Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben
This week, we explored a bit of the Black Forest area in Germany. ‘We’ is my partner, my two children and myself. My daughter has been wanting to go to some place more ‘exotic’ than France for a while now (Germany is only more exotic because she’s never been before). She was very much looking forward to the trip. My son, on the other hand, dislikes traveling no matter where we go. He would rather just be at home, all the time.
We had a pretty packed week. We visited a castle, went on some amazing walks, a Rodelbahn, a museum, a birds of prey show, a large pool, the Schwarzwald House of the Senses, a lake and some beautiful, little towns. It has been a real treat, or so you would think. Because, when push came to shove, it took quite some effort and willpower on our part to get out of the door. Even though my two kids enjoyed all of the above, they mostly went grudgingly, complaining about the fact that we were not staying in all day to do whatever they wanted. Since the apartment we were staying in was rather small, and they get easily overexcited, staying in for long periods would have been a recipe for disaster.
So we had to balance (as we’re used to doing in all areas of life) between going out and still meeting their needs. Because what’s behind the desire to stay inside is, as always, a valid need. Both my children are sensitive, have a strong need to feel secure and get overwhelmed easily, which is not that strange, since both their parents echo those characteristics. When my kids ask to go home, they are really saying: ‘I want what’s familiar and safe. I want to see the people I miss and do the things I’m used to doing. I want to feel completely comfortable and relaxed.’
When kids say: ‘I want to go home’, what they are not saying is: ‘You suck for bringing us someplace we never asked to go and we are incredibly ungrateful for any of the things you’ve planned.’ Yet, at times, that’s exactly what we end up hearing, especially when we’re already on edge. We can take the displeasure of our children as criticism because we really want them to have a good time and we’ve made an effort to make them feel happy. We may have selected things just for them, put our own needs aside and compromised in more ways than one. When our children then reject what we offer, it seems like they are rejecting us. They’re not. They’re just advocating for themselves, you know, doing the thing we are raising them to do.
Most of what we organised was without their explicit input. And that’s alright. There are things they don’t get a say in just yet. But there are consequences to taking over their time and space, even if you fill it with fun stuff. Children need to be able to feel a sense of ownership over their own lives, the older the child, the stronger the need. So when they lack autonomy, or when they lack a sense of control over their own lives and how to fill their own needs, you will hear about it. And that’s alright, too. In fact, it’s a good sign: It means your child is learning to take responsibility for meeting their own needs, is vocalizing those needs and isn’t afraid to tell you (which means you’ve responded well in the past).
So, in the end, we tried to adapt in small ways: by allowing more time to play video games than we would at home because it offers an escape; by reading more stories, spending more focused time with them and cutting activities short when need be (I’ve never walked through a castle as fast before). We let my daughter stay home alone a few times as well for a few ours while we went out to respect her need for calm and quiet (which is difficult to find with her brother around).
Some of it may seem like a sacrifice on our part, but not listening to our kids’ needs is the fastest road to conflict and tantrums, and that’s definitely the worse of two evils.
I think we’ll make an effort to include the kids more in planning the next trips. Perhaps we’ll allow them to pick an activity, or find a way to stay in a bit more. Either way, I’m very happy with how we adjusted on this trip as well, and in most of the pictures, they look very happy. That must mean something, right?