Do you ever find that out of the blue your child does something that hits you with a wave of worry?
The other day I was laying in bed with my 4 year old while she was falling asleep. She often chats about her day sleepily in these quiet moments. This time she piped up with a comment about a friend from her preschool going to "big kids school" and how she wouldn't ever see them again.
Instead of the familiar sweet affection I am used to feeling during these evening talks, I felt a wash of cold run over my body while my eyes widened. I began to worry about how much she would miss this friend. I started to formulate apologies to her for not also sending her to "big kids school" with her peers.
You see, my daughter is of the age in our school district to be attending junior kindergartner. The choice to have her remain in preschool was one my husband and I had made together, but I still have some insecurities around it. I feel confident in our reasoning, but nonetheless worries about whether or not my daughter will miss her friends who have already moved on often pop up for me. My daughter's mention of "big kids school" sparked an uncomfortable feeling inside of me. I immediately wanted to do whatever I could to ease her pain (and my pain at the thought of her pain!)
As all of these thoughts and feelings were hitting me in the moment, I realized something. My daughter had never actually said she would miss this friend. In fact, she hadn't hinted at any emotion at all. She only stated a fact. "This friend is leaving and I won't ever see them again." So, I pressed pause on my spiral and put on my curiosity cap. I said "Oh, I see. How do you feel about that?"
Wouldn't you know, she responded with, "I'm happy. Callum was always rude and would say that girls were smelly." I let out a very relieved chuckle, and she rolled over and fell asleep peacefully.
Wow. I was so sure that all of my perceptions were correct! I could have easily replied in rapid fire, "I'm so sorry sweetie. It's not fair. You are going to school next year. Maybe you will see them then? It's hard to miss friend. We can start you at big kids school in January if you would like? I'll go talk to daddy right now." And then promptly started registering her for school the moment I left the bedroom. She likely would gave sensed my discomfort and been confused and alarmed. She may have let me know that she was feeling that way, but at 4 years old and having her primary caregiver being the source of confusion and alarm, she likely would have internalized those feelings and moved to make me feel comfortable. (Research shows children start doing this as young as 11 months old!) Needless to say, my knee-jerk reaction to save her from what I thought were negative feelings would have caused a lot more uncomfortable feelings for her! (and me!)
The skill of practicing that "pause" has taken a lot of time to develop and I still don't get it right all of the time. But when I do take the time to use curiosity, I see my daughter for who she really is instead of my projections. She feels seen, heard and understood, which is all any of us really ever want. And I feel confident in my parenting! All of our needs get met. And even if I had been curious and my fears were found to be true, I would have positioned myself to problem solve well by already activating my own "thinking brain" with curiosity (instead my emotional brain with worry).
The tool of the pause to separate your own perceptions and projections from reality, is one you can use no matter the age of your child; even for the tiniest of newborn. That little newborn cry can often trigger our insecurities. You may think "They are crying because they are hungry. I must not be producing enough. I am such a failure. I am so sorry I am failing you, sweet one!" and lead yourself right into the Top Up Trap instead of realizing that your little one may just need some comfort right now! ...Or you may think that your 6 month old's night wakings are a bad habit from you rushing to meet their needs to quickly and blame yourself. You could be so caught up in that story in your head, you miss the fact that the room is a little too cool for them. (Or simply the fact that night wakings are incredibly normal at 6 months old!)
So, sweet mama,emember to pack your curiosity cap next time you are interacting with your little one. Write the word "pause" on your hand if you have to! Whatever you need to remind yourself that your perceptions may in fact be projections and to take the time to find out what is really going on for your little one!! That pause will position you to parent from a place of confidence and connection.