I told Grace the other day, Do you know I love you all the time? Even when you are mad, angry, or super silly? I love you when you listen and when you don’t listen. I love you even when I am yelling at you and when you make a mess. I told her this at bedtime. My husband then tag teamed and went in for songs and stories. After he got the kids down, he told me that Grace told him, Dad, I love you even when you’re angry. I wonder where she got that from?
I told this to Grace at bedtime as I don’t ever want her to think she has to earn my love. In the hours before this particular bedtime, I had been having a hard time controlling myself in response to some of her three-year-old antics. I wanted to remind her that there is nothing she can do that impacts how much I love her. No matter how frustrated I feel, I love you all the same.
Shame, blame and guilt
Brene Brown talks a lot about the negative impact of shame, blame and guilt. As a result, I’m trying to be more mindful of my language with my kids. One way I attempt to steer clear of shame is by focusing on their choices. Their choices may be extremely unsafe or unkind, but this does not make them unsafe or unkind people. This might sound like, When you put your hands on your sister, you are making an unsafe choice but YOU are a safe and kind boy. I do this for a few reasons. 1. I believe all people are inherently good, just human and therefore prone to making mistakes, 2. I want them to see me, and other people this same way, and 3. I want them to see themselves as good people.
Positive self image
From my work as a teacher, one of the hardest challenges in the classroom is helping kids develop a positive self image. Helping them believe they are capable of being successful. The last thing I want for my kids is for them to think that their mistakes define them. From personal experience, berating myself and engaging in negative self talk are not generally productive. Showing myself self compassion and acknowledging I am human helps me bounce back much more quickly when mistakes arise.
This is why it’s so important to paint them the way you want them to be. Telling them what they are as opposed to what they are not — even if they are not in that moment. You are a good listener. You are a caring big brother. You are someone who uses their manners – you simply made a mistake.
I often remind myself of this after I have started down the shame path. For example, if one of my kids isn’t listening, I find myself harping on the fact that they aren’t listening. Then I catch myself and try and pivot. If I am spending my time and energy telling them how terrible they are at listening, all they have to do is continue to not listen to meet that expectation. Essentially, I am setting them up to fail. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy for both of us. Instead, I try and shift my language in the moment and say, You are an excellent listener. You made a mistake. Let’s fix it and make it right. I know how focused you are on keeping yourself and everyone around you safe.
On the one hand, it feels a bit odd to be telling them this when their body is anything but safe. However, on the other hand, it’s exactly what they need to hear. In that moment, they need a cheerleader. They need someone to believe in them. They need me to highlight what they are capable of, even though they are currently struggling.
Touching my heart
One strategy that has helped me shift my words and energy is simply touching my heart. While I feel myself yelling and getting upset with my kids, touching my heart is the cue — I love you even when you don’t listen. The other day, Grace kicked over a cup of water (mess – my enemy!) While I started down a path I wasn’t proud to be on, I saved myself by touching my heart. I love you even when you make a mess. Touching my heart which was just the reminder I needed to keep perspective. Continue to peg her as someone who always makes messes? Or highlight her strengths? I reminded her that she is an excellent problem solver and really good at cleaning.
The water was spilled on the floor either way. What was in my control were the words that could come out of my mouth. And these words have the power to help, or to harm. Finding ways to empower my kids, help them learn from their mistakes, and engage in positive self talk are missed opportunities if I let my emotions get the best of me. I love you even when you make a mess was just the message we both needed to hear.