My 2.5 year old son had just transitioned to a new daycare. He had been there three days, and he had done very well with the transition. He was asking excitement in the morning to go to see his new friends at his new daycare.
The teachers reported that he was playing well with the other children, eating and sleeping well, and seemed to be in a good mood throughout the day there.
On the fourth day, after driving to daycare, I went to take him out of his car seat, but he was hiding his eyes behind a cup. I thought he might be having some feelings about meeting so many new people and having to make contact with others he didn't know well, so I decided to play with this a little by saying, “Oh – I want to see those beautiful eyes! I love looking in your eyes!” But he didn’t respond much.
I continued for a while, but he kept hiding with little response.Then I hid my eyes behind my hands, too. He saw what I was doing, laughed a little, and kept hiding, only ever so slightly peeking out the side of the cup.
He seemed to respond to this a little, so I exaggerated it a bit, to help bring out more laughter. I pretended to be playfully afraid of looking at him, “Oh! Oh! OH! I’m scared. I’m scared to see your eyes. I want to but I’m scared.”
My son started giggling, so I continued. “What’s going to happen when I see your eyes? I’m scared! What’s going to happen?” He said, “Mommy…” and he tried to push my hands away. “I’m scared!” I continued to say. “Ohhh…I’ll try…” I peeked at him a little, and he was looking at me with warmth in his eyes. He held the gaze for a few seconds, comfortably, and I looked warmly back at him. Then I covered my hands again, pretending to be afraid. He laughed, then tried to encourage me to look at him, gently reassuring me it was ok. We looked at each other warmly, I said, “It’s nice to see you,” and then repeated this a few times more.
By the time I took him out of the car seat, he was relaxed and at ease. He was not only able to make warm contact with me, but he was also helping me to make warm contact with him. It’s amazing what a little laughter and play can do, and it only takes a few seconds.
I’m very grateful for these listening tools, because without them I would have missed the opportunity to help him playfully process his feelings. I probably would have scolded him and made things worse. I can only imagine how different it would have been if I had said, “Let's go, we’re late.” Or “Stop that. We have to go!”
He would have started his fourth day feeling disconnected from me, and probably feeling kind of badly about himself. Instead, with just a minute or two of playful responding, I was able to simultaneously boost our connection, build his confidence and increase the likelihood that his fourth day at daycare went well.
-A Parenting by Connection parent
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