If you want to be a better parent, then pay better attention. No, I’m not talking about never taking an eye off of your child, I’m talking about paying attention to what is happening and how.
Jerry is in the kitchen making another pot of coffee. His 26 month old son has opened the under the counter again and is busy pulling out all of the bowls. Now, Jerry is a good father and he loves his son. There is no danger and other than the mess, there is nothing wrong with his son playing in that cupboard. Still, Jerry thinks to himself, “Why is he always pulling out those bowls?”
If Jerry pays a little bit more attention, it might occur to him that this is actually the first time all morning his son has pulled out the bowls? Why? Because, it is the first time all morning that Jerry has been in the kitchen. Although a 26 month old is ready to assert some independence and doesn’t need or want to be carried around by his father every second of the day, the safest, most comfortable place in the whole house is still next to dad. You know, just in case…
In my house this scene plays out in several ways. One of the cutest is my daughter grabbing a fistful of Cherrios and then running back to the room I’m in before she puts even one in her mouth. Then, she stand there and eat all of the Cherrios. When she’s done, she’ll head back for another handful. In reality, it is actually very flattering that our young children want to be around us so much. There will come a day all too soon where that won’t be the case.
Pay Attention, Keep Track
As you go through your day with your child try and pay attention to what they are doing. Not only for safety, but for understanding. It’s important to know if little Jimmy is playing with the fireplace not only for safety reasons, but also to understand him. Does he remember the fire in there from before? Is he looking for it? Is he nervous that if it isn’t in there it might be somewhere else, or does he want to see something interesting because he is bored. Is there a patter to when he goes over there? If he goes over every time you leave the room then he knows he shouldn’t be there and is testing the boundaries. If he goes over there every time a siren goes by, then maybe he’s checking because he remembers about firetrucks and this is where he knows fire happens. These trends can help you better understand the things our children can’t say yet.
Also, trends in behavior can help signal needs and actions. Our little one sleeps pretty well on a schedule, but it gets thrown off every now and then. Sometimes, just as you notice that she seems to be sleepy and ready for a nap, she starts running around full of energy. It’s because she knows that she is tired and needs a nap but is hoping that showing off all that energy will trick us into not giving her a nap. Fortunately, we’ve spotted an important trend. When she is really full of energy, she runs from place to place, but always with a purpose. Back and forth to the bedroom to bring out stuffed bears is real energy. Running to the kitchen, then back to the living room, then to the hall with a pause to decide where to go next is faking energy, and that means it’s nap time.
Soon, you child will be able to communicate verbally more about their needs and wants and feelings. For now, paying a little bit more attention can give a little more insight to the things they can’t say yet.