The Color of Change
[Portions reprinted from The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline by L.R.Knost. Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood and Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages also available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]
So few parents today were raised peacefully and respectfully by their own parents that it’s no surprise that a big issue in the gentle parenting community is how to overcome the stumbling blocks of change. Moving from a control-based parenting style, whether you’re used to spanking or time-outs or reward charts or some combination of the three, to a connection-based parenting style is a heart and mindset change as much as it is a lifestyle change. The undeniable fact is that change is hard work. Whether you’re trying to overcome your own childhood or your own already-established parenting habits, you can expect it to get harder before it gets easier. Just like with any lifestyle change, you will hit walls along the way, and they might even knock you back a step or two. Here are five tips to help you keep calm and carry on to achieve your parenting goals:
1) Commit to no hitting or other physical expressions of anger or frustration, and let that be your starting point, the line in the sand that you absolutely won’t cross. Just like in marriage, if you don’t make a commitment, there’s nothing to keep you from straying back into old patterns.
2) Rethink your parenting role and move from trying to force or manipulate or plead or coerce or use any other tactic to try to control your child’s behavior and instead build a desire in your child to cooperate because they trust you to make good decisions and to want them to be happy and safe. Do that by taking all of that energy that’s been going into trying to control their behavior (external controls) and focusing it on trying to build your connection and modeling the behavior you want to encourage (building internal controls).
3) Examine what you’re modeling. If right now you are insisting on your own way and reacting emotionally with anger and power-plays to your child’s lack of cooperation, what are you modeling? Stubbornness and lack of emotional regulation (i.e. adult-style tantrums). If, instead, you connect with your child, engage them in creative problem-solving, and work together with them toward a resolution to whatever issue you’re having, what are you modeling? Compromise, resourcefulness, and cooperation. Definitely worthwhile life lessons!
4) Keep working on you. Remind yourself that it’s your emotions and experiences and expectations that are causing your outbursts, not your little one’s behavior. Ask yourself why you’re so upset. Let yourself explore your inner triggers. Work through that internally instead of reacting to it externally.
5) Choose a touchstone in a color that will help to keep you grounded, something to look at or hold on to when you feel yourself slipping back into old thinking and behavior patterns. It could be a necklace or bracelet or key chain in a color that captures the essence of the parent you want to be to help you stay focused as you work your way toward becoming that parent. Colors have psychological implications, so some good choices might be blue which is the color of peace and trust; turquoise which is the color of communication; pink which is the color of unconditional love; or magenta which is the color of harmony. You can also place the color around your house as a reminder of the peaceful home you’re trying to create and as a symbol of change and renewal to help you remember to stop and breathe and think before responding to your child.
Remember, it’s a huge change to go from demanding obedience to inviting cooperation, and if you are already in an adversarial pattern with your child, that process will take extra time and patience. And keep in mind that no parenting ‘works’ to change a child into an adult or into a perfect little puppet. Children are imperfect humans being raised by imperfect humans in an imperfect world, after all! But shifting your thinking from expecting, or demanding, obedience to working with your child, understanding them, connecting with them, and inviting them to cooperate (i.e. Instead of “If you don’t put your dinner dishes in the sink, you won’t get ice cream for dessert” try “Let me know when your dishes are in the sink so I can get your ice cream for you.”) is the first and most important step toward a gentler style of parenting and a more peaceful home.
*Having gentle parenting tools ready and available in your ‘toolbox’ will go a long way toward helping you to stick to your commitment to be a more gentle parent. Here are some links to practical alternatives to punishment:
*Also published in The Natural Parent Magazine
L.R.Knost is a best-selling parenting and children’s book author and founder and director of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, an online resource for gentle parenting education, articles, and research. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood , Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages , and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline the first three books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, as well as her children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series available from Amazon and other major retailers.