Dear Dr. Debbie,
Why is it that when I go to retrieve my 4-year-old from her family childcare provider there is almost always some drama? She’ll take out a new activity when she sees me come in, or aggravate a playmate, or refuse to get her lunch box, or hide from me. I’ve usually had a long hard day at work, plus about 25 minutes of rush hour traffic. I’m tired and hungry. Who needs this?
Give Me a Break
Don’s miss last week’s column Allergies can cause bad behavior — Good Parenting
It may help to know that this is a common challenge. Nothing personal. Your state of mind is shared by many working parents at this time of the day. The last thing you want is more demands on your attention and patience.
But that’s just what is needed. Your daughter may also have had a long, hard day without her favorite grown-up. Children tend to store up their strongest emotions for their parents. Recently my 3-year-old grandson was visiting us and unfortunately got scratched by the cat. We got past the tears after a few minutes and moved on to other things. About an hour later, we called his mom for some face time. As soon as he saw her, the tears were flowing again as he told her what happened, as if it had just occurred at that moment.
Even a fun day for your child can be exhausting, causing a lapse in her decorum by evening. She may have mastered the lyrics to a new song, overcome her trepidation about getting finger paint under nails, slain imagined foes in make-believe play and played chase up the ladder and down the slide for a good aerobic workout. Phew. She needs a break, too.
Before you reunite at the end of your long days, you should take a moment to shake off the weight of your workday role. If you’ve been sitting for most of the day, your muscles and mind would benefit from a short walk before you climb into the car. Maybe there is a long hallway you can briskly stroll through before leaving the building. Or get in the habit of parking a reasonable distance from the door. Even five minutes of exercise can be very refreshing.
It may be worth it to add a few minutes to your commute if you can take a less-traveled route and enjoy a book on tape, some nice music or just quiet time as you drive. Otherwise, use your parked car as your “decompression chamber” when you arrive.
Take this time to release the pressures of your job and draw in energy for the most important job of your life: parenting. This can be done as a visualization. Mentally take the items that belong to work and stuff them into a corner of you mind until tomorrow. Physically dismiss your duties by tucking papers away or throwing a sweater over your brief case in the car. Then focus on an image of your sweet daughter — anytime from the moment the idea of her became the most incredible joy you could ever imagine to this very morning when the two of you shared a laugh — and make that your central thought.
Your evening transition can also be assisted with breaths — exhale your work day and inhale the love and strength that supports your best parenting. (Check out April 29th’s column for a full description of how to meditate for recharging.)
Routines are very important for children, so take charge and change the negative pattern the two of you are in and create a positive one for when you reconnect with each other. It could be as simple as your getting down on one knee for a hug. Have a standard greeting, such as, “How’s my girl?” And give her your full attention as she shares some highlights with you. There may be artwork to take home which only needs you to ask her to “Tell me about it!” so she can let you in on her thoughts during its creation. Save any conversation with the caregiver for after this precious ritual has been carried out to satisfaction. Or make time during the day to check in by phone or email. Serious concerns should be discussed out of children’s earshot anyway. A child can feel neglected when her important grown-ups — parent and caregiver — are talking too long with each other. Misbehavior is a way to find out if either one is on duty.
If you add five minutes to exercise, five minutes for a more pleasant drive and or five minutes to switch gears between being a working parent and a parent on duty, your five-minute retrieval of your daughter will lead you into a more agreeable evening for everyone.
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com