Over the weekend I had some friends from out of town visit. We got together for lunch one day with many of our mutual friends that live in the area. My two and half year old, who is usually a charmer in small groups, was very nervous with so many adults around with whom she isn't familiar. She whined, and cried a little. She was clingy, and didn't want to leave my side. She didn't want to play with the toys we had brought to distract her, and the only thing that seemed to help was watching her favorite show on the iPhone.
I was thinking about her behavior later. I was at first frustrated, but as I followed my thoughts I came away with more respect and empathy for my daughter, and some thoughts about maintaining a little grace with her when situations like this arise.
I realized that in that moment she was feeling shy, nervous, embarrassed, and unsure of herself. Being so young she didn't have the skills to maneuver this complex social situation without my help and understanding. Clinging to me was really her best coping skill and defense. Of course, over time I'd like for her to be better at self soothing and distraction, but that isn't going to happen over night.
I was surprised (in the moment) that her toys (a doll and book) weren't more comforting and distracting to her. However, in hindsight, I see that children only play when they are free of distress. Play is the luxury of a relaxed mind.
Watching her favorite show on the iPhone, although not something I want her to rely on always, was one of the few things at my disposal that carried a strong enough motivation to allow her mind to be distracted.
So with these new epiphanies in mind and empathy for my daughters experience here is what I wish I had done:
--I wish I had not been blinded by my wish for her to be on her best behavior for my sake (my reputation).
--I wish I had allowed her a few minutes of comfort from me where I validated her fears in the situation and offered her assurance that everything was going to be ok.
--I wish I'd have been more patient.
--I wish that I had been able to help her soothe in a way that allowed her mind to relax.
--I wish that I had come into the situation with more age appropriate (and individualized) expectations.
Being a parent is hard. I think reflection may be my very best "tool" if I am to get it right next time.