Losing your patience from time to time is a normal part of parenting. Kids are a handful, after all.
But one mom’s recent moment of exasperation led to a major realization about how dangerous these lapses can be, but also, thankfully, how simple it can be to fix them.
The mom’s lapse in patience made her realize how easy it was to create lifelong bad memories for kids.
All of us have those core memories from our childhoods of being yelled at or chastised for something that mattered to us but was an annoyance to our parents.
Most of the time these interactions seemed silly and petty in hindsight, but given the way they affect a child’s developing brain, they’re a lot more significant than that. After all, if they were really so petty, then why do we remember them decades later?
Mom and radio personality Jelly Santos had an awakening to this after a seemingly trivial interaction with her daughter left the little girl obviously hurt.
“Lemme tell you how easy it is to create lifelong bad memories for your kids,” she wrote in a thread on X, aka Twitter. “The other day a conversation about lipstick with my toddler reminded me how easy it is to cause damage to these little beings.”
Santos lost her patience when her daughter smeared lipstick on her face while they were running late.
As Santos showed in photos, she and her daughter love to play with makeup, and frequently play a game where her daughter does her mom’s makeup in adorably wild ways. But on a recent day, Santos’ daughter’s timing couldn’t have been worse.
“We were running late. She decided to take my lipstick and smear it on her face,” Santos wrote in her X thread, going on to say that she “got upset” and said the types of things every kid has heard at one point or another.
“I said why [is] she doing that,” Santos wrote, “that she always wants to make herself look like a clown with lipstick before we go out.”
Of course to our adult brains, this seems like no big deal. But kids don’t have our adult logic to parse these interactions with. In this case, Santos’ little girl’s favorite way to bond with her mom suddenly became something bad she was being punished for, and a simple momentary loss of patience probably felt like a total rejection, castigation, or even betrayal.
Santos instantly recognized this at play in her daughter. “Her face. The hurt. Omg. I felt bad,” she wrote. “Her lip moved. Her tears formed. And I realized how much that hurt her.”
So Santos fired up her gentle parenting skills. She stopped and apologized for getting angry, and let her daughter feel her feelings. “She let the tears roll,” Santos said, and after fixing the lipstick, “she smiled and gave me a hug. But it stayed with me.”
An interaction the following day showed Santos just how much her lapse in patience had hurt her daughter and also how she could fix it.
The next day, Santos and her little girl were playing with her makeup again as usual, but she noticed something different this time. “She was being very careful applying it,” Santos said.
The more Santos watched, the more she realized that her anger with her daughter the day prior had made the little girl afraid to play with the lipstick like she usually did, cautious to not make a mistake that would upset her mom.
“I knew I was the reason. So I said lemme see your lipstick. And she says ‘look mommy. I don’t look like a clown today,'” Santos wrote. “And there it was. Damage waiting.”
The mom explained to her daughter that what she did the day before wasn’t bad and that she could still play with lipstick at appropriate times.
“I had to check myself so fast,” Santos said, but in the end, avoiding one of those damaging lifelong bad memories for kids was as simple as a little validation.
“I said baby listen. Mommy likes clown lipstick when we’re home. It makes us both happy right?” Santos wrote, going on to say her daughter’s “eyes lit up.” She then made a deal with her little girl that when they were getting ready to go out, they chilled out on the makeup, “but when we’re home we can go crazy with the big lipstick like the clowns.”
It was as simple as that. “It’s been love ever since,” Santos wrote. But she learned a valuable lesson: “That one moment could’ve stayed with her forever had I not corrected myself.”
It may seem petty, but what Santos laid out is very real. Therapists say that when kids get in trouble for things they don’t understand, it can make them feel afraid, guarded, and ashamed. That, in turn, impairs their cognitive development.
Perhaps more importantly, it can also flood their bodies with stress hormones, sending them into “fight-or-flight” mode. This is part of how “bad memories” or traumas are created. And particularly if it happens consistently over long periods of time, it can injure kids’ self-esteem and make them more susceptible to issues like anxiety or depression. It can have physical impacts, too.
Of course, everyone loses their patience now and then, and there’s a vast difference between a moment of exasperation and intense, lasting trauma, and no parent needs to beat themselves up for getting testy now and then.
But as Santos’ story shows, it’s also easy to avoid these moments and fix them when they do happen. It just takes a moment to “check yourself” and reassure kids that they’re safe and accepted. Even when it seems petty to our adult brains.
John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice and human interest topics.