Yesterday, I went to the eye doctor for an annual checkup (by "annual," I mean it had been three years, but such is mom life sometimes). The doctor was fantastic; really loving and supportive and inclusive of my child, who happened to be with me. She even introduced us to her 2.5-year-old son, who accompanies her to the office for the two days per week that she works.
All went well until the end of the visit. Her toddler had been happily playing the whole time, but all of a sudden when his mom went to see a different patent in another room, HE WANTED MAMA. Unable to access her, he fell to the floor in obvious distress.
The dad, who also happens to work there, came over and said to me, "Please don't mind him. I just ignore him when he does this." He walked away from his flailing boy.
Uh oh. This man (who could be anyone, just to be clear -- this is NOT a knock on dads) has no idea that I'm an advocate for children. To him, I'm just another patient. Who cares?
Well, I do. I care a lot. Suddenly, this got awkward. Every molecule of my being wanted to go over and comfort the boy. He's not my kid, though, and this isn't my business.
But would I be able to sleep that night if I said nothing? No...I wouldn't. If this is on my heart -- if this is what I DO for a living -- if I really care like I say I do, I have to speak up. Gently. With compassion. With curiosity, not shaming or blaming.
Speaking up is scary. Speaking up is also brave, but until the bravery comes, it's scary. I don't know this guy. I don't know his story
, his history, his anything. I can only assume the best of him: that he's a loving and kind dad who happens to have some outdated information about how to handle a meltdown.
Of course, many people were raised to believe that if we "just ignore it," the behavior goes away.
Behavior doesn't "go away" if we ignore it
While behavior might change
to some extent, we know from science is that the boy's feelings don't go away
-- he just learns that either: 1) Dad doesn't care, or 2) he's wrong for having the feelings in the first place.
I'm not a better parent than this guy. I just happen to have a different story and some newer science at my disposal.
Summoning my most gentle and peaceful tone, I started with two of the most powerful words in successful and peaceful interventions. "I understand." I looked at him and said those two words, then nodded toward my daughter. He "got" that I'm a parent, and that put us on a level playing field. He winked and smiled.
I added, "You know, it's totally okay with me if you want to go give your son some support. I'm an adult and I'm in no rush, but as a child, he has a more urgent timeline. It's really okay with me if you want to go to him."
"Nah, I'll just ignore him."
"Yeah, I get it. This part of parenting is hard. Would you be open to some information that might be interesting?" (point: asking for consent)
Me: "Cool. I'm a peaceful parenting author and coach and I work with families all around the world. You know your child best. What's interesting about child development is that when we're responsive, it actually helps kids feel seen and supported, and the more we practice that, the fewer meltdowns like this they tend to have."
Him: "Huh. I didn't know that." (looking pensive, not saying anything, but not discussing my new glasses, either, so I took it as a positive) He glanced up at his child. His face softened.
Me, gently: "Yeah, if given the choice between having an adult respond to me or be there for their upset child, it's always fine with me if they choose their child. I know that's a big shift in thinking, and I get it."
At that point, the mama showed up again and walked over to her son, picking him up and comforting him.
I don't know this family's story. Maybe it wasn't my place, and if not, I welcome a healthy dialogue with him. My goal is never to offend or alienate; my hope is to encourage and educate. Gently. Peacefully. With compassion.
He seemed like a nice guy. I suspect he loves his son more than life itself. I don't know if his wife has had conversations with him about gentle parenting, or if she shares his approach, or if they care to learn more
Maybe, just maybe, though, he'll start wondering. Start getting curious. Start questioning the narrative that he carried with him into that moment.
It's not always the right call to speak up. If I do, I do it carefully and with compassion. I don't know people's stories, but maybe...just maybe...we can influence their stories a bit, and bring more comfort to the world.
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