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What If Your Kid “Acting Out” Is Actually an Awesome Science Experiment?

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I remember the first time my daughter conducted a scientific experiment. It was in the days when I believed that I was in charge because I was the mommy and she was the child, so she had to listen and behave.

I was wrong.

For her first scientific foray, she took a plastic bottle, looked at me, smiled, and then tossed it on the ground.  I said, “No! No throwing!  No making a mess. I bent down, picked it up, placed it firmly in front of her, and waited and watched.

At which point, she did it again. The look. The smile. The toss. Exasperated me, and increasingly irate me, did what I do–picked it up, cleaned up the floor, reprimanded her and sternly repeated that I was the mommy and she needed to listen.

Look. Smile. Toss. Five times. Maybe seven? I’m not quite sure. What I do know is that I picked her up, put her in her room, and triumphantly announced that she had to learn to listen to mommy and not throw things around.

She was 8 months old. I was 28 years old. And I knew who was boss. Or so I thought.

The next day, I related the interaction to another woman, older, wiser, certainly more experienced than I.

And, rather than side with me regarding those kids who need to learn who is boss, she wagged her finger at me and said: “Lady. How is that child ever going to learn about gravity if you don’t let her throw things and watch them land?”

And at that moment, I imagined all the things I thought I knew about childrearing and motherhood melt in a messy pile at my feet.

I realized that everything this child, this 8-month-old scientist studying the laws of gravity, did was not about me–but about her. She was not acting out against anyone. She was discovering the world on her own terms.  Her hands could lift and throw. Things thrown eventually hit the ground. And when those very things hit the ground, a noise ensues.

She didn’t stop there. She needed to climb. Not to get away from me, but to experience the delight of doing so, feel the textures, see the world from a different perspective. She did nothing to be bad. She did everything to experience, to learn, to live–climbing up walls and poles in the playground, splashing in puddles in her white patent leather shoes, putting her hand in a bowl of food and swishing it around.

I started out thinking that I was the mommy and that’s why. And I came to realize, that while I gave birth to her and raised her and was there for her— I was really a bystander, there to support her.

It was her life that was unfolding, discovery to discovery. And the actions she took to learn about that life were to enrich her own experience, not to act out against me or defy me. It’s hard to understand the theory of gravity unless you see it in action. And it’s hard to experience a life when you are constrained from doing so.

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