Award-winning author, L.R.Knost

communication

In the Light of the Unexpected

It might be that day of the week

or that particular season

or that darkest hour

when you’ve come to the end of your rope

when your dreams seem impossibly far away

when nothing seems to fit in its proper place

when the bed covers look like an inviting place to stay

forever.

 

“This is not what I expected,” you might say

on this day of the week

in this particular season

of your darkest hour.

 

That’s okay.

That’s okay.

 

It doesn’t mean it can’t work out … or be okay … or become something better than you expected, in time. Just because it’s not what you expected, doesn’t mean it’s turning out all wrong.

 

Each time you:

open your arms

pick your battles

breathe through the meltdowns

work through the upheavals

spot the silver linings

carry the weight that’s often too big to be carried,

it becomes you.

It becomes you.

 

This life you didn’t necessarily plan for is becoming quite beautiful on you.

 

In these diversions from the path you imagined, expected, or hoped for,

there are opportunities to see silver linings of your soul you didn’t even know you had.

 

But now you do. Now you do.

 

Shine on, dear one. You radiate strength in the light of the unexpected.

 

© Rachel Macy Stafford 2017 from #onlylovetoday

 

Rachel Macy Stafford’s latest work of heart, ONLY LOVE TODAY, enters the world this week. Through her most honest writing yet, she reveals her own struggles to hold onto what’s most important, and make what’s most lasting the first priority in her everyday life. Formatted for people with busy lives, you can literally open the book to any page and find words that will re-route your day in a more positive, loving direction.
Secure your copy here ==> http://amzn.to/2auBHHj
Signed copies here ==> http://bit.ly/2kAziNk
Join Rachel’s supportive community at The Hands Free Revolution.

Rachel Macy Stafford has one goal: help people choose love as much as humanly possible. She is the New York Times bestselling author of Hands Free Mama and Hands Free Life, as well as a certified special education teacher and inspiring speaker. Millions find solace and direction in her weekly blog posts at handfreemama.com and supportive Facebook community, The Hands Free Revolution. Rachel’s latest work of heart, ONLY LOVE TODAY, is soulful encouragement for busy individuals yearning to anchor themselves in love despite everyday distractions, pressures, and discord. “Only Love Today” began as a mantra to overcome her inner bully, but it is now the practice of Rachel Macy Stafford’s life. It can be a practice for all of us with ONLY LOVE TODAY.

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. 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 ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.


A Sea Change: Obedience is Not the Goal

[Excerpt reprinted from Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting by L.R.Knost. Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and StagesWhispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood; and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline by L.R.Knost also available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]

“Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires.”
James 3:4

toddler on a sailboatOh, the toddler years, those delightful days when little ones begin to discover that they are, indeed, separate individuals from their parents and begin to test the waters to see how far out to sea their little boats can take them when they’ve got a full head of steam. This is the age when parents begin to wonder how in the world to tether their little steamboats to the docks or scuttle them in shallow waters to slow them down.

Obedience becomes a hot topic at moms’ groups and men’s breakfasts, at playdates and on park benches as parents wrestle with this new developmental stage that often shows up, unwelcome and unannounced, and the desperate, bewildered question being debated is always the same:

“How can I get my child to obey?”

Take a moment and examine what that question really means, though. Does it mean, “How can I control my child?” or does it mean, “How can I help my child learn self-control?” It’s an important distinction because the first meaning is external and temporary (i.e. only effective as long as the controlling factors are ever-present and escalate as the child grows) and the second meaning is internal and intrinsic. In the first, the rudder of a child’s ship is firmly removed from the child’s hands again and again as the parent and child struggle for control of the ship. In the second, the rudder remains in the child’s hands as the parent guides, instructs, and leads the way with their little steamboat sheltered alee of the parent ship.

Parents often feel lost at sea, themselves, when it comes to the best course for guiding and growing their children in the storm-tossed waves and murky waters of childhood behaviors, and many churches try to meet parent’s needs by offering parenting books and classes. A vast number of those resources are, unfortunately, based on a punitive, authoritarian model. These books, and the classes based on the books, claim to be Biblical, but miss the heart of the Father entirely and mislead and even intimidate parents into believing that they must train their children into instant, unquestioning obedience in order to raise their children ‘God’s way.’

Consider, though, that Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruit.” (Matthew 7:16) referring to how we will recognize his children. And what is the fruit of the Spirit? Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Gentleness. Faithfulness. Self-control. What’s missing? Nothing. God’s Word is perfect. And yet obedience is not included as a fruit of the Spirit. It is not mentioned as a measure of love for God or evidence of a relationship with God. That certainly doesn’t mean that God doesn’t want us to listen to his wise counsel and remain within the safe boundaries he’s shared with us. What it does mean is that it’s a heart issue, not an obedience issue, and he wants our trust and thoughtful, considered cooperation, not our fear-driven, mindless obedience.

Did you know, in fact, that the word obey doesn’t even appear in the original texts of the Bible? When the English translators of the King James version of the Bible encountered the Hebrew words hupakouo/hupakoe and shema/lishmoa they discovered that there wasn’t an exact English equivalent, so they chose the word hearken in their translations which subsequently became an archaic term and was later changed to obey.24 So, what exactly do the original words in the Bible mean?

Hupakouo/hupakoe – to hear from above; to listen for; to lend an ear to1,2,3

Shema/lishmoa – to understand, to internalize, to ponder, to reflect upon1,2,3 

And, in the negative form, rather than the word disobedience in the original texts, there is…

Parakouo – to close one’s ears to; to ignore1,2,3

The same mistranslation also occurs from the original Greek texts of the New Testament where peitho and peitharcheo are translated into, respectively, obey and disobey but actually mean…

Peitho – to be persuaded; to be moved; to respond25 

Peitharcheo – to remain unpersuaded; to be unmoved by; to be unresponsive to25

Also translated into obey in English are the Greek words phulasso and teron and their various conjugations, all of which mean to watch, to observe carefully, to give consideration to25.

Taken together, the meaning of what is now translated obey in the original text of the Bible is more accurately read ‘listen to, thoughtfully consider, and respond to.’ That is a far, far different meaning than the ‘instant obedience’ often held up as the epitome of Christian faith and evidence of love for God and, by extension, the goal of so-called ‘Biblical parenting.’

Before we address the parenting conundrum of instant obedience versus thoughtful consideration, let’s look at several verses in the Bible with the original meanings restored:

He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and obey listen to, thoughtfully consider, and respond to it.” (Luke 11:28) 

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey listen to, thoughtfully consider, and respond to my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. (John 14:23) 

Children, obey listen to, thoughtfully consider, and respond to your parents in the Lord, for this is right. (Ephesians 6:1)

One other interesting note is that the word translated punish in the English versions of the Bible is from the Hebrew word avon and from the Greek kolasis/kolazo. Look at the contrast in meanings:

Punish (English) – to inflict a penalty upon; to exact retribution; to make suffer26 

Avon (Hebrew) – to carry guilt; to bear one’s own iniquity1,2,3 

Kolasis/kolazo (Greek) – removed; separated25 

The word used in English translations of the Bible, punish, conveys an external infliction of negative consequences, while the original words, avon (Hebrew) and kolasis/kolazo (Greek) convey internal, self-imposed consequences (i.e. carrying the weight of guilt/shame) and natural consequences (i.e. being estranged).

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment bearing one’s own iniquity, carrying guilt, feeling shame, being estranged. (1 John 4:18)

Jesus came to take our place, to bear our iniquities, to carry our guilt, to free us from shame, and to reunite us with our Father, and the literal translation conveys that truth perfectly.

The thing is, instant obedience and thoughtless compliance based on fear of punishment will always be an external and temporary ‘fix’ for behavior issues, as evidenced by the increasingly defiant and disconnected Israelite nation in the Old Testament, while thoughtful consideration and cooperation are internal, a heart-deep and soul-to-soul connection inspired by compassion, respect, and communication. Consider this passage from The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline:

Someone once wrote, “Obedience is doing what you’re told, no matter what’s right. Morality is doing what’s right, no matter what you’re told.” History preserved the quote, but not the source with any credibility, but it’s a wise statement nonetheless.

Growing children with an inner compass that guides their steps toward kindness and compassion and generosity of spirit is far, far and away superior to training children to operate on automatic pilot. Parents often focus so much time and energy on trying to make their children obey in the small moments of life that they forget to step back and take a panoramic view of how their parenting choices may affect their children’s life course.

‘Instant obedience’ is the new catch-phrase in many popular parenting articles and books, but the reality is that, while instant obedience may be convenient for parents in the moment, it can have powerful negative impacts on the adults their children will become.

Training children into instant obedience is the equivalent of disabling their inner guidance system and strapping on a remote-controlled rocket. The end result may be adults who are easily controlled by others or adults who are deeply divided, constantly fighting the external controls, but hampered by an erratic, immature inner compass that never had the chance to develop properly.

Equipping children with a healthy, well-functioning internal guidance system, an inner compass, takes time, patience, and self-control on the part of the parents. Certainly not a convenient alternative! While it may not be convenient to slow down our hectic life pace and really connect with our children, it’s that connection that enables their internal guidance system to come online. While taking the time to really communicate may be a sacrifice, it’s in that communication that the directions on their inner guidance system are set. And, while working cooperatively with our children may take more time and effort, the fact is that inviting cooperation rather than forcing compliance raises leaders instead of reaping followers.

Clearly, teaching our children to control themselves is far more effective in the long-term than trying to control our children, but how, specifically, can we go about equipping them with those all-important internal controls?

  • Model instead of manipulate.
  • Invite instead of intimidate.
  • Support instead of shame.
  • Encourage instead of enrage.
  • Teach instead of threaten.
  • Listen instead of lecture.
  • Help instead of hurt.
  • Parent instead of punish.

Instant obedience and mindless compliance are poor goals, indeed, when raising children. A thoughtfully questioning, passionately curious, and humorously resourceful child who delights in inventing ‘compromises’ and who endlessly pushes the boundaries tends to become a thoughtful, passionate, resourceful adult who will change the world rather than being changed by the world.These are simple truths, and yet their effects are profound when we embrace them and incorporate them into our parenting. Connection, Communication, and Cooperation, the Three C’s of gentle parenting, are powerful and effective tools in guiding our children toward self-control to help them learn to steer their own ships, and, if we are to be fishers of men, then isn’t a ship headed out to sea exactly what each of us should be, anyway? Instead of mooring our children to the shore, let’s sail alongside them in the sometimes calm, sometimes stormy, but always glorious sea of life, keeping them sheltered on our leeward side until they are ready to sail alone.

“For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”
Isaiah 41:13

Related posts:

Stealing God’s Gift: Free Will is a Gift to be Nurtured, Not a Curse to be Broken

Spare the Rod: The Heart of the Matter

Did Jesus Have a Temper Tantrum?

Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting

Tattered Tapestries: Weaving Trust Through the Chaos

Fear Doesn’t Lead to Faith: Becoming Your Child’s Safe Place

Where Did You Learn Love, Child?

Practical, Gentle, Effective Discipline

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. 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 ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.


Parenting Through Cancer: Coping with Emotions

Funny Face“Bedtime. Go grab your toothbrush from the suitcase, okay?”

“Why?” my eight-year-old asks.

“It’s late, and we all need to sleep. Please go brush your teeth and get ready for bed,” I reply, distracted as I pack the last few things for my extended hospital stay after my surgery in the morning.

“Why?” her determined voice questions.

“We need to get ready for bed, sweetie,” I answer, still not glancing in her direction as I mentally go through my checklist to make sure I’ve packed everything I’ll need.

“Why?” she persists, her volume rising.

My attention is finally caught by her challenging tone, and I turn to look at her.

Belligerent eyes stare me down.

I take a deep breath to get through my first knee-jerk, stress reaction, then consciously slow my breathing, quiet my thoughts, and focus fully on my strong-spirited little girl who is clearly in contrary mode.

I wait.

She shifts, uncomfortable, then shoots, “Why?”

I soften my gaze and offer a slight smile.

I wait.

“Why?” she snaps again, a bit more quietly.

I hold her gaze calmly, knowing she needs space and time to work through her feelings before she’ll be able to share them.

I wait.

She turns away, her small shoulders stiff as she sits on the side of the bed, her back to me.

I wait.

A minute passes, then two. Then, in a soft voice, “I don’t want you to go.”

“I know,” I say quietly.

I wait again.

Moments pass in silence, then she whispers, “I’m scared.”

“I know, baby. I am, too,” I reply, struggling to hold back my own tears as I hear hers start.

And I wait.

Soon a small body crashes into me and my girl wraps her arms around me tightly. I hold her close, my heart breaking at the pain and fear I wish she never had to feel. After a few moments she slips away and brushes her teeth, then settles quietly into bed.

I lay awake throughout the night, listening to the even breathing of my sleeping eight-year-old nearby and cuddling my tiny cosleeper close and praying desperately for all of my children as I head into the unknown.

Hours later, I slip out of bed and kiss each sleeping child, then leave for an early hospital check-in. My heart stays behind with my feisty sweet girl and my little cosleeper and each one of my six incredibly unique and wonderfully kind-hearted children. This is so hard. Cancer sucks.

Related posts:

My Cancer Story, Part 1: The Diagnosis

The Gift of a Strong-Willed Child

Backtalk is Communication…LISTEN

Bridge Over Troubled Waters~Parenting a ‘Problem’ Child

The Problem with Punishment

12 Steps to Gentle Parenting

Spare the Rod: The Heart of the Matter

Toxic Parenting: Spanking, Shaming, Threatening, Manipulating

 

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. 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 ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.


‘Patience Doesn’t Feel Patient’ by Sarah Sprague – Friends of L.R.Knost Rock the Guest Posts while She Battles Cancer

mom and daughterThey say that bravery doesn’t feel brave or fearless because if you’re not afraid it is something other than bravery. I guess that patience is one of those things, as well.

From the outside it looks like calm and peace but from the inside it can feel more like the tested limits of self control.

Learning to be patient is learning how to separate what we feel from how we act. It is learning to accept our feelings while choosing to not act on them. It is learning to say to ourselves:

I can be angry without acting angry.
I can be impatient without acting impatient.
I can be upset without acting upset.
I can be hurt without acting hurt.
I can feel without acting on my feelings.
I can feel without reacting to what I feel.

When I choose to act patient I slow down. I speak more slowly than I normally would. I lower my volume and I pace my words so that they won’t rush together in an explosion of words that no one will understand and that will act as a precursor to yelling. There’s a rhythm to this patience that doesn’t feel patient. A slow rhythm. A careful spacing of words. A slowness to how my body moves as I make sure that no part of me will gain a momentum that will feel like hitting or grabbing or being anything other than soft and gentle.

  • When my toddler hits again.
  • When my seven year old is upset that he doesn’t understand his homework and is avoiding doing it instead of asking questions.
  • When my four year old has snuck his safety scissors into the other room so that he can cut apart a travel pillow to see what is inside, and the entire world feels like it’s covered with tiny Styrofoam pellets.
  • When the two-and-a-half gallon water dispenser has been opened by someone curious and it has flooded the kitchen.
  • When my three year old fed the fish every container of fish food all at once and the twenty nine gallon aquarium needed to have all of its water cleaned and replaced at bedtime.

I slow down to try and run in quicksand. I go slow-motion like walking through an empty room with a strobe light. I try and move my body through a thickened air. And I try to slow every word down so that it comes with a peace and gentleness that doesn’t show any of the frustration that I feel.

I grasp at all of the excuses that my child doesn’t yet have the words to offer. I try and see what positive or curious motivations they  might have, or what stresses may be driving them to this place. I try to wrap every part of my heart and brain around empathy and love.

He sits at the table fiddling with his pencil. Nothing has been done on his worksheet, not even his name. He has gotten up to do half a dozen things. I have to make dinner. I have to sweep the floors. I have to do all the things on my to-do list.

“Issac.. Can you please do your homework?” I ask.

“Okay.” He says. And he picks up his pencil and stares off into space.

I am feeling anything but patient. My daughter has not napped today and she claws at my knees to be picked up, asks to draw on his homework with his pencil, and wants no substitutes for this thing that she cannot have. So now I’m being screamed at. I tap at his worksheet and he tells me to help Keenie calm down. So I walk away to find her some playdoh so that we can work on his homework together.

I come back. Nothing’s been done.

Breathe. Slow down. Find the reasons. Seven hour days at school with fifteen minute recesses. Not nearly enough time to decompress after school. He’s having a hard time reconnecting to what he’s trying to do.

I move slowly, lay my hand on his shoulder as softly and gently as I can. On contact my own tense muscles relax. This is my child. My son. He is seven and I love him dearly.

I plant a kiss on his head, and sniff his hair the way I used to when he was tiny, when he was a toddler. It smells just like him.

My other hand comes down to his worksheet. I’m standing behind him, my body enveloping his. Supporting and soft and patient, not angry and looming. My finger pointing to where he needs to write his name. Slow voice. Quiet voice. “Isaac, what does this say?” I ask. Trying to get him to look at the worksheet long enough to begin writing.

He writes his name.

“Now what’s the next question?” I ask. Soft. Slow. Clear. Strong.

He doesn’t answer. He doesn’t move.

I tap the paper. His eyes move to where I’m pointing.

“Can you read this for me?” I ask. He reads the question out loud.

“Do you understand what the question is asking?” I ask.

The dam breaks. He doesn’t understand. He screeches frustration and tells me that he didn’t understand in class.

My frustration is gone. I understand now. We go over what he can do if he doesn’t understand something in class. I ask him if he wants me to help him figure out how he can answer the questions or if he wants me to write a note on the top so that his teachers will know he needs more help with this topic. He chooses to have me try and show him how to work out the answers.

I sit down next to him. He’s fully engaged now.

Patience did not feel patient at first.  But then. At the end of it, when I’ve responded well? When the crisis is past. When the messes have been cleaned up? When I’ve helped my seven year old slow down to re-focus and understand what he refuses to understand? When I’ve had self control and when I have acted patient?

That is when patience feels patient. When we’re past the thing that has me pulling my hair out. When we’re past the thing that has me wanting to move faster and raise my voice. When we’re past the thing that has me wanting to throw a tantrum all of my own.

That.. Is when I feel patient. Radiant. Powerful.

And it takes my breath away.

Sarah Sprague, creator of the ‘Wait-It-Out’ gentle sleep learning method (WIO), writes at Nurshable: Joy in Gentle Parenting and can be found on Facebook at Nurshable.

Related posts:

‘Encouraging Safe Negative Emotional Expression (i.e. Stopping the Peeing, Spitting & Kicking)’ by Guggie Daly – Friends of L.R.Knost Rock the Guest Posts while She Battles Cancer

‘The Myth of Baby Sleep Regressions: What’s Really Happening to Your Baby’s Sleep?’ by Pinky McKay – Friends of L.R.Knost Rock the Guest Posts While She Battles Cancer

’12 Ways to Get Past No’ by Dr. Laura Markham – Friends of L.R.Knost Rock the Guest Posts while She Battles Cancer

‘5 Keys to Setting Limits that Minimize Tantrums and Meltdowns’ by Amy Bryant – Friends of L.R.Knost Rock the Guest Posts while She Battles Cancer

‘What I Believe He Will Believe’ by Abby Theuring, MSW – Friends of L.R.Knost Rock the Guest Posts while She Battles Cancer

My Cancer Story, Part 1: The Diagnosis

 

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. 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 ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.


‘Encouraging Safe Negative Emotional Expression (i.e. Stopping the Peeing, Spitting & Kicking)’ by Guggie Daly – Friends of L.R.Knost Rock the Guest Posts while She Battles Cancer

A common stage that can start around age 2 but typically peaks by age 4 is the passive aggressive communication of negative feelings. This stage occurs on its own as a normal milestone because the child needs to develop verbal skills and emotional intelligence. But, for some children, the stage can be especially difficult due to various factors.

First, if the child has been emotionally invalidated frequently by other caregivers or cherished peers, this behavior might become a way to passively share emotions or cry out for help, or even attempt to take back some semblance of control. Watch out for common invalidating comments. Take steps to remind the adult that your child is learning and respect is required. Briefly but firmly reassure the child when invalidation occurs. Some examples of emotional invalidation:

Oh, you’re ok! Stop crying about it.
Hey! There’s no reason to be angry about that, quit it.
Oh, you’re being a scaredy cat. That’s not scary at all.
Why are you crying over such a silly thing? Don’t be a baby.
I don’t care if that makes you angry. That doesn’t matter.
I can’t stand when you cry like that. Knock it off already.
Your brother isn’t scared of the dark. Why don’t you be like him?

Besides directly hurting the child, invalidating situations deprive the child of an opportunity to practice emotional processing and emotional regulation. It’s a loss of skill development. Try whenever possible to defend your child from invalidation.

Second, if the child is experiencing any language difficulties or delays, or other circumstances and conditions that interfere with easy verbal communication such as hearing difficulties, autism, hyperactivity, etc, then this stage can persist because it is simply easier to communicate physically. Or it might be impossible from the child’s perspective to communicate in ways society deems appropriate. In these cases, removing the obstacle when possible and working on coping skills can help create a bridge from the physical outbursts to safer expression.

When your child only expresses negative emotions in your presence

Many parents report that their children do not act out at school, daycare, the other parent’s home, in front of peers, etc. But, seemingly the moment they get home, suddenly the children are throwing things, screaming, spitting, wetting their pants…why the sudden change?

If your child only expresses negative emotions in your presence, or in specific areas such as only at home, this is a sign that she feels safest with you. It’s not a bad sign. It doesn’t mean she’s taking advantage of you or that you’re too soft on her. On the contrary, it means she has big emotions boiling up inside her and she only trusts you to see them.

Think about it. If you’re really stressed out about something you feel is perhaps slightly embarrassing (read: invalidating or shamed by others) you probably keep it hidden. You don’t cry your eyes out at work. You don’t curse and go on about someone who hurt you at the playground. You wait until you’re home and with a safe person to finally let go of your feelings. Children do this, too. And if your child is doing this frequently, it could be a sign that he feels shamed, judged, or invalidated. Remember this when you are facing frustrating behavior, so that you can respond in a way that builds the trust while developing the communication skills.

When your child begins to use emotional outbursts to exert control

Children who feel stifled emotionally can feel powerless. This can cause intense feelings of resentment and anxiety. The child is stuck experiencing what feels like a very large crisis, but the adults around him ignore it or punish him if he lets them know about it. He’s new to the world and has very few skills for handling it, so he’s lost in himself and lost to others.

As he begins to act out, he comes to find that certain ways of expressing his emotion not only feel good, letting off steam and relieving that anxiety inside him, but might also cause a reaction in others. If it feels good and gets him what he wants, it must be a good idea to keep using it!

Suddenly, you have a child who spits on you when she’s angry or pees her pants when she’s rejected. Who throws toys at children at the park when she feels left out or pretends to choke on food she doesn’t like.

Emotions don’t just melt away. They will find their way out, and in children who haven’t developed healthy emotional skills, they will come out in ways we dislike. Ways that might hurt others or cause negative reactions. Ways that tempt us to rain down punishment and consequences.

If your child is falling back on crude emotional expression to get your attention, it’s a sign that she needs your help, not punishment at this time. No, I’m not saying to condone the behavior or to go all wishy-washy. I’m warning against hyper focusing on the negative behavior to the point that skill-building is squeezed out. Even if the child is punished enough to be convinced to stop the emotional outburst, she still needs to learn healthy ways to process and express her emotions. The need is still there. Start processing with her.

Great. So how is this done? 

Let’s use a real life example of a 3 year old who is fully potty trained and does not wet her pants at preschool or with her father. But, she frequently wets her pants when with her mother. Not only does this warn us that she feels safe in her mother’s presence and that she has some big emotions building up inside her, but the child has also begun to use the emotional outbursts to cause reactions in others.

For example, when the mother walked away from the 3 year old to care for the baby, the 3 year old wet her pants.

At this point, a lot of different approaches could be taken ranging from shaming and punishment to completely ignoring it and remaining emotionless while cleaning up the mess. These are merely superficial responses, however, and do nothing to encourage her to develop emotional skills.

Let’s say the mother has just come back from caring for the baby and the 3 year old is sitting on the floor with wet pants and with an angry and slightly rejected expression on her face. What does the mom do for her?

She gets down on one knee, moving close to her, making eye contact and making physical contact such as by touching her arm gently. While keeping physical and eye contact, she begins assessing the situation.

Hey. I see that you peed in your pants. You must be feeling pretty embarrassed right now. Can you use your words to tell me why you peed your pants? Pause for response. You were feeling angry because I left you to help the baby, huh. It made your heart hurt? Pause for response.

You know, it’s okay to feel angry. That’s a strong feeling, but it doesn’t make you a bad person. Everyone feels angry sometimes. When I feel angry, it makes my stomach squeeze. What does it feel like for you? Pause for response.

Next time when you feel angry, I want you to use your words to tell me. Say, “I’m angry!” Let’s try it right now. Ready? Tell me! Pause for response. Remember, instead of peeing your pants, it’s okay to tell me that you’re angry. I’ll always listen to you.

And if you begin to recognize individual triggers, briefly remind her before they happen:

I’m going to focus on caring for your sister right now. Remember, if you feel alone, come grab my hand and tell me instead of peeing your pants.

I’m going to leave the room to make dinner. If you feel scared inside, come and get me, ok? Remember to keep your pants dry.

Tonight, we’re going to be very busy with the baby at the park. If you start to feel angry, be sure to tell me with your big girl words! I will listen.

Remember to keep it as simple or long as needed, pausing when needed and following cues to go where the conversation leads you. As children begin to realize how much connection they can make with words, lots of thoughts might tumble out in little situations like this. Try to listen intently and to provide a safe place for those emotions to come out.

Realistically in the beginning it might take several incidents before you see your child come out of his shell and begin to share with you. And especially if he has been mocked or shamed in any way, it might take a long, dedicated effort to show him that it’s safe to share. So don’t give up too soon!

Guggie Daly, taking a break from her studies in neuroscience to care for her four young children, hopes to share relevant, up to date information with other parents so that they can take advantage of foresight and not live with hindsight.  You can find more information on her blog at Guggie Daly: Empowering Information and on Facebook at The Guggie Daily.

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. 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 ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.


’12 Ways to Get Past No’ by Dr. Laura Markham – Friends of L.R.Knost Rock the Guest Posts while She Battles Cancer

“2 year-olds argue with their parents 20 to 25 times an hour.” — Study reported in Child Development Magazine

Between 11 and 15 months, we learn a wonderful word:  “No!”

It’s an ecstatic discovery. We learn we are separate, autonomous beings with a will of our own who can impact what happens in the world.  We delight in saying, “No!” at every opportunity.

Our “No” is actually a big “YES!”

It’s an awesome, pure expression of our life force.

After the first cute “No” or two, our parents are usually less than delighted.  In fact, this developmental stage launches what’s often called the “terrible twos.”  Rarely are our ecstatic expressions of primal life force affirmed.  Do you remember your father or mother saying:
“I love your independence and autonomy!”
“I see that you’re learning to stand up for your own truth, which will really help you later in life.”

More common messages are along the lines of:
“Don’t you dare talk back to me!”
“We’ll nip this in the bud!”

There may be the threat—or the reality—of punishment or physical force.  There is almost always the withdrawal of love, as parents walk away when little ones tantrum–the only way they know to make their No heard.

Being powerless and utterly dependent, we soon learn to hide our No’s.  We begin to resort to whining, passive resistance, and manipulation. By the time we reach adulthood, we’ve often lost touch with our own needs.

So when our little one falls in love with the word NO, danger signs flash inside us.  We know that NO is dangerous, even if we don’t know why. We think we MUST teach him who’s in charge, right away. Defiance from our child, whether two or twelve, is met with an emotional slap-down as we put him in his place.

The problem is that defiance is a sign that your child is having a problem. When we just rush in with an iron fist, we don’t address the real issue. Which might be that she feels you aren’t listening. Or that she needs your help to cry. Or that she needs you to teach her how to express her needs and wants without attacking the other person. Or maybe she feels she’s sticking up for her integrity.

If she’s a tween or teen, that should make you rejoice. Research shows that teens who are willing to stand up to their parents are also more likely to stand up to their peers. (After all, she could just lie to avoid a confrontation, which is what most teens do.) And kids who can stand up for their own truth start as toddlers.

So even though you get triggered, this isn’t about who is in charge.  Your child knows you’re in charge.  This is about your child’s right to his feelings, even while you honor your responsibility to keep him safe and healthy.

It IS possible to say “No” in a way that honors your own truth, while still staying in positive contact with your child.  It IS possible to honor both your needs and your child’s age-appropriate need to assert herself. The secret?

1. Stop seeing your child’s NO as something you need to overcome. Instead, see it as a YES offering in a duet dance of negotiation. Every dance is a chance to partner with your child, and that foundation of partnership will create more joy — not to mention better behavior–in the years ahead.

2. Don’t take it personally.  Your child is allowed to have a different view than yours.  Her willingness to be different is a strength you want to nurture.

3. Listen to your child’s No.  “You’re saying NO, No bath!  I hear you!”  Sometimes being heard is all our child needs. And the more your child feels seen, heard and acknowledged, the less he’ll need to get your attention by being contrary.

4. Listen to the YES behind the NO.  “You love playing with the toy horse; you don’t want to stop for a bath, right?  That’s okay, you can keep right on playing with the horses… Let’s gallop them into the bathroom!  They’re all dusty from riding all day!” 

5. Sidestep the NO! by making your request an invitation to play.  The secret to smooth transitions is using yourself as the bridge, and no child can refuse your invitation to play.  “Climb on my back, Cowboy, we’re headed for the bathtub in the hills!”

6. Sidestep the NO! by giving your child a choice.  Win-win solutions mean you both get what you need.  “NO bath?  Maybe you and the horses need to be hosed down in the kitchen sink?”  Who cares where he gets clean?

7. Sidestep the NO! by honoring his autonomy without giving up your request. “NO Bath right now?  Ok, Sweetie.  We’ll wait five minutes. Then you may look at the plastic containers in the kitchen and be in charge of which ones you want to play with in the tub.”   Telling your child he “may” do something is magic.  You won’t be able to restrain him from the bath.

8. Join the No. In a joking voice: “Whatever you do, DON’T get in the bathtub.  NO, NO, NO, don’t turn on the water!! NO, NO, NO, don’t take off your clothes!!”

9. Honor the autonomy under the NO.”Want to be in charge of turning on the water and deciding what toys go in the bath?  Who should take your clothes off?”

10. Teach your child to express his needs without attacking you. “You sound worried…Oh, you’re worried about that song about the child who goes down the bathtub drain? Don’t worry, you can be in charge of the plug. We won’t pull it out until you’re out of the tub, and then you can watch the water go down. You’ll see that only water can fit.”

11. Just say YES!  Match the exuberance of your YES! to your child’s No.  Trust yourself to find a way to make both you and your child happy by responding to her No with all the Yes energy you can summon.  “YES, it’s time for your bath, and YES you can bring your horses, and YES you can ride on my back up the stairs on my back up the stairs, and YES I love you so much and YES, LET”S GO!” Your child will match your generosity of spirit.

12. Honor the disappointment when you can’t agree with the No.  When you need to put your foot down, you can say your No with empathy and compassion for your child.  “I’m sorry, Sweetie, it’s time.  That makes you sad, I see. You wish you could play more. I bet when you grow up you’ll play all night, every night, won’t you?” (That will get a yes!)

These examples are all from the toddler years, but if you start off raising your child this way, you’ll raise a tween and teen who can stand firm in his own integrity while he respects yours.

Remember that you can always find a way to meet both your needs.  If you keep your sense of humor, and honor both your own NO and your child’s, you can always find a way to get past the word NO —  to the YES! energy right behind it.

PeacefulParentHappyKids_FINAL.inddDr. Laura Markham is the author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How To Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. You can get her free coaching posts right in your In Box at AhaParenting.com.

Related posts:

 

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. 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 ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.


Sandbox Soapbox: Toddler Insights

[Excerpt from The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline by L.R.Knost. Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of ChildhoodTwo Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages, and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting also available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 quote toddler talkAs we step into the toddler zone, let’s start where we should always start…with observing and understanding so that we can not only grow happy, well-rounded children, but also grow as parents and as humans ourselves. So to begin to implement the Three C’s of gentle discipline – Connection, Communication, and Cooperation – let’s take a peek inside the mind of the toddler by listening in on a sandbox conversation at the park:

 

toddler girl in sandboxToddler 1: You look a little frazzled, Dude. Hard day?

 

 

toddler boy parkToddler 2: Hard doesn’t even begin to describe my day!  I love my mommy to pieces, but seriously, she does NOT know how to share. I took one little thing out of her purse, and she freaked! Snatching and saying, “Mine!” and everything. And right in the middle of the store, too! So embarrassing. Everybody was looking at me, rolling their eyes. I felt like a total failure.

 

 

toddler girl in sandboxToddler 1: I hear you! I have the same problem. And mine has been getting into EVERYTHING, too! Like, I stashed my cracker under the couch so I could have a little snack later, and she totally threw it in the trash! Who does that?

 

 

toddler boy parkToddler 2: You think that’s bad? Check this. I’m minding my own business, just chillin’ with my toys, and she just snatches me up and carts me off and straps me in the highchair, no warning at all. And I’m not even hungry! Then she gets all upset when I do a little physics with my food. Btw, so cool how sometimes it falls straight down and sometimes it splats against the wall. I think it has something to do with the consistency of the food and the angle of my trajectory. Just a working theory atm, though.

 

 

toddler girl in sandboxToddler 1: Cool! Let me know what you figure out. How about this. I can’t get anything done! No joke! I spent all morning building this stellar block tower. Dude, you should have seen this thing. It was epic! So, I walk away for like one second, and she dumps the whole thing in the toy box! An entire morning’s work, gone. I don’t know why I bother sometimes.

 

 

toddler boy parkToddler 2: Same! And what’s with this new ‘time-out’ thing mine’s into all of a sudden? I get the slightest bit upset about something, and, just when I need a cuddle, she sticks me in this chair and won’t let me get up! Like a chair is a good hugger? Really?

 

 

 

toddler girl in sandboxToddler 1: That is just wrong. Hey, how about this whole potty training dealio? She wants me to do my business in a little plastic bowl. We eat out of those things! Seriously, you gotta wonder what goes on in their brains sometimes.

 

 

toddler boy parkToddler 2: You’re lucky. Mine keeps propping me up on that big white contraption with water in it. I could drown! And you should see what happens when she pushes down that handle in the back. Can you say vortex of DOOM?!?

 

 

 

toddler girl in sandboxToddler 1: Not cool, Dude, not cool at all!  Are you dealing with tantrums yet? Mine has got a temper like you wouldn’t believe! Anytime she doesn’t get her way, watch out for the fireworks! She yells and flaps her arms and stomps around, and, I hate to say it, but she’s starting to hit. Like that’s going to solve anything. I have no idea how to handle these aggression issues! Why can’t they just be reasonable like us?

 

 

toddler boy parkToddler 2: I think it’s a communication issue, myself. I mean, they’re just barely starting to understand us when we talk to them, so I try to cut mine a little slack when she starts getting frustrated. I just stay close, maybe pat her arm or offer her a toy. Sometimes she settles down a bit and starts smiling again, but sometimes she just needs a little time to calm down. I stay present, though, so she knows I’m always there for her.

 

 

toddler girl in sandboxToddler 1: I think you’re messing up there, Dude. You need to walk away, just walk away and let her deal. If you comfort her, she’ll expect you to help her process her emotions, and that’ll lead to dependency issues, mark my words! When she freaks, you’ve got to force her to control herself! When she’s ready to be reasonable and listen, then you can be friends again.

 

 

toddler boy parkToddler 2: I don’t know. Mine flat out won’t listen. I can’t tell you how many times I have to ask her to play with me before she finally looks up from her toy. What is it with parents and electronics, anyway? And then all she does is say, “Just a minute, hon.” What exactly is a minute, btw?

 

 

 

toddler girl in sandboxToddler 1: ‘Just a minute’ means ‘This is more important than you,’ Dude. Come on, get with the program. You have to make them pay attention! Yell. Throw something. Bite the cat. Whatever it takes! Don’t let them get away with disrespecting you like that or they’ll never pay attention.

 

 

toddler boy parkToddler 2: Word. Talk about getting with the program, how do you handle the sleep issues? I just cannot take another sleepless night! She keeps me up for hours every. single. night. It starts out great, bath-time, a book and cuddles, but then she just clocks out like I’m some kind of a toy she can switch off when it gets dark! And, man, is it dark. I don’t know what’s living in my closet, but it is ginormous!

 

 

toddler girl in sandboxToddler 1: Sleep training, Dude! It’s the only way. They turn that light out and shut the door, you follow them! Every. Time. Or, if you’re too scared (totally get that, btw) then just start hollering and don’t stop. If you can’t sleep, make sure they can’t, either! And don’t give in. Not even once. You let them get away with that stuff one time, and you’ll never get any sleep, ever! They have to learn that it’s their job to take care of you day and night, even if all you need is a hug!

 

 

toddler boy parkToddler 2: Got it. Oh, man, here she comes. Seriously, do you have this problem, too? We’re at the park. Everybody’s having a good time. And she just up and decides to leave. I think she’s got some anti-social tendencies. I’m thinking of having her tested.

 

 

 

toddler girl in sandboxToddler 1: Same here! But I’m working on it. They’ve got to learn it’s not all about them, and it’s our job to teach them. Look, here comes mine, too. Watch and learn, Dude. I’m using the arched-back, flail and wail today. Deep breath and, “No! No! Noooooo…”

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing our own actions from another perspective is uncomfortable, no doubt, but the understanding we can achieve is well worth the discomfort if we can learn and grow from it as parents. As Maya Angelou, American author, poet, and self-described Renaissance Woman, wrote, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Related posts:

Toddlers, Tantrums, and Time-in’s, Oh my!

The Gift of a Strong-Willed Child

Backtalk is Communication…LISTEN

When Children Act Out ~ Reflecting Our Emotions

The Problem with Punishment

Bridge Over Troubled Waters~Parenting a ‘Problem’ Child

The Taming of the Tantrum: A Toddler’s Perspective

Practical, Gentle, Effective Discipline

200 Ways to Bless Your Children with a Happy Childhood

12 Steps to Gentle Parenting

The ‘NO’ Zone

When Things Get Physical: Hitting, Throwing, Kicking, and Biting

You’re Not the Boss of Me!

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. 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 ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.


Did Jesus have a Temper Tantrum?

[Excerpt reprinted from Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting by L.R.Knost. Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and StagesWhispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood; and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline by L.R.Knost also available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jesus angry temple“Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer but you are making it a den of robbers.’”
Matthew 21:12-13

 

Temper tantrum: (n.) a loss of mental balance or composure, esp. an outburst of anger or irritation

It may seem a bit disrespectful to label Jesus’ takedown in the temple courtyard as a temper tantrum, but according to the dictionary definition of a tantrum, that would be an accurate designation. He acted out his overwhelming emotions by flipping over tables and throwing chairs and chasing people away in a God-sized, epic tantrum that must have shocked the religious to their core and rocked the pharisaical back on their heels.

So what’s the deal? Are temper tantrums signs of a child’s sinful, selfish nature, as the child-training set are so quick to accuse, or are they normal expressions of overwhelming emotions? Let’s see what the child-trainers have to say:

“A temper tantrum is an absolute rejection of parental authority. Parents should isolate the child (with a promise of consequences), then follow through with chastisement [spanking] after the child settles down.” (Gary Ezzo, Growing Kid’s God’s Way)

“…tantrums are a form of challenging behavior that can be eliminated by one or more appropriate spankings.(p. 108)” (Dr. James Dobson, The New Dare to Discipline)

“A seven-month-old boy had, upon failing to get his way, stiffened, clenched his fists, bared his toothless gums and called down damnation on the whole place. At a time like that, the angry expression on a baby’s face can resemble that of one instigating a riot. The young mother, wanting to do the right thing, stood there in helpless consternation, apologetically shrugged her shoulders and said, “What can I do?” My incredulous nine-year-old whipped back, “Switch him.” The mother responded, “I can’t, he’s too little.” With the wisdom of a veteran who had been on the little end of the switch, my daughter answered, “If he is old enough to pitch a fit, he is old enough to be spanked.(p. 79)” (Michael Pearl, To Train Up a Child)

“If your child is still angry, it’s time for another round. ‘Daddy has spanked you, but you are not sweet enough yet. We are going to have to go back upstairs for another spanking.’”(Tedd Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart)

So, what do you think, parents? Is acting out of overwhelming emotions a sin that must be punished as the child-trainers claim or is it normal human behavior? Is there even such a thing as normal human behavior, or is human behavior itself sinful by its very nature? Is having overwhelming emotions, in and of itself, a sin?

Sin, Biblically speaking, is acting outside of God’s nature. Since Jesus is God in the flesh, he was clearly acting within God’s nature at all times, even though he was also fully human. So, Jesus’ actions and his human behaviors, his normal human behaviors, all fell within the boundaries of God’s nature and therefore were and are not sinful.

Let’s go back to Jesus and breakdown the takedown in the temple. He was angry. He toppled tables. He threw things. He chased people away. But Jesus was and is sinless, so clearly being angry, being overwhelmed by big emotions, and acting on those emotions are not sins, in and of themselves.

When does acting on emotions become sinful, then? The answer lies in Ephesians 4:26-27, “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Note that it doesn’t say, “Getting angry is a sin.”

Emotions can lead to sin when they remain unsettled, are left to burrow deeply into our hearts and take root, and when we subsequently respond with spite, bitterness, vengeance, or rage.

As parents, then, how can we help our children when they are overwhelmed by their emotions, when they tantrum and cry and act out their big feelings? Does it make sense to expect them to cope with their big emotions alone or to suppress their emotions so they remain unsettled?

Of course not. Our children need us to parent them, not punish them.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble.”
(Psalm 46:1b)

Just as God is “our refuge and strength” and “an ever-present help” that is what we need to be for our children, to reflect the heart of our Father to our own little ones. We can help them to process their emotions. We can work with them to resolve their problems. And we can equip them with the life skills they’ll need to handle their emotions on their own when they grow into adulthood.

As you read on, remind yourself that having emotions is not a sin and needing help processing those emotions is a normal part of childhood:

When a little person feels frustrated, overwhelmed, or just plain old out-of-sorts (read: tantrum time!), it’s tempting for parents to focus on correction rather than connection. But when children are intensely stressed, the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which in early childhood is an underdeveloped, mushy grey sponge waiting to be formed, is flooded with cortisol, the ‘stress hormone.’ The result is what is known as the fight-freeze-or-flight syndrome in which higher brain functions (learning, reason, self-control) are markedly hampered and lower brain functions (instinct, physical reactions) take over. This is an in-built survival mechanism that gradually comes under conscious control through years of growth in a safe and supportive environment. Interestingly, it is theorized that this underdeveloped ‘sponginess’ is why small children are able to learn new languages more quickly than older children and adults. They are, in a very literal way, absorbing information raw, unhampered by the processing and reason of a more mature brain.

Expecting young children to have the maturity and self-control to overcome this God-given survival instinct is unrealistic. Threatening, punishing, or even reasoning with them while their higher brain functions are suppressed is futile and actually just adds more stress to the situation (more stress = fuel on the tantrum-fire!).

What they really need is help…

  • First, help coping with their big emotions
  • Then, help reconnecting with their source of safety and security (you!)
  • And last, help processing the problem that sent them into a maelstrom of emotion in the first place.

Punishing them, yelling at them, sending them to their room, or putting them in time-out disconnects them even further from their source of security and not only delays a resolution of the issue, but misses an opportunity to equip them with the tools they need to handle future problems.

This is where the Three C’s of gentle discipline come into play:

Connection:

  • Remaining present and supportive until they are able to calm down enough to accept your help
  • Drawing them close when they’re ready (time-in)

Communication:

  • Validating their emotions by labeling them and empathizing (i.e. “You’re sad because we have to leave the park. I’m sad, too. The park is fun!”)
  • Offering words to help them express their frustrations using reflective language (i.e. “It’s hard to do things we don’t like, isn’t it?”)

Cooperation:

  • Helping them move on by redirecting their attention to the future (i.e. “When we get home we’re going to make a snack. Would you like grapes or bananas today?”)
  • Modeling coping skills and self-control by calming your own reaction to their meltdown and helping them process their big emotions

These are all ways of reconnecting with your toddler or preschooler to help them successfully navigate their present difficulty as well as to cope with difficulties they’re confronted with in the future.

One effective tool for use in helping little ones cope with big emotions is a Calm-Me-Jar made from small, round, plastic bottles such as Aquapod water bottles. They are perfect for small hands to shake and manhandle to their heart’s content.

To make your own Calm-Me-Jar, fill up a plastic water bottle with warm water and basic craft glitter glue in whatever color you like. You can add some extra glitter and a drop of food coloring to customize your glitter jar to your child’s tastes, and then when you have the look you want, be sure to hot glue the top on to prevent spills.

When my little ones have meltdowns, or, if I can catch it, before they reach that point, I pull out one of the Calm-Me-Jars and shake it up and just let them hold it while I hold them (when they are ready to be held) and talk or sing quietly. When I feel their body relaxing and their breathing slow down, I might say something like, “It’s sad when we can’t have a toy, isn’t it?” or whatever else will reflect what they seem to be unable to express.

When an older preschooler or early elementary-aged child has a meltdown, or, again, before if I can catch it, I first connect, “I’m here. I can see you’re upset. How can I help?” and listen as they try to verbalize their feelings. If they’re having trouble with the words, instead of immediately supplying the words for them, I’ll offer them a Calm-Me-Jar and ask if they’d like to show me how they’re feeling. They will often shake the Calm-Me-Jar vigorously while jumping up and down and twisting all around, which is a great physical outlet for their intense feelings. I watch until I see their movements slowing and their breathing evening out, and when they’ve calmed just enough to hear me, I quietly talk them through the calming process, “Look at all that fairy dust bouncing around like crazy! I bet that’s how it feels inside when you’re so upset. Look at how it’s starting to slow down and settle to the bottom. If we breathe really slowly, we can feel ourselves settling like the fairy dust. Want to try it with me?” Then, if there are any behavior issues we need to address, we’ll work through those afterward when they’re calm, connected, and capable of interacting and understanding.

Here’s an example of how Calm-Me-Jars are helpful in ‘listening between the lines’ to my children’s behavior so I can meet them where they are and help them process their big feelings:

My five-year-old is a tiny girl with BIG emotions, and she really likes using Calm-Me-Jars to work through her feelings. We’ve put several together such as a silvery one she named Goodnight Moon, a light blue one she named Nemo Under the Sea, a pink one she named Hello Kitty Princess Ballerina, and a dark blue one she named Starry, Starry Night. When she is mad at one of her siblings, she’ll often bring me one of her Calm-Me-Jars (Goodnight Moon is a favorite in the evening!) and work out some of her upset physically by shaking the jar like crazy while she jumps up and down and tells me how mad she is. When she’s a bit calmer, we’ll have a little cuddle and watch the glitter settle while saying goodnight to the moon, all the furniture, and whatever other silliness we come up with until she’s calm. If there’s a discipline issue or she needs some help working things out with a sibling, we’ll work through it at that point because I know that’s when she can hear me and really process what I’m saying. If she chooses Starry, Starry Night we might sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star or step outside and see if there are any stars out yet. If she decides on Hello Kitty Princess Ballerina she’ll often dance her frustrations away while shaking her Calm-Me-Jar. And if she picks out Nemo Under the Sea we’ll ‘speak whale’ like Dory from Finding Nemo or we’ll make fishy faces at each other until we’re both giggling.

As you can see, my feisty little girl’s choice of Calm-Me-Jar shows me what she needs to do to work through her emotions of the moment, whether it’s to act things out physically in acceptable ways or to connect through song or through silliness.

The key is being in tune with your little one enough to understand their personality and work with it instead of against it. My five-year-old is spunky and silly, so having a long, serious talk would drive her crazy and accomplish nothing. We quickly decide together how she’ll approach whatever the problem was the next time she encounters it, and then she’s ready to move on, whereas when some of my older ones were little they really liked to talk things through (and still do!). My toddler, on the other hand, doesn’t have tantrums because that simply isn’t part of her own unique personality, but she’s still fascinated by her Calm-Me-Jar and loves to sit with me and watch the “pintess faywe dut” (“princess fairy dust”) glitter settle when she’s feeling a bit cranky or out-of-sorts.

Remember, there is no cure for tantrums because they are simply a normal result of a normal developmental stage of childhood. Trying to avoid tantrum triggers (tiredness, hunger, overstimulation, etc.) is always a good first step, along with remaining in-tune, responsive, and available, but when all else fails and a tantrum does occur, reacting with an adult tantrum is tantamount to throwing fuel on a toddler-tantrum-fire. So instead of losing it when your little one loses it, take an adult time-out, breathe deeply to gain control of your own emotions, and then grab the Three C’s of gentle discipline from your parenting toolbox and work with your child, not against them. (Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages)

Reactors react to a crisis with a meltdown. Responders respond to a crisis with help. To raise a mature, stable adult, be a first responder, not a nuclear reactor!

“God is our refuge and our strength,
an ever-present help in times of trouble”
Psalm 46:1b

Related posts:

Stealing God’s Gift: Free Will is a Gift to be Nurtured, Not a Curse to be Broken

Spare the Rod: The Heart of the Matter

Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting

Tattered Tapestries: Weaving Trust Through the Chaos

Fear Doesn’t Lead to Faith: Becoming Your Child’s Safe Place

Where Did You Learn Love, Child?

Practical, Gentle, Effective Discipline

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. 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 ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.


Stealing God’s Gift: Free Will is a Gift to be Nurtured, Not a Curse to be Broken

[Excerpt reprinted from Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting by L.R.Knost. Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and StagesWhispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood; and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline by L.R.Knost also available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Hebrews 4:16

“Many parents in using the rod of correction on their child do so with an obvious lack of vigor and often stop short of the child’s will being completely broken … Both my wife and I have often remarked that it is good that one of our children was not our firstborn. This particular child who came along later in our family was extremely willful and rebellious toward our authority and would often require sessions of correction lasting from one to two hours in length before the will would finally be broken … Even though you may think these methods of correction that God has ordered parents to carry out are bestial, abusive, and unloving, you are the one who is bestial, abusive, and unloving if you don’t obey God in this matter. Moreover, if you do not obey God your child likely will not be saved unless the Lord supernaturally in His mercy does so despite your disobedience.” (Ronald E. Williams, The Correction and Salvation of Children)

“She then administers about ten slow, patient licks on his bare legs. He cries in pain. If he continues to show defiance by jerking around and defending himself, or by expressing anger, then she will wait a moment and again lecture him and again spank him. When it is obvious he is totally broken, she will hand him the rag and very calmly say, “Johnny, clean up your mess.” He should very contritely wipe up the water [about spanking a 3-year-old]” (Pearl, p. 62) …“Never reward delayed obedience by reversing the sentence. And, unless all else fails, don’t drag him to the place of cleansing. Part of his training is to come submissively. However, if you are just beginning to institute training on an already rebellious child, who runs from discipline and is too incoherent to listen, then use whatever force is necessary to bring him to bay. If you have to sit on him to spank him then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he is surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring and are unmoved by his wailing. Defeat him totally. Accept no conditions for surrender. No compromise. You are to rule over him as a benevolent sovereign. Your word is final (p. 49)” (Michael Pearl, To Train Up a Child)

Where, exactly, did the pseudo-Biblical idea that a parent must break a child’s will originate? How did a person’s God-given will, their freedom of choice, their strength and individuality, come to be seen as the root of all sin Breaking their Willthat must be purged? At what point did “defeating” a child so that they are “totally broken” become the goal of Christian parenting?

Let’s go back to the model of servant leadership set by Jesus who said, “I stand at the door and knock…” (Revelations 3:20) Knock what? Knock humans on their backsides and pin them down while pummelling them until they are utterly defeated? Knock small children around until they are totally broken?

No, of course not. Jesus says, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Jesus doesn’t barge in making demands to prove how big and tough he is. Jesus invites us to open the door of our lives and to invite him in as an honored guest, in return.

Look also at Deuteronomy 30:19 where God shares that it is from him that our ability to choose originates, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live.” Note that God doesn’t demand that we submit our free, God-given will, our ability to choose, to him. He simply invites us to align our will with his.

And look at James 4:8, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” God doesn’t chase us down, “sit on” us, or “use whatever force is necessary” (see Pearl quote above) to strong-arm us into submission. He reaches out to us and inspires us and opens his arms to us, inviting us into the safety and comfort and wholeness of a relationship with Love Himself.

Our will is a gift, an opportunity to choose right from wrong, and the vehicle through which God calls us to choose his Son. Without this amazing and wonderful gift, without the freedom to use our free will, Jesus’ suffering and death on the Cross would be pointless.

Sin is a moot point in light of the grace we’ve been given. Grace is the point. The whole point. Everything leading up to the Cross pointed to the Cross, everything was settled on the Cross, and on the Cross in the outstretched Jesus the Gentle Parent final front coverarms of Jesus grace was born. Sin only matters in the sense that when we voluntarily choose to stay within the boundaries God has given us, we are closer to him, more in-tune with him, and more aligned with his will. He does not stray from us, not ever. But we do stray from him. We are human, and as humans we learn by doing, by experiencing, by exercising our free will as we stretch and grow and discover and make mistakes and overcome life and are overcome by life, each trial and failure and success a learning experience. God doesn’t chase us down and crash through the walls we’ve put up and drag us back to repentance. He waits for us, always available, always forgiving, always loving us unconditionally, but never giving up as he calls out to us, inviting us gently to himself.

When it comes to parenting, we all know that some of God’s children are created with a remarkable strength of will, a powerful drive to explore and discover, an insatiable thirst for knowledge, an incredible need to know and be known, and with more energy than can be contained in a small body. Their frequent challenges to ‘the way things are’ can feel overwhelming to the most patient of parents, and their sometimes epic meltdowns when all of that extreme energy explodes out of their small frames can act like a tidal wave of emotion that gets everyone swept up in the maelstrom. These children who are given the gift of an indomitable spirit have all of the amazing characteristics of future world leaders, but their gifts need to be grown and nurtured and developed, not contained, stunted, and crushed.

A popular child-training book by Dr. James Dobson, The New Strong-Willed Child, has a markedly different approach to parenting strong-willed children, however: “Some strong-willed children absolutely demand to be spanked, and their wishes should be granted. . . two or three stinging strokes on the legs or buttocks with a switch are usually sufficient to emphasize the point, ‘You must obey me.’” In addition to the disputable Biblical interpretations of the ‘rod’ verses and the misuse of the word ‘obey’ in translating from the original language of the Bible, there is a fundamental difference in philosophies revealed here. In the positive parenting approach, children are born perfect and need only to be guided through the normal stages and behaviors of childhood. In the punitive parenting approach, children are born sinful and must be forced to submit to superior authority.

On a purely logical level, why would we fight a child for control when what we really want is for them to be in control of themselves? Why not, instead, help them to process those big emotions and learn how to direct their own energy and develop their own ability to control themselves? Why not follow Jesus’ example and invite our strong little future leaders to walk alongside us in tandem to learn and grow and discover together for the oh-so-brief season of their childhood?

On a practical level, though, the question is, “How can we partner with our children in positive and peaceful ways to guide them gently and effectively?”

Here is a chapter from The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline to get you started on your gentle journey with your own little future leaders:

The Gift of a Strong-Willed Child’

There are some children who are born into the world with the incredible life-gift of a strong will and an indomitable spirit. These children are often deeply misunderstood, and there are rows of books lining bookstore shelves with instructions about how to break their will, how to subdue their spirit, how to force their obedience. What an incredible loss of leadership, passion, and insight this world suffers when parents follow these punitive parenting practices. Not only can we parent these gifted children with gentleness and respect, but the gifts we get in return are priceless!

Take a look at some of the common descriptions used when referring to the characteristics of a strong-willed child:

Demanding, Insistent, Stubborn, Bossy, Cocky, Difficult, Challenging, Fixated, Contrary, Rebellious, Defiant

Now look at some of the common characteristics of adults who are world leaders, CEO’s, entrepreneurs, innovators, world-class athletes, and the like:

Decisive, Determined, Persistent, Authoritative, Confident, Valiant, Gutsy, Committed, Resourceful, Nonconforming,Bold

Note that the characteristics are the same, but the characterizations are negative when applied to a child and positive when applied to an adult.

Other characteristics of strong-willed children that coincide with the characteristics of adult leaders in their fields are:

  • They are typically highly creative and intelligent.
  • They are usually passionate and intense in their interests and beliefs.
  • They often have an insatiable need to know ‘why.’
  • They typically learn by doing.
  • They tend to have an intense need to test the status quo.
  • They are typically highly perfection-oriented, but often that is focused on their expectations of themselves instead of others.
  • They tend to need high levels of validation.
  • They usually have an intense need to be heard.
  • They often have a strong need for emotional safety.
  • They tend to be resistant to change unless they feel like they have some control over the change.
  • They are often highly sensitive.
  • They are typically intensely focused on their latest project or interest.
  • They tend to be conscientious and highly committed.
  • They are usually intensely independent.

While there’s no doubt that it’s a challenge having a child who seems to challenge everything, there are ways to work with them rather than against them to preserve and nurture their unique gifts. Maintaining a healthy parent/child relationship is vital as you work to find a balance between setting limits with your richly spirited child while not limiting their freedom to stretch and grow and develop into the person they were created to be.

The key to preserving your trust relationship with your child is remaining calm and present and supportive, even while setting and maintaining reasonable boundaries. It is helpful to remember that the most strong-willed children tend to be the ones who identify the most strongly with their parents. So instead of viewing their seemingly constant challenges as defiance or attempts to thwart authority, work to parent from a place of understanding that your strong-willed child is actually on a discovery mission and is doing endless ‘research’ on you by testing and retesting and digging and chiseling to discover all of your quirks and foibles and ups and downs and strengths and weaknesses. This kind of testing isn’t negative unless you make it into a battle of wills instead of responding with gentle, respectful guidance. Taking this stance will help you to keep from seeing the challenges as personal insults and, instead, see the challenges as attempts to learn and grow and understand.

There is no doubt, though, that parenting a child with the gift of a strong will is a constant exercise in patience and self-regulation. The personal growth you will experience is invaluable as you seek to parent with empathy and wisdom and compassion, but it can be draining and will often stretch you far, far out of your comfort zone. Knowing that and being prepared for it will help you cope with the inevitable stresses, and being ready ahead of time with some specific strategies for handling the challenges will help you to respond calmly and effectively.

This is a good place to revisit the Three C’s of gentle discipline—Connection, Communication, and Cooperation.

Connection ~ Maintaining a secure connection with your spirited child is vital. It is the springboard from which all of your interactions with your child will originate, and it is the touchstone to which you will both return, again and again and again, when your relationship gets strained and stained and stretched.

  • Play word games, board games, rough-and-tumble outdoor games, silly face in the mirror games. Play is the language of childhood, so make sure to speak your child’s language every day.
  • Laugh together. Humor is an undervalued parenting tool. But it lowers defenses, inspires smiles, brings people together, and reconnects hearts.
  • Read storybooks, chapter books, travel brochures, encyclopedias, anything that will inspire you to dream together, talk, plan, get excited, share interests.
  • Focus more on who your child is than on what your child does. Remember, you’re growing a person, not fixing a problem. So make sure to spend time getting to know the person, not just the child. It doesn’t have to cost anything. Just walk together, talk together, share ice cream cones, spot shapes in the clouds, and enjoy each other.

Communication ~ Children have their own ‘inner world’ of thoughts and plans and problems and worries and hopes and dreams that are occupying their time and attention, so a lack of cooperation is often simply the result of having a different agenda than we do. Getting some insight into that ‘inner world’ is key in guiding and growing them respectfully.

  • Listen with your heart. Listen ‘between the lines’ to what your child is communicating through their behavior. Listen and listen and listen some more. That is always, always the first step in communicating with your child.
  • Reflect, connect, and redirect. Reflect what you hear, whether it’s communicated by your child’s behavior or their words. This not only validates their emotions and lets them know that you hear and understand them, but it also helps them to understand their own emotions. For instance, if your child is upset that he can’t have a cookie after brushing his teeth for bedtime, try saying, “I hear you. You’re upset because you want a cookie.” Then reestablish your connection, “I like cookies, too!” and offer a solution, “How about we go pick out the two best cookies and put them in a special container that we can take to the park in the morning?”
  • Don’t take non-compliance as a personal insult. A strong-willed child is very much their own person with their own agenda. Focus on inviting cooperation instead of demanding obedience. Whether it’s staying in bed or cleaning up or whatever the issue, make it a team effort and come up with a game plan ahead of time. For example, you could say, “You seem to be having trouble staying in bed at night. What do you think would help you to be more ready to go to sleep when it’s time for bed?” or “It’s important to pick up our things so they don’t get broken, let’s put on the timer and work together for ten minutes and see who gets the most picked up.”
  • Make a firm commitment not to resort to punishments to control behavior. The resentment that comes from being punished absolves children in their own minds of responsibility. It doesn’t teach them responsibility, and resentment can actually cause a lot of the behaviors you are trying to avoid.
  • Communicate daily, outwardly to your child and inwardly to yourself, the positive aspects of your child’s personality. When the focus is on ‘fixing’ a child, they get the message that they are somehow broken, and that is not a healthy self-image to take into adulthood.
  • ‘No’ is not a complete thought. It is an imperative, a command. It doesn’t teach. It tells. If you want your child to learn to think like an adult, take the time to explain your adult thinking.
  • Remember that children, especially when they are upset, open ‘conversations’ through their behavior, and it’s up to us, the only adults in the relationship, to gently guide them toward continuing those conversations verbally as well as equipping them with the resources to be able to do so.
  • Also keep in mind that the social mores of rudeness simply aren’t inborn and don’t apply to early interactions with our children. They are learned by imitating how we as parents behave. Politeness is a heart issue that cannot be imposed by the will of another unless we want it to only be an external façade instead of a heartfelt courtesy. Helping your strong-willed child learn to speak kindly means speaking kindly to your child as well as offering guidance when they’ve been rude such as saying, “That is not a nice tone of voice” or “That isn’t a kind thing to say” and then offering a do-over “Can you try saying that to me again more nicely? I’ll always try my best to be nice to you, and I would like you to try to do the same for me.”

Cooperation ~ Always keep at the forefront of your parenting goals that you are seeking thoughtful cooperation, not mindless compliance. That way you will remember to treat your child as a thoughtful individual with ideas and needs and feelings of their own instead of a mindless drone there to do your bidding.

  • Set clear limits and explain them in age-appropriate terms. Remember, if you want to invite cooperation, you have to actually issue the invitation to cooperate!
  • Limit the number of limits. Spirited children are often stressed children simply because of their own intense emotions and reactions to things, so set them up for success by keeping your limits few and clear and by maintaining them consistently.
  • Make sure to let your child have a voice in determining the limits so they feel like they have some control over their lives and so they feel some ownership over the limits.
  • Brainstorm together ways of helping everyone to work together. Some ideas are to come up with hand signals or words that remain your little secret codes to indicate when it’s time to leave the park or to do homework or to dial the activity level or noise volume down a few notches.
  • Invite cooperation by creating daily routines together. Don’t be surprised if your child ends up being the one who is a stickler for following the routine, even to the point of nagging you to follow it. These gifted children tend to be all-in, fully focused and committed, and they’ll expect you to be the same!
  • Cooperate with your child’s needs and personality by working with them rather than against them. For instance, if you know that your child has a hard time leaving a project, give them plenty of time to find a good stopping point when you need them to leave it for a while. Or if you know that your child has a hard time following directions at bedtime, try writing or drawing the tasks that need to be done (i.e. toothbrushing, pajamas, etc.) on ping-pong balls and put them in a small ‘bedtime jar’ so your child can feel some control over their routine as they independently pick out the balls one by one for a ‘surprise’ nighttime order of tasks or take them all out and decide what order to do them in themselves.
  • If you are already locked in a head-to-head power struggle, put away your boxing gloves so your child will (eventually!) feel safe putting away theirs. When you battle with your child, you may win a skirmish or two, but you will lose the treasure…your trust relationship. Putting away the gloves means slowing down, breathing through your own emotions, and finding a way to work through the issue together. Remember, you’re the adult in the relationship, but that doesn’t give you the right to overpower your child; it gives you the responsibility to empower your child. That involves modeling the tools of diplomacy—communication, cooperation, compromise—that you want your child to stock in their own emotional toolkit.

Remember, the children who come into the world with their ‘boxing gloves on’ so to speak are often the ones who become the biggest world changers. It’s not easy raising these little world-changers, I know (Believe me, I know. Two of my six are world-changers-in-the-making!), but the rewards are phenomenal!

“The Lord’s loving-kindnesses indeed never cease, for his compassions never fail.”
Lamentations 3:22

Related posts:

Spare the Rod: The Heart of the Matter

Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting

Tattered Tapestries: Weaving Trust Through the Chaos

Fear Doesn’t Lead to Faith: Becoming Your Child’s Safe Place

Where Did You Learn Love, Child?

Gentle Journeys: A Book Club for a New Generation

Practical, Gentle, Effective Discipline

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. 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 ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.


Hurting People Hurt People: Does Bullying Begin at Home?

[Excerpt from Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood by L.R.Knost. Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages, The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline, and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting also available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“By words we learn thoughts, and by thoughts we learn life.”
Jean Baptiste Girard

I love words. I love language. I love playing with old, staid quotes and classic literature titles, stories and raising bullieslegends, clichés and adages, and weaving them into unique or humorous settings.

But along with loving word play, I’m very aware of the power of language. Words can bring life, “It’s a boy!” and love, “I do!” and words can bring death, “I’m sorry. There’s nothing more we can do.”

When it comes to raising children, the power of words cannot be overestimated. From how the labels we use influence our own perceptions of our children and their perceptions of themselves to how children’s immature grasp of language limits their understanding and responses, words exercise immense power over the life of a child.

Just as important as being careful of the labels we use and having an understanding of language development in young children, though, or even more so, is being aware of the propensity for stressed and angry adults to ‘power-up’ on children and use language as a weapon. The lash of the tongue on the heart of a child can have devastating and lasting consequences.

“You stupid little idiot!”

“Can’t you do anything right?”

“Why did I ever have you?”

“I hate my life!”

“You are totally useless!”

Words live and breathe and grow in our hearts until they either bear life-giving fruit ~ comfort, security, confidence…or fester into infectious, oozing wounds ~ despondency, anxiety, rage.

There is great truth to the belief that bullying begins at home. Children learn what they live. Just as violence begets violence, so angry parents tend to result in angry children, and parents who ridicule tend to produce sarcastic children, and critical parents tend to generate negative children, and on and on.

Whether the children end up the bully or the bullied, aggressive with their peers or with themselves, cutting down others or cutting themselves, the fact is that hurting people hurt people, and children raised with violence or condemnation in whatever form they take are hurting people.

Words matter. They matter desperately…as desperate as a five-year-old is to hear she’s good, as desperate as a ten-year-old is to hear he’s smart, as desperate as a fifteen-year-old is to hear she’s valuable.

The truth is that we all make mistakes. We all say the wrong thing sometimes. We get angry and frustrated and overwhelmed and verbally lash out at these tiny, impetuous, energetic, often incomprehensible, but always vulnerable little people we’ve been entrusted with the care and raising of. And often we don’t apologize because we don’t want to appear weak or to admit we’ve made a mistake or we’d rather just let it be or it doesn’t even occur to us that we should apologize to a child. But words can heal, too, and an apology is a necessary step in the healing process.

But when verbal blows go untended, souls become scarred. When lashing out becomes the norm, damages begin to mount. And when children with battered souls grow into adults, the vicious cycle often continues in the form of domestic violence, substance abuse, or other destructive behaviors.

Parents, choose your words wisely, carefully, thoughtfully. In the same way that violence begets violence and anger begets anger, kindness begets kindness and peace begets peace. Sow words of peace, words that build, words that show respect and belief and support. Those are the seeds of a future filled with goodness and hope and compassion, and aren’t those the things we really want for our children, after all? [end excerpt]

Related posts:

The Color of Change

When Toddlers Become Teens

Backtalk is Communication…LISTEN

The Gift of a Strong-Willed Child

The Problem with Punishment

12 Steps to Gentle Parenting

Bridge Over Troubled Waters~Parenting a ‘Problem’ Child

Rethinking Tattling

Fear Doesn’t Lead to Faith: Becoming Your Child’s Safe Place

Spare the Rod: The Heart of the Matter

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. 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 ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.


Hitting Doesn’t Lead to Hugging: Parenting an Angry Teen

angry teen 2[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.]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The teen years can hit a family with the force of a hurricane. Parents who practice control-based parenting and have felt confident in their control over their children up until this point often find themselves lost, dazed, and bewildered, entangled in a parenting morass of their own making. The truths they discover shock them and leave them vulnerable and defenseless in the face of outright or passive mutiny:

  1. Hitting doesn’t lead to hugging. Just ask the mother struggling with her teenage daughter who had become withdrawn around the age of twelve or thirteen, often spending hours in her room and refusing to engage with the rest of the family. The mother recognized that there was a problem at the time, but interpreted it as laziness, selfishness, and rebellion and responded with correction instead of connection. The mother says, “My daughter won’t accept discipline given in love anymore, and I don’t know how to control her behavior.” The ‘discipline given in love’ her daughter refused to accept was being spanked with a paddle wielded by a parent who then demanded an apology from the child for her behavior, followed by a hug. This mother is discovering that, now that her daughter has reached her teen years, she no longer accepts the hitting, and she no longer accepts the hugs, either.
  2. Lectures don’t lead to learning. Just ask the father who complained that every time he sat his son down to read him the riot act for something, he could see his son’s eyes glaze over as the teen retreated to an inner world. The father would repeatedly demand that his son pay attention, and his son would then quote his lecture verbatim, but nothing worked to change his son’s behavior. The father shared, “I don’t know what to do. How can I control my son if I can’t reach him?” What this father is discovering is that lecturing instead of listening is a one-way street that leads nowhere.
  3. Coercion doesn’t lead to cooperation. Just ask the mother who was so frustrated with her son’s inability to finish his math homework that she began to take his things and hold them as ransom to try to force him to cooperate. She emptied his room piece by piece, day after day, until she’d literally taken away everything he owned, including every article of clothing except for the clothes on his back. After six weeks of her son wearing the same clothes and sleeping on the floor, she said, “I don’t know what else I can take away from him. He doesn’t have anything left! How can I control him now?” What this mother is finding is that you can’t force cooperation and children outgrow coercion just like they outgrow clothing.
  4. Ridicule doesn’t lead to respect. Just ask the father who made his daughter post on Facebook that she had lied to her parents about her screen-time and couldn’t be trusted to have a laptop, so she wouldn’t be online for a month. The father was infuriated to then discover that his daughter was using her friends’ computers to go online, so he made her call every one of her friends’ parents and explain why she wouldn’t be visiting for the next month. When the father later found out his daughter was using the computers at the library to go online, he made her stand in front of the library with a sign that said, “I’m a liar.” A week later the father found his daughter online in the middle of the night, using a laptop borrowed from a friend. The father says, “What can I do? Every time I find a way to control my daughter, she finds a way around it. How can I make her respect me?” What this father is finding is that you can’t force respect. Ridicule and shame are disrespectful and only breed more disrespect.

What these parents are discovering, and what you may have already discovered yourself as your children have reached adolescence, is that no matter how much you escalate punishments, they won’t work to get your children under your control because one human can never really control another. Yes, you can overpower a small child, and you can use fear and intimidation and manipulation to force children to comply, but only for a season. Once they reach the teen years and their own identity begins to fully emerge, they gain enough separation to realize that they can finally say no to the hitting and threats and manipulations. They may say no with outright rebellion or by withdrawing into passive resistance, but they will say no, and then you are lost because you haven’t built a relationship based on mutual respect and cooperation. You’ve simply spent years forcing your will on a smaller, weaker human.

Can you make changes, even this late in parenting? Yes. Stop hitting, threatening, intimidating, coercing, shaming, and trying to control your child. Wipe the slate clean with a sincere apology, and then start rebuilding your relationship from the ground up:

  • Create a foundation of trust by proving yourself trustworthy. That means honoring your word that you won’t punish or manipulate your teen to try to control them, no matter what.
  • Sacrifice your own hopes and dreams for your teen and support their hopes and dreams. Will they make mistakes? Yes. That’s part of life. Let them make the mistakes without repercussion from you, and help them through the natural results of those mistakes so they will know they can count on you when life hurts.
  • Set limits with your teen instead of for your teen. Ask their opinion about curfews and relationships and housework. Tell them that it’s an honor system from this point on, no punishments, and ask them how you can help them to honor the limits they’ve helped set.
  • Remember that, while your teen is rapidly approaching adulthood, they are still a child and still need guidance. Don’t disconnect (i.e. give up) and just let your teen figure things out for themselves. Yes, they do need to try and fail and try again so they can learn from their mistakes, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need you. Your role at this point is supportive as you stay in-tune and available and help them to process all of the big transitions and emotions and events that happen in adolescence. Walk them through the problem-solving steps (see The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline, Chapter Twenty-Five) as many times as they need you to so that they can learn how to become problem solvers themselves.
  • If they backtalk, LISTEN (see The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline, Appendix B). If they struggle with homework, help them. If they lie, forgive them and work with them to come to a place where they feel safe to be truthful. If they break curfew, ask them why and work with them to sort out the problem.
  • Memorize these words, “I’m here. I hear you. How can I help?” They encapsulate the Three C’s of gentle parenting—Connection. Communication. Cooperation. Use them every day to rebuild your relationship.

The thing to remember is that you are the only adult in the relationship for the time being, so be the first one to listen, the first one to forgive, the first one to apologize, the first one to understand, the first one to back down and try to find another way when the going gets tough. Before you know it, your teen will be an adult, just like you… Just. Like. You. Make sure the ‘you’ they see is the ‘you’ that you want them to become.

Related posts:

When Toddlers Become Teens

The Color of Change

Backtalk is Communication…LISTEN

The Gift of a Strong-Willed Child

The Problem with Punishment

12 Steps to Gentle Parenting

Bridge Over Troubled Waters~Parenting a ‘Problem’ Child

Why Whining is a Win!

Rethinking Tattling

Two Thousand Connection Points a Day: Attachment Parenting Beyond Infancy

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. 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 ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.


Healing Your Hurts So You Don’t Hurt Your Children

Gentle Parenting Workshop 2: Healing From Your Past So You Don't Pass It Along To Your ChildrenGentle Parenting Workshop 2: Healing from Your Past so You Don’t Pass it Along to Your Children will help you work through the steps of recovery from a painful past, leading you on a journey of healing and forgiveness, of unloading negative emotional baggage into the past where it belongs instead of unloading it onto your children and passing it along to the next generation, and of renewal to open the pathway to a more peaceful and gentle approach to parenting.

“The key to freedom is forgiveness. Forgiveness drains the past of its power to drain the present of its peace. Keep in mind, though, that it’s a journey, an ongoing life-process, a day-by-day decision, not a destination.

Forgiving someone doesn’t mean telling them that hurting us was okay. It means telling ourselves that it’s okay to stop hurting. It doesn’t mean we have to trust them again. It means we can learn to trust ourselves again because we deserve it. It doesn’t mean we have to give them a free pass back into our lives. It means we are free to take our lives back again. Forgiving is letting the hurts of the past go so that we can move freely into the future.”

The Gentle Parenting Workshop 2 walks you through five stages of healing and emotional freedom, including multiple action steps for you to take along the way from making the decision to change to identifying your triggers to forgiving your own mistakes of the past to coping when life hits hard.

“When a tragedy strikes in the form of a death or a life-changing illness or an accident, or when our lives are suddenly turned upside-down due to a divorce or other major life event, we need to grieve the loss of our old lives, our old ‘normal,’ our younger, more carefree, and unwounded selves, so that we can embrace our new normal and learn to live fully and joyfully again. Just as if a person had hurt us, we are hurting humans and we need to take the time and make the investment in self-care to work through the hurt and emerge a wiser, more mature, and more compassionate human.”

Remember, it’s easier to grow heart-whole children than it is to repair broken-hearted adults. Continuing to pass pain from one generation to the next is costly, but giving your children the gift of a happy childhood is truly priceless.

Gentle Parenting Workshop 2: Healing from Your Past so You Don’t Pass it Along to Your Children ~ .99 cents on Amazon for Kindle, to download onto your computer, iPhone or other smart phone, or iPad

Other gentle parenting resources you may find helpful:

Gentle Parenting Workshop 1 Getting Started on Your Gentle JourneyGentle Parenting Workshop 1: Getting Started on Your Gentle Journey

The Gentle Parenting Workshop series from award-winning author, L.R.Knost,  is a companion series to her best-selling parenting books, ‘Two Thousand Kisses a Day,’ ‘Whispers Through Time,’ and the newest release, ‘The Gentle Parent.’ This first workshop in the series, ‘Gentle Parenting Workshop 1: Getting Started on Your Gentle Journey,’ will help you set your gentle parenting goals, identify specific parenting problems, and target practical solutions to help you along on your journey to gentle parenting.

 

Two Thousand Kisses a Day-Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and StagesTwo Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages

Calm, Reassuring, Likable ~ Written in L.R.Knost’s signature easy-to-read and conversational style, ‘Two Thousand Kisses a Day’ offers an overview of gentle parenting from birth through young adulthood along with concrete suggestions and insights into how to implement gentle parenting in each stage of childhood. Her seasoned and practical approach based on extensive child development research and years of parent mentoring as well as over twenty-five years of parenting her six children is as likable as it is reassuring. Parents with children of any age will find this information-packed book with its bite-sized chapters and practical approach to parenting a helpful and encouraging addition to their home library, as well as a welcome gift for new or struggling parents. ~The Parenting Review

 

Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of ChildhoodWhispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood

Sweet, Funny, Insightful ~ Award-winning ‘Whispers Through Time’ by L.R. Knost is destined to be a dog-eared favorite, passed down from generation to generation. L.R. Knost shows parents how to find their own answers for their own children and their own families in this guidebook as she challenges conventional thinking with a wisdom born of experience and a healthy dose of research to back it up. Written with the same unique blend of sweetness and humor, grit and honesty, reassurance and insight that made L.R. Knost’s first book, ‘Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages,’ a best-seller, ‘Whispers Through Time’ has become a runaway hit in its own right. ~The Parenting Review

 

The Gentle ParentThe Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline

Relaxed, Reassuring, Practical ~ Written by L.R.Knost, best-selling, award-winning author of ‘Two Thousand Kisses a Day’ and ‘Whispers Through Time,’ ‘The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline’ shares the simple secrets of a peaceful, happy home in the Three C’s of gentle discipline–Connection, Communication, and Cooperation. In her signature relaxed and poetic style, L.R.Knost gently guides parents through the steps of applying the Three C’s in real-life scenarios from tantrums to defiance to parenting a strong-willed child to healing a broken parent/child relationship. Practical and proven, this newest installment in the Little Hearts Handbook parenting series will be tucked into diaper bags, kept handy on nightstands, and shared with good friends for its research-backed, experience-based, and humor-rich insights, ideas, and inspiration. ~The Parenting Review

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. 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 ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.


When Toddlers Become Teens

[Portions reprinted from Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood by L.R.Knost.  Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline also available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

sistersWith society’s propensity for blaming social issues on ‘kids these days,’ and with struggling, frustrated parents seeking support by sharing stories of their teens’ attitudes and ingratitudes, it’s not surprising that adolescence gets a bad rap.

But the truth is that teens are just people like the rest of us, subject to human imperfections and simply trying to find their place in the world. They may have some hormonal ups and downs, but just as women don’t appreciate being grouped together and defined by exaggerated stories of PMS and men don’t like every decision they make in middle-age to be labeled evidence of a midlife crisis, teens don’t deserve that kind of disrespectful stereotyping, either.

The thing is, adolescent behaviors that parents fear most such as rebellion, drug use, eating disorders, etc. don’t just appear out of nowhere. Teens don’t grow up in a vacuum. Our early parenting choices matter far more than we can imagine in those first months and years of our children’s lives. Our early parenting not only shapes who our children will become, but also has a powerful impact on our relationship with our teens. We are, literally, building our relationship with our teens while we’re parenting our toddlers and preschoolers.

Ideally, preparation for the teen years begins in infancy as we spend those first months of our children’s lives laying a foundation of trust. Then, in the toddler years, that preparation continues as we establish safe and reasonable boundaries with gentle guidance, patience, and proactive parenting like planning shopping trips around naps and bringing along snacks and favorite toys to avoid tantrum triggers.

In the preschool and middle years, preparation for adolescence builds on the trust foundation we laid in the first months and years of our teen’s lives as we grow a spirit of cooperation rather than compulsory compliance, establish a healthy relationship with our children based on teamwork instead of a dictatorship based on forced obedience, and create strong lines of communication rooted in hearing and being heard rather than the often-closed hearts and minds that result from lectures and control-based parenting.

The result…

  • Children who don’t have to fight for independence because they don’t have anything to rebel against or any motivation for rebellion
  • Children who feel that they are respected and that their opinions are heard and valued and therefore don’t have the angst to fuel negative attitudes
  • Children who trust and feel trusted and don’t want to lose what they instinctively know is of great value ~ our mutual trust relationship

Thus the groundwork is set for gently parenting through the teen years.

Once we’ve done the groundwork for the teen years, preparation shifts from preparing for adolescence to preparing our adolescents for adulthood. In the day-to-day parenting of teens, preparation means getting them and ourselves ready for their advent into adulthood by intentionally and incrementally handing over the reins of their lives into their inexperienced, but capable hands.

Another aspect of parenting our teens is participation in their lives. In the early years, participation means joining our little ones as they explore the world with mud-splattered walks in the rain and building tilted block towers which tumble and are rebuilt time and again. It means reading bedtime stories and welcoming midnight visitors in our beds and sharing morning tickle-fests and kissing imaginary boo-boos.

In the teen years participation means much the same, only instead of blocks tumbling, it’s plans and hopes and hearts that sometimes tumble into disappointments and need our support and understanding to be rebuilt. It’s midnight visitors who tap softly on our door and ask if we can chat for a bit. It’s shared hugs and cheers and tears and whispers of encouragement. It’s being there, being aware, being in-tune. It’s active, proactive, and intentional parenting.

And, finally, how we interpret our children’s behavior in the early years sets the stage in a very real way for how we will interpret their behavior in adolescence. In the early years, interpretation means that instead of assigning negative ulterior motives to our little ones’ crying, curiosity, outbursts, explorations, tantrums, and other behaviors, we seek to interpret what they are communicating and empathize with and validate their emotions. It means we try to meet the needs behind the behaviors first, opening the door to gentle guidance so that we can equip them with better ways of expressing their needs as they grow and mature.

Interpretation in the teen years means exactly the same. We listen, assume the best, meet needs, listen more, give grace for being human, empathize with and validate emotions, listen and listen some more, and continue to create open hearts and minds through connection and communication so that our gentle guidance can be heard and received and trusted.

Here’s the thing, yes, our teens are human and they will act like the imperfect beings they are at times, just like we all do. But when we’ve grown our little humans in an atmosphere of connection, communication, and cooperation, those imperfect human moments stay exactly that…moments. They don’t explode into rebellion or fester into addictions or plummet into depression because they’ve been punished, suppressed, and ignored. They are simply normal, small moments of life that we work through together before they become big life problems.

If, however, you are new to the idea of gentle parenting and wonder if it’s too late to rebuild and repair your relationship with your children, the answer is, “No.” One of the miracles of human nature is the ability to forgive, heal, and start again. Here are some links to articles with specific suggestions for walking with your children through that process so you can begin your gentle journey in parenting peacefully, kindly, and effectively with your older child:

The Color of Change

Backtalk is Communication…LISTEN

The Gift of a Strong-Willed Child

The Problem with Punishment

12 Steps to Gentle Parenting

Bridge Over Troubled Waters~Parenting a ‘Problem’ Child

Why Whining is a Win!

Rethinking Tattling

Two Thousand Connection Points a Day: Attachment Parenting Beyond Infancy
 

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. 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 ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.


When Things Get Physical: Hitting, Throwing, Kicking, and Biting

[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.]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

toddler hittingToddlers and preschoolers are still in the early stages of learning to communicate verbally. Add to that the fact that they have little-to-no impulse control and very immature social skills, and you’ve got a recipe for an instinctive physical response (i.e. hitting, kicking, biting, hair pulling, throwing things, etc.) to situations when they are frustrated, angry, excited, scared, or just tired and out-of-sorts.

Many parents who practice gentle discipline wonder where their little one picked up the behavior, not realizing that it is a normal and age-appropriate reaction, albeit an undesirable one. Very often parents are advised to spank their child to train them not to hit others, especially those who are smaller and weaker than they are.

The concept of using consequences, physical or otherwise, as a deterrent for hitting is based on the misconception that small children have the capacity for forethought (i.e. “If I hit, I will get in trouble. Therefore I will not hit.”) and that they are choosing to disobey. As mentioned in the last chapter, though, the prefrontal cortex, where reasoning, logic, and forethought take place, is highly immature in toddlers and preschoolers and actually doesn’t develop fully until the mid-twenties. Small children act instinctively and impulsively even when not stressed simply because that is what they are developmentally capable of, but when they are stressed, even the small amount of self-control they may have attained flies right out the window, and before they know it they’ve reacted physically to their stress.

The plain truth is, though, that even if punishment was effective as a deterrent, a gentle response to physical aggression is literally the only response that a parent can make that won’t actually reinforce the aggression. Responding with counter-aggression by powering-up on a child, whether physically or verbally, merely reinforces the idea that ‘might makes right’ and that whoever is the dominant figure at any given moment has the right to force others to bend to their will.

Obviously, parents who practice gentle discipline don’t believe that hitting a child to teach them not to hit others is an appropriate or even logical option. But knowing that they don’t want to resort to physical punishment and knowing what to do instead are two different things entirely.

So, what other options does a gentle parent have when confronted with a little one who has started lashing out physically whether from anger, frustration, or excitement?

  1. Supervision! Supervision! Supervision! When you have a child who is acting out physically, it’s vital to remain in visual contact with them whenever they are with other children. Easier said than done, I know, but it’s important not to leave small children alone with a child who is struggling with physical aggression. Some steps you can take are to either take the child with you when you have to leave the room, take the other child/children with you, or use baby gates to section off areas where you can separate the children to play (in a non-punitive manner) when you have to be out of visual range momentarily.
  2. Intervention. Consistent intervention by an observant parent, preferably before the situation escalates to physical aggression, is essential in order to protect the other children. When you see your child heading toward a physical response to a situation, reminding them to use their words or offering a solution to the problem will often help avert a lash out. If your child has already started to become physical, but hasn’t fully escalated, reminding them to “Use your gentle hands” will give them a little head’s up that they are headed in the wrong direction and give them an opportunity to redirect themselves. Suggesting alternative options will equip your child with the tools they need to handle their feelings in acceptable ways.
  3. Prevention. If scratching or biting are issues be sure to keep your little one’s nails trimmed and try to stay on top of teething pain. When it comes to teething, small children are frequently either dealing with swollen gums from a tooth starting to come in or one that has just come in, so being aware of that and using amber necklaces, keeping a supply of damp, frozen washcloths available, and giving a bit of ibuprofen when needed are good preventatives to biting.
  4. Remind and redirect. If hitting, biting, scratching, etc. are the result of over-exuberance, consistently reminding a little one to “Use your gentle hands. Can you show me your gentle hands?” or that “Teeth are for smiling, not biting. Can you show me your smile?” and offering specific alternatives such as clapping their hands to show their excitement will help to redirect them to more appropriate expressions of their big emotions.
  5. Respect. Respecting a child’s possessions helps them to share by offering them the chance to choose. Feeling more in control of what does or does not need to be shared is a proactive step toward a child feeling more in control of their body and impulses. You might allow their room to be off-limits to their siblings or possibly have a ‘special’ toy box where they can keep a select few toys that they don’t have to share, but can only play with in their room or when the other children are sleeping or otherwise occupied. If a situation arises where they aren’t willing to share something, they can have the option to choose to put that toy in the ‘special’ toy box, but will need to decide which toy to take out of the box to share in its place.
  6. Outlets. Children who feel out-of-control need outlets for their big feelings. If they’re angry, they can go to their room and punch a bop bag or go outside and throw or kick a ball around. But if they’re headed toward a meltdown, they may need help processing their feelings, and a Calm-Me-Jar and time-in (see Chapter Eight) may be the best option.
  7. Practice. Role playing can be helpful with a child who repeatedly lapses into physical aggression. You can take turns being the ‘hit-ee’ and ‘hitter’ (avoid using labels such as ‘victim’ and ‘aggressor’ with your child) and show them different ways of handling situations that you know have caused them difficulties in the past.
  8. Silliness. One of my favorite tools when dealing with toddler’s and preschooler’s aggression is playing the ‘I’m the boss of you, hands!’ game (can also be used for teeth, feet, etc.) in which I remind them that they are the ‘boss’ of their hands and ask them to tell their hands what they can or cannot do. (i.e. Me: “What are you going to tell your hands if they try to snatch a toy?” Child: “I’ll tell them, ‘No way, hands! I’m the boss of you!”) Little ones love the idea of being the boss and generally respond well to this type of play.
  9. More silliness. For younger, non-verbal children who may not be ready for the “I’m the boss of you, hands!” game yet, if they’ve hit, pinched, snatched, etc. try ‘checking’ to see if they have gentle hands by exaggeratedly examining their hands and then kissing each palm and declaring, “Yep, that’s a gentle hand, all right!” The positive, declarative statement will help them to develop a positive self-image and set the foundation for self-control as they grow up believing that, yes, they are good and gentle little people!
  10. Modeling. If your child has already hit someone, you will need to first address the injured child’s needs.  If you’re angry with your child for hitting, and you very well may be, it’s okay to share that with them in a calm voice and let them know that you need a moment to console the injured child and to calm down before you will be ready to talk with them. What you are actually doing is modeling self-control and coping mechanisms, important components for your child to learn in order to master their impulse to lash out.
  11. Teaching empathy. Reflect what the other person might be feeling, “It hurts your sister when you scratch her. Why don’t we go ask her if she’s okay? If she has an owie, we might need to get a bandage for her.” It’s very intriguing for little ones to feel like they can ‘fix’ something, and often the idea that they have that kind of power makes them more likely to feel they have the power to use their gentle hands, too. The positive impact of learning to think and care about the feelings of others, though, is the real power that will enable them to begin to control the impulse to lash out.
  12. Verbalize. Offering words to express your child’s feelings of anger or frustration when they have lashed out (i.e. “I see that you don’t want to share the ball. That makes you angry. I’m sorry you’re angry, but I can’t let you hit. What can you do instead of hitting when you’re angry?”) will help your child learn how to verbalize their feelings over time instead of simply acting on them as well as reminding them of the options you’ve provided for them to redirect their big feelings into acceptable outlets.
  13. A place for time-outs. When a toy is misused (i.e. thrown, used to hit, etc.) and a gentle redirection has already been given, another option is to try the Time-Out Toy Box. Little ones generally find the concept of a toy being put in time-out rather humorous and go along with the removal without a fuss. When your child decides that the toy is ready to behave, you can have your little one tell the toy it has to listen to them because they are the boss. Again, humor is a great communicator! Remember, though to listen and be flexible. If the removal of a toy brings about a strong negative response, a time-in with your little one might be needed. Remaining in-tune with your child will help you to read the situation and respond appropriately.
  14. Expectations. It’s important in all aspects of parenting to frequently take a step back and examine your expectations to make sure that they are reasonable in regard to your child’s age, developmental stage, temperament, etc. Unrealistic expectations can put significant pressure on a child and cause a great deal of frustration and stress which can lead to aggressive behaviors as well as conflict in your parent/child relationship.
  15. Honesty. If physical punishment has been a part of your parenting, removing that entirely from your parenting toolbox is a great start toward easing some of the anger, stress, and frustration that is fueling your child’s aggression. Being honest with your child about your own struggles with handling things physically as well as apologizing for using threats, intimidation, and physical pain to control them in the past will begin the healing process in your relationship.

Always try to keep in mind that behaviors are communication. Listening ‘between the lines’ to your child’s aggression will help you to discern whether your child’s behavior is communicating an unmet need such as hunger, a nap, or attention (Yes, attention is a valid need!) or if they are communicating a big emotion that they’re having trouble processing or if they are simply out of their depth and need an adult to help them handle a situation. Children are actually great communicators, just not necessarily verbally. It’s up to us adults to ‘listen’ carefully, empathetically, and calmly to our children’s behavior and then offer them our gentle guidance, wisdom, and support.

Related posts:

Toddlers, Tantrums, and Time-in’s, Oh My!

The Gift of a Strong-Willed Child

Backtalk is Communication…LISTEN

When Children Act Out ~ Reflecting Our Emotions

The Problem with Punishment

Bridge Over Troubled Waters~Parenting a ‘Problem’ Child

The Taming of the Tantrum: A Toddler’s Perspective

Practical, Gentle, Effective Discipline

200 Ways to Bless Your Children with a Happy Childhood

12 Steps to Gentle Parenting

The ‘NO’ Zone

You’re Not the Boss of Me!

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. 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 ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.


Toddlers, Tantrums, and Time-in’s, Oh my!

[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.]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

cat in the hat calm jarWhen a little person feels frustrated, overwhelmed, or just plain old out-of-sorts (read: tantrum time!) it’s tempting for parents to focus on correction rather than connection. But when children are intensely stressed, the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which in early childhood is an underdeveloped, mushy grey sponge waiting to be formed, is flooded with cortisol, the ‘stress hormone.’ The result is what is known as the fight-freeze-or-flight syndrome in which higher brain functions (learning, reason, self-control) are markedly hampered and lower brain functions (instinct, physical reactions) take over. This is an in-built survival mechanism that gradually comes under conscious control through years of growth in a safe and supportive environment. Interestingly, it is theorized that this underdeveloped ‘sponginess’ is why small children are able to learn new languages more quickly than older children and adults. They are, in a very literal way, absorbing information raw, unhampered by the processing and reason of a more mature brain.

Expecting young children to have the maturity and self-control to overcome this God-given survival instinct is unrealistic. Threatening, punishing, or even reasoning with them while their higher brain functions are suppressed is futile and actually just adds more stress to the situation (more stress = fuel on the tantrum-fire!).

What they really need is help…

  • First, help coping with their big emotions
  • Then, help reconnecting with their source of safety and security (you!)
  • And last, help processing the problem that sent them into a maelstrom of emotion in the first place.

Punishing them, yelling at them, sending them to their room, or putting them in time-out disconnects them even further from their source of security and not only delays a resolution of the issue, but misses an opportunity to equip them with the tools they need to handle future problems.

This is where the Three C’s of gentle discipline come into play.

Connection:

  • Remaining present and supportive until they are able to calm down enough to accept your help
  • Drawing them close when they’re ready (time-in)

Communication:

  • Validating their emotions by labeling them and empathizing (i.e. “You’re sad because we have to leave the park. I’m sad, too. The park is fun!”)
  • Offering words to help them express their frustrations using reflective language (i.e. “It’s hard to do things we don’t like, isn’t it?”)

Cooperation:

  • Helping them move on by redirecting their attention to the future (i.e. “When we get home we’re going to make a snack. Would you like grapes or bananas today?”)
  • Modeling coping skills and self-control by calming your own reaction to their meltdown and helping them process their big emotions

These are all ways of reconnecting with your toddler or preschooler to help them successfully navigate their present difficulty as well as to cope with difficulties they’re confronted with in the future.

One effective tool for use in helping little ones cope with big emotions is a Calm-Me-Jar made from small, round, plastic bottles such as AquapodTM water bottles. They are perfect for small hands to shake and manhandle to their heart’s content.

To make your own Calm-Me-Jar, fill up a plastic water bottle with warm water and basic craft glitter glue in whatever color you like. You can add some extra glitter and a drop of food coloring to customize your glitter jar to your child’s tastes, and then when you have the look you want, be sure to hot glue the top on to prevent spills.

When my little ones have meltdowns, or, if I can catch it, before they reach that point, I pull out one of the Calm-Me-Jars and shake it up and just let them hold it while I hold them (when they are ready to be held) and talk or sing quietly. When I feel their body relaxing and their breathing slow down, I might say something like, “It’s sad when we can’t have a toy, isn’t it?” or whatever else will reflect what they seem to be unable to express.

When an older preschooler or early elementary-aged child has a meltdown, or, again, before if I can catch it, I first connect, “I’m here. I can see you’re upset. How can I help?” and listen as they try to verbalize their feelings. If they’re having trouble with the words, instead of immediately supplying the words for them, I’ll offer them a Calm-Me-Jar and ask if they’d like to show me how they’re feeling. They will often shake the Calm-Me-Jar vigorously while jumping up and down and twisting all around, which is a great physical outlet for their intense feelings. I watch until I see their movements slowing and their breathing evening out, and when they’ve calmed just enough to hear me, I quietly talk them through the calming process, “Look at all that fairy dust bouncing around like crazy! I bet that’s how it feels inside when you’re so upset. Look at how it’s starting to slow down and settle to the bottom. If we breathe really slowly, we can feel ourselves settling like the fairy dust. Want to try it with me?” Then, if there are any behavior issues we need to address, we’ll work through those afterward when they’re calm, connected, and capable of interacting and understanding.

Here’s an example of how Calm-Me-Jars are helpful in ‘listening between the lines’ to my children’s behavior so I can meet them where they are and help them process their big feelings:

My five-year-old is a tiny girl with BIG emotions, and she really likes using Calm-Me-Jars to work through her feelings. We’ve put several together such as a silvery one she named Goodnight Moon, a light blue one she named Nemo Under the Sea, a pink one she named Hello Kitty Princess Ballerina, and a dark blue one she named Starry, Starry Night. When she is mad at one of her siblings, she’ll often bring me one of her Calm-Me-Jars (Goodnight Moon is a favorite in the evening!) and work out some of her upset physically by shaking the jar like crazy while she jumps up and down and tells me how mad she is. When she’s a bit calmer, we’ll have a little cuddle and watch the glitter settle while saying goodnight to the moon, all the furniture, and whatever other silliness we come up with until she’s calm. If there’s a discipline issue or she needs some help working things out with a sibling, we’ll work through it at that point because I know that’s when she can hear me and really process what I’m saying. If she chooses Starry, Starry Night we might sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star or step outside and see if there are any stars out yet. If she decides on Hello Kitty Princess Ballerina she’ll often dance her frustrations away while shaking her Calm-Me-Jar. And if she picks out Nemo Under the Sea we’ll ‘speak whale’ like Dory from Finding Nemo or we’ll make fishy faces at each other until we’re both giggling.

As you can see, my feisty little girl’s choice of Calm-Me-Jar shows me what she needs to do to work through her emotions of the moment, whether it’s to act things out physically in acceptable ways or to connect through song or through silliness.

The key is being in tune with your little one enough to understand their personality and work with it instead of against it. My five-year-old is spunky and silly, so having a long, serious talk would drive her crazy and accomplish nothing. We quickly decide together how she’ll approach whatever the problem was the next time she encounters it, and then she’s ready to move on, whereas when some of my older ones were little they really liked to talk things through (and still do!). My toddler, on the other hand, doesn’t have tantrums because that simply isn’t part of her own unique personality, but she’s still fascinated by her Calm-Me-Jar and loves to sit with me and watch the “pintess faywe dut” (“princess fairy dust”) glitter settle when she’s feeling a bit cranky or out-of-sorts.

Remember, there is no cure for tantrums because they are simply a normal result of a normal developmental stage of childhood. Trying to avoid tantrum triggers (tiredness, hunger, overstimulation, etc.) is always a good first step, along with remaining in-tune, responsive, and available, but when all else fails and a tantrum does occur, reacting with an adult tantrum is tantamount to throwing fuel on a toddler-tantrum-fire. So instead of losing it when your little one loses it, take an adult time-out, breathe deeply to gain control of your own emotions, and then grab the Three C’s of gentle discipline from your parenting toolbox and work with your child, not against them.

“Reactors react to a crisis with a meltdown. Responders respond to a crisis with help. To raise a mature, stable adult, be a first responder, not a nuclear reactor!” ~ L.R.Knost

Related posts:

The Gift of a Strong-Willed Child

Backtalk is Communication…LISTEN

When Children Act Out ~ Reflecting Our Emotions

The Problem with Punishment

Bridge Over Troubled Waters~Parenting a ‘Problem’ Child

The Taming of the Tantrum: A Toddler’s Perspective

Practical, Gentle, Effective Discipline

200 Ways to Bless Your Children with a Happy Childhood

12 Steps to Gentle Parenting

The ‘NO’ Zone

When Children Hit~10 Tips for Parents

You’re Not the Boss of Me!

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. 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 ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.


Two Thousand Connection Points a Day: Attachment Parenting Beyond Infancy

[Reprinted from Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost. Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline also now available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

mom and daughterFrom kicking and rolling and stretching to being lulled to sleep by the rhythmic cadence of a mama’s heartbeat, little ones spend the first months of their existence wrapped in a warm, dark, gently swaying cocoon, a life-giving embrace, the ultimate hug, readying themselves for their grand entrance to the world.

Then, in those first moments of life beyond the womb, when the muffled sounds of the outside world become clear and the muted lights become glaringly bright, a warm chest with the scent of life-sustaining milk and the sweet sound of a familiar heartbeat welcome the little one to the comfort and safety of a mama’s arms.

In the days, weeks, and months following, little fingers and toes are counted and kissed again and again and again. Soft cheeks are snuzzled and a fuzzy little head is nuzzled, and two thousand kisses a day seems a reasonable number to a mama’s heart overflowing with tenderness for this tiny new member of the family.

Then comes the rolling and sitting and crawling and walking, and soon the two thousand kisses dwindle to brief morning cuddles before a toddler is off to explore the world, healing kisses on boo-boos, and goodnight snuggles with a bedtime book.

Time passes and the little one grows in independence, getting up and dressed and ready on their own, grabbing their own band-aid for a scrape, and reading themselves to sleep. Gone are the snuzzles and nuzzles of infancy, and the two thousand kisses a day are simply sweet memories.

Growing independence, though, doesn’t have to mean growing separation. Humans were created to be relational beings. We may outgrow our dependency, but we never outgrow the need for community, interaction, appreciation, reassurance, and support.

Infants, children, and adults alike all share this life-long need for connection. While over time that need will also be met through friendships, business engagements, social interactions, and the like, family relationships are the steady and sure bedrock of secure connection and belonging that ground us and assure us that our needs will not go unmet even in the darkest of times.

Attachment parenting is often misconstrued to be simply about breastfeeding, babywearing, cosleeping, etc. But, while those are possible choices for creating and maintaining a secure parent/child connection in the early years, they are just a small sampling of the relationship-building choices that parents can make throughout their children’s lives.

As little ones outgrow the ‘two thousand kisses a day’ stage, parents can begin consciously creating ‘two thousand connection points a day’ to replace those tender expressions of love with age-appropriate expressions of appreciation and approval, love and support.

From responding empathetically to a preschooler’s whine, to paying attention to a seven-year-old when they tell their endless stories, to listening ‘between the lines’ to the angst of a teen, maintaining a secure parent/child connection beyond infancy is simply about meeting emotional needs consistently, intentionally, and relationally.

Creating two thousand connection points a day isn’t about quality time, and it isn’t even about the quantity of time spent with our children. It is, instead, about being there in the small moments, the moments that matter to our children, and consciously meeting with them right where they are. It is about…

    • Simply smiling and letting our eyes light up with welcome when our children walk in the room
    • Maintaining eye contact when our children talk to us instead of letting our eyes constantly stray back to our laptop/iPhone
    • Voicing our sincere appreciation for their latest ‘masterpiece’ or victory or achievement
    • Expressing our affection physically in whatever way our children are comfortable with, whether it’s a wrestling match, a knuckle pound, or a hug
    • Giving our children our undivided, wholehearted attention when they share their latest treasure or sing a never-ending song they make up as they go or just want to sit and be close for awhile
    • Listening to what our children need to say without the threat of repercussion
    • Inferring what they aren’t able to express verbally
    • Welcoming our children into our daily lives, whether we are discussing politics or cooking dinner or fixing the toilet
    • Allowing our children to express their emotions, even when they aren’t pretty
    • Validating their anger, hurt, frustration, or embarrassment instead of minimizing or dismissing their feelings
    • Helping them to process those emotions by listening and reflecting back what we hear
    • Guiding them toward understanding of their own feelings and empathetically equipping them with coping mechanisms for the future
    • Sharing our own hurts, disappointments, and mistakes in age-appropriate terms so they’ll know it’s okay to be human
    • Honoring our children’s intense need to avoid embarrassment by offering guidance privately and respectfully, even if their behavior issue is public and/or disrespectful
    • Sharing their interests even if the life-cycle of a snail wouldn’t be our first choice of dinner conversation
    • Offering choices so they can grow in independence and confidence
    • Supporting them even when their choices lead to disappointment or failure
    • Being gently and kindly and completely honest about our own disappointment or hurt when their behavior negatively affects us so they’ll know they can trust us to be truthful, even in the hard things
    • Helping them whenever and wherever they express a need for assistance so they’ll know they never have to go life alone

These connection points are all about maintaining and enriching a strong parent/child relationship through all of the ages and stages of childhood so that, through a foundation of trust and mutual respect, parenting takes the form of guiding instead of punishing, encouraging natural growth instead of forcing independence, and creating a strong, intimate, interwoven family fabric that will stand the test of time.

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. 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 ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.


The Gift of a Strong-Willed Child

[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.]

gracie megaphoneThere are some children who are born into the world with the incredible life-gift of a strong will and an indomitable spirit. These children are often deeply misunderstood, and there are rows of books lining bookstore shelves with instructions about how to break their will, how to subdue their spirit, how to force their obedience. What an incredible loss of leadership, passion, and insight this world suffers when parents follow these punitive parenting practices. Not only can we parent these gifted children with gentleness and respect, but the gifts we get in return are priceless!

Take a look at some of the common descriptions used when referring to the characteristics of a strong-willed child:

Demanding, Insistent, Stubborn, Bossy, Cocky, Difficult, Challenging, Fixated, Contrary, Rebellious, Defiant

Now look at some of the common characteristics of adults who are world leaders, CEO’s, entrepreneurs, innovators, world-class athletes, and the like:

Decisive, Determined, Persistent, Authoritative, Confident, Valiant, Gutsy, Committed, Resourceful, Nonconforming, Bold

Note that the characteristics are the same, but the characterizations are negative when applied to a child and positive when applied to an adult.

Other characteristics of strong-willed children that coincide with the characteristics of adult leaders in their fields are:

  • They are typically highly creative and intelligent.
  • They are usually passionate and intense in their interests and beliefs.
  • They often have an insatiable need to know ‘why.’
  • They typically learn by doing.
  • They tend to have an intense need to test the status quo.
  • They are typically highly perfection-oriented, but often that is focused on their expectations of themselves instead of others.
  • They tend to need high levels of validation.
  • They usually have an intense need to be heard.
  • They often have a strong need for emotional safety.
  • They tend to be resistant to change unless they feel like they have some control over the change.
  • They are often highly sensitive.
  • They are typically intensely focused on their latest project or interest.
  • They tend to be conscientious and highly committed.
  • They are usually intensely independent.

While there’s no doubt that it’s a challenge having a child who seems to challenge everything, there are ways to work with them rather than against them to preserve and nurture their unique gifts. Maintaining a healthy parent/child relationship is vital as you work to find a balance between setting limits with your richly spirited child while not limiting their freedom to stretch and grow and develop into the person they were created to be.

The key to preserving your trust relationship with your child is remaining calm and present and supportive, even while setting and maintaining reasonable boundaries. It is helpful to remember that the most strong-willed children tend to be the ones who identify the most strongly with their parents. So instead of viewing their seemingly constant challenges as defiance or attempts to thwart authority, work to parent from a place of understanding that your strong-willed child is actually on a discovery mission and is doing endless ‘research’ on you by testing and retesting and digging and chiseling to discover all of your quirks and foibles and ups and downs and strengths and weaknesses. This kind of testing isn’t negative unless you make it into a battle of wills instead of responding with gentle, respectful guidance. Taking this stance will help you to keep from seeing the challenges as personal insults and, instead, see the challenges as attempts to learn and grow and understand.

There is no doubt, though, that parenting a child with the gift of a strong will is a constant exercise in patience and self-regulation. The personal growth you will experience is invaluable as you seek to parent with empathy and wisdom and compassion, but it can be draining and will often stretch you far, far out of your comfort zone. Knowing that and being prepared for it will help you cope with the inevitable stresses, and being ready ahead of time with some specific strategies for handling the challenges will help you to respond calmly and effectively.

This is a good place to revisit the Three C’s of gentle discipline—Connection, Communication, and Cooperation.

Connection ~ Maintaining a secure connection with your spirited child is vital. It is the springboard from which all of your interactions with your child will originate, and it is the touchstone to which you will both return, again and again and again, when your relationship gets strained and stained and stretched.

  • Play word games, board games, rough-and-tumble outdoor games, silly face in the mirror games. Play is the language of childhood, so make sure to speak your child’s language every day.
  • Laugh together. Humor is an undervalued parenting tool. But it lowers defenses, inspires smiles, brings people together, and reconnects hearts.
  • Read storybooks, chapter books, travel brochures, encyclopedias, anything that will inspire you to dream together, talk, plan, get excited, share interests.
  • Focus more on who your child is than on what your child does. Remember, you’re growing a person, not fixing a problem. So make sure to spend time getting to know the person, not just the child. It doesn’t have to cost anything. Just walk together, talk together, share ice cream cones, spot shapes in the clouds, and enjoy each other.

Communication ~ Children have their own ‘inner world’ of thoughts and plans and problems and worries and hopes and dreams that are occupying their time and attention, so a lack of cooperation is often simply the result of having a different agenda than we do. Getting some insight into that ‘inner world’ is key in guiding and growing them respectfully.

  • Listen with your heart. Listen ‘between the lines’ to what your child is communicating through their behavior. Listen and listen and listen some more. That is always, always the first step in communicating with your child.
  • Reflect, connect, and redirect. Reflect what you hear, whether it’s communicated by your child’s behavior or their words. This not only validates their emotions and lets them know that you hear and understand them, but it also helps them to understand their own emotions. For instance, if your child is upset that he can’t have a cookie after brushing his teeth for bedtime, try saying, “I hear you. You’re upset because you want a cookie.” Then reestablish your connection, “I like cookies, too!” and offer a solution, “How about we go pick out the two best cookies and put them in a special container that we can take to the park in the morning?”
  • Don’t take non-compliance as a personal insult. A strong-willed child is very much their own person with their own agenda. Focus on inviting cooperation instead of demanding obedience. Whether it’s staying in bed or cleaning up or whatever the issue, make it a team effort and come up with a game plan ahead of time. For example, you could say, “You seem to be having trouble staying in bed at night. What do you think would help you to be more ready to go to sleep when it’s time for bed?” or “It’s important to pick up our things so they don’t get broken, let’s put on the timer and work together for ten minutes and see who gets the most picked up.”
  • Make a firm commitment not to resort to punishments to control behavior. The resentment that comes from being punished absolves children in their own minds of responsibility. It doesn’t teach them responsibility, and resentment can actually cause a lot of the behaviors you are trying to avoid.
  • Communicate daily, outwardly to your child and inwardly to yourself, the positive aspects of your child’s personality. When the focus is on ‘fixing’ a child, they get the message that they are somehow broken, and that is not a healthy self-image to take into adulthood.
  • ‘No’ is not a complete thought. It is an imperative, a command. It doesn’t teach. It tells. If you want your child to learn to think like an adult, take the time to explain your adult thinking.
  • Remember that children, especially when they are upset, open ‘conversations’ through their behavior, and it’s up to us, the only adults in the relationship, to gently guide them toward continuing those conversations verbally as well as equipping them with the resources to be able to do so.
  • Also keep in mind that the social mores of rudeness simply aren’t inborn and don’t apply to early interactions with our children. They are learned by imitating how we as parents behave. Politeness is a heart issue that cannot be imposed by the will of another unless we want it to only be an external façade instead of a heartfelt courtesy.  Helping your strong-willed child learn to speak kindly means speaking kindly to your child as well as offering guidance when they’ve been rude such as saying, “That is not a nice tone of voice” or “That isn’t a kind thing to say” and then offering a do-over “Can you try saying that to me again more nicely? I’ll always try my best to be nice to you, and I would like you to try to do the same for me.” (see Appendix B in The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline for more ideas)

Cooperation ~ Always keep at the forefront of your parenting goals that you are seeking thoughtful cooperation, not mindless compliance. That way you will remember to treat your child as a thoughtful individual with ideas and needs and feelings of their own instead of a mindless drone there to do your bidding.

  • Set clear limits and explain them in age-appropriate terms. Remember, if you want to invite cooperation, you have to actually issue the invitation to cooperate!
  • Limit the number of limits. Spirited children are often stressed children simply because of their own intense emotions and reactions to things, so set them up for success by keeping your limits few and clear and by maintaining them consistently.
  • Make sure to let your child have a voice in determining the limits so they feel like they have some control over their lives and so they feel some ownership over the limits.
  • Brainstorm together ways of helping everyone to work together. Some ideas are to come up with hand signals or words that remain your little secret codes to indicate when it’s time to leave the park or to do homework or to dial the activity level or noise volume down a few notches.
  • Invite cooperation by creating daily routines together. Don’t be surprised if your child ends up being the one who is a stickler for following the routine, even to the point of nagging you to follow it. These gifted children tend to be all-in, fully focused and committed, and they’ll expect you to be the same!
  • Cooperate with your child’s needs and personality by working with them rather than against them. For instance, if you know that your child has a hard time leaving a project, give them plenty of time to find a good stopping point when you need them to leave it for a while. Or if you know that your child has a hard time following directions at bedtime, try writing or drawing the tasks that need to be done (i.e. toothbrushing, pajamas, etc.) on ping-pong balls and put them in a small ‘bedtime jar’ so your child can feel some control over their routine as they independently pick out the balls one by one for a ‘surprise’ nighttime order of tasks or take them all out and decide what order to do them in themselves.
  • If you are already locked in a head-to-head power struggle, put away your boxing gloves so your child will (eventually!) feel safe putting away theirs. When you battle with your child, you may win a skirmish or two, but you will lose the treasure…your trust relationship. Putting away the gloves means slowing down, breathing through your own emotions, and finding a way to work through the issue together. Remember, you’re the adult in the relationship, but that doesn’t give you the right to overpower your child; it gives you the responsibility to empower your child. That involves modeling the tools of diplomacy—communication, cooperation, compromise—that you want your child to stock in their own emotional toolkit.

Remember, the children who come into the world with their ‘boxing gloves on’ so to speak are often the ones who become the biggest world changers. It’s not easy raising these little world-changers, I know (Believe me, I know. Two of my six are world-changers-in-the-making!), but the rewards are phenomenal!

Related posts:

Healing Your Hurts So You Don’t Hurt Your Children

Backtalk is Communication…LISTEN

When Children Act Out ~ Reflecting Our Emotions

The Problem with Punishment

Bridge Over Troubled Waters~Parenting a ‘Problem’ Child

Why Whining is a Win!

Rethinking Tattling

The Incredible Power of the Whisper

The Taming of the Tantrum: A Toddler’s Perspective

12 Steps to Gentle Parenting

The Thoughtful Parent’s Guide to Positive Parenting Guides

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. 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 ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.


Are You a Parent ‘Reject’?

[Reprinted from Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost. Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline also now available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

toddler girl puppy costumeCapri points at the front door every morning and says, “Daddy, go!” Her daddy feels a bit rejected, especially on the weekends when he doesn’t have to go to work and his little girl cries because he won’t leave! 

When Daddy and Luca play tickle monsters after bathtime, Mommy tries to join in, but Luca grabs Mommy’s hand and drags her back to her computer chair. Her mommy feels like she’s just the parent workhorse while Daddy gets to be the playmate. 

Micah cries and yells, “No-no, Daddy!” when Daddy tries to help with bedtime. Daddy feels like he’s missing out on some of the most important memory-making parts of his little guy’s childhood.

While these parents’ feelings are, of course, valid, the rejection they are feeling is actually a misinterpretation of their children’s actions. Small children are creatures of habit. They’ve only recently arrived in this world and everything is strange and new and big and loud and confusing, so it makes sense that they find comfort and security in repetition and routine. That’s the reason they ask us to read the same book to them over and over and…well, you get the idea.

As they begin to learn and grow, they categorize things in order to understand them. That’s why right at first every animal is a ‘kitty’ and every drink is ‘juice.’ This same process of learning through categorization applies to relationships, as well. Children are constantly observing and studying their parents and the roles each of them play, and then using that information to construct a mental ‘schematic’ of their world.

If a child is accustomed to one parent doing the bedtime routine while the other is busy cleaning up after dinner, a sudden change in that routine may disrupt the little one’s schematic, and they will often resist or have a meltdown.

Understanding that it is the break in routine, the unexpected happening when a small child has settled in their mind what the ‘expected’ is, that is at the root of the issue can help a parent to overcome their feelings of rejection and focus on working toward a solution in a way that meets their child’s security needs.

Here are five ideas to try if you or your partner are a parent ‘reject’:

1.)    When you know a routine is going to change, talk about it with your child ahead of time to prepare them. For instance, if your little one is used to Daddy going to work and you have a day off coming up, you can say, “Daddy gets to stay home and play tomorrow!” the evening before and then in the morning, “This is the day I get to stay home and play! What should we do first?”

2.)    If you’d like to share the diapering duties, but your little one is used to just one parent doing the changes, start by having the non-diapering parent assist for a few changes, then switch roles, but continue to do it together until your baby is comfortable with the new routine.

3.)    The same ideas apply to bedtime or bathtime routines, dropping off or picking up your little one from preschool, or any other routine your child is used to. If you need to change the routine, talk about it ahead of time to prepare them and then try to walk through the routine a few times together before switching roles or sharing the routine.

4.)    If one parent has a special play time with your little one, instead of trying to join in, why not choose a separate time for the three of you to play together? That will allow them to have a special bonding time for just the two of them while providing an opportunity at another time for you all to bond as a family.

5.)    Keep in mind that, especially for very young babies, their survival instinct may make them quite partial to their mommy for the first few months to a year old or even a bit beyond. That is a natural, normal, and healthy design inbuilt to ensure that they stay attached to their source of food and comfort. If a securely attached baby is having trouble bonding with anyone other than mommy, instead of trying to detach baby, try building your bond while baby is happy and content in mommy’s arms. Play peek-a-boo, make fishy-faces, read picture books, and just chat with baby. That will help your little one to begin to associate you with the same safety and comfort they feel in mommy’s embrace while building your own secure bond with them.

Related posts:

The Terrible Trouble with Toothbrushing: A Toddler’s Perspective

The Thoughtful Parent’s Guide to Positive Parenting Guides

12 Steps to Gentle Parenting

The Taming of the Tantrum: A Toddler’s Perspective

Practical, Gentle, Effective Discipline

10 Ways to Play with your Children when Play is the Last Thing on your Mind

200 Ways to Bless Your Children with a Happy Childhood

 

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. 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 ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.


Baby on the Way! 25 Tips to Prepare Children for a New Sibling

[By L.R.Knost, author of  Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and StagesWhispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood, and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

toddler kissing mommy's pregnant bellyPregnancy is a time of introspection, excitement, and, often, anxiety for most new mamas. When those new mamas also have other small children at home, that anxiety can become overwhelming as they worry about how they’ll cope with more than one child and how the current little loves of their life will cope with a new sibling. While these are very valid concerns, there are steps you can take to prepare your child for a new sibling and help them to adjust when the new baby arrives that will also help you to cope with life as a mama of more than one little blessing.

Once you discover you’re expecting, you’ve got months and months to prepare your child for the arrival of a new sibling, so here are 25 tips for during your pregnancy and after the new baby arrives to make the new baby transition a smoother and sweeter journey for everyone:

  1. Help your older child make their own ‘sister/brother on the way’ announcements so they feel like they are part of the transition from the beginning.
  2. Bring them along to sonograms, doctor’s appointments, shopping for baby things, etc.
  3. Reassure them that parents’ love multiplies instead of divides and that they will always be loved and important. Point out other families with more than one child so they can see that truth for themselves. If they’re old enough to understand, try a simple illustration such as letting them put different colors of water beads, one for each family member including the baby-on-the-war, into a glass of water. Tell them the water is like love, and it grows the beads into a rainbow of beautiful colors just like love grows our hearts bigger and bigger so there’s plenty of love for everyone.
  4. Present the new baby-on-the-way as ‘theirs,’ a special gift sent just for them so they will have a best friend for life. Talk about their friends who have siblings and how they always have someone to play with and someone to help them when they need it.
  5. Find children’s books about welcoming a new sibling, taking care of a new baby, when mommy breastfeeds, etc. to read to them before the birth. Here is a great list to get you started.
  6. Let them help decorate the nursery, put together the stroller, pack up the hospital bag (or prepare for your homebirth), buckle in the car seat, etc.
  7. Ask the person giving your baby shower to let your child ‘co-host’ and help with the party planning, set-up, serving snacks, and playing games.
  8. Help them make a special ‘welcome’ gift for the new baby and wrap it in paper they’ve decorated with stamps or finger paint.
  9. Buy them a special ‘welcome’ gift that you give them when they visit their new sibling for the first time. One idea is to buy them a child-sized baby carrier along with a doll, some diapers, wipes, mini baby blankets, etc. so they can take care of their baby while you take care of yours.
  10. Help them make their own family scrapbook with places to put the new baby’s pictures and pictures of them with their new little sibling when the new baby comes.
  11. Tell them stories about when they were born and show them pictures of their homecoming and first weeks of life.
  12. Let them help you work on updating their baby book.
  13. Take them to pick out a baby book for the new baby.
  14. Begin an open-ended conversation about how they’re feeling about having a new baby in the family to allow them to express their natural worries about how their role in the family might change, if they will still be able to play with their own toys, if the baby will cry a lot, etc. Continue this conversation throughout your pregnancy and after the new baby arrives to keep the communication lines open and your connection intact.
  15. Take them to visit the hospital and stop at the gift shop to buy a baby gift and a little treat for them to build excitement.
  16. Have lunch at the hospital cafeteria two or three times leading up to your birth to help them get used to the environment.
  17. Work on building other attached relationships with significant adults in your child’s life (spouse, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.) so that your little one is used to having their needs attended to by someone other than mama at times and so they can play and get one-on-one time with another caregiver while mama is busy with the new baby.
  18. On their first visit with their new sibling, let them sit in bed with you and hold their new little sibling. Have a ‘big sister/brother’ t-shirt for them to wear and take lots of pictures of both of them together and with other family members. Ask whoever you have caring for your older child to stop on the way home to print out a few of the pictures and then help them put the pictures in the scrapbook they created with you at home.
  19. When the new baby arrives continue to present the baby as ‘theirs’ to love and enjoy and care for. Include them in helping with diaper changes, snuggling on your other side with storybooks for you to read while nursing/feeding the new baby, singing the baby to sleep, etc. Make sure you invite them to participate instead of insisting because they may need some time to adjust to the newness of everything before they’re ready.
  20. Keep your expectations in line with your child’s developmental stage and make accommodations whenever possible. For instance, expecting a toddler to willingly give up their crib to a new baby is probably unrealistic. Moving your toddler to a new bed early in your pregnancy and then involving them in getting the crib ready for the new baby later on, after they’ve adjusted to their new bed, might be more successful.
  21. If your older child is a toddler or preschooler, you can expect some regression into babyish behavior as they work to adjust to their new role and find their place in the new family dynamic. Don’t respond with punishment, shaming, or pressure to ‘be a big boy or girl.’ Instead allow them the space and time they need to explore how it feels to be a baby again while at the same time drawing their attention to the benefits of being the older sibling (i.e. “Look how you can walk on your strong legs wherever you want to go! Your baby sister can’t walk yet, can she?” or “Wow, you can pick out your own shoes and even put them on yourself! Your baby brother can’t do that yet, can he?” or “Look at all the yummy foods you get to eat. It’s nice being bigger so you don’t have to just have milk, isn’t it?”)
  22. Be specific about how your child should treat the new baby. Instead of “Be nice!” try “Can you use a kind voice with your brother?” and instead of “Don’t be so rough!” try “Can you give your sister a gentle hug?”
  23. Make sure your child’s boundaries are clear and consistent. If you let them hop around the baby’s bouncer to make the new baby laugh one day, you can be sure they’ll try bouncing around the baby’s bouncer again and again and again. If you think that’s dangerous, set a clear boundary, explain the reason for the boundary, and give them an alternative (i.e. “Hopping next to the baby is dangerous. You might fall on the baby and hurt him! That would make you sad, and the baby would be sad, too. If you need to hop, you can hop like a bunny over here next to me.”)
  24. Keeping a consistent, familiar routine for your older child will help them to feel less out-of-control as they adjust to all of the other changes going on in their life. Make sure you’re flexible and in-tune with your child’s changing needs, though. They will most likely communicate their natural anxiety at this big transition in the family with some acting out behaviors, clinginess, whining, and/or resistance to bedtime and other normal routines. For instance, they may have been fine with one story and a hug at bedtime before the new baby arrived, but after their new sibling comes home they may need extra cuddles, time, and the reassurance of your love and ongoing commitment to their wellbeing before they’re able to go to sleep.
  25. Talk, talk, talk to your little ones throughout each and every day. Your hands may be busy more often than not, but you can still maintain that all-important connection through communication!

Keep in mind that nothing will completely eliminate the possibility of some jealousy, regression, or acting out when a new baby arrives because it’s a huge transition and it will take time for everyone in the family to adjustment, but these suggestions will go a long way toward setting the stage for the smoothest transition possible.

quote new second babyRelated posts:

Ten Steps to Surviving the First Three Months with a Newborn

The Gift of Breastfeeding

Love in the Time of Cosleeping

300+ Nicknames for Your Babykins…Doodlebug…Snugglebunny…

Babywearing Basics Resource Guide

Breastfeeding, Babywearing, and Bouncing Back into Shape after Baby

The Thoughtful Parent’s Guide to Positive Parenting Guides

12 Steps to Gentle Parenting

The Taming of the Tantrum: A Toddler’s Perspective

Practical, Gentle, Effective Discipline

10 Ways to Play with your Children when Play is the Last Thing on your Mind

200 Ways to Bless Your Children with a Happy Childhood

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. 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 ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.


Bridge Over Troubled Waters~Parenting a ‘Problem’ Child

[Portions reprinted from The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline by L.R.Knost. Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages and Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood also available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]

bridge over troubled water

We all have times when we struggle, when life gets hard, when stresses overtake us and the constant demands to grow and change and learn inherent in simply being human just feel like too much to bear.

Children are no different than adults in that they, too, can often feel overwhelmed by life. The sheer volume of growth and change and learning integral to childhood inevitably produce stress, though that isn’t necessarily a negative for all children. Some children, just like some adults, seem to have an innate ability to cope with stress, to adapt to change, and to face and conquer challenges. Some personalities even thrive on it!

But then there are those children who simply seem to struggle with life. Growth spurts cause incredible stress and discomfort. Change produces intense anxiety and resistance. And learning, being introduced to new thoughts and ideas, being stretched and challenged, inspires unease and distress.

These children are often labeled problem children, strong-willed, difficult, entitled, or brats. The reality, though, is that these are often the most sensitive children, small people who were created to be intimately in-tune with their bodies, their environment, and their fellow human beings. They feel, deeply and empathetically, other people’s pain and distress. They endure shifts in their surroundings like frontal assaults to their safety and security. They experience touch and movement of their bodies, and growth within their bodies, with painful intensity.

All too often, these sensationally gifted children are misunderstood. Their strong reactions to stimuli are misinterpreted as willfulness and stubbornness. They are punished instead of helped, controlled instead of supported, hurt instead of heard.  Their uniqueness, gifts, and insights are forced underground where they often simmer in silence, bursting forth in flashes of rage or turning inward in brooding depression.

These children don’t need labels. They don’t need to be contained or controlled. They need what all children need…love, understanding, and guidance to grow into the gifted, unique individuals they were created to be.

Helping and supporting your sensitive child who is struggling is like building a bridge over troubled waters using the Three C’s of gentle discipline:

Connect:

  1. Observe and really get to know, understand, and appreciate the gifts and needs of the unique little person you are privileged to parent.
  2. Build a foundation of trust and respect in your parent/child relationship by ‘listening’ to the needs being expressed by your child’s behavior even when their behavior seems completely out of proportion to the situation.

Communicate:

  1. Keep an open door policy, particularly in the late evening hours when the house is quiet and everyone else is settled for the night. Sensitive children often need stillness to feel safe enough to begin processing all of the overwhelming stimuli and emotions they experience throughout the day.
  2. Help them to verbalize their feelings and experiences by listening to their hearts and not just their words, and quietly offering observations to help them to put things into perspective.

Cooperate:

  1. Work with your sensitive child to help them find coping mechanisms that will help them deal with overwhelming sensations, emotions, and situations. Some ideas are to offer them options such as…
    • wearing noise-cancelling headphones to block out extraneous noises
    • escaping to a Cozy Cave to take a break from the stresses of daily life
    • creating a private code word that they can use to let you know they are feeling overwhelmed or that you can use to alert them that they may need to take a break or to dial things down a notch or two
  1. Equip them with tools to express themselves in acceptable ways (i.e. “It’s not okay to be rude, but it is okay to tell someone you need a break” or “It’s not okay to run away at school, but it is okay to go to your teacher and tell them you’re having a hard time.”)
  2. Work with them intentionally on a daily basis to overcome the stresses and minimize the impacts of what is, to us, normal daily life, but to them can be deeply troubling experiences.

Building a strong, supportive bridge into the future with your sensitive child will provide them with the coping skills they’ll need as adults to overcome normal stresses and challenges as well as those that come when life inevitably flows into troubled and turbulent waters.

For more tips for parenting your sensitive child and helping them learn coping mechanisms to deal with stresses, see The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline.

 


Related posts:

Backtalk is Communication…LISTEN

The Gift of a Strong-Willed Child

The Problem with Punishment

When Children Act Out ~ Reflecting Our Emotions

Why Whining is a Win!

Rethinking Tattling

The Incredible Power of the Whisper

The Taming of the Tantrum: A Toddler’s Perspective

12 Steps to Gentle Parenting

The Thoughtful Parent’s Guide to Positive Parenting Guides

Simon and Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water Studio Version

When you’re weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes
I will dry them all

I’m on your side
When times get rough
And friends just can’t be found

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

When you’re down and out
When you’re on the street
When evening falls so hard,
I will comfort you

I’ll take your part
When darkness comes
And pain is all around

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

Oh, if you need a friend
I’m sailing right behind

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind…

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. 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 ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.


Rethinking Tattling

[Portions reprinted from Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood by L.R.Knost. Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline also available through Amazon and other major retailers.]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

tattling“She won’t share!”

“He took my crayon!”

“They won’t let me play with them!”

“He looked at me!”

“She poked me!”

“They’re jumping on the couch!”

“He won’t be my friend!”

Few things irritate adults as quickly as a tattle-tale. The kneejerk response is often “Stop tattling!” or “Handle it yourself!” or even to shame or punish little tattlers.

But stop for a moment and think: What is being communicated? What is a child actually trying to tell us when they tattle? What message is a child getting by our response?

Tattling is, in effect, a child seeking wise counsel for a situation they don’t know how to handle. When faced with a conflict that just weeks or months earlier would have resulted in tears or snatching or hitting or some combination of all three, a child who has matured and begun to develop some self-control is learning to stop and think instead of just react. But what do they do if no solution presents itself? What if they’ve tried to reason or negotiate with the object of their conflict and been unable to come to a resolution?

What do adults do when they don’t know what to do? Typically, they either respond with maturity and seek out someone they respect and trust to help them deal with the situation, or they degenerate into chaotic emotions and resort to anger, power-plays, and manipulation. Often their response is influenced by their own childhood and how they were taught or not taught, as the case may be, to handle conflict.

When a child tattles, what they are actually doing is a rudimentary form of the advanced life skill of ‘Pause. Think. Respond.’ but they need help finding an appropriate and effective response. The child who seeks out an adult for guidance is indicating trust in the adult and respect for the adult’s opinions and abilities. If the adult reacts with irritation, “Stop tattling!” or rejection, “Handle it yourself!” or punishment, the child learns not to trust, not to seek guidance, and not to share struggles and problems with those entrusted with their care, a potentially dangerous mentality, as we’ll discuss later. In addition, an excellent teachable moment is lost.

When a child approaches a trusted adult with a problem, the child is saying, “This is important. Hear me. Help me.” This is a wonderful opportunity to guide the child through the process of conflict resolution. So often we relegate life skills such as conflict resolution to textbooks and worksheets, if we address them at all. But learning is far more powerful and effective if it is tied to real-life, real-time issues that are important to us, that impact our lives, that matter.

So how do we handle the kneejerk irritation response when confronted with a tattling child? First, tossing out the tattling label entirely helps to adjust our mindset and focus on the child’s need for guidance. We can rename it ‘sharing’ or whatever else will help us in the rethinking process (though in our home it is just a normal and accepted part of our parent/child interaction and doesn’t have a name of its own to distinguish it from any other kind of communication).

Next, we can have prepared responses ready so that we aren’t ‘stuck’ when we’re trying to cope with our instinctive irritation in the same moment that we need to focus on helping an upset child in need of guidance.

Here are some possible responses:

If the child is over-wrought…

  • “I can see you’re upset. Let’s take a minute and breathe together, and then we’ll be able to think clearly.”

When the child is calm enough to talk…

  • “Can you tell me what happened to upset you?”
  • “Why do you think they did that?”
  • “How do you think we should handle that?”
  • “What could you have done differently?”
  • “What would you want them to do if you had been the one to do that?”

Often just feeling heard is enough to help the child find their own solution to the problem, but if further guidance is needed we can brainstorm solutions with them, walk them through some possible scenarios, or step in and help them to resolve the problem.

In addition to teaching valuable conflict resolution skills, giving our children the sure knowledge that they aren’t alone in the world and don’t have to cope with life on their own is a vital message. Logically speaking, does it really make sense to teach our children that they can’t trust us with their problems, can’t come to us when they’re stressed and don’t know how to cope, can’t seek wise counsel when confronted with situations that are beyond their ability to handle?

The potential ramifications of that mindset are chilling. Can we really expect children to have the mental clarity and emotional maturity to be able to distinguish ‘good’ telling from ‘bad’ telling when faced with bullying or peer pressure or sexual predators? It’s well known that sexual predators manipulate children with threats such as, “No one will believe you,” and, “No one will listen, anyway.”

Guarding our children against those lies, against the bullies, against pressure from their peers is essential, and keeping the communication doors flung wide open is certainly a powerful step in the right direction.

Related posts:

The Thoughtful Parent’s Guide to Positive Parenting Guides

The Gift of a Strong-Willed Child

When Children Hit~10 Tips for Parents

The Problem with Punishment

Backtalk is Communication…LISTEN

12 Steps to Gentle Parenting

Practical, Gentle, Effective Discipline

Why Whining is a Win!

The Color of Change

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. 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 ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.


Why Whining is a Win!

[Reprinted from Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood by L.R.Knost. Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline also available through Amazon and other major retailers.]

whiningIt’s seven o’clock and you’re finishing up the dishes before starting bedtime baths. And then it starts…the whining. Every. Single. Night. Your four-year-old knows the routine. She knows you are going to read her favorite bedtime book. She knows you will let her choose which pajamas to wear. She knows she has to brush her teeth. But that doesn’t stop her from standing in the kitchen night after night whining about the same things.

So what’s the deal? Short-term memory loss? An innate desire to drive you crazy? A disorder of the vocal cords that makes using a normal voice impossible after the sun sets and every time she doesn’t get her way all day long?!?

Here’s a shocker for you: Whining is actually a sign of maturity! Yep, that unnerving, endless, nails-on-a-chalkboard, make-your-head-explode whine is a sign that your little one is growing up and, get this, gaining self-control! I can see your heads shaking, but read on, parents, caregivers, and bleeding ears of the world, read on.

Whining, believe it or not, is an advanced skill. Babies come into the world with exactly one form of verbal communication–crying. They may smack their lips and root for the breast when hungry. They may arch their back or wiggle in discomfort when they need a diaper change. But when physical expressions don’t result in needs being met or their needs are emotional rather than physical, then crying is always the ‘default’ communication. Every need, every discomfort, every bit of loneliness or anxiety or frustration or stress has to be communicated through that one single venue.

Over time as babies grow into toddlers, they begin to learn new ways to communicate, pointing, grunting, picking up a few words here and there, and they move into a more interactive stage wherein they make attempts to communicate in these new ways, but fall back very quickly into crying if they aren’t understood and responded to quickly.

As time goes on, toddlerhood gives way to the preschool years and language skills advance, becoming the main source of communication for a little one. But even so, their grasp of language is limited and their prefrontal cortexes (center of forethought/pre-thinking skills) are still developing. This leads to a rather dichotomous situation in which they know what they want to say, but often can’t quite put the words together quickly or clearly enough for us oh-so-impatient adults.

As they work to communicate, their frustration levels rise and stress hormones sap the blood flow from those underdeveloped ‘thinking’ portions of their brains and, just when they need the use of language the most, they begin to lose the ability to articulate their needs. As toddlers they would fall quickly back into crying at this point, but as preschoolers their more advanced self-control helps them to avoid immediately dissolving into tears and, instead, they fall into the ‘middle-ground’ of whining.

Whining is, in fact, just an advanced form of crying and, as such, is just as grating on the nerves as crying because it is designed to get the attention of a caregiver. The difference is actually in our attitudes toward whining. We accept crying as a normal part of baby and toddlerhood, but label the whining of a preschooler ‘bratty’ and ‘spoiled’ and refuse to listen to them until they ‘use their normal voice’ just when they need us to listen the most!

If we, as adults, would adjust our mindsets to accept the normalcy of whining, it would lose a bit of its power to annoy while enabling us to respond empathetically to our children when they’re mustering all their newly-developed coping skills to avoid a meltdown.

So, what can we do when our little ones lapse into ‘whine-eze’ and we feel like tearing our hair out? Well, as always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure:

  • Pay attention to the time of day whining seems to occur most often.
  • Watch for triggers such as hunger, missed naps, and over-hurried schedules.
  • Make whatever adjustments you can to prevent the whining before it starts.
  • If all else fails and the whining does commence, remember that your little one is struggling to communicate in that moment. Respond by slowing down, sitting with them or kneeling down in front of them, and giving them your full attention.
  • Use a quiet, soothing tone to reassure them, and listen patiently all the way through as they work their way back through the frustration and find the words to express themselves.
  • You may not be able to give them the toy or snack or whatever else it is they want at that moment, but giving them the chance to be heard is often enough to forestall an all-out meltdown.

More than anything, though, giving your little ones the gift of your time and attention when they need it most (and often seem to deserve it least) will help foster that all-important connection that provides the basis for gentle guidance and boundary-setting. And, as an added bonus, children who feel heard tend to outgrow the whining stage much earlier than children who feel like they have to fight to be heard.

Related posts:

The Gift of a Strong-Willed Child

Backtalk is Communication…LISTEN

When Children Act Out ~ Reflecting Our Emotions

The Problem with Punishment

Bridge Over Troubled Waters~Parenting a ‘Problem’ Child

The Taming of the Tantrum: A Toddler’s Perspective

Practical, Gentle, Effective Discipline

200 Ways to Bless Your Children with a Happy Childhood

12 Steps to Gentle Parenting

The ‘NO’ Zone

When Children Hit~10 Tips for Parents

You’re Not the Boss of Me!

Toddlers, Tantrums, and Time-Ins, Oh My!

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. 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 ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.


Backtalk is Communication…LISTEN

[Reprinted from Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood by L.R.Knost. Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline also available through Amazon and other major retailers.]

balktalk is a cry for helpWith more than 90% of parents admitting to spanking or otherwise physically punishing their children at least occasionally, mainstream American parenting can certainly be defined as punitive. If you go to the library or browse the shelves at Barnes & Noble or check out Amazon’s best sellers in the parenting genre, you will find a predominance of popular, punishment-based, obedience-focused parenting guides. Whether its spanking or time outs or removal of privileges or time confined in their room, the vast majority of children in the United States are raised with punitive parenting.

When it comes to children talking back to parents, many of these punitive parenting guides dictate a zero-tolerance policy. By their definition, backtalk is often characterized as verbal or emotional abuse of parents, defiance, rudeness, or threats:

  • Verbal or emotional abuse of parents is considered any statement that insults or hurts a parent such as, “You’re so mean!” or “I wish I didn’t even have parents!” or “I hate you!”
  • Defiance is any statement containing the word “No” in response to a parental      command.
  • Rudeness is defined as anything from deep sighs to rolled eyes to stomped feet.
  • Threats are any statements that give conditions such as, “If you take away my cell phone, I’ll just go get a new one!” or “If you don’t drive me to my friend’s house, I’m walking there!”

These parenting guides direct parents to decide which punishment to mete out when their child talks back to them, specifying that the deciding factor should be whichever punishment would be the most unpleasant, painful, and distressing for the child. Punishments are to be carried out swiftly and without discussion. When the retribution for the child’s actions is over, it is to be followed with a lecture laying down the laws of the family. Again, no discussion is allowed, but if the child expresses appropriate penitence, love and hugs can then be offered.

In addition to the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach at the thought of children being subjected to this kind of harsh, punitive parenting, I’m saddened by the upside-down reasoning that shuts communication down instead of utilizing it to bring healing, understanding, and restoration to the parent/child relationship.

Take a look at the order of parenting prescribed: First, punishment meted out by the parent. Second, lecture delivered by the parent. Third, conditional reconnection based on a proper expression of remorse to the parent from the child.

In gentle parenting, the order and intent of parenting would be the polar opposite: First would come listening for the need behind the behavior and reconnecting with the child at the point of need. Second, would be initiating a two-way communication about the problem and brainstorming about how to address the issue in ways that will meet everyone’s needs. Third, would be offering guidance and equipping the child with better ways to express needs in the future.

The punitive parenting approach focuses on the child as the problem and attempts to solve the problem by ‘fixing’ the child through intentionally unpleasant external forces.

The gentle parenting approach focuses on the child having a problem and attempts to help the child solve the problem through connection, communication, and inviting cooperation.

Now look at the definitions of backtalk–verbal and emotional abuse of parents, defiance, rudeness, and threats. The questions that immediately arise are: What about the parents? Are they held to the same standards as the children? Or do they threaten? Do they say ‘No’? Do they sigh? Do they hurt their children?

As parents, our actions will always be reflected in our children’s behavior. Children learn what they live. No amount of lecturing can undo the powerful impact on a child of their parent’s own behavior and choices.

When a child backtalks, sometimes also referred to as mouthing-off or sassing, they are in the throes of a huge, internal maelstrom of emotion. Whatever they are reacting to in the moment, whether it’s being told ‘no’ about something or being asked to do or not do something, it is rarely those issues that are at the root of the problem. The moment at hand is just the tipping point causing a fissure in the child’s heart that lets out a bit of the steam inside. The real concern should be that there is, metaphorically, steam in the child’s heart to begin with.

It is at this point that parents have the opportunity to model self-control and self-regulation by controlling their own knee-jerk reaction to their child’s backtalk. Instead of meeting fire with fire, childish outburst with childish parental outburst, child’s tantrum with adult tantrum, parents can slow down, breathe through their own emotions, and then listen through the fiery storm of their child’s words to the hurt, fear, and anger behind the words.

In the same way that “a gentle answer turns away wrath,” a soft-voiced, “Let’s take a minute and calm down so we can work through this together, okay?” from a parent is a magical, healing balm that immediately begins to diffuse tough situations and creates an atmosphere in which connection and communication can bring effective, peaceful solutions not only to the issue at hand, but to the inner turmoil that prompted the outburst in the first place.

Meeting a child at their point of need when that need is expressed through meltdowns, yelling, disrespect, or defiance takes patience, self-control, and empathy on the part of a parent, which can be a huge growth experience for the parent if they, themselves, were not parented that way. But the impact of living those positive life skills in front of our children is immeasurable.

Parenting isn’t a perfect science and parents aren’t perfect people, but creating an overall atmosphere of respect in a home starts with the parents modeling respect in their own tone of voice, in their own reactions to stressful situations, in their own interactions with their children.

It’s not easy, for sure. But the best things, the most valuable things, in life rarely are. Working toward being understanding, available, and responsive to our children’s needs yields a priceless return in our relationship as the years fly by and adulthood looms. Not meeting those needs, though, may have serious negative consequences…

Dear Daughter,

You entered your teen years with a bang a few years ago, and the explosions have been shattering our home ever since. I’ve begged, threatened, bribed, and punished; cried, shouted, and bargained; but I just can’t find a way to reach you anymore. You constantly say I don’t listen to you, but how can I when you won’t talk to me? You say I don’t understand you, but how can I when you push me away? You say we aren’t a family, but then spend every day with earphones in your ears, blocking us out. You ask me why I hate you, then roll your eyes when I tell you I love you. How did it come to this? We used to be such a happy family. Please, let me be there for you during this huge transition in your life. Let’s really try to communicate with each other. I’m just lost here, honey, and I need you to reach out and help me reconnect with you. I love you.

Your Dad 

 

‘Dear’ Dad,

Happy family? Are you kidding me? No, I guess not. You never did get it. Okay, you asked, so I’ll tell you. You were always happy because you were always in control. Want to know why I don’t talk to you now? Because you never listened when I was little. When I was scared in my room at night and called you, you either ignored me or threatened to spank me if I didn’t go to sleep. I’d lay there, crying so hard I’d almost throw up, terrified of the sounds and shadows in my room, but even more terrified of you. So, sorry, but I don’t buy that you’re ‘there for me’ when it’s only ever been at your own convenience. When you were mad at something I’d done and I tried to explain myself, you’d call it backtalk and smack me in the mouth. So forgive me if I don’t really believe you when you say you want to ‘communicate’ with me now. When I’d try to show you a dance I’d made up or tell you about how someone had pushed me on the playground, you couldn’t even be bothered to look away from your stupid computer while I was talking, so if I’m wrapped up in my electronics, I learned that little trick from you, Father Dear. Oh, and reconnect? Really? That implies that we were once connected. But when I was a little girl and invited you into my world and asked you to play with me, you were always too busy. So if you don’t understand me, sorry, but that invitation expired years ago. Want to know why I think you hate me? Because your actions told me so. Your ‘love’ is just words.

‘Your’ Daughter

 

Not all children react this way to harsh, punitive, control-based parenting, of course. Some children, due to personality, other influences and mentors in their lives, or simply as a survival instinct, will turn out okay despite how they are parented.

But ‘okay’ is too mediocre a goal when it comes to growing our children into the adults who will one day lead our world. Instead of raising children who turn out okay despite their childhood, let’s raise children who turn out extraordinary because of their childhood. Let’s grow excellent, outstanding, remarkable adults who will be world changers for the next generation and the generations to come.

Related posts:

When Children Act Out ~ Reflecting Our Emotions

The Problem with Punishment

Changing the World, One Little Heart at a Time

12 Steps to Gentle Parenting

Practical, Gentle, Effective Discipline

The Color of Change

Children of Violence

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. 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 ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.


The Incredible Power of the Whisper

whispering

[Reprinted from Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood by L.R.Knost. Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline also available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a whisper is worth two thousand when it comes to parenting. In the same way that the instinctive human reaction to someone raising their voice is to raise our voice one octave higher, to out-shout the shouter, to over-power the person powering-up on us, the instinctive human response to someone whispering is to quiet down, to lean-in, to listen.

As parents, it’s up to us to exercise the wisdom and maturity to control our own instinctive reaction to our children’s piercing screams, ear-shattering shrieks, and mind-blowing, foot-stomping, out-of-control fits. Small people have big emotions and need help processing them. Their cries as babies and shrieks and tantrums as toddlers and meltdowns as preschoolers are, literally, cries for help.

Ignoring or punishing them, or reacting with anger ourselves, simply forces them to bury their unresolved emotions and causes us to miss an opportunity to not only share our wisdom by helping them process their big feelings, but also to guide our children toward more appropriate ways to communicate as they grow. In some cases, when a child’s emotions are forced underground it results in a child who simmers with hidden rage just waiting to explode again or, worse, the rage may turn inward and result in a child who is withdrawn, detached, or even depressed.

Having parenting tools ready and waiting for the inevitable challenges of raising little humans is wise. When emotions begin running high, and as parents we can feel our own stress levels rising, knowing we have a well-stocked parenting toolbox with tried and tested tools helps us to keep our cool so that we can parent more intentionally and effectively.

In the first weeks of life, a baby has one ‘default’ mode of verbal communication…crying. They may give physical cues to their needs such as chewing on their hands to indicate hunger or the beginning of teething, but their verbal communication takes the sole form of crying.

From those first tiny squeaks and mewls of a newborn, a baby’s cries mature into whimpers, squeals, screams, and sobs, all communicating one thing: “I need help.” When we respond to our baby’s cries quickly and gently, whether it’s to feed them or change them or give them a cuddle, we communicate in return, “I’m here. You can count on me.”

But then there are those times when we’ve fed them, changed them, burped them, rocked and cuddled and walked with them, and their piercing screams still shatter the silence…and our hearts. Those are times when parents often begin to feel overwhelmed, stressed, sometimes even resentful and angry because no matter what they try, they can’t ‘fix’ their baby and make them stop crying. It is in those moments of frustration and distress that we need to breathe in deeply to calm ourselves, then stop stressing over trying to ‘fix’ our baby and instead whisper in our little one’s ear, “I’m here. I’ve got you. We’ll get through this together.” They may not understand our words, but they will hear our heart.

The truth is that a baby’s cries can’t always be ‘fixed’ and sometimes the need they’re communicating is the need to express their emotions, but they always, always need the comfort and assurance that they will be heard and that their needs will be met and that they can trust us to be there for them, no matter what.

Once a baby reaches the crawling, exploring, discovering stage, they often have a great time experimenting with the volume, pitch, and range of their voice, much to the chagrin of their parents and pretty much everyone else within earshot. The ear-shattering squeals and bellows and joyful shrieks at this stage can be disconcerting to us parents, to say the least, especially when our little falsetto performs their operatic interpretation in public places such as doctor’s offices, libraries, and restaurants.

This is a prime opportunity to exercise the power of the whisper. When the first shriek splits the silence, we can hold our finger to our lips, smile like we’re inviting them to join in on a secret, and whisper, “It’s whisper time. Let’s use our little voices together.” Making a game out of it invites cooperation rather than demands obedience, a much more effective parenting technique, and practicing little voices together demonstrates what we want our little one to do instead of simply telling them what we don’t want them to do.

Don’t be surprised if it takes many repetitions over several outings before your little one begins to get the idea, though. As with all parenting, time and patience and an awareness (and acceptance!) of what is normal for each developmental stage is key.

Toddlers and preschoolers are famous for their big tantrums sparked by big emotions and big frustrations. Obviously being aware of and avoiding tantrum triggers such as hunger, tiredness, and over-stimulation is important. But even with the most proactive parenting, there may still be times when our little ones have unexpected, incomprehensible, inconsolable tantrums.

When faced with a toddler or preschooler in the throes of a tantrum, if we know what caused the tantrum, we can validate the emotion with a soft-voiced, “You’re angry (disappointed, sad, hurt) because you (fill in the blank).” Often just hearing their feelings put into words is enough to calm a toddler who is frustrated at their inability to express themselves, but sometimes they need a bit of time and support to work through their big emotions.

If the tantrum continues we need to stay calm and present and remember that we are modeling self-control and self-regulation when we practice those skills instead of having an adult-style tantrum in response to our child’s tantrum. Instead of trying to control our child’s outburst with demands or threats or bribes, we can simply stay close and whisper, “I hear you. I’m here.”

The secret of the whisper in taming a tantrum can be seen in the difference between dumping a bucket of water on a fire, which can force the fire underground where it may smolder and reignite unexpectedly, versus spraying a gentle mist on the fire so it’s slowly and fully extinguished, leaving the ground saturated so the fire won’t reignite. Settling your little one quietly and patiently with a whisper is the gentle mist that saturates them with your unconditional love and support so they don’t simmer with hidden rage that may erupt spontaneously again.

Remember, no matter the problem, kindness is always the right response. When your child is having a problem, stop, listen, then respond to the need, not the behavior. The behavior can be addressed later, after the need has been met, because only then is the door to effective communication truly open.

The thing to keep in mind is that there is no cure for childhood. There is no parenting secret that will ‘work’ to keep children from being children. Children will cry. They will tantrum. They will yell and giggle and climb and run and throw things and build things and hit and hug and explore and make glorious mistakes and incredible discoveries. They will be human. They will be children. And that’s more than okay. That’s beautiful, messy, wonderful childhood, just as it should be.

Parents are guides through the incredible journey of childhood, not to keep their children from experiencing childhood, but to keep them safe as they learn the magnificent life lessons that childhood has to offer.

Related posts:

The Taming of the Tantrum: A Toddler’s Perspective

Practical, Gentle, Effective Discipline

10 Ways to Play with your Children when Play is the Last Thing on your Mind

200 Ways to Bless Your Children with a Happy Childhood

Playground Confessions~Look Who’s Talking!

12 Steps to Gentle Parenting

When Children Hit~10 Tips for Parents

Testing the Boundaries~What’s a Parent to Do?

You’re Not the Boss of Me!

Toddlers, Tantrums, and Time-Ins, Oh My!

Easy Peasy DIY Parenting Tools

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. 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 ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.


Categories

Pinners Welcome