Life Lessons We Can Learn From A Three Year Old

I like to think that I teach my 3 year old everything. The reality is much different.

Pre-school aged children are funny creatures. They are like little sponges, soaking up the world around them at an alarming rate, but also emerging as independent thinkers. Independent might actually be an understatement; I call my 3.5 year old daughter the Mini-Manager.

She’s the boss. She runs the show. She tells me which diapers to put on her baby brother, which jammies he can wear, exactly which spoon she wants with her cereal, and when I am and am not allowed to brush her hair.

While I’m sure that I do teach her things about her world, what has become apparent to me lately is that she is a greater teacher to me than I ever expected before I had children.

Life Lesson 1: Stop and breathe

“Mama, why are you so angry?” These 5 words have stopped me in my tracks a few times. As I’m huffing and puffing about getting everyone out of the house, struggling to close a stroller and fit it into the trunk, getting everyone buckled in correctly, and maybe picking up a few spilled goldfish on the way into the car, she can stop me with this one question. In the moment, my feathers are ruffled. Each tiny thing adds up to a tornado of frustration that becomes much bigger than car seat buckles or spilled goldfish.

That question from her tiny voice makes me pause. And sometimes that pause is all I need to realize that all of my huffing and puffing is quite ridiculous. If I just take a breath and calm down, we could probably all get on our way much quicker and easier. When I pause for one second to think about her question, the reality of the situation often smacks me in the face: I’m frustrated, tired, and over reacting, and I just need to stop and breathe. Whatever it is that’s building up in my mom-rage-brain really isn’t that big of a deal once I just stop to think about it.

And the very best secondary part of this lesson? As soon as I take a breath, apologize and let her know that she’s right, that it’s silly for me to be acting so mad, she instantly forgives, forgets, and we move on. It really is that simple.

Life Lesson 2: Find Joy In Simplicity

My daughter finds great joy in the simplest things, as do most children. Watching me hit the wiffle ball, and then both of us chasing after it is one of her favorite back yard activities. It produces loads of laughter, loud proclamations of the dinosaurs that are chasing us, and even mysterious trips into the “jungle” (the hedges) to retrieve a lost ball. We are actually playing fetch, but in her 3-year-old imagination it’s a grand game with larger-than-life characters, mythical locations, and exciting adventure.

We often think that we need more. We think that we need to make more, do more, have more, or be more. But as my daughter often reminds me through play is that there can be great beauty in the simplest of things, or the most mundane of activities. Especially during this time of pandemic and uncertainty, we seem to have this longing for what was, and to be able to go back to the “normal” life where we can go to all the places or do all the things. But what if we don’t really need those things after all? It’s ok to miss these things, but it’s also important to understand the beauty in not doing them.

Life Lesson 3: Give Unconditionally

We often think of pre-school aged kids as a group who are learning to share and not so great at it yet. And while that might be true as it pertains to toys (pesky baby brothers beware), my daughter is a giver by nature, and it’s a truly beautiful thing. She gives hugs with little abandon, and although sometimes those hugs are a little bit too hard (as is often the case with aforementioned baby brother), we all could learn a little bit from this. Showing others that we care for them doesn’t have to come in the form of a too-hard hug, but I think that a lot of us could be a little bit more generous these days at showing love and appreciation to those around us.

She also used to get a small cup of water every time we would leave pre-school, and on her way out the door would pour a tiny puddle on the walkway “for the birds when they get thirsty”.

And yes, while I can see the hilarity in her literally “pouring one out” for the birds, the beauty of that tiny daily act also made my heart swell. If we could all take a tip from her and learn to give just a little bit more — not necessarily things, but our time, our love, our compassion and empathy, maybe we’d all be in a bit of a better place over all.

Along the way, of course I am teaching her lessons about life, about the world. But as important as these lessons are for her to grow into a responsible and ethical human, she teaches me just as much about how to be a kind and loving mother. She teaches me every day, and I only hope that I can soak it all in from my adorable (if not a little bit overbearing) Mini-Manager.

Stephanie is a mom and health professional based in Boston, MA who writes as a means of sanity and mental clarity.

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