Figuring the 3 year old mind

A couple of days ago, when I “let loose” on DH about our current financial situation, he got very upset. As he walked past our dining table, he brought his hand down hard on the tabletop. In his hand was a rather large hardcover book. The glass top shattered. It surprised him, but it shocked and surprised DD as well. I could see from her face that she was upset. And she kept saying “That’s not good, that table broke” and other such things.

Since then, she has brought it up a couple of times in rather obscure and indirect ways. For example, this evening while I was making dinner and DH was in the other room putting DS to sleep, DD was playing with her Hot Wheels cars. Her bulldozer was broken, which I think must have happened recently since I’m pretty sure it was intact last night. I heard her saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” and I was wondering why she was saying that. She sounded upset. I asked her what was wrong, and she said her bulldozer was broken. I told her that was sad and I was sorry it was broken. She suggested we could fix it by taping it. A few moments later, she was saying something like “I don’t like it when you do that, mama”. When I asked her what she was talking about, she said *I* had broken her bulldozer. When did I do that?, I asked. She said “you had something in your hand, and you put it down hard and it broke…” and it was then I realized that she wasn’t talking about her bulldozer anymore, she was talking about the table, but couched in the terms of her broken car.

It’s times like this when I wish I had Lawrence Cohen on the phone, author of “Playful Parenting”. He talks about how children process difficult moments and situations through play, and here was a shining example of that. But I didn’t know what role to take on or how to respond. DD does NOT like to talk about unpleasant feelings. She doesn’t like to hear about how some things can be scary, or sometimes we get upset about things. And it has perplexed me because I’m a talker, that’s how I process things, and without that I simply don’t know what to do. Plus, I’m supposed to be *teaching* her something during these times, I’m supposed to be an “emotion coach”, but how can I teach anything if she refuses to talk about it? And I’d read Playful Parenting before and thought I wish DD did that even, because then I could try to teach her stuff, or help her through stuff, via play. I guess I’m at least greatful that she did this, but at the same time, I don’t know if I was helpful or not.

We sat down with the bulldozer and tape, and while I was fixing it I explained that I hadn’t meant to break the car, and that sometimes people put things down too hard and it breaks other things, but they don’t mean to. And it can be scary and upsetting. And sometimes we can fix the thing but sometimes we can’t. She seemed to hear what I was saying, though I don’t know if it helped her at all.

Then again, she just announced that she didn’t like the tape on her bulldozer and took it off, so the car fell apart again.

And it no longer seems to bother her.

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