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Two weeks ago my two older kids started a new camp. It’s at their new Montessori pre-school and I am beyond pumped for them to begin school here. A few days into camp, my daughter (2.5), started saying she didn’t like her teachers. My first thought was legit terror. I have wicked anxiety and I usually always jump to the worst possible scenario in my head before I even have a chance to think anything through. That said, I took a breath and asked her why.

She said “My teacher painted my rock.”

I almost laughed. I pressed for a little more information because I couldn’t believe that this was what was making her so upset. She insisted that “my teacher helped me” and kept referring this rock. I almost brushed it off but then I thought about it and realized that she was legit upset because she wanted to work on this rock herself.

I asked her if she was upset because she wanted to do it herself and she looked down, as if embarrassed, and said “yes.” I reassured her that it was OK for her to want to do things herself and that all she needed to say was “I don’t need help, but thank you!”–she laughed at my enthusiasm but I could tell she needed to hear that. She repeated it to herself with a smile on her face.

I talked to her briefly about always speaking up if something didn’t feel right and reminded her it was OK to tell a teacher she wanted to try to do something herself.

The next morning in the car ride we discussed her feelings about camp again. She wasn’t excited to go and said she didn’t “like camp.” I had a moment of clarity. I will say that I don’t always feel like a mom. I often tell new moms that I didn’t feel like a parent until my first kid was a toddler and I started dealing more with discipline. But it’s true–the day to day doesn’t feel like big “parenting” moments. Then you’re hit with something like this. Something small to you, but big to them. And these are the moments that make us parents. Our small decisions that ultimately help teach our kids something greater.

It hit me that I needed to help her speak up for herself. It seems silly but she was very clearly upset and I hated the idea of her not being comfortable. I’m not one to intervene at every little thing, but I also think it’s so important to guide your children to grow in their own confidence and independence.

I hoped her teacher wouldn’t think I was a nut case.

We got to there and I led the conversation–I explained that Charlotte mentioned to me that she was upset because someone helped her paint her rock. Her teacher probably thought it was a joke at first but when Charlotte spoke up (after a little prodding) she took it seriously and reiterated to C that she just needed to tell her if she didn’t want help. Charlotte felt good. I felt good albeit a little ridiculous.

When I went to pick her up that afternoon her teacher approached me again. She told me she had asked around to get the scoop about Charlotte’s rock. It turns out one of the teachers was holding the rock while Charlotte was painting. In that moment I felt silly for even making this a thing and I made a comment that made light of toddler concerns. At that her teacher reminded me that while it may seem silly to us, it was big to her. It was real to her. And I gave myself a little pat on the back.

It’s always difficult to figure out what’s what when it comes to toddlers. They are master’s of all emotions, sometimes all at once. But I’m happy that I slowed down and trusted her. I listened and asked her genuine questions and even though she is only two and a half she understood–she understood her own feelings, she understood that she could say no thank you to an adult, and I hope that she, in some small way, understood that I will always have her back.

She said “My teacher painted my rock.”

I almost laughed. I pressed for a little more information because I couldn’t believe that this was what was making her so upset. She insisted that “my teacher helped me” and kept referring this rock. I almost brushed it off but then I thought about it and realized that she was legit upset because she wanted to work on this rock herself.

I asked her if she was upset because she wanted to do it herself and she looked down, as if embarrassed, and said “yes.” I reassured her that it was OK for her to want to do things herself and that all she needed to say was “I don’t need help, but thank you!”–she laughed at my enthusiasm but I could tell she needed to hear that. She repeated it to herself with a smile on her face.

I talked to her briefly about always speaking up if something didn’t feel right and reminded her it was OK to tell a teacher she wanted to try to do something herself.

The next morning in the car ride we discussed her feelings about camp again. She wasn’t excited to go and said she didn’t “like camp.” I had a moment of clarity. I will say that I don’t always feel like a mom. I often tell new moms that I didn’t feel like a parent until my first kid was a toddler and I started dealing more with discipline. But it’s true–the day to day doesn’t feel like big “parenting” moments. Then you’re hit with something like this. Something small to you, but big to them. And these are the moments that make us parents. Our small decisions that ultimately help teach our kids something greater.

It hit me that I needed to help her speak up for herself. It seems silly but she was very clearly upset and I hated the idea of her not being comfortable. I’m not one to intervene at every little thing, but I also think it’s so important to guide your children to grow in their own confidence and independence.

I hoped her teacher wouldn’t think I was a nut case.

We got to there and I led the conversation–I explained that Charlotte mentioned to me that she was upset because someone helped her paint her rock. Her teacher probably thought it was a joke at first but when Charlotte spoke up (after a little prodding) she took it seriously and reiterated to C that she just needed to tell her if she didn’t want help. Charlotte felt good. I felt good albeit a little ridiculous.

When I went to pick her up that afternoon her teacher approached me again. She told me she had asked around to get the scoop about Charlotte’s rock. It turns out one of the teachers was holding the rock while Charlotte was painting. In that moment I felt silly for even making this a thing and I made a comment that made light of toddler concerns. At that her teacher reminded me that while it may seem silly to us, it was big to her. It was real to her. And I gave myself a little pat on the back.

It’s always difficult to figure out what’s what when it comes to toddlers. They are master’s of all emotions, sometimes all at once. But I’m happy that I slowed down and trusted her. I listened and asked her genuine questions and even though she is only two and a half she understood–she understood her own feelings, she understood that she could say no thank you to an adult, and I hope that she, in some small way, understood that I will always have her back.