11 Things Your Child Wants You to Know —
But Is Too Young To Verbally Communicate
For the last seven to eight years now I have been encouraged to share “how I raised my kids.” I knew my children had traveled a different path from many of their peers. As my youngest enrolled in college I began my journey to try to understand what I had done differently. I began my search on-line through articles, blogs, and websites.
What I discovered, after looking past the different formats, styles, and words used, was a world parenting from the parents’ point of view. I found three general categories: what parents want (expect) from their children; what parents want most for their children; and what parents believe are the most important things to teach their children.
As I pondered this information I realized the core of my “parenting style” had little to do with me and a whole lot to do with seeking to understand my children. To guide me in raising my children I had turned to information to help me better understand my children. I had sought guidance from Gesell Institute of Human Development; Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, M.D.; the Developing Capable People Series of books; Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish books on parent-child communication; and my own experiences and intuition.
This lead me to a personal exercise. I asked myself if I was an infant what would I want my parents to know. What follows is a list of the 11 things, written from an infant’s point of view, that I believe infants want their parents to know. The list ends with a letter written from an infant to their parents. A letter full of wisdom I wish I had received when my children were born.
I am unique – there is no one else like me
When you conceived me I received DNA from both of you. That DNA combined together and created a one of a kind – ME. I am sure I have some attributes like you but I am different; my own unique me. It will take time to discover all my uniqueness, all I ask is that you encourage me to discover my authentic me.
I was born just as helpless as you were
While our world has become more complex and complicated I was born just as helpless as you, my grandparents and generations of our ancestors.. My brain will develop in the same patterns, and cycles as yours did. These cycles of development will make my life easier at times and more difficult at others. My uniqueness will be a part of how long or short the cycles are and how difficult they might be for both of us.
My independence comes from my dependence
Mom – after spending 9 months growing inside you when I was born I thought I was an extension of you. It took some time but I eventually discovered I am not a part of you but I have my own autonomy. My need to express this autonomy and experiment with it can be rough on you. Just because I discovered my autonomy doesn’t mean I am not dependent on you. I need to be dependent on you for many years because that is what will allow me to become independent as an adult. I need to grow deep roots so I can grow wings.
More than anything else I want to be understood
My happiness comes from being understood by you; not by you “causing me to be happy”. When the gift of my life was given to me it came with messages on how to put me together. At birth, besides my fingers and toes, it also gave me my temperament. My unique way of being. From the day of my birth, I will be giving you hints as to my temperament such as: whether I like to be in a wet diaper, how well I lie still, how I show I am unhappy if I can calm myself if I am easily distracted…. I need you to pay attention to these things as I will need your help as I grow up – my core temperament will never change – but with your help, I can learn how to modify it.
Listen to my actions / Listen to how I play
When I am young I know I can be frustrating because I can’t help you understand me by using words. It does not matter if my words could be oral or signed because I am trying to express feelings I don’t know how to express except for through my actions. Watch me, pay attention to me, play with me but let me lead. Through my make-believe play, I will tell you how I am feeling.
I don’t perceive the world the same way you do – I don’t process my environment the same way you do
Just like your brain at birth, my brain is immature; I can only communicate through very basic emotions. Even after I learn to speak, it will take years for me to really learn how to express myself in words – by example, I need your help in learning how. It will take me many years to understand your adult logic. For about my first 10 years I will not think logically, while I can compare things, my reasoning will be very concrete. Even once I make the journey and cross over” into more logical or rational thinking, between 10-14, I will still have much to learn and will need your wisdom even if I tell you I don’t need it. They say it takes 25 years for my brain to fully mature.
I need an authentic relationship with you
I have an innate need to get a sense of direction from another while I am discovering my own direction in life. While I enjoy playing with my friends, it is you, my parents, that I need to be able to turn to for unconditional love, acceptance, and willingness to nurture and sacrifice so I can grow and develop to my full potential. My peers do not possess the emotional ability to do these things for me; they will leave me confused, disoriented, and lost. This is not something I can even do for myself. I will give you permission to parent me based on how I perceive you understand me; this emotional feeling is based on how I feel from the way you treat me.
I need you to listen to understand me. I need you to understand for me to develop I won’t always be nice to you, I will take you for granted and take advantage of you. This does not mean I don’t value or need an authentic relationship with you, I do. An authentic relationship with you means I can trust you will be there no matter what, supporting ME but not necessarily my behavior – you know the difference and will try hard not to attack my fragile core being. Having this relationship will provide me with the connection I need to allow myself to be emotionally vulnerable enough to take the risks I need to propel me forward in my life.
I rely on you
I rely on you to place appropriate boundaries in my life; boundaries that are appropriate for my emotional, mental and intellectual development. I trust that those boundaries will move and bend as I need, to provide me a sense of security and support while allowing me to take the risks I need for growth. I rely on you to allow me the privilege to feel the natural consequences of my actions while also knowing when I need you to be a roadblock for my own safety you will be there. I rely on you to provide me with a wide variety of experiences, explorations, and opportunities.
I rely on you to provide me the space where I can examine and experiment with information and ideas I am working on processing. I rely on you to offer me different ways to meet and interact with people of all ages, cultures, and backgrounds. I rely on you to slow my life down providing me time to get to know myself knowing I don’t need someone or something else always entertaining me. I rely on you to know what I need most is to learn how to engage in my own life.
I have my own interests
Don’t wait until I am “old enough” to provide me with experiences. Watch me, from a very young age I work hard to get to or engage with or in what draws my interest. Pay attention to what I work hard to understand and experiment with. Don’t decide for me what I can be interested in. Provide me with a wide range of experiences and opportunities so I can decide for myself. Through my interests, I will learn more than I can any other way.
I learn differently from you
When the DNA combined I was gifted with my way of engaging in the learning process. I love to learn. I have been doing it on my own since I was born. Learning becomes complicated for me when you try to tell me how I must or should learn or you place a label on me for your convenience. If you take the time and pay attention I will show you how I learn. Please take the time to learn how I learn so I can count on your support for my way of learning as I grow older.
One more thing, I know my way of learning might change some as my brain develops but I want to know I can look to you for support and guidance in my struggle to stay true to how I learn and quiet the external noise that will frustrate me from time to time.
My strengths are different from yours
See me through my eyes. Notice what I can do well, not so much what I struggle with. It is not that I want lots of empty praise for what I do well but rather let me use my strengths to support where I struggle. Remember there is more than one way to do something and due to my strengths, I might find a way you were not aware of. Is that so bad? Support my ingenuity rather than my shortcomings. Thanks to society, in time I will become more aware than I want to in my shortcomings.
Dear Mom and Dad;
I know you will make mistakes. I am fine with that especially if you teach me how to handle making mistakes through your examples of how you handle them with me. Please don’t try to make me happy in the moment; support me as I find joy in my own happiness of pursuit. I know that the happiness of pursuit is messy and not always happy. But in my struggles, as long as I am doing something that interests me, I will discover what it means to persevere, to be self-motivated, and to be determined even when the odds appear to me, to be against me. True happiness is only found if I am allowed to struggle, experience my own highs and lows, and own my drive to succeed at things I am interested in.