Thursday, August 23, 2012

Monkey see, monkey do

Today I witnessed something that has weighed heavily on my heart.

A heavily pregnant mother was in the supermarket with her two children, both under 5 I would guess.

The younger one, was getting tired and wanting to be picked up, however, she had her shopping trolley and the hand of the other one too.
I was not able to help her, only observe from some distance as I was in the queue.
However, I was able to hear the protestations of the younger one which were getting gradually louder.
But, it wasn't this that made me turn my head as the sounds of cries of tired and bored toddlers are common in a large supermarket in the middle of the day.

What did make me turn and look was a sudden 'SHUSH' with a ferocity that made me think 'Wow! he's cross with his child!'
But no! He was not cross with HIS child, he was in the face of the pregnant woman's child!

'I come to do my shopping' he growled for us all to hear, 'not listen to a child crying'.

It is sad that he felt it necessary to criticise a mother who was probably tired herself, rather than offer a hand of friendship or help.

So why am I writing this here?

Because from this incident, this child has learned nothing about the world bar intolerance. When he turns around to his new sibling and yells at it to be quiet, he will be reprimanded, yet he is just mirroring the behaviour he himself experienced.

When we observe the child and the child's behaviour it is important to recall our own behaviours. What we are seeing is learned behaviour and will reflect what the child sees.

The child is born as a blank canvas, it is not born knowing how to 'push buttons' or 'misbehave'. What we may construe as inappropriate behaviour is learned, either by observations of the child's own from his/her care giver, or by the need to find way to receive attention when it needs help or assistance.

When the child cries, it is not to annoy or wind up, it is because it has not yet developed the capacity for speech or explanation. Helping the child to help themselves will lessen the tears, respecting times for sleep and appreciating the need for times to burn off energies will reduce tantrums or melt downs.

"It's amazing how we teach our children what we ourselves need to learn. We yearn for them to understand what we never did, to be the perfect, balanced people we always wanted to be. Yet our feelings are often contradictory. We want them to have it all, but not be greedy. We want them to be giving, but not to give it all away. We want them to have everything they want, but always to share..."

                                                                                                             - Rabbi Irwin Kula

I feel this quotation beautifully explains how, as adults, we can be so hypocritical with our children. We want them to listen to us, but do we really listen to them? We want them to be kind to others, but are we being kind to them when we shout at them because we're tired? We want them to be orderly, but are we being orderly when we leave the washing up or fling our shoes in a corner? When we utter an annoyance with a cursive thrown in, are we really that surprised when the child is heard saying the same word to his toys or friend?

It is hard to parent. It is hard to laugh when you are tired, it is hard to tickle when you want to smack, it is hard to respond calmly when you have responded three times already that night, it is hard to be fully present when you have an agenda to organise for tomorrow's meeting, it is hard to take time to prepare, sit and eat together when you have activities to run children to... but in order to have a tolerant society, we need to start with our children.

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