This fall we entered a new phase of parenthood, school days. This means twice a week I have to have Caroline well rested, fed, dressed, washed, and, most importantly, timely, all preparing her for a learning filled morning at school. Her preschool begins a whole two hours later than the local school district. I cannot even begin to imagine how that happens as we are struggling as it is. Do children stop being distracted by the sight of each and every colorful item that passes their vision on the path from bedroom to car when they enter kindergarten? I can only hope.
Yet, beyond the inevitable tasks of daily needs, I have learned there is one other thing I must send Caroline with each morning – emotional stability. She may look giant in that adorable little backpack placed on her back but underneath that confident smile is a little girl about to spend the day being very brave, stepping away from the comfort of her home and the parents that meet her every need to a world where she must follow new rules, play with new friends and new toys, and add new thinking to her little mind at each turn. It’s thrilling but also a little scary.
And in our short two months of this gig I have learned two simple things that must be present to prepare for the most successful transition from home to school. I thought sharing them with you might help your morning.
1. Patience and Kindness.
There is nothing that makes me boil over more than someone standing in the way of my timeliness. Although disorganized in so many ways, I still firmly hold strong to the need to follow a prompt time schedule. This means getting out of the house with all of the necessary tasks completed in a particular order with little room for shifting or adding. I see a time schedule in my mind each morning, the ticking clock, I am focused on the finish line (a free morning to clean my house without a toddler under foot!), and no one is going to stand in my way. Except for that very tiny yet mighty distraction called a three year old. She does not see clocks and lists. She sees that library book she wanted to read. She sees the grocery cart reminding her she must take her baby grocery shopping and I must of course ring up her order. She sees the paints on the top shelf and thinks we should paint a rainbow and squirrel picture and do you remember that one time we did glitter art because there is only one thing that would make this picture complete and that is a whole bucket of glitter.
I do not have time for this. I do not have patience. And I do not have kindness.
But the moment I say no to her requests. The moment I raise my voice, I yell, I scream, I have lost her. Puddle of tears. I not only have gotten very side tracked from my schedule, but I now have a three year old who does not have a brave smile on her face ready for the day. She is now broken. That’s harsh. I know. The emotional shifts in a young children is astounding. One would be committed for the emotional swings they experience in a day. But sending her away from me and out into the world with a broken spirit breaks my spirit. I don’t want to start my day with a cloud of anger and frustration so I certainly don’t want that for her.
This means I have to be patient. I don’t have to give in to her every request. But I must understand why she is asking to read that book for the fourth time that morning. She just wants to share a moment. Just a small moment. A three minute story is not going to cause the next cosmic shift. At most it means arriving at school three minutes late which really just means not having to stand in line waiting to wash hands. So I use the old bait and switch technique. Think “No I we do not have time to build a three story tree house in the backyard but I can read you this book.” Deciding what part of her request will fit into our morning and communicate this kindly, she is much more likely to accept this offer and move on with our morning.
And that last part, the “kindly” part, that is so important. These little ones, they know what it means to be kind. They know how to hear anger in your voice. And often the way I say no to a request can sometimes cut deeper than the no itself. She meets me at my emotional level, so if I am bringing negativity, you know that is what I will get. If I want her to show kindness to her friends or her teachers, then I must model that at home. We don’t have to get along, but we do need to speak with kindness. Use positive phrases, focus on what we need to do instead of what we should not do. Acknowledge her feelings and speak from the kind side of our heart instead of the firey one.
Spoiler alert: that first one, that is not easy for me. In fact, as I was writing this up, furiously trying to finish before the kids came down for the morning demanding my every time and talent, I snapped. She cried. Literally 30 seconds into our morning and I have already rattled her emotions, and mine as well.
So I ask for forgiveness. I apologize for what I said. I explain why I was upset and then I explain what I should have said instead. Forgiveness is such a powerful tool. It takes humility and empathy and patience and kindness, all of the things you probably were not exhibiting before the apology. But thank goodness we have that rewind button. Because we all need it. We all try hard and then fall. If I teach her anything, beyond kindness, I want to teach her that when you don’t do something right, you apologize. You admit you were wrong and promise to do better next time.
I sometimes think this lesson is more impactful than patience and kindness with my children. She learns that we are all growing and learning and trying our best. When she sees that I am sorry for something I did wrong, she learns how to apologize and learn from what she did wrong. The apology comes more naturally instead of the forced response we ask from children “say you’re sorry.” Apologizing step one but learning from that wrong is how we grow.
So today, in between rushing around to clothe and feed each little mouth and packing the well-rounded lunch and wiping faces and tears and pulling dangerous items out of the reach of new little crawlers, today I will practice patience. I will take a deep breath before each response and think of a kinder way to speak. And when I don’t, when I fall, when I break, I will apologize. I will demonstrate that each morning is a chance to start a new, and sometimes we get a couple of starts in the same morning. I am hoping by practicing this we can both shine a little bit more that day.
Will you use this with your children? With your spouse? With your dog (oh they have feelings too)? What about your boss or your coworkers or that neighbor down the street? I think maybe we should all start our day with a little more patience, kindness, and forgiveness. Emotional stability just might be the one thing that changes the world. Or at least helps boost the confidence for finally completing that puzzle.