As any parent of a toddler knows, patience is a virtue. However, we also know that patience is sometimes the first thing to go, especially on those particularly challenging days. But when we let that patience slip, it begins a vicious cycle. You see, toddlers follow their parent’s lead. When you lose patience with your toddler, you begin to see a spike in your toddler’s own impatience, which then leads back in to your own frustration, and it goes on an on.
One time when my girls were much younger, I woke up with a headache. That’s always the worst time to have a headache, or any kind of pain for that matter, when you first wake up, because that is the one time of the day where you should be able to count on feeling refreshed, bright-eyed and bushy tailed. In any case, this particular morning, my body was deciding not to cooperate with me. Then on top of that, my younger daughter, Nai, was teething, and, Isy, my toddler, was having what I will call a ‘spirited’ day. I had already put some teething gel on Nai’s gums, and was now bouncing her on my hip trying to get her to calm down. Isy chose that particular moment to start running around my legs in some frenzied orbit, while screaming her ABCs at the top of her lungs. It was just too much all at once. I took a deep breath and I calmly asked Isy to use her inside voice and slow down. You would have thought I had just told the world’s funniest joke, because she went on to remix her ABCs with this high pitched, maniacal giggle. I took another deep breath and said, “Isy, I am going to count to three, if you are not using your inside voice, and if your little butt is not sitting on the floor, you’re going on time-out.” But it was too late, she had worked herself up the way that toddler’s do and it was as if my words were trying to permeate a giant orb surrounding her.
Then I snapped. I yelled (actually, by that point it was probably more like screech). “SIT DOWN ON THIS FLOOR RIGHT NOW AND DON’T YOU MAKE A SOUND, DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?!?” All at once the little bubble around her popped and she froze. She looked up and me and said, “Yes mommy,” and sat down on the floor. At first I thought, Thank God, I got through to her, but then I looked at her face, and the guilt started to creep up. There’s nothing like seeing sadness in your child’s eyes. Some people can’t stand to see their children cry, and while I agree that that’s no picnic, I feel far worse when Isy doesn’t shed a single tear, but I can still see pain on her face. It looks like a sadness that she should be far too young to feel. Knowing that I’m the one that’s caused that sadness is pretty close to unbearable.
Later that day I was sitting in the kitchen feeding Nai in her high chair and Isy was playing in her room. I kept thinking I heard someone yelling, but I figured it was coming from outside or down the hall. Finally, I sprinkled some Cheerios on Naomi’s tray to occupy her for a few moments and I headed down the hallway towards Isy’s room. I realized she was the one yelling… seemingly at someone, but there was no one else in the house. I tiptoed toward her door and peeked in the room. She was yelling at one of her dolls, and this is what she said, “NO! NO! DON’T YOU EVER, EVER AGAIN! DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?!?” My hand flew to my mouth. This is what I sound like to my child. I walked in and I asked her, “Baby, why are you talking to your doll like that?” and she said, “Because she’s misbehaving” I told her, ” It’s not nice to yell baby, I know mommy yells sometimes, but I shouldn’t. I’ll try not to yell so much, ok?” She said ok, and I though that was that, but it wasn’t. For the rest of the day, I noticed Isy had an extra short fuse. When she was playing with blocks, and one of the blocks fell, she knocked over the whole pile and scowled. While she is usually very patient with her baby sister, that day she just didn’t want to be bothered with her.
I wondered, could all of this have stemmed from me losing my patience with her earlier? And I honestly think it did. The same way that our children learn to walk and talk from us, they also learn how to behave from watching us. It is important that we be the best, not just parents, but people, that we can be because our children are always watching. We can’t expect them to do as we say and not as we do, because as cliche as it sounds, actions speak louder than words, and our children will follow our example.