My three year old causes me mild heart attacks several times a day. Not necessarily due to his risk taking, and not always due to his loud and boisterous nature. The latest cause to my coronary health is his urge to ‘boom’ everything in site. I will come out of the bedroom in the morning and he appears around the corner with either a stick, Lego, piece of cut off pipe, or if none of the above are available, his fingers in the shape of a gun. Then follows a loud BOOM with ‘I got you Mum’, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM.
Not content just with obliterating me, his sister, father, cat or passing chickens in the driveway…….he will often then elaborate on the military attack with cannons, bombs and when all else fails ‘ninja moves’. He will explain in great detail how when he points his cannon, (or boomer) over ‘there’, it will then shoot out and fire to over ‘there’ and explode ‘getting you Mum’. Naturally cannons shoot things out of them, so this demonstration is usually accompanied with some object in trajectory across the room.
I am a peaceful person. I do not advocate the use of guns or support those who feel the need to arm themselves. I initially banned guns from our home when our eldest boy was young, reneging on the ban when it became clear I was fighting a losing battle. We carefully monitor the use of TV with our little ones, and in the most part (apart from some cartoons) they are not exposed to violent TV programmes. Nor have they been exposed to any video games. So it is somewhat perplexing to understand where my sons urge is for throwing things across the room in the context of his game. There have been several moments where he has looked most disappointed when I have, in a fit of frustration (and increased heart rate), suggested bluntly that he stop throwing things around the room. I decided to step back and notice other moments through the day where the theme of throwing things has recurred. Such as throwing clumps of dirt over the fence to watch them roll down the paddock. Throwing (without notice) clothes at me, rather than passing them to me as request. Stones firing over the back fence (despite the livestock in the paddock). And of course the ever present bomb presence lurking around the corners in our home.
It was clear upon reflection that my son had an urge to throw things. And it was also clear to me that no amount of me telling him to simply stop was going to actually gethim to stop. It was an innate urge that most of the time appeared to be impulsive and beyond his rational thought. He just did it. And by me telling him to stop it was only going to help in creating frustrations that would be hard to manage.
Pennie Brownlee and Kimberley Crisp provide a useful explanation for the urges children demonstrate, particularly in the early years. These urges include collecting, distributing, transporting, enclosing, rotation, circular, trajectory, ordering, grouping, construction and deconstruction, posting and family-making. When adults take the time to stop and observe a child’s behaviour it will be these urges they will see in their children’s repeated play-behaviours. Sometimes it is these very urges that we find ourselves saying are causing tests to our adult sanity. Like my 6 year old daughters apparent need to transport her many toys in handbags around our house, or to and from her grandparents home. Not a problem until she has included in one of her many bags her asthma medication which then cannot be located when needed! A common frustration of parents occurs when toddlers insist of posting items down the toilet. And how many adults have located toys in the microwave? Who hasn’t in their childhood made huts with old sheets, blankets the couch and chairs? All these reflect innate urges for transportation, posting and enclosure. And some of these can be so easily misread by adults. Kimberley and Pennie also acknowledge that these urges don’t miraculously cease when we are all grown-up. As adults we continue to have our own urges that filter into our daily behaviours. If my teenager hangs the clothes out on the line, I often have to go and re-peg for my own self-satisfaction. It may be the subconscious need to draw circles on a pad of paper while talking on the telephone. Or the gut reaction to finding a flat stone at the edge of the lake or ocean……determined it is the perfect stone for skimming. Only to find you weren’t successful initially and needing to skim many more times before finishing, happy you there the perfect ‘skimming stone’.
How then, does it feel to the person who has the urge to re-peg the clothesline if they were not permitted or even restricted from doing it? What about if, when in the telephone, you were prevented from doodling and drawing in spirals on the scrap piece of paper? Would you then be able to focus on the content of the telephone conversation? Or would your thoughts become consumed with the desire to doodle and the frustration that you were not permitted? Would it be easy for you to walk away having not successfully skimmed the perfect stone on the water?
So why, then, are children often told they can’t do things that are stemming from these innate urges? Rather than banning throwing in our house, I have had to define some expectations around when and where the throwing can occur. Last weekend we set up a pyramid of cans under the clothesline and he was able to ‘smash’ them with his throws to his hearts content (all roaming livestock was redirected from the area). He was given a pile of stones to throw over the fence into the paddock behind our house with his sister and I becoming his cheering team depending on the length of his throw. At the point where it is apparent he is about to shoot his cannon inside our house, he is redirected outside to take up a more tactical vantage point rather than not have the advantage within the confines of the house.
Adults need to take the time to see and to learn about the urges children have in their play. Perhaps by first considering the urges we have as adults, we can then put ourselves in the hearts of our children…….empathising with what they must really feel when told they can’t do what their urge is telling them they must. It is when we, the adults, can truly see what drives our children’s behaviour, that we can then begin to be responsive to our children’s needs.