Rules of Engagement

31Jul12

WARNING: This has not been written with any one person in mind. I’m not trying to be judgmental, and I certainly don’t want to make anyone feel bad. 

My son is very particular. Like any toddler, I suppose. I don’t want to use the word “shy,” but he isn’t very outgoing, at least not upon initially meeting people. Mine are two of the legs he hides behind, so his social interaction is something I’ve thought a lot about.

Now, I may be an overly protective parent, and I might be making excuses for my son just not begin that outgoing, but I’ve come up with a few thoughts on how adults can best engage my son. These rules might apply to all children, or just him, or nobody in two weeks, when Henry transforms into another person again.

The biggest thing I’ve noticed is that Henry doesn’t do well with “baby talk” engagement. If you’re going to run up to him and poke his tummy and give him kiss faces, you are only adding run away time. Sure, he occasionally likes that sort of thing, but not from strangers or newly-re-seen friends.

But it happens A LOT. People (adults) assume that’s how all kids should be interacted with. In general, if you treat Henry like an adult instead of a kid, you get to the kid fun interactions. For example, you wouldn’t run up and tickle an adult friend. You wouldn’t pick up an adult and spin him around (at least not the first time you’ve seen him in a week). You wouldn’t scream “HENRYYYYYYYY!!!!” when the adult comes into a room. Why should you do this for a toddler?

Because it’s either worked on previous kids or you don’t know any better, I suppose. Until I had a kid, I couldn’t tell you any different. But I’m telling you now: if you act like he’s a peer and treat him the way YOU would want to be treated, he’s quicker to warm up.

The other thing to do is simple, but slightly contradictory to the previous idea: do something. It seems the quickest way to be interesting to a kid is to do interesting things, such as play with puzzles, build with blocks, drive cars, etc. If you’re just going to watch TV, check your text messages* and do other BORING adult things, then you’re not going to become a favorite very quickly. Perhaps it’s “only child syndrome,” but Henry is used to being played with, not simply playing on his own (at least not at the start). His mom and dad are very eager to show him things and get down on his level, so anyone willing to do that may have good results.

A last bit of advise is something to NOT do: don’t try to be “mom” or “dad.” Henry’s going through a phase now where if he “messes up” in front of other people (bumps his head, drops something that spills, etc.), and the other people notice it and mention it, he runs away, burying his head and crying. It’s not my favorite thing, but it’s the hand we’re dealt. He gets embarrassed. And what furthers the embarrassment is people saying “Oops!” and “It’s OK” and “Don’t worry, oh, poor Henry.”

Don’t do this. He’s embarrassed because YOU saw it. So pointing out again and again how you saw it isn’t helping. It only locks him into a frustrating circle of behavior. In these situations, I’ve been holding him and taking him away from the situation to calm down, and he’s usually fine in a minute. But the longer he’s in that situation — and the longer he’s reminded of what “he did wrong” — the longer he suffers. “Suffers” is a rough word, but it’s all I have.

I get why people want to say these things. They don’t want to see a kid cry. And maybe they feel responsible for this current situation. Too bad. Back away and don’t try to do our job. This is parental stuff. You can’t replace us, so don’t even attempt it. Let a professional handle it.

So simply put: talk like an adult, play like a kid, don’t do things to him that you wouldn’t do to your college roommate (At least not at the beginning of the year) and let a professional handle the big stuff.

*Not always true. He loves smart phones, of course, and those have worked in the past to break the ice between Henry and non-parental adults. What I mean here is to just have your eyes down and not engage him or invite him to play.

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