‘Mon bébé, j’ai perdu mon bébé! Mon bébé, j’ai perdu mon bébé…’
The little girl of almost 3 years old greets me with these words as I just arrive this Friday morning. She is going down the stairs, and does not meet me with her usual smiles nor saying my name, something is troubling her. She keeps repeating those words, and as she shows me a doll in her hand, I understand that something happened connected to one of her favourite little friends.
I look at her mother, and she explains to me that her daughter has lost her baby doll at the crèche the previous day and that since then it has been disturbing her.
I can see she is genuinely distressed, and it will take about 10 minutes to change the subject, and focus on another theme.
(Later in the morning)
We just arrived at the crèche to search for the doll. The little girl has impressed me, she has walked for 20 minutes in cold and windy Amsterdam with me, without complaining. As we arrive, she starts searching for her friend, and after 10 minutes and checking all the faces of each and every one of the kindergarten’s dolls, we have to face the fact that Bébé is not to be found today.
Before leaving, we meet another carer, and she says that she will check again later today in the only room we could not access as it is full of children playing on this Friday morning.
I explain to the child that next week, we will have more information and that for now we need to go back home with the other doll the staff lent her. She does not seem too disappointed, and again explains to me that she has lost her baby.
Then, unexpected twist, the lady comes back with what seems to be a random doll – at least to me- and as the little girl sees her from afar, she runs in her caregiver’s direction and shouts ‘Mon bébé! C’est mon bébé!’. We have found the missing member of the family.
We thank our saviour, and depart.
For long minutes afterwards, I cannot reach this child in the sense that her happiness is so strong, she is so deeply connecting with her beloved doll that my remarks/questions remain unanswered.
How touching is it to witness such a young person display so intense a reaction of joy and relief. Her excitment is contagious, and I surprise myself imagining this little girl as a mother, and how much love she will share with her own children…
What I observed on that day is how real the connection to her favourite doll or stuffed animal can be for a child.
What I noticed is her genuine dismay and fear about the possibility that her baby was lost forever.
I noticed her frustration at not being able to do anything about it, and at having to trust adults and what they were promising to her.
What would have happened if we had told her that it did not matter that her doll was mislaid, and that within three days she would be back at the crèche and she would find her toy?
What would have happened if we had told her that it was not that important, that it was just a toy and she just could take another one to replace it?
What would have happened if her parents had scolded her for being too emotional- just as it happened to so many of us when we were children and our feelings were discarded, neglected or even mocked.
I have tried putting myself in her shoes, and imagined what she could have thought had we reacted as I just did hereinabove.
Most probably, she would have been sad, she would have presumably cried, and then been angry at her carers for not taking her seriously.
Then, she might have been left with an underlying feeling of shame: What’s wrong with me? Why did they scold me as I just expressed what I felt? Is expressing my worry and my pain not appropriate? Am I inappropriate?
Am I a bad person?….
So often, children’s problems tend to be minimized. We think that losing a doll is not a real problem, that our problems with the car, with the house are real problems.
But what if we were in their body for just a single day?
Could we stand the way they sometimes are treated?
Could we bear the condescension they are subject to?
Would we still shame them for being humane, and manifesting that they hurt when we neglect their input, their opinion, their feeling?
Do they learn to trust us when we say that what they experienced is not important and they should get over it?
We’re right when we think in our heads that they will get over it, indeed, but a little work of emotional translation and empathic support has to be done to help them move forward positively, and to help them understand that losses happen, and that it’s okay to be a riot of feelings in between.
Acknowledging the child’s emotions, telling him that we understand that he is sad, or scared, or angry and perhaps when he is old enough sharing a personal anecdote. Then once the tears have rolled down, offering a warm embrace of comfort and a smile, and assisting her in finding a solution to the problem, then, holding our words, is a humane pathway we can follow we confidence with our children.
Similarly, would it be a big stretch to talk to ourselves in such a manner when setbacks hurt us, and we feel lost?
Nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes, but goodwill goes a long way. What can be your next step in supporting your child, and eventually yourself in this journey to become an adult?
I’d be happy to read from you if you’d be willing to share, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Caring for the Gifted Child