Several nights ago I sent my 2 ½ year old upstairs to put her pajamas on. She is at the age where she really wants to do things by herself. “I do it, I do it, I DO IT!!” is her mantra and so as often as possible, and as long as her safety is not an issue, I let her do things on her own.
In the temperament of many first-borns (myself included) she can tend to be a little stubborn about things. She often wants to put her own clothes on, buckle her own seat belt, she even insists on cracking her own eggs into a bowl when we are making breakfast (a messy habit that my husband started!) and so I let her do many of these things. The problem is, at 2 ½ she has the desire to do them, but often not the skill set to complete the task properly without becoming frustrated.
On this particular night I watched her walk upstairs and listened carefully to see what would develop. Sure enough, within three minutes I heard, “AHHHHHHHHH. MOMMY. AHHHHHHHHH. Whimper, Whimper, Whimper. ARGHHHHHHHHHH!” In typical 2-year-old fashion she has gone from happy to tantrum in 60 seconds and was screaming and crying at a very high decibel.
“Oh boy,” I said to my husband as I rolled my eyes with a smirk and walked upstairs. Though it sounded as if she were in dire trouble I knew she was really just frustrated about something she couldn’t do.
As I walked into her room I had to hold back my laughter as I found her on the floor. In an attempt to take her shirt off, she had managed to pull the bottom of the shirt over her head and around the back of her neck with both of her arms still in the sleeves. She was screaming at me with her arms locked in her shirt and struggling to pull it off.
I calmly walked over to hear, pulled her towards me and gently helped her get her shirt off. She was still crying.
“Honey, you have to be patient with yourself. You don’t need to cry and get frustrated. Just say, ‘mommy I need some help’ in a nice voice’ and I’ll be right here. Alright?”
“Uh-huh,” she whimpered in her saddest voice.
We finished putting on her pj’s and got her to bed. Even though the situation only lasted a few minutes I found myself wondering, “How do I teach a 2 year old that it is not necessary to get so frustrated so quickly? That there are more reasonable ways of reacting and working through such a situation?”
But as I asked myself the question I knew that part of the answer had to do with modeling such behavior. How often during the day do I get frustrated about small things?
Even when she is not watching, how often do I get frustrated with myself and throw personal temper tantrums about not exercising enough, about not being organized, about not writing more, or cleaning more or being able to find my pediatrician’s phone number or even my car keys instantly. Being a mom of two small children is a period that poses great challenges to my time, to my organizational skills, etc. and yet I tend to be really hard on myself about things I think I should be able to do, but realistically cannot do at this period of my life.
Being a mom leaves me regularly listening to the advice I give my daughter and wondering if my actions are matching up with my words. She may need to learn to be more patient with herself in the small tasks that she is doing, but so do I.
So I’m trying to be a mother to myself. To say, “Lisa, you have to be patient with yourself. You don’t need to cry and get frustrated. Ask for help, but also realize that with the best of intentions come limitations.” So that the next time I have a shirt stuck over my head I can model a more rational response, laughter perhaps, but certainly patience—something that reminds myself and shows my daughter that we need to learn to be nice to ourselves and that acting like a 2 year old doesn’t really get us anywhere!