[By L.R.Knost, author of Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages available on Amazon]
This evening as our family celebrated a birthday at a local ice cream shop, a scene unfolded in another booth that caught our attention. All of us quieted and watched, our hearts hurting for one little girl and touched by another as a clearly stressed-out parent lost her temper and her self-control.
It started as a little girl of about four or five tried to tell her mother what she wanted to order. Her mother didn’t understand what she wanted, and the little girl became increasingly agitated and began to whine in frustration as she continued to try and fail to express herself. Finally the mother, also frustrated, grabbed the small girl by the arm and yanked her out of line and stomped over to the booth next to ours. She leaned over the now-crying child and yanked her face close to hers and shouted, “I have no idea what you want! I can’t understand you! Why don’t you just say what you want? Calm down! NOW!”
My children looked at me, wide-eyed, knowing that I would gently intervene if things escalated as they’ve seen me do a number of times in the past. But something beautiful happened in that moment that none of us will ever forget. The little girl’s sister, no older than eight or nine herself, stepped between her mother and sister and softly said, “She wants vanilla, mom. That’s all. When she said, ‘Just the white,’ that’s what she meant. She just wants vanilla ice cream. That’s all. It’s okay, mom.”
The mother took a deep breath and blew the hair out of her face, then silently walked away to go order their ice cream. And as we watched, the older sister reached out, put her hands on either side of her little sister’s face, and leaned over to softly kiss her on the top of the head.
I get it, mamas. We’re human. We make mistakes. And I don’t know what was going on in that stressed-out mother’s life. But I do know this. There were two frustrated people in that situation, one an adult, one a small child. And it was the adult who lost it. It was the adult who stomped her feet and shouted and lashed out physically and verbally.
But it was a child who stepped in with a calm and understanding (and, unfortunately it appeared, practiced) response and brought peace back to the situation. It was a child who communicated, connected, and responded rather than reacting.
I hope and pray that the mother was just having a bad day, that the older sister, instead of having to step up and become a miniature adult in a household of immature adults as some children must do, was simply emulating what she’d seen her mother do on other occasions.
We’re all capable of doing what that child did, of practicing understanding, of speaking peace. If a child has the presence of mind to address heightened emotions with quiet resolve and calm communication, then as adults we have no excuse for not doing the same.
Those old psychologists, Newton and Einstein, sure did have human nature figured out, didn’t they?
Wait. What? Psychologists? I thought Newton and Einstein were physicists!
Well, yes, they were. But since when haven’t humans been bound by the laws of the universe? Take a look:
Newton’s Third Law of Motion…Every action has an equal and opposite reaction…i.e. “If you pull me, I’ll pull back. If you push me, I’ll push back.”
Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation…Attraction between bodies…i.e. “We are drawn toward what invites us. If you lead me, I will follow.”
Sounds simple enough. Now for a harder one:
Einstein’s Theory of Relativity… The interactions of bodies are due to the influence of bodies (relative to one another) on the geometry (curvature, perspective) of space-time…i.e. “What is true is true, but what is perceived to be true depends upon where you are when you look at it. Perception, then, affects reality because we act on our perception of reality, not reality itself. Our action then sets in motion a new reality. It is impossible to separate perceived reality from absolute reality because the two become one through symbiosis.”
Whew. Heavy stuff. Okay, this one requires a bit more explanation. Take it away, Einstein!
“When you sit with a nice girl for two hours, you think it’s only a minute. But when you sit on a hot stove for a minute, you think it’s two hours. That’s relativity.”
Thank you, Professor Einstein! So, what you’re saying is that time did not change, the perception of time changed, right? And when you then act on that perception, in this case perhaps by being late for an appointment because you’ve miscalculated the time with the nice girl, your lateness changes actual reality by either making someone else wait or having to reschedule the appointment or something along those lines?
“Time and space and gravitation have no separate existence from matter.”
Got it. So we (are) matter, bound by time, living in space, and subject to gravity. Everything affects everything else’s reality, including our perceptions of reality, even if they’re skewed. Thank you for your time! (Haha, a little relativity humor for you there, Professor.)
Soooo…how does all of that apply to parenting? Well, clearly, a parent’s perception of reality determines how they react to their child, thus determining their child’s reality. Then their child’s own perception of that reality determines their response to their parent which in turn determines…hmmm. That’s getting a bit confusing. Let’s look at some examples.
To one parent, a baby’s cries in the night are perceived as an attempt to manipulate.
To another parent, a baby’s cries in the night are perceived as an expression of need.
In each case, the parents’ perception will determine their response to their baby which, in turn, will impact the reality the baby will learn about the world.
In the case of the parent who perceives that the baby’s cries are manipulative, the parent may not respond to the baby. The baby, who has no perception of time or object permanence, then experiences reality with the perception that he will be alone forever. If that perception of reality is reinforced night after night, that may affect the baby’s perception of the world as an unstable reality which may, in turn, affect the baby’s behavior as he grows which will then impact his parents’ response, etc.
To one parent, a tantrum is a child lashing out in anger at not getting her own way.
To another parent, a tantrum is a cry for help in coping with big emotions.
In the case of the parent who perceives the tantrum as a cry for help, the parent may offer the child a hug or a touch or simply their presence to help her calm down, and then the parent may help the child process the emotions that brought on the meltdown. The child, who may be too young to articulate or even understand her feelings, may then experience reality as a safe place to grow and learn which, in turn, may influence her overall behavior which will then impact her parents’ response, etc.
To one parent, tattling is an annoying habit designed to get another child in trouble or just to get attention.
To another parent, tattling is an attempt to get help in coping with a situation the child doesn’t know how to handle.
In the case of the parent who perceives the tattling as an attempt to get help, the parent may listen and offer suggestions or may intervene, again based on the child’s relayed perception of the conflict and the parent’s received perception of the conflict. The child may then perceive that she is not alone to fight her battles in the world which, in turn, may influence her to more readily seek help when in doubt or in need which may cause others to perceive that she is not an easy target for bullying or victimization, etc.
In all of these cases and more, the parents’ perceptions influence their own responses which then sets off a chain of reactions that influences the actual reality that the parent and child experience.
In Einstein’s Theory of Relativity this kind of reactionary chain of events is referred to as the space-time continuum…one thing leading to another to another to another.
But the good news is that there is a huge difference between humans and celestial bodies besides just mass. We have the advantage in the universe because we have consciousness. We can step out of the continuum and examine our path and make intentional changes to positively affect our reality. As parents, when we take the time and effort to determine our responses with intention instead of mindlessly reacting, we also positively affect our children’s reality and, thus, their future.
Einstein was very aware of our human capacity to redirect our own continuum. He said, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”
In other words, when we face problems and challenges, continuing with the same fruitless patterns, the same thoughtless responses, the same ineffective reactions that brought us to that point is…well, pointless! And so, in parenting, when we are confronted with behavioral issues and our modus operandi (present method of parenting) isn’t working, we don’t have to continue in that continuum. We can step back, examine our perceptions and actions and intentions, and make whatever changes are necessary to redirect ourselves and lead our children down a happier, more peaceful, more successful path.
[From The Gentle Parent: Discipline Tips, Tools, and Techniques by L.R.Knost available November 2013; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon.]
Toddlers 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 in which they are frustrated, angry, 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 unacceptable 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. (more…)