[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.
[Reprinted from Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost available on Amazon and other major retailers]
Want to know a dirty, little secret about punishment?
It doesn’t work.
Punishment may be able to control a child’s behavior temporarily while they’re small or when they are in their parents’ presence, but it cannot control the person. As with all humans, outward behavior is merely a reflection of our inner selves: our needs, our hurts, our emotional states.
While the temporary ‘payoff’ of punishment may be compliance, the need behind the behavior is never addressed and those needs merely get driven underground and often emerge later in more potentially damaging behaviors such as lying, sneaking, anger, outright rebellion, depression, aggression, addictions, etc.
In the same way that treating a brain tumor by merely taking a pain reliever doesn’t address the underlying issue, masking the symptoms of an underlying need with punishment-induced compliance doesn’t solve the problem; it intensifies it.
Want to know another dirty, little secret about punishment?
It requires constant escalation.
In order to maintain the temporary effect of controlling behavior, the punishment, or threats of punishment, must constantly be ramped up. Parents who start out with popping a tiny hand escalate to smacking a chubby little leg, then paddling a small bottom. Over time, as their children’s needs which have been driven underground emerge in ever-increasing behavioral issues, parents often find that they are resorting to yelling and threats and physical punishment more and more often.
Even parents who use punishment-based parenting approaches other than physical punishment find that they must escalate and escalate to keep their children under ‘control.’ Behavior charts, time-outs, grounding, and removing privileges are some examples of non-physical punishment-based parenting. While these behavior modification techniques may be less painful to children physically, they still don’t address the underlying needs being communicated by the behavior and often are nearly as destructive to the parent/child relationship.
Using isolation such as time-outs or sending children to their room separates them from their source of guidance and comfort just when they need it the most and not only misses a golden opportunity to help the child learn coping mechanisms for dealing with their emotions, but also fractures the very connection that should provide the safety for expressing those emotions. Using behavior charts, removal of privileges, grounding, etc. separates children from their parents by creating an us-against-them mentality that inevitably leads to conflict instead of creating a teamwork mentality that leads to cooperation.
Here’s the thing, effective parenting, and effective discipline specifically, don’t require punishment. Equating discipline with punishment is an unfortunate, but common misconception. The root word in discipline is actually disciple which in the verb form means to guide, lead, teach, model, and encourage. In the noun form disciple means one who embraces the teaching of, follows the example of, and models their life after.
On the flip side, the root word in punishment is the Latin word punire which in verb form means to penalize, chastise, castigate, inflict harm, humiliate. There is no noun form of punire or its English equivalent, punishment.
Many of today’s most popular self-proclaimed parenting ‘experts’ equate physical punishment with discipline and go to great lengths to describe the best methods and tools for hitting children as well as instructing parents to maintain a calm, controlled, and even cheerful demeanor as they ‘lovingly’ hit their children.
It is interesting to note here that, when it comes to the law, crimes of passion are treated as less heinous than premeditated, planned, and purposefully executed crimes which are termed ‘in cold blood.’ And yet when physically punishing a child, a crime in many places across the globe, hitting in anger or frustration (i.e. passion) is deemed wrong by proponents of spanking, while hitting children with calm and deliberate intent (i.e. premeditation) is encouraged.
It is also interesting to note that, in the not-too-distant past, husbands hitting their wives was also viewed as not only a societal norm, but also a necessary part of maintaining a harmonious, successful marriage. In fact, a man who epitomizes the words calm and controlled, Sean Connery, shared his thoughts on the ’reasonable smacking’ of his wife in a 1987 interview with Barbara Walters in which he explained the necessity of using punitive methods to control women.
The core belief behind ‘reasonable smacking’ of wives was that there was no other effective way to control them. I agree. If controlling another human being is the goal, then force is necessary. Fear, intimidation, threats, power-plays, physical pain, those are the means of control.
But, if growing healthy humans is the goal, then building trust relationships, encouraging, guiding, leading, teaching, and communicating are the tools for success.
Many parents simply don’t know what else to do. They were raised with spanking and other punishment-based parenting methods as a means of control and “turned out okay” so they default to their own parents’ choices without researching alternatives to spanking or considering whether “okay” could be improved upon.
Consider this, more than 90% of American parents admit to spanking their children, and yet the common contention is that it’s a decline in spanking that is responsible for the purportedly escalating rates of youth violence and crime. Is it really the less than 10% of children who aren’t spanked who are responsible for all the problems of our society? Or could it be that the 90% of children who are subject to violence at home in the form of being slapped, paddled, smacked, yanked, whipped, popped, spanked, etc. are taking those lessons out into the world? Is it just possible that children who are hit learn to hit? That children who are hurt learn to hurt? Perhaps the lesson they are learning is that ‘might is right’ and violence is the answer to their problems, the outlet for their stress, the route to getting others to do what they want.
People throughout history have complained about ‘the trouble with kids today’ and they’ve pinned all the ills of their society on supposedly permissive parenting. They’ve ranted about out-of-control children, disrespectful youth, entitlement, spoiling, disobedience, violence, self-centeredness, etc:
“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect to their elders…. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and are tyrants over their teachers.” ~Socrates, 5th Century BC
“What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?” ~Plato, 5th Century BC
“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint” ~Hesiod, 8th Century BC
“The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior and dress.” ~Peter the Hermit, 13th Century AD
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Maybe, though, there isn’t really any ‘trouble with kids today.’ Maybe the problem is with parents who repeat the patterns their own parents set or with societies who view normal stages of development as somehow abnormal.
Maybe ’kid’s today’ are just kids like they have been through the ages, full of exuberance and curiosity and learning their way in a great big world, and a listening ear, gentle guidance, and trusted arms to turn to when inevitable mistakes are made are really all children need to grow up into kind, helpful, responsible, productive members of our society.
The bottom line is that addressing our children’s underlying needs, the actual causes of their behavior instead of just the behavior itself, is a far more effective parental approach as well as being significantly better for a healthy, mutually respectful parent/child relationship. Sending our children out into the world as adults with their needs met, with coping mechanisms in place for those times when the stresses overwhelm them, and with the knowledge of a safe haven where comfort is always available when the world hurts them is a powerful way to change the world for the better.
Maybe, just maybe, sowing peace in our homes is the answer for our children, our families, and our world, after all.
*Also printed in The Natural Parent Magazine
[Portions reprinted from Gentle 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.]
“Although the evidence against spanking is in the form of correlations (not direct causal proof), the effect is more robust than for the correlations that have served as the basis for other public health interventions, such as secondhand smoke and cancer, exposure to lead and IQ scores in children, and exposure to asbestos and laryngeal cancer.” (Scientific America)
Yes, you read that right. There is less evidence linking secondhand smoke to cancer, lead exposure to developmental delays in children, and asbestos to cancer than there is of the short and long-term detrimental effects of spanking. Study after study has confirmed that spanking (not just physical abuse, but any physical act of correction-smacking, hitting, swatting, slapping, paddling, switching, etc.) is directly linked to greater aggression and other behavioral issues, impaired cognitive development, and increased risk of depression and anxiety in childhood as well as long-term mental issues in adulthood. (See research here) And yet the American public is still reluctant to dismiss the physical punishment of children as an option for parents and school systems.
It is not unusual for public opinion to evolve slowly. Until recent years husbands hitting their spouses in the US was considered “reasonable chastisement of wives” and “a private family matter” by the courts and by law enforcement even though it has technically been against the law in all fifty states for decades. Now domestic violence in the US is viewed with outrage and abusers with disdain.
While the tide is ever-so-slowly turning regarding public opinion of the physical punishment of children, in excess of 80% of Americans still believe spanking is a necessary part of raising a child according to a survey cited by a UN report. And in the 19 US states where corporal punishment is still legal in the public school system, wooden paddles are used on children as young as preschool, and parents’ permission and/or notification is not even required. By contrast, in every branch of the US military and in the US penal system, physical punishment has long been outlawed as it was deemed ‘cruel and unusual’ and a ’use of excessive force.’
Clearly there is a disconnect when it comes to physical punishment of the most vulnerable and defenseless of our citizens, our children. Even in the face of study after study detailing the detrimental effects of physical punishment on young children, more than 90% of American parents still admit to spanking their toddlers and preschoolers. The responses to a recently released study linking a significantly increased risk of mental illness in adulthood to being spanked as a child point to some possible reasons for that dichotomy:
- ”I was spanked, and I turned out okay.” Not everyone who smokes gets lung cancer, but why take the risk?
- “I don’t want to raise a rotten brat!” Studies link spanking to increased aggression and other behavioral issues, not decreased.
- “I spank my kids because the Bible commands me to.” Spanking is not one of the Ten Commandments. (See here)
- “They’re my kids, and nobody has the right to tell me how to raise them!” Our laws are civil agreements as to what is and is not acceptable in our society. We once agreed that slavery was acceptable. Now we know better, and our laws reflect that. As research continues to reveal the detrimental effects of spanking, public opinion will begin to shift and our laws will naturally follow suit. It is the way of a democratic society.
- ”Nothing else works!” Thoughtful, proactive parenting works. Here are some positive parenting ideas to try.
There is no doubt that the vast majority of parents not only deeply love their children, but are also making the best parenting decisions they know how to with the information and experiences they have to work with. That is why it is vital that the discussion and flow of information remain open and civil when it comes to spanking. Change does not come easily, but to happen at all it must have an atmosphere of honest, open communication in which to blossom.
[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…)
[From The Gentle Parent: Discipline Tips, Tools, and Techniques due out November 2013; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon.]
Few things ignite a parent’s temper like defiance. It feels like a slap in the face, a direct challenge to our authority. Power card…played. Gauntlet…thrown. Challenge…accepted?
Time out! No, not time-out as in punish your child, but time out as in hit the parental pause button, take a step back, assess the situation, and get some adult perspective.
There are three things to consider:
- Behaviors are communication. What is your child trying to communicate?
- Is the behavior really defiance, or did your child’s action hit a nerve in you for some reason?
- If the behavior is, in fact, defiance, what circumstances preceded it?
Once you’ve assessed the situation, you can more effectively address it. If your child is communicating an unmet need such as a need for more interaction from you, a need to be heard, or if they simply need an outlet for their energy, you can first meet those needs and then offer your child ideas about how to better communicate their needs to you in the future.
The same process applies if your child’s behavior is communicating stress, anger, fear, or insecurity. Taking a step back allows you to not only see the emotion behind the action, but also gives you a moment to consider if there have been any big transitions in your child’s life such as a move or change in childcare or a recent illness (or, possibly, a breach in trust if you have ‘lost it’ and yelled, threatened, or spanked) that they may have big feelings about but are not able to articulate. First you can meet those emotional needs with empathic listening, offering words to help them articulate their feelings, apologizing if you have broken trust with them, and providing an outlet for their pent up emotions. Then you can address their behavior by giving them options for expressing their needs in more acceptable ways.
Meeting their needs before addressing their behavior is vital because it lowers their defenses, clears whatever is cluttering up your parent/child connection, and opens the pathways to communication, in effect turning on their listening ears!
*On a side note, be aware that it is possible, especially with very young children, that what you are interpreting as defiance is actually age-appropriate curiosity and exploration. A twelve month old who repeatedly pulls the cat’s tail may be experimenting with the interesting sound the cat makes, the soft texture of the fur, her own feeling of power, or just trying to find out if pulling the tail is as ‘not-okay’ after her nap as it was before. Little ones too young to grasp the concept of permanence (typically those less than twenty-four to thirty months) live very much in the moment and cannot be expected to understand the permanent nature of rules and limits. Removing temptations (commonly referred to as baby-proofing) is not only for their safety, but is also a visual form of limit setting. A common misconception is that removing temptations is passive or indulgent parenting, but it is actually proactive parenting (whereas passive/indulgent parenting would be simply allowing the behavior) and is an effective and gentle beginning to the process of boundary setting.
If in taking a step back to assess the situation you discover that your child’s behavior isn’t really defiance, but a nerve was hit in you that caused you to perceive it that way, you can first address your child’s need and then their behavior, if necessary, but then take the time to address your own needs. Perhaps you have an unmet need to be heard by your spouse, boss, or even your own parents, or maybe there is a wound from your past that needs to be healed or a source of stress in your life that is causing you to feel overwhelmed. Taking an honest look at your own needs and hurts and stressors and dealing with those issues will not only benefit your parenting, but your life in general!
If your ‘time out’ assessment reveals that the circumstances preceding your child’s defiance contributed to it, you can learn from that and find ways to avoid those circumstances in the future. For instance, you may realize that hunger or tiredness or over-scheduling are triggers for your child’s behavior. Or you may see that your wording is provoking a negative response. (The word ‘no’ can be a trigger for a power struggle. Try rephrasing your no’s into yes’s. For instance, instead of “No, you can’t have ice cream until after dinner” you could try “I know you love ice cream. I do, too! We’re getting ready to eat right now, but what flavor would you like after dinner?” The objective is to set the same limit, but phrase it in a way that invites cooperation instead of triggering opposition.) You might realize you are inadvertently communicating your own stress to your child or even taking it out on them. Or you may have slipped into a negative parenting pattern and be ‘powering up’ on your child, in effect throwing down the gauntlet yourself, and they are merely reflecting your behavior. Whatever the case may be, learn from it, make the necessary adjustments, repair your relationship with an apology if needed, reconnect with your child, and then share ideas about better ways both of you can handle things in the future.
Keep in mind, though, that sometimes what parents perceive as defiance is really just a child testing their boundaries to make sure that they are secure. Children need to know they’re safe, and a parent who is confident and comfortable enough in their leadership to calmly and gently guide their child to stay within their boundaries is very reassuring. The goal of gentle parenting, however, is not controlling children, but equipping them to control themselves (in other words, we want to teach them to be ‘the boss’ of themselves!) So if your child is testing their boundaries, be careful to respond with guidance, not punishment.
Finally, remember, you are raising a little human with thoughts, needs, ideas, and a personality all their own. They aren’t perfect any more than you are, and expecting perfection will lead to conflict, not connection. When they make mistakes, choose understanding, not anger. When they make poor choices, choose guidance, not punishment. And when they challenge your authority and throw down that gauntlet of defiance, choose peace, not warfare. Remember, you don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to!
[Portions reprinted from Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost available on Amazon]
“People are telling parents like me that we are failing our children because we practice controlled discipline in our homes. I say: the children that are raised without it are the ones being abused and robbed of the chance of success in adulthood.” Controlled discipline in the eyes of this author of I Don’t Like Spanking My Kids, But I Do It Anyway is physical punishment. Equating discipline with punishment is a common misconception, but she is, unfortunately, not alone in her stance.
Many of today’s most popular self-proclaimed parenting ‘experts’ also equate physical punishment with discipline and go to great lengths to describe the best methods and tools for hitting children along with instructing parents to maintain a calm, controlled, and even cheerful demeanor as they ‘lovingly’ hit their children.
It is interesting to note here that, when it comes to the law, crimes of passion are treated as less heinous than premeditated, planned, and purposefully executed crimes which are termed ‘in cold blood.’ And yet when physically punishing a child, a crime in many places across the globe, hitting in anger or frustration (i.e. passion) is deemed wrong by proponents of spanking, while hitting children with calm and deliberate intent (i.e. premeditation) is encouraged.
It is also interesting to note that, in the not-too-distant past, husbands hitting their wives was also viewed as not only a societal norm, but a necessary part of maintaining a harmonious, successful marriage. In fact, a man who epitomizes the words calm and controlled, Sean Connery, shared his thoughts on the ’reasonable smacking’ of his wife in a 1987 interview with Barbara Walters:
The core belief behind ‘reasonable smacking’ of wives was that there was no other effective way to control them. I have to agree. If controlling another human being is the goal, then force is necessary. Fear, intimidation, threats, power-plays, physical pain, those are the means of control.
But if growing healthy humans is the goal, then building trust relationships, encouraging, guiding, leading, teaching, communicating, those are the tools for success.
Many parents simply don’t know what else to do. They were raised with spanking as a means of control and “turned out okay” so they default to their own parents’ parenting choices without researching alternatives to spanking or considering whether “okay” could be improved upon.
As to the I Don’t Like Spanking My Kids, But I Do It Anyway author’s contention that “We are raising a generation of children who are over-sensitive because they eventually find out that they aren’t as good at baseball or ballet as some other kid and their parents promised them that everyone is equal. They feel entitled because we teach them that they should. They throw tantrums when life doesn’t go their way because their parents have tiptoed around them to make sure that it does,” that reasoning sounds strangely familiar.
People throughout history have complained about ‘the trouble with kids these days.’ They’ve pinned all the ills of their society on permissive parenting. They’ve ranted about out-of-control children, disrespectful youth, entitlement, spoiling, disobedience, violence, self-centeredness, etc:
“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect to their elders…. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and are tyrants over their teachers.”
~Socrates, 5th Century BC
“What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions.
Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?”
~Plato, 5th Century BC
“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and
respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint”
~Hesiod, 8th Century BC
“The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior and dress.”
~Peter the Hermit, 13th Century AD
My grandpa notes the world’s worn cogs
And says we’re going to the dogs.
His grandpa in his house of logs
Said things were going to the dogs.
His grandpa in the Flemish bogs
Said things were going to the dogs.
His grandpa in his hairy togs
Said things were going to the dogs.
But this is what I wish to state:
The dogs have had an awful wait.
~Unknown, circa 1936
Small children disturb your sleep, big children your life.
Perhaps, just perhaps, there isn’t any ‘trouble with kids today.’ Maybe the trouble is with societies who view normal stages of development as somehow abnormal. Maybe the problem is with parents who repeat the patterns their own parents set and don’t delve into the belief system they are now passing along to their children. Or maybe the problem is simply the rose-colored glasses older generations tend to have about their own youth when they share idealized versions of ‘the good old days.’
Could it be that ’kid’s today’ are just kids like they have been through the ages, full of exuberance and curiosity and learning their way in a great big world? Could it be that a listening ear, gentle guidance, and trusted arms to turn to when inevitable mistakes are made are really all children need to grow up into kind, helpful, responsible, productive members of our society?
Consider this, ”Since more than 90% of American parents admit to spanking their children, it’s hard to accept that a decline in spanking is responsible for the purportedly escalating rates of youth violence and crime. Could it be that the 90% of children who are subject to violence at home in the form of being slapped, paddled, smacked, yanked, whipped, popped, spanked, etc. are taking those lessons out into the world? Is it just possible that children who are hit learn to hit? That children who are hurt learn to hurt? Perhaps the lesson they are learning is that ‘might is right’ and violence is the answer to their problems, the outlet for their stress, the route to getting others to do what they want.” Better Children, Better World
Could it be that sowing peace in our homes is the answer after all?
[Reprinted from Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon]
Almost from the moment a baby is born, parents teach them not to share. “No, no, sweetie. That’s mommy’s” and “That’s daddy’s, not yours” accompanied by the removal of whatever the forbidden item is are daily realities for little ones. This is unavoidable, of course, since bacteria-ridden keys don’t belong in little mouths and iphones don’t work well when soaked in drool.
But the challenge comes when our little ‘reflectors’ are expected to share their toys with anyone and everyone who takes a liking to them. (Keep in mind that “their toys” as defined by a toddler are anything they own, are playing with, want to play with, don’t want to play with but want to remain available, etc.) It’s fully acceptable for us adults to not share our ‘toys’ with others, though. How often do we invite friends over and hand them the keys to our car? And yet we get to choose our own friends, do the inviting, and we have adult reasoning skills and judgment in place…things small children don’t have control over or access to!
The primary learning mode for little ones is imitation, but still we expect them to somehow have the cognitive maturity to learn to share despite their parents not sharing their ‘toys’ with them and despite seeing their parents not sharing their ‘toys’ with their own friends.
On top of that, we’re expecting them to grasp some pretty intricate and tricky relational nuances. What does ‘being a good friend’ entail? Why is someone taking something I want an acceptable part of friendship? If they can take what I want, why can’t I take what they want?
And, to round off the difficulty, ownership is an advanced, abstract concept and sharing is even more so. The difference between sharing and giving away forever or between someone borrowing your things and someone stealing from you is rather nebulous in the mind of a child. Now add in a complete inability to grasp time concepts (They get my toy for a minute? How long is a minute? When mommy tells me ‘just a minute’ when she’s on the phone it seems like forever before she’s done!) and to understand other abstract concepts such as permanence, and you can see the murky waters tiny people are expected to navigate when it comes to understanding sharing!
Obviously, little ones need help overcoming all of these obstacles. Punishing them, calling them selfish brats, forcing them to share, etc. are all counterproductive, not to mention damaging to the very relationship that is pivotal to eventual understanding of the concept of sharing. Going back to that primary learning mode of imitation, the key to teaching a child to share lies in the trust relationship being built by gentle, responsive parenting:
1.) When a child is secure in their relationship with their parents, when they know they will be heard, when they trust that their needs will be met quickly and consistently, much of the impetus behind the refusal to share is removed simply because the child isn’t living in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’ response. (This is not to say they will share freely, no matter how gentle the parenting. The afore mentioned obstacles are still in play, and your little ones are still human. What it does mean is that some of the impediments to sharing are removed and the stage is set for learning.)
2.) Within the context of the parent/child relationship, be mindful of how often you say ‘no’ or ‘mine’ and try to offer alternatives in the moment to model sharing.
3.) Be aware of the fact that your child isn’t choosing their own friends at this point and neither they nor their little playmates are skilled socially yet. Stay nearby and in tune with your little one so you can step in and help them deal with any sharing difficulties such as snatching or tug-o-war with a toy before they escalate.
4.) Use concrete words to guide your little one in social situations. For example, try “Use your gentle hands” instead of “Don’t snatch/hit/push.”
5.) Resist the embarrassed-adult-knee-jerk-reaction of scolding your child, snatching toys from them to give to another child, and punishing your child for a normal developmental stage. That kind of reaction not only doesn’t model self-control, but it also doesn’t model acceptable social behavior, which is exactly what you’re upset about your child not displaying!
6.) Prepare for playdates by putting away any treasured toys such as special lovies or new toys that you know your little one will have trouble sharing. Honoring their feelings about these few special things will help them to feel more comfortable sharing their other toys because you are showing them in a concrete manner that you will help them to protect and preserve the things that matter to them.
7.) Play sharing games with your child daily to practice this advanced skill. When she says “Mine!” respond by smiling, picking up something of yours you don’t mind her playing with, and saying, “This is mine. I’ll share!” and hand it to her. Often little ones will start running around picking up their toys and bringing them to you to ‘share’ and wait for it to be reciprocated, resulting in a back and forth, back and forth sharing game that taps into another excellent learning mode for children…play!
Above all, keep in mind that sharing is a learned skill and it will take time for your small one to grow into a socially skilled little butterfly. Creating an atmosphere of trust, modeling sharing, and honoring their feelings will surround them with a safe environment in which they can develop the skills needed to become the most treasured of friends!
[From Messages in a Bottle: Communication Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost available June 2013; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon.]
It’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 does have 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 communication~crying. 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/prethinking skills) are underdeveloped. 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, the adults, would adjust our mindsets to accept the normalcy of whining, it would lose a bit of its power to annoy and enable 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 times of day whining seems to occur regularly and watch for triggers such as hunger, missed naps, over-hurried schedules, etc. and make what adjustments you can to prevent the whining before it starts next time.
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 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!
One effective tool for use in helping little ones cope with big emotions is a Calm-Me-Jar. Toddlers, Tantrums, and Time-Ins, Oh My!
We’ve added a Dr Seuss Quiet Bag to our Parenting in Public: Toddler Time page, and we’re working on a Dr Seuss Quiet Book, too!
The most challenging, independent children tend to be the ones who need the most intentional parental reconnection. Strong will=Strong need! Testing the Boundaries~What’s A Parent To Do?
[Reprinted with permission 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 now available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]
You look a little frazzled, Dude. Hard day?
Man, 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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?!?
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?
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.
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.
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?
‘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.
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!
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!
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.
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…”
- Your two-year-old digs his heels in at bedtime in an Oscar-worthy imitation of a mule. Give the ‘one slippery sock’ routine a try. Put socks on your feet and, when you call him to head off with you to begin your bedtime routine, start slipping and sliding on one side. Just little slips and slides will do the trick, along with a good helping of parental confusion over the possible reasons you’re having so much trouble walking. Little people love slap-stick, and you can bet your dawdler will hurry along to get in on the fun!
- Your eighteen-month-old suddenly stops enjoying the novelty of tooth-brushing and locks her little jaws tighter than a bulldog latched onto a bone. Try ‘tickling the ivories.’ Brush your own teeth first, giggling and dancing around the bathroom the whole time like you’re tickled at being tickled (while your little one watches, of course). Then release the gentle tooth-tickler on your most likely already giggling baby and say, “Tickle teeth! Tickle teeth!” while brushing those pearly whites.
- Your three-year-old eschews the use of shoes no matter how many choices of style and color you offer. Try the ‘superhero’ approach. Instead of the tired, old, “Time to get your shoes on,” routine…say, “The terrible-toe-tickling super villain is on the loose! We need some superhero armor on those feet, quick!” Be prepared to take the time to discuss the relative protective qualities of the available ‘armor’, but then get those toes to safety!
- Your six-year-old chatterbox could make a monk revoke his vow of silence just to say “Shhhhhh!!!” Try the ‘seven super silly seals sent slippery slippers to their sisters’ treatment. Give your little chatterbox a tongue-tying-twisty-treat and the promise of your full attention for five minutes when she thinks she’s ready to say it ten times fast. Then enjoy your two minutes of quiet until she returns!
- Your nine- and seven-year-olds are at each other like cats with their tails tied together. How about a ‘bag on your head while you listen to the ’he said/she said’? When you head in to break up the gazillionth argument of the day, slip a paper bag with a great big goofy smile and a couple of googly eyes drawn on it over your head first. It may not solve everything, but it’ll be super hard for them to stay mad at each other, and a little levity might just diffuse the tension!
- Your high-schooler is one stressed-out teen with SATs looming, homework mounting, friend drama annoying, and hormones swirling. It’s time for a ‘pajama-night-out-orama’! Wait until the house settles, everyone’s in bed for the night, and all is quiet…then leave your spouse in charge of the house while you sneak your teen out the back door with you for a one-on-one run through Dunkin’ Donuts and sit in the car in your driveway stuffing your faces and letting her unstuff all the angst that’s been building up inside of her. Might not be good for your arteries, but it’ll do her heart a world of good!
Silly works! Don’t handicap your parenting by forgetting one of the most powerful tools in your parenting toolbox.
[Reprinted from Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon]
Parenting is soooo tiring and frustrating at times. Sometimes you just want to sit a small child down and say, “Do you know how much easier your life (and mine!) would be if you’d just be REASONABLE?!?” But we know that wouldn’t do any good because the words ‘reasonable’ and ‘toddler/preschooler’ just don’t play well together. The thing to remember is that gentle parenting doesn’t mean parenting without boundaries.
Believe it or not, the foundation for discipline (guiding, leading, teaching…NOT punishment ) begins in the newborn and infancy stages. When parents respond quickly, consistently, and gently to their baby’s cries, the trust relationship that the parent is establishing becomes the cornerstone for later discipline. Boundaries need to be established for a child’s safety and growth into a successful citizen of our world. A child who is secure in the knowledge that he doesn’t have to fight to be heard or to have his needs met is more open and adaptable to limits. And when the ‘limit-setter’ is a person the child trusts, the enforcement of those boundaries becomes a matter of connection and communication instead of conflict and struggle.
So, what might setting and enforcing boundaries using gentle parenting look like in real life? Here are a few examples:
- Your 18 month old has begun hitting you whenever you try the ‘remove and distract’ method of keeping her from sticking things into power outlets. In addition to covering the outlets with safety covers, a gentle parenting approach to hitting at this age would be to gently hold your child’s hand when she tries to hit, look her in the eye, and say quietly and firmly, “Gentle” or “Gentle hands,” while stroking your cheek with her hand. This sets a boundary that hitting is not okay while demonstrating what behavior is acceptable. Don’t expect this to be a one-time deal, though. Little ones learn through consistent and patient repetition.
- Your 2 year old drops to the ground in limp protest every time you try to leave ANYWHERE! First, giving a toddler some warning that a change is about to occur respects their often intense interest in and focus on their own activities. A gentle parenting approach might be to utilize the ‘countdown to leaving’ method to give them a time context (i.e. “Five more minutes! That means you have enough time for five more horsey rides on grandpa’s back!”… “Four more minutes! That means you can have four more jumps into the ballpit!”… “Three more minutes! That means you have enough time to build three more towers and knock them down!”… “Two minutes left! That means you have enough time to go down the slide two more times!”… “One more minute! That means you can look at one more book!”). Remember, children aren’t little robots we can just upload the right program into and expect it to work perfectly every time, so when your little human still impersonates a limp noodle despite your best efforts, quietly acknowledge his distress, “It’s hard to leave when you’re having fun, isn’t it?” and then gently pick him up and move him to the car/stroller, etc.
- Your 3 year old flat out refuses to wear shoes, period. In addition to giving choices, “Do you want to wear the red boots or the blue sneakers today?” and offering her the opportunity to assert her independence, “Would you like to put your shoes on yourself or do you want mommy to help?” sometimes all that is needed is a simple question, “Why don’t you want to wear shoes?” Three year olds are typically becoming articulate enough that, if they aren’t already stressed, they can do a pretty good job of explaining themselves. You might be surprised to hear something like, “Tomowow my boos hut my toes,” which when translated means, “The last time I wore my boots they hurt my feet, and now I think all shoes will hurt me.” Moving on to a more verbal communication stage of your relationship with your child when they’re ready might seem a no-brainer, but parents often get caught up in patterns of parenting from previous stages and it just doesn’t occur to them to simply ask their child what’s wrong. Again, this won’t always work, so when your little bohemian still rejects all things soled, calmly let her know that she will remain in the stroller/sling/cart and not do any walking until she decides she’s ready to put on her shoes.
One other note about parental boundaries is that it’s not just your children who will challenge them! Everyone and their mother (or especially their mother!) will take every ‘misbehavior’ by your child as an opportunity to give you unsolicited and often unwanted advice. Remember, when it comes down to it, it’s you, the parent, who determines what limits to set. Mrs. In-My-Day, Cousin Know-It-All, Mr. My-Way-Is-The-Only-Way, and Neighbor Nose-In-Everyone-Else’s-Business all have their own ideas that make sense to them, and that’s fine, but you are not them! You the unique parent of a unique individual, and you have the sole responsibility to raise that individual as you see fit (with reasonable limits set by your community as to what constitutes abuse, neglect, etc).
In practical application, boundaries do reflect the culture and environment in which a child lives. In a small, rural community in Spain, doors may be left open day and night and the neighbors may all be related. Small children might have the freedom to wander in and out of houses, play ball in the middle of the road, and plop down for an afternoon nap on a neighbor’s sofa. In a busy, urban city such as New York, doors may be kept locked, people may never have even met their neighbors, and playing in the street might be tantamount to a child endangerment charge.
The point is that boundaries aren’t a one-size-fits-all list that you can buy from Barnes & Noble, put on the fridge, and slap a sticker on every time a child complies. Boundaries are personal limits determined by the parent’s values and priorities and culture as well as reflecting the age and maturity of their child and the unique attributes of their community.
It may ‘take a village’ to raise a child, but remember, it’s you, the parent, who’s the leader of your tribe!
[Portions reprinted from Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon]
~~Who are you raising, parents, Pinky or The Brain?~~
Steven Spielberg’s short-lived spinoff of the popular Animaniacs series in the 1990’s was a farcical tale of two mice and their ill-fated attempts to take over the world of men. The Brain was a maniacal manipulator and dastardly deceiver who plotted endless ways and means to get what he wanted. Pinky, by contrast, was a guileless and childlike mouse, who continually foiled his counterpart’s plans with his trusting and good-natured ways.
The Brain…master manipulator, diabolical deceiver, cunning conniver.
Pinky…innocent ingénue, naïve neophyte, artless amateur.
Both small, both mice…mirror images, one evil, one good.
So, parents, are you raising Pinky or The Brain? A sweet, innocent child or a cunning, manipulative liar? It’s vital that you decide, because your perception of who your child is and what motivates them will influence not only your attitude toward your child, but your response to your child as well.
“My two-year-old is a little dictator.”
“That kid is going to be a handful when she grows up.”
“My newborn pitches a fit when I change him.”
“Gotta go. The brat needs me.”
“My six-month-old is so stubborn.”
“Here comes trouble.”
“She’s spoiled rotten.”
“My two-year-old is a little genius.”
“That girl is going to be somebody special when she grows up.”
“My newborn cries when I change him, poor little guy.”
“Gotta go. My little angel needs me.”
“My six-month-old is so smart.”
“Here comes my little man.”
“My little lady knows what she wants.”
Look at the contrast in descriptive phrases: little dictator, a handful, pitches a fit, brat, stubborn, trouble, spoiled rotten…little genius, somebody special, poor little guy, little angel, smart, little man, little lady. Let’s face it, parents, we’re human. And, as humans, we are far more likely to respond kindly to someone who we see in a positive light. No one likes to feel used or lied to or manipulated, and the words we use to characterize our children’s behavior not only reveal what our feelings are toward our children themselves, but also will strongly influence our responses to them.
- A baby cries in the night. The parent who hears the cry as communicating a need will respond quickly and consistently. The parent who hears the cry as angling for attention will likely ignore the cries.
- A toddler has a meltdown. The parent who sees a small child overwhelmed by big emotions and unable to articulate his needs will respond with empathy. The parent who sees a stubborn little dictator pitching a fit because he didn’t get his own way will typically ignore or punish the toddler.
- A preschooler complains of a stomach ache every morning before being dropped off at daycare. The parent who hears a vulnerable child with limited language skills trying, in the only way she can, to express the loneliness and anxiety she feels at the daily separation will respond with understanding and comfort. The parent who hears a lie and feels manipulated will likely react with anger or impatience.
- A child comes home from school and has a meltdown when asked if he has any homework. The parent who sees a little person overwhelmed and struggling will respond with compassion and assistance. The parent who sees a lazy spoiled brat will typically react with yelling and demands.
- A teenager screams, “You don’t understand me!” The parent who hears the hurt and need behind the words will stop talking and start listening. The parent who hears rebellion and disrespect will likely respond with anger or a lecture.
Parents around the world and across the ages have listened to the cry of a baby, coped with a toddler’s meltdown, confronted a child’s will, and faced an adolescent’s attitude, and in each and every case the motivation that the parents attributed to the behavior has been the single most determining factor in the parents’ response. But the impact of the parents’ perception is even more powerful than just a momentary appropriate or inappropriate response.
Hear this carefully, parents…Who you think you are raising is who you will raise.
If you call a child a liar often enough, they will become deceptive. If you treat a child like they are manipulating you often enough, they will become conniving. If you label a child a spoiled brat, they will become impudent and rebellious.
By the same token, if you treat a child like a priceless gift, your own special angel to care for until they spread their wings and fly out on their own one day, they will become a blessing, not only to you, but to the world.
So who are you raising, parents, Pinky or The Brain? A sweet, innocent child or a cunning, manipulating liar? Remember, who you think you’re raising is who you will raise!
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, and bribed; 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.
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.
Parents, you’re building your relationship with your teens while they’re still toddlers. Listen always. Respond gently, quickly, empathetically. Laugh and smile and hug and play. Give them your undivided attention. When they invite you into their world, it’s a huge deal to them, and how you respond will set the tone for your future relationship. Accept and enjoy! This season of their lives is as short as they are, but its impact will last a lifetime.
The life of a small child is comprised of a daily onslaught of tempting surfaces begging for the artistry of a crayon, tall places crying out to be scaled, lovely little objects in need of a mouth or nose to visit, and dozens of other alluring glass and liquid and sharp things to be explored through the physics of gravity, the kinetics of concoctions, and the application of Newton’s Laws of Motion. There is only one force powerful enough to defeat this nearly irresistible call of adventure, imagination, and discovery…The No!
Every child knows the power of The No to circumvent the most well-laid plans. Even tiny babies just weeks into the world are introduced to its power when they grasp a fistful of hair while nursing or reach for some lovely, squishy stuff while getting a diaper change. That itty bitty two-letter word is packed with a force beyond comprehension to a toddler, and when they finally figure out how to wrap their little lips around those letters and form the word “NO!” themselves, the possibilities seem limitless!
Do you want a cookie? “No!”…Well, actually, yes, but how cool is it that when I said “No!” I controlled whether or not someone gave me a cookie!
Do you want Daddy to hold you? “No!” Well, yes, but I got to decide whether someone held me or not for a change!
That kind of power and control can go to a little person’s head, for sure! And the change in the big people when the word is used against them clearly demonstrates its incredible value. Their faces go from happy to serious or even angry, and sometimes a little person can even make a big person yell. What dizzying power!
And then little ones finally get a few more words to add…direct quotes from the most powerful beings they know, mommy and daddy…quotes like, “I said ‘No’!” and “Don’t you tell me ‘No’!” and “No means ‘No’!” The authority! The dominion! The clout! And using them against those powerful beings, watching them turn red in the face and yell and threaten…well, it’s scary and makes a small person feel really disconnected and upset…but the surge of intense pleasure at feeling powerful and in control almost makes them feel…like a big person for a moment!
And that’s what they most long to be, just like mommy and daddy…big…and strong…and smart…and powerful.
So what’s a mommy or daddy to do when confronted with The No from their little power-mongers? First, take a deep breath, and then engage those adult brains.
What inherent power is there, really, in a little two-letter word? Only the power we give it! What if, instead of that tiny word being able to push our buttons, we just disconnected the buttons entirely and didn’t react to The No at all? It would simply become a no. Just another word to celebrate our precious little people adding to their fledgling vocabularies.
And what if we backed up even further and disenfranchised The No from the beginning? When our newborn baby’s flailing hands caught a tiny fistful of hair or landed in some squishy stuff, what if we just smiled and gently removed it and kissed those itty bitty little fingers (after a wipey when squishy stuff was involved, of course!)?
What if when our little people headed for the walls to go all Michelangelo on them, we offered alternative canvases?
Or what if when they ascended the kitchen cabinets, we just scooped them up and headed outdoors for some climbing adventures?
The No is only The No when we, the adults, make it The No. And it can become simply a no when we get creative and interactive and stop using a tiny two-letter word like it has “Phenomenal Cosmic Power” in an “itty bitty living space!” (Disney’s Aladdin, 1992)
[Reprinted with permission from the introduction to 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 now available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]
Challenging behavior in our children can be really…well, challenging! How do you ‘handle’ a child who suddenly refuses to wear shoes or sit in her carseat/seatbelt or eat, period? Here are some tips to help you regain that snuggly, loving relationship you used to enjoy before your baby became a…shudder…PERSON!
1.) Remove the word ‘handle’ from your parenting vocabulary entirely. Your child isn’t a lion to be tamed or a dog to be trained! He’s a person, an individual with thoughts, interests, concerns, wants, and needs that are totally separate from yours. Respecting him as a separate individual not only models the value we need to place on others in our homes and communities, but also sets the stage for a mutually respectful relationship in his teen years and beyond.
2.) Slow down! Often simplifying our lives is the key to simplifying our parenting issues. Rushing a child from one activity to the next doesn’t expand her horizons; it stunts her creativity and inherent zest for life, which are the building blocks of a life-long love of learning. When she digs her heels in, pay attention! She’s trying to communicate a very deep need for time and space to learn about the world, to play and grow, and to just ‘be.’
3.) Small children have very little control over their lives, and the more powerless they feel, the more likely they are to make eating, getting dressed, going to the potty, etc. a battle of wills. Giving choices, engaging your child in making plans, and being flexible and responsive on a daily basis are good ‘proactive’ parenting, but little people are notorious for their awkward timing in deciding to suddenly assert their independence! Be prepared for those challenging moments by deciding ahead of time how you will respond. (See below for some ideas!)
4.) Listen, listen, listen! The first question parents ask me is almost always, “How do I get my child to listen?” And my first response is usually, “How well do you listen?” As Ralph Waldo Emerson so aptly put it, “What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.” In other words, our children learn best by imitation. If every time our little ones ask for our attention we say, “Just a minute,” then we cannot expect instant attention from them. If when they speak to us our eyes constantly stray back to our computers and iphones, we should not be surprised if they have a hard time looking at us when we ask them to. Listening is a two-way street that starts and ends with us, the adults.
5.) Boundaries are our friends! Many people believe that Gentle Parenting is a form of un-parenting, but nothing could be further from the truth. Gentle Parenting is involved parenting~interactive, engaged, active parenting. It takes focused attention, planning, participation, research, and so much more to be an empathetic, responsive parent who is in tune with their child’s needs and who is prepared to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to meet those needs. That said, in any home, like in any civilized society, boundaries are necessary for everyone’s safety and comfort. It is in the choosing and enforcing of those boundaries that Gentle Parenting distinguishes itself. In a Gently Parented home, boundaries are focused on guiding rather than controlling children and are enforced through empathetic and creative resolutions rather than harsh punitive consequences. (See below for some ideas!)
6.) Watch your attitude! Do you have angry eyes? A sharp tone? Do you issue commands and demand compliance? Do you sigh and roll your eyes when frustrated with your little one? All of these things contribute to creating resistance in children. Really, who wants to cooperate with someone who is demanding, impatient, sarcastic, angry, etc? Does feeling like a burden or a failure ever motivate anyone? Is a desire to please rooted in correction or connection? Think about how you like to be treated by authority figures (supervisors, law enforcement, etc.) and then treat your children the way you want to be treated! This not only reduces challenging behavior, but also models The Golden Rule~Do to others as you want them to do to you…an excellent life lesson!
Here are some ideas for your Gentle Parenting toolbox:
- Little one refusing to put on shoes before leaving the house? First, ask him why he doesn’t want to wear them. A toddler most likely won’t be able to/want to explain, but you’re modeling courtesy and opening up a dialogue, both good connection points. A three year old, though, might just surprise you with a very logical, in their own mind at least, response! Second, don’t react; just scoop the shoes up, and take them with you. If the refusal to wear shoes continues at the park/in the library/at the doctor’s office, etc. calmly tell him he can sit in your lap or in the stroller and hang out with you until he’s ready to wear his shoes.
- If a tantrum results, remember to stay calm (deep breathing, counting silently, and saying a quick prayer for guidance are all helpful!) and remain present. Some children respond well to a parent quietly talking, offering words to express what the child may be experiencing (i.e. “It’s frustrating when we have to do things we don’t like. I can see that you’re angry, and that’s okay. Let’s just sit here together for awhile.”), while other children become more upset when a parent attempts to interact with them during a tantrum and are comforted simply by your quiet presence, a gentle back rub, or playing with a Calm-Me-Jar . Getting to know your child is an important part of Gentle Parenting and will help you to ‘read’ these situations so you can be responsive to their unique needs.
- A place for Time-Outs. Typically, I advise parents to use Time-Ins instead of Time-Outs in order to connect-to-correct, but there is one area that I advise the use of Time-Outs…the ‘Time-Out Toy Box!’ When a toy is misused (i.e. thrown, used to hit, drawn on, fought over, etc) and a gentle redirection has been given, the next step for the toy is to be put in 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 (the toy can be returned after an exaggeratedly stern warning to the toy letting it know what is expected of it and that it must listen to ‘the boss’ ~the child, lol. They love that!), but remember to communicate, listen, and be flexible. If the removal of a toy brings about a strong negative response, it may be that the inappropriate behavior was more than just over-exuberance, in which case a Time-In might be needed. Again, being in tune with your child will help you to ‘read’ the situation and respond appropriately.
- The most challenging, independent children tend to be the ones who need the most intentional parental reconnection. Strong will=Strong need! It is often the strongest-willed children who identify most closely with their parents, oddly enough. While there is no denying how difficult it can be to raise a strong-willed child, seeing the purpose behind the behavior can make the journey much more manageable. Try to view their seemingly constant testing as them doing ‘research’ on you, seeing where your strengths and weaknesses are, and discovering all the ins and outs of being you. Also, taking the time to explain why you make the decisions you do, why you said this, why you didn’t say that, answering the endless questions patiently and openly, can alleviate some of the challenging behavior by offering them insights into who you are without them having to ‘dig’ it out of you!
You’re sitting in a restaurant waiting the prerequisite 10-15 minutes for your food to be served, chatting quietly with your spouse and two-year-old, when it happens…the dreaded moment suddenly hits, and life as you and every patron, staff member, and passerby know it is turned inside out and upside down. That moment that every parent fears, the sudden switch from table companion to terror, aka ‘Toddler Time’, is, in fact, toddler time. The insignificant 10-15 minute waiting period for food to arrive is actually eons in toddler time, eons of hunger, eons of boredom, eons of stillness, eons of being expected to act like the adult that they are years and years (eons!) away from becoming. But you really don’t want to be housebound for all of those eons, right? And yet more and more public places are becoming child un-friendly with snarky signs saying they’ll give your child an espresso and a pony if you don’t control him or charge you extra if you dare to enter their establishment and support their business with your hard-earned money or even flat out ban you altogether if you bring ‘the beast’ out in public with you!
And what about those hazy, lazy summer days at the park with the laughter of children floating in the air, mommies packing babies in their carriers while they chat and keep eagle eyes on their precious little monkies dangling from brightly colored jungle-gyms, when it happens…the dreaded moment suddenly hits, and all goes quiet as every eye turns toward the poor soul who called out those awful, awful words, “It’s time to go!” The words echo against the lowering sky, which has conveniently decided to threaten rain just to add to the sheer madness of the moment, and then the shrieking begins. In toddler time, an hour at the park is gone in the blink of an eye, and fun things like being strapped into carseats and baths and naps awaiting at home are just adding insult to injury.
So what is a parent to do?
Here are a few preemptive tools for your parenting toolbox:
1.) Gather a few special ‘quiet’ toys and keep them in a Quiet Bag in the car. Only get them out when you go into a store or restaurant and let your little one play with one toy at a time until it’s time to go, saving one last special toy for the car ride home. Some ideas for stocking your Quiet Bag:
Here is our Dr Seuss Quiet Bag we put together for Dr. Seuss’ Birthday…
I found some excellent Cat in the Hat crafts on clearance at Michael’s. We have a felt board with felt Seuss characters and lots of colorful felt letters and numbers and symbols. And we’re making a felt board with a piece of metal, too, so we can use magnets on it. The foam Seuss stickers I found on clearance and the foam pieces to the Cat in the Hat mosaic will go on a magnet sheet and be cut out with an Exact-o-knife. All of the items went into labeled Ziploc bags for easy storage, and then were packed away into the Dr Seuss backpack I found at a thrift store. My little ones love it!
This is our new Scooby Doo Quiet Bag. With all of the back-to-school sales firing up, this is a great time to stock up on Quiet Bag supplies, and since we found this super-cool Scooby Doo lunch bag on sale we decided to just make a whole new one so we could alternate them out. Toys-R-Us had a little party favor area with mini boxes of clay and mini water paints and stress balls and fun little smiley-face bendable figures for $0.50-$1.00, so we stocked this bag with those along with some Scooby action figures, zombies, and mini markers. Then I just printed out some coloring sheets to fit the theme, and our Scooby Doo Quiet Bag was done, no crafting necessary!
2.) We made Calm-Me-Jars with these round, plastic bottles for our Quiet Bag. So far, we’ve made Starry, Starry Night, Goodnight Moon, Nemo Under the Sea, And Hello Kitty Princess Ballerina. Can you tell which ones my little ones named, lol? (click here for detailed instructions on how to make them and ideas for how to use them to help cope with or even prevent tantrums!)
3.) Consistently keeping your little one in a highchair (or carrier/cart in stores) will help with any running around, disturbing people, and getting into things issues.
4.) Your best offense is a good defense, so keeping your little person occupied is always a good place to start, but if yelling/screaming become an issue, try responding with a whispered question or two. It’s pretty much irresistible for little ones to quiet down to hear what you’re saying, and even better if what you’re saying is super silly…”I think my nose went outside for a walk.” (conspiratorial ‘shared secret’ look) ”Could you check for me to see if it’s back yet?” (crossing your eyes to see for yourself)
5.) With the dreaded leaving-the-park issue, try bringing snacks your small one loves, and instead of saying “Time to go” try saying “Snack time!” and describe the yumminess waiting for her, all the while gently shepherding her to the car.
6.) Don’t forget to pack your ‘funnybone’ for a back-up plan! Humor is a powerful parenting tool, and carseats presented as rocketships to the moon, shared naptimes (parents can always use the extra sleep!) on marshmallow planets, highchair-bound movie directors with mommy and daddy as the actors, and shopping carts cars that continually stall and need to be fixed by their little riders are all inventive ways of keeping little people too busy and happy to meltdown. (Not to mention that these are great ways for parents to reconnect with their little ones and remember just how adorable they really are!)
7.) Actively work at avoiding confrontations and meltdowns by giving choices, staying engaged (i.e. listening to your child), and paying attention to triggers such as hunger, tiredness, sickness, etc. When our parenting goals shift from meeting needs and guiding actions to controlling our children, they invariably rebel and the battle is on, not a happy circumstance at any time, but especially difficult to handle in public! (And, in the long run, that makes for an ‘us against them’ relationship that sets the stage for an unhappy home, particularly when the teen years arrive.)