Not too long ago, my oldest turned four. I’ve been anxiously awaiting the so-called behavior “transformation” that quite a few other mom friends have promised talked about. Supposedly it comes with leaving the terrible three’s behind (oh boy if you think two is a challenge…) and moving on up to four-year-old-hood. Yes, of course I understand that with each age comes new challenges, but I’m more than ready to move on. Maybe, just maybe, my daughter will stop freaking out if I forget and cut her sandwich in half (oh the horror!), or having a meltdown because her socks are the “wrong” color, or she doesn’t like the cup I put her juice in. <Insert heavy sigh>

I’ll be the first to admit that those things have really irritated me, to the point of losing my cool. I try my best to separate the behavior from the child. After all, we all have our moments, right? I’m not perfect so I surely can’t expect my daughter to be either. And although I haven’t handled every one of her meltdowns or poor decisions with grace, patience, and a gentle voice, I have made certain never to call her “a bad girl.” This is because (1) she isn’t one, and (2) it’s hard to constantly be told what to do, when to do it, how to do it, all while trying to learn independence. Despite my best efforts, she began referring to herself as “a bad girl” even when I tried explaining to her that she is not a bad girl and that we all make mistakes. That what is important is that we learn from those mistakes. Yet it didn’t really seem to make much of a difference.

One day, as I was browsing Pinterest for cute Valentine’s Day ideas, I stumbled upon a cute idea for homemade Valentines where you use a white crayon to write a little love message on a white paper heart. Then, you let your child paint the heart with watercolors to reveal your secret message. Well, I didn’t end up using this idea for Valentine’s Day, but instead used it as a fun activity to help my daughter see herself the way I do and remind her of the many positive qualities she possesses.

So I cut out some white paper hearts and wrote my little messages:

* You are  nice to your friends
* You are a good sharer
* You are smart
* You’re a great helper
* So many people love you

When we sat down at her little table to do our fun activity I said, “You know how it makes me sad when you call yourself a bad girl?”

“Yes,” she said, looking down at the floor.

“Well I thought maybe we could do a fun project together to show you why it makes me sad – because you are not a bad girl.”

After explaining to her how painting the hearts would uncover secret messages, she happily painted one heart at a time. Then we talked about what each heart said before moving on to the next. After the paint on all of the hearts was dry I hung them up near the stairs leading up to her bedroom. They are one of the first things she sees in the morning and one of the last things she sees before going to bed at night.

The artist at work! (Photo by C. Corrigan)

The artist at work! (Photo by C. Corrigan)

Deep in thought, thinking about things she does that make her a good helper. (Photo by C. Corrigan)

Deep in thought, thinking about things she does that make her a good helper. (Photo by C. Corrigan)

"You are a good sharer." (Photo by C. Corrigan)

“You are a good sharer.” (Photo by C. Corrigan)

I didn’t want this to just be an arts and crafts activity. I really wanted these messages to stick with her. Since then I have not heard her call herself a bad girl. Maybe it was because of the hearts, or perhaps it’s just a coincidence. Either way, this was a good reminder for both of us. We can  be too hard on ourselves sometimes. It’s far too easy to fall into that trap of negatively labeling ourselves – whether we call ourselves a “failure” when make mistake at work, or a “bad mom” when we lose our cool and yell at out children. Seeing all the positive things we are, and do, can actually be more challenging than focusing on the negatives.

This activity actually inspired me to be a bit more kind to myself…by teaching my daughter do the same.

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