Phrases like "terrible twos" aren't harmless, cute words. They profoundly impact what we expect and, therefore, what we see.
The refrigerator door stood wide open. My toddler had pulled out every bottle of water and tea and had thrown them onto the kitchen floor. (Lots can happen in the amount of time it takes for a mama to go to the bathroom.)
As soon as I walked into the kitchen and caught him in the act, I knew I had a choice. I could see the worst in him or the best in him. I could view him as naughty or I could understand his curiosity, and I also knew that whatever I chose to see would affect my reaction.
Over the years, my children have given me plenty of opportunities to make these kinds of choices. Every time I chose to see the best in them, no matter what their behavior was at that moment, it helped me to react and correct them more lovingly, gently and positively.
Seeing the best in my kids means I'm giving them my best and treating them with the respect and kindness that I know children deserve. This meant I had to change the language I used, both inside my head and out of my mouth, in those early years of parenting.
How we view (and communicate) bad behavior
Society gives us lots of negative views and attitudes toward children, and those negative perspectives can seep into our minds and change the way we perceive behavior which affects the way we treat our kids.
Phrases like "terrible twos" aren't harmless, cute words. They profoundly impact what we expect and, therefore, what we see. We are often given messages such as, "Ignore them, they're just wanting attention," and, "They'll try to see what they can get away with," or, "They'll test your boundaries, so show them who's boss."
These kinds of messages cultivate an "us versus them" attitude that doesn't serve us well in creating healthy relationships. Rather than seeing a child who is crying out for help, we end up seeing a child who is acting "terrible" or "fearsome."
When we see "terribleness," we think the answer is punishment. When we see a child who is struggling, the answer is clearly to help.The difference between a terrible child and a struggling child is simply a matter of perspective, but the difference in punishing and helping shapes who our children become.
The perspective we choose has a huge impact on how our kids feel about themselves. What they see reflected in our words and attitude toward them is what they come to believe about who they are.
How to adjust your reactions—and their behaviors
Understanding your child's brain development is key to changing your language and how you view their behavior. Children are commonly thought to be manipulative, even as infants. Parents perceive crying and tantrums as ways children manipulate their parents into getting what they want. We assume bad intentions. However, this simply isn't the case.
Young children are not cognitively capable of such schemes. The part of the brain that houses the kinds of complex thought processes needed to rationalize and devise this kind of plan is the very last to develop and is barely even "online" in the early years of childhood.
It is simply not possible for babies and toddlers to try to manipulate or control their parents. Furthermore, understanding a child's drive for play and exploration will help you be more patient and understanding when they're jumping on the couch or food hits the floor for the fifth time. It isn't really about pushing your buttons or disobeying you!
Seeing the best in our kids doesn't mean turning a blind eye to poor behavior or choices. It means that we see the good in them even when it's not on display. It means we believe the best in them even when they're not showing us their best. It means we don't judge the whole of who they are based on a momentary behavior.
This is what we all need—someone who sees the best in us and reminds of our goodness when we most need to be reminded. Seeing the best helps me to respond consciously, to correct gently, and to reach their hearts, but most importantly, it helps my kids to see and believe the best in themselves.
Changing your language from negative to positive can make a difference
Pay close attention to the language you use around your child's behavior. Is it mostly negative or positive?
Here are examples of how to change your language so you can see the best in your child:
1. Instead of: "He's hitting the terrible twos."
Try: "He's entering the boundary stage."
2. Instead of: "She's really pushing my buttons."
Try: "She's doing her best to get her needs met."
3. Instead of: "He's just trying to get attention."
Try: "He needs my presence right now."
4. Instead of: "She's being so dramatic!"
Try: "She has big feelings and needs my help."
5. Instead of: "He won't listen to a thing I say!"
Try: "He's having trouble hearing me right now. I need to change my approach and get his attention."
6. Instead of: "She's very whiny today."
Try: "She's trying to communicate her needs, and she's upset."
7. Instead of: "He's being very difficult today."
Try: "He's having a hard day. How can I help?"
8. Instead of: "She can't sit still for five minutes!"
Try: "She's full of energy and joy!"
"See the light in others and treat them as if that is all you see." – Dr. Wayne Dyer