To the lady in the soft play

I noticed a mum in the soft play the other day with her daughter, having a great time until the end of the session when the little girl sat down and started to cry. The mum tried to get her to move but then walked away, I guess hoping the girl would follow. She didn’t and instead just sat crying. I could see the frustration on the mum’s face. She managed to get her over to the bench before repeatedly asking her to put her shoes on. The little girl just kept crying and asking for a cuddle. I heard the mum tell the girl that her behaviour wasn’t fair, that she had spoiled all their fun.  

Then the mum stood up and took a deep breath. I thought she was about to lose her temper but she did something else and it was amazing.

She must have gathered every scrap of patience and empathy she had in that moment because she sat down next to her daughter and opened her arms. The girl crawled on her lap and the mum said:

‘I know you don’t want to go because you’ve been having so much fun’

The little girl sobbed and nodded.

Then the mum said

‘How about when we get home we make a picnic lunch and eat in the garden’

The little girl looked up at her mum, who was now smiling her hardest and she gave a little nod and wiped her eyes. She got her shoes on and they walked out hand in hand.

Now that mum probably doesn’t even realise what a great job she just did. It wasn’t remarkable. No-one will praise her for it or even know about it. But it was empathetic and connected parenting.

It’s easy to overestimate our children’s capacity to manage big feelings and try to correct their behaviour using logic and rules. This usually ends in a lose-lose situation where we get what we want but it doesn’t feel great.

Understanding that children’s brains don’t have the same capacity as ours for managing feelings helps us to see their behaviour not as manipulative or demanding but as developmentally normal.

Now is the training ground for learning how to manage emotions for the future. One day that little girl will be able to leave something fun without tears but on that day she needed some help.

So here’s to all the mums and dads who do little bits of brilliant parenting each day and don’t even know it.

You are amazing.