Until recently, I was under the misguided impression that I was a decent parent. But recently, my 3-year-old daughter has been... well... a handful. And that's putting it mildly.
Every time we collect Mabel from nursery, we learn that she's scratched, pushed, pinched, or bitten another child. At home, she'll be dancing merrily, then 10 seconds later she's furious - screaming, claws out, pouncing at the nearest person like a maternal lion protecting her cubs.
Mabel's recent behaviour has forced me to reflect on my role as a parent. I had to face the fact that, for Mabel's sake, a change of approach was needed.
So I ordered some parenting books.
The most useful so far has been How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen by Joanna Faber and Julie King. A more fitting name for the book might be How to Listen so Little Kids Will Talk.
Because it has helped me be more empathetic with Mabel and acknowledge her emotions - even when she's screaming, "YOU'RE NOT MY BEST FRIEND - MOMMY IS!"
For example, on one occasion, it was time for Mabel's midday nap. She did not want to go to sleep. When I asked Mabel to return to bed, she replied, "but I'm not tired, daddy!" and began to get frustrated with me for insisting that it was bed time.
In the past, I would have ignored her emotions, and simply said - "Mabel, it's sleep time - go back to bed, please," before picking her up and placing her back in bed (if necessary) - and ignoring her protests. This approach had worked reasonably well in the past. She seemed to respond well to my consistency - even if she didn't like it. But now, it was clear that my approach wasn't working - and was bad for Mabel.
So, following my newfound (but still relatively poor) understanding of toddler communication, I tried to put myself in Mabel's shoes.
"But I'm not tired, daddy."
Hmmm, why is she not tired? AH, I know, she's going to a birthday party this afternoon, so she's probably feeling excited.
"Mabel, are you excited about Betsy and Stanley's birthday party?" I asked.
"Yes," she replied.
"I see. Even though you know it's bed time, you are SO excited about going to the party that you don't want to go to sleep."
Mabel looked looked at me and paused (probably shocked that I was talking to her like this).
"I don't want to go to bed, daddy."
"I know - you're feeling really, really excited."
We went around like this a few times. And every time Mabel started to get more frustrated, I simply acknowledged and accepted her emotions.
Eventually, I said, "if you have a sleep now, when you wake up, you'll feel happier and we'll go straight to the party."
"But daddy, I'll miss the party."
OH! She's worried about missing party. Of course.
"Mabel, are you worried that you'll miss the party if you go to sleep?"
She nodded in response.
"Darling, the party won't start for a long time yet. If we go now, there won't be anybody there. We'll be the only people at the party. If you have a sleep first, we'll go to the party, and you won't miss anything. You'll see Betsy and Stanley. We'll play on the bouncy castle together."
Mabel nodded, lay down, and began drinking her bottle of milk - a pre-sleep ritual.
"I'll see you when I wake up baby. I love you."
And off to sleep she went.
Now, this took much longer than usual, it wasn't easy, and it wasn't a perfect example.
But I do think it was better for Mabel that I respected her emotions and helped her think the situation through.
I want to be the best parent I can be. I'm still learning what that actually looks like and how to make it happen. Hopefully, one day, I'll be able to help Mabel express her emotions in ways other than biting, scratching, and screaming. One day.
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