When children are coming to terms with being separate entities from their parents, it can trigger some challenging behaviour.
I have a friend with a two year old who has suddenly started acting up; biting and kicking at his nursery and refusing to go to bed, when previously there had been no problem in this area. It’s no accident, I think, that these behavioural problems started when my friend took a part-time job, which means that three days a week she is out of the house. She makes sure she is home for bedtime, but it’s still a level of absence that her child is unused to.
Children - especially the younger ones - truly believe that the world revolves around them. It’s not a fault, it’s just how it is, but this means that they can think that bad things, or things that they don’t like, happen because of them. In addition, they have an acute sensitivity to separation and can experience high levels of anxiety about what is happening somewhere where they aren’t.
So, my friend’s little boy is coping with a complex set of emotions. He is realising that he is an individual; he is having to cope with his mother being away from him more than he would choose; he is, perhaps, blaming himself for the fact that she isn’t there and feeling stressed because he doesn’t know what’s going on with her while she's gone.
It’s a lot for a two year old to take in, and without the maturity to process and explain these feelings, he’s doing what kids do; offering up behaviours that show his feelings and instinctively acting out.
My friend is now taking time to explain the true nature of the situation. Even though her son is very young, if she does this often and repeatedly, he will begin to take in the information and hopefully start to calm down. In the same way, he is hearing over and over again that it’s okay to be angry or frustrated, but it’s not okay to bite and kick people. She is also asking him why he is behaving this way. He may not be able to answer her, but it prompts his thought processes and shows him that she acknowledges that something is wrong and cares about his feelings.
She is unable to take him to work, but she has made a map to show him where exactly she is, and this seems to assuage his anxiety somewhat.
So, the next time you have that burning, boiling sensation of FOMO, just be grateful that you are an adult who can rationally cope with it, rather than a toddler who is trying to deal with purely the raw emotion and distress.
One of my favourite episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation is when a crew member comes back from some R&R on a distant planet, and brings with them a game.
It’s a computer game that you play via a special pair of glasses, the aim being to use your concentration to deposit virtual spinning discs into randomly appearing cones. It soon becomes apparent that something else is going on, as more sets of the glasses are replicated and the entire crew becomes so obsessed they cease to function, becoming addicted to the endorphin release that the game triggers. Even Captain Picard succumbs - I know! Interestingly it is left to youth, in the shape of Wesley Crusher, to save the day.
Now this might seem a bit rich from someone who writes a blog every month about communication with children and young people, but in this column I’d like to touch on having faith in your own judgement, rather than stressing out about what you read is the correct way to do things.
In the world of conference speaking, people often use the phrase ‘The Big Take Home’ or ‘The Big Take Away’, and almost any guide to public speaking will tell you that all presentations should have one. It’s a perfectly valid piece of advice and I always find it useful to decide on the main point I want people to leave with, even before I start writing a speech.
So hands up everyone who made it through all those weeks of lockdown without having a single meltdown…
Thought so. You’d have to be some kind of mythical being not to have lost your rag with someone or other during these exceptionally hard times, and children can’t have escaped being in the firing line. Even though we know they are under stress too, they’ll behave in ways that really push our buttons and make it impossible for us to take that into account. Blow-ups are bound to occur, but when they do, the important thing is how we deal with the situation afterwards.