Occasionally my mother in law says things that are mind-altering to me. She’s been a preschool teacher her whole adult life so she understands things about tiny ones (of which I have two) that are not totally obvious to me.
Especially when I’m in the thick of it.
Yesterday, Jen, my mother-in-law said, “Three year olds are impulsive. That is actually how they make decisions.” They have an impulse and they follow through with it.
Never mind if this impulse is totally inappropriate like smacking his sister who is already crying or as a last-ditch effort to not have to get out of the bath– splashing crazily inappropriately in the bathtub and covering the bathroom with water. Never mind.
There was an impulse. An action followed.
There was also a mother witnessing that action that would have liked nothing better in that moment than to have the ability to blow steam out of her ears like they can in the cartoons. (Why can’t I do that?)
Now a little statement like this might not seem like such mind-bender unless you live with a three year old. And sometimes (or a lot depending on the day) you hear yourself wondering, “Why? Why did you do that?” with a baffled and irritated tone.
I do. And admittedly I don’t totally understand how his mind works. Especially when I have two needing attention, asking for different things, and I might have an agenda, like get these kids out of the bath and into bed since it’s already past their bedtime.
As soon as it was out of Jen’s mouth I could feel this particular piece of information whirling around in my head in the most, “Oh-my-god-this-explains-SOOO-much!” way.
I often hear my husband asking my son that question out loud, “Why? Why did you just do that?” Every time I hear him say it, I think, “God that is the stupidest question.” I know he can’t answer it, at least with anything other than, “Because I wanted to.” Which he sometimes does say—if he says anything at all.
And still, standing on the edge of the tub covered in water and looking at our bathroom, likewise lavished, on an already late evening bath I can’t help but hear such a stupid thing come out of my mouth. “Why? Why did you do that buddy? You know that is against (one of our basic, and need I say only,) bath rule (which I’m sure you remember): water stays in the tub.”
And I suppose, as baffling as the question always seems to my son, it’s probably a whole lot better that I said THAT instead of the other things that were whirling around in my head.
Ah, thank god for my mother-in-law, who at the end of the night when I asked her for advice offered me those five little words that changed the shape of my brain—into better understanding my son’s.
P.S. Incidentally if you’ve got a three-year-old at home you might also want to know this gem. When my son hurts his sister I have always asked him to acknowledge it in some form—I felt like I couldn’t just let it go by without calling attention to the fact that it wasn’t acceptable behavior. Truly my techniques never really worked though, they always seemed to create more drama. I could feel the dysfunction, but I didn’t know how to solve it. Preschool teacher extraordinaire/mother-in-law Jen says, “Focus the attention instead on the person hurt. Say things, like, ‘Oh I see that Atalie is hurting, what can we do to make her feel better?’” And you know what—it works! My son picked right up on that and went with it.
Maybe you already know, but it saved me.