Have you ever heard how amazingly behaved your (very recently wild) child was when you were gone? Or how quiet and polite your kids were when you dropped them off with childcare. Or how quickly you’re child calmed down after you left her with someone else, kicking and screaming as if you were never coming back? In my little toddler world with two, my morning coffee isn’t complete without a side of tantrum and a dollop of defiance, so why are they so sweet when I leave them?
Babysitter, childcare center, even family – are all situations where children wear a little shield of protection before they feel comfortable enough to open up. Where they hug you and grip their whole body around you so tightly that you have to double check to make sure you didn’t grab a monkey from the zoo, covered in Gorilla Glue. Not too hard to believe. I would say most humans are like this, in various ways and of course at various stages in life. It takes time to get to know someone, trust someone and be comfortable enough to throw a tantrum around them. Parents who utilize childcare don’t always have the luxury of giving their children much time to get to know someone before they leave them for a couple hours or a full day. You can’t always stay with them for comfort and support…we have to toss them in with people who are strangers to us too and encourage our children to trust them. When you think about it, it sounds a little crazy. But, this is what we have to do and fortunately this is how our kids learn to socialize, build confidence, learn boundaries, share, explore, engage, manage emotions, take on challenges and well…survive. It might be hard for some to believe, but we can’t be the only ones to help them with these valuable skills in life.
I will admit, I may have thought that way. I stay home with my girls and they are with me all of the time. I repeat ALL OF THE TIME. Excuse me, I didn’t mean to yell – I’m just so comfortable around you… My mommy confidence, pride, protectiveness sometimes makes me think that my husband and I are the only ones who can teach our children all of the above. Well, realizing and admitting that this just isn’t the complete case was odd. I realized that I’m not that naive – I know I can’t teach them all they need to know in life but to think that a stranger will, was an uncomfortable feeling at first but also a great feeling to know that I can be “off the hook” at times. I don’t actually have to put as much pressure on myself as I thought.
As my girls approach school age, I am slowly getting back into the workforce and I know I need to get them ready to be a little more independent and confident without me by their side all the time. Both my husband and I find it so amazing to hear how different our children behave behind our backs. Our children can do this – they are just fine! They have little personalities that shine differently with others and it is truly a great thing.
This summer, we had our first (non-family) babysitter over and I was so nervous. I left her a small novel of a note, explaining everything right down to what we do or say when they fight with each other. This gal is very sweet and a little quiet, I couldn’t really imagine her intervening with the girls as they might wrestle each other to the floor while fighting over the greenest crayon in the box. I explained nap time, with a wink and a “good luck” smirk on my face, and how “they have been a bit of a challenge, so I’m fine with them not napping, but if you want to try, go for it and if it doesn’t work it’s no big deal.”
So, as I said goodbye to my little ones, I crept out of the house just waiting for a mini-explosion that I would need to roll my eyes at while cleaning up the pieces and tell her she could just go home and we’ll try another day.
They whined a little as I gave them the “you’ll be ok… or should I just stay? look.” Then, they wanted me to leave. Almost acting like little embarrassed teenagers, as if I was cramping their style while they showed the new babysitter how they can color.
I left with a smile and relief that they were happy and in great hands. My plan was to be gone for a couple hours as I spoiled myself with lunch in good company, and back in time for nap because nobody can get them to sleep besides me, of course.
As I was about to head back I had a little delay and sent a message saying “I’ll be a little late, don’t worry about naps!” Her reply blew my mind. I didn’t know if I should scream, jump for joy, cry or continue my day out and be back before dinner. She said that they fell asleep easily and sang “do-re-mi” with her (one of their favorites). This was truly an out of body experience. I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming and these were my children we were talking about. Going down for a nap “easily” is not something I can even say. I was impressed and I had to praise my gals when I got home. No jumping on the bed or fighting over books, going to the bathroom three times, or wanting to sleep with each other (aka, roll around and laugh on each other’s beds), none of this! I had a moment. Actually, I think I’m still soaking it in. As a stay at home mom who rarely leaves her kiddos with people to do much of anything besides an urgent errand, this was ‘moment worthy.’
Going back to a childcare center drop off. In our case, this is very different. It’s emotional and scary in the eyes of my kiddos, but when I return I hear things about them that amaze me. Well, it used to. Now I get it!
Here’s the thing: our children miss us when we’re not with them. Even after they completely misbehaved. Thankfully, when we hear about this great behavior it’s probably because they really did enjoy themselves but I believe something else is going on that they did during this time that we cannot see. A protective switch turns on in their head and puts them in the mode of doing everything that we would praise them for because they have learned that good behavior equals good results (this is something that is learned very early on, survival of the fittest… eat, sleep, listen, respond, survive). Like Pavlovian Law, humans are also conditioned to react and respond a certain way in order to illicit good/positive/happy results. Our children know that bad behavior equals consequences. These consequences are known to them with us, but most children will not want to risk finding out the consequences from someone else. However, it will happen eventually once they get a little more comfortable but it won’t be the same as it is with their parents. Their sweet growing minds want to be independent, confident and comfortable without us at times – we just have to let them.
Turn your back and give your little ones the chance to figure it out. They really can do it!