on the same side

Now that baby Chad is becoming a toddler (and is almost one!), I am more attuned to what it’s like to be a mom of a toddler, because I think to a point you block parts of it out…

So when I’m around colleagues (meaning other moms) with toddlers, I am reminded of how exasperating it can feel to raise a toddler.  When it’s most pertinent to keep perspective, it’s hardest to!  When would that be?  Oh, how about in the middle of:

arched back-dead weight-head tossed–SCREAMING defiance…

can you say: “melt down” ???

At such times, it’s sometimes hard to remember as a mom that you’re on your kid’s side. It’s easier to feel embarrassed, overwhelmed, annoyed, and–you get the picture.

What we absolutely must try to keep in mind, however, is that I believe empathy and compassion go further at such times.  Is the child being stubborn and sinful?  Undoubtedly.  What does God do when we sin?  He forgives.  Shouldn’t we also gently, patiently, and calmly respond to our child?  As irrational as he or she may be at the moment, sharp words will only ostracize you from your child, placing distance between, when what the child needs is to be drawn lovingly close.

What does that look like, though?  Does a tantrumming child allow himself to be instantly soothed by a hug?…Not often…not in my experiences, anyway.  That’s where the patience comes into play.  And maybe the child does need some space–but the space should be physical, not emotional.  Hang in there and see the turbulence through even if you have to take a couple steps away. 

With some kids, giving an audience to their tantrum just makes it drag out longer.  So, maybe you have to turn sideways and make it clear that you’re not gawking.  Some children may even get over it all quickest if you go about your business and ignore it entirely.  That’s fine.  My point is, though, how easy it can be to want to nip the situation in the bud and get all bent out of shape when that doesn’t happen.  It’s also common to make threats of time-outs or early bedtimes, and even if you follow through, is that really the best approach?

Different personalities respond so drastically, but I have found over the years with my third child that when I display empathy he recovers  SO quickly.  All I have to do is say things like, “This is hard for you.  You feel so frustrated.  I’m sorry that you’re having a hard time.  I love you.” Very quickly his “big” feelings almost always start to fade away. 

Does that mean that I ignore the bad choices he’s made?  No…but I recognize that we won’t get very far with anything until he’s calmed down, and–at least with him–my loving responses get us to the place where we can learn from what’s happened.  Obviously, the older the child, the more you can get from it.  But I often find that it’s really unnerving for a child to be so out of control!  It’s not just the parents feeling that way!  That’s where staying calm and compassionate is so beneficial.

I don’t consistently stay calm and compassionate.  None of us can.  Even so, it’s good to be reminded…and so, as I gear up for toddlerhood all over again, I’m reminding myself via this post. 

Discipline can be a loving action, too…but we must be careful about how we administer it.  What is our tone of voice?  The expression on our face?  Our stance?  Are we primarily focused on “being the boss” and not a “pushover”, or are we aiming to be someone our children can come to when life feels out-of-control?  Surely that’s our goal, isn’t it?  We look ahead to the scary life situations teenagers are faced with and we pray that they would feel comfortable coming to us.  I believe that we lay the framework for that all those years beforehand, and that’s why this is meant to encourage positive parenting.

Today I received some criticism from my little one’s “parent educator” from a free public Birth to Five program.  She basically feels like our family is hindering his development by babying him.  I didn’t realize that she had planted surveillance so as to gather a 100% accurate picture of how life is for him!  Well, she didn’t–and even though she’s probably acutely perceptive with her years of experience, there are factors she isn’t taking into account.

Do I disregard all of her words today?  No.  I did take some of it to heart.  OK, I took all of it to heart (and was pretty conscience stricken for a while), but after some reflection and encouragement from colleagues I realized that part about good things going on that she isn’t seeing. 

In general, in any aspect of life, criticism is hard to take.  Some times it’s hard to give…but maybe altogether too often it’s hard NOT to give.  A judgmental tone or hypocritical comment can leave a sting and not it’s intended lesson, whereas a soft-spoken word may be much more impacting.

If I could do a study, I would like to see the effects of positive feedback.  If we could specifically, routinely tell someone about the good they’ve done (or are doing), they can be left to reflect on that which was not mentioned.  “She said that my floor looked great and my shelf was really tidy!  🙂  I wonder why she didn’t say that my bed sheets look smooth?  I guess they don’t look so smooth.  Come to think of it, my closet doesn’t look so great, either.” 

Or, “My friend mentioned how patient I was when my son didn’t want to leave.  She’s always so kind to let me know when she notices something that struck her.  Boy, did he have a meltdown earlier, though!  She didn’t say anything about that…and I wasn’t feeling so patient at the time.  I think I probably rolled my eyes and sighed at least three times.  Yeah, that wasn’t the best response…”

OK, maybe I’m being overly idealistic now, but it’s interesting to think about, anyway.  While we certainly don’t want to overlook wrongdoing, is there a better way to respond to it than sharp discipline?  Can we be firm in our resolve to be gentle and compassionate, instead? 

How could that change the picture?

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