What our youngest had in common with a little Chihuahua
A few weeks ago I had a talk with Heinz Etter.
I love to hear his insights about challenges we face in raising our children – he has this special capacity to not only grasp the situation I see but to point out things I don’t see.
This happened again on that talk.
I recounted a situation of conflict that happened lately with our two youngest.
My question was, how – and if – to intervene for my second child in such situations.
He looked at me and said:
“I see what you’re saying, but I think that the thing to look at is much rather how you react with your youngest one!”
I was curious to hear his thoughts.
He explained to me, that the behavior of my youngest resembled the behavior of the little Chihuahua dog of his daughter.
“These little dogs feel strong and powerful. Even if they belong to the smallest of its genre – in their heads they are the boss. And if it happens that they can’t be the boss – they run to their owner for help and protection. The owner then rescues his little dog.”
Now I was laughing.
It was a perfect comparison!
That’s how my little one behaves… and well… that’s how I behave, too!
Many situations came to my mind instantly:
His three siblings are playing with their Playmobil. The youngest one wants to join them. But they don’t want him there, because he doesn’t really play, but does his own thing, which often disturbs and interrupts their play.
When they tell him to leave, of course he doesn’t want to.
Their solution then is to drive him out of the room.
So he runs to me, crying:
“Mommy, they chased me out of the room!”
I used to take my little boy by the hand and together we went to the room where his brothers and sisters played.
“What’s going on here?” I used to ask.
“Well, he’s interrupting our game, it’s no fun playing with him!”
“Well, you know, he’s still small”, I answered. “You must have patience with him. I don’t want you to exclude your little brother!”
And already I was gone, with the feeling to have fulfilled my mission.
Heinz Etter told me the following about it:
“Your little one knows perfectly well that he does not have to subordinate himself to his siblings. He does what he wants – and if he can’t do that anymore, because he is disturbing the bigger siblings during the game, he gets you and then has this super power behind him.”
I laughed, feeling caught.
“I would advise you to let the natural hierarchy prevail. His place among the siblings should be at the lowest level of the hierarchy. His task is to subordinate himself to his older siblings.
The brothers and sisters have no obligation to let him play along. If he wants to play along (as in the example mentioned for the Playmobil), he has to ask the others for permission to do so. If they tell him:
You may play pony ranch and must leave the other things alone…”,
he must subordinate himself to it, or he must play something completely different, in a completely different place.
It is an unfavourable attitude as a mother to intervene and oblige the bigger siblings to let him play along.
Then he added:
“This is the way you raise little narcissists. Children who don’t have to subordinate themselves in any place and don’t experience any natural boundaries.
I saw exactly what he meant.
Our little treasure really behaved like a little Chihuahua who feels like he can do anything – and who owns all rights. If something stood in his way, he would come to me for protection and help.
And that’s what I gave him.
After this conversation we were encouraged to put our new insights into practice.
At dinner we discussed with our children what we had learned.
- We re-established the hierarchy among the children
We told our children that our youngest was no longer “the boss”. They found the example of the little dog who wants to be the boss (and runs to Mommy when he can’t take that role anymore) very plausible and funny.
- We gave the older children their rights back
We let our children know that they have the right to set limits to the younger one, such as “You can play, but you have to take this Playmobil toy here. If you don’t want that, you have to go play somewhere else.
I informed them that I would not intervene in the future by telling them to let him play with them.
In the meantime a few weeks have passed and we have seen a big change in the dynamics among the siblings.
Several times we addressed the topic again. There were moments when the larger siblings had implemented their “rights” in an undesirable way. For example:
“Give me this book now, I am the older one, I decide”.
Then we could go into why it was not meant that way and discuss other possibilities and reactions with them.
Because with all the measures we have taken to let our youngest one reach his limits, it is important to us that he feels our warmth and acceptance at precisely that time. He is a very gentle and openhearted boy, and these qualities are so precious that we don’t want to put them at risk.
For example, there was this scene at lunch.
Before we start lunch, we sing together as a family table song.
Until now, we had mostly responded to the wishes of our youngest, because it is very important for him which song we sing, and he uses to announce his wishes loudly.
Now we have changed our approach, and every child can decide.
If this now triggers anger and frustration in him, this will not change our song choice.
But at the same time we show him warmth and acceptance instead of admonishing or even punishing him for his reaction.
Most of the time his grief lasts a few minutes – until he pulls himself together again and soon there is a satisfied eater at the table, who participates actively in the general exchange.