At the play area:
Boy and girl playing.
Boy and girl joined by girl2.
Girl chose to play only with girl2.
Boy likes to join the girls.
Boy pushes girls, girls push boy.
Playtime over. Time to go home.
Boy starts to cry.
This is a typical scenario with the kids at a playhouse or playground. It's always nice to see them interacting and trying to make friends. For me, what happens during playtime is as important as the after-play -- how they feel after the activity, what their thoughts are about the experience and about the friends they meet.
A few days ago, this scenario happened again, but not with the typical ending. To make the long story short, after leaving the play area, my boy JT got emotional and was crying all the way to the car. What now?! My girl had no trouble leaving. At this point, I'm holding back the urge to scold him and mete out a punishment in that instance. He was already testing my patience with his inconsolable outburst.
Just as we settled in the car, with a calm tone I asked, "why are you crying?"
"I don't like...I don't want to go!" he sobbed. Even our yaya (nanny) was also trying to console him.
"What don't you like? You know it's time to go...ok, I am not angry at you, just tell my why you are crying so I can help you."
"I don't like!!!"
Obviously, he does not want to go home yet.
I was always quick to dismiss how my child feels in such situations, especially when he throws a fit for no reason, or have tantrums. It gets so irritating, frustrating, and at times embarrassing, especially when in a public place. There's the impulse to give him a hard smack on the butt, a slap on the hand, or shout back to intimidate him even after reprimanding him for his inappropriate behavior.
I know it takes a lot of patience (a very deep well of patience for me!) to try and understand his reactions to certain situations. At times, my gut tells me to dig deeper. I have learned that we cannot assume what he's feeling, especially when he cries. There is always a reason.
With my experience with child development experts, they recommend processing a child immediately after any untoward incident or emotional outbursts, as it is critical in helping him manage his feelings better:
- acknowledge his feelings first, be calm and show that you want to understand him
- allow him to talk about what transpired, listen to him
- reassure him, empathize
- briefly express your concerns, expectations, rules or parameters
- involve him in resolving the "issue", if possible, or compromise
- praise him for his honesty and cooperation
- reward him (as needed)
Some children often cannot respond properly to certain situations they are in, or function in a way we expect them to. And most often, they are misunderstood, ignored or punished. By processing the child, it will enable him to express himself more appropriately the next time he is in a similar situation. It also allows the child to feel valued, and not feel judged or neglected.
Crying and kicking, I prodded him even more in my most calm and friendly tone, sensing that there's some deeper issue behind his actions, until he finally opened up. Still emotional, he cried:
"Mika doesn't like me anymore...she doesn't like to play with me, she only like the girl..."
I felt a tug in my heart and was almost teary-eyed. All the while we thought it's because playtime is over. We were so wrong.
My patience paid off. After he expressed his sadness, we assured him that his little sister still likes him and will always play with him. Mika even tapped his shoulder and said, "sorry A-hia (big brother in Chinese)... it's OK A-hia , don't cry, I still want to play with you". A very sweet and touching gesture that ultimately calmed him down. At that moment, I'm one proud mama! I knew I have to share this.
Although he still says he's "not yet OK", he willingly buckled his seatbelts, wiped his tears away, turned on the CD player, and settled in his seat. I know he felt reassured, and now he was ready to go home.