Kids, Our Most Unforgiving Mirrors
My daughter was two when we encountered the Problem of No. Everything was no—even when it was yes.
Do you want this blue cup?
Okay, which cup do you want?
The blue one!
Of course we knew it was a normal phase and had even expected it, but what was unexpected was how maddening it became. Finally, out of self-preservation and a deep feeling of needing to do something (even a futile something), I began to take “No” out of my vocabulary. I did this thinking (praying, hoping) that if my daughter heard the word less, she’d be less inclined to use it. I made sure that when my answer was “No,” I just said it in a different way. Instead of responding with a no to a request to watch TV, I would try to respond with: “It’s not TV time yet. Let’s read a book.” Slowly – slowly – this actually did seem to help, and I noticed her explaining and negotiating for what she wanted more, rather than throwing one-word tantrums.
This incident taught me a big lesson: Our children are our harshest mirrors. What they see in us is what they display. When I stopped saying “No,” my daughter stopped as well. When I took an interest in exercising, she began to as well. When she gestures while talking on the phone, I know she gets that from her Dad, and when she bites her lip while thinking, I see myself. These are little quirks, and they frequently make me smile to see so much of her parents in her. But when I look deeper, I can see that not everything she has picked up from us is to her advantage.
When she worries and over-analyses situations, I know she gets that from me. Also, when she throws herself into a problem and doesn’t want to stop or take a break—it’s me. And just like when she was two and saying “No,” it makes me step back and think about how I behave in front of her and how I can change to be a better role model. Now, when I see her getting frustrated over a problem, I’ll say something like, “I know exactly how you feel. It’s something I feel often, too. But maybe we can both try something different and see if that doesn’t work out better for us.”
Just like checking your appearance in a mirror, you can look quickly (hair tidy, lipstick not smudged)—or you can really look (tired eyes, laugh lines). With our kids, we can look for little, benign resemblances and smile to ourselves, or we can really look deeper at habits and behaviors that may have more to do with us than our kids. If we do that, we are a better role model for our children threefold: by helping change the behavior, by modeling the change, and by showing them self-improvement matters. And of course, we are helping ourselves in the process.