Monkey See, Monkey Do

Any parent of a toddler knows that small children pick up on just about everything we say and do. My daughter was less than a year when she started to mimic me putting on my make up. She's now about 2 and a 1/2 and can really rock a good smokey eye and applies lipstick like it's nobody's business. ha. The point is, they are watching. And listening. And learning. All the time.

They learn language from us. And they learn behaviors from us. Most parents (myself included) don't  realize how much they swear until there's a toddler running around. All it takes is for your toddler to use the f-word in the right context for you to be aware that you may need to be a little more conscious of your language. (Confession: Annabelle has used the F-word countless times in the correct context. Oops.)

So we know they model our words. And we know they model our behavior. But what I've realized lately is that they also model our emotions. This may not be news to some of you, but for me I witnessed it first hand as it was happening.

The other day I was trying to get the two littlest ones out of the house on time so I could get to work. I recently started to work evening, after working straight day shift for many years. Because of my new hours, our kids are no longer in daycare so I rarely need to tackle the complex task of loading up kids early in the morning (hallelujah!). With my new schedule comes the requirement of working every other weekend 9am-5pm. This particular morning was a Saturday and my husband was at a coaching symposium so I had to get the little kids loaded up and dropped off at my in-laws so I could get to work by 9am. I was, of course, in a hurry. I got the baby strapped in, then I lifted up the toddler and put her in her car seat. Of course she wanted her toy that was on the ground, then her shoe fell off, and she kept asking for water. Meanwhile, the baby was crying, I was trying to maneuver my arms around my purse, diaper bag, and pump bag, while getting her buckled - all the while she's squirming and whining. Exasperated, I looked up from the clasp as I was clipping it and tightening her straps...and that's when I saw it.  Her brow was furrowed. She had a serious look on her little face and her bottom lip was pushed out. She was just staring at me, studying me. I looked at her for a split second and realized - that's me. That's my face.

She was mirroring my expression.

She was watching me. Watching my stress. Watching my frustration. Watching my annoyance. I didn't even realize it. I was just trying to get to myself to work and here was my 2-year-old studying me so intently that she was copying the EXACT face I was making.

As soon as I realized what she was doing, I let out a sigh and softened my face.

And wouldn't ya know it? So did she. I kissed her soft hair and closed the door. My eyes filled up with tears as I thought about all the times she's seen that face. All the times all my children have seen that face. Too many to count, I can assure you.

Children are a product of their environment. That is common knowledge. Most of us know this and are aware of this. It's why we watch our language around them. It is also why we are (or should be) aware of how we talk about others. And why we should not only teach them how to treat others, but also show them how to treat others. Unfortunately, we tend to be painfully unaware of how we treat ourselves. And the truth is, the comments about our weight, our looks, money, or our daily stressors (like getting out of the door on time) - those are all picked up on by those little minds.

I am a serial offender of all of these. On any given day I swear, comment on my hatred for my post-partum body, and complain about money - in addition to countless other things. Our kids hear our stress and our worries and our disdain for ourselves and (apparently) can even pick up on our facial expressions - which are just as much a form of communication as anything else.

And I will not argue that all negativity is bad, it's not. It's without a doubt necessary. It's real life and you want to expose children to the hills and valleys of adulthood and parenthood. We have to teach them that everything is not all rainbows and butterflies. Life is hard. But there has to be a balance. And for me, that comes in the form of less furrowed brows and more effortless smiles. I will not lie and tell you that it's easy. It takes a conscious effort by me, daily.

But, on this particular morning - I decided to soften my face. And it worked. She followed suit. I often think of this exact moment when I'm struggling with myself, or my husband, or my kids. Frequently that struggle can be quelled if we just choose to soften our face, our words, or our actions.


  1. Thank you so much for this reminder! I work really hard to not negatively comment on my body or my capability to do things. But I struggle to regulate my emotions and I can definitely see that pan out in my little girls.

    1. I agree! And you are so welcome! As moms it's just nice to know we're not alone. Solidarity, ya know? We've all been there, are there, will be there. xo


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