We were at a birthday party and a 5 year old named Kaden jumped happily in the bounce house. “Do you see my mom and dad?” he asked me and another mom, Liz.
“Yes,” Liz said, “they are over there under the tree talking to some other parents.”
Kaden nodded and resumed his jumping. A few minutes later, he asked again, “do you see my parents? Are they still there?”
“They are still by the tree, do you need them?” I asked.
“No,” Kaden said, “it’s just sometimes when I don’t want to leave they say they are leaving without me. So I just wanted to make sure they didn’t leave without me.”
You know how it goes… your child won’t leave a party, gym class, the house – whatever. And nothing you do or say works so you say…. “OK, goodbye, I’m leaving.” You don’t really mean it. You’d never leave your child at the park overnight. You just need him to come when he’s called. You need him to listen. So… you threaten to leave him. And, because he’s a small child (or a big child) he’s scared you might really leave him. So he comes.
We want our children to feel safe. We want them to know that in this crazy world, at least they can count on their parents to be there, right?
I’ve noticed a lot of parents choosing the goodbye I’m leaving method. Even parents who have chosen to never to yell at their child, feel that it’s okay to threaten to abandon them. Every word we say as parents has an impact. Why wouldn’t a child believe that their parent might leave them, if we say it?
I felt really sorry for Kaden that day. He didn’t know it was an empty threat and he didn’t trust his parents were always going to be there. That is scary to a child.
Liz certainly hadn’t thought about it this way, but seeing Kaden’s fear made her rethink everything. “I’m never going to make that threat again,” she said.
“I will never leave you behind,” I tell Spense.
“Even if I get angry or frustrated, I will never leave you somewhere.”
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