One of my favorite parenting authors, Heather Shumaker, introduced me to her phrase “We need to take off our adult lens” and it has really stuck with me. She reminds us we often assign adult motives and agendas to our children’s words and behavior. Not only are they generally not capable of that higher level thinking (what many parents call manipulation) but doing so prevents us from seeing things from our child’s perspective. When our children are young, it can be very difficult to see things from their perspective. As I like to say, I don’t care what color mug you give me as long as it has coffee in it. But for a toddler, the color of the cup can be incredibly important. For toddlers, their world is very small and what appear to be little things to us are quite big to them. Finding ways to see things from the vantage point of your children is a skill and like all skills, it requires practice and awareness.
I recently had a couple of opportunities in my own family where I felt the way my 8 year old daughter has both shown me and told me she has felt in the past. If I’m being honest with you (I always am), I hadn’t really understood or seen it when she told me. I had listened, empathized, and acknowledged her feelings but I hadn’t really “gotten” it.
My husband and daughter share a few mutual interests which delights me to no end. They are huge Harry Potter fans. He’s read all eight of the books to her twice. They love Harry Potter trivia and Harry Potter jokes. They make references that go totally over my head. I read the first three books when they came out over twenty years ago and since I currently can’t remember what day it is – I have basically no recall. Don’t get me wrong, I love that they have this common love. They also love the Avatar series and having watched all of the shows, they are onto the books. Earth bending, air bending, etc. Might as well be Greek to me.
Recently, we were having dinner as a family and they were just chatting away about Harry Potter and Avatar. I was sitting there eating dinner and feeling a little salty. As I suggest to the parents I work with, I checked in with myself. “What’s going on, Lisa?” “What’s underneath that edge?” Our behavior is also communication, just like our children’s. I sat with the feelings and then I realized, “OH! I feel LEFT OUT.” Then, I felt a little silly because I am 44 years old and quite honestly, I have no interest in Harry Potter or Avatar. But feelings aren’t always rational and logical. They are just feelings.
Then I was able to reflect upon the times my daughter had told me that she felt left out – when her father and I were talking about something she didn’t know about or times with her peers when they were doing the same thing. In those moments, I hadn’t really understood how she felt or even why she felt that way. But now I did. These moments of awareness help us really see things from our child’s perspective and then they help to diminish the judgment or frustration. Your child isn’t trying to annoy you or manipulate you or be difficult. They are just having feelings and just as it is hard for the vast majority of adults to recognize them, they don’t yet have the skills so they “act out” their feelings. We all do.
Where do you struggle to see things from your child’s perspective? If you struggle with this, reach out. I’m here to guide and support you.