My five year old and I sat together at the table in his therapist’s office waiting for our play time to begin. His therapist reminded me that we would play for twenty minutes and during the first five minutes she would mark my performance so that she could review with me any areas needing improvment during the remainder of the time. The five categories for review included labeled praise, reflection, imitation, description, and enthusiasm.
The first time she marked my categories, I felt self conscious and hyper aware of my mistakes. This time, I felt more confident in my play skills after multiple sessions in the clinic and daily play time at home. The five minutes passed and she shared “great improvement in all categories, especially enthusiasm”. I have learned a lot about my play and I was grateful for the opportunity to hear the tangible improvements I’ve made.
For the remainder of the time, we played with playdough as my son directed the play and I attempted to imitate his actions. I began by separating out the blue pieces from the purple, upon his request, as “the colors should never had been mixed according to the rules”. As I worked, I watched him sculpt a creature, specifically identified as Godzilla one. He asked me to hold Godzilla one as he took my putty and sculpted Godzilla two.
As we played, he told me stories about each Godzilla and the reasons he prefers one over two but how his brother prefers two over one. After playing with the Godzillas for awhile, he decided to create the characters from Boss Baby. First the baby, then Tim-the brother, and then the dad and the mom. Without missing a beat, he laid the mom down and told me that he needed to add boobs. I smiled and responded, letting him know that I heard that he was adding boobs to the mom. Our play time ended and as the therapist and I talked she had curiosity about the movies he was referring to during his play. My chest tightened and I feared she would caution me about the movie choices, but instead she shared she had noticed changes in his inner dialogue and increased happiness in his play.
We left our time together more connected and I was thankful for the opportunity to reach him where he was, smack dab in the middle of Godzilla and boobs.
Meeting children where they are is counterintuitive for the majority of us.
Recently, my husband dropped my five year old off at my office. Upon arriving, he ran straight to the gym, climbed up to the top of the jungle gym and perched himself on the monkey bars. His back was toward the rest of the gym and I could hear animal sounds during his play. A co- worker, having never met my son, decided to say hi and introduce herself. He never turned around.
I smiled at my co worker and my mind flashed with all the likely excuses for his behavior. I opted to share a simple statement. “He believes he’s an animal right now.” He turned his body toward us making the fiercest growl. I held my breath for a moment, not sure what was coming next. My co-worker began naming different animals, asking what they sounded like and he slowly began to sound like each one. Eventually, he was having a full conversation with her and my heart smiled with gratitude for her willingness to reach him where he was.
I’ve watched scenarios like that play out so differently for us.
…Where were his manners?
…Did he not hear an adult talking to him?
I could have shamefully over-exposed our family and shared too much information in an effort to rationalize his behavior (and then felt awful afterwards). For what?
Some children are simply difficult to reach. We know that. The problem is we have a hard time reconciling our own feelings with their behavior. Most of us take our responsibility of training up these children in the way they should go quite seriously. Sometimes we take their responses or a lack of response personally.
What if we are missing something? Can you imagine reaching out to all children with less judgement and more acceptance? What if we believed compassion and understanding were the best ways to strengthen our children? What if we used fewer words and chose to lead by example?
What if we chose to meet them, right where they are without any need for explanation.
Bethany Cabell is a Texas transplant, residing in Michigan with her husband and their two young boys. A lover of beauty, she lives life chasing after wide-open spaces: sharing her heart with others, in relationship with Jesus, and through music and photography. She tells her story here. &