Remember when your toddler started wanting to dress himself or choose his own clothes?
These moments of determination are endearing at first, but feel like nuisances when they become patterns conflicting with our expectations. No matter what you do, you can’t easily redirect them or get their full attention. Some parents assume this is because their kids are stubborn or ornery. In fact, it is because they are doing what they need to be doing! Their actions have a purpose. More than just a simple interest in a new skill, it’s a fixation on mastering a new skill.
“Zing” is what I call this developmentally necessary drive or fixation. Why zing? Zing, according to Merriam-Webster, is an enjoyably exciting or stimulating quality. This seems a perfect description of these phases that all children pass through periodically.
During these phases – like the language zing or the walking zing or the numbers zing – children are intensely absorbed in their development. They dedicate themselves to mastering a new skill. In zing moments, a child’s energy level and complete dedication to a particular task is extraordinary. This will end just as quickly as it began.
Kids are happier when parents work with these zing phases, rather than struggle against them. It makes them feel understood. Kids will become more confident and independent as their developmental needs are supported.
Be on the lookout for the current zing…
Just like so many things, once you are aware of zing, you’ll notice it everywhere. Have you ever bought a new car and then suddenly see others like it all over the place? Or, did it suddenly feel like every other woman was pregnant when you became pregnant?
Take a look at this example pertaining to kids:
Your one-year-old is tearing apart your kitchen cabinets. Every time you are trying to cook, she is emptying out the drawers. When you are putting away dishes, she is pulling them back out again. This might be cute the first few times, but quickly becomes a very frustrating cycle!
Stop. Reflect. Try to tap into your child’s perspective. Ask yourself:
What activities is she always trying to do? Is there a commonality about these?
When does she express the greatest resistance or frustration? Is there a commonality about these?
In the case of emptying out the cabinets, it may become clearer as you examine her other favorite activities, that she is developing her sorting skills and fine motor control.
Or, the developmental purpose of the activity may not be clear to you. It will become clearer with practice. For now, just know that EVERYTHING your child does has a purpose. Rather than battling this innate drive, redirect it in a positive, desirable way.
Designate a kitchen cabinet or drawer that is appropriate for exploration. Create an activity that might mimic this process, such as moving objects (spoons, for example) from one container to another.
Maybe your child is older and is showing different levels of zing.
You might discover a language zing. Is your child asking about letters and sounds constantly? Or maybe she is trying to read every road sign. Play games with sounds and letters everywhere and all of the time! For example, play “I spy something that starts with the sound “s”. Or play call-and-response games with rhyming words, words that start with the same sound, or words that end with the same sound. Play these in the car, in the grocery store, at home, waiting in line, waiting at a stop light.
Is your child always talking about numbers and wanting to count? Wonderful!! She has landed in a number zing. Count everything. Count the stairs as you climb, count the green cars on the road, count the grapes for snack.
When you feed the focus, your child feels understood and respected, which results in less resistance and greater harmony. Don’t worry that you can’t maintain this level of commitment. Each zing passes very quickly and they are on to a new focus.
Feed the zing and you will experience less resistance! Guaranteed.
Emily Geizer is a preschool teacher, mother of two, and author of Child Perspective. Child Perspective is a one-stop-shop for parenting information. You’ll find many useful tips there and an invitation to join the free e-course, A Crash Course in Mindful Parenting.
Thank you Emily for sharing your insights and “Zings” with us!!