Joseph and I attempted to make our own recycled paper yesterday. We completed the process together, him reading the directions and both of us following each step. We cut up newspaper, soaked it in water, added cornstarch, drained it, pressed it, sprinkled glitter on top, and left it to dry. When we were done, he joyfully announced that he was going to go and make some more recycled paper in his kitchen and off he went. I cleaned up our mess and carried on with my day.
Soon he brought me a small container that was filled with cut-up paper. He was so proud. He had gotten his scissors and cut the paper all by himself. I praised him gently, telling him how straight his lines were. I told him he must be so proud of himself. He was. He carried on with the paper making process. I carted Andrew off to bathe him.
Joseph kept me informed of his progress. “Mommy, I added water to the paper.” “Mommy, I pretended this was the cornstarch and I mixed it.” “Oh, Mommy, I’ve got a great idea. I’m going to pretend that another piece of paper is the foil with holes in it so I can drain my paper.” His voice was filled with joy.
Then, while I leaned down to rinse the soap off of Roo, Joseph appeared at my side, eyes downcast and a look of pure shame on his face. “I didn’t mean to do it, Mommy. I was just trying to get some of it off.” “What happened?” I asked. “I spilled the glitter.” If you could have seen his face, it would have broken your heart. It broke mine. All over a little spilled glitter. I brushed it off. “So the glitter spilled. We’ll clean it up.” Hope filled his eyes. “Yea, we just have to clean it up. It’s not a big deal, right?” “Nope, not a big deal at all.”
I have done this to him. I have made him afraid of spilling a little glitter. How has this happened? I know.
As adults we are quick to respond. Quick to overreact. Quick to make a comment. I am guilty of all those things. Juice spills and rather than handling it matter-of-factly, I feel justified to throw in a comment like, “That’s why we don’t carry our juice around the house. You need to be careful. Now I have to clean that up.” Their self-esteem dips just a little (and their confidence in drinking from a cup plummets). Or in a rush to come inside, the kids take off their shoes in the laundry room and dump out a pile of sand on the floor. Rather than just sweeping the sand out the door, I feel justified in exaggerating a deep breath and saying, “Great. Now I have to clean up the sand you just brought in.” And their self-esteem dips just a little more (and in creeps a little doubt…”what did I do wrong?” they ask themselves). And there lies the problem. It’s not what they’ve done wrong. It’s my reaction. I have forgotten how little they are. How they are learning to do things. They try their best to do a good job (“Mommy will be so proud that I’m still drinking my juice…see, I remembered to bring it with me to the playroom so I could finish it.” “Mommy will be so happy that I remembered to take my shoes off before coming in.”) but instead they’re met with negative responses. No wonder Joseph was afraid to tell me about the spilled glitter.
It’s really not about the spilled glitter or the spilled juice or the sand on the floor. It’s about the fact that I am the adult here and they are the children. My reaction will settle deep into their growing souls and someday (perhaps even tomorrow when William accidentally spills water on Joseph’s artwork or when Andrew knocks over Joseph’s train tracks) they will mimic my response. What response would I like to see reflected in them?
This isn’t about teaching Joseph to be more careful. Yes, that needs to be taught. But with patience and love. Kindness and gentleness. There is no place for harsh criticism in raising children. I have only been teaching patience and love with my words (“Joseph, be patient…Andrew is just a baby and he doesn’t understand that you don’t need his help”) and not with my actions. Thank God for the glitter spill yesterday, so my eyes could be opened.