One of the most interesting things I have discovered about the human brain is that consciousness is really, really hard work. We often think we are making conscious decisions but the reality is the decision making process takes place in parts of the brain which are non-conscious or unconscious and the conscious bit of us, our minds or egos, just interpret whatever information they are allowed to receive. (I go into detail about this in the tantrum book…still in the pipeline, doing what I can…)
Children are even less driven by conscious choice than adults, for them conscious thought is very difficult and thinking consciously can create a lot of stress on their whole brain-body system. This is why many children, when asked what they did at kindy or school, look blankly at their parents or rarely offer information even when interrogated within an inch of their lives.
While children are at school or away from us, they are often so engrossed in the events in which they are participating that they are in what we often call ‘The Zone’. That is the magical place where our brains are working really hard, we are creative and calm and completely at peace with ourselves and our world. Artists, writers and musicians get into this state when they are creating, sports people get into it while they are on the field, mathematicians get into it while they are mathemytising (just invented that word, so don’t bother looking it up!), crafts people get into it while they are crafting and so on. People in this very natural, very pleasant, highly productive state have no sense of what we call time. They couldn’t tell you what they have been doing for the past three hours because they thought they had been occupied for only 10 minutes or so. It is only by looking at physical results that they can know they have been doing anything at all.
Children fall naturally into The Zone, and as interested as we may be in them or their day, if they have been fully occupied and involved at school (or whatever), many simply cannot recall events on demand.
As I really do want to know that everything is OK with our two older boys while they are away from us, I have learned to use the following approach.
When we meet up again I really make sure that they are fully emotionally connected to me again. That is, I make warm non-intrusive eye-contact and/or I give them a Boring Cuddle, sometimes we have a mad-fun run toward one another or wrestle or play dodge or something like that – all with warm non-intrusive eye-contact and with the aim to emotionally reconnect. (This also prevents a lot of behaviour issues later on in the day.)
Then I’ll casually ask, “Did you have a good day at the office?”
Sometimes I’ll get a detailed response, more often than not it’s a generally grunt or dismissive, “It was OK” or similar. I don’t accept the grunts, but the short and non-committed replies are just fine.
Then we get on with our day. What ever comes up in conversation, comes up. They tell me which chores they are going to do first when they get home, or they negotiate a short break before they attack the chores. We chat about the weather or share bits of fun that Mr Three and I have been involved with. It’s light and casual and there is NO pressure for them to consciously recall what they’ve done. Often there is just a comfortable silence.
Nine times out of 10 they will, at some stage before bedtime, spontaneously offer some information from their day. This happens BECAUSE there is no conscious pressure to think about what has happened. You know the kind of thing, get your mind/ego out of the way and you can hear your intuition/soul/higher-self/non-conscious brain, yadda, yadda, yadda. The boys can recall the information because they don’t HAVE to recall the information. It CAN bubble up to the surface of their brains naturally.
They tell me the bits of information that are important to them and I can feel their emotional tone from their body-language and the way they speak to one another or to me. If I think they are stressed, I will put intermittent pressure on them to tell me what’s going on… but if they don’t, that is their business and I know when to let them be (before I become an extra issue in their lives).
If there is a problem, just before they go to sleep at night they will tell me what has worried them/is worrying them, so I make an effort to spend some quiet time with them as they fall asleep. With our very Hare-like 10 year-old, it is the last 30 seconds before he drifts off that the worrying thoughts appear.
They don’t tell me every little detail of their time away from me, but why would they have to? They are living their lives and are separate people from me. My self-esteem doesn’t depend on knowing the minutia of their day. My role in their lives is only a supporting act, and as they become older, less and less so.
In many ways, discovering and using this approach has been a huge relief for me. I can keep myself involved in their lives but know I am not being intrusive or controlling. I don’t have to work as hard as I used to think I should: they know I am there if they really need me; I don’t help unless they feel they can’t manage alone. And we have better relationships for it.