Parenting my Toddler
For about four solid months, since Laura was 12-13 months old, we've seen her strong will come out in unsurprisingly large doses. From the moment I met this little girly, I knew two things: she is smart...and she is determined (I won't say stubborn because I think that can have a misleading connotation.) Laura has always been observant and quick to learn something just by seeing it once or twice. When she sees something she wants to do or have, she is hard to steer in another direction.
For a few weeks in the summer I was losing my cool on my toddler. I would need to step away for a moment to gather my thoughts so I could figure out how to get Miss Independent to go in the direction I needed instead of the one she so adamantly wanted. I used to refer to Laura, semi-jokingly, as a Stewie Griffin wanna-be. I truly thought once or twice that she meant to inflict some sort of pain or angst on me. Then I had an "AHA moment" when someone in Target saw one of Laura's few public outbursts. This cashier said to me, "Oh Mommy, she's not doing this to torture you." Had this random stranger read my mind? Was it obvious that I was thinking my child had it out for me? Then I thought about the woman's statement when I got home some more. Was it even possible for a little toddler to plot evil??
I believe the answer is no. (Note: that is not saying children are not sinful. They are. They will make mistakes. They will sin. They will do the opposite of what God wants.) Laura has little to no impulse control. Granted she's come a long way in the "No touch" department but she still needs to be taught. Laura cannot possibly have enough higher order thinking to twiddle her tiny little thumbs whilst plotting ways to make me fume. It's just not possible. Can she know that I don't want her to touch the Christmas tree and choose to do in anyway? Yup, definitely. But the problem lies with believing her motivation is to make me angry or sass me. (Note: yes, she's sassy. When I say sassy, I mean spunky, silly, pushing of boundaries sometimes.) Her underlying intention is not to get under my skin or deliberately go against what I ask of her. No, she simply sees something shiny and pretty (Hence her constant, "Wow!" when she sees the tree!). She hasn't learned that instant gratification is not going to be the way she rolls for the rest of her life. No toddler at the wee age of 12 to 20+ months can think on the higher level in order to say to himself or herself, "Wow, if I touch this tree, it will make mommy really, really mad and I want to get back at her." It's absolutely absurd that in my transition to Stay-at-Home Mommyhood that this thought even entered my mind. I know child development better than that.
Making this realization has changed my daily relationship with my daughter. I no longer view her as a tiny human who's out to get me (Bwahaha, that makes me laugh to even think that I used to believe that...). Rather she is a tiny human who needs to be taught impulse control through redirection, modeling, and most of all grace & love. When Laura grabs Pepper's tail and pulls I say, "No pulling, be gentle." I take her hand and physically show her what gentle means. She's grasped it totally. When I am on my game enough to remind her before she gets to Pepper to be gentle, she's golden. When Laura does pinch or pull, she needs grace. I don't hold it against her. She's still learning to stop that part of baby brain that is saying, "Grab! Grab! Grab!" When she goes up to Pepper and uses gentle hands with, or even better, without a reminder she gets props from me!
A teacher who evaluated me once told me to keep an index card with me through one day. I was to mark a "-" sign every time I was getting after a student. I was to make a "+" sign every time I gave legitimate praise, props, kudos for students making good choices. I was shocked to see how overall negative I was in my classroom. The same applies in my home. If I am just constantly negative and on my child's case for every mistake she makes, we are absolutely miserable. It's like Laura can do no right. What kind of grace-filled parenting is that? It doesn't work well in our home. Laura thrives on being told she did a good job. Note: I am not throwing a party or planning a parade for every good choice my daughter makes. No it's simply, a "Thank you!" or "Good job putting away your toys!" It is amazing how much she smiles and has a better attitude when I am more positive and remember to say thank you. A lot of how Laura's day goes depends on my attitude, not the other way around. If I'm uber crabby, she will definitely push the boundaries more. Kids can be affected by negativity around them faster than you can blink. When Laura's having a rough day, most likely I'm the one who needs an attitude adjustment. I need to remember she's a small toddler, a young little child, who needs things put simply, in few words, and more positive talk than pointing out every nit-picking little mistake she makes.
Our house is a much more loving house when I remember how Laura needs teaching. She needs modeling. She needs her Mommy to remember that it really is as simple as she sees something she wants and can barely stop herself from going for it at this age (Note again: she is NOT out to get me or doing things intentionally against me.) She needs positive encouragement when she's doing something well. She needs grace and forgiveness (Note: She does NOT need a stigma that she is sassy or deliberately naughty. Those are hard parental mindsets to change.)
Remembering these ideas from my teaching days has made my parenting so much less of a struggle. My "classroom" on most days is a happy learning environment now. I enjoy the opportunities to help Laura learn impulse control and patience. Yes, there are times where I struggle to remember the paragraph above, but overall life is much easier for both of us when I do. When I view Laura's personality as determined instead of sassy, I have much more positive interactions with her. When I strive to show love and grace over a stern hand and loud voice, Laura thrives.
Help me to every day, throughout the day, show unconditional love and grace toward Laura. Forgive me for the times when I think the blessing You've given me is "out to get me." Redirect me back towards positive, grace-filled parenting when I stumble. Give me patience to repeatedly show & model patience to Laura. Thank you for the woman in Target who stopped me from going down a bad parenting path. You always know what I need.
In Jesus' name, Amen.