Tis the season for holiday crafts... My Oldest One (just turned five) is enrolled in a parent co-op preschool three mornings per week. As part of the co-op aspect, I volunteer there about once a week as a parent helper. An early childhood educator at heart, this satisfies my need to be in a classroom, yet also allows me to interact with a larger group of children without being the "one in charge". A refreshing change of pace after operating a full day/week child care program from my home during the previous year.
This morning, the children were encouraged to make "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" using a large brown triangle, two white squares that they could cut into eyes, and a red square that they could cut into a nose. They also had traced their hands previously and the teacher had cut them out to be used for the antlers. I was sitting at a table helping a few children work on their projects. (This could be a whole separate post about open-ended art activities and helping children work through frustrations due to not quite mastering a fine motor skill that is needed for a project...but I will save them for another day.) This post is reserved for what my son showed me when he completed his Rudolph.
I asked him to tell me about his picture. He said, "Rudolph was sad because his friends were teasing him and wouldn't let him play with them." Of course! The lyrics are:
"All of the other reindeer
used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Rudolph
join in any reindeer games."
The fact that my sensitive, passionate, imaginative child identified with these lyrics and expressed how Rudolph must have been feeling through both his drawing and verbally touched my heart.
I was observant to see how he would further explore this portion of the story and I didn't have to wait long. A few minutes later, the children were lining up and my Oldest One tried to get in line behind someone towards the front (aka butting in line). The little girl gave a tiny bump with her elbow to him and told him that she had to be there and he needed to go to the end of the line. He dramatically in slow-motion style fell to the floor and lay there as children walked around him, stepped over him, and the teacher tried to persuade him to get up so that he didn't get stepped on. I stood back for a few moments to see how he would react to her requests, but then he started kicking his legs, so I stepped in close. "That is not safe. You could get hurt or you could kick or trip another friend. Let's come over here until you are ready to stand up," I told him as I was lifting him to his feet. He then let out a loud wail and began to sob. "They are laughing at me! They are making fun of me!" He crawled over to the corner of the room and continued to cry and say, "I don't like them! They are not my friends!"
Luckily, at this preschool there are three adults for a group of thirteen children. This means that if a child needs some one-on-one time, there are enough adults there to maintain a safe ratio for the children and give the individual the attention they need at that moment. I told the other parent helper and teacher I would stay in the room with the couple children finishing up their projects and we would join them once my Oldest One was ready. After the children left, I knelt down beside him and put my arms around him. As he sobbed into my shoulder, I said quietly,
"You wanted to stand in line, but you got pushed didn't you?"
"Yah! And they were laughing at me!" he replied.
"Well, I am not sure that they were really laughing AT you, I think they thought you were being silly laying on the floor," I responded.
"Nu-uh!" he exclaimed.
"You weren't being silly were you? You were feeling mad and frustrated and then your feelings were hurt...right?" I asked.
"Well, let's sit here together until our other friends finish their projects and then we will go check out what is going on in the other room," I suggested.
He curled up in my lap and we breathed together for a few moments. I asked him to hug me as hard as he felt mad, sad, silly, frustrated, and happy. He squeezed in varying degrees for each suggestion and we ended with a smile and a giggle. He then helped me pick up the few remaining art supplies on the table once the other children had left the room, then we walked over to join his class where he played happily with his friends the rest of the morning.
I share this narrative with you for many reasons. One is that I would have NEVER responded in this calm manner six months ago. I credit many other early childhood advocates who's blogs, websites, and Facebook posts inspire me to focus on connection before behavior. I have learned through them that a 'tantrum' or expressing 'negative' emotions isn't something that should be controlled, shut down, or distracted. Children NEED to express these emotions and fears so that they move through them and are not bottled up inside...something I am still learning how to do as an adult. What children need most is an observant, loving person as their secure base. They need to have space to burn off some of the negative energy in a safe space, to affirm what they are feeling verbally, and then to talk through what happened with an understanding and a gentle touch in their own time.
Another reason I share this with you is that both children and adults can all learn a lot through this sad Rudolph (and my sad Oldest One acting out what he had been afraid of by this story.) It does feel hurtful when we are made fun of, not included, or made to feel different. Sometimes the fear of possibly being laughed at stands in our way of expressing our greatest potential. For Rudolph it was his shining nose that helped Santa. For the rest of us, it might be our passion, our creativity, or our truth.
I wish for you that you don't let some jealous reindeer get in the way of your dreams. I also wish that you have the freedom to express yourself and all that it encompasses with loving kindness.