I will be the first to admit my toddler is a spirited child. He is dramatic, determined, and incredibly strong-willed. I have endured my fair share of grocery store tantrums, kitchen meltdowns, and even a few fits when it was time to leave the park because of all of the aforementioned qualities. We have been on the receiving end of dirty looks in the midst of an outburst, and I have had other mamas look at me with nothing but sympathy in their eyes while I carried him surfboard style out of Wal-Mart. My handsome little boy with big brown eyes is many things, but what he is not, is “bad”.
I have had multiple people tell me that what my son needs is a good spanking. We have heard that we don’t tell him no enough, we need to be harder on him, and had people insinuate that my husband and I aren’t in control if they had the pleasure of witnessing my son at his worst. Why continue to spank him if it doesn’t correct a problem? Why yell at him if he responds better to kind communication? Why break his spirit because of something you witnessed when he was simply having a bad day?
Why does a three-minute interaction with my two-year-old mean that he is inherently “bad”?
We used to think maybe people were right. Maybe we weren’t disciplining him enough. We tried all sorts of things; taking toys away, time out, yelling, even spanking. None of the old school parenting hacks were working for us. Everything we were doing actually seemed to be hurting, instead of helping. Finally, we stopped doing those things. Instead, we got on his level. We spoke to him in stern, but even tones. We redirected him when he was doing something he shouldn’t. We treated him as exactly what he is: a person, not property. He is not something to be controlled, but rather someone to be guided and nurtured.
We starting showing him how much we adored all of the wonderful things about him, and it works. Of course we still adored those same things before, but now rather than getting the negative attention we thought would deter him from negative behavior, he felt loved and respected instead of being made to feel bad about himself.
We as adults have bad days. I have witnessed people older than I am throw tantrums in coffee shops. I have watched adults berate cashiers for something out of their control. I have been mortified by the behavior of people who should know so much better, but do so much worse. These are the same people who see a small child crying over a toy their mama will not buy, upset because it is time to leave the park, or frustrated because he didn’t take his nap today and label them as “bad”. What they are actually seeing is a child who wants so badly to be self-reliant, discouraged because he needs so much help. What they are actually bearing witness to is a little person who is confused in a world made for all of the big people around him.
We still endure a grocery store tantrum now and then. We still have to take a toy away from time to time. There are days I lose my cool and yell. Thankfully though, we have found a way to help our son and help ourselves. He no longer feels like we are trying to limit his spirit, and we know how to better teach our son. I don’t ever expect him to be perfect; Lord knows I’m not. Everyone has bad days, that doesn’t mean we are bad people. My son is dramatic, determined, and strong-willed. One day I know that those qualities will come in handy for him, and I love those things about him. He is also passionate, loving, funny, and oh so smart.
He is learning. He is two. What he is not, is “bad”.