[By L.R.Knost, author of Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages available on Amazon]
This evening as our family celebrated a birthday at a local ice cream shop, a scene unfolded in another booth that caught our attention. All of us quieted and watched, our hearts hurting for one little girl and touched by another as a clearly stressed-out parent lost her temper and her self-control.
It started as a little girl of about four or five tried to tell her mother what she wanted to order. Her mother didn’t understand what she wanted, and the little girl became increasingly agitated and began to whine in frustration as she continued to try and fail to express herself. Finally the mother, also frustrated, grabbed the small girl by the arm and yanked her out of line and stomped over to the booth next to ours. She leaned over the now-crying child and yanked her face close to hers and shouted, “I have no idea what you want! I can’t understand you! Why don’t you just say what you want? Calm down! NOW!”
My children looked at me, wide-eyed, knowing that I would gently intervene if things escalated as they’ve seen me do a number of times in the past. But something beautiful happened in that moment that none of us will ever forget. The little girl’s sister, no older than eight or nine herself, stepped between her mother and sister and softly said, “She wants vanilla, mom. That’s all. When she said, ‘Just the white,’ that’s what she meant. She just wants vanilla ice cream. That’s all. It’s okay, mom.”
The mother took a deep breath and blew the hair out of her face, then silently walked away to go order their ice cream. And as we watched, the older sister reached out, put her hands on either side of her little sister’s face, and leaned over to softly kiss her on the top of the head.
I get it, mamas. We’re human. We make mistakes. And I don’t know what was going on in that stressed-out mother’s life. But I do know this. There were two frustrated people in that situation, one an adult, one a small child. And it was the adult who lost it. It was the adult who stomped her feet and shouted and lashed out physically and verbally.
But it was a child who stepped in with a calm and understanding (and, unfortunately it appeared, practiced) response and brought peace back to the situation. It was a child who communicated, connected, and responded rather than reacting.
I hope and pray that the mother was just having a bad day, that the older sister, instead of having to step up and become a miniature adult in a household of immature adults as some children must do, was simply emulating what she’d seen her mother do on other occasions.
We’re all capable of doing what that child did, of practicing understanding, of speaking peace. If a child has the presence of mind to address heightened emotions with quiet resolve and calm communication, then as adults we have no excuse for not doing the same.
[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
[Reprinted from Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost available on Amazon and other major retailers]
Want to know a dirty, little secret about punishment?
It doesn’t work.
Punishment may be able to control a child’s behavior temporarily while they’re small or when they are in their parents’ presence, but it cannot control the person. As with all humans, outward behavior is merely a reflection of our inner selves: our needs, our hurts, our emotional states.
While the temporary ‘payoff’ of punishment may be compliance, the need behind the behavior is never addressed and those needs merely get driven underground and often emerge later in more potentially damaging behaviors such as lying, sneaking, anger, outright rebellion, depression, aggression, addictions, etc.
In the same way that treating a brain tumor by merely taking a pain reliever doesn’t address the underlying issue, masking the symptoms of an underlying need with punishment-induced compliance doesn’t solve the problem; it intensifies it.
Want to know another dirty, little secret about punishment?
It requires constant escalation.
In order to maintain the temporary effect of controlling behavior, the punishment, or threats of punishment, must constantly be ramped up. Parents who start out with popping a tiny hand escalate to smacking a chubby little leg, then paddling a small bottom. Over time, as their children’s needs which have been driven underground emerge in ever-increasing behavioral issues, parents often find that they are resorting to yelling and threats and physical punishment more and more often.
Even parents who use punishment-based parenting approaches other than physical punishment find that they must escalate and escalate to keep their children under ‘control.’ Behavior charts, time-outs, grounding, and removing privileges are some examples of non-physical punishment-based parenting. While these behavior modification techniques may be less painful to children physically, they still don’t address the underlying needs being communicated by the behavior and often are nearly as destructive to the parent/child relationship.
Using isolation such as time-outs or sending children to their room separates them from their source of guidance and comfort just when they need it the most and not only misses a golden opportunity to help the child learn coping mechanisms for dealing with their emotions, but also fractures the very connection that should provide the safety for expressing those emotions. Using behavior charts, removal of privileges, grounding, etc. separates children from their parents by creating an us-against-them mentality that inevitably leads to conflict instead of creating a teamwork mentality that leads to cooperation.
Here’s the thing, effective parenting, and effective discipline specifically, don’t require punishment. Equating discipline with punishment is an unfortunate, but common misconception. The root word in discipline is actually disciple which in the verb form means to guide, lead, teach, model, and encourage. In the noun form disciple means one who embraces the teaching of, follows the example of, and models their life after.
On the flip side, the root word in punishment is the Latin word punire which in verb form means to penalize, chastise, castigate, inflict harm, humiliate. There is no noun form of punire or its English equivalent, punishment.
Many of today’s most popular self-proclaimed parenting ‘experts’ equate physical punishment with discipline and go to great lengths to describe the best methods and tools for hitting children as well as instructing parents to maintain a calm, controlled, and even cheerful demeanor as they ‘lovingly’ hit their children.
It is interesting to note here that, when it comes to the law, crimes of passion are treated as less heinous than premeditated, planned, and purposefully executed crimes which are termed ‘in cold blood.’ And yet when physically punishing a child, a crime in many places across the globe, hitting in anger or frustration (i.e. passion) is deemed wrong by proponents of spanking, while hitting children with calm and deliberate intent (i.e. premeditation) is encouraged.
It is also interesting to note that, in the not-too-distant past, husbands hitting their wives was also viewed as not only a societal norm, but also a necessary part of maintaining a harmonious, successful marriage. In fact, a man who epitomizes the words calm and controlled, Sean Connery, shared his thoughts on the ’reasonable smacking’ of his wife in a 1987 interview with Barbara Walters in which he explained the necessity of using punitive methods to control women.
The core belief behind ‘reasonable smacking’ of wives was that there was no other effective way to control them. I agree. If controlling another human being is the goal, then force is necessary. Fear, intimidation, threats, power-plays, physical pain, those are the means of control.
But, if growing healthy humans is the goal, then building trust relationships, encouraging, guiding, leading, teaching, and communicating are the tools for success.
Many parents simply don’t know what else to do. They were raised with spanking and other punishment-based parenting methods as a means of control and “turned out okay” so they default to their own parents’ choices without researching alternatives to spanking or considering whether “okay” could be improved upon.
Consider this, more than 90% of American parents admit to spanking their children, and yet the common contention is that it’s a decline in spanking that is responsible for the purportedly escalating rates of youth violence and crime. Is it really the less than 10% of children who aren’t spanked who are responsible for all the problems of our society? Or could it be that the 90% of children who are subject to violence at home in the form of being slapped, paddled, smacked, yanked, whipped, popped, spanked, etc. are taking those lessons out into the world? Is it just possible that children who are hit learn to hit? That children who are hurt learn to hurt? Perhaps the lesson they are learning is that ‘might is right’ and violence is the answer to their problems, the outlet for their stress, the route to getting others to do what they want.
People throughout history have complained about ‘the trouble with kids today’ and they’ve pinned all the ills of their society on supposedly permissive parenting. They’ve ranted about out-of-control children, disrespectful youth, entitlement, spoiling, disobedience, violence, self-centeredness, etc:
“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect to their elders…. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and are tyrants over their teachers.” ~Socrates, 5th Century BC
“What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?” ~Plato, 5th Century BC
“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint” ~Hesiod, 8th Century BC
“The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior and dress.” ~Peter the Hermit, 13th Century AD
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Maybe, though, there isn’t really any ‘trouble with kids today.’ Maybe the problem is with parents who repeat the patterns their own parents set or with societies who view normal stages of development as somehow abnormal.
Maybe ’kid’s today’ are just kids like they have been through the ages, full of exuberance and curiosity and learning their way in a great big world, and a listening ear, gentle guidance, and trusted arms to turn to when inevitable mistakes are made are really all children need to grow up into kind, helpful, responsible, productive members of our society.
The bottom line is that addressing our children’s underlying needs, the actual causes of their behavior instead of just the behavior itself, is a far more effective parental approach as well as being significantly better for a healthy, mutually respectful parent/child relationship. Sending our children out into the world as adults with their needs met, with coping mechanisms in place for those times when the stresses overwhelm them, and with the knowledge of a safe haven where comfort is always available when the world hurts them is a powerful way to change the world for the better.
Maybe, just maybe, sowing peace in our homes is the answer for our children, our families, and our world, after all.
*Also printed in The Natural Parent Magazine
[Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available. #14 on Amazon's Top 100 New Releases in parenting!]
A winner has been chosen! For more opportunities to win a Little Hearts Handbook, follow Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources by subscribing to receive updates from this website, on Face Book, Pinterest, and Twitter. Thank you to all who participated!
Exciting times ahead for Little Hearts! In the New Year, a series of handbooks based on the Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources website will be released in paperback and for Kindle. The books will be approximately 120 pages and priced around $7.99 for paperback and $3.99 to $4.99 for Kindle. More details to come!
In celebration, we’re giving away a free, pre-release copy of the first handbook in the series, Two Thousand Kisses a Day~Gentle Parenting Through the Ages & Stages. Our official Little Hearts photographer from Melissa Lynsay Photography has outdone herself, and now we can’t decide on the best author picture for the back cover of the books.
We need your help deciding on a picture, so vote for your favorite author picture or comment on this post to register to win!
For voting purposes, we’ll call the picture above pic 1 and here is pic 2:
and pic 3:
Here are previews of the working copies of three of the book covers so you can see the pictures in ‘thumbnail’ form as they’ll be on the back cover. The actual handbooks are 6″ x 9″ so almost twice the size of these cover images which will make the pictures nearly double the size you see here:
Okay, there you go! Vote for your favorite picture or leave a comment to register to win a free copy. It’s that easy!
[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.
Those old psychologists, Newton and Einstein, sure did have human nature figured out, didn’t they?
Wait. What? Psychologists? I thought Newton and Einstein were physicists!
Well, yes, they were. But since when haven’t humans been bound by the laws of the universe? Take a look:
Newton’s Third Law of Motion…Every action has an equal and opposite reaction…i.e. “If you pull me, I’ll pull back. If you push me, I’ll push back.”
Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation…Attraction between bodies…i.e. “We are drawn toward what invites us. If you lead me, I will follow.”
Sounds simple enough. Now for a harder one:
Einstein’s Theory of Relativity… The interactions of bodies are due to the influence of bodies (relative to one another) on the geometry (curvature, perspective) of space-time…i.e. “What is true is true, but what is perceived to be true depends upon where you are when you look at it. Perception, then, affects reality because we act on our perception of reality, not reality itself. Our action then sets in motion a new reality. It is impossible to separate perceived reality from absolute reality because the two become one through symbiosis.”
Whew. Heavy stuff. Okay, this one requires a bit more explanation. Take it away, Einstein!
“When you sit with a nice girl for two hours, you think it’s only a minute. But when you sit on a hot stove for a minute, you think it’s two hours. That’s relativity.”
Thank you, Professor Einstein! So, what you’re saying is that time did not change, the perception of time changed, right? And when you then act on that perception, in this case perhaps by being late for an appointment because you’ve miscalculated the time with the nice girl, your lateness changes actual reality by either making someone else wait or having to reschedule the appointment or something along those lines?
“Time and space and gravitation have no separate existence from matter.”
Got it. So we (are) matter, bound by time, living in space, and subject to gravity. Everything affects everything else’s reality, including our perceptions of reality, even if they’re skewed. Thank you for your time! (Haha, a little relativity humor for you there, Professor.)
Soooo…how does all of that apply to parenting? Well, clearly, a parent’s perception of reality determines how they react to their child, thus determining their child’s reality. Then their child’s own perception of that reality determines their response to their parent which in turn determines…hmmm. That’s getting a bit confusing. Let’s look at some examples.
To one parent, a baby’s cries in the night are perceived as an attempt to manipulate.
To another parent, a baby’s cries in the night are perceived as an expression of need.
In each case, the parents’ perception will determine their response to their baby which, in turn, will impact the reality the baby will learn about the world.
In the case of the parent who perceives that the baby’s cries are manipulative, the parent may not respond to the baby. The baby, who has no perception of time or object permanence, then experiences reality with the perception that he will be alone forever. If that perception of reality is reinforced night after night, that may affect the baby’s perception of the world as an unstable reality which may, in turn, affect the baby’s behavior as he grows which will then impact his parents’ response, etc.
To one parent, a tantrum is a child lashing out in anger at not getting her own way.
To another parent, a tantrum is a cry for help in coping with big emotions.
In the case of the parent who perceives the tantrum as a cry for help, the parent may offer the child a hug or a touch or simply their presence to help her calm down, and then the parent may help the child process the emotions that brought on the meltdown. The child, who may be too young to articulate or even understand her feelings, may then experience reality as a safe place to grow and learn which, in turn, may influence her overall behavior which will then impact her parents’ response, etc.
To one parent, tattling is an annoying habit designed to get another child in trouble or just to get attention.
To another parent, tattling is an attempt to get help in coping with a situation the child doesn’t know how to handle.
In the case of the parent who perceives the tattling as an attempt to get help, the parent may listen and offer suggestions or may intervene, again based on the child’s relayed perception of the conflict and the parent’s received perception of the conflict. The child may then perceive that she is not alone to fight her battles in the world which, in turn, may influence her to more readily seek help when in doubt or in need which may cause others to perceive that she is not an easy target for bullying or victimization, etc.
In all of these cases and more, the parents’ perceptions influence their own responses which then sets off a chain of reactions that influences the actual reality that the parent and child experience.
In Einstein’s Theory of Relativity this kind of reactionary chain of events is referred to as the space-time continuum…one thing leading to another to another to another.
But the good news is that there is a huge difference between humans and celestial bodies besides just mass. We have the advantage in the universe because we have consciousness. We can step out of the continuum and examine our path and make intentional changes to positively affect our reality. As parents, when we take the time and effort to determine our responses with intention instead of mindlessly reacting, we also positively affect our children’s reality and, thus, their future.
Einstein was very aware of our human capacity to redirect our own continuum. He said, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”
In other words, when we face problems and challenges, continuing with the same fruitless patterns, the same thoughtless responses, the same ineffective reactions that brought us to that point is…well, pointless! And so, in parenting, when we are confronted with behavioral issues and our modus operandi (present method of parenting) isn’t working, we don’t have to continue in that continuum. We can step back, examine our perceptions and actions and intentions, and make whatever changes are necessary to redirect ourselves and lead our children down a happier, more peaceful, more successful path.
[From The Gentle Parent: Discipline Tips, Tools, and Techniques by L.R.Knost available November 2013; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon.]
Toddlers and preschoolers are still in the early stages of learning to communicate verbally. Add to that the fact that they have little-to-no impulse control and very immature social skills, and you’ve got a recipe for an instinctive physical response (i.e. hitting, kicking, biting, hair pulling, throwing things, etc.) to situations in which they are frustrated, angry, scared, or just tired and out-of-sorts.
Many parents who practice gentle discipline wonder where their little one picked up the behavior, not realizing that it is a normal and age-appropriate reaction, albeit an unacceptable one. Very often parents are advised to spank their child to train them not to hit others, especially those who are smaller and weaker than they are. (more…)
[From The Gentle Parent: Discipline Tips, Tools, and Techniques due out November 2013; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon.]
Few things ignite a parent’s temper like defiance. It feels like a slap in the face, a direct challenge to our authority. Power card…played. Gauntlet…thrown. Challenge…accepted?
Time out! No, not time-out as in punish your child, but time out as in hit the parental pause button, take a step back, assess the situation, and get some adult perspective.
There are three things to consider:
- Behaviors are communication. What is your child trying to communicate?
- Is the behavior really defiance, or did your child’s action hit a nerve in you for some reason?
- If the behavior is, in fact, defiance, what circumstances preceded it?
Once you’ve assessed the situation, you can more effectively address it. If your child is communicating an unmet need such as a need for more interaction from you, a need to be heard, or if they simply need an outlet for their energy, you can first meet those needs and then offer your child ideas about how to better communicate their needs to you in the future.
The same process applies if your child’s behavior is communicating stress, anger, fear, or insecurity. Taking a step back allows you to not only see the emotion behind the action, but also gives you a moment to consider if there have been any big transitions in your child’s life such as a move or change in childcare or a recent illness (or, possibly, a breach in trust if you have ‘lost it’ and yelled, threatened, or spanked) that they may have big feelings about but are not able to articulate. First you can meet those emotional needs with empathic listening, offering words to help them articulate their feelings, apologizing if you have broken trust with them, and providing an outlet for their pent up emotions. Then you can address their behavior by giving them options for expressing their needs in more acceptable ways.
Meeting their needs before addressing their behavior is vital because it lowers their defenses, clears whatever is cluttering up your parent/child connection, and opens the pathways to communication, in effect turning on their listening ears!
*On a side note, be aware that it is possible, especially with very young children, that what you are interpreting as defiance is actually age-appropriate curiosity and exploration. A twelve month old who repeatedly pulls the cat’s tail may be experimenting with the interesting sound the cat makes, the soft texture of the fur, her own feeling of power, or just trying to find out if pulling the tail is as ‘not-okay’ after her nap as it was before. Little ones too young to grasp the concept of permanence (typically those less than twenty-four to thirty months) live very much in the moment and cannot be expected to understand the permanent nature of rules and limits. Removing temptations (commonly referred to as baby-proofing) is not only for their safety, but is also a visual form of limit setting. A common misconception is that removing temptations is passive or indulgent parenting, but it is actually proactive parenting (whereas passive/indulgent parenting would be simply allowing the behavior) and is an effective and gentle beginning to the process of boundary setting.
If in taking a step back to assess the situation you discover that your child’s behavior isn’t really defiance, but a nerve was hit in you that caused you to perceive it that way, you can first address your child’s need and then their behavior, if necessary, but then take the time to address your own needs. Perhaps you have an unmet need to be heard by your spouse, boss, or even your own parents, or maybe there is a wound from your past that needs to be healed or a source of stress in your life that is causing you to feel overwhelmed. Taking an honest look at your own needs and hurts and stressors and dealing with those issues will not only benefit your parenting, but your life in general!
If your ‘time out’ assessment reveals that the circumstances preceding your child’s defiance contributed to it, you can learn from that and find ways to avoid those circumstances in the future. For instance, you may realize that hunger or tiredness or over-scheduling are triggers for your child’s behavior. Or you may see that your wording is provoking a negative response. (The word ‘no’ can be a trigger for a power struggle. Try rephrasing your no’s into yes’s. For instance, instead of “No, you can’t have ice cream until after dinner” you could try “I know you love ice cream. I do, too! We’re getting ready to eat right now, but what flavor would you like after dinner?” The objective is to set the same limit, but phrase it in a way that invites cooperation instead of triggering opposition.) You might realize you are inadvertently communicating your own stress to your child or even taking it out on them. Or you may have slipped into a negative parenting pattern and be ‘powering up’ on your child, in effect throwing down the gauntlet yourself, and they are merely reflecting your behavior. Whatever the case may be, learn from it, make the necessary adjustments, repair your relationship with an apology if needed, reconnect with your child, and then share ideas about better ways both of you can handle things in the future.
Keep in mind, though, that sometimes what parents perceive as defiance is really just a child testing their boundaries to make sure that they are secure. Children need to know they’re safe, and a parent who is confident and comfortable enough in their leadership to calmly and gently guide their child to stay within their boundaries is very reassuring. The goal of gentle parenting, however, is not controlling children, but equipping them to control themselves (in other words, we want to teach them to be ‘the boss’ of themselves!) So if your child is testing their boundaries, be careful to respond with guidance, not punishment.
Finally, remember, you are raising a little human with thoughts, needs, ideas, and a personality all their own. They aren’t perfect any more than you are, and expecting perfection will lead to conflict, not connection. When they make mistakes, choose understanding, not anger. When they make poor choices, choose guidance, not punishment. And when they challenge your authority and throw down that gauntlet of defiance, choose peace, not warfare. Remember, you don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to!
[Portions reprinted from Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost available on Amazon]
“People are telling parents like me that we are failing our children because we practice controlled discipline in our homes. I say: the children that are raised without it are the ones being abused and robbed of the chance of success in adulthood.” Controlled discipline in the eyes of this author of I Don’t Like Spanking My Kids, But I Do It Anyway is physical punishment. Equating discipline with punishment is a common misconception, but she is, unfortunately, not alone in her stance.
Many of today’s most popular self-proclaimed parenting ‘experts’ also equate physical punishment with discipline and go to great lengths to describe the best methods and tools for hitting children along with instructing parents to maintain a calm, controlled, and even cheerful demeanor as they ‘lovingly’ hit their children.
It is interesting to note here that, when it comes to the law, crimes of passion are treated as less heinous than premeditated, planned, and purposefully executed crimes which are termed ‘in cold blood.’ And yet when physically punishing a child, a crime in many places across the globe, hitting in anger or frustration (i.e. passion) is deemed wrong by proponents of spanking, while hitting children with calm and deliberate intent (i.e. premeditation) is encouraged.
It is also interesting to note that, in the not-too-distant past, husbands hitting their wives was also viewed as not only a societal norm, but a necessary part of maintaining a harmonious, successful marriage. In fact, a man who epitomizes the words calm and controlled, Sean Connery, shared his thoughts on the ’reasonable smacking’ of his wife in a 1987 interview with Barbara Walters:
The core belief behind ‘reasonable smacking’ of wives was that there was no other effective way to control them. I have to agree. If controlling another human being is the goal, then force is necessary. Fear, intimidation, threats, power-plays, physical pain, those are the means of control.
But if growing healthy humans is the goal, then building trust relationships, encouraging, guiding, leading, teaching, communicating, those are the tools for success.
Many parents simply don’t know what else to do. They were raised with spanking as a means of control and “turned out okay” so they default to their own parents’ parenting choices without researching alternatives to spanking or considering whether “okay” could be improved upon.
As to the I Don’t Like Spanking My Kids, But I Do It Anyway author’s contention that “We are raising a generation of children who are over-sensitive because they eventually find out that they aren’t as good at baseball or ballet as some other kid and their parents promised them that everyone is equal. They feel entitled because we teach them that they should. They throw tantrums when life doesn’t go their way because their parents have tiptoed around them to make sure that it does,” that reasoning sounds strangely familiar.
People throughout history have complained about ‘the trouble with kids these days.’ They’ve pinned all the ills of their society on permissive parenting. They’ve ranted about out-of-control children, disrespectful youth, entitlement, spoiling, disobedience, violence, self-centeredness, etc:
“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect to their elders…. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and are tyrants over their teachers.”
~Socrates, 5th Century BC
“What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions.
Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?”
~Plato, 5th Century BC
“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and
respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint”
~Hesiod, 8th Century BC
“The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior and dress.”
~Peter the Hermit, 13th Century AD
My grandpa notes the world’s worn cogs
And says we’re going to the dogs.
His grandpa in his house of logs
Said things were going to the dogs.
His grandpa in the Flemish bogs
Said things were going to the dogs.
His grandpa in his hairy togs
Said things were going to the dogs.
But this is what I wish to state:
The dogs have had an awful wait.
~Unknown, circa 1936
Small children disturb your sleep, big children your life.
Perhaps, just perhaps, there isn’t any ‘trouble with kids today.’ Maybe the trouble is with societies who view normal stages of development as somehow abnormal. Maybe the problem is with parents who repeat the patterns their own parents set and don’t delve into the belief system they are now passing along to their children. Or maybe the problem is simply the rose-colored glasses older generations tend to have about their own youth when they share idealized versions of ‘the good old days.’
Could it be that ’kid’s today’ are just kids like they have been through the ages, full of exuberance and curiosity and learning their way in a great big world? Could it be that a listening ear, gentle guidance, and trusted arms to turn to when inevitable mistakes are made are really all children need to grow up into kind, helpful, responsible, productive members of our society?
Consider this, ”Since more than 90% of American parents admit to spanking their children, it’s hard to accept that a decline in spanking is responsible for the purportedly escalating rates of youth violence and crime. Could it be that the 90% of children who are subject to violence at home in the form of being slapped, paddled, smacked, yanked, whipped, popped, spanked, etc. are taking those lessons out into the world? Is it just possible that children who are hit learn to hit? That children who are hurt learn to hurt? Perhaps the lesson they are learning is that ‘might is right’ and violence is the answer to their problems, the outlet for their stress, the route to getting others to do what they want.” Better Children, Better World
Could it be that sowing peace in our homes is the answer after all?
[Reprinted from Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon]
Your once fearless five-year-old suddenly refuses to leave your side at the park saying, “I’m afraid the birds will eat me,” while eyeing the tiny swallows hopping on the ground as if they’re evil geniuses plotting his demise.
Your three-year-old, whom you once found proudly grinning while sitting atop the refrigerator, has abruptly decided the swings are objects of abject terror that will, “Fly me to the ground.” (Translation: I’ll fall off!)
Your six-year-old who has slept like a log in his own bed for years is suddenly resisting bedtime and climbing into your bed with you at 3 am every. single. night.
Your happy little four-year-old suddenly becomes withdrawn and clingy, refusing to play with her playdate friends and wanting to sit in your lap. And, even worse, she’s started sucking her thumb again!
The preschool and early elementary school years are sometimes marred with exaggerated fears, odd anxieties, nightmares, night terrors, and other evidences of insecurity that can make the most confident of parents feel a combination of dismay, frustration, worry, and failure. Regression is a common accompaniment, from pottying accidents to night-waking to thumb-sucking. Often, acting-out behaviors also increase in this time period.
So, what in the world is going on?
No, it’s not an environmental-toxin-induced, super-early-onset of adolescent-hormone-overload. And, normally, it’s not a trauma-reaction to life changes such as moving or starting preschool or school, though those events can exacerbate the issue. (Be aware that these behaviors can, rarely, indicate an anxiety disorder, stress-overload, or abuse. If you suspect any of these things may be causing your child’s behavior, seek a professional evaluation.)
Typically, though, sudden anxiety behaviors in preschool/early elementary aged children are simply another normal stage of development, an indication of cognitive growth. In other words, as odd as it sounds, fear can be a sign of maturity!
Children in the three to six-year-old age range (Keep in mind that this is a rough age estimate. Children are individuals, not pre-programmed robots!) are beginning to realize that their parents aren’t the all-powerful beings that they once believed them to be. This realization can be very uncomfortable for them, causing them a great deal of unease as they are concurrently beginning to realize that there is a whole, big, wide world beyond their safe, little home, and that that world is full of potential dangers, hazards unknown, and just a lot of really big, scary things.
So what is a parent to do with their newly timid little house-mouse?
First, be aware that there is no one-size-fits-all miracle ‘cure.’ You know your child better than anyone else, and being responsive to her unique needs means taking your cues from her as to what may help or hinder her journey through this uncomfortable stage.
That said, here are some ideas that may help:
- Before forcing your child to ‘face his fears,’ consider whether someone throwing a spider on you if you are deathly afraid of spiders or locking you in a closet if you’re claustrophobic would be helpful to you in overcoming your fears. If the answer is ‘NO!’ then honor your child’s feelings and move on to another solution.
- When your child voices her concerns, resist the urge to minimize them. If she says, “I’m afraid of monsters coming in my window,” try not to say, “There’s no such thing as monsters.” Remember, she’s realizing you aren’t all-powerful, and that means you aren’t all-knowing, either! Rather than be reassured by your words, she’ll simply think you don’t know about the monsters and can’t help her and keep her safe. Instead, you can brainstorm ideas together to keep the monsters at bay. While you don’t want to say that monsters actually do exist, you can say something like, “Let’s think of ways to keep you safe. What if daddy throws the monsters away in the trashcans outside and the trashman takes them away?” Don’t be afraid to be seriously silly. In other words, take her fears seriously, but offer silly solutions that offer visuals of the monsters (or whatever the fear is) going away forever.
- Help your child to make a ‘nightmare safe’ out of a shoe box. At night before he goes to bed, sit with him and encourage him to put all his scary thoughts in the box for you to take and keep safely away from him while he sleeps. Let him know that if he does have a bad dream, he can come to you even if it’s the middle of the night, and you’ll help him to put the scary dream in the box so he’ll be able to go back to sleep.
- Avoid phrases such as “You’re a big boy now” and “Only babies do that.” Focus instead on encouraging your child to do the things you know he can do. For instance, if he’s usually able to climb the ladder on the slide but gets ‘stuck’ halfway up and asks for help, start by moving near so he knows you are close and willing to help him if needed. Then verbally encourage him, “I know you can do it. I’m here if you need me.” But don’t pressure him. If he gets upset or insists he can’t do it, help him down. Remember, it isn’t really about the slide at all. It’s about seeking reassurance that you can still be trusted to take care of him, that he’s still safe with you.
- If the occasional monster in the closet or under the bed needs to be evicted, try reading a book like Go Away, Big Green Monster! and make your own ‘Monster-Away Spray,’ to send all the scary monsters packing. The ones we made didn’t match the colors in the book perfectly because we just used foam stickers and googlie eyes from our craft box and blue spray bottles from the bargain bin at the fabric store, but my girls were thrilled with them. We filled them with water (and added a little spritz of febreeze in my six-year-old’s bottle because, “Monsters can’t STAND flowers!”) and then Daddy and Big Brother took turns pretending to be monsters and ran away squealing from the girls when they got sprayed. Role-playing with children (and just playing with them, period!) is a powerful tool in helping them learn coping skills. Now, a bit of bedtime spritzing in closets and under beds is all it takes to make my girls feel confident that they’ve rousted the beasties so they can sleep in peace!
- If regression is an issue, keep in mind that your child is self-comforting by returning to a time she felt safe. Rather than punishing, ridiculing, bribing, or in other ways trying to ‘control’ the behavior, offer comfort in appropriate ways to demonstrate that she can trust you to meet her comfort/safety needs. This applies to acting-out behaviors, as well. Set boundaries, certainly, and provide plenty of guidance, but remember that punishment tends to push children farther away rather than connecting with them. Since your child is reacting to a feeling of disconnection from you in her new understanding of your non-superhero status, pushing her further away will merely exacerbate the issue, not solve it.
- Just listen. This is the simplest solution to a rather complex problem. Slow down and make time to just take a walk with your child. Sit with him in the evening and watch him color or play a quiet board game with him. Lay with him in his bed for a few minutes before he sleeps and chat about the day. Just the fact of you taking the time to focus on him, to be quiet with him, to enjoy his company, and to reconnect with him will go a long way towards soothing his fears.
- Even if your child isn’t introverted by nature, the following table offers some wonderful tips that translate well into this brief anxiety stage:
Remember, just like all the other stages of development, this ‘age of fear’ won’t last forever. Staying connected with your child and keeping the communication lines open through the ages and stages of development will help to ease their way as well as keeping your relationship strong and healthy.
[Reprinted from Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon]
Almost from the moment a baby is born, parents teach them not to share. “No, no, sweetie. That’s mommy’s” and “That’s daddy’s, not yours” accompanied by the removal of whatever the forbidden item is are daily realities for little ones. This is unavoidable, of course, since bacteria-ridden keys don’t belong in little mouths and iphones don’t work well when soaked in drool.
But the challenge comes when our little ‘reflectors’ are expected to share their toys with anyone and everyone who takes a liking to them. (Keep in mind that “their toys” as defined by a toddler are anything they own, are playing with, want to play with, don’t want to play with but want to remain available, etc.) It’s fully acceptable for us adults to not share our ‘toys’ with others, though. How often do we invite friends over and hand them the keys to our car? And yet we get to choose our own friends, do the inviting, and we have adult reasoning skills and judgment in place…things small children don’t have control over or access to!
The primary learning mode for little ones is imitation, but still we expect them to somehow have the cognitive maturity to learn to share despite their parents not sharing their ‘toys’ with them and despite seeing their parents not sharing their ‘toys’ with their own friends.
On top of that, we’re expecting them to grasp some pretty intricate and tricky relational nuances. What does ‘being a good friend’ entail? Why is someone taking something I want an acceptable part of friendship? If they can take what I want, why can’t I take what they want?
And, to round off the difficulty, ownership is an advanced, abstract concept and sharing is even more so. The difference between sharing and giving away forever or between someone borrowing your things and someone stealing from you is rather nebulous in the mind of a child. Now add in a complete inability to grasp time concepts (They get my toy for a minute? How long is a minute? When mommy tells me ‘just a minute’ when she’s on the phone it seems like forever before she’s done!) and to understand other abstract concepts such as permanence, and you can see the murky waters tiny people are expected to navigate when it comes to understanding sharing!
Obviously, little ones need help overcoming all of these obstacles. Punishing them, calling them selfish brats, forcing them to share, etc. are all counterproductive, not to mention damaging to the very relationship that is pivotal to eventual understanding of the concept of sharing. Going back to that primary learning mode of imitation, the key to teaching a child to share lies in the trust relationship being built by gentle, responsive parenting:
1.) When a child is secure in their relationship with their parents, when they know they will be heard, when they trust that their needs will be met quickly and consistently, much of the impetus behind the refusal to share is removed simply because the child isn’t living in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’ response. (This is not to say they will share freely, no matter how gentle the parenting. The afore mentioned obstacles are still in play, and your little ones are still human. What it does mean is that some of the impediments to sharing are removed and the stage is set for learning.)
2.) Within the context of the parent/child relationship, be mindful of how often you say ‘no’ or ‘mine’ and try to offer alternatives in the moment to model sharing.
3.) Be aware of the fact that your child isn’t choosing their own friends at this point and neither they nor their little playmates are skilled socially yet. Stay nearby and in tune with your little one so you can step in and help them deal with any sharing difficulties such as snatching or tug-o-war with a toy before they escalate.
4.) Use concrete words to guide your little one in social situations. For example, try “Use your gentle hands” instead of “Don’t snatch/hit/push.”
5.) Resist the embarrassed-adult-knee-jerk-reaction of scolding your child, snatching toys from them to give to another child, and punishing your child for a normal developmental stage. That kind of reaction not only doesn’t model self-control, but it also doesn’t model acceptable social behavior, which is exactly what you’re upset about your child not displaying!
6.) Prepare for playdates by putting away any treasured toys such as special lovies or new toys that you know your little one will have trouble sharing. Honoring their feelings about these few special things will help them to feel more comfortable sharing their other toys because you are showing them in a concrete manner that you will help them to protect and preserve the things that matter to them.
7.) Play sharing games with your child daily to practice this advanced skill. When she says “Mine!” respond by smiling, picking up something of yours you don’t mind her playing with, and saying, “This is mine. I’ll share!” and hand it to her. Often little ones will start running around picking up their toys and bringing them to you to ‘share’ and wait for it to be reciprocated, resulting in a back and forth, back and forth sharing game that taps into another excellent learning mode for children…play!
Above all, keep in mind that sharing is a learned skill and it will take time for your small one to grow into a socially skilled little butterfly. Creating an atmosphere of trust, modeling sharing, and honoring their feelings will surround them with a safe environment in which they can develop the skills needed to become the most treasured of friends!
[Reprinted from Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon]
Talking to Teens
Communication is always a huge concern for parents in the teen years. The strong, open communication channel created in the early years through Gentle Parenting, coupled with the mutual respect and trust foundation established, provide a powerful platform for a healthy parent/teen relationship. Simply put, children/teens who feel heard and understood and respected don’t need to fight to be heard, understood, and respected. Or, conversely, they don’t slip away into the sullen, angry, withdrawn teen who doesn’t bother to even try to be heard anymore because they never felt heard or understood as a young child.
Again, this is not to say that the gently raised adolescent will be perfect. None of us are! But 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.
So, that said, what are some practical tips for talking to teens?
- Honesty is paramount. Teens will tune out faster than you can imagine if they sense you’re being less than transparent with them. (See ‘Dealing with the Hard Stuff’ below). Only in a mutually honest environment will a teen be willing to share their deepest fears, hopes, disappointments, etc.
- Along with this goes the need to be able to say anything, anything at all, and know they will be heard and accepted without judgement, without repercussion. Consequences for broken rules should never come as a result of a heart-to-heart discussion, or it may well be the last heart-to-heart your teen will have with you. You can and should honestly express your concern and even disappointment if appropriate, but don’t make it all about yourself or the conversation and chance for real connection will end.
- Respect is key. Embarrassment is like Kryptonite to a teen. Ridiculing them, making light of their feelings, minimizing their experiences by ‘one-upping’ them with yours are surefire ways to shut down a conversation with a teen permanently.
- Reassurance is healing. Teens need to know they are normal. They need to hear that everyone has ‘bad’ thoughts sometimes and that doesn’t make them ‘bad.’ Sharing some crazy thoughts that have popped into your head through the years and how “It’s not the thought, it’s what you do with the thought that matters” will help them realize they aren’t abnormal. (You’d be surprised how many teens think they’re abnormal! ‘Normal’ matters to them HUGELY.)
- Burn the midnight oil with your teen. For whatever reason, adolescents seem to be naturally nocturnal creatures. When the house is quiet and nothing is competing for attention, guards begin to drop, emotions mellow, and in the stillness of the night soft-voiced conversations invite deep, meaningful discussions. Don’t let the busyness and business of life rob you of these sweet moments with your teens who will so very soon be off on their own in the adult world.
Too Late for Teens?
So what do you do if you’re the parent of a teenager and have only just discovered Gentle Parenting? Is it too late to implement any of the Gentle Parenting philosophy to establish connectedness and mutual respect and ease the transition into adulthood? And what if your teenager is in full-on rebellion mode? Is there anything Gentle Parenting can do for you?
The answers aren’t easy, by any means, and they aren’t given with a ‘let them eat cake’ attitude as if I am unaware of how challenging making changes at this stage can be, let alone how challenging teens themselves can be! But, that said, there are some basic tenets that you can begin the hard work of weaving into your parenting even at this late stage. So put on your hard hats, because you’re going to need them!
1) Don’t engage! Win or lose, they’ll enjoy the argument, and you won’t.
2) Apologize! Take responsibility for past and present parenting mistakes. As mentioned earlier, teens can sniff out hypocrisy like bloodhounds, and acting like you’re perfect (which is how they’ll interpret that missing apology) smells an awful lot like hypocrisy to them.
3) Be real! Nothing will make a teen more resentful than you demanding behavior from them that you aren’t modeling in your own life.
4) Be available! If you haven’t been available in the past, openly let your teen know that you’ve made mistakes and would like to change, then let them know you are available to them, day or night, whether your favorite tv show is on or not, even if you have work to do, or emails to read, or phone calls to return…no matter what!
5) Communicate! If you feel your early parenting hasn’t established the open communication vital to a healthy parent/teen relationship, it isn’t too late to make some renovations to bridge the gap. Just start talking…about your own life, your own struggles, your own needs, and just start sharing, about your love for them, your hopes for them, your pride in them.
6) Let go! When a child reaches the teen years, it’s time to begin slowly releasing them from parental controls and start letting them make more of their own choices. This is not to say that you stop being their parent, but that you begin to consciously shift your role in your teen’s life further and further away from guardian and caretaker, and closer and closer to a supportive, accepting, mentoring role…in short, a friendship role that will set the stage for your relationship with your adult child. This conscious shifting on your part will help to make your teen’s transition from child to adult a cooperative effort between you rather than a source of conflict.
7) Move! No joke. If your teen is involved with a bad group, is immersed in drugs, gangs, etc…pack up and move. I know it’s easier said than done. I know there are all kinds of job and economic issues involved. I know it’s a huge sacrifice. And I know they’ll fight you on it. But if everything else has failed, removing them from negative influences and situations to give them a chance at a fresh start may be the best, or only, choice. And, letting your teen know that they are the first and most important priority in your life, more important than your job, home, the life you’ve built, or anything else, will in and of itself go a long way toward healing your relationship.
8) Pray! Don’t discount God in your parenting. After all, He’s the parent of a lot more people than any of us will ever be! God is very clear on the fact that He cares, that He listens, and that nothing is impossible when we ‘cast our cares on’ Him. So don’t forget to make daily calls (prayers) to the one Gentle Parenting Expert who’s on-call 24/7.
As I drove out of my driveway this afternoon, I glanced up and saw The Avengers racing around my neighbor’s yard, intent on fighting crime (or each other or the dog or some dragonflies, lol). It made my heart so happy to see childhood…just real, everyday, the-way-children-through-the-ages-have-played kind of childhood at its most honest and robust and carefree. I jumped out of my van and proceeded to confirm my neighbor’s suspicions that I’m a little off my rocker by wildly waving my camera in the air and pointing at her adorable boys roughhousing, silently asking for permission to play paparazzi. She nodded, and the boys hammed it up for me for a few minutes, posing and posturing in their wonderful world of make-believe.
I climbed back into my van amidst my little girls’ giggles (pretty sure they were laughing more at me for taking pictures of the neighbors rather than laughing at the boys’ antics). As we headed off on our afternoon errands, I thought about how the world has changed, but children haven’t. Yes, over time the world will do its share of influencing or corrupting, as the case may be, but children are born children just like they have been since the beginning of time.
Every child is born a fresh, new, open book with pages and pages waiting to be filled. Everything is new. Every day is an adventure. Every experience is an opportunity for discovery. Whether they’re boys or girls, whether they have average or advanced or impaired cognitive or motor abilities, whether they’re Asian or Caucasian, Black or Middle Eastern, Hispanic or (as a growing number are worldwide) a unique blend of races and ethnicities, they all start out the same…brand-new, innocent, precious beyond compare.
I am passionate about helping parents fill the first pages of their children’s lives with messages of gentle welcome, of needs met, of trust. I’m equally passionate about helping parents transition into later stages where they are simply there to offer guidance, support, and encouragement as their children begin filling the pages of their lives with their own choices, interests, and gifts.
I’ve heard it said that only those crazy enough to think they can change the world actually do change it. I honestly believe that changing the world starts at home with how we parent our children. Maybe my neighbor is right about me, after all.
*Book art via Anagram Bookshop*
[From Messages in a Bottle: Communication Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost available June 2013; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon.]
It’s seven o’clock and you’re finishing up the dishes before starting bedtime baths. And then it starts…the whining…every. single. night. Your four-year-old knows the routine. She knows you are going to read her favorite bedtime book. She knows you will let her choose which pajamas to wear. She knows she does have to brush her teeth. But that doesn’t stop her from standing in the kitchen night after night whining about the same things. So what’s the deal? Short-term memory loss? An innate desire to drive you crazy? A disorder of the vocal cords that makes using a normal voice impossible after the sun sets and every time she doesn’t get her way all. day. long?!?
Here’s a shocker for you: Whining is actually a sign of maturity! Yep, that unnerving, endless, nails-on-a-chalkboard, make-your-head-explode whine is a sign that your little one is growing up and, get this, gaining self-control! I can see your heads shaking, but read on, parents, caregivers, and bleeding ears of the world, read on.
Whining, believe it or not, is an advanced skill. Babies come into the world with exactly one form of communication~crying. Every need, every discomfort, every bit of loneliness or anxiety or frustration or stress has to be communicated through that one single venue. Over time as babies grow into toddlers, they begin to learn new ways to communicate, pointing, grunting, picking up a few words here and there, and they move into a more interactive stage wherein they make attempts to communicate in these new ways, but fall back very quickly into crying if they aren’t understood and responded to quickly.
As time goes on, toddlerhood gives way to the preschool years and language skills advance, becoming the main source of communication for a little one. But even so, their grasp of language is limited and their prefrontal cortexes (center of forethought/prethinking skills) are underdeveloped. This leads to a rather dichotomous situation in which they know what they want to say, but often can’t quite put the words together quickly or clearly enough for us oh-so-impatient adults.
As they work to communicate, their frustration levels rise and stress hormones sap the blood flow from those underdeveloped ‘thinking’ portions of their brains and, just when they need the use of language the most, they begin to lose the ability to articulate their needs. As toddlers, they would fall quickly back into crying at this point, but as preschoolers, their more advanced self-control helps them to avoid immediately dissolving into tears and, instead, they fall into the ‘middle-ground’ of whining.
Whining is, in fact, just an advanced form of crying and, as such, is just as grating on the nerves as crying because it is designed to get the attention of a caregiver. The difference is actually in our attitudes toward whining. We accept crying as a normal part of baby and toddlerhood, but label the whining of a preschooler ‘bratty’ and ‘spoiled’ and refuse to listen to them until they ‘use their normal voice’…just when they need us to listen the most!
If we, the adults, would adjust our mindsets to accept the normalcy of whining, it would lose a bit of its power to annoy and enable us to respond empathetically to our children when they’re mustering all their newly-developed coping skills to avoid a meltdown.
So, what can we do when our little ones lapse into ‘whine-eze’ and we feel like tearing our hair out? Well, as always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! Pay attention to the times of day whining seems to occur regularly and watch for triggers such as hunger, missed naps, over-hurried schedules, etc. and make what adjustments you can to prevent the whining before it starts next time.
If all else fails and the whining does commence, remember that your little one is struggling to communicate in that moment. Respond by slowing down, sitting with them or kneeling down in front of them, and giving them your full attention. Use a quiet, soothing tone to reassure them, and listen patiently all the way through as they work their way back through the frustration and find the words to express themselves. You may not be able to give them the toy or snack or whatever else it is they want at that moment, but giving them the chance to be heard is often enough to forestall an all-out meltdown.
More than anything, though, giving your little ones the gift of your time and attention when they need it most (and often deserve it least!) will help foster that all-important connection that provides the basis for gentle guidance and boundary-setting. And, as an added bonus, children who feel heard tend to outgrow the whining stage much earlier than children who feel like they have to fight to be heard!
One effective tool for use in helping little ones cope with big emotions is a Calm-Me-Jar. Toddlers, Tantrums, and Time-Ins, Oh My!
We’ve added a Dr Seuss Quiet Bag to our Parenting in Public: Toddler Time page, and we’re working on a Dr Seuss Quiet Book, too!
The most challenging, independent children tend to be the ones who need the most intentional parental reconnection. Strong will=Strong need! Testing the Boundaries~What’s A Parent To Do?
Do you ever stop and really hear the words coming out of your mouth and just cringe? I don’t mean the common, everyday phrases like, “Don’t throw your sister,” or “Please stop chewing on the cat,” or even “Take the elephant out of your ear, please.”
Although the afore mentioned might give us a moment of pause (i.e. Did I really just use those words in the same sentence?), the words I’m referring to are those vague, unthinking, and downright confusing words we expect small people to process, understand, and obey…
Small people who are still at the beginning of the language learning curve.
Small people who are just figuring out how to articulate their own thoughts and feelings.
Small people who are at our mercy if they don’t respond to our satisfaction.
Case in point:
A few months ago my then-five-year-old was dawdling and fiddling with…well, pretty much everything when I was trying to herd everybody into the van and head for an appointment.
I said, “Stop! Go!”
My little funnyface, being as precocious as she is witty, stopped stock-still, grinned, and raised her eyebrows, her eyes dancing in anticipation as she waited for me to hear it.
And then I did.
And grinned back and filled in the blanks, “Please stop fiddling with things, and please go to the van.”
But what if I hadn’t stopped to think? What if I’d expected instant obedience? What if her still-limited grasp of all the ins and outs of human communication had prevented her from being able to quickly fill in all of the blanks I’d left?
In many authoritarian households, my sweet girl would have been the one to suffer for the adult’s lack of clarity. With her limited ability to articulate her confusion, which would have been further inhibited if she’d been faced with a large, angry adult who may have been moving threateningly in her direction, she may well have been physically harmed in the name of ‘discipline.’ (Note: discipline and punishment are not the same, but society tends to use the words interchangeably, unfortunately)
And what of the other euphemisms and idioms and colloquialisms adults throw around like confetti on their own parenting parades? What must a small child think when the person they love deeply and depend on absolutely says, “You’re killing me!” or “You’re driving me up the wall!” or “I’m going to tear my hair out!”
Mommy can die? I can make cars can go up walls? Pulling hair hurts. Why would mommy hurt herself? Am I really that powerful? And dangerous? I must be really bad.
Of course, that’s not even addressing the “I’m going to tear you up!” and “Don’t make me spank you!” and “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!” crowd.
I can be torn up? Like trash? Am I trash? If I’m responsible for making you hit me, then are other people responsible if I hit them? I’m crying because I’m hurt and scared, that’s not enough? I must not be worth much.
The point is this: Language is powerful and complex. The words we use often have multiple meanings layered one on top of the other. And the words we don’t use, the blanks we leave for others to fill in, carry many levels and possibilities of meaning.
Adults misunderstand one another on a regular basis, project their own experiences and perceptions into other’s words, and make assumptions based on anything from an eyebrow twitch to a slight quirk of the lips. How can we possibly expect little human beings who have just embarked on their journey in this new world with its nuanced language and often distracted and impatient adults to be able to instantly decode, process, and respond appropriately to our amorphous commands?
How much better, how much more effective, how much just flat out kinder would it be if we were the ones to listen, to pay attention, to slow down and get down and choose our words wisely, carefully, and compassionately?
Isn’t communicating with these precious little sojourners in our homes for such a brief season of our lives worth the effort?
[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…”