A September to Remember: Gentle Discipline~Request or Demand?
Our next awesome guest for ~A September to Remember~ is Zoie from Touchstonez!
Gentle Discipline, Part 1: Request or Demand? A point of distinction
Part 2: Flipping off your kids (included below)
I’m at the library escaping my love-filled, but very noisy home full of boys. Aside from the noise of fellow library patrons’ laptop startup/shutdown tones, vibrating cell phones (just as loud as a ring tone!), occasional person who actually thinks it’s okay to have a conversation on said cell phone (!) it’s a peaceful break for me to concentrate.
A mom with 2 small boys looks down at them and asks, “Do you want to leave the library now? It’s time to go to soccer practice.” Of course, the answer she gets from both boys is, “No! I don’t wanna go to soccer!” The mom says, “It’s time to go now. I told you it’s time for soccer.” The boys protest further, “I don’t want to go! I don’t like you, mama!” One bolts for the audiobooks and begins knocking them to the floor. From there, the situation further degenerates into the mom making threats to not take them to soccer, the boys loudly melting down, until she angrily scoops them both up and carries them out the door.
It’s a scene that you see all the time. But I do find it remarkable how quickly a question asked from a place of disconnection can escalate into an all-out anger and pain tug-o-war.
Ironically, as I watched this family, I’m at the library to write a post about gentle discipline  and how if we do not connect with ourselves as parents first, we can not hope to connect with our children.
I make the claim that connection is what it really is all about.
Hybrid Rasta Mama wrote a great post about how often kids are told, “No!” And, of course, since I’m in the middle of writing this post, my comment is lifted directly from what I was writing:
As my kids get older, one of the things I try to do in addition to many of the insights you [Hybrid Rasta Mama] list is to remember the mantra “connect before you correct.” This refers to 3 connections:
What is my need here? (safety, quiet, peace, etc)
What is my child’s need here? (Exploration, hunger, affection, etc)
How can I honor both our needs here and now? Once I’ve identified these (the hard part), I can find the yes in the no (the easy part)
Point 1 is vitally important and one we, as parents, most often overlook. Once you have connected with your own need, you can decide whether you are asking your child for something or demanding something. To put myself in the place of the library mother, I might find that I would like to get to soccer practice at the appointed time. My need is for punctuality. Point 2, what are my children’s needs here? They need fun. Point 3, How can I meet both of our needs and find the yes in the no?
I am not going to ask them if they “would like” to go because what do I do if they say no? If I am going to ask them something, it will be something that meets my need for punctuality and their need for fun. I may ask something like, “I see you are enjoying the library and want to have fun. I need to ensure we get to soccer practice at xx o’clock. Soccer practice begins in xx minutes. How would you like to run around on the grass out front?” This moves us toward the door, reminds them of soccer, and allows them to play. Hopefully, then I can continue this gentle moving toward the soccer appointment from there.
But, what if I check in with my needs and find that a “No, I don’t want to play on the grass” is not an acceptable answer to me? I need to find out if I am really making a request or if I need to tell them something. If I am making a demand, then I need to state that clearly (nothing wrong with stating what you need, right?) Like that library mom, she was not actually asking a question, she was making a demand but was hedging about it. She was moving from a place of disconnect into further disconnection with her children. 
If it’s not acceptable to receive an answer you don’t want, then don’t ask the question.
Gently, tell what you need and explain what will happen. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. As many times as necessary and then some more. The trick to maintaining your patience with this, is that you are moving from connecting with your own needs (you are meeting your needs.) As long as you can continuously check in with your needs as you are making your statements, you can do so from a place of abundance instead of a place of deficiency, and children really do feel this from their parents and they do respond.
If you haven’t been practicing connected parenting in this way, it may take quite a lot of patient repetition on your part to maintain this constant checking and rechecking in for connection, but it will come together eventually.
 Okay, maybe I’m holding a little resentment from the noise. Breathing through it now…
 Now, a series. Yikes!
 I know I am not taking into account what happened before or after the portion of their interaction that I witnessed. So, this is a simplistic example. There are times when melt downs happen both for parents and for children. Then, maintaining connection, while scooping up a melting down child includes, explaining what you are doing, stating your feelings without referencing the child (i.e.: I am feeling sad that we have an appointment when I see you want to continue playing. Not, I feel annoyed that you don’t come when I say, for example) I’ll explore this topic further in a later post
Gentle Discipline, Part 2: Flipping off your kids~Another trick to connecting while correcting
One of the biggest gentle discipline challenges for me is parenting during transitions. Going from one task to another or leaving one place for another can try the patience of the most keyed in parent-child pair. Some of the techniques I’ve used with success to ease the transitions are:
- Explicitly stating that we will be going somewhere or moving to a different task, making sure to include sharing that this means stopping what we are currently involved in.
- Getting down on their level, making eye contact and possibly using touch to be certain they understand
- Explaining how long before the transition will happen and either
- Let them set a timer or letting them know I am setting it
- Verbally counting down the time left, along with reminders that this means our current activity will be ending and the new one beginning
- Talking about things to look forward to after the transition
- Keeping It Simple
- Giving them a job to help us get out the door so they feel like they are contributing to our family
- Affirming their power to choose for themselves, whenever possible, anything they may want to wear, bring or do while going
- Always using a calm, reassuring voice (even when annoyed or frustrated)
- If necessary, modeling my feelings of worry about not meeting my needs, etc, using “I” statements.
Some of you may read this list and think I’m going through an awful lot just to get us out the door peacefully. I could simply ignore their needs, bundle them up and get them out the door. But, that will end in tears-usually for all of us. And this is what I would like to avoid by honoring everyone’s needs.
I feel it is my job as a parent to guide and facilitate through things that are difficult for them. They are learning about the world and don’t have the frame of reference that I do (hopefully) as an adult. I try to respect that until they have enough repetition with transitions, this can be challenging for them. Eventually, these tools will no longer necessary and we’ll move more easily from one thing to another.
Most of the time, these techniques allow us to move fairly smoothly from one thing to the next. I rarely need to use all of these techniques at once. But, sometimes I do use them all.
And sometimes I use them all and there’s still a toddlerpreschoolermommy meltdown.
Sometimes there’s a breakdown in our communication. Sometimes a meltdown is inevitable as a pressure valve simply needs release. Sometimes there’s not a reason I can point to.
I have to admit, I do not do well with meltdowns. The noise, that particular pitch of children, goes directly through my bones. I have to use all of my will to contain my feelings of anger. And this is where I gain some understanding of what it must be like to be a child who is so much smaller than an adult;
An adult who can turn the world upside down with one word, look or hand used in anger.
If I’m the (supposed) adult in control here and I’m having trouble not melting down, how must it feel to someone without experience with emotional control? I’ve had PPD and a bit of experience with the fear of having an emotion so large that there’s no guarantee that it will ever stop or that it won’t swallow me whole.
This is what I call “Flipping Off My Kids”
It’s a slightly tongue-in-cheek reminder to lighten up and ask myself:
- How would I feel if I were in the middle of something and had to immediately drop what I was doing?
- How would I feel if I declined the request and the person yelled at me? Would I feel it was a request or a demand couched as a request?
- How would I feel if my needs weren’t listened to and I was made to go somewhere or do something without any say in the matter?
- How would I feel if all my power was subsumed by someone physically and emotionally larger than myself?
I remind myself of how completely absorbing activities can be for children; how hard transitions can be. I flip my own false belief which leads to the reaction “Look what they are doing to me!” into empathetic understanding that this is what they are feeling without the (supposed) adult maturity and frame of reference to handle such overwhelming feelings.
I slow down. I breathe. I calmly state what I’m feeling. It doesn’t matter whether I think they are hearing me. They will respond to my mood, if not my exact words. If I can let go of our appointment or task, I let it go. I’ll take a break if it means not yelling. Even if I don’t have an adult to spell me out. I would rather close the door on my kids, after explaining that I need a moment of quiet time, than yell something I’ll regret later. I pull out all my stops for self-soothing that I need to get us to where we need to be.
Once I can get to a little bit of calm within myself, then I can figure whether they need me to hold the space for them, distract them, talk with them, soothe them… Whatever works to help them come back from that scary tantrumy place and know that, yet again, they were able to control their emotions, that they are not their emotions, and that emotions are neither good nor bad. Emotions just are.
And most importantly, I want them to know that they are always loved and always Good kids. Nothing they could ever do could change that.
I’ll reiterate that this is one of my most challenging parenting times and I do not always succeed the way I wish. Especially when all three are wailing and I just want to wish myself away, I can often feel most affirmed, most loving, and most alive if, if, I can bring myself into the present moment and be with myself and with my kids.
 Although, I do think it is valid to show your emotions in your voice, but always with “I” statements. No matter how much the urge is to punish, shame or blame, I stick to the “I” statements.
 This will soon link to an upcoming post about identifying needs
How do you handle transitions? Have you tried some of these ideas or do you have any other tools that have been effective for you? Are there some tools that do not work for your family? Do you think you’ll try “Flipping your kids off?” I’d love to hear from you.
This is a series, but I haven’t written the next part, yet. Are there any parenting issues you would like to see here? Please let me know.
Check out more awesome parenting insights from Zoie over at Touchstonez!