“I’m Hayden and I am 4 ½”, said a fellow fisherman at a rustic mountain lodge. My two brothers and I had just arrived. I grabbed a plate of dinner and chose to sit right across from Hayden giving him a friendly smile. At 4 ½ , Hayden had a lot of life experiences to tell me about, but he was still pretty new to the huge human vocabulary. Hayden’s parents reminded him to look at me when speaking and they interpreted his cutely mispronounced words. Hayden tolerated his parent’s interventions and kept visiting with me while listing and following his parents advise.

Following his parent’s advice, until he wasn’t. Listing to his parents, then fun and games seemed more important to Hayden. He had tired of the adult oriented dinner table conversation.

Watching Hayden’s parents parent at this very moment was a joy. They exercised a blended approach of give and take, becoming firmly assertive then compassionately accommodating to Hayden’s sudden desire to play with puzzles and cards verses finishing his potatoes. Eventually, he calmed himself down and focused on the poker chips to build roads. He was self-sufficient for a long period of time while his parents snacked on his desert between the two of them and visited with the other guests.

While adults swapped fishing stories, I went over and built poker chip roads with Hayden. He’s smart. He was concerned that the activity held my interest. He’s nice. He gave me the red chips so I could add stop signs and enjoy his game, too.

Let’s work at what’s going on that is working so well. Hayden is less than five years old and, therefore, new to adult dinner table conversation. He engaged very well for 20 minutes, then fatigued. His fatigue was manifest as “I want to play, mom. I want to play, mom. I want to…” behavior. Hayden’s response of parents compassionately recognized that a change of pace was needed. Hayden was set up nearby with games and puzzles. A little parent-child time was needed, then both parent and child were independent. It all worked very well for everyone. Hayden, his parents and the guests all had a very enjoyable time together.

The next morning’s breakfast time involved a casual meeting amongst the guests to decide which of the 10 lakes guest parties would hike to and fish. Hayden let parents and adults talk while he ate his breakfast. He received reassuring nods and mom’s fingers softly combing through his hair or lightly scratching his back. Hayden felt acknowledged, important and easily allowed adults to discuss fishing strategies back and forth across the table.

Hayden enjoyed himself. He looked like he liked who he was. Hayden had an emotionally supportive safe harbor in his parents and this allowed him to be curious, brave and kind. Hayden was fun to be with. All of us adults enjoyed his company. From the sounds of things back home, it seems that Hayden has an easy time of making friends. Even the fishing camps huge white dog, Daisy, was crazy over Hayden. No surprise. No surprise. Nice job Hayden’s parents!

Suzanne Cresswell is an occupational and physical therapist. She has written a book about how children learn. It’s entitled Unique Learner Solutions and can be ordered through Amazon.

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