It Starts With Me

Calm down, Mindy.


It feels like the 100th time I’ve talked to him about hitting today. It’s probably the 10th. 
Intellectually, I know the advice around positive discipline. Talk to kids about what they can do,

not what they can’t. Focus on what you will do. Remain calm. Assess what they are really telling you with their behavior.


Emotionally, I’m fraying at the ends. My toddler refused to nap and pooped on the carpet. It’s 2:30 and I’m not sure what to make for dinner and I haven’t showered yet. Their sister is coming home from school soon and she’ll want to know if I’ve made a special snack (I haven’t). I’m tired and I just don’t want him to hit anymore.

But he doesn’t know these things. All he knows is that his brother annoyed him, crowding his space or taking his toy. These are minor things to me, but in this moment they are everything to him.
He strikes again and I swiftly react, separating him from his brother, reinforcing We don’t hit! He looks defiant and unapologetic. I feel my frustration rising. I decide he needs to cool off and have to carry him up the stairs. I am now the bad guy and he tells me so – loudly. He will cool off, but it will feel like a punishment, not a tool to help him calm down, like counting to ten or taking deep breaths.
Later that day, little brother erupts in tears and his sister rushes to his defense. Chaos ensues and I take a deep breath because now it feels like the 500th time we’re having this conversation. 
Stay Calm, Mindy.

Those moments we  hope for.

This time I listen. I surprise him by kneeling down, touching his face softly with my hands and asking gently, What are some nice ways we can use our hands? Can you show your brother how to be kind with his hands? If you hit, he will hit. If you are kind with your hands, he will copy you. Understanding shows in his eyes. He apologizes and I file this away for next time.


It’s not perfect, but it’s a start. I manage it about half the time, but positive discipline requires consistency. It’s not so much about calming down as it is about deciding in advance what I will do. And it’s difficult when I’m tired, frustrated, or interrupted from productivity. But I have to believe that consistency on my part will make a difference in the long run. I’m the adult, but it’s hard for me to not get caught up in the moment, my heart tugged by someone crying or my anger riled by defiance.
It’s partly my fault, Mom.

I wasn’t sure I’d heard her correctly. Saturdays mean more play time and, often, more fights. He rushed up the stairs screaming, defending his actions, and I tried to talk him down. He opted to cool off. His sister, witnessing this, stopped the line of defense on the tip of her tongue. She admitted her part in the fight and we talked about things. 
I learned that if you tell the truth, there won’t be consequences.


She told me this later and I thought not exactly. But in a way she is right. The goal isn’t to be motivated by consequences but, to use a phrase that drives my kids crazy, be a problem solver. I want my children to learn the tools to step away, talk it through, and solve the problem without me intervening all the time. I want them to think through their words, to not automatically react to the world around them, and to prioritize kindness.

I want them to be able to do as I do. 

Take a deep breath, Mindy. Count to ten. Stop to see what’s really going on here. Avoid taking sides. Stay consistent. Decide what you will do. Express it calmly and clearly. Stand by what you say. Use loving hands and words. 

It starts with me. 

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Comments

  1. “I’m the adult, but it’s hard for me to not get caught up in the moment, my heart tugged by someone crying or my anger riled by defiance.” THIS. My patience has gotten a lot better since having a child, but when I’m wound so tight, feeling pulled in twenty directions, my first inclination is to react, and that reaction is snapping. At the time I feel justified, but then I realize that I have put myself on level with a toddler…and that I’M the adult who knows right from wrong. It DOES start with me…and I need to work on me.

  2. Oh man, you wrote so well that I started feeling like my kids had been shrieking at each other all day (even though right now they’re in a rather pleasant phase! But it was only recently that I thought I was going to lose my mind if they couldn’t just stop and get along for a few hours at a time!)

    Anyhow, what I feel like you NAILED (haha, besides that awful feeling of losing it!) is the importance of being able to stop and take a breath in that emotion-filled moment so you can assess the problem and come up with a plan – it’s SO MUCH TO DO in such a tiny period of time! But I feel like that’s something most adults haven’t ever been taught how to do – they react in the moment and maybe later can come up with a plan of what they wish they’d done instead, but that doesn’t help if they react immediately the next time, too. I always picture time slowing down so I can step outside my body and figure out, “What is going on here? What is my goal? What can I DO to help in this situation (since there’s not always something you can MAKE the other person do!)” so that when I return back to my kids it’s with a purpose and a plan instead of raw emotion (usually frustration) :) I worked with kids with Autism for a long time and that was one of those tricks that helped me roll with whatever punches (literal or figurative!) came my way, and that’s when I started realizing how many parents and therapists haven’t mastered that skill, and it’s a really hard one to teach after so many years of reacting without thought. It’s one of the things I really hope to teach my own kids – that even in a moment where things are moving quickly, you still have the ability to break it down and make a conscious choice, and not mindlessly respond. I’m dealing with a 1 and 3 year old, so, we’ll see how that works in practice, but for now it is my goal, and I love how you wrote that it starts with the parent :)

    (PS – Sorry for the mini-essay in response!) :)

  3. This couldn’t be more applicable to me today! I just started reading “The Happiest Toddler on the Block,” and it’s really helping me to parent my toddler better… he is a HITTER! And I know he isn’t trying to be mean to his friends, but obviously I am embarrassed when he smacks his playmates. We’re working on it… what have you found works best to curb hitting?

  4. This is how I feel every day. Charlie won’t stop hitting or biting or whatever it is he is choosing to do today. It is mentally exhausting for me. It is so hard to be a mom and be consistent. Sometimes, I think I’m losing it and have no idea what to do. So I put him in his crib. I calm down, and we all talk.

    What a beautiful post Mindy!

  5. It definitely helps to have a plan before you start the day because then you’re more likely to be consistent, and children will know the boundaries. Thinking ahead helps you think clearly.

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