. Alice, 2 years 9 months. Pete, 2 years 11 months.
Hypothesis: when a young child attending a play group is seen and accepted for what she is, and not for what she is missing, her self-confidence is meaningfully fostered and a proper field is opened in the group for shared love and compassion.
Alice has come to play for 8 months. She is a big sized girl, usually wearing colorful cloths. Her big black curls frame her enormous black eyes and her beautiful chubby cheeks face.
It took her around 5 months to be ready to stay within the play area and move around leaving her mother´s lap. Before that she only played here and then with the toys that were near her hand reach. At snack time she would gently move her mother´s hand as an extension of her arm to make her grab a cookie and feed her into the mouth. She would also use her mother´s arm as a tool to reach and interact with toys.
No eye contact, no words, no further interactions.
I thought socialization might be an intimidating challenge for Alice in a particularly active, talkative, enthusiastic two years old play group, whose leader is Pete. He is the little one the rest admires and fears at the same time but I will tell you more about him later. Back to Alice now.
I asked her mother whether at home she played in the same way as in the play group. Her answer made me a bit concerned:
- No, she enjoys here. At home she is even more still.
Then I talked to the mother.
She told me when Alice was 14 months she had asked the pediatrician whether her child had Autism. He said: “I don’t think so, give her time”. I felt relieved. Giving time is my favorite choice. It includes accepting the child as she is, sending an acknowledgement message to her which I firmly believe will nurture her best potential.
But what if that time was over and she really needed some early diagnose now? I made a few suggestions as to “stop doing for her” the things she can do for herself (mainly feeding and playing) and fostering a new vision of her child: as a capable, trustworthy little human unfolding her own self at her own time.
Simultaneously a professional started diagnosing Alice, saw her for about two months once a week and then offered parents some guidelines that really helped.
In the meanwhile I tended to approach her differently than how I did with the rest of the children (regarding free play, autonomy and social interactions). I felt tempted to “help her out” a little, little bit (that is what I said trying to convince myself). She has the sweetest way of getting you to do what she wants but I knew this was not the best for her. So I had a big challenge to face.
One day she wanted to grab a toy beyond her reach. So she pulled her mother´s arm wanting her to grab it for her.
“No, mom is not grabbing that for you. If you want it, you can grab it yourself”.
She got distressed. She went to the ground but not in the normal tantrum way (facing earth with body and face). She did it as a little baby would do when placed down by a parent, on her back. She started mourning. It was a deep and at the same time suffocated mourning.
Heartbreaking. My mouth and lips got dry. Other parents got restless; the mother was clearly trusting me but suffering within.
I approached Alice and broadcasted her situation with a blind confidence in what I have learnt. I wanted to console her, to soothe her, to do for her, to solve her struggle with all my heart. But this time I just described what was going on: “you want mommy to grab a toy for you, I said she wouldn´t, you did not like that, you are laying down mourning, I can understand you, I am here for you to cry all you need to”.
The mother looked puzzled and sad. We all were. Time run out and they left leaving a bitter taste in the air.
That week I would think very often of what happened and I convinced myself I did the right thing repeating a mantra within: trust her… trust her… trust her.
Thereafter Alice started getting into the play field with autonomy and she demonstrated that even when not talking nor looking into the eyes of her playmates, she was 100% into the group interactions.
Someone asking for a drum stick? She would pick it up and approach it to the requesting child. (Mom still inside the play area).
Someone running about with a just grabbed toy looking back and searching for a follower? She would get into the running circle and run, run, run. (Mom sitting with other parents and only exceptionally needed back from then onwards).
Someone playing with a different set of socket toy? She would slide her toy next to a boy´s hand and grab his puzzle to give a try to new combinations of sizes and shapes. She clearly enjoys sitting and indirectly exchanging with this particular child: Pete. He is the most talkative, risk-taking, active, expressive and puzzle solver genius in the group.
Then two weeks ago Alice´s father came along (mother too). He had the day free. Alice looked particularly happy about this.
After the “running circle marathon game” this group had created and enjoyed for many weeks, Pete approached Alice form one side and grabbed her firmly from the neck. His mother stood up and called out his name loudly wanting to stop him. It was not the first time that Pete expressed his inner impulses in a strong physical contact with a playmate and his mother worries about that.
I stopped her as fast and best as I could. Alice was not afraid. Pete was not in a rage. Something different was going on. This interaction was gold for me.
Pete was still holding Alice from the neck with his left hand. Now he embraced her with his right arm and pulling her face towards his mouth he sink his lips into her chubby left cheek and KISSED her. Just like that, a capital kiss.
Everyone got still.
Alice remained processing the experience for a few seconds. Still facing front (without turning face to face towards him), she bend her chest and lowered her left shoulder towards his face, reaching his lips with her cheek. And he kissed her, kissed her and kissed her one more time.
Grownups breathed relieved, the other children resumed their play, Alice mother´s was holding a giant smile in her face and her father was experiencing in an early stage what most fathers have to wait until their kids are 15… Another boy loved his girl as much as he did.
What a debut to enter socialization! This was the first time (in her life?) Alice offered her own body to get in touch with another child in a direct way, having a clear intention and expecting an interaction. No intermediary. No third-party adult to do for her.
From then on, she has a first sketch to construct her own path into life.
How is Alice doing?
Are there words? Only murmurings… for now.
Is there eye contact? Very little, very short… for now.
But I don’t worry a bit about that. I have other intrigues.
My main question is: what made Alice available to dare entering into socialization?
There is not a single answer for that, for sure.
I know. Anyhow, which where the main influencing factors?
Was it time and trust?
Was it parents asking for professional help?
Was it Alice meeting frustration in a respectful and caring environment, that day that I remained really firm for the (probably) first time?
Was it Pete?
And what, what, what made Pete do what he did?
Was it love?
Everything infants and toddlers do meets a developmental need. That is why we set a safe environment for free movement and play, we do not over-stimulate nor interrupt free play and we do our best to acknowledge feelings and struggles with respect.
If everything a little child does is a reflection, reaction and resound of his inner map towards unfolding humanness, then what if being humane, compassionate and loving IS a human developmental need?
What if in a free educational environment not only physical, emotional and mental unfolding is manifested? Could we infer that a spiritual unfolding need pushed Pete to interact with Alice as he did?
If Pete´s mothers would have succeeded in stopping him grabbing Alice from the neck we would have probably not known. And the mother would have admonished him for “misbehaving”, Pete´s natural spiritual impulse would have probably been interrupted.
But this is not what happened. He was given time and chance to manifest his inner urge.
So for now my answer is YES. Spirituality is a human developmental need.
And I only can prove that by empirical observation and experience.
What would happen if we realize spirituality is the missing key to revolutionize education?
More of that in a future post.
Misbehavior files series. Case 1.
Hypothesis: parental over control may inhibit a young child´s hability to accept firm calm limits and learn new social skills. When the over control is turned into trust children may gain a sense of self-control.
Martin, 2 years and 7 months is a sensitive, creative, intelligent and very communicative child. After a few months coming to the play group he got irascible. Even when his emotions were validated and he was offered a respectful and firm limit, he was very upset most of the play time and he tended to insult verbally, to hit and pull from the hair. In the last month his father, Gabriel, decided to come himself (instead of the mother) to be with him during the play group and he constantly looked at his child as if his eyes were an effective way to have Martin´s behavior “under control”.
Martin has been able to “behave” ever since. But eventually his inner impulsive urges would manifest. Being very conscious he was “doing the wrong thing”, he would immediately turn round and look for his father´s eyes with a worried, tense face.
I felt quite uncomfortable about this. I wondered…
Was his father´s presence a positive support for Martin? Doing so, would his father help him know that he loves him, that he will accompany him while growing, showing him the correct path to go? Would Martin “internalize” his father and find him to be his inner guide while growing up?
Or was he overexposed and misunderstood, considered as rude and bad-mannered and admonished for what he said and did, when what he actually needed was a basic trust on who he is and what he is struggling with?
And in the end, who was I to judge? Should I try to help? Or should I just accept, honor and respect?…
I talked to the father two weeks ago. I told him what I observed about Martin. I suggested him to trust his child and let go, avoiding to set unnecessary pressure on him.
Last week the father took a sit with the other parents and chit chatted with them while Martin played. With his father out of sight, he quickly picked up his lost time: he pulled a friend´s hair; he pushed, hit and grabbed toys from other children. He was being himself and continued his social skills development from where he had left it.
Misbehavior was back. But there was a difference. In the room his father had really changed his message: he was supporting and trusting him. Now, when firm and calm limits are set Martin is able to accept them and move forward into play. True Martin is back and I cherish that.
And every child has within an irrepressible urge. The renewed emergence of a single destiny: to manifest who he is, who she is.
Being a person even within the womb, it will take a whole life to complete the manifold manifestations of his innate humanness.
From the cradle to the grave the enrichment of experiences react, resound and reflect into a self-eductional process destined to know the single jewel of the self beyond the thousands of facets of appearance. A diamond, a diamond is.
In spite of culture, in spite of formal education, in spite of society, the self-education process goes on and on. The search cannot be stopped.
What new-born babies have in common is the diamond has not been repeatedly shaped by the reflection, reaction and resound of experiences. It is a raw diamond.
Every child holds some unique characteristics conditioned by genes such as persistence level and the capacity to take risks (MD. Rutter, M.) but how these uniqueness will manifest depends entirely on environment and experience.
What if this environment offers the right conditions for infants to self-educate themselves from the very beginning? I am talking about an environment as assertive and responsive of children’s developmental needs as we can dream of. Hundreds of alternative educational projects are preparing the ground to sow such an experience in children’s lives all over the globe.
My hint is that we might be at the edge of a new humanity.
A humanity that values and includes the spiritual aspect of human beings to be freely manifested in the educational field.
Have you ever seen a toddler misbehave? I thought I had. A thousand times.
And I have a clear idea of why this has happened: I was blind.
Blind to really see beyond my own projection, perception and understanding.
Early childhood “misbehavior” is an adult conception, a rational explanation of those poorly rated attitudes, responses and experiments babies and infants conduct.
Generally and repeatedly considered by adults as inadequate, improper, bad or mean, infants meet their needs many times under stress (and shame).
Being the cost so high, why do they insist in doing so?
My hypothesis is: because they have an inner urge to fulfill.
It is generally easy to approve, respect and encourage babies endaveours when they meet adult standards and expectations: a 2 months old baby smiling to human faces, a 7 months old baby sitting straight on his own, a 12 months baby starting to walk by himself, an 18 months old baby saying her first words, a 24 months old toddler that is willing to be potty trained or a 30 months old toddler that smoothly exchanges his toys and biscuits with a play friend and kisses granny goodby with a big “thank you for the visit” hug…
Anyhow, what happens when a baby does not smile but cries, does not sit, walk, talk or get potty trained when adults expect them to do so? And what about a toddler that refuses to indulge adults requests (or threats) for social correctness?
Is he biting? Is she throwing tantrums? Are they not listening, not paying heed and (in general) not behaving as adults expect? Instead of seeing this as a challenging behavior we can drive our understanding towards a much better question: are they meeting a developmental need by doing what they do? Which one?
This question opens a wide range of responses that will completely modify the actions we adults take when facing such challenges…
Is a 30 months old girl pouring water all over? She may be needing to transfer liquids to understand fluids inter exchange in her own body, preparing herself for potty training. What about offering her enough play time in the bath tub (if weather is cold) or in the play ground?
Is a 24 months old boy saying “no” to every request his mother states? He may be needing to consolidate his “I” image as a separate individual by getting oppositional to every parental request. What about offering him a firm, calm limit (“you have to put your shoes on now”) AND an option so he can feel he is the one who is choosing (which color of shoes he is going to wear)?
Is an 18 months old baby repeatedly climbing the dinner table despite being said not to do so? She may be needing to reinforce the neurological wiring illumined when practising climbing coordination skills. What about taking her long enough to a playground where climbing games are available or setting a safe climbing game in her play area?
Children generally “misbehave” when they don´t find the opportunity to meet their needs in a safe, respectful, free play environment. They do it anyway, anywhere, with what they find at hand. And what do we adults say about that? “Uhm… here is the little naughty one”.
But what would happen if we shift the perspective and question ourselves: “Uhm… am I offering this child an adequate environment to meet his needs?”
Thinking this way, responsibility transfers from kid to adult. We are made responsible, which is good news, because it means we can find effective and intentional ways to offer children (and ourselves) a more fulfilling and harmonious experience.
After years of observation I have come to know everything a baby and toddler does is intended towards one direction, aiming at one very same goal. And this is so because there is only one ultimate good guiding every child behaviour as a compass: fulfilling the innate urge to unfold their humanness.
And I have good reasons to think that this is not only a cultural but also a biological impulse.
There are innumerable examples in my daily work that support this approach. I have picked some of these observations as study cases and compiled them under the “Misbehavior Files Series” in my best aim to narrate a Sherlock Holmes kind of detective educational adventure.
Would you join in solving the childhood discipline mystery puzzle?
Then know this post is just an introduction. Stay tuned, the good stuff is yet to come.
This post was originally published during the national poetry month and I suspect it might have been buried by the avalanche of poems that were published at that time. Since I am quite fond of this post I would not like it to end like that. So just in case you missed it, here it is!
“My baby boy won’t eat.
My baby girl doesn’t speak.
My baby boy won’t listen.
My baby girl doesn’t sleep.
And I , oh I , I cook for him so many things.
And I , oh I , I speak to her so many words.
And I , oh I , I explain to him so many times.
And I, alas, I’m lost in an infinite and infernal exhaustion deprived of sleep“.
(sing this playing a little guitar , using a trembling voice, in the sweet and soulful style of Violeta Parra. Repeat as many times as you like or continue reading, there may be alternatives).
I wanted to write this for a long time. As I told you, I do not like confrontation, but today I am not being myself: I got up at 4 am , I showered , I meditated the best I could – I’m not good at it – then I had breakfast , I promoted my free play seminar and reactivated our family business twitter account wondering how is that they suspended me if I opened it yesterday… evidently I can make things wrong from the very beginning.
While all this is going on, my family is still asleep (it’s not even 6 AM).
So I have free time and no one to care for. I do not like that, it makes me nervous.
Since I became a mother most of my attention is directed towards my children. When I got married I focused a lot on my husband. Since I completed college I’ve been attentive to social welfare. And when I was a teenager, ah, I was focused on pairing my thin, rebel and busty friends who excelled me on every aspect getting boyfriends (I never managed)…
Before that, ah… before that I was focused on myself. On my dolls game, on putting up a classroom in my bedroom where I taught naughty and imaginary children, on my rollers and the long balcony of my childhood home hanging above the forest and the lake, on horses, on the morning when I opened the curtains and the whole world was white, white, and only an immense silence covered the ground with snow.
Such an immense silence, so beautiful and deep as meditation. A real one.
When I was a little girl I focused on my selfsame axis. I was myself, ample and self-complacent. Nothing lacked me. Well, I exaggerate. I often lacked a milk tooth and I was so shy that I refused to smile in public because I was acutely aware of its absence (for that reason I lost a casting my mother wanted me to perform, blessed be my destiny). But other than that, I lacked nothing.
The boy, the girl mentioned in the ballad don’t need anything either. They are perfect as they are, a complete, sufficient and full Self.
But we moms have forgotten our own axis, our focus, we depend on whom we can. No one is better than our own child to fulfill our need. And so, depending on them, we teach them to depend.
Oh, is not easy for me to say this…
I breathe …
I infuse myself with courage …
I strive to return to my center, to my true self…
Children do not do anything “against us”.
They do not eat because they have a good reason not to. They do not speak (yet), would not listen (never), do not sleep (not even in dreams!), because we have been doing all those things for them. We have not given them enough space, time and respect to learn to do it for themselves.
We control the food we serve on his plate, the amount to be eaten and what will go to his mouths in every bite. Because we do it all for him.
We control the words she says, how many are they, and run to check the correspondence with the number of words she should be saying at by her age (by 18 months they must speak 15 words, really??? ) .
We control his time, we bounce into his motor skills explorations, into his watchful eye , into his hands and games. Without even a warning we interrupt him, lift him without previous notice. We decide how, what, why and when he plays.
Then children have a tantrum… they rebel maybe? And yes, they would not listen. Because they haven’t learned to depend, not yet, not entirely. They still have so much, much focus on their own self. What we tell them not to do, they do it, again and again . And if they observe that this procedure creates in us a show of anger and rebuke, even if they suffer they won’t doubt in pressing one more time the red button of our vulnerability.
“Aha… How interesting was mom’s reaction when I did this … let me see … I’ll do it one more time and will observe if she does it again”. They say all of this in their own language, without using words, driven by the immense desire to understand human bonds through us, their moms. Their deep interest in decoding and comprehending human relationships is their priority and they go for it.
In this state of things the day passes by and we’re all tired. He, she, us. It is 7 PM, we have to complete a lot of household chores and we are all exhausted.
There is nothing worse than trying to fall asleep when we are exhausted. You have to get to sleep before that. Once depleted, a body that had no opportunity to get rest on time pulls out energy from vital reserves and injects a large dose of adrenaline to keep going (do not take it literal, it is a metaphor, although this may be what really happens from a chemical point of view). That’s what happens when we are sleepy at a party: suddenly we reawaken and we feel could go on and on, so we do it. The next day we pay the price for that extra demand on our body, we all know it. Imagine how it goes for you if you do that on a daily basis. Well, maybe you don’t need to imagine anything. Maybe it’s just what you get. But without the party part, only with the get-energy-from-where-there-is-none part, not getting any sleep at all and be already exhausted from dawn.
Feeling frustrated out of so much accumulated fatigue we take everything personal, we lose our temper with our kid and we cry along with him. We don’t know better.
Until one day we realize we cannot put up with it anymore and we get to read articles like this one and others that are surely better. We read and read and wonder when will the author finally offer us the keys to overcome the 4 most maddening challenges of motherhood.
But we do not get the relieving answers we are looking for and even worse: we are made responsible for our fate.
Ok, ok, don’t despair. Just because you read all the way down here I will sing it for you:
There’s no child who does not want to eat, if eating is just eating and only that. If eating is a free act and only as much as he needs to feel satisfied.
If my mom is happy with my satisfaction, oh gee, how nicely do I eat, how good am I at eating being so young!
There’s no child who does not speak enough, if speaking means communication and connection, and only that. If speaking is through the eyes, gestures, cries and smiles and when it is genuine. Then the girl realizes that she is being perfectly understood.
If my mom is happy with my satisfaction, oh gee, how well do I express myself, how good am I at expressing myself being so young!
There’s no child who rebels against limits, if they offer a safe boundary, a form of love that speaks to the heart and only that. Then accepting a limit means feeling a maternal embrace, firm and calm.
If my mom is happy with my satisfaction, oh gee, how nicely do I respond, how good am I at accepting limits being so young!
No little girl wants to sleep. No baby boy wants to go to bed. Because sleep is a change of state, a transition and only that. But that’s just what the boy feels as a challenge, just that puts the girl on an alert.
If my mom accepts my efforts to learn how to navigate the changes, oh gee, and from the first moment in the day I can eat , express and accept by myself being respected, oh gee, I think it’s time for my mom to stop putting me to sleep, oh gee, to stop bouncing me, driving the car, moving the stroller, walking with me in her arms, rocking me in the cradle, putting me to the breast as if it were a sleeping pill, oh gee, it’s time for her to trust that I can also learn to sleep by myself , oh gee , in my own bed, oh gee, in my own bed, oh geeeeeeee!
(sing this using maracas, tambourines and gymnastics ribbons with pure art. If you get Raffi to sing along with you the chorus, even better).
Sometimes it takes us more than a baby to learn this.
But at some point appears a light at the end of the road , we wonder if we are dead but no, we are more alive than ever before. And if you are left wanting more details, oh gee, leave your comment bellow, because right now I have no more time. It’s 6:58 a.m, oh gee, and one after another three little lion cubs appear into the scene, three little cubs oh gee, and they call me, they call me: Mamaaaa!
rest on the keyboard
wait for instructions
emerge and write
Stop the flow,
Back on my butt
searching the guts
India… Ah! Here it comes!
Remember my love,
remember when we met?
You thought I was so vain
(you are always right).
I thought you were out of your mind
(I wasn’t that right, I never am).
We crashed in the bad way
Soft and tumultuously
sparks from your spirit
light my sari as a river
an irrepressible force
an impetuous course
man and woman
reaching our central core.
Not enough poems, no praise, no song,
no, are not enough to express my love.
laughter above pain / you, funny cow
trust beyond anger / you, wise cow
compassion over pride / you, guru cow
respect built and re-found / you, seeker cow
At least a list, dear husband,
Minimal remembrances of pure delight.