Tuesday, March 24, 2015

"You Want Mommy To Come Back"

Sometimes mommy has to leave and you don't want her to leave. 

When I started teaching, I was a distractor. In fact, I considered myself a master distractor. I had every confidence that I could calm any kid down in less than five minutes through a combination of goofing, enthusiasm, and "Look what those kids are doing over there!" Today, I'm more inclined to simply sit with a crying child, to listen to any words they might be trying to say, to show warmth and empathy, to assure them that mommy always comes back, and to allow them the full arc of their strong emotion. Most kids still stop crying in less than five minutes, but that's no longer the goal now that my priority is their feelings rather than my discomfort with their feelings.

So when mommy left last Friday, when he reached out to mommy as she walked away, when he screamed and cried and pulled himself from my arms, when he dropped to the floor to kick his feet in outrage, I sat there with him, blocking out the whole world but him.

I could hear he was saying words as he screamed, but they weren't at first discernible, so I said, "You're mad that mommy left," and "You're sad that mommy left." No one can truly tell another how they feel, but I was pretty sure I was close to the mark in this case. He was still saying the words through his tears, repeating them. Finally, I thought I made out, "I want mommy to come back."

I wanted him to know that he had been heard, that I understood and empathized, and I wanted it to be something that was true, so I said, "I want your mommy to come back too."

He shout-cried at me, "I want mommy to come back!"

I nodded. I worked on keeping my voice gentle. I said, "I want your mommy to come back too."

And he said back, "I want mommy to come back!"

We went back and forth like this several times. He seemed to really wanted me to know that he wanted his mommy to come back.

Other children tried to sooth him: one girl brought him a costume, another tried to hand him a construction paper fire truck. He didn't accept their overtures, although he was by now present enough to shake his head "no" at them rather than simply scream as he was doing at me.

By now he was very clearly saying, "I want mommy to come back!" And I was replying, "I want your mommy to come back too," to which he always shout-cried back, "I want mommy to come back!"

I continued to attempt to put a name to his feelings, using words like "mad," "sad," and "angry," as well as to state the truth that "mommy always comes back." But whenever I said, "I want your mommy to come back too," he shouted at me, "I want mommy to come back!" 

Then, finally, I really heard him. He said, "I want mommy to come back!" stressing the pronoun for his tin-eared teacher.

This time I answered, "You want mommy to come back."

He nodded as if to say, "Finally," and in one motion picked himself from the floor, stepped up to the art table, still crying, and got to work gluing construction paper shapes to a red fire truck pre-cut, his hands not fully under his own control. As he wadded and creased the paper, it looked almost as if he were wrestling with it, his fingers clenching and curling from the emotion that was still coursing through his whole body.

After a couple minutes, he became silent as he concentrated on manipulating the small pieces of paper, the last of his strong emotion going into this construction project.

I said one more time, "You want mommy to come back." This time he ignored me.

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share


Anonymous said...

Good for you Teacher Tom. Sometimes it's really hard to hear the feelings and intent behind the tears. We want kids to be emotionally ready to handle this world, but we get distracted with quick fixes.

Pixie said...

It disappoints me when I see educators trying to jolly children out of their grief. When I feel sad, I need to just feel it, cry and let it out, then I'm ok again. I don't see how I can expect any greater 'self control' from any other human, let alone a child.

It's challenging to really listen to what they're saying to us sometimes, through their garbled emotionally-charged toddler-speak. And sometimes they can be rather furious at how slow on the uptake we adults can be. I enjoy the challenge of learning each child's unique dialect, they bear similarities to each other, but each language is distinctly different. So much beauty in the diversity of the world, and such a gift that we get to share the beauties each child carries in with them

Dreamery said...

This post made me further reflect on my own situation. I work night shift and my 11 month old daughter gets so upset when I leave at 6pm just before her bedtime. I feel strongly that I need to say goodbye to her. That she needs to see me leave and know that I have gone to work. It doesn't feel right to sneak out. I don't want her internalizing anxiety. But she cries so hard and my husband and I both get upset. It only lasts a few minutes after I leave and she will start playing some more or go off to bed with dad. But I can't help but wonder if it's better to say goodbye and have my husband re-assure her that mommy always comes back...or if I should sneak away. When I sneak away she seems to not be bothered at all...but I can't help but wonder if she just isn't expressing her stress over it?

Sylva said...

Dreamery - maybe you've tried preparing her earlier in the day for the routine for the evening? Janet Lansbury goes into some great detail about how to do that when anticipating a challenging transition. And Languageoflistening.com also has some great stuff on acknowledging feelings and working through them. Wishing you the best!

Nicole Schwarz said...

Thank you for this reminder as we work hard to support our kids through big emotions.