Parenting a two-year-old is a lot like riding a roller coaster. One minute you're climbing toward new heights, filled with anticipation and excitement about what's to come; and the next minute, you're dangling upside-down, screaming in terror, wondering how you ended up here and if you're ever going to get down. My daughter has more energy than I'll ever have, and to say she keeps me on my toes is an understatement. But lately, between insane tantrums and hilarious exchanges, I've been observing her behaviour and the way she goes about life. And, I must say, I've been amazed.
Toddlers are so incredible because, for the most part, they exist in a pure and natural state—untainted by society's expectations, standards, rules, and controls. They do what they want, when they want, until someone forces them to stop. They speak their minds and act without inhibition. And, the truth is, we adults can learn a lot from them! So the next time you start questioning your own behaviours and wondering if you're living in an inauthentic way—spend some time with a two-year-old. Here's what mine has taught me:
1. Be persistent: If you want something badly enough it's worth going after. Whether this means cajoling, bargaining, pleading, or even stomping your feet—sometimes you need to have the strength to not back down. Even if someone (or more likely, YOU) is standing in the way of making your dream/goal/desire a reality, a healthy dose of conviction is sometimes all you need to break down that barrier. My daughter, when she wants something really badly, often resorts to bargaining. She'll say: "Mommy, I have a great idea, how about..." or "Mommy, just one more and then done, Ok?!" She's got it down to a science, and there's no talking her out of something, once she's made up her mind.
2. Be in the moment: If there's anyone who can teach us about mindfulness, it's a toddler. It's amazing to watch a little kid play. It's as if nothing around them matters. They're not thinking about what they're going to have for dinner, or how they're going to make it to the potty in time for their next pee. They aren't worrying about how the week's weather forecast will interfere with their play dates, or what to wear to the family dinner party. Kids live in the moment. And while that explains the intense frustration when something doesn't work out or they don't get their own way, it also means they don't waste any time worrying about things in the future they have no control over anyway. And, once you're living in the moment, you have the benefit of experiencing life with a 'beginner's mind.' This means you get to experience the joy/excitement/thrill of doing something for the first time (say riding a bike or landing a dream job) every single day.
3. Let your emotions flow: Have you ever watched a two-year-old process emotions? Mine can go from laughing hysterically, to crying and screaming, to sulking, to laughing again in a matter of minutes. She expresses her emotions as she feels them, so she's never at risk of keeping them pent up inside. She doesn't know about holding a grudge, and the longest she can stay angry with someone is five minutes (I've timed her). When I'm upset, the first thing she does is make a funny face or give me a huge hug, then says: "You happy now Mommy?" and she fully expects that no matter what I've been feeling, I'll be happy—just like that. Keeping our emotions bottled up has been proven to be unhealthy, yet it's a habit most of us adopt somewhere around the age of 8, when our parents,teachers, etc. say things like: "don't cry," "don't be upset," and "be a big girl." I'm trying really hard not to tell my daughter how to feel. Instead I try to honour her emotions (as intense and unfounded as they may seem to me) and celebrate the fact that she can be so true to herself. After all, there's no better feeling than the calm that comes after a huge tantrum!
4. Forget about what others think: I'll never forget attending a seminar by leadership guru Robin Sharma and listening to him talk about his kids. I didn't have kids at the time, but loved what he said and still think about it today. If his son waned to go to the grocery store in a fireman's hat or his daughter insisted on dressing herself in mismatching clothes, he said, instead of feeling embarrassed or insisting they change, he'd celebrate their creativity and lack of inhibition. Most kids (until a certain age) couldn't care less what others think of them; while most of us adults care way too much. My daughter will wear anything, say anything, do anything as long as it feels good to her. Do you ever wonder how you'd live your life if no one was watching? That's how my kiddo lives hers every day. It may sound cliche, but it's totally liberating. I'm taking cues from her and quieting that inner voice that says: 'what if they don't like me?' 'what if they think I look fat?' 'what if they think my writing isn't good enough?' As my daughter practices her plié sauté on a busy sidewalk wearing a tutu and a mismatched hat with chocolate smeared on her cheek I have to ask myself—who cares?! And the answer I'm going for is—not me!
5. Love yourself: My daughter is happiest when positioned in front of the full-length mirror in our front foyer. There she'll sing, dance, and have full conversations with herself. She's so happy with her own reflection that she never looks upon herself with criticism or judgment. She doesn't look in the mirror and think: 'geez my hair is so frizzy today,' or 'my face is too pale.' Instead she emanates pure love. This is self love at its finest! It's what we all felt about ourselves when we were kids, before we started listening to the criticism of others. When my daughter successfully makes a pee on the toilet (she was just recently toilet trained)—she throws her arms in the air with complete enthusiasm and says "Hurray Willow!!" She's so genuinely proud of herself that she doesn't worry about sounding boastful. When was the last time you looked yourself in the mirror and felt nothing but love? When was the last time you celebrated your own accomplishments? Patted yourself on the back? Took pride in how great you are? Spoken out-loud your gratitude for all that you have and all that you are? I know this video is old, but it embodies perfectly what I'm talking about. Take a lesson from this kid (and from your own kids) and start loving yourself more today!