The morning sun peeked through the shades of my bedroom window, casting alternating slivers of light and dark onto the floor. I had awoken only moments before to a very familiar sound and I watched the sunbeams dancing on my rug as I waited for him to appear. He bounded in and leaped onto my bed. “Good morning, Mommy,” he said cheerfully, adding a heart-tugging “I love you!” He lay down beside me and wrapped one arm around my waist. I placed my arm under his head as I always did and wrapped him up in both arms. We call this “the snuggle-bunny hug.” In that moment, I felt so much gratitude for that boy and his love, for that sunny morning, and the chance of another day with my family. It was pure joy.
I was once again jerked from my much-needed sleep by the sound of a kid getting out of bed too soon. I blinked into the bright rays assaulting my eyes. How could it possibly be morning already? I stared grumpily at the beams of light strewn across my floor and made a mental note to get room-darkening curtains. Maybe putting them over his window as well would keep him in bed longer. He came running into my room, jumping on the bed and jarring me from my comfortable position. “Good morning, Mommy,” he said too loudly. “I love you,” he said as he nestled beside me. If you loved me, you’d let me sleep, I thought. I put my arms around him and sighed. Another busy day with not enough hours or energy. I felt so frustrated.
Which one is true? The same thing happened in both stories; the only difference was my perspective.
Perspective. It’s the one thing that will make or break your days and your relationships, too.
Perspective is the difference between:
- A mess and a memory in the making
- An obstacle or an opportunity
- Attention-seeking and a desire to connect
- Clinginess and a need for closeness
- A tantrum and emotional dysregulation
- A challenge and a hardship
- A tough five minutes and a ruined day
- A child who needs help and a brat who is acting out
The first story demonstrated a positive perspective, the second a negative one. It was my choice to feel either gratitude or frustration when my son jumped onto my bed. I had the power to choose either story I wanted. On that particular morning, I chose gratitude, but there have certainly been days when I chose the negative perspective.
Perspective is the lens you view the world through. It determines how you perceive your children and your days with them. It determines how you see yourself, your relationships, and your experiences. By changing how we see something, we change how we respond to it.
If you take a magnifying glass and look at an ant up close, what you’ll see is pretty terrifying. Scary pincers, beady, menacing eyes. Close up, the ant looks like a monster. But when you stand up, you get a totally different perspective.
Depending on your perspective, the ant is a terrifying monster or a little harmless creature. The ant is the same, but your relationship to the ant changed due to your perspective. The story you tell yourself about that ant depends on your perspective.
We all live in a world of our own stories. The narratives in our minds shape our experiences. We can create a different narrative to change our perspectives, thereby changing our experiences. We can do this in all aspects of our lives, but here we are focusing on perspectives in parenthood. Let’s look at a couple of common negative perspectives to see how changing the perspective changes the experience.
Terrible Twos or Terrific Toddlers?
If you’ve been listening to the negative messages we hear about children, you may be braced for battle when your child turns two. After all, who hasn’t heard of the “terrible twos?” These negative messages about how our children will purposely test our authority, push our buttons, and manipulate us to get their own way color the lens through which we view them. If we are looking for terrible, manipulative behavior, we are likely to see it. However, if we step back and widen the lens, we will see that the toddler behaviors we come to view as deceitful or naughty are really just developmentally appropriate behaviors due to an underdeveloped brain and limited life experiences.
We know now that young children do not have the mental capacity to formulate a deceitful plan of manipulation. This would require use of a part of the brain that is barely online at this age, much less fully functional. Rather, they are guided and driven by their emotional centers, and because it is also still quite immature, it is easily overwhelmed. Meltdowns aren’t purposeful manipulation but a sign of emotional overload. Your toddler’s “me, me, me” attitude isn’t a sign of a selfish child but a normal developmental stage of self-discovery. Your little one’s bedtime struggles aren’t a blatant attempt to disrupt your chance at a peaceful night but a sign of developmentally different sleep cycles and normal nighttime fears.
When we view our toddlers from a positive perspective, we relate to them differently. Our responses are much more empathetic, gentle, and loving. We can see the person behind the behavior and guide them from a place of connection. This results in a more positive experience for both parent and child.
Bad Behavior or a Distress Call?
I used to view my toddler’s “bad” behaviors as a call for discipline. Backtalk deserved a time-out. Throwing a fit? Do it in your room and let me know when you calm down. It didn’t take long to figure out that my swift punishments didn’t solve our problems. I realized that most of the time, what I viewed as “bad” behavior was a distress call.
When my three-year-old seemed defiant, a change in perspective allowed me to see that he was emotionally overwhelmed with the addition of a new brother, less time with mommy, and a routine that had been thrown off due to the demands of an infant. He was crying out for connection, and no amount of time spent in a time-out chair would have changed his behavior. In fact, it would have only served to pile more unpleasant feelings on an already overwhelmed child.
When my 8-year-old said something mean to his brother, I could have mistaken him for a naughty child on the fast track to being a bully, but rather a heart to heart conversation revealed his heartbreaking feelings of living in the shadow of a brother whom he felt was more talented and popular. The anger masked his vulnerable feelings of jealousy. His behavior was a way of communicating his pain.
In both cases, and in many more since, my children’s behavior was a distress call. The answer, I quickly learned, was not to punish the behavior but to answer the call. By changing my perspective and choosing to see the good in my children and to listen to their perspectives, I was able to respond to them in a way that helped heal their hurting hearts. The experience for us both was much more positive because I chose a more positive perspective.
Changing Your Perspective
It’s not like you can just flip a switch and see things differently, though, right? Actually, you can. That is the beautiful ability you possess. It’s as simple and as difficult as choosing to see through a positive lens. I’m not talking about a Pollyanna-ish way of forcing positive thinking but rather choosing a realistic optimism. I’m talking about choosing to see the good in yourself, in your children, and the world around you.
There are tools you can use to help you shift your perspective.
- Try reframing your thoughts. Pay attention to the negative commentary in your mind surrounding your child’s behavior, for example. Take those negative thoughts and reframe them. If you’ve been telling yourself “he’s just trying to get attention,” try “he’s asking for a connection.” By changing your negative thought patterns, you change the feelings those thoughts produce. You cannot control everything around you, but you can control your reaction.
- Try mindfulness. Sometimes we slip into operating on autopilot. We get stuck in the rut of monotony and we lose sight of the wonder and beauty of life. When we bring ourselves back into the present and open our eyes to the joy and goodness around us, we shift into a more positive perspective.
- Get curious. Often, our black and white thinking causes us to push back, blame, or avoid certain feelings or situations. Take my earlier example of my 8-year-old’s hurtful words toward his brother. Because I got curious rather than seeing his behavior as bad, I was able to uncover the real reason behind it.
- Shift your focus. Have you ever been focused on one negative thing in your life that is just really bugging you, and the more you think about it and try to fix it, the bigger the problem seems to get? That’s because what we focus on grows. The quickest way to change your life or your relationships is to focus on the good in them.
I’ll leave you with a few quotes that I find inspirational when I need a quick shift in perspective. Write them on sticky notes and place them on your mirror, or perhaps in your pocket.
See the light in others and treat them as if that’s all you see. - Wayne Dyer
Speak to your children as if they are the wisest, kindest, most beautiful, and magical humans on earth, for that they believe is what they will become. - Brooke Hampton
Your focus determines your reality. - Qui Gon Jinn
Your perspective will either become your prison or your passport. - Steven Furtick
If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. - Wayne Dyer
*Rebecca Eanes is the bestselling author of Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, The Positive Parenting Workbook, and The Gift of a Happy Mother.