Do What I Mean, Not as I Say
A few weeks ago while at the neighborhood park, I noticed a dad with his young daughter. He caught my attention because he said to her, rather forcefully, "No, you can’t put your bike down. We got your bike out; you’re going to ride your bike.” I continued watching as the little girl climbed back onto her bike and kind of shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “Fair enough.” I smirked as I realized she was going to make things interesting by riding her bike to her desired location on the playground (the slide, of course) instead of walking there. Her dad was not amused. He jerked the handlebars back into the direction he approved of and told her she had to "stay on the sidewalk."
Now, I’m not one to judge (they could have been up since 5am and maybe dad’s patience was a little thin because: toddlers) but I am one to think. And I couldn’t help but think that dad was probably a teeny bit frustrated and just wanted his daughter to listen-PLEASE. Sometimes, actually probably most of the time, parents know that our suggestions tend to be the most efficient, least disruptive, heaven-forbid most logical way of doing things. There is something to be said, however, for accessing the depths of our patience reserve and really trying to express clearly what we mean when we're talking to our little ones. So, while leaning against the railing watching my kids run around, I broke down this exchange between father and daughter to see if I could figure out how to turn it into a positive teachable moment...since we should probably take advantage of as many of them as we can while our kids are still halfway listening to us.
“No, you can’t put your bike down.” Oh put the bike down she did! Again, in fact, even after she'd been instructed to stay on it! We try really hard not to use the word can't in our home and boy is it a game changer. I think children should know that they can do as they please, but that there are potentially negative consequences for their decisions. It's probably fair to say that what Dad really meant was, “I’d rather you not put your bike down because...”
“We got your bike out; you’re going to ride your bike.” Toddlers are notorious for wanting something one minute and then despising it the next. I wouldn't have been surprised at all if he’d just pushed her in the swing for a grand total of 30 seconds, walked her all the way to the parking lot, unloaded the bike from the car and then walked back to the playground at a glacial pace as she “rode” her bike, discarding it the moment she spotted the slide. So this part? Yeah, it's pretty good as is. Maybe, "We took the time to get your bike out and I really (like really, REALLY) would prefer we spend a little more time riding it before we do something else," has a more patient tone to it, but honestly, I feel you here, Dad.
"Stay on the sidewalk." Why? Is there a rule against riding a bike in the mulch? Or perhaps it poses a safety issue or maybe it's more difficult for her to ride in the mulch? A simple "Stay on the sidewalk so you don't run into anyone," may have made all the difference. Though not really because: 1-toddlers and 2: it's a playground and there are kids running around everywhere who are completely unaware of the potential dangers of tripping, falling or randomly running into playground equipment or other equally unaware children.
It's so easy to have all the answers when you're not in the heat of the moment yourself. I'm sure someone has played Monday Morning Quarterback to my exchanges with the boys after witnessing the one or two (thousand) times I've lost my cool with them. When we feel ourselves getting frustrated, we should all take a deep breath and spend a moment trying to figure out the message we actually want to convey.
At some point while deep in thought I lost track of the little lady and her father. Maybe one day we'll cross paths again and I'll thank them for giving me a little perspective that day. I'd probably wish Dad luck, too. The rebellious spirit was fierce in that little one. I hope she doesn't give him too much trouble ten years from now....at which point he can throw out as many, "Because I said so's" as he wants and be completely justified because: teenagers.