“You have to wait, Mommy.”
My daughter looks into my eyes seriously as she asks me to wait for the tea she has served me to cool. We sit on the floor, having a tea party, along with her baby doll and Tigger, who sit near us at the kitchen table. Toy food and dishes are strewn across the floor, and she reaches for something to put in her play kitchen’s oven. It is adorable to watch her as she imitates both my words and actions.
“Beep. BEEP!” she yells with glee, pushing buttons and opening the door. She hands me my lettuce and cookie in a bowl as she shuts the oven door.
“You have to wait!”
I slowly sigh. It is endearing how she imitates my behaviors, but I also begin to understand her frustrations as she has to wait for Mommy to make her dinner. Or for Mommy to wash dishes. Do laundry. Whatever might be on my agenda. I try to involve my daughter as my “helper” in what I am doing, but I can tell when she wants my full attention. Which is why she sometimes waits for me patiently, other times not. She’s two, so it’s kind of a given.
My daughter has really been into imitating me and her father lately, whether it is repeating our words or copying our behaviors. She takes her baby doll’s temperature. Administers medicine to her stuffed animals. Gives her baby goodnight hugs and kisses. My favorite is when she pulls the kitchen chair over to her play kitchen so her baby can help her make dinner, just like she helps Mommy.
It is too cute and fun to see her apply what she is learning.
But it also causes me to step back and pause. Pay attention. Notice my own words and behaviors and how they may positively or negatively impact her view of herself and the world around her.
Let me be clear: I am not perfect. Nor do I expect myself to be. But I am aware of my shortcomings and know how I can be a more patient, grace-filled momma when the times get really frustrating.
If I want my daughter to imitate behaviors that are healthy, I need to make sure that I am reflecting the person I want her to be. As a mom, I want to be a positive role model and help her work through the frustrations of toddler life. Which is no small feat.
Here are a few things I do to be the positive person I want my daughter to imitate, which could also be applied to both younger and older children:
I take pause.
In the heat of a moment when my daughter is in full-on tantrum mode, or if she is being sassy and talking back, I take a deep breath. I put myself in her shoes. I think about why she is upset. And I recognize her feelings and show her that I am understanding how she feels. “You’re mad because you want to play and not get your diaper changed.” Or, “You want to ____ (fill in unsafe activity you’re saying no to).” Instead of instantly getting upset and escalating her tantrum, I show her I am listening.
I repeat what she says.
When she’s worked up, she needs to know that I am listening. Because most of the time she just wants my attention. “You want dinner. Dinner now.” Yes, it sounds silly, but then when she says, “Yeah,” then I know she is listening to me. And she knows I am listening to her. I follow up with, “You can’t eat right now; Mommy needs to make dinner.” I offer ways to help. “Do you want to help Mommy make dinner?” or “Do you want to snack on some carrots while you wait?” Yes, this scenario is easier than others. And most scenarios aren’t perfect. They usually involve tears. But I actively show her that I am listening, which shortens the tantrums. And I always offer a hug.
I validate her emotions.
No matter the circumstance, I help my daughter label her emotions and understand that they are healthy. Whether she is sad because she didn’t get something she wanted, scared from something that is loud, mad because I didn’t let her do something unsafe, or happy because she is doing something fun, I want her to know her emotions.
I even share with her my emotions. “Mommy is happy to be having a tea party with you.” Or, “Mommy gets scared from loud noises, too.” Or, “Mommy is mad because you are not listening.” I tell her it is okay to be mad, but I show her healthy ways to show her anger. “We don’t hit Mommy. Let’s count or stamp our feet to get our anger out.” When she acts up or does something like hit, I remove her from the situation, and we talk about why I stopped her. I may ask why she was mad. And I offer solutions. “How can Mommy help you?” or “Please show Mommy gentle touches.” I don’t expect her to completely understand, but my goal is to help her understand that her emotions are okay to have and show her healthy ways to express them.
I try to use positive language as much as possible.
You can’t always avoid a no, but you can avoid sending negative messages all the time. When I need to tell my daughter no or to stop doing something, I follow it up with a positive message or an explanation as to why. “We don’t stand on the rocking chair because you’ll fall and get hurt.” Or, “We aren’t having a snack right now because we are having dinner soon.”
Again, this isn’t perfect and doesn’t always fix the situation, but it helps my daughter cope more quickly than if I were to just yell, “No!” I try to involve my daughter as much as possible in my parenting. In other words, I want her to understand the meaning behind the discipline. I know she’s young and doesn’t get it right now, but eventually, she will.
Children, no matter the age, want to feel heard. Respected. It is our job as parents to discipline them in loving ways, to model behaviors we want them to live out. And that is why I am choosing to parent positively.
My goal is to be a mom who is present, who listens, and who helps my daughter to be able to understand her emotions and how to express them in healthy ways. And to teach her to be strong, resilient, and to have empathy for those around her. She is already recognizing when I am happy or sad, and she is starting to label her own emotions. She’ll offer me a hug when she knows I need it, and she’ll ask me for one when she is sad, scared, or upset. Because she knows I am there for her, I am present, and I will offer her love no matter what. And those are the behaviors I want her to see in me, to imitate, and to live out in her own life.