As a mama, sometimes I am so attuned to my children’s feelings, I suspect I can almost read their minds. Since I spend all day every day with him, I can understand my toddler’s “words” more than anyone, including my husband. When we’re out and about, I recognize (and feel!) what he is feeling. I can sense frustration or other emotions that are about to surface and I fill up with joy when I see him interact with others in a beautiful way.
Most mamas probably think along similar lines, whether they work or stay at home or any combination of the two. It’s like a secret motherhood skill of professional empathy! So my story here today probably resonates in some form, even if it’s about a different topic for your personal situation.
One Thing I Don’t Say to My Son (For Now)
My son, Max, is our firstborn. Additionally, he was the first grandchild on both sides of the family. And he was born out of the country, so things were even crazier. The pain or longing of grandparents and other relatives and friends who had to wait 5 months to meet him was strong. Kinda like when you crave something just because you can’t have it, but of course it went much deeper than that. We all had our first baby in the family! He was so loved, even from afar.
More generally, children are just a joy! They light up rooms, and they make people laugh. It’s fascinating to watch their development in speech and skills, and they’re just super cute to look at! Yet, though many people love being around Max, they don’t always know how to reply to him. I mean, who knows what in the world he’s talking about sometimes?!
So, the response is to laugh.
Certain people in our lives think every single thing he does is hilarious. Of course, he’s a goofy boy who knows how to make people react, because laughter is fun! Attention from adults? “Yes, please!” he’s thinking. But I believe that, on the outer surface, much laughter is just an easy response to things — whether it’s from nervousness or trying to stall looking for something to say.
There’s nothing wrong with laughter, please don’t misunderstand me! We laugh all the time together! But I started seeing something happening…
My husband and I hadn’t really fallen into the actual laughing habit, but we often said, “Oh, that’s funny, Max” to things he did. This could be anything from how he was holding a book to how he kicked a ball or how he organized his toy cars “just so” in the middle of the living room floor.
Well, one day, I said “that’s funny” to him. I cannot recall what he was doing, but it was like a giant eraser just wiped his face clean of joy…or even his innocence. He suddenly was aware that maybe he was doing something wrong or not “normal.” His eyes held almost a fearful look. My heart dropped to the floor. The last thing I wanted to do was deter him from creativity, from childlike learning!
I vowed from then on to not use that phrase and shared my story with my husband later that evening. As parents, we are called to mold and shape him into the little man (and eventually big man!) God wants him to be. But we are also called to protect our children. To give them a safe place to explore and learn — and, boy, are they learning so much at this age!
I’m extremely happy to report that after we eliminated “that’s funny” and added other responses to our vocabulary (“How creative!,” “Did you think that up all by yourself?,” “I see lots of colors there, what did you draw?”, “Wow, I’ve never seen anyone stack 37 books on top of a stuffed monkey before, that takes skill!,” etc.), I saw the issue fade away. He stopped looking for approval (or acceptance) of activities he was doing and the amazing creativity shone once again.
Sure, every child is different. They have a different home, parents, relatives, church, school, sets of toys, friends, you name it. But my take away from this was to stay engaged.
Stay engaged in your child’s life. Play, explore and create with him or her. The more I spend time with him, the more I can understand what is going to help him thrive. Protect him when necessary. Make sacrifices if needed. And, above all, love him as God loves him.
Do you have anything to add to this topic? What are some ways you’ve changed your interaction with your children for the better?