If only kids came with an instruction manual!
Okay, I admit that the daily practical care of babies could use a manual. We are so disconnected from family and community that some people become parents without ever seeing a diaper changed. Things like diaper changing, baby wearing, and funny rhyming games to play with your baby could all go in a manual.
But I hear this lament over more behavioral-based questions, and it’s sad how much we’ve lost our way.
Because it turns out that kids DO come with a manual.
I’ll tell you a story to show you what I mean.
I coslept with my son from birth. It’s natural, and it always felt right. But I always looked forward to the day I would go back to sleeping alone since I really enjoy that, as well. When he was about 4 years old, he was game to try sleeping by himself. I got him his own bed and made a special effort to decorate his room. On the big night, we read our stories, I kissed him goodnight, and I left the room.
Within 10 minutes he was crying out for me because the shadows on the ceiling looked like monsters.
Now, he had never been afraid of monsters ever before in his life. He had never been scared of the dark. He had never been creeped out by shadows.
But here he was, obviously afraid.
I had a lot of choices in that moment. I could try to comfort him, assuring him that I was right in the other room. I could turn on the lights and show how the shadows were not really monsters. I could stay with him for a minute and then leave again and let him get accustomed to the darkness.
None of those options are wrong. Kids experience new situations, and we help them through.
But sometimes an even better option is to connect with laser focus on the child in front of you, and listen deeply to what they’re saying.
That’s what I did. I heard him telling me that sleeping alone was scary in a whole new unusual way. I’d seen him face other fears with bravery and excitement, so I knew that this was something he wasn’t ready for.
We went back to falling asleep together.
Imagine instead that I tried to make him sleep by himself. I’d still be gentle about it, of course, but I’d encourage him, and reassure him, and comfort him, and pressure him. Maybe it would have worked out okay. But maybe not. Imagine if a few months later I couldn’t figure out why he was waking 3 times a night and calling out for me, and no one was getting any sleep, and I’d tried 6 different ways to get him to sleep, and gosh, why don’t kids come with a manual?!
A lot of parenting struggle comes from trying to fit kids into boxes that don’t fit.
We skip ahead to the future – trying to teach them, mold them, and help them grow – when what they need is for us to understand them here in the present.
Instead of reaching for complicated efforts that require a 5 point plan out of the instruction manual, stay grounded right here with the child in front of you.
They need attention? Give them attention.
They’re hungry? Feed them.
They’re hurt? Mend their wounds.
They’re afraid to sleep alone? Stay together.
It sounds simple, but sometimes it’s exactly what you both need.
Kids DO come with a manual – it’s the KID!
Leave me a comment telling me about something with your kid that you wish had instructions, and let’s talk it through!