“Does he act like this all day?” “No, Mr. Gibson. Only when you’re here.”

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This isn’t news for any teacher of young children anywhere. We’ve all experienced it. Four-year-old Carter is a good listener, follows the rules (mostly- he’s 4!), and gets along with the other children. Then, at day’s end, Mom arrives and a crazy transformation takes place. For Carter, rules are forgotten, as well as his inside voice and gentle touches. Sometimes there’s whining and even crying, with no apparent trigger.

Mom is at once upset and embarrassed, wondering how in the world his teachers have been dealing with this all day long. When she’s told he has been really good up until right now, Mom looks askance in disbelief. But, it’s true. And, instead of letting Mom feel horrible about causing an uproar, the teacher can explain what’s really happening here.

So, the next time she and the teacher have the opportunity to sit down for a minute, there first needs to be some reassurance. This behavior is normal. Really.

“But why is he doing that?” Well, it’s all about the relationship she has with her child. It is how he perceives his mother. She is his safe place… the one who loves him unconditionally, whether well-behaved or out of control. Mom is the one he can bring all his problems to. She’ll take that baggage and make it go away.

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Children can have stressful days, in spite of our best efforts, for many reasons. The stress may seem trivial or even nonsensical. But, to Carter, it is real and worrisome (“Aiden said I couldn’t come to his birthday party”). Somehow, he’s managed to hold it together all day. Then, Mom arrives and he knows he can finally let it go. There it is, spilling everywhere and other moms are thinking Carter is a spoiled and out-of-control kid… and why isn’t Mom doing something about it?

Well, Mom is now equally stressed and not sure what to do. She’s just left work, she’s tired and ready to go home. But, instead of a happy greeting, Carter delivers a load of uninhibited raw emotion. Boom. Right there.

The teachers and Mom can work together on some strategies to assuage these episodes. Sometimes just an embrace from Mom can smooth things out. She will feel his body relax in her arms and he’ll be more ready to pull it together.

The teachers can help, too. I remember a child in my class who started his out-of-control behaviors (completely out of character) when Dad arrived. I went over to where he was yelling and pushing another child. I got down on the floor right in front of him and put my arm around his shoulders. He stopped. I had his attention. He was looking into my eyes. I asked, “What are you supposed to be doing right now?” He replied, “Oh, I forgot. I’m supposed to pack my bookbag.” The spell was broken.

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Early Childhood is full of little struggles and this is just one of them. The parent needs to know those difficult moments are a positive sign. She’s created a strong, safe place where her child feels comfortable baring his soul, asking for help, and where he can count on loving acceptance.

In time and with help, he’ll learn more mature and acceptable ways to express his needs. All of this will be a distant memory and Mom will have provided him with the support he needed to be confident, well-adjusted and independent.

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