Two Things A Toddler Taught Me That Will Make Your Life Easier
By: Danielle
June 1, 2017

Last weekend I had a few friends over, many of whom were parents. It was a house filled with toddlers. As you can imagine, the house was full of ENERGY. Thankfully, everyone made it out alive. By far the most enjoyable part for me was how new and exciting every experience was for my friends’ kids. Holding a leaf, picking up bugs, smelling flowers… Everything was an adventure. The parents, however, were busy keeping their babies alive – not picking up breakables, not standing on tables, not sticking sticky fingers in light sockets, not sticking toys in light sockets, not finding sticks to stick in light sockets…. These kids loved light sockets. They also needed to hear the same message 10, 15, and 20 times.

There couldn’t have been a more juxtaposed state between those little adventure seekers and their guardians. The toddlers saw everything as new, fresh, and exciting, while their parents saw varying degrees of danger. For the kids, my back yard was a place for exploration and discovery. There was a fresh fearlessness that they had, and even in the face of falling down, and getting hurt, they continued to play. They continued to learn.

Now, am I saying that we need to model our behavior after 2 and 3 years olds?

Kind of.

While we might not need to be reminded to avoid sticking things in light sockets, we have our own lessons to learn. These lessons might take the form of training for a new job, the forming/ending of a relationship, or insights offered in therapy. Just as parents patiently hold their children’s hand, repeat, and re-teach the same lessons, so do we need a version of that patience and understanding in our own lives.

A client of mine who has been in therapy, less than a month, started their session feeling tremendous guilt and shame. They started the session by confessing all of the things they knew they had done wrong the previous week and how they should have handled them all differently.

This is an all too common behavior in adults. We expect, simply because we are “grown-up” that we should be able to hear something once, and know it forever.

That is NOT how we learn skills, like language or mathematics, nor is how we learn emotional behavior, like how we handle criticism from a loved one or communicating in a relationship.

Wouldn’t it be convenient though if we did learn that way? Like Neo in the Matrix, we could decide, “I want to learn Spanish, how to watercolor paint, and play the cello.” Then, you just insert a microchip and BAM – knowledge.

Unfortunately, we don’t learn that way.

This is a lesson I have to remind myself, on almost a daily basis. It has become my mantra, affirmation, and prayer. I slip up sometimes and fall in the illusory trappings of perfectionism. Then, unable to measure up to perfection, I fall deeper into shame, leading me to the conclusion that everything new sucks, I should just go back to what’s familiar. Familiar being, netflix, complaining, or feeling victimized.

This week, whether you’re trying something new, trying something familiar in a new way, or sitting on a therapist’s couch, here are two lessons a toddler taught me that will make your life easier:

1. Don’t take it all so seriously.

Imagine if we approached obstacles like toddlers did. Tears running down our cheeks, pounding our fists on the ground, two minute timeout – and we’re done! What if we could feel the feelings, the loss, disbelief, disappointment, and then move on! Moving on might look like leaving a relationship that is no longer serving us, asking for a raise that we know is long overdue, or taking a risk and telling someone we love how we feel. So many of us carry around old wounds like dragging luggage through a crowded airport. We think that if we carry it all with us that we can prevent pain from happening again. Remember the lesson, let the pain go, and try to not take it all so seriously.

2. Wash, rinse, REPEAT!

Like a kid who’s jumped in puddles and made mud pies, sometimes it takes a couple washes before they’re fully clean. We have emotional mud, dirt, and and debris that we desperately want to remove. Depending on the lesson, or depending on the dirt, it might take a couple rinses, or it might take fifty. The bottom line is that repetition, hopefully with a playful heart, is the key to learning anything new.

Give yourself the grace to make mistakes, forgive yourself when you fail, and have the courage to try again.