By Rosemary Strembicki
Spending a week with two 2-½ year olds can teach us lessons we’ve long ago lost sight of. Watching them fight over toys, chase after each other and revel in new experiences together can give us a view into our humanness, our own struggles against negative primal instincts and the innocence of youth. It made me wonder how we get from that state of unbridled passion to tempered emotions. How do we teach our children to consider others, wait their turn and be kind?
When toddles are locked in battle with all four hands on the same toy screaming, “It’s my turn!” how do we decide the best intervention? I’ve tried them all: “He had it first.” “Set the timer.” “Nobody can play with it if you can’t share.” “Work it out yourselves.” But each response sends a different message; possession prevails, wait long enough and you’ll get what you want, greed has its consequences, the stronger will prevail. But none of them teach kindness they’re just short term solutions to restore the peace. Although there’s very little peace when you’re living with two 2-½ year olds.
If kindness is a trait we want our children to embrace, we have to model it. We have to be conscious of how we treat others, what we say about them and how we respond when we’re hurt. The consequence of striking out in anger or “bad-mouthing” our friends only escalates the bad feelings and spreads them around instead of extinguishing them. But acting with kindness is sometimes the hardest response. And if we look hard enough we can see ourselves reflected in the antics of a toddler.
Our feelings and actions are so often a reflection of what we’ve experienced and learned as children. If we can observe their behaviors and learn something about ourselves we have a much better chance of identifying our values and passing them on to our children.
Here are five lessons I learned after reflecting on that wonderful, busy week with my grandchildren:
1. “I want it just because she has it.”
If we really consider what we need rather than what we want, we’ll probably do less harm to others and ourselves.
2. “I can have more fun with that than he can.”
Letting go of our judgment of how others live their lives (or use their toys) gives us more time to reflect on our own and make the proper adjustments.
3. “I’ll feel much better once I get what I want.”
Being grateful for what we have feels much better than lamenting about what we don’t have.
4. “If you help me get it I’ll stop crying.”
Relying on others for our own happiness robs us of the confidence to live our lives in a way meaningful to us.
5. “Everything will be better once I get what I want.”
There is always something that we’ll want more.
Often, the answers on how to raise our children lie within us. The actions that they witness are the most profound lessons they learn as they grow. Comparing our actions to those of our children may seem ridiculous, but may provide us with a deeper understanding of how we view the world and relate to others and with that understanding comes the answers on how to respond when our children are in conflict. My response might be different than yours but if they’re both informed and intentional responses they’re the right ones for our children.