Disclaimer: I have no actual scientific knowledge or background in researching this. I am merely speaking from my personal experiences and observations.
It used to be said that children are not born with an instruction manual. While this may be true, there are now numerous and varied resources for use in learning how to navigate the biggest and most influential of life tasks, being a parent. It is infants who are born without an instruction manual on how to raise their parents. Or are they?
Emotion is the very first language we have, use, and learn to manipulate. How children grow and learn is an instinctually imprinted process that is formed even as the rest of who they are is being formed in the womb. At least this is my personal belief.
Infants with zero capacity for verbal language are a mass of feelings and needs that they have to communicate in order to survive. They don’t analyze it or the people around them, they just react to their internal emotional signals in a way that elicits a response from the people around them. Different degrees and types of cries are developed to garner different responses in caregivers.
In recent years there have been books and articles and much talk about developing Emotional Intelligence in our children. In order for that to happen, adults who were not guided and taught how to be emotionally intelligent, have to be able to recognize their own weaknesses in this area and be able to work through whatever those issues may be, so that they can help guide their children in retaining and nurturing the inherent emotional intelligence I believe most children are born with.
Luna will be four years old in December and she’s a very bright and happy child. She has a great and creative imagination and has the capacity to keep herself entertained and focused on her imaginary play for extended periods of time. She’s probably been exposed to WAY too much television, for a lot of reasons I’m not going to debate here. However, we have ensured that a majority of it is programming specifically directed at educating young children in a variety of ways that include problem solving, relating to others, and managing emotions, as well as more “academic” subjects. Sprout, Nick Jr., and Disney Jr. channels have shows that are designed to focus on different subjects and tend to teach through a LOT of repetition and regularly “speaking” directly to the audience to ask questions and invite participation.
Additionally, she has had the benefit of receiving regular services, since birth, that are all geared toward ensuring that children who might be considered “at risk” and their families are educated and supported in ways to help give them a stronger foundation to successfully function and navigate their way in our society and world today. For two years she was able to attend an Early Head Start center and have consistent and regular involvement with other children and be in an environment where not only were the children given early pre-school education in early math, language, and science skills, but also supported in social and emotional development and growth.
Jerry and I have both been determined to provide these kinds of supports and education for Luna because of how damaged and impaired in these things we were and still are to a large degree. It was also incredibly critical because we see how our damage and inability to be emotionally healthy and functional damaged both Marco and LaLa in ways that are still manifesting today. The fact of the matter is that we cannot undo the damages that was done to Marco and LaLa, especially since we are still very much in need of more healing and growth in those areas ourselves.
It’s been an ongoing concern that we do our very best to prevent the same kind of damage to Luna and help her to grow up healthier and happier than any of the rest of us have done. The challenge is how do we teach her and guide her in areas that we are damaged and underdeveloped ourselves, even as we struggle to grow and do better while managing the day-to-day business of living and surviving. The answer to that concern is that we stay connected to services and organizations that support those efforts. Which we have done since she was born and are continuing to do.
Today, was a wonderful example that even though we still have a lot to do in our own growth and recovery, we are doing well by Luna.
Jerry was preparing to go to an orientation for a staffing agency for drivers. He was unable to locate his social security card because it wasn’t in the little firebox he usually keeps his important documents in. In the past few months it has had to come out of the box for application for services and for some reason it was not to be found where it should have been. Immediately upon realizing this document was missing, the anger and agitation began rising. Along with it came the attitudes and symptoms that I believe to be part of an undiagnosed mental health disorder, started showing through and it was implied that I was to blame for this document to be missing.
Considering how disorganized and chaotic I can be, this is entirely possible.
I immediately had to tamp down on my defensiveness and then the fixer part of me kicked in and I tried to offer the solution and fix to the problem at hand, completely bypassing validating the fact that he was worried and fearful about not being able to provide the required documentation and make it to the orientation on time. After years of these kinds of dynamics, I know the best way to handle it is to give him the space he needs to come to his own resolution and deal with the problem. Yet, in my co-dependent need to cure his emotional problem and make me more comfortable, I helicopter around and start inserting what I know will fix the problem.
The next thing I know, little Luna catches me in the hallway and playfully and laughingly puts her hands on my belly and walks me backwards into her room. I can’t remember what she was saying or doing, but it became clear that 1) She was not scared, upset, or frightened 2) She was separating me from Jerry and 3) she was proud and happy of herself that she was doing this.
She learned how to do this from her Early Head Start program. That learning was supported by much of the programming she’s been exposed to on tv. She had the confidence and security to know that she could take action and did what she knew was the right thing to do; allow someone in emotional distress the time and space to self-regulate and resolve their own distress.