The 4 Year Old Explorer
The beautiful chaos of 4 year olds
I was at a birthday party for a 4 year old last weekend.
There were little people running all over the place.
It was pure, joyous chaos.
I really love watching the incredible variety
that little ones have in their personalities.
I love watching the way they interact with their surroundings.
The way they explore and experiment
with everything they touch.
I love watching the many conflicts arise
and seeing the way they deal with them.
Observing the parents as well
I also enjoy watching the great variety of
parenting approaches that one inevitably sees
in a room full of kids and parents.
Although this can also be difficult for me
as I am quite biased in my preferred approach.
And that’s putting it mildly!
The impulse to experiment
At one point a cute little Explorer
went up to the sound system that was set up
and started touching buttons on the mixing board.
He ended up getting his hands on the
volume slider and in one quick motion
turned it all the way up.
The whole room was rocked
The music exploded out of the speakers
and everybody in the room jumped.
The kids all had looks of terror on their faces
and screamed wildly as they
ran into their parents arms.
It took a second or two for someone to run over and turn the music down. In that time kids were fairly traumatized.
That’ll teach him
There was a man sitting a couple chairs away from me
holding his 3 month old baby in his arms.
Throughout the afternoon I was enjoying watching
the tenderness between the two of them.
When this happened he turned to me and said
“That’ll teach him a lesson.”
I looked at him sideways and asked him
“What lesson exactly is that?”
He said “not to touch things when
you don’t know what they are.”
Are you sure?
I said to him
“Are you really sure that is the thing you
want to pass on to your kids?
That when they come upon something unfamiliar
they should avoid it for fear of
what the results will be?
Do you want them to be afraid to explore,
experiment and delve into the unknown?”
An unfamiliar response
I think he was taken aback by this
unexpected response to what probably
seemed like an obvious comment to him.
He grumbled a little bit and then said
“well ok, the lesson is if you don’t know
what something is ask someone else first.”
Are you Really Sure?
I asked him again
“Is that really the lesson
you want to give your kids?
That when they experience something unfamiliar,
before taking a chance and trying it,
before taking the risk that they might fail
and experimenting with it,
that they should ask someone else first?
It seems like that’s making them afraid to take risks
and try new things for fear of what
the consequences might be.”
This time he really grumbled and mumbled even.
He turned away and did his best to ignore me.
The friend I was sitting with asked me
how I would have dealt with it
if my kid did the same thing and then ran into my arms?
Empathy Empathy Empathy
I would start empathizing with the little one
as they would be full of tension and fear at that moment.
I would say something like “It’s okay my darling,
I know it was scary. I felt scared too.”
I would hold them close and do whatever I could
to make them feel loved and safe.
Accentuating the positive
Once I fell that their vibration
had calmed down enough
I would express to them how I
admired their willingness to
experiment with something new.
I think it’s really wonderful the way you
wanted to test what all the buttons
on that mixing board did.
Encouraging further exploration
I know that it was scary when the music got louder,
but that is what happens sometimes
when we try new things.
Sometimes they don’t go how
we expect and that’s awesome.
The main thing is that you tried
and that’s what’s important.
I think that is such a wonderful part of who you are
and I always want you to feel free and safe
to try new things like that.
I will always be here to support you and
love you no matter what happens.
Why don’t we go to the mixing board
and take another look at what all the buttons do.
We can play with the volume slider
that you so bravely pushed all the way up
and see how it affects
the loudness of the music.”
Then I would go over there with them
and make a fun experience of playing with
as many buttons sliders and knobs as I could.
Empathize, Validate, Take Action
The process of empathizing, validating
and then following up with action is so important.
It helps kids process their experiences
in a deep and holistic way.
My own comfort with the unknown
The other learning for me from this experience
is to recognize that the message this father
instinctively wanted to give to
his kids is extremely common.
This means it is very likely
deeply inside of me as well.
I know that I have many fears programmed into me.
Fears that stop me from
venturing into the unknown at times.
I can feel it in my mind and heart
when I am faced with the unknown.
Holding myself back
Afraid to fail
Sometimes I have to really push myself
to do something that seems scary,
where I have the potential to fail.
It’s like I don’t want to take the chance
of having the music be really loud
because I wasn’t given that kind of
validation and encouragement.
Deprogram and Reprogram
So now I have the opportunity to
deprogram and reprogram myself.
To give myself that same empathy,
validation and follow through with action.
The more I do this, the more I will be free
to engage in the unfamiliar.
The more free I feel
the more I will be able to
pass that freedom on to my daughter.