Tonight my 5 year old was being really, really unlikeable. She hit, shoved, pushed, hair pulled, name called, or otherwise antagonized with mean or violent behavior every single one of her siblings and probably a few of the neighbors. She sat on several time outs and took several mandatory breaks from other people, which did not deter her from continuing to treat everyone around her like garbage. My husband dragged her kicking and screaming into the house an hour before her bedtime, put her in her bed, and told her it was bedtime. She fought him every step of the way, railing against him, refusing to brush her teeth, kicking off her covers, screaming at the top of her lungs. He was patient and calm, but growing increasingly frustrated. Finally, he left to deal with the other kids and I went in for a turn with the crazy 5 year old. I sat down next to her and she kicked at me with her feet. I asked if she wanted her doll and she threw it across the room. I asked about her feelings, I threatened to put her on another time out. Nothing seemed to derail or get through to her. She was determined to be antagonistic and mean.
Finally, exhausted, I just sat next to her and told her we loved her and we’re never going to stop loving her. I told her she’s allowed to feel upset or sad or angry, but that she isn’t allowed to hit or yell at her siblings or friends or parents. I told her we loved her and would not treat her that way, and that she loves us and cannot treat us that way. Because love doesn’t treat people that way.
She let out a big sigh and relaxed her body for the first time all evening. She snuggled into me and buried her head into my shoulder, crazy antics and rude behavior vanished, like someone had performed an exorcism. It’s like the entire afternoon had just been a crying out for someone to love her, to reassure her that she is and will remain loved, despite the ugly things inside of her rearing up. And she chose peace for the rest of the evening. No more lashing out or hitting. More cooperation. She asked for her doll and her blanket and went to sleep shortly after that without complaint.
I think about our world and how sick it is at the moment. How sick it has always been. I think about the violence and oppression and the news that moves me to tears every single day. I feel helpless in the face of it, and find myself searching for concrete things that can be done to battle it. In the end, the biggest answer to violence is always going to be love. If it’s too late for our own generation, which was raised to stuff down its emotions while over glorifying violence as power, and to use that power to oppress others due to gender or race, then maybe (I dare to hope) it’s not too late for our children’s generation.
How can we look out for those children right in our own communities, neighborhoods and schools, who need a little extra love? Can we watch for those children who are being really really unlikeable and recognize their need for extra love? Can we show them, through example, that they are loved and deserving of love, and that because they are loved and deserving of love, they need to treat others with love? Can we prevent a few future oppressors just by loving children? Can we alter a society from one that glorifies violence and oppresses people to one that achieves peace? Maybe not. Maybe it’s grandiose to think society can be transformed by love, but society is only made up of people, and we can absolutely transform the lives of individual people by simply loving them while they are young. It’s one small, concrete, but not insignificant thing I can do to make this world a better place, one kid at a time.
A world that is loved, knows it’s worthy of love, and gives love in return. That’s what I want for our children.