Today, I had a terrible argument with my 2-year old daughter. Our first real fight. She didn’t want to get dressed to go to the kindergarten, I was really late to a meeting, and my patience quickly eroded as I tried every peaceful approach I could think of, losing my temper completely 15 minutes into the fruitless attempts. We were at a checkmate: the angrier I got, the more stubborn and nervous she became. I felt helpless, frustrated, and out of control, when I shouted at her, threw the cloths on the floor, and put her into the crib to reflect on her behavior, as I stepped out of the room to take a breath.
When I came back, I was crying, ashamed of how I had treated her, sad at how out of control I felt, and quietly apologized to her, telling her i´ll never do that again. After reflecting on my words, she extended her arms to embrace me, told me she forgives me, as we both held each other for while. Then I told her she could take her time and get dressed when she felt more comfortable. We got ready in less than 2 minutes and left holding hands, smiling at each other.
But my heart felt heavy as I reflected on what had happened. I have my busy life to attend to, but what about her? As a child, she is still very tuned to her sensations, physical needs, learning through her experiences. She was still sleepy, and wanted to rest. I didn’t offer any options, I just told her what we Had to do. Is that what I want to teach my child? Do I want her to grow up thinking life is an obligation and a set of appointment that have to be kept and one has no choice but to follow them blindly?
Finding balance between discipline and compassion is not an easy task, especially when you are first-time parent. It also doesn’t help having a very self-assured, independent toddler. On the one hand, you want to teach your little ones to respect rules and discipline. On the other, instilling a sense of independence, awareness of own physical and emotional needs, and encouraging them to question are skills far more important for their emotional and psychological well-being.
Yet the things that most bothered me about the situation, was my aggressive reaction to her resistance. Sure, I just shouted and got upset, but inside I was boiling. In a world that is full of senseless anger, frustration, and violence, I was creating a situation that was planting a seed, no matter how small, of aggression and resentment in my own child and myself.
I cant say I´ll never get angry at her again. But I did make a promise today: to always give my child the attention and benefit of the doubt, to take a deep breath, step into her shoes, and put things in a perspective before taking any action. Over and over, I have prove that the direct ´we have to do this´ approach, not only is not productive, but can escalate into stressful and at times traumatizing experiences for both sides. No matter how busy and fast-paced our lives might be, we should give our little ones an invitation to join us and not an order. It will help us in upbringing healthier, happier children, and ultimately, to rebuild a more tolerant and less violent society.
Never did Ghandi´s quote resonate so much with my feelings: ´If you want to see the change in the world, start with yourself. ´