M was being a toddler, as usual…
He was pulling things out of the fridge, and was a step away from destroying a dozen eggs.
He was climbing onto the table, and nearly deleted many hours’ work on a blog post.
He was doing everything besides for playing nicely.
I was chasing him, diverting him, and distracting him, while trying to get some work done.
And then, it happened. He took something of his father’s, that he has been told not to play with many times, and started banging it on the floor. I panicked. Another moment and it will break, and my husband will not be too pleased.
As moms, we sometimes say things out of panic, that are far from thought-out and helpful. We say what immediately comes to mind, and not what logic or ideals tell us to say.
“Daddy will be so mad —” I started to say.
I stopped. It was all wrong.
Daddy, the fun Dad who swings him in the air, whom he hardly sees during the day. Daddy, whose arrival home is always greeted with squeals of delight. Daddy, who is not and should not be a threatening figure, rather a loving father who is excited to see his son in turn.
“Daddy will be so sad if you play with that,” I said.
He looked up at me, and I made a sad face. He handed me the forbidden object.
Granted, this doesn’t always work. I don’t even know to what extent he read my words, or how much of it was “just” body language.
But in that moment of discipline, my entire perspective changed. Instead of parenting with fear and intimidation, changing that “mad” to “sad” taught him about the consequences of doing something insensitive. It taught him of the natural negative effect his actions would have. “Don’t do something that will make Daddy sad. Because you love him.”
We underestimate our children’s love for us. We underestimate their regret at our sincere disappointment. And we underestimate our own ability to use that as a tool to point our children in the right direction.
I notice how M nearly breaks down every time I make a sad face at him. Those few times that I myself broke down in front of him, he looked like he was going to cry soon. In that moment, I helped him learn how to be sensitive and NOT make people cry – on a toddler level.
I learned to teach him to listen out of empathy , not out of fear of punishment.
We all know that parenting out of anger is wrong. So why should we allow our children to think that’s what we’re doing?
I am still a young parent. While I may have been very involved in taking care of my younger siblings, and spent summers and evenings in child care, I still have so much to learn.
But this simple letter switch most definitely changed my perspective on discipline.
We’re not mad. We’re sad. We’re disappointed because we love our child. We are unhappy because we know our child can do better. The result that I hope for: a desire to do good, and not a power struggle.
I hope and pray every day that my child will be a good person, that he’ll know right from wrong. And that I should know it too, when it comes to parenting my child.
We can be sad when our children misbehave. But, let’s not be mad.
It’s not so much about the letter itself. It’s about the perspective that comes along with it.
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