5 Lessons in Mental Self-Care from a 2-Year-Old

Being two is an incredibly difficult time emotionally, or at least from what I can tell it is. Like most people, I don't remember being two. There's a very good reason we don't remember, and that is because our brains are so busy soaking everything up like a sponge. The first few years of your life are some of the most formative when it comes to developing your emotional intelligence.

My son is currently learning how to handle his emotions, and as I am trying to guide him, I am learning a lot from him as well, so I thought I would share a few of these lessons with you.

  1. You can't help how you feel, but you can help how you react I have spent many years feeling guilty for things that I have recently learned are out of my control; how certain things make me feel. Anger, pride, contempt, jealousy, all made me feel like a horrible person when I felt them. Max feels them instinctively, he can't help it, but we found that simply telling him not to be angry just made him even more frustrated. Instead, we are teaching him that it is ok to be angry, but that he needs to express that anger in a healthy way (by hitting a pillow instead of his mum!), get it out of his system, and then we can calmly figure out what's wrong and how to make it better. This brings us on to the next lesson...

  2. Sometimes you need to treat the symptoms first and then the cause How many of us have been asked the question; "Why are you crying?" and all you can think is; "I don't know!"? Sometimes you are just overwhelmed with emotion that your brain is too muddled to figure out exactly why you are reacting so emotionally to something in the first place. Either that, or you know exactly why, but knowing doesn't stop you from feeling the way you are feeling So many times my son has burst into tears for, what seems like, no reason. Our initial response was to go to action stations and try and figure out exactly what had caused the meltdown. We would fuss around him and ask him lots of questions, ask each other lots of questions, and tell him to calm down (when in history has telling someone to calm down ever successfully made them calm?), but he would just get more and more upset until he'd be lying on the floor screaming the roof down! Now we know that we need to treat the symptoms first; a crying person needs comfort, calm, and empathy through actions. Often we still don't find out what upset him in the first place, but it doesn't matter as he has learned how to calm his emotions so that he can move on and get on with his day. So it's ok to feel negative thoughts, it's how you respond to them that really matters.

  3. There is absolutely no shame in asking for help when you need it This isn't something that we've figured out through trial and error like the first two, but more something that he has taught me through his instinctive behaviour. He hasn't learned to feel bad for needing help or relying on others, and I don't know when we learned that, but I hope he never does. He doesn't flinch or hesitate to ask for a cuddle when he needs comfort; he is sad, so therefore he needs his people. He needs human contact to make him feel better, as do we all.

  4. Don't let fear hold you back from what you love We took our son to the cinema for the first time to see The Polar Express and it was a magical experience. The film itself was good, but the best part was watching my son's face as he took in the magic and spectacle taking place before him. He absolutely loves trains, and he became obsessed with a scene where the train comes off the tracks. For the rest of the day, he kept saying; "Train come off the track! Train come off the track!". We thought it was so funny and cute until it got to bedtime and we realised that he was fixated on that scene because it had scared him. He ended up spending the night in our bed because he kept seeing the train outside his window. We worried that this might hinder his love of trains, but the next day he still kept talking about other parts of the film and even sat and read The Polar Express book over and over again. Just because one part scared him, he didn't let the whole thing become about fear or stop him from enjoying something he loves.

  5. Try not to let your joy for things diminish over time I am continually amazed at the mundane and repetitive things that my son thinks are the greatest thing ever. We must have seen Monsters Inc roughly 3000 times this year but he still jumps for joy and shouts "BEAR!" (his name for the character Sully) when he first appears. He is so excited to see him it's like he's been reunited with a long-lost friend that he hasn't seen in years (even though he saw him the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that). I love watching him discover things for the first time and seeing the awe and amazement in his reactions, but I also love seeing him discover those same things for the 10th time and having exactly the same reaction. Don't get me wrong, it can test my patience, especially when I'm having to feign interested in yet another bus or 'nee-naw', but sometimes I find his enthusiasm for everything has become so infectious that it will be me shouting 'Look! Nee-naw!' as if it's the greatest thing to happen in all of existence.

Being a parent can be incredibly hard on the brain sometimes, especially for new mothers and people who struggle with their mental health. It's so important that we try our best to find moments of joy amongst the stress, but if you find you are struggling to do that then there is lots of support available out there.

Locally, in Cheshire, there are peer-support groups like Milestone Mums (a beneficiary partner of Breathe Box) who support mums struggling with mental health issues, and there is Mothers Mental Health Matters who organise regular, volunteer-led walks for parents and an online support group.

Outside of Cheshire, you can contact PaNDAS Foundation for help and advice.

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