A Toddler’s Mantra

The story I wrote about in Finding Common Ground was influenced by two things: something I tell my three-year-old regularly, and something about the polarity of argument I have learnt from Charles Eisenstein. This post is about the former. It’s a record of how saying the same thing over and over again came to influence my response to anger. My response was not to defend myself, nor to hit back, nor bite the other person as most toddlers do at some point in their development. It was to come from a place of love, because that is what I want for my son.

Creating a new habit is far from easy, but the motivation of setting an example to your kids is a powerful one. And so it was that I had the chance at the very start of last week’s story to put into practice what I have found myself saying to my boy for the last year or so:

Be kind. Be gentle. Be loving.

Faced with someone’s anger and accusations, I felt myself move towards my own version of offence, anger, and self-righteousness. Fortunately, I was able to bring my own general advice about emotional messages into play because, recognising the feelings my typed words created in me, I deleted unhelpful sentences.

Sometimes that took a while because there was a part of me which so wanted to send the withering, sarcastic stuff as it anchored my point so satisfyingly. But what was my point? That’s where the mantra came in because, having repeated it almost every day for at least a year, it was there automatically, a part of me, infusing my behaviour with its purpose, and refusing to allow me to ignore it (unlike my son, for whom it is yet to fully land.)

That was my point. To be kind, gentle and loving. Fascinatingly, I didn’t even hear the words, and it wasn’t until afterwards that I was able to notice their influence clearly enough to identify the mantra as the main source driving my reaction.

As far as my son is concerned, the message may not have fully landed (he still does what they all do at that age), but I know he hears me. I also know from my work and from this example that the words we use exert a power over us which, when repeated often enough, can alter us at the most fundamental level. (Think of the negative messages we internalise in childhood and which still hold us in their thrall without us even realising. Tip: Awareness is the key.)

Whispering those words in his ear each time I remove him from a toddler’s confrontation, I am reminding us both of a place which always exists. A place of gentle kindness, love and understanding, acceptance and peace. It can be difficult to find when we really need it because our emotions muddy the waters and because we are so conditioned by our world to its opposite. But the more we practise, and the more people we have around us to remind us, the more we respond from that place without any effort, and eventually, without even realising.

Related posts: Talk To Yourself | Internal DialoguesThe Words We Use

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