I fed G until she was old enough to crawl… after that, I figured she could climb on to me and help herself to breastmilk on her own (especially at night, I had a good 9 months of sleep to catch up on after all 🙂). Needless to say, I adopted the same ‘help yourself as soon as you can’ attitude to her eating solid food too. At six months she could hold up food, find her mouth, and chew. So as far as I was concerned, if I was putting a reasonable amount of choke-safe food on her plate, my job was done. Since she could sort of wield a spoon by the time she was one, I invited her to start serving herself too. Hey, the more she does, the less there is for me to do, amirite? The joys of being a lazy parent – people look at your self-sufficient child and conclude they must be a genius!
A lot of what G does can actually be explained by her parents’ lifestyle and interests. I’m happy to provide context to anyone who asks. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, the people asking do it within her earshot. Especially before she turned 2.5, she used to be the kind of child that refused to be peeled away from me when other people were around. So if they said something, she heard it too. In the initial years of her life, there were some things she must have heard repeatedly – that she was beautiful, that she could talk fluently, that she ate brilliantly, that she was did things so independently… you get the gist.
Now, G has always been a child who likes being held, and requires the security of trusted adults staying close. However, she’d also always been willing to experiment with stunts like tipping her booster seat over and climbing out of her bed on her own. That changed when she was around 1, at the same time when she could talk, and clearly understood all our conversations. She suddenly became extremely risk averse. I noticed her walk a couple of steps one day before she suddenly sat down. I didn’t see her attempt it again for weeks. I baited her by offering to play catch, or asking her to come towards me; I even held out her favourite food (which, FYI, is what brings on the adorable smiles in her photos) but she refused to budge.
After carefully waiting and watching for weeks, she finally stood up one day and started walking. The same was true of climbing frames on the playground, or unfamiliar jungle gyms. She would refuse to experiment, but would sit and watch for a few weeks before she’d get up and, et voile, do it perfectly.
At first I assumed her cautiousness was limited to physical tasks – I thought maybe she just hadn’t had enough exposure to physical activity since there are limited opportunities to expose and model it for her in an urban setting. But then I noticed she was equally reticent about any new challenge. She wouldn’t attempt anything unless she was sure she could do it.
Obviously, I have no way of knowing if it was overheard conversations about how awesome she was that caused her reluctance to try things she wasn’t sure of acing. Full confession: I tend to take myself very seriously. The husband is a perfectionist who puts even me to shame. So maybe this was inevitable? Debating whether children evolve as function of nature or nurture is a topic for a whole other post. I just know this: whatever personality-baggage we bring to the table as adults, being parents gives us a chance to rewrite the future. History does not have to repeat itself. We practically have a responsibility to see to it that it doesn’t always.
Step one in the process of addressing G’s risk-averseness was to observe her. I wanted to make sure of what I was seeing. This was the point when I realized her cautiousness wasn’t limited to just physical activity, but extended to all sorts of unfamiliar tasks. I also noticed that once she knew she could do something, she was happy to repeat challenging tasks of any sort. It didn’t seem to be approval related – she didn’t look to adults for feedback or affirmation when she succeeded. I also made note of her reacting strongly, and with incoherent tears, when she didn’t like the output of work she attempted (refusing to look at a particular puzzle, for instance). G uses words and calms herself down more often than not, so the fact that this kind of thing triggered her so strongly was noteworthy.
Step two: I had to do the far more daunting task of observing myself, and the husband. Most things you see in your child tend to be a reflection of something going on with you. It’s one of the most excruciating parts about parenting – confronting your own personality. Now that the context has been set, I’ll talk about what we noticed in ourselves, and how we started working on it, in the next post.
PS: Is it just me or is this starting to sound like Scheherazade spinning the 1001 Arabian Night stories? 🙂 I promise I’ll wind this particular topic up (for now!) over this week.