"NO PINO NO" my year and a half old daughter screamed at my cat. "NO!"
I was horrified. The voice she was using was not her usual pleasant voice. It was not her usual disgruntled voice. You know the, "I'm almost two but I think I should be 16 and get to drive the car myself" voice.
It was mean, impatient, and it was MINE. The intonation, the exasperated sigh, the way she delivered the NO. All mine.
My husband and I have been very, very careful about our language around our daughter. Our daycare provider pushes positive language. She's very clear about the language we should use at home. We aren't suppose to say no, instead we say "no thank you". We say a lot of "Not for playing", "Food is for eating"
"Crayons are for coloring"
All language I use in the classroom. State the correct purpose of something to redirect the behavior. And if you say no, add "thank you" so that when your child decides to use that word over and over again at least they'll be polite. (So far I believe this has worked for every child in the daycare except mine).
So in all our hard work, where did she get this mean tone? I wondered as I listened to her repeat "NO! DADDY's FOOD! NO PINO!"
We are firm but polite in front of her. We work hard on this. We even make a point of monitoring each other. We've taught our daughter to love the cat. "Pet her gently," we say, "pat, pat, pat".
Then I realized that although we are very intentional about how we talk to each other and how we talk to her we aren't so kind with our cat. We don't say "No thank you" to the cat. We kind of yell at the poor thing and throw stuff to get her to move. In the mornings the cat plays this game where she lays down in front of the door and refuses to move. We can't leave the house. We're late. When we try to leave she fake bites our feet. It's not pretty. Did I mention we are late? So occasionally we lose it. It's not very polite to our poor kitty.
All of our good language and good teaching goes out the window. She copies our lowest behavior. We've shown her it is OK to talk to the cat like this, which occasionally transfers over to how she talks to us or her friends. Despite all of our good intentions and efforts, the moments of our worst behavior are what she copies.
The same is true for our kids in school. We model, teach and re-teach how to be nice to each other. We model eye contact, using polite words, listening with respect, and using friendly voices. But that one moment we snap we can undo it all. Our actions speak louder than our words and our kids are watching. Our impatience teaches them it is OK to lose your cool when you're impatient, despite who it hurts. It is OK to use mean words or be bossy when you're tired or not feeling well. But they don't hold it in for those few moments like we do- they let it out on the playground- testing out the behavior like they are trying on a dress- it worked for my teacher, can it work for me?
We can't be perfect all the time, but we can be conscious of our behavior patterns. We're working really, really hard at being nice to our cat now. We say "no thank you" to the cat a lot. We give the cat choices and warnings (and although we feel crazy it's working- the cat likes it better too). It won't be perfect, but being aware of the problem is better than continuing it.