Preschool children are some of my most favorite people. They are explorers. They are thinkers. They are creators. They are feelers. BIG FEELERS. Little kids with BIG feelings.
It can be hard to be a preschooler. Think about the big brother who can do all the “big kid” things and little sister can’t tie a shoe, or ride a “big kid” bike yet, or go on the big yellow bus but no, not you. You can’t. Not yet. Think about how that feels when you can’t quite understand why all these things are this way. And you just cannot seek answers that make any sense.
Because you’re four, going on five, and it just is. Not yet in Kindergarten. Not yet a “big kid.” So it’s not good enough. Not for THIS four year old who has big ideas, big wishes and real feelings… but who can’t just quite figure out how to tell you in a way you can possibly understand.
Because, they just FEEL. And the strong negative feelings don’t feel good. But I gotta get it out and I gotta show someone by getting angry, whiny or throwing myself on the ground. By screaming, by grabbing to show you I’m upset so I can get you to look at me. To understand. To see ME.
I remember those days and I remember thinking as a parent, I can do this. I know what the parenting books say. But in the heat of the moment when it is the nth meltdown for no good reason that I can possibly understand, I have to pause and think. Now what?
That’s when I remember I have a pad of paper within arm’s reach…and a pen. And my four year old is an artist and she loves these materials when she is calm. Perhaps there is another way to help her tell me what she needs or wants so I can understand. That’s what I am supposed to do as a parent…to try to support her during those times she feels upset or angry or frustrated or tired or hangry or …
I gave her the paper. I gave her the pen. In a loud voice to match her grunts and cries I said, “You’re upset! I don’t know why! Show me! What does it feel like?”
There was a pause. And then she grabbed the pen and paper and then with fervor she angrily scribbled the first drawing, all the while continuing to grunt, cry, and make noises.
“Good! There are lots of swirls! You are angry!”
She tore the page and threw it down and then put pen to paper again.
“Yes! I see it. You are still so angry!”
The hand kept scribbling-fast and furious.
Another torn paper to clear the canvas.
“Yes…yes, I see. You’re scribbling circles.”
Somewhat slower circles. She doesn’t meet my eyes just yet…her pen keeps going.
Another paper on the floor.
Then I see a form emerging. A stick figure. With hair. Then she writes three letters. She still is making some grunts but not loudly and somewhat like she remembers she must make some noise as she concentrates on her drawing.
Paper on the floor.
“Ok, you’re mad. I see that.” My voice going down a notch to match her noises.
She doesn’t look at me but now purses her lips together and keeps drawing. This time more forms. Looks like two people together off to one side. Another solo stick figure on the other side. Details are drawn.
I stay close. I say still more quietly. “Sad. You’re sad? I see.” I pause. I take a stab. “That’s mommy and brother over there. But you’re there by yourself.”
The pen stops. She looks up. All is quiet.
Our eyes meet.
Jealousy. That was what it was about…when I first got home, big brother rushed over and beat her to my lap to snuggle. He was bigger. He was faster. He could climb up quicker. Ok.
She turned away, tore the paper and started anew.
I waited. Quiet. Watching her as she put the finishing touches on her masterpiece.
Two people, with long hair. Standing closer. And a heart. And the words, Love. HAPPY. Love.
Yes, amazing what happens when you can figure out what she was trying to say. So instead she reverted to using her screams and crying and “fits” of rage. Because that’s worked in the past to get my attention fast. But it didn’t let me know really what the problem was. What she was trying to say.
So that day was a big day for us. Because I had to think fast so we could figure out a better way to help each other speak the same language in the moment.
And it worked. Whew. I had come out the other side–intact. She too. Now smiling. Now wanting her time to snuggle in my lap.
I still carry paper and writing tools around because while it is good for quick to-do lists, grocery lists and miscellaneous reminders…it can also be a lifesaver when you have a preschooler who just needs to get those big feelings out.