Last night, I went through the usual bedtime routine with my toddler. I got him into his pajamas, did the rounds of “good nights” and kisses to others in the house, and accompanied him to his bedroom. He picked out a book from the basket by the rocking chair, and we settled in for the final part of our routine, “Stories and Songs.” He chose Caps for Sale, one of my childhood favorites — and fast becoming one of his as well.
If you are not familiar with this story, the plot goes like this: A peddler selling caps is not having much luck one day, so he wanders into the countryside. With all his caps stacked upon his head, he falls asleep beneath a tree. When he wakes up, he discovers that the monkeys living in tree have taken all of his caps except for one, and placed them upon their own heads. The peddler tries everything he can think of to get his caps back: shouting, wagging a finger at them, stomping his feet, all while yelling at the monkeys to return the caps. The monkeys respond by imitating the peddler’s actions: making monkey noises, wagging their fingers and stomping their feet. Finally, the peddler throws his own cap down and starts to walk away. Guess what happens: the monkeys also throw the caps down, and the peddler is able to retrieve them at last.
After I tucked him in and left his room for the night, it struck me that, in addition to being an entertaining children’s story, this is also an important lesson in role modeling. In order to teach my child how to effectively handle situations when emotions such as anger, frustration or anxiety occur, I need to ensure that I am modeling good behavior as well.
If I become angry with my son and start yelling at him, that teaches him yelling and screaming are okay to do when you become angry. If I’m anxious because we’re running late, and start bribing him in order to get out the door on time, this teaches him that this is effective to get what you want. If I become frustrated and ignore him or give him the “silent treatment,” this teaches him that passive aggressive behavior “works.” Just like the peddler, if I’m demonstrating ineffective techniques to deal with my own emotions, it’s extremely likely that my child will use them as well regardless of what I am telling him to do!
Now, I’m far from a perfect parent, if such a thing even exists. Everyday is a chance to start fresh, and to try my hardest to practice more effective techniques, even when I’m experiencing highly stressful situations. I find it’s helpful to remind myself that “calm is contagious.” When I’m in a situation where my buttons are being pushed and I’m becoming angry, I practice focusing on my breathing instead of yelling back. When my patience is wearing thin as my son throws a tantrum because I have set a limit, instead of renegotiating the limit or going to the other extreme of trying to “make” him comply, I just start singing or humming the chorus to the classic Rolling Stones tune, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” in order to remain grounded and calm. Sometimes we both start laughing when I do this, which definitely helps to relieve the tension!
When I role model good behavior, in effect, I’m teaching my son to “throw his hat down” and do the right thing, too.
Who would have thought that a children’s book would still have so much to teach a parent as well?