When the kids here were first learning how to put on their shoes by themselves, this provided them with some wonderful one-on-one moments with an adult… face-to-face interactions with joint attention to a task, centered around learning they were really proud of. But as they have become more and more independent in these kinds of task, the need for those moments become less pressing and less frequent. At the same time, the novelty of putting one one’s shoes wears off. This, unsurprisingly, has resulted in some unpleasant “shoe battles”. More and more they request us to do it, or whine for help. At first, my reaction was to sort of refuse to help, maybe by reminding them they could do it themselves. Truthfully, at times I was not so much refusing to help, as feeling the pressure to address some other need. Sometimes I was even annoyed… feeling like, “Do it yourself! Can’t you see I’m busy!” But even a nice refusal could escalate the situation, leading to further whining or even everything falling apart.
So over the past few days, I have been trying to pay more attention to our interactions around these events, noting what my feelings are when they happen, and spending more time figuring how they might be feeling. There are a couple things I have noticed and changed.
- First, I tried to see their request for help (not as a literal request for help), but a longing for connection. I am trying to see it, like when a friend says, “Remember that time we went on that trip together to,.. ” It would be really weird to respond to your friend by saying rolling your eyes and saying, “I don’t have time these days to go on a trip. Can’t you go by yourself?” WTF? Instead, a normal response is to feel good about those memories, and in a moment, reconnect around that past time by telling stories. So, one of my changes has been to just be present with them as they work on their shoes, and to retell stories of the past about when they couldn’t yet tie their shoes, or when they were learning to tie their shoes. To basically say, “Yeah, I remember that, too. That was so great.”
- Second, I learned that they are more likely to request help when they are only half-engaged in the task. When they were first learning, they would usually have all their focus on the task. Now that they are better at the task, I noticed that they would try more and more to multi-task. They would be watching what another child was doing while putting on their shoe, or whatever. And getting on their shoe wasn’t going so well, because they didn’t have their attention on it. Because the shoe putting on was going well, they were getting frustrated. So the second thing I learned to do, was to “help” by reminding them to use their eyes to focus on the task. I’d just say, “You are looking at L and trying to put your shoes on. Your eyes need to be looking at your shoes.” I might choose to then “sports cast” what they are doing, or give helpful reminders, or just be there. I’m trying to think of this as “spotting”. Like when the kids are first climbing some difficult new obstacle in the backyard, we will often continue to spot them, even after they don’t need physical help with the obstacle. Someone there to build confidence is all that is needed. And in spotting, I did actually notice that they still need some help. The hardest parts for them right now are when putting on their shoes goes awry, like the tongue or the heel gets folded over. They still need help noticing those problems and trouble-shooting, and I can physically help them out of a jam if needed.
- The last thing I have tried is to just tell them the truth about when I’m busy helping someone else. Maybe tell their options: patiently wait (like llama llama) or keep working out it until I can give them my full attention. This seems to be working OK, too, mostly because we have good established routines around waiting and being patient. Reminding them to be patient helps me to patient.
So far, this collection of changes seems promising, although it’s too early to tell. But more importantly, it just gives me a more mindful presence and a job to do (tell stories, help keep focus, narrate the action). Roles are comforting, and I now know my roles. Be a caring presence, a reminiscer, a spotter…