One day, Suzanne said to her five-year-old niece Emma, “My that is a beautiful stuffed lion you have there.”
“I know, I saw it in the store and Mommy bought it for me.”
“Yes. Well, she wasn’t going to.”
“No. She wasn’t going to,” she said. “So I went,” and screwing up her face she acted out, “Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” then said, “She took it off the shelf and bought it for me.”
“Huh,” replied Suzanne, hiding her smile. She was delighted by this window into the workings and self-awareness of this delightful five-year old brain.
Later that day in the kitchen Suzanne was talking to her sister and started to tell the story of the cleverness of Emma. However, Emma was there and saw what was coming and broke in with an urgent: “No.”
Realizing what that she was about to betray a confidence, Suzanne stopped. Emma had found a technique for getting what she wanted and the notion that she had this power over her all-powerful mother was important to her.
Later when the sisters were alone they had plenty to talk about. Naturally, Aunt Suzanne found this considerably more delightful than Mommy. Aunt Suzanne was seeing the child’s natural genius at work; Mommy felt duped. She had fallen down on her job a little, and was embarrassed.
But parents need not feel so bad when they drop their guard and revert to their most elemental of responses to the stimulus “Waaaaaaaah.” It is almost comforting for a child to know that their old tried-and-true technique still can work with Mommy. Regression in behavior from manipulative skills to reading development is not a bad thing. In education we are not so much looking for the extinction of old behaviors as the addition of new ones.
The job of educators, parents and teachers alike, is to increase the child’s repertoire of disciplines so that they can make good decisions in new, different and ever-more complex situations. In her marvelous No Bad Kids – Toddler Discipline Without Shame (9 Guidelines) Janet Lansbury identifies nine disciplines for responding well to child behavior. Parents and teachers alike need the full repertoire for best results with children. I love that Janet categorizes the performance of this skill set as leadership. The only way to be an educator is to be a leader.