[By L.R.Knost, author of Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages now available on Amazon and other major retailers.]
So few parents today were raised peacefully and respectfully by their own parents that it’s no surprise that a big issue in the gentle parenting community is how to overcome the stumbling blocks of change. Moving from a control-based parenting style, whether you’re used to spanking or time-outs or reward charts or some combination of the three, to a connection-based parenting style is a heart and mindset change as much as it is a lifestyle change. The undeniable fact is that change is hard work. Whether you’re trying to overcome your own childhood or your own already-established parenting habits, you can expect it to get harder before it gets easier. Just like with any lifestyle change, you will hit walls along the way, and they might even knock you back a step or two. Here are five tips to help you keep calm and carry on to achieve your parenting goals:
1) Commit to no hitting or other physical expressions of anger or frustration, and let that be your starting point, the line in the sand that you absolutely won’t cross. Just like in marriage, if you don’t make a commitment, there’s nothing to keep you from straying back into old patterns.
2) Rethink your parenting role and move from trying to force or manipulate or plead or coerce or use any other tactic to try to control your child’s behavior and instead build a desire in your child to cooperate because they trust you to make good decisions and to want them to be happy and safe. Do that by taking all of that energy that’s been going into trying to control their behavior (external controls) and focusing it on trying to build your connection and modeling the behavior you want to encourage (building internal controls).
3) Examine what you’re modeling. If right now you are insisting on your own way and reacting emotionally with anger and power-plays to your child’s lack of cooperation, what are you modeling? Stubbornness and lack of emotional regulation (i.e. adult-style tantrums). If, instead, you connect with your child, engage them in creative problem-solving, and work together with them toward a resolution to whatever issue you’re having, what are you modeling? Compromise, resourcefulness, and cooperation. Definitely worthwhile life lessons!
4) Keep working on you. Remind yourself that it’s your emotions and experiences and expectations that are causing your outbursts, not your little one’s behavior. Ask yourself why you’re so upset. Let yourself explore your inner triggers. Work through that internally instead of reacting to it externally.
5) Choose a touchstone in a color that will help to keep you grounded, something to look at or hold on to when you feel yourself slipping back into old thinking and behavior patterns. It could be a necklace or bracelet or key chain in a color that captures the essence of the parent you want to be to help you stay focused as you work your way toward becoming that parent. Colors have psychological implications, so some good choices might be blue which is the color of peace and trust; turquoise which is the color of communication; pink which is the color of unconditional love; or magenta which is the color of harmony. You can also place the color around your house as a reminder of the peaceful home you’re trying to create and as a symbol of change and renewal to help you remember to stop and breathe and think before responding to your child.
Remember, it’s a huge change to go from demanding obedience to inviting cooperation, and if you are already in an adversarial pattern with your child, that process will take extra time and patience. And keep in mind that no parenting ‘works’ to change a child into an adult or into a perfect little puppet. Children are imperfect humans being raised by imperfect humans in an imperfect world, after all! But shifting your thinking from expecting, or demanding, obedience to working with your child to understanding them and connecting with them and inviting them to cooperate (i.e. Instead of “If you don’t put your dinner dishes in the sink, you won’t get ice cream for dessert” try “Let me know when your dishes are in the sink so I can get your ice cream for you.”) is the first and most important step toward a gentler style of parenting and a more peaceful home.
*Having gentle parenting tools ready and available in your ‘toolbox’ will go a long way toward helping you to stick to your commitment to be a more gentle parent. Here are some links to practical alternatives to punishment:
*Also published in The Natural Parent Magazine
[From Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood 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.]
So parents, here’s the scoop on tantrums:
They’re your fault.
Okay, okay, so maybe my toddlerdom contributes to them a teensy-weensy bit, but seriously…
You with the obsession with brushing teeth and bedtimes and matching clothes, enough already! Does it ever even occur to you that there’s another person (Yes, I am an actual separate person from you. Remember that whole cutting of the umbilical cord thing?) who might have an opinion about what goes in my mouth or when I’m tired or not or what I want to wear?
And you, the one who thinks carrots and kale are food. Really? You have all kinds of opinions about what tastes good and what doesn’t, but I’m not allowed to have any?
And don’t even get me started on the rush-rush, hurry-up craziness that has me being snatched up in the middle of my most fantastic block tower ever and strapped into a torture device (Btw, where’s your carseat?!?) and dragged from one place to another right through snack time. I can’t have an agenda? Don’t my interests mean anything?
Okay, so maybe I don’t know everything yet, but how am I going to learn if you just force these issues instead of communicating with me about things? That whole learning by osmosis thing (a.k.a. passive learning) didn’t work for you in college, and it won’t work with me, either.
You keep going on and on and ooooon about wanting me to listen. “Why won’t you listen?” “If you’d listen for once!” “Would you just listen to me?!?” I’ve got three words for you…
Two. Way. Street.
Maybe instead of that whole failed learning by osmosis experiment you keep trying (You do know the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result, right? Okay, okay, just checking!) you could read the research and find out that I learn by active engagement (two-way conversation!) and imitation. Yep, that’s right. I learn from what you do, not just what you say.
So here’s the deal…
Want me to learn to listen? Then listen to me. Listen and respond to my cries when I’m a baby. Listen and reply to my babbling attempts at talking when I’m a toddler. Listen to my whining and respond patiently when I’m a preschooler. (I know it’s annoying, but whining is my last step, kind of like your ‘last nerve’ you complain I’m stomping on, before I have a meltdown. It’s my last-ditch effort to hold on to the tiny bit of self-control I’ve learned so far in my short life!) Listen and actually pay attention (a.k.a eye contact!) to my endless stories about snails when I’m in middle childhood and to my endless complaints and dramas when I’m in my teen years.
Want me to learn respect? Then show me respect. Show me that you respect my personal space by explaining the things you’re doing to me like changing my diaper or strapping me into a carseat. Show me that you respect others by not talking about them behind their backs (Yes, I can and do hear you!) or yelling at them on the road. Show me that you respect my opinions by asking for them and accommodating them when you can. (I know you won’t always be able to, but the times you do will help me to accept the times you can’t.)
Want me to learn compassion? Then show me compassion. Respond kindly and gently when I’m upset or angry or just out-of-sorts. Stay close when my emotions overwhelm me and I have a meltdown moment. (I need your presence and compassion the most when I seem to deserve it or even want it the least!) And model compassion by treating others kindly in front of me.
Want me to learn self-control? (This is a big one!) Then show me self-control. Take a parental time-out when you get tired or overwhelmed or angry so I learn how to handle those big emotions. Count to ten and take some deep breaths instead of yelling or hitting. And pace yourself in this big world. I need to learn that it’s okay to take care of myself and not feel like I have to fill every moment with plans and schedules and agendas. I’ll learn that from watching you choose wisely from the many opportunities and pressures life will offer.
Okay, so to wrap this up. My tantrums don’t just come out of nowhere. They are the result of tiredness, hunger, frustration, anger, etc. You can prevent them, or at least minimize them, by keeping me fed and rested, by paying attention to my preferences, interests, and attempts to communicate, and by communicating kindly and patiently with me about upcoming changes or things I might not like. And keep in mind, I’m always watching and absorbing everything that goes on around me, so make sure you’re living what you want me to learn!
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 Messages in a Bottle: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood 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.]
Parenting can be difficult, no doubt about it. From inexplicable meltdowns to incessant whining to maddening tattling, the evolution of a child’s communication skills can take a serious toll on a parent’s patience. And just when a child’s language skills become advanced enough for parents to begin to see the proverbial ‘light at the end of the tunnel,’ it hits…The ‘Why’ Zone.
“Why do birds have feathers and people have skin?”
“Why can’t I have a rocket?”
“Why don’t lakes have waves like the ocean does?”
“Why are oranges orange?”
“Why don’t snakes have legs?”
“Why do people have to sleep?”
“Why don’t monkeys wear clothes?”
“Why don’t we live on the moon?”
“Why does ice have to be cold?”
“Why can’t my frog sleep in my bed?”
“Why do we have hair?”
“Why can’t I have cookies for breakfast…and lunch…and dinner?”
“Why don’t clouds come in my window?”
Why? Why? Why do they always ask why? As annoying as it certainly can be, the ‘why’ stage serves several extremely important purposes.
It is during this stage that children have fully made the cognitive shift to understanding that they are an entirely separate person from their parents, and, in healthy parent/child relationships, with that knowledge comes a need to literally ‘investigate’ their parents, find out what makes them tick, how they think, who they are. The ultimate purpose of this ‘probing’ is identifying with their parents by examining and internalizing their values, knowledge, and belief systems.
As children begin identifying with who their parents are, they are learning problem solving skills by listening to their parents’ thought processes. They’re also learning that their parent’s don’t know everything, and they’re learning that that’s okay. And, perhaps most importantly, they’re learning that they can always go to their parents with questions, no matter how random or trivial they may seem at the time, a vital element in establishing and maintaining a strong communication channel for the latter years of childhood and into adulthood.
And, really, would we want to quash the ‘why’s’ even if we could? Asking ‘why’ is the sign of a healthy and natural curiosity. As Albert Einstein said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
Asking ‘why’ paves the way for discovery, invention, innovation, and creativity…
Why can’t we fly… inspired Orville and Wilbur Wright to invent and fly the first fixed-wing airplane.
Why can’t we go into space… inspired Sergey Korolyov to design the first manned spacecraft.
Why shouldn’t we be able to communicate when we aren’t together… inspired Alexander Graham Bell to invent the telephone.
Why do we have to write books by hand… inspired Johannes Gutenberg to invent the printing press.
Why don’t we float off the earth… inspired Sir Isaac Newton to develop Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation.
Why doesn’t gravity work exactly the same way on everything… inspired Albert Einstein to develop the Theory of Relativity.
So, while you’re at your wit’s end in the midst of The ‘Why’ Zone, keep reminding yourself of the important work your child is doing. Listen. Respond thoughtfully. Ask questions in return. And don’t be afraid to say you don’t know (an excellent opportunity to head to the library for some interest-led learning!)
Sharing yourself, your thoughts, your culture, and your values with your child; growing a strong, open communication channel; and encouraging a healthy curiosity are all invaluable investments in your child’s future, even if they are at the expense of a bit of peace and quiet in the present!
When a child tattles, what they are actually doing is a rudimentary form of the advanced life skill of ‘Pause. Think. Respond.’ but they need help finding an appropriate and effective response. The child who seeks out an adult for guidance is indicating trust in the adult and respect for the adult’s opinions and abilities. Rethinking Tattling
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. Why Whining is a Win!
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?
Joe glared at the rows of tuna cans in front of him, willing the wailing child in the cart at the end of the aisle to just SHUT UP ALREADY! Seriously, where were the kid’s parents anyway? He snatched a couple of cans and dropped them in his cart with a clatter, then pushed his cart down the aisle toward the noisy troublemaker, intent on giving the negligent parents a pointed stare as he passed.
As Joe drew up alongside the child who was now kicking and flailing her arms in addition to that awful caterwauling, he noticed a man with the same towheaded curls as the child standing close by her side. Surely, he thought, that’s got to be the father. Why doesn’t he DO something?
Joe watched in anger and disbelief as the father gently stroked the little girl’s arm and whispered soothingly. What?!? The kid was throwing a fit in public, and all her father was going to do was comfort her? Joe gritted his teeth and tried to escape the irritating pair, casting a disapproving glance at the duo as he sailed by.
A few aisles over, the crying was muted, and Joe sighed in relief. He continued his shopping in peace for a while, grabbing his bottled water and some frozen mackerel, but then found himself confronted by the pair again three aisles later when he landed in the snack department at the precise time the child almost knocked over a stack of Oreos with her flailing.
Joe shook his head in disgust when the father merely cradled her into a loose hug and scooted his cart further away from the cookies. Joe stomped by, barely missing a Fig Newton display in his haste to get away from the fit-throwing child and weak-willed father.
Pitching fits in public, he grumbled, rattling his cart noisily toward the checkout lanes. People don’t know how to control children anymore, he muttered under his breath as he stood in line.
He stiffened as he heard a deep voice he recognized coming from the next checkout lane. He couldn’t see over the tall displays separating the lanes, but he’d recognize that father’s voice anywhere!
“Daddy’s got you, Nina,” the deep voice was saying. “Just lay your head on my shoulder, and we’ll be home soon.”
“Wan’ mama,” whined a little voice tiredly.
A soft sigh reached Joe’s ears, then a choked voice, “Mama lives in Heaven now, baby girl. But Daddy’s got you. Daddy’s got you.”
Be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger…(James 1:19)
Communication vs. Miscommunication
Image via ImageWorld.com
[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!
[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.)