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Folding and Feelings

May 31, 2023 06:00AM ● By Matthew Jones

You can fit a surprising amount of quality time into 10 minutes of doing laundry with a 3-year-old.

Recently, I had a little time after my workday was done and needed something to occupy my 3-year-old daughter, Lily. I thought I might tackle one of the bins of laundry lurking in our hallway, and asked her if she wanted to help. A little surprisingly, she said yes! But then again, she does like to help, if not necessarily on any adult’s terms.

I started off with a pile of my laundry. I started folding a couple of pairs of underwear, and she looked interested. Sure! Underwear is easy! I showed her how to lay it down flat and fold it over one to make it nice and neat. She was able to do one or two on her own. It wasn’t too complicated, but I was proud of her! My wife came up the stairs and saw that we were folding clothes. I showed her how good of a job Lily was doing, but seeing it was my underwear getting folded, I got the old arm-cross and eyebrow raise. “Are you seriously having our daughter fold your underwear for you?” What? It’s a good starting point for getting used to folding laundry. And I’m going to be folding HER underwear for at least the next decade, so what’s wrong with a little reciprocity?

My wife wasn’t wrong, though. I moved on to folding Lily’s clothes together. She loves wearing dresses and had plenty lying around to fold, so we tackled that. I sent her into her room to get some hangers since she was still in the mood to listen. She went in and came right back out sans hangers. I felt a little twinge of frustration. But I reminded myself that she’s never done this before and has 3-year-old listening skills, so I took a deep breath and went in to help her. We grabbed a handful of empty hangers off the rack and brought them out into the hall.

Easy as pie, I popped a dress onto a hanger. “Daddy, you’re a great hanger,” Lily complimented. Now I wanted to show her how to do it! I held the hanger up and showed her how to hang the dress one sleeve at a time. But on second thought, I realized that having to hold it up while getting it on the hanger was a little hard. So I put the hanger down on the ground and helped her get the dress on the hanger. She tried it on her own, but couldn’t get it. After a few seconds of trying and failing, she screeched and threw it aside, crumpling her face up into an epic pout. I was frustrated that she wasn’t getting it. But I dug deep and channeled my Unflappable Zen Dad skills, took a breath and decided to turn it into a teaching moment.

“You know that feeling you’re having right now? That’s called ‘frustrated’” I calmly explained to her. “Can you say ‘frustrated’?” She gave it a shot, and it came out something like “frubstrabbled.” Close enough. I said, “Remember what Daniel Tiger does when he gets mad?” She looked at me expectantly. I sang the song we’d both heard so many times before: “When you feel so mad that you wanna roar, take a deep breath and count to four." We said it together a couple times and took some deep breaths. Pretty soon Lily felt a little calmer and we got back to folding clothes.

Big shout out to the people behind Daniel Tiger. They focus on emotional intelligence, like accepting and handling your frustration. It’s all based on Mister Rogers and the lessons he taught. I really like all the little songs they have for helping with everyday problems. Things like remembering to go potty, playing together nicely or sharing. That Unflappable Zen Dad I channeled earlier? Not dissimilar from Daniel Tiger’s dad. The parents in that show are ALWAYS up for taking a knee and talking about feelings.

Anyhow, we got back to actually hanging up dresses. I helped her get a couple more on the hanger and then hook the hangers on the rack. But pretty soon she was just playing with the hangers. She is 3, after all.

So we didn’t get very much done as far as folding laundry. But I’m really proud of her for following instructions, trying something new and dealing with her feelings. And I’m also really proud of myself for keeping my cool and turning a frustrating moment into a learning experience. I struggle with being mindful with my kids, as well as with dealing with anger and frustration when they’re not perfect. (Yes, I’m working on setting realistic expectations.) Keep an eye out for these little opportunities for learning and growth for both you and your kids. They can become of the best moments as a parent.

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