[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
Leave a comment to enter to win a prize package including a prerelease copy of A Walk in the Clouds, a copy of Petey’s Listening Ears, and a Kindle copy of Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages! *Contest starts Monday May 13th and goes through Sunday, May 19th. Open worldwide.
Scroll down for more chances to win children’s books, Amazon gift cards, and other prizes in the Kid Lit Giveaway for Children’s Book Week!
If “play is the work of childhood,” as Fred Rogers so aptly put it, then imagination is truly the language of childhood.
Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources is focused on helping parents to see things from their children’s perspective in order to connect and communicate, guide and inspire, and support and encourage their children throughout childhood and beyond.
Children’s books are a wonderful avenue for parents to connect with their children through that lovely language of childhood…imagination. Little Hearts Books LLC is excited to announce the September 2013 release of L.R.Knost’s newest children’s book, A Walk in the Clouds. Written in a playful, rhythmic cadence…
Little toes high in the air
Waving round without a care
Walking cross the sunlit sky
Spotting cloudy shapes go by
A duck floats in a crystal sea
Look! A bird’s nest in a tree
A dancing hippo takes a bow
And there’s a tiny little cow
Laughing penguins all lined up…
and illustrated with whimsical cloud shapes of dancing hippos, laughing penguins, and more, A Walk in the Clouds captures that magical childhood experience of laying in the cool grass while spotting shapes in the clouds drifting overhead and celebrates the pure and simple joy of ‘doing nothing’ that makes childhood such a beautiful season of life. For some ideas about connecting with your children through play, check out this Bucket List for a Happy Childhood!
Other children’s books by L.R.Knost include Petey’s Listening Ears the first in the Wisdom for Little Hearts picture book series focused on equipping parents with gentle parenting tools while entertaining and gently guiding children, and Grumpykins, a soon-to-be-released series by L.R.Knost, that develops children’s emotional health and intelligence as little Grumpykins’ bad attitude and grumpiness brings giggles as well as understanding about emotions, perceptions, and self-regulation.
L.R.Knost is the author of the Little Hearts Handbook series of parenting guides. Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages, available through Amazon and other major retailers, is the first in the series and provides an overview of gentle parenting and its practical applications from infancy through toddlerhood, the preschool years, middle childhood, the teen years, and beyond. The next book in the series, due to be released in June of 2013, is Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood which walks parents through the developmental stages of childhood and shares insights into how to communicate effectively and peacefully with their children each step of the way.
Other books in the Little Hearts Handbook series due to be released in the coming months are The Gentle Parent: Discipline Tips, Tools, and Techniques; Gentle Parenting: A Christian Perspective; and Raising Bookworms: Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Sharing a Love of Reading with Children.
After you leave a comment to enter, check out these other children’s book and Amazon gift card giveaways for Children’s Book Week!
[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.]
Many people believe that gentle parenting is a form of unparenting, 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. If you’d like to transition to a more gentle mode of parenting, but don’t know where to start, below are links to alternatives to punishment, and here is a guide to help you set yourself up for success in your journey to gentle parenting…12 Steps to Gentle Parenting.
The concept of using consequences, physical or otherwise, as a deterrent for hitting is based on the misconception that small children have the capacity for forethought (i.e. If I hit, I will get in trouble. Therefore I will not hit.) and that they are choosing to disobey. The fact is that the prefrontal cortex, where reasoning, logic, and forethought take place, is highly immature in toddlers and preschoolers and actually doesn’t develop fully until the mid-twenties! Small children act instinctively and impulsively even when not stressed simply because that is what they are developmentally capable of, but when they are stressed even the small amount of self-control they may have attained flies right out the window, and before they know it (literally!) they’ve reacted physically to their stress. Read more
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…Read more
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…Read more
Punishing them, yelling at them, sending them to their room, or putting them in time-out disconnects them even further from their source of security and not only delays a resolution of the issue, but misses an opportunity to equip them with the tools they need to handle future problems.
One effective tool for use in helping little ones cope with big emotions is a Calm-Me-Jar…Read more
I-spy Water Jars, Quiet Bags, Calm-Me-Jars, Cozy Corners, Punch Bags, and more…Read more
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…Read more
One of the hot-button issues when it comes to discipline and children is spanking, and the more Christian and conservative the audience, the more hot the debate becomes! There are no verses in the New Testament that support spanking, flogging, whipping, or otherwise hitting children. In the Old Testament there are…Read more
Your Baby isn’t Trying to Annoy You; He’s Trying to Communicate! From the moment a child enters the world, they are trying to communicate. Crying, grunting, making eye contact, mirroring expressions, all of these things are the instinctive tools built into infants to reach out into a brand new world and make contact. They can do no more. It is entirely up to the parent to make the connection, to respond, to build those all-important ‘lines of communication’ that will be so vitally important to parents in later childhood. Communication is not something that just happens. It is not something that begins when a child becomes verbal, and it’s not a product of a child’s advancing maturity. Communication is a process, a relational building block, a result of intentional and responsive parenting. Read more
The evolution of children’s communication proceeds at a steady and relatively predictable pace, though the timing is influenced by factors such as individual personality, cognitive development, home environment, etc. Here’s what to expect through the ages and stages…
Babes and Boundaries~A Gentle Parenting Perspective 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? Read more
Parenting in Public~What’s in Your Quiet Bag? 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! So what’s a parent to do? Read more
Discipline & Behavior via Dr. Sears
You probably never thought of attachment tools, such as breastfeeding and babywearing, as being acts of discipline, but they are. Attachment parenting is like immunizing your child against emotional diseases later on. Your knowledge of your child becomes like a sixth sense enabling you to anticipate and control situations to keep your kids out of trouble. Discipline is based on building the right relationship with a child more than using the right techniques.
Parenting toddlers made simple. via T.E.A.C.H. Through Love
Toddlers can be loud, boisterous, erratic, funny, messy, witty and smart all at the same time. They soak up everything they see and hear and that includes our reactions to their actions.
What Children Need Most When They Deserve It The Least via Happy Families
Parents prefer not to have their authority questioned. So rather than considering why a child may be resisting, they up the ante, doing their best puffer-fish impersonation, and make threats.
Positive Parenting in Action: Exploration/Danger via Positive Parenting
Don’t mistake independence for defiance. Some toddlers are more strong-willed and independent than others. My first son was very mellow and content under my wing, while my second wanted independence early. He doesn’t want to hold my hand in parking lots (we’ll address that one!) because he says “I can walk by myself!”
With a healthy relationship based on open, honest communication, issues can be addressed as they arise and in a respectful and timely manner instead of a teen feeling the need to go ‘underground’ with their behavior or problems. Here are some practical tips for raising teens in a respectful and peaceful manner.
Gentle Discipline: So what DO you do? via The Path Less Taken
Some people, for any number of reasons, do not know about alternatives. They don’t know that there’s another way. Some people want to do things differently, and want to break their cycle, but they honestly do not know where to start.
Proactive Discipline and Well-behaved Children via Gentle Christian Mothers
Most people seem to think that physical punishment is the only way to elicit good behavior and assume that children who aren’t given prompt and regular spankings will be out of control “monsters”. Well, my kids are not perfect little robots. They have to be reminded to do things and they fight with each other. But my focus is not so much on obedience (do what I say right now!) as you might have expected. Instead my focus is on raising kids who are generally polite and content and care about how those around them feel. And that’s what I’ve got, kids who are noticeably considerate to adults and other children alike.
6 Steps to Stop Yelling Dr. Laura Markham/Aha Parenting.com
We all know that our kids respond better if we don’t yell. Instead of escalating a difficult situation, if we can stay calm, it settles everyone else down. Our relationship with our child strengthens. They cooperate more. They start to control their own emotions more. Bottom line: How can you expect your child to control his own emotions if you don’t control yours?
The One Thing You Can Do That Will Drastically Improve Your Interactions with Children via Real Child Development
If there was one thing you could do differently that would drastically improve your interactions with children would you want to know? Would you like to know the key that would increase cooperation, reduce tantrums, fighting and negative behavior?
Gems via Mothering by Grace
This is a FAST way of making your child feel loved, valued and secure. GEMs help your kids feel affirmed and noticed, so their need to get your attention in negative ways decreases. Your energy levels will rise as you enjoy your child and remember what it’s all about. By focusing on your child and meeting their emotional needs for connection you are actually taking care of yourself at the same time. It takes only a few minutes to have a GEM, yet the positive effects last for ages.
Why Spanking is Never Okay via Peaceful Parenting
Scientific research shows that physical punishment does not work in the long run, is associated with an increased risk for many behavioral and psychological problems, and is simply unnecessary given that we have non-violent discipline techniques that are very effective.
Gentle, effect tools for your parenting toolbox!
Dear Customer Service,
I think my computer needs professional help. I just don’t know what to do anymore. It won’t respond to me half of the time, and the other half its response is so slow it might as well not respond at all! I need help, and I don’t know where else to turn. Here’s the story:
I remember how excited I was when I first got my computer. I carefully cut the tape on the box, gently lifted it out, and gingerly settled it in the well-appointed and super organized office I’d had decorated and waiting for what seemed like forever.
Now what to do? I’d never owned a computer before and was so nervous I’d somehow break it. I searched through manuals and how-to’s for dummies, looking for tips from experts and guidance from other computer owners with years of experience. It was so frustrating because everyone seemed to have a different opinion about what to expect and what was important and how to handle all the hardware and software issues that were bound to crop up with computer ownership.
Over time, though, I got more comfortable in my new role as a computer owner. My tentative key tapping became more confident, and I operated my computer like a pro. But then minor irritations began to creep up. I’d input a command and have to wait for my computer to process before it responded, but why should I have to wait? I’d issued the same commands hundreds of times since my computer had arrived. Shouldn’t it obey instantly? I certainly thought so! So, I’d push the enter button a couple more times, and then a couple more, then some other buttons, and the darn thing would freeze up on me!!! Seriously?!?
I’m no push-over, believe me, and I wasn’t about to be manipulated by my own computer! So, I started unplugging it every time it froze. After a few minutes, I’d plug it back in again, but even after extending its time-out of the outlet to longer and longer periods, my computer was still giving me that ring of delayed obedience and then freezing when I pushed its buttons. So, I started giving it a gentle whack on its CPU. (No, I was not abusing it. I was just giving it a little tap to get its attention!) But nothing seemed to be working. I was still having to wait for it to process my commands, and it was actually getting worse!
Then my computer started popping up demands, right in front of what I was working on! ”Updates needed.” ”Virus software update available.” Me, me, me. I want. I want. I want. Isn’t it amazing how completely self-absorbed computers are? Didn’t my computer realize I had a schedule to keep? I had things that needed to get done, an agenda, a life! And on top of all that, I’d just purchased a new little laptop that needed my attention. Why couldn’t my computer understand that it just had to do what it was told and stop giving me a hard time?!? Selfish, that’s why!
Well, time went on and my computer kept up it’s delayed obedience and just kept escalating its constant demands with pop up after pop up after pop up. But I knew better than to give in. All it wanted was attention! So I alternated between time-out of the outlet and well-deserved whacks to the CPU, but all I got was slower and slower obedience, longer and longer freezes, and just general unresponsiveness.
I’ve tried to be a good computer owner, but I’m at the end of my tether. Please help!
Computers are designed to process input. Basically, that means you get out what you put in. That “demand for attention” is actually your computer communicating a need for input from you, whether it’s for an update or a virus scan or whatever it’s indicating it needs. If you meet it’s needs, that will not only stop the ”demands” but also free it up to run more smoothly and responsively for you. As far as the “delayed obedience,” that’s just how computers are built. It needs time to process your input so that it can respond appropriately. Pushing its buttons over and over is actually causing the freezing you’re concerned about, and unplugging your computer when it freezes just shuts it down right when it’s trying its hardest to work things out. Remember, interaction between owner and computer is the core of computer processing. Finally, stop “whacking” your computer. Call it what you want…hitting, tapping, popping, or whatever…it’s just causing internal damage and resulting in the very problems you’re trying to solve.
Shak N. Mihed
[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…)
[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?
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 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!
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.)
“Whisper words of wisdom, let it be”~The Beatles
Don’t hesitate to speak truth to children. Speak wisdom daily, openly, honestly, but speak it gently, briefly, and respectfully so they can receive it…and then let it be…give them time to process it, embrace it, and, one day, they will live it.