Ila: You are doing it wrong, mommy.
Me: I am doing it wrong?
Ila: Yes! Sit up. Sit up!
Me: No. I am relaxing, Ila. This is how I try to relax in a bath. I lay down and read a book.
Ila: It's dark in here, mama.
Me: Yes, that helps me relax too. (A major pause ensued here. Still the perplexed toddler with the cocked head, chin in hands, and then...)
Ila: That's OK mommy. Keep trying. Just keep trying. Don't give up. Then you will do a good job!"
I had to stifle a giggle as the two-foot-philosopher left the bathroom satisfied that she had figured it all out. Mommy wasn't taking a bath the way that she takes a bath. Mommy must be doing it wrong. Problem solved. But what pleased me the most about that small moment was the glimmer I got into the way that Ila's brain works, into the way she thinks. The words she spoke to me about trying and not giving up were extremely reassuring. Stick-to-it-iv-ness and hard work are two personality qualities that are essential for success. After teaching for more than two decades and raising children for almost as long, I am absolutely sure that more than smarts, or athletic ability, or humor or any other personality characteristic, having a positive attitude and not being afraid of hard work are two catalysts that propel children as far down that road to success as they can go.
So how does a mom foster this type of attitude in a child. Well, I am certainly not an expert, but am determined to learn. Here are some of the things that I have read about and devised on my own in order to try with Ila, and it seems to be making a difference in the way she looks at life:
1. Establish words and phrases that you can repeat over and over especially during times of trial. One we use religiously is a song from Yo Gabba Gabba that encourages kids to "Keep trying, keep trying. Don't give up. Never give up."
2. Another (probably obvious) suggestion is to catch them having a positive attitude. Ila with her neurological disorder is constantly falling...hard. Hard enough that most toddlers would cry as a result. Many times, instead of crying Ila will stand up and say to herself, "I'm fine. I'm okay. Not a biggie." And while most of the time that she self-talks this way I want to smother the little thing with hugs, no matter how many times a day she says those phrases I always try and tell her how special it is that she faces her falls that way. She puffs up like a freshly washed baby chick when we praise her. Connecting a positive attitude with pride will hopefully foster a lifelong decision to not drown in bad, but swim with the good.
The above two examples I am sure makes it seem that Ila never has moments where frustration takes over her. On the contrary, she most definitely does...just ask my frayed nerves. One particular time that stands out in my mind is our recent attempt to potty train her. After holding it all day (and I mean ALL day 6:30 am to about 4 pm), Ila began to throw a tantrum as I tried to sit her on the potty once again. When I told her she didn't have to sit on the toilet, she cried. When I said I'd help her sit, she cried. When I tried to leave the bathroom, she cried. When I entered the bathroom, she cried. She became quite agitated and it was clear that she was highly aware that she shouldn't pee in her underwear, but just didn't want to go in the potty. She was getting more and more frantic. She wasn't the only one that was panicking. While she knew that it wasn't right to wet her underwear, but was considering it, I knew it wasn't right to put her back into pull ups but was considering it. Just then, as it often does, Dr. Speed Dial's voice came from...well...whatever divine universal place that it resides...and whispered..."It is a parent's job to try and help his or her child problem solve." And so that is what I did. In a calm quiet voice I said, "Ila, if you could just calm down, mommy can help you fix this. Let's start by taking a deep breath." To my astonishment, she did just that. So I continued, "All problems can be fixed. Let mommy try and help. Can you tell me why you are upset?"
"You gonna fix it?" she said in such a pathetic sad way that my heart broke in two. "Yes," I said soothingly. "could you try and tell me why you don't want to pee on the potty?" She thought. She thought and thought and I could almost see that brain of hers reaching for words that would explain the problem. This is what she came up with--"I stand up to go pee." And though it took me a while to figure out what she was trying to say, I realized (thankfully) that she was having trouble because when she went in the pull up it was usually in a standing position and probably on the go...not at all like conditions of going on a potty.
So, embracing my role as problem-solver-in-chief I flipped quickly through possible solutions and decided on one that may or may not work. It was risky but I said, "Do you want to stand up and start to pee and then, I'll sit you down once you get started?" Surprisingly, a very relieved Ila said, "Yes...YES. I stand up to pee." And so that is what we did...I stood her up with the potty at her heels and gave her permission to start peeing, which she did instantly. As soon as the stream started, I sat her down. As she filled (FILLED!! ) the potty (who knew a 26 inch child could have such a large bladder???) I cheered and hooted and high-fived her. When we were finished with all the numerous steps (wipe, dump, flush, pull up pants, wash hands) I sat her on my lap and told her how proud of her I was. I also gently reminded her that all problems could be fixed if we could just stay calm enough to figure them out. At that moment daddy came in and asked Ila how she finally did it. Ila answered, "The problem got fixed, daddy."
And perhaps, that idea that all problems have solutions is the most important thing we can teach our young children. Nowadays the world seems to be full of problems that need clear and focused thinking. It is also a world that has plenty of negative that we could focus on if we choose. Unfortunately, before parenting Ila, negativity was my best friend and Eeyore was my nickname. But I am learning, for the sake of my daughter, to have a positive attitude. I stumble often, but when I do, I am sure that Ila will be there to say, "That's OK mommy. Keep trying. Just keep trying. Don't give up. Then you will do a good job!"