When I was very small (no more than six years old), my mom had a serious talk with me about my temper. Anger, she told me, was like a dark spot inside me, and if I held on to that anger I would be allowing that dark spot to grow and spread (at least, that is what I remember of the conversation now, over twenty years later…).
I didn’t bring this story up with my therapist when she was asking me why I thought anger was such a negative thing… I didn’t want to be a parent-blamer when I have such amazing parents! But it did make me wonder – how many of the well-intentioned discussions I have with my kids now, trying to help them understand the world and themselves and other people, will be internalized in an unhelpful way?
For example, tonight Rondel was being incredibly loud for no reason at all while I was lying down with the boys for bedtime – he was just trying to keep himself in a high-energy state by making random noises non-stop. I had asked him to be quiet multiple times, to no avail. Finally I turned to him and said that I couldn’t make him be quiet, that it was his choice – and that he could choose between being selfish and inconsiderate or kind and helpful. “And the choice you make,” I told him, “will affect the type of person you are becoming. So think about what type of person you want to be.”
“You want to be helpful” he replied. And he was silent after that (aside from asking for more water), snuggling up to me and letting his brother fall asleep in peace.
In the moment, my explanation worked and the boys fell asleep. I think the overall principle is a good one as well, and one I try to use for myself; it is paraphrased from C. S. Lewis. But I don’t know how that will settle down into the mind and heart of a four year old – if it will be a healthy motivator or a source of anxiety and shame in years to come.
I suppose all one can do as a parent is to try the best one can in the moment and pray that it will turn out alright!