Misbehavior files. In the search for the ultimate good.

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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.

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this is just the beginning

The art of observation

this is just the beginning
I prepared this post to share with Dr. Agnes Szanto-Feder after her inspiring visit to our country.

She conferenced on Contributions to pedagogy, pediatrics and psychology by Dr. Emmi Pickler and Loczy Institute organized by the Argentinean Early Childhood Society (SAPI).

Towards the afternoon, she delighted us with videos and photographs of babies at Loczy, the amazing Hungarian home for babies. Amongst many other interesting topics, she emphasized the importance of observation. Caregivers, teachers, medical doctors and parents can appreciate the richness and creativity when attentively observing babies free, safe and uninterrupted activities.

What am I observing? What for am I observing? Why am I observing? What´s interesting about what I observe? What can I do with this information?, would she ask. Slide after slide during her presentation I couldn´t help to remember my own children, their little hands when they were babies, their facial gestures, their beauty and harmony when playing and conquering little by little the inner and outer world…

My mother, my sister and my brother are photographers and quite often they take my kids as spontaneous models. Here and then, I give a loving look at those albums, remembering my babies. Today I want to share some of those pictures, particularly the ones that illustrate the points Dr. Agnes Szanto-Feder stressed out. Now I can see and enjoy this memories under a new perspective.
Babies and toddlers engaged in their self promoted movements and games can be fascinating for those adults ready to observe in respectful silence and supporting love. This art of observation confers a great delight to the witness.

Click on the first thumbnail to open the gallery and enjoy!

I used to be a perfect mom until I had my first child

Fritz Zuber Buhler. Girl feeding her doll

I mastered to perfection level every single detail a mother needs to know until husband and I decided to expand our family.

I mean it: EVERYTHING.

I had all motherly skills you can imagine, from infinite patience to unconditional love, from breastfeeding readiness to chef cooking abilities (husband doubted that part, though. But I knew I was going to delight my kids with every dish). I could meet any challenge finding the best solution to all sort of life situations and I used to boast about it.

I didn´t notice then, but I really went around boasting about it. Proudly standing on my perfection pedestal I would judge almost every single mother for their mistakes. How can she loose her temper like that? How can she put her kid aside to keep talking to her friend at the coffee shop? How could she wait for her husband to come back home to complain about her difficult day, about kids behavior, about feeling frustrated? Motherhood is life´s hightlight, how does she dare to complain?

Ok, I had been practicing to become a mom since I was age 3. Maybe they hadn´t. So I even dared to feel some compassion.

Then, the first month I didn´t get pregnant I suddenly became a mass of uncontrolled emotions that altered my nervous system to unknown heights and depths at the same time. Husband was worried (about me? about himself??). Under normal circumstances I´m a happy, smiling, fresh and calm person. But now I was hysterical.

Maybe just to save our marriage, the next month pregnancy test showed two beautiful soft pink lines the day after I missed my period. I was restored to normal (husband relieved). To normal did I say? Oh, poor man. He didn´t imagine what was coming next. The first three or four days I was radiant, shining like the moon and the sun together, smiling to everyone on the street and “feeling” the new life growing safe and sound in my womb. So I put a bit on weight to show everyone my belly, I felt dizzy, I had nausea all day (forget about morning sickness, that wasn´t enough for me), I cried and laughed for uncertain reasons and suddenly I started doubting… Doubting my body, doubting my emotions, doubting my mental health, doubting nature. So I started reading to solve my doubts.

By the time my first boy was about to be born I had read a real size piramid of books which drove me safely to motherhood insanity. There were so many “professional” opinions as there are stars in the sky, as so many diverse experiences as water drops in the ocean. And all claimed to bear the flag of final, unquestionable truth. Inspired by them, I started listing my brand new motherhood decisions: I wanted to give birth naturally. Caesar section was unimaginable. I  din´t want to receive epidural anesthesia, I wanted to breast feed my baby immediately after birth, I wanted to avoid hospitalization and keep my baby with me from the moment he was born onwards, forever after… Husband patiently listened to my loud voice thoughts, listed my wishes and promised he was going to stand by my side to grant and protect my rights…

Oh! How afraid I was to become a mother. I protected my fear with a thick coat of bookish knowledge and argumentative talk, so no one would notice I DID NOT KNOW how to be a mother. It took me a long time until I finally realized I was a complete ignorant on the matter. I recognized I was afraid of becoming a mother and accepted the fact that I needed to slow down my crazy mind and listen to my heart, that part of me which had kept silence all the way, from the very beginning of this story, waiting for me in its nonjudgmental characteristic mood.

But I did not find this revelations on my own. Oh, no! My first baby gently and consistently guided me in the introductory steps of this awesome discovering.

I defended breastfeeding on demand so he called me every two hours day and night for months, and months and months.

I defended not letting babies cry, so he wouldn´t fall asleep if not being in my arms.

I defended safe attachment, so he wouldn´t like being alone not even when I needed to pee or have a bath.

I had dreams of men wanting to breastfeed (imagine husband´s look when I told him?).

I was exhausted and really desperate. I knew there was nothing wrong with my baby, but big changes needed to be done… with me.

Today, nine years after that life long transforming experience that motherhood has meant for me, I´m more than happy to recognize I´m as simple and common as a mother can be, far, far away from perfection. A while ago a young, sweet, smiling new neighbor approached my husband with true concern to warn him the nanny had been yelling (yes, yelling) to one of our boys the day before.

We have no nannies. It was me.

This is something I´m not proud about and I do my real best to avoid going into loosing my temper like that. It´s an exceptional situation, I know. I must also admit this has happened here and then since I became a mom.

Saying this is not easy for me, the “good old days perfect mom”. But I´m not perfect any more, I´m not free of all human eventual frustrations and emotional influences. I do have freedom, though. I´m free to accept myself as I am, no arrogance coats, no masks. As good as it gets. This prevents me from creating false images about myself and allows me to see what I really have, what needs to be changed, what is alright.

After divine love, I don´t think there´s a mightier love on earth than the love a parent feels for his/her child, a love that can move mountains and fulfill the most difficult task on earth: the transformation of a human heart. At least that´s what has happened to me.

You might think I´m exaggerating when sharing my story and you´re right. I´m an exaggerated person. But don´t worry. Since I´m not perfect anymore I can live with that.