So I had a rough day today and I lost my temper and in the process hurt the feelings of my little ones. After an unintentional emotional outburst and your four daughters are crying, how do you heal those little hearts who just got broken by what you have intentionally or unintentionally said or done? I’ve gone through so many of them by now and the first thing I always do is to check myself. I need to cool down and collect myself, feel the anger and confront it and ask myself why do I feel angry, and whether it is really that big a deal to make a hubaloo about? Sometimes I really need to walk away or tell my husband to deal with it, so I can step out of the situation to calm down. But always first things first, I need to check my feelings and if I did something hurtful to my daughters, I need to forgive myself and I even go as far as to meditate on how I can better control my anger when I am faced with an infuriating situation.
Then I move on to my daughters. By now I am good at using careful words like I am disappointed at their behaviour, or specifically what they did that upset me so much. We converse a bit and for my older toddler, I ask her how does she feel, what does she want to say, and then she apologises and then I apologise for hurting her feelings when I got angry. When I was younger, my parents often try to overcompensate by giving me a toy or food treat after they punished me because they feel guilty. I don’t do that with my daughters. Instead to heal our bond that was temporarily shaken by me losing my temper, I give it back in quality time and in affection. I will take time out to spend quality time with her whether it is sleeping together, reading a book together or playing together, to show her this is mum feeling sorry and she is still mum who loves you.
With the even littler ones who are still incapable of speech, they can sense something is wrong with tone and body language. And kids under three do not remember or hold grudges, so once you hug, kiss and play with them, all is immediately forgotten. Its the older toddlers who need more self-care and healing and more time to forgive.
The thing is toddlers push your buttons a lot and everyday. To escape the circular situation of getting angry, punishing and then having to say sorry for hurting your feelings, the best way to go about it is to change your attitude firstly to difficult situations. Put yourself in your toddlers’ shoes and try to explain to yourself why they do what they did. They squeezed toothpaste all over the floor more likely because they were curious over the object rather than intentionally being naughty. They poured flour all over their sisters because they thought it was funny and the texture was nice to play with. So rather than assume they were naughty, it helps to really reflect on the spot (and its a very hard thing to do) why your toddler might choose to do things in a certain way that irks you so.
Another thing I also often employ is to change the environment as a preventive measure. So for example, I know I will get angry if my toddler takes a pen and starts scribbling everywhere that is not paper. So I either let her play with pens with washable ink, or place pens out of her reach. Another example is I get upset when they intentionally throw food on the floor, so I place splat mats to make cleaning easier. Of course making it known to them as well that such behavior will not be tolerated, but its a more positive kind of communication then yelling at them, spanking them and then later having to say sorry for hurting their feelings.
A lot times I also try to shift gears from my adult self and go into my carefree child self and play along. If I want them to clean up after playing, I will turn on music and make cleaning fun and playful. If I want Livia to brush her teeth but she is making a million excuses not to brush her teeth, I tell her about how all the germs living in her mouth and wrecking havoc on her teeth. I use funny stories, child-like enthusiasm and fantasy to often reach out to their sensibilities, something that is usually hard to do when I have “the adult, listen to me” hat on.
So instead of telling yourself this won’t happen again, and how you will definitely not get angry tomorrow and how you will change yourself (because its so hard to do that), make it a learning process on learning about yourself and what triggers your temper and also how to improve communication with your little ones. By creating that self-awareness and also translating it into positive communication, you are laying the groundwork for how your little ones will later relate to the people in their lives as they grow.
Update: My friend shared with me this really good article on how to raise children without screaming and punishment.