The novelty of zooming the green car quickly wore off, and the toys the other kids were playing with suddenly became irresistibly fascinating to E. Eric and I had been talking about observing E at play with other kids and trying to figure out when (or if) to intervene and when to step back and let E and whoever he is playing with sort it out. We welcomed the opportunity to watch Briana in action and see how a professional handles the situation.
Little E grabbed ahold of a car that Z was playing with. Z’s face said that he wanted to keep playing with the car, a message that E either missed or ignored. Briana moved in to help Z hold on to the toy saying, "E, I am going to help Z hold on to the toy. You can tell that he wants it because he is holding on really really tight.” When it became clear to E that he wasn't going to wrestle the car free, he reached out and grabbed Z's hair and pulled it. With amazing speed and a gentle touch Briana removed E's grip on Z's hair and told him that she wasn't going to let him pull Z's hair. E seemed frustrated. He promptly crawled over to C, who was in a different part of the room and repeated the toy grabbing, hair pulling routine. Briana repeated her efforts and an unsuccessful E crawled back over to Z to try again.
Eric and I watched these interactions, and Briana’s re-directions for about ten minutes until snack time took everyone's minds off of toys. As Eric and I got ready to leave, I asked Briana if the other kids pulled hair like that. She said she hasn't seen C or Z do it, but that hair pulling is a thing that some kids do and is generally a stage that children pass through.
As we drove to work, Eric and I talked about what we had seen and our thoughts about E’s interactions with C and Z. I was concerned that E was being too physically aggressive, especially given that he was the only kid pulling hair. I felt that E's hair-pulling was troubling, and I didn't think Eric was taking it seriously enough.
Eric was surprised that I was troubled because he was excited by E’s behavior. He said that to him E’s behavior showed that he was a kid who knew what he wanted and wasn't afraid to go after it. Eric said that we needed to make sure that E learned successful ways of going after what he wanted, and that he was learning that lesson with Briana's help.
I then began to explain to Eric just how wrong his view was. A few moments into my explanation, it dawned on Eric and me that we had just witnessed the exact same exchange that was happening between us not twenty minutes earlier at Tumbleweed. I was little E and had a firm grasp on Eric’s hair. Eric wasn’t agreeing with me about what E’s behavior meant, and I was going to make Eric agree with me even if it meant pulling his hair.
In that moment of realizing that I was being way more aggressive than was called for in the particular conversation at hand, Eric, and I also realized that we were looking at E's actions through the prism of our own behaviors as children and adults. No one would ever accuse me of not going after what I want. I tend to go after what I want, sometimes to a fault and without thinking about how my wants impact others. Therefore when I saw E pursuing the other children so forcefully, I was worried that he would be like me and be so dogged in his pursuit of what he wanted that he would forget to think about others.
Eric, on the other hand, was the kid who had his toys taken away by other kids and as an adult is sometimes paralyzed by thoughts of how his various actions might impact others or be perceived. Thus, Eric sees E’s behavior as a good thing because it means E won’t be inhibited by the same challenges that have affected Eric.
In the end, observing our little dude provided a chance for reflection and discussion about how two people can see the same behavior and have very different responses. We found that judgments are based in large part on our individual experiences and our strengths and weaknesses as people. It was a great opportunity for us to talk about how who we are influences how we evaluate E’s behavior. Judgment calls need to be made about what kinds of behaviors we want to encourage in E, but Eric and I realized in this conversation that sometimes we need to step back and look at where those judgments come from first.