The Compassionate Response – What I Learned from a Boy and his GiraffePost written by Traci McGrath on 9 April 2012
Now, this wasn’t just any giraffe. This giraffe is “Baby.” My two year-old’s baby, to be specific. My son loves to give Baby rides in his wagon or on his tricycle. He sleeps with it, runs to help it when he sees it endangered, and carries it tucked in the crook of his neck, sweetly rubbing its back and telling it what a “cute baby” it is. This giraffe-boy relationship is easily one of the sweetest things I’ve ever witnessed as his mom.
I was cooking dinner when my little one came in and pointed out the place where his Baby was sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor. “He’s MAD, mama. He’s yelling LOUD. He’s very mad.” I could see my son was distressed by his little giraffe’s fit of anger. I asked what he thought he could do for Baby. He stared at the giraffe for a few moments, then a gentle smile spread across his face. He went to “Baby”, picked it up, and then hugged it tightly and rocked it until saying, “Baby’s all bettah now.”
…Since reading Simplicity Parenting, I’ve tried more and more to use “the Compassionate Response” with the similar emotional outbursts that happen with my boys. I’m trying to focus less on punishment or guilt and more on what deep needs they are trying to express, and how we can meet that need. Often I realize that lack of sleep or an out-of-the-ordinary busy schedule has brought on some soul fever or quirky behavior. More often, I see a little guy who really just wants his mama’s attention!
But here’s the thing – I don’t always get it right. In fact, often I don’t. Sometimes I really don’t know what need is driving my son’s behavior, and sometimes I can’t think of the best way to guide him. Sometimes my compassion runs a little thin. And I wonder if I’m really doing such a wonderful job at all. But, like all of us, I try.
My two year old’s response to his giraffe’s little “tantrum” encouraged me, and, I think, should encourage us all. There are no perfect parents. We may not have the right response every time. But as we move towards a position of compassion with our kids, our little ones tune in to that. They see what’s at the heart of our actions. Perfect or not, the intention comes through loudly and clearly.
Maybe the most encouraging idea of all is to picture the compassion-filled adults these little ones will one day be. I can only imagine my two year old one day as a daddy, as a husband, as a friend to someone who needs his help. Let us all be encouraged to continue sharing compassion, knowing our kids see through our imperfections, straight to our hearts. Every time we model compassion to them, we can be sure we are building a strong sense of empathy in them that will bless them and many others.