Words

Working with kids keeps me humble. The other day my friend Peter,  an adorable two-year old, was coloring at the art table. He dropped his crayon and it rolled on the floor. As he bent down to get it  he said, “Oh Lord, what is that child doing!”  and broke into peals of laughter.  I laughed too, because I realized he was repeating something I had said to him as we were playing with model magic a few days before. I was making little objects and he was destroying them as fast as I could make them–so I must have said  that line when feigning dismay in our little game. He has a great vocabulary and a wonderful sense of humor–and apparently he quotes me all the time!

It is so much fun to help kids grow up–to interact with them in a way that helps them feel confident and competent and ready to take on the world. It is also a big responsibility. I hope that  sense of fun and engagement will stay with all our kids as they grow and move beyond the medical hardships they face in their early years. My own early experiences with parents, grandparents, teachers  and others who were happy to let me play and explore and to listen to my observations about the world have made me a more confident and imaginative person, and a better art therapist.

Peter and Tracy

Peter and Tracy

  His parents were very happy for me to share his story, so here’s a picture of the two of us.

 

Me and my grandmother

Me and my grandmother

 

I have also included a photo of me a long time ago with one of my wonderful grandmothers.

The Tale of Two Bad Mice: Anger in Young Children

At one time or another, parents, teachers, and other caregivers encounter the wrath of the young children in their charge. Temper tantrums, testing limits, and refusing to cooperate are inevitable and developmentally appropriate as young children assert their independence. But little ones’ anger can test the limits of their grownups’ patience and equanimity. If it comes to a power struggle, I always bet on the kid to win. Kids are smaller and less powerful, so they have a lot more at stake, and they tend to keep on until the adult gives in or loses their cool.  

 Kids with cancer have a lot to be mad about. They have gotten a raw deal. They have to go through a lot of awful stuff for no discernible reason, and their parents and caregivers have to insist that they take medicines, get checkups and infusions, and keep on plugging away for a very long time. But kids tend to be amazingly resilient—they might be enraged and pouty and silly and relaxed all in the span of the same half-hour. Keeping up with all that requires a lot of emotional intelligence from grownups.

 

Stories from children’s literature can be a great resource in articulating the emotional life of children and helping both children and adults develop resilience and coping. One of my all-time favorite kids’ stories is “The Tale of Two Bad Mice,” by Beatrix Potter. Miss Potter is best known for “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” but the story of Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca, the mice who lived in the nursery, offers wonderful insights into what makes kids tick.

 

The two mice see that the nursery is empty, so they go exploring in the dollhouse. A beautiful feast is laid out upon the dining table—ham, fish, lobster, pudding, fruit—but they soon discover that it is all fake—made of plaster. Potter writes “there was no end to the rage and disappointment of Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca.” It is important to note that they are not just angry, they are disappointed—they have been duped! Appearing foolish is especially difficult for young children to tolerate. They have limited knowledge, but they want to be competent, so it is terribly painful to be shown to be wrong!

The mice proceed to wreck the doll’s house, destroying everything in their path—but then Hunca Munca realizes that she would like to have some of the things they are destroying. They take a feather bed and a cradle, among other things, to outfit their mouse hole, as Hunca Munca is about to have babies herself! The dolls return, and the people with them to find the dolls’ house wrecked. The little girl stations a policeman doll outside the house to guard it, and the nanny sets a mouse-trap.

 

The mice are too clever for the trap, and they return—but they do not destroy things again. They find a sixpence under the rug and leave it in the dolls’ Christmas stocking to pay for what they have destroyed, and Hunca Munca comes early every morning to sweep the dolls’ house. The mice have gone from being angry and out of control to being responsible, cooperative citizens of the nursery–showing young children the pathway back from a scary, angry place to one of fairness and self-control.