When my son was about 2 and a half, he was helping me with some gardening in the yard on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and I realized how much he loves nature and the outdoors. It also occurred to me that if he had faced a choice of sitting inside playing with toys versus being outside with me, there is little doubt which one he would have chosen – helping me outside with the gardening!
He started to make a mess of things, though. The organic soil I paid extra for was being spilled all over the yard. Sometimes only about half of each scoop would make it to the pot he was aiming for. And of course plenty was getting all over his clothes as well.
At times I would have an impulse to cry out to him, ‘Hey, be more careful!’ or ‘Watch where you’re putting the dirt!’ But, I didn’t want to ruin the fun he was having either, so for the most part I just watched as he did it on his own.
As I watched and observed, I got to thinking, where does this impulse reaction come from? How could anyone get upset and stressed over a child trying to help his dad in the garden? ‘Lighten up!’ I told myself. And I did, and we both had a great time together.
Sometimes we have to sit back and let children be themselves. Let them help as best they can, guiding and gently correcting here and there. When we become overbearing and stressed, they feel the stress too and it starts to trigger how they feel, then everyone gets upset.
The big aha moment I had on this day was that the upset starts with me! Not with him, not with the way he’s doing things. And if I can’t manage my own upset moments, how can I ever show him how to manage his?
Parents sometimes just have to back off, trust that their child isn’t a “terrible” two or a monster of a toddler (or pre-schooler, or a horrible person at any age). We need to start with trusting that they will learn on their own how the world works, and they don’t need our distressed cries and panicked outbursts along the way. In fact, our upset emotional outbursts don’t do anyone any good. The key to great parenting is taking control over our own attitudes first.