Lesson Learned: Push, but gently…

I learned a mom lesson today that I think I can apply to all children.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I proved correct an assumption that I’ve held for some time. It seemed to hold water, but today I put it to the test.

I spent this afternoon at the hospital attending a reception for NICU graduates. Backstory… My littlest (being true to her personality, we’ve now learned) decided that she didn’t believe in due dates and opted to come into the world six weeks early. She was fine, but teensy. So, we spent 16 days in the NICU learning about life on the outside and gaining a bit of weight. Hard, but good times…

Anywho… So here we were at this reception. There was face painting. And painting garden tiles for the courtyard in the NICU. And a steel drum band. And lots of food…including cake. And a photo booth where they matched your teensy-baby-in-the-NICU before photo with your current one. And LOTS of people.

Lesson #1 of the day: (And this is not the most important one…I’m getting there. Promise.) Apparently I’ve created myself in this little new person. I’ve suspected bits of this all along, but confirmed it today. My little one wanted NOTHING to do with this party. It was overwhelming for her. There were LOTS of new people and SO MANY things going on. New things. I am not a fan of new people and things and situations. I like my predictable little world and for things to be predictably boring. It seems my baby girl has the same inclinations.

We started by having some juice on the periphery and just watching. It was still a no go. She wanted to walk around. And by walk around, she meant around the hospital grounds decidedly away from the party. We spent quite a bit of time away from the reception. I prodded and encouraged and suggested. Nope. I thought about calling it a day. I mean, I get it. This sort of thing isn’t my bag either. Why should I force her to do something I wouldn’t force myself to? I didn’t give in yet, though. Something wouldn’t let me.

She finally agreed to go back to the party. We spent a bit more time on the periphery enjoying a snack (that we brought from home…not the adventurous party food). And then I made my move.

I took her over to the garden tile activity and asked which blue (her favorite color) she liked best. After she chose, I took matters into my own, put the paint on her hand and squished it onto the tile. She protested and fought me and wasn’t happy…until it was done. And then she was SO proud of herself. My little wallflower showed everyone within earshot what she’d done.

And then we went for the photo booth. Not so successful, but we did it. I’ll be interested to see the finished shots (they’ll be available next month), because I don’t think she pulled her face out of where it was buried in my shoulder.

And then we waited THIRTY MINUTES for face painting. First, that’s a long time to wait for a toddler. Second, she was so nervous and squeezed my hands the entire time. But she did it. AND WAS SO PROUD OF HERSELF.

The Lesson: Push. But gently.

I didn’t want my baby girl to give in to the shyness that I usually do. I usually wish I’d gone for it. While I don’t ever want to push a child too hard or in a direction that really isn’t helpful, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with expecting them to give it a try…once.

Our first instinct as parents (and teachers) is to protect. And that makes sense. They’re children. But that isn’t all they need from us. They need us to help them grow. Sometimes they need us to push them…gently. It’s hard to push our role of protector to the side. I struggled with it today. But they need us to. So that they can soar…or at least flap about a little bit to try out their wings.

Had she started screaming and been traumatized by the handprint, then we would’ve stopped. She’d tried (or I’d made her try…potato/potahto) and that would’ve been good enough. But as I suspected, she loved it. And so we went further.

One of the best things I brought back from Ron Clark Academy was a quote from their arts teacher, Susan Barnes. “They don’t know what their gifts are yet so we need to allow them the safe space to try them on for size.” So simple, yet magical.

We may need to push them gently to try something on for size. They may be afraid or a little shy. We need to be their confidence and ask them to try…just once.

You never know what can happen. But I bet it’ll probably be pretty great.

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