Awhile back it became clear to me that I needed to make a change. I was grumpy and frustrated all day and spending way too much time yelling at Zoey. Neither of us was having fun and neither of us was behaving well. The more I yelled, the worse Zoey behaved. Everyone was unhappy. There were days when I felt like the only word I said all day was, “No.” and the only thing I did was constantly put Zoey in time-out. Whatever it was we were doing (and I clearly had no idea what I was doing) it wasn’t working. Then, one day, I stumbled across this:
Wow. That really hit home. I was quite literally expecting and demanding perfection from Zoey every day. From a two year old! In my attempt to be a “good mom” and teach my daughter manners, I was instead trying to squash everything curious and creative and silly and wonderful about her little toddler self and mold her into a robot that always behaves in an impeccable and predictable way. I don’t think you need me to tell you just how well that went.
When I read this quote I had an “Aha!” moment of realizing that the problem wasn’t Zoey – it was me. I needed to change how I was doing things. So I did. I made an active choice to try giving her freedom to make more messes, to just play and be a kid, to make choices for herself whenever possible. I spoke to her calmly and explained the reasons behind my requests. “Yes Zoey, we do need to brush our teeth every day because…” I validated her emotions. “I understand that it’s really hard to leave the park. It’s a lot of fun here, isn’t it?” I set expectations for behavior before scenarios where I knew it could be a problem. “We’re going to go grocery shopping and because Ellie will be riding in the cart, that means you get to walk, Zoey. Which means I need you to remember to be a good listener and to not grab things. Can you do that?” I also started to choose my words more carefully. Phrases like “poor listening” replaced “bad listener” as I realized that Zoey was interpreting my words as she was bad, rather than the behavior being bad.
I also pretty much did away with time outs (in the traditional sense) and started enforcing more effective consequences. The key was letting Zoey know what the consequence would be beforehand and then explaining to her that she had a choice in how things would play out. For example, when she would start to show resistance at getting her pajamas on for bedtime I would tell her, “If you don’t put your pajamas on now, we are not going to have time for stories before bed. It’s your choice.” In the beginning I had to follow through with my threats pretty often, but now she almost always makes the right choice. And we talk about that too – about how she could have made a better choice and maybe next time she will, or how proud I am of her for making a good choice. That’s something else I do a lot more of now too – noticing her good behavior and complementing her on it, telling her I’m proud of her and what a big girl she is.
This was no small feat. It did not happen overnight. It takes a LOT of patience and practice to completely change the way you parent. For quite awhile I was constantly fighting against my reflex reactions. It was exhausting, but it has been worth it a thousand times over. Yes, my daughter does still argue and act out and cause trouble sometimes. She’s two. It’s expected. Overall though, she is a much more agreeable and cooperative and, most importantly, happier child now. We’re all happier. I just had to stop and think about the world from her point of view for a change.
Photo taken from Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond.