Last night, as I was getting my children ready for a bath, my four-year-old put his nose right in his little brother's face, and the young guy got angry. My preschooler was upset that his attempt at play was being shut down, so he pushed his brother into the side of the tub.
My patience was already wearing thin. My house was a mess, the kids were at my heels all afternoon, and the tub was filled with old water and was taking an eon to drain.
I lost my cool. I snapped, "Javin! Don't push your brother! You weren't respecting his space, and then you pushed him. Unacceptable!"
The message was fine, but my delivery was intense.
Javin started crying and asked, "Do you think I'm stupid?" (I don't even know where he gets this word from.)
I responded impatiently, "Stop saying that word! I don't like it!"
Then he said, "Do you think I'm ugly? Do you not want me to be your son anymore?"
We're very close and I know he truly trusts in my unwavering love. I've never called him names or threatened to give him up before, so I was mildly annoyed by his questions. Regardless, he wanted reassurance.
Although I wasn't ready to give it to him, I thought of the importance of teaching him to give himself what he needs. I said, "You know the truth, Javin. Tell it to yourself, because I'm still upset."
He looked at me, confused. I told him to put his hand on his heart and say, "Javin, you are never stupid or ugly, and Mommy would never think that." He repeated after me. Then I continued, "Javin, we all make mistakes, and learn from them, and it's okay. Mommy always loves you." He repeated. Then I told him to say, "Javin, I love you." And he told himself over and over again.
Mine is a privileged role – to provide love and comfort to my son – and my moment of frustration served as an opportunity to teach him to give it to himself. It's an important lesson because we can count on ourselves more than we can count on others.
What if one day the right people aren't around? What if they don't say the right thing? What if he loses his best source of comfort? I don't want him to rely on external sources for what he needs. I want to teach him to nurture and develop his relationship with himself.
I was reminded of a time a few years ago, when my husband and I were going through a rocky part of our marriage. I desperately wanted to call my friends and family for reassurance, but our privacy was very important to my husband. He didn't think our business should become everyone else's. As hard as it was, I had to tell myself the things I needed to hear, and the things I knew deep down to be true – that everything would be okay, that I'm lovable, and that dark times give way to light.
The dark times didn't only give way to light, they also taught me how to be my own best friend.
In the past, I often sought external validation rather than find it within. I wanted others to be the voices of what I already knew, because maybe I trusted theirs more than my own. Now, at 29, my relationships with others are very dear to me, but I don't seek them out as much to make me feel better about things. I'm learning to listen to myself, and give myself steady love and encouragement. Peace and confidence follows, the type that I supply myself.
I'm not downplaying the importance of how we talk to and treat each other, but how we speak to ourselves is vital. The voice in our head tends to be critical, doubtful, and insecure, but through practice, this voice can learn a new language – one of love and trust.
They say children learn new languages quickly, and I believe this because, as I lie beside my son, I'm hear him say, "Javin, I love you." He hears these words from everyone around him, but I'm happy he's hearing them from himself, too.
Matt Kahn, author of "Whatever Arises, Love That," says if we don't compliment ourselves, the compliments of others will never feel like enough. It must be true for reassurance, too. Unless we learn to reassure ourselves, the reassurance of others will never suffice.