Anna’s 4 year-old eyes sparkled as we sat and ate imaginary scrambled eggs in her preschool classroom kitchen. This bright-eyed, beautiful blond-haired child had already been in 3 different foster homes. With our eyes still connected, she stood up on a chair, keeping her tiny arms crossed. Her teacher had asked me for help to stop this type of frequent behavior. I did the only thing I knew. I walked over, picked her up, placed her on the floor again and reminded her that my job was to keep her safe. Her feet no sooner hit the floor when, still staring into my eyes, she playfully climbed up onto the next highest object.
I was at a loss for what to do next. Thoughts pummeled in, “Look, what you have done didn’t work! You are supposed to know what to do. The teachers are expecting you to help. You are a failure!” As I noticed these thoughts rapidly unleashing, I invited in some kindness. The thoughts quickly fell away. I walked towards Anna, although I had no plan. Gently, I placed my hands on her arms to lower her to safety, saying, “It looks like you wanted Ms. Donna to hold you”. To my shock, her playful, teasing stature totally shifted. Her body went limp. Sadness poured out of every part of her. Lying on the ground, she looked up at me and said, “No one can hold me now. I’m 4 and too big”.
I took a couple of deep conscious breaths to stabilize myself. I understood now why she had been climbing on top of high objects. I spoke slowly to her waiting eyes, “If you want someone to hold you, you can ask”. She nodded as if I had just revealed a secret code. “If your teacher, Ms. P is busy, you can ask Ms. R. and you can keep asking until someone is available”. She nodded a clear “yes” and sat on the couch until playtime was over.
After class, I suggested to the classroom teachers that they hold Anna whenever she asked. We put a glider chair in the classroom as well. Each day, there was always someone who held and rocked her. The climbing behaviors completely fell away.