If you haven't read "Assuming the Best Intentions," the post Lauren (Hobo Mama) wrote for the Carnival of Gentle Discipline, it's a great read. She says
[P]arents sometimes wrongly ascribe negative motives to actions their children take, particularly as they grow older and seemingly more mature. There's a tendency to see misbehavior in any behavior that inconveniences us as adults.
I was reminded of Lauren's post when we were at the zoo recently. We had stopped to eat our dinner at a table by the orangutan exhibit. Our zoo has an orangutan family (baby, mama, papa, and surrogate grandma), and they were all out and active.1 The baby orangutan was being particularly silly — she had one arm on her mama and one arm on the enclosure. She swung back and forth, sometimes up close to her mama's side, where her mama would playfully swing her around, and sometimes she would swing the opposite way, turning around and upside down. It was incredibly cute.
A family stopped near our table and watched the same display, but I was surprised when the mom interpreted the orangutan's behavior completely differently than we had. Her preschool-aged son asked, "What are those monkeys doing, mom?" Her answer? "The baby orangutan is trying to bite the mom, and the mom is pushing her away."
That mother's assessment of the orangutans' play was an eye-opening example to me of how parents sometimes assume the worst out of their little ones. Now don't get me wrong, I'm just as guilty as the next parent at times of thinking Kieran is purposely acting like a hooligan just to see how far he can push me. But I do try to keep a few things in mind so that my temper doesn't get triggered as often or as easily as it could.
Tips for Keeping Your Cool and Assuming the Best Intentions
- Chalk it up to a learning experience: Try to keep that old saying about art in mind — "it's the process, not the product." When I find that something is annoying or frustrating, I am often only looking at the end result. For example, if Kieran is busy dumping all of his toys on the floor, I look at it and see a mess that will need to be cleaned. But he might have just spent 30 minutes delighting in the way different objects bounced on the floor (physics!). He might have dumped all of the blue bins, then all of the red bins, then all of the green bins (sorting/language + math development!). Every little thing a child does, he does for a reason. He is making connections in his brain, learning how the world works, discovering new lessons of life. Let him rejoice in those lessons; don't dampen his spirit.
- View it from your child's eyes: Children do not see things the same way adults do. Whereas I see a big mess on the floor that needs to be cleaned, Kieran sees a masterpiece of building potential. "Look at all of the things I can stack!" Or maybe he was looking for a particular toy, and he dumped with abandon — but he was practicing the skill of looking for something, and that is a success, too. Before you jump to any conclusions or make critical remarks of your child's play or behavior, take a moment to look at the many possible explanations — chances are your judgment will soften once you realize what your child is really doing.
- It's not a big deal: It's hard to keep in perspective that the box of rice your toddler just dumped on the kitchen floor will not ruin your whole night. But we can try. Remember, your child is watching the way you deal with problems and conflicts — she will model your reactions later. During a particularly challenging situation, try to repeat the mantra "don't sweat the small stuff!" Make sure your child knows she is more important to you than any inconvenience.
Like Lauren said, our children are worthy of our love and respect regardless of whether they are behaving exactly in the way we want them to. One way to help give them our love and respect is to take a breath and assume the best, even when it is inconvenient for us.
How do you assume the best intentions from your little ones? Help me add to these tips!
Dionna is a lawyer turned work at home mama of an amazing son. You can normally find Dionna over at Code Name: Mama where she shares information, resources, and her thoughts on natural parenting and life with a toddler.
1 Our zoo has "sunset safari" nights once a month, where they are open until 8:00p.m. Seeing the animals at night is always a different experience. If your zoo offers the program, I'd highly recommend it!↩