Last year Cameron (our then five-year-old son) and I were staying with my sister Dee and her nine-year-old daughter Aleksia at their holiday home. The kids were playing together when out of the blue Cameron exclaims “bloody hell!”
We all stopped what we were doing and looked at him and Dee and I tried not to laugh, even though it was quite funny. I wasn’t 100 percent sure of what I’d just heard, so I gently asked “what did you just say honey?” By this time Cameron had worked out that they were not good words so he tentatively replied “nothing”. I chose to leave it at that as I still didn’t know where he’d heard it and hoped it was just a one-time thing.
A few days later we’d returned home from our holiday and my husband Colin was talking on the phone. Cameron and I both clearly heard Colin say “bloody hell”! How funny! Since then I’ve become aware that Colin actually says it from time to time and neither of us had really noticed it until Cameron reflected it back! Once I knew where it had come from I had the talk with both of my boys!
Has your child cursed in public?
Hearing your child swear, curse or simply use impolite phrases, especially in public, is something every parent dreads. It’s even more confronting when your child is reflecting back the ‘colourful’ words you use! These reflections can be pretty funny and are generally easily dealt with by simply becoming more aware of your language and talking with your child about what is ‘appropriate’ language to use.
Right alongside these more obvious reflections, there are the subtle reflections that can often anger or even enrage parents, especially when they aren’t even aware that their child is merely reflecting something back.
Babies are born with vast numbers of ‘mirror neurons’ that help them to learn language, new behaviours and skills by imitation. Researchers suggest that in adults, mirror neurons may also be important for understanding the actions and intentions of other people, for empathy and for human self-awareness
Cameron is a wonderful little mirror for me. One of the things he does that can trigger a reaction in me is when we’re trying to get something done together like packing up his toys, getting ready for bed or eating his dinner, and he gets distracted and loses focus before we’re finished. This reflection can sometimes be HUGE for me on so many contradictory levels. Here are just a few:
First, of course I have to admit that I’m easily distracted. In fact, I love working on two or even three tasks at a time as I did while writing this article … (ok, now that I’ve finished responding to the email that popped up on my desktop while eating my yoghurt snack … where was I? … Oh yes, back to the article and the topic of distraction … chuckle, chuckle)
Second, and here’s the contradiction, while I am easily distracted I can also be really task focused and not fully experience the joy of being present to the moment as our son does. Even a tiny bug flying past can be wondrous and welcome distraction for Cameron when he’s brushing his teeth … BUT as you can imagine, not so much for me!
Third, my reaction reflects back my fears about a perceived lack of time, not getting things done and the rules I’ve set for myself and others about what is the ‘right’ behaviour! With work-life balance an issue for so many families – perhaps you can relate to getting a bit task focussed at times?
My child’s reflections of my nature can have a powerful impact on me. When Cameron becomes distracted from the tasks we’re working on, unless I am really present or in light-hearted mood, I often feel impatient, frustrated, annoyed, and sometimes I even become angry over the slightest thing. This is where I need to be careful as my behaviour can harm our relationship.
Slowing down and taking a breath
I find that when I take time out to focus on my breath and be more present, I can see the reflection for what it is and respond appropriately in the moment without going ‘wild’! But alas, I’m not perfect … and at times I do get angry and yell at Cameron, but after I calm down, I always say “I’m sorry” and try again. I use a technique I call the “do-over”. This is where I get a second chance to get it right. It really takes the pressure off me to be a perfect mother and helps Cameron learn that it’s OK for him to make mistakes, say sorry and try again and again and again. These are very empowering life skills I can model for him. Teaching kids life skills like making mistakes OK, being able to say “sorry”, and having the empathy to another go at making a wrong a right, go towards building a strong foundation for developing healthy relationships in life.
Perhaps after some reflection, like me you’ll be able to say
“Mirror, mirror in my child,
Thanks for the reflections that make me wild!
So that into me I can see,
Know myself, and be free!”