Emi will be turning two in less than two weeks and has been in the midst of toddlerhood for a few months now. Her autonomy and self-realization are in full swing, and for the most part, I love it. As much as it frustrates me that every task has the ability to turn into a battle (no matter how much I try to avoid power struggles with her) I feel so proud of her when she uses her voice. “No thank you, Mommy. Emi doesn’t want kisses.” Maybe it’s not your first response to be happy to hear these words from your child, but I am finding a happiness in it. I am happy that she feels confident and comfortable enough to say no. That she is not only direct, but also polite also makes me happy. I find so much joy in her development it outshines my dismay at being rejected. Emi is finding herself in her words, in the power her little voice holds. It is my job to encourage her sense of self and self-worth because it’s as important now as it will ever be.
At the same time that I need to foster her new-found independence, I am also trying to balance teaching her how to be a contributing member of our family. We are all individuals living under the same roof and it’s each of our responsibilities to be considerate and helpful to each other. While we all have the ability to make choices about the things we will and won’t do, we have to realize that with those choices come responsibility and consequence. It’s important to me that she learns to take pride in contributing; to be responsible and dependable as well as independent and confident.
This weekend she had her first “time-out” in which I wasn’t there explaining things to her. I asked her to pick up her markers so I could vacuum the floor and she looked me straight in the eyes and said, “No.” We had been going back and forth for a few hours, her pushing limits to see where it got her and me trying to stay calm and in control while feeling very frustrated. I told her if she wasn’t going to pick up her markers she would sit on the couch until she could listen and help out with the chores. She was ANGRY. I know this because she repeatedly screamed it at me. “Emi is MAD! Emi is MAAADD!” as she kicked and screamed on the couch. For the first time I didn’t engage her. I didn’t need to tell her how she was feeling, so I didn’t say anything at all. I calmly picked up the mess, finished vacuuming the floor and shut off the vacuum. She had stopped screaming and was sitting there waiting for my next reaction.
“Are you ready to listen, now?”
Now please put that back in the bathroom while I finish cleaning up.”
“Thank you, Baby. I appreciate your help.”
Over the last two years I have done my best to tailor my parenting to her physical, mental, and emotional development. First as an overwhelmed, overstimulated newborn, then to a curious and contemplative baby, and now a strong-willed and independent toddler. I have followed my heart and my gut with her, being considerate to her emotions while trying to meet her needs. Emotionally, she is now able to grasp her feelings and vocalize them. “Emi is upset! Emi is hurt! Emi is mad! Emi is sad!” She feels these things the strongest and vocalizes them the most, but she’s understanding the more subtle feelings now too. This weekend she crawled onto my back (I was lying on the floor) kissed the back of my head and whispered in my ear, “Emi loves Mommy.” It was heart-melting, but it was also an indication that she was really starting to understand the emotions that had been overwhelming her for the last few months.
To me, this is a key in helping her to understand cause and effect, self-control, and consequences. Until now I’ve been narrating everything, “You are upset. You want to plug the cord into the outlet. The outlet is dangerous and can hurt you. I won’t let you play with it.” Now I can let her try to understand her emotions on her own, hopefully being her guide when she needs it. I believe that to learn control, you have to understand consequences. It’s important to be clear about what is acceptable behaviour and what I expect from her. It’s also important to teach her that she is more than her emotions. Discipline to me isn’t about punishment, it’s about self-control. To be disciplined in something means you have taken the time to practice, to get better, and to be in control of it. I don’t know anyone as disciplined as my husband, I see it as a positive trait to have and I want my daughter to embody it as much as her father does.
Something you will never hear me say to her is that she has been bad. She can’t correct bad, bad isn’t an action. She is not bad and I will not put that idea into her head. Correcting behaviour is important, but it’s only effective if she knows what she has to correct. It’s not a one size fits all approach to development. I feel that she is not only ready, but understanding of this approach. She doesn’t want to be left out and sitting on the couch while I finished cleaning was not as enjoyable to her as helping me would have been. She wanted to help, she just wanted to do it her way. That’s fine, but it was her mess to clean up and in the future I expect her to pick up after herself. This is our first step towards expectations and understandings between us and it was still gentle and respectful, but this time she actually had more control. She had the ability to calm herself down and make a decision on how she wanted to proceed instead of me telling her what was going to happen next. I was proud of how she handled it and I made sure she knew that. I want our family to function as a team as much as it can, I believe her voice is just as important as mine or my husband’s, and this is our journey to getting there.