We have been amazed at how much good parenting information is in children’s picture books – books that we hope you are reading everyday to the children in your lives – your own, your class, those you take care of. We will be pointing these parenting gems out to you so that every time you read one of our featured books to a child you will be reminded of the parent you want to be.
Featured Picture Book:
KNUFFLE BUNNY by Mo Willems
(Available in public libraries or bookstores, including online stores.)
KNUFFLE BUNNY is a book whose main character, Trixie, is so young she doesn’t even talk yet. But, she truly has a lot to say in the story. Her babble, “’Aggle flaggle klabble!’” is sprinkled throughout the book and her mom and dad’s responses are frequent and very realistic. Anyone who has ever cared for a baby or toddler will recognize the problem both Trixie and her parents were having when her Knuffle Bunny was lost. They were having a true communication problem during the hunt and eventual happy ending. Yes, a baby and her parents were having a communication problem. Despite the fact that Trixie wasn’t “talking” yet, she certainly was communicating and was not to be ignored.
This realistic picture book makes me think of ever so many parenting ideas:
- Don’t ever think that babies can’t communicate with you or that you can’t communicate with them.
- Babies are not only communicating, they are making decisions about themselves, those taking care of them and the world around them – important decisions. Those decisions become what my friend and mentor, Jean Illsley Clarke, calls “bone knowledge” – information stored deep inside of people, so deep they may not even know what beliefs and feelings are there. Neither will they be sure where the thoughts and feelings came from. Yet this “bone knowledge” will be very influential in all other decisions they make and actions they take throughout life.
- Which is more important in dealing with children, words or actions? Reader, what do you think?
My idea is that they both are important because they both create messages — and messages are very important and very sticky.
Although the question was about importance “in dealing with children” because this is a parenting blog (or is it?), I might have asked which is more important in “dealing with people.” Many of the things we talk about on this blog are just as much about you, the reader, as they are about your child. They are just as much about you and your spouse or partner as they are about you and a child you care about.
Back to my question, words or actions? My opinion is we should care deeply about both. Why? Trixie with her lost Knuffle Bunny is a great example of how much our actions can communicate even with a baby too young for words.
For babies, we need to think and talk for them by letting their actions and our actions speak to each other. Our actions need to say we understand their wiggles and jiggles and babbles and cries like in Knuffle Bunny. “She (Trixie) did everything she could to show how unhappy she was.” Trixie couldn’t say how unhappy she was with words, but Daddy showed he understood what her actions were saying when he “… looked for Knuffle Bunny. And looked…and looked…and looked…and…decided to look harder.”
Why are messages so important? Messages stick with us in so many unexpected ways and crop up when we least expect it. For example, older kids who have trouble in school are sometimes reacting to an old message from a parent. This message, now buried deep inside a child’s head, tells him he will never be good in school. Maybe he was even called “dumb” for not understanding things as well or as quickly as a parent expected him to or wished he would.
Now, no matter how much older and “smarter” he becomes, he thinks of himself as “dumb,” so he does not even try to learn hard things and is not willing to work hard to learn. No use, he knows deep down inside that the hard work won’t payoff. Messages are important – both messages of words and messages of actions.
Although the growing concern in the KNUFFLE BUNNYstory is from what appears to be a lack of communication, parent and child were indeed communicating. Trixie knew that both Mommy and Daddy thought her needs were important. They were doing all they could to help her. In the end that’s the “decision” Trixie’s parents invited her to make. She was encouraged to decide people care about me and will help me get my needs met. She had a chance to have this message become part of her bone knowledge.
Reader, what would life be like for you, if you truly believed that people cared about you and would help you get your needs met? At home? At work? What if you believed it deep down inside in that bone knowledge place? What if it stuck with you and cropped up every time you were worried or afraid? WOW!
As a parent, grandparent, teacher or someone who cares for a child, you have a chance to help children make that very decision about themselves and those around them. You can help them by listening to both their words and their actions and responding to them as though you understand. Let them know you hear them, even when you can’t (and shouldn’t) give them everything they want. Listening and caring what they think and feel does not always mean saying “yes.” You can listen and care and still need to say “no.”
We will post some new parenting thoughts on the 15th of February. Here’s a preview. We are going to feature PIGSTY (Mark Teague) and talk about consequences of children’s behavior. It’s OK to read ahead. The book can be found at your local public library or bookstores, including online stores.
Find as many ways as possible to say or act out the following messages with your kids: (Adapted from GROWING UP AGAIN, Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson.)
- What you need is important.
- You are loved and I am willing to care for you.
Read All About It:
SELF-ESTEEM: A FAMILY AFFAIR, Jean Illsley Clarke
HELP! FOR PARENTS OF CHILDREN FROM BIRTH TO FIVE, Jean Illsley Clarke, Gail Davenport and Marilyn Grevstad
GROWING UP AGAIN, Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson
Surf the Internet:
recognizing baby’s cries
I am enjoying your blog. I have a question about this post, though.
If my baby is making decisions (important decisions) based on my actions, reactions, interactions with her, what happens if I misunderstand her. For example, lets say Peanut is crying and I try 2 or 3 things to settle her (holding her, changing her) before I finally figure out that she was hungry because I try feeding her and she stops crying. Does all my trial and error (mainly error) send a bad message? Will Peanut get the message ” I care about her and her needs” (very true) or will she get the message “mom doesn’t have a clue about what I need” (sometimes true) or “it is taking so long to get my needs met, I must not matter” (never ever true!) ?
Thanks in advance for your thoughts!
So glad to hear from you, Peanut’s Mom. Your question is a really good one. Lot’s of parents live in fear that they are going to “ruin” their babies because they can’t seem to “get it right.” Relax, moms; you don’t have to get it right the first time every time. Babies are very tolerant of our failed attempts; they just keep telling us they need something and continue to expect that we’ll figure it out – as long as we are trying. But, kids will shut down and stop letting us know that they need something, if they have decided we don’t care enough to even try.
You describe a trial and error process and that is what parenting is all about, not only with babies but with all ages. The best we can do as parents is learn about children, know our own child well, and be a smart problem solver. And, never give up. If a solution doesn’t work, think of another possibility. When you try many things to satisfy Peanut, the message that Peanut gets is that you care enough to keep trying and that he – or she – is important and worth the effort.
Keep up the good work and let us keep hearing from you.
Dr. Mom’s Team
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