Thursday, March 08, 2018

Children and emotional intelligence

Since learning how to read and moving into the top bunk, Benjamin has been using a little clip on lamp that—in his defense—his sisters had been using before him. Somehow it managed to survive the girls but (for whatever reason) it was unable to withstand the whirlwind known as Benjamin (or perhaps it was just getting old). Whatever the case, the lamp started falling apart with reckless abandon.

A loose screw here, a lost cover there, and all of a sudden the entire circuitry of the thing was exposed.

Last night I decided I'd tie part of it together as a stop-gap measure until we could think of a more permanent solution. Mostly I just wanted the circuit board out of sight (out of mind (out of little fingers)), so I got some yarn and I tied the little light panel onto the the head of the lamp (it's an LED light board, obviously, not incandescent) before sending the kids to bed.

A few minutes later I walked into Benjamin's room and he was fiddling with the lamp.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"Oh, just there was a rope tied on my lamp for some reason. But don't worry! I untied it!"

And he had! Gah! So, with a hint of frustration, I removed the lamp from his bed. He picked up on my frustration and started sobbing because he didn't know he wasn't supposed to remove the string (and that's true...) but I wasn't really frustrated about the lamp and the string. I was more frustrated that Benjamin had, once again, outsmarted me.

It's like he sits around concocting ways to get around the very solid rules I set (or attempt to set).


I have no idea what time Zoë woke up this morning. All I know is that when my alarm clock went off she said, "Oh, good! You're awake now!" And there she was, tucked neatly in beside me with her baby doll and her llama llama and her scriptures. Clearly she'd been awake for a while. It was rather sweet of her to just take over Andrew's spot (he had to get to campus early today) and let me sleep.

Her good mood didn't last, however, and by the time I was getting ready to escort Miriam across the street, Zoë was rolling around on the kitchen floor—completely naked—kicking and screaming because she decided she didn't want to get dressed (she only decided this, however, after she'd removed her pyjamas). I don't quite understand where the fit came from because she had been the one to begin the process of getting dressed (by getting undressed, you see). I merely said, "Okay, go find some underwear," and...meltdown.

So, I left her there so I could get Miriam out the door. I was a little distracted with wanting to get back inside to mischievous Benjamin, tantrum-throwing Zoë, and innocent Alexander (Rachel was there, too, but I didn't want to leave her to hold down the fort too long because mornings over here are rather chaotic) so as soon as the coast was clear, I bid her adieu, she ran across the street, and I started running back to the house.

But then some guy on a bicycle started yelling at me, so I turned around and said, "Pardon?"

"It's me," he said, pulling down the face warmer he was wearing (it's cold in the mornings). "Hannah's dad. My wife is right there in that van. She's trying to give Miriam a ride to our house but Miriam won't get in."

Miriam walks to school with Hannah some mornings. Miriam had dinner at Hannah's house last night. Miriam would basically live at Hannah's house if she could. But Miriam would not get in the van! I could see her shaking her head, declining the offer for a ride over and over again.

"MIRIAM!" I hollered, miraculously loud enough that she heard me (she wasn't that far—she was only at the mailbox across the street). Then, because I know I'm not the best yeller I gestured to her that it was okay to get in the vehicle, so she did.

When I asked her why she didn't just go with Hannah's mom she said that she didn't recognize her right away. I guess she was so startled about being offered a ride...? At least we know she knows not to go with strangers.


Zoë is an emotional being. While some children her age know their ABCs, we've spent most of the past three years trying to teach her some emotional intelligence. It's like she was born upset and hasn't ever quite managed to pull out of her funk.

Alphabet be darned; we just want her to stop screaming before she enters kindergarten!

She's actually doing a lot better now that she's, you know, almost three. She can talk now, and that helps. She sleeps now, and I'm sure that helps, too. And she's growing up, which probably helps the very most.

We also owe Anna Dewdney a huge debt of gratitude.

In 2014 I wrote a post about formulaic stories and said, "While I'm fairly confident Llama, Llama Red Pajama will one day find its way into our personal library, I don't think the other books will because my feelings for them can be summed up with one word: meh."

When I saw that Anna Dewdney had passed away, two years later in 2016, that post immediately came to mind and I felt terrible that I'd been so judgemental about her books. Because authors are people, too. And they really are cute stories. By this time we finally owned our own copy of Llama, Llama Red Pajama (and it came with a couple other Llama Llama books so we owned those, too). Benjamin enjoyed the story but didn't love the story.

Cue 2017. Zoë fell in love with Llama Llama and Anna Dewdney is my new BFF. Zoë wants to read Llama Llama stories all the time. We now own, um, nine Llama Llama books (which we read almost every day (yes, all of them, sometimes multiple times a day)) and a llama (with red pyjamas).

Oh, and then the Llama Llama television series launched this January, which Zoë is definitely into.

We find ourselves quoting from Llama Llama books all the time. So much that we could probably make a poster titled "Everything I know about emotional intelligence I learned from Llama Llama."

It's literally how we managed to get her to stay in her own bed: "Little llama, don't you know? Mama Llama loves you so! Mama Llama's always near, even if she's not right here."

It's literally how we managed to get her to go into nursery at church: "It's okay to miss your mama! Don't forget when [church] is through she will come right back for you!"

It's literally how we navigate the daily minefield that is Zoë's temper.

The line that she has clung to—and rightly so—is "It's okay to..."

She is learning, and often expresses, that it's okay to be sad, it's okay to be angry, it's okay to be nervous, it's okay to [have feelings]. We are sentient beings, after all. We feel things. Some of us naturally feel things more deeply, more passionately, more strongly than others. I have a feeling Zoë falls into this category, but she's learning how to manage all these huge feelings of hers.

Today, Zoë suffered a double disappointment.

She saw Grandma carrying her iPad and asked if she could play Baby Dress Up. Grandma told her no, which was so frustrating, I'm sure. But instead of yelling at Grandma, Zoë came out to find me.

"Can I play Baby Dress Up on Miriam's phone?" she asked.

"Not right now," I told her. "But I'm about to put Alexander down for a nap and then we'll have some quiet time and you can play Baby Dress Up then, okay?"

This was actually not okay.

"I want to play Baby Dress Up now," she said, ramping up.

"I know, but I'd like you to wait until I get your brother down for his nap."

"Aaaargh!" she said, shaking her whole body, hitting the air with her fists, and stomping on the floor before looking at me calmly and saying, "I'm not screaming. I just cried, "Argh!" because I was getting upset. It's okay to get upset but it's okay not to scream."

Yes, yes. Exactly, child.

If Anna Dewdney had to read a blog post of mine before she died I wish it would have been this one so that I could tell her thank you because her books have honestly been a lifeline for Zoë's toddler years. Not that I'm vain enough to think she read my 2014 post (in fact, I really hope she didn't).

Right now I'm reading Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, which is about fostering emotional intelligence in your child (by fostering emotional intelligence in yourself). I'm gleaning some good strategies from the book, though I'm not 100% sold on all the author's techniques (like, what if your baby was born screaming and has hardly come up for air in three solid years—and you were just as nice to that baby as your other babies but, nonetheless, she just kept screaming about everything, always? What then?). She mentions that some children are simply more "difficult" than others. But, like, then what about the difficult ones, amirite?

I guess...that's where Llama Llama comes in.

Zoë doesn't just tell herself that "it's okay to" feel. She tells anyone and everyone.

We were driving home from BYU together once and I mentioned that I was feeling nervous about driving (so could she please stop asking me questions for a few minutes? Because between the baby screaming, her stream of consciousness, and driving (in the dark!) it was very possible that my brain was going to explode).

"It's okay to feel nervous," she soothed from the backseat. "But, it is dark. And we need to get home. So you still need to drive, okay? And we can still be nice."

"You're right," I told her. "Thank you. Even though driving is hard for me to do because it makes me feel nervous, I can still do it because I can do hard things."

"And you can be nice," she insisted.

"I am being nice," I said, puzzled. "I'm not being mean...?"

"No," she said. "You're not. But, what are some things that are nice? Like, music is nice."

"Yes, music is nice."

"And babies are nice."

"Yes, babies are nice."

"But yelling is not very nice."

"No, it's not."

"Is talking nice?"

"Yes, talking is nice."

"Then I can still talk to you, okay? Because that's just being nice."

I see what you did there, child. Boxed me right in. Following after the footsteps of your brother (and probably every child to come before you) you've outsmarted your mother.

"Yes, you can talk to me," I said. "But if I say 'I don't know,' then you can't keep asking why, deal?"

She did her best (and it's not that I don't want to answer her questions; it's that she gets more and more emotional each time she asks why because she feels like her questions aren't being answered satisfactorily so, especially when I'm driving, I need her to just let things go and allow the conversation to keep flowing rather than screeching about "BUT WHY!?! WHY IS THAT LIGHT YELLOW INSTEAD OF GREEN? BUT WHY?! BUT WHY!?? BUT WHY!!!!!!?!?!?!?"

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