[Excerpt reprinted from Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting by L.R.Knost. Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages; Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood; and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline by L.R.Knost also available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]
“Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires.”
Oh, the toddler years, those delightful days when little ones begin to discover that they are, indeed, separate individuals from their parents and begin to test the waters to see how far out to sea their little boats can take them when they’ve got a full head of steam. This is the age when parents begin to wonder how in the world to tether their little steamboats to the docks or scuttle them in shallow waters to slow them down.
Obedience becomes a hot topic at moms’ groups and men’s breakfasts, at playdates and on park benches as parents wrestle with this new developmental stage that often shows up, unwelcome and unannounced, and the desperate, bewildered question being debated is always the same:
“How can I get my child to obey?”
Take a moment and examine what that question really means, though. Does it mean, “How can I control my child?” or does it mean, “How can I help my child learn self-control?” It’s an important distinction because the first meaning is external and temporary (i.e. only effective as long as the controlling factors are ever-present and escalate as the child grows) and the second meaning is internal and intrinsic. In the first, the rudder of a child’s ship is firmly removed from the child’s hands again and again as the parent and child struggle for control of the ship. In the second, the rudder remains in the child’s hands as the parent guides, instructs, and leads the way with their little steamboat sheltered alee of the parent ship.
Parents often feel lost at sea, themselves, when it comes to the best course for guiding and growing their children in the storm-tossed waves and murky waters of childhood behaviors, and many churches try to meet parent’s needs by offering parenting books and classes. A vast number of those resources are, unfortunately, based on a punitive, authoritarian model. These books, and the classes based on the books, claim to be Biblical, but miss the heart of the Father entirely and mislead and even intimidate parents into believing that they must train their children into instant, unquestioning obedience in order to raise their children ‘God’s way.’
Consider, though, that Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruit.” (Matthew 7:16) referring to how we will recognize his children. And what is the fruit of the Spirit? Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Gentleness. Faithfulness. Self-control. What’s missing? Nothing. God’s Word is perfect. And yet obedience is not included as a fruit of the Spirit. It is not mentioned as a measure of love for God or evidence of a relationship with God. That certainly doesn’t mean that God doesn’t want us to listen to his wise counsel and remain within the safe boundaries he’s shared with us. What it does mean is that it’s a heart issue, not an obedience issue, and he wants our trust and thoughtful, considered cooperation, not our fear-driven, mindless obedience.
Did you know, in fact, that the word obey doesn’t even appear in the original texts of the Bible? When the English translators of the King James version of the Bible encountered the Hebrew words hupakouo/hupakoe and shema/lishmoa they discovered that there wasn’t an exact English equivalent, so they chose the word hearken in their translations which subsequently became an archaic term and was later changed to obey.24 So, what exactly do the original words in the Bible mean?
Hupakouo/hupakoe – to hear from above; to listen for; to lend an ear to1,2,3
Shema/lishmoa – to understand, to internalize, to ponder, to reflect upon1,2,3
And, in the negative form, rather than the word disobedience in the original texts, there is…
Parakouo – to close one’s ears to; to ignore1,2,3
The same mistranslation also occurs from the original Greek texts of the New Testament where peitho and peitharcheo are translated into, respectively, obey and disobey but actually mean…
Peitho – to be persuaded; to be moved; to respond25
Peitharcheo – to remain unpersuaded; to be unmoved by; to be unresponsive to25
Also translated into obey in English are the Greek words phulasso and teron and their various conjugations, all of which mean to watch, to observe carefully, to give consideration to25.
Taken together, the meaning of what is now translated obey in the original text of the Bible is more accurately read ‘listen to, thoughtfully consider, and respond to.’ That is a far, far different meaning than the ‘instant obedience’ often held up as the epitome of Christian faith and evidence of love for God and, by extension, the goal of so-called ‘Biblical parenting.’
Before we address the parenting conundrum of instant obedience versus thoughtful consideration, let’s look at several verses in the Bible with the original meanings restored:
He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and obey listen to, thoughtfully consider, and respond to it.” (Luke 11:28)
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey listen to, thoughtfully consider, and respond to my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. (John 14:23)
Children, obey listen to, thoughtfully consider, and respond to your parents in the Lord, for this is right. (Ephesians 6:1)
One other interesting note is that the word translated punish in the English versions of the Bible is from the Hebrew word avon and from the Greek kolasis/kolazo. Look at the contrast in meanings:
Punish (English) – to inflict a penalty upon; to exact retribution; to make suffer26
Avon (Hebrew) – to carry guilt; to bear one’s own iniquity1,2,3
Kolasis/kolazo (Greek) – removed; separated25
The word used in English translations of the Bible, punish, conveys an external infliction of negative consequences, while the original words, avon (Hebrew) and kolasis/kolazo (Greek) convey internal, self-imposed consequences (i.e. carrying the weight of guilt/shame) and natural consequences (i.e. being estranged).
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment bearing one’s own iniquity, carrying guilt, feeling shame, being estranged. (1 John 4:18)
Jesus came to take our place, to bear our iniquities, to carry our guilt, to free us from shame, and to reunite us with our Father, and the literal translation conveys that truth perfectly.
The thing is, instant obedience and thoughtless compliance based on fear of punishment will always be an external and temporary ‘fix’ for behavior issues, as evidenced by the increasingly defiant and disconnected Israelite nation in the Old Testament, while thoughtful consideration and cooperation are internal, a heart-deep and soul-to-soul connection inspired by compassion, respect, and communication. Consider this passage from The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline:
Someone once wrote, “Obedience is doing what you’re told, no matter what’s right. Morality is doing what’s right, no matter what you’re told.” History preserved the quote, but not the source with any credibility, but it’s a wise statement nonetheless.
Growing children with an inner compass that guides their steps toward kindness and compassion and generosity of spirit is far, far and away superior to training children to operate on automatic pilot. Parents often focus so much time and energy on trying to make their children obey in the small moments of life that they forget to step back and take a panoramic view of how their parenting choices may affect their children’s life course.
‘Instant obedience’ is the new catch-phrase in many popular parenting articles and books, but the reality is that, while instant obedience may be convenient for parents in the moment, it can have powerful negative impacts on the adults their children will become.
Training children into instant obedience is the equivalent of disabling their inner guidance system and strapping on a remote-controlled rocket. The end result may be adults who are easily controlled by others or adults who are deeply divided, constantly fighting the external controls, but hampered by an erratic, immature inner compass that never had the chance to develop properly.
Equipping children with a healthy, well-functioning internal guidance system, an inner compass, takes time, patience, and self-control on the part of the parents. Certainly not a convenient alternative! While it may not be convenient to slow down our hectic life pace and really connect with our children, it’s that connection that enables their internal guidance system to come online. While taking the time to really communicate may be a sacrifice, it’s in that communication that the directions on their inner guidance system are set. And, while working cooperatively with our children may take more time and effort, the fact is that inviting cooperation rather than forcing compliance raises leaders instead of reaping followers.
Clearly, teaching our children to control themselves is far more effective in the long-term than trying to control our children, but how, specifically, can we go about equipping them with those all-important internal controls?
- Model instead of manipulate.
- Invite instead of intimidate.
- Support instead of shame.
- Encourage instead of enrage.
- Teach instead of threaten.
- Listen instead of lecture.
- Help instead of hurt.
- Parent instead of punish.
Instant obedience and mindless compliance are poor goals, indeed, when raising children. A thoughtfully questioning, passionately curious, and humorously resourceful child who delights in inventing ‘compromises’ and who endlessly pushes the boundaries tends to become a thoughtful, passionate, resourceful adult who will change the world rather than being changed by the world.These are simple truths, and yet their effects are profound when we embrace them and incorporate them into our parenting. Connection, Communication, and Cooperation, the Three C’s of gentle parenting, are powerful and effective tools in guiding our children toward self-control to help them learn to steer their own ships, and, if we are to be fishers of men, then isn’t a ship headed out to sea exactly what each of us should be, anyway? Instead of mooring our children to the shore, let’s sail alongside them in the sometimes calm, sometimes stormy, but always glorious sea of life, keeping them sheltered on our leeward side until they are ready to sail alone.
“For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”
‘Encouraging Safe Negative Emotional Expression (i.e. Stopping the Peeing, Spitting & Kicking)’ by Guggie Daly – Friends of L.R.Knost Rock the Guest Posts while She Battles Cancer
A common stage that can start around age 2 but typically peaks by age 4 is the passive aggressive communication of negative feelings. This stage occurs on its own as a normal milestone because the child needs to develop verbal skills and emotional intelligence. But, for some children, the stage can be especially difficult due to various factors.
First, if the child has been emotionally invalidated frequently by other caregivers or cherished peers, this behavior might become a way to passively share emotions or cry out for help, or even attempt to take back some semblance of control. Watch out for common invalidating comments. Take steps to remind the adult that your child is learning and respect is required. Briefly but firmly reassure the child when invalidation occurs. Some examples of emotional invalidation:
Oh, you’re ok! Stop crying about it.
Hey! There’s no reason to be angry about that, quit it.
Oh, you’re being a scaredy cat. That’s not scary at all.
Why are you crying over such a silly thing? Don’t be a baby.
I don’t care if that makes you angry. That doesn’t matter.
I can’t stand when you cry like that. Knock it off already.
Your brother isn’t scared of the dark. Why don’t you be like him?
Besides directly hurting the child, invalidating situations deprive the child of an opportunity to practice emotional processing and emotional regulation. It’s a loss of skill development. Try whenever possible to defend your child from invalidation.
Second, if the child is experiencing any language difficulties or delays, or other circumstances and conditions that interfere with easy verbal communication such as hearing difficulties, autism, hyperactivity, etc, then this stage can persist because it is simply easier to communicate physically. Or it might be impossible from the child’s perspective to communicate in ways society deems appropriate. In these cases, removing the obstacle when possible and working on coping skills can help create a bridge from the physical outbursts to safer expression.
When your child only expresses negative emotions in your presence
Many parents report that their children do not act out at school, daycare, the other parent’s home, in front of peers, etc. But, seemingly the moment they get home, suddenly the children are throwing things, screaming, spitting, wetting their pants…why the sudden change?
If your child only expresses negative emotions in your presence, or in specific areas such as only at home, this is a sign that she feels safest with you. It’s not a bad sign. It doesn’t mean she’s taking advantage of you or that you’re too soft on her. On the contrary, it means she has big emotions boiling up inside her and she only trusts you to see them.
Think about it. If you’re really stressed out about something you feel is perhaps slightly embarrassing (read: invalidating or shamed by others) you probably keep it hidden. You don’t cry your eyes out at work. You don’t curse and go on about someone who hurt you at the playground. You wait until you’re home and with a safe person to finally let go of your feelings. Children do this, too. And if your child is doing this frequently, it could be a sign that he feels shamed, judged, or invalidated. Remember this when you are facing frustrating behavior, so that you can respond in a way that builds the trust while developing the communication skills.
When your child begins to use emotional outbursts to exert control
Children who feel stifled emotionally can feel powerless. This can cause intense feelings of resentment and anxiety. The child is stuck experiencing what feels like a very large crisis, but the adults around him ignore it or punish him if he lets them know about it. He’s new to the world and has very few skills for handling it, so he’s lost in himself and lost to others.
As he begins to act out, he comes to find that certain ways of expressing his emotion not only feel good, letting off steam and relieving that anxiety inside him, but might also cause a reaction in others. If it feels good and gets him what he wants, it must be a good idea to keep using it!
Suddenly, you have a child who spits on you when she’s angry or pees her pants when she’s rejected. Who throws toys at children at the park when she feels left out or pretends to choke on food she doesn’t like.
Emotions don’t just melt away. They will find their way out, and in children who haven’t developed healthy emotional skills, they will come out in ways we dislike. Ways that might hurt others or cause negative reactions. Ways that tempt us to rain down punishment and consequences.
If your child is falling back on crude emotional expression to get your attention, it’s a sign that she needs your help, not punishment at this time. No, I’m not saying to condone the behavior or to go all wishy-washy. I’m warning against hyper focusing on the negative behavior to the point that skill-building is squeezed out. Even if the child is punished enough to be convinced to stop the emotional outburst, she still needs to learn healthy ways to process and express her emotions. The need is still there. Start processing with her.
Great. So how is this done?
Let’s use a real life example of a 3 year old who is fully potty trained and does not wet her pants at preschool or with her father. But, she frequently wets her pants when with her mother. Not only does this warn us that she feels safe in her mother’s presence and that she has some big emotions building up inside her, but the child has also begun to use the emotional outbursts to cause reactions in others.
For example, when the mother walked away from the 3 year old to care for the baby, the 3 year old wet her pants.
At this point, a lot of different approaches could be taken ranging from shaming and punishment to completely ignoring it and remaining emotionless while cleaning up the mess. These are merely superficial responses, however, and do nothing to encourage her to develop emotional skills.
Let’s say the mother has just come back from caring for the baby and the 3 year old is sitting on the floor with wet pants and with an angry and slightly rejected expression on her face. What does the mom do for her?
She gets down on one knee, moving close to her, making eye contact and making physical contact such as by touching her arm gently. While keeping physical and eye contact, she begins assessing the situation.
Hey. I see that you peed in your pants. You must be feeling pretty embarrassed right now. Can you use your words to tell me why you peed your pants? Pause for response. You were feeling angry because I left you to help the baby, huh. It made your heart hurt? Pause for response.
You know, it’s okay to feel angry. That’s a strong feeling, but it doesn’t make you a bad person. Everyone feels angry sometimes. When I feel angry, it makes my stomach squeeze. What does it feel like for you? Pause for response.
Next time when you feel angry, I want you to use your words to tell me. Say, “I’m angry!” Let’s try it right now. Ready? Tell me! Pause for response. Remember, instead of peeing your pants, it’s okay to tell me that you’re angry. I’ll always listen to you.
And if you begin to recognize individual triggers, briefly remind her before they happen:
I’m going to focus on caring for your sister right now. Remember, if you feel alone, come grab my hand and tell me instead of peeing your pants.
I’m going to leave the room to make dinner. If you feel scared inside, come and get me, ok? Remember to keep your pants dry.
Tonight, we’re going to be very busy with the baby at the park. If you start to feel angry, be sure to tell me with your big girl words! I will listen.
Remember to keep it as simple or long as needed, pausing when needed and following cues to go where the conversation leads you. As children begin to realize how much connection they can make with words, lots of thoughts might tumble out in little situations like this. Try to listen intently and to provide a safe place for those emotions to come out.
Guggie Daly, taking a break from her studies in neuroscience to care for her four young children, hopes to share relevant, up to date information with other parents so that they can take advantage of foresight and not live with hindsight. You can find more information on her blog at Guggie Daly: Empowering Information and on Facebook at The Guggie Daily.
’12 Ways to Get Past No’ by Dr. Laura Markham – Friends of L.R.Knost Rock the Guest Posts while She Battles Cancer
“2 year-olds argue with their parents 20 to 25 times an hour.” — Study reported in Child Development Magazine
Between 11 and 15 months, we learn a wonderful word: “No!”
Our “No” is actually a big “YES!”
It’s an awesome, pure expression of our life force.
After the first cute “No” or two, our parents are usually less than delighted. In fact, this developmental stage launches what’s often called the “terrible twos.” Rarely are our ecstatic expressions of primal life force affirmed. Do you remember your father or mother saying:
“I love your independence and autonomy!”
“I see that you’re learning to stand up for your own truth, which will really help you later in life.”
More common messages are along the lines of:
“Don’t you dare talk back to me!”
“We’ll nip this in the bud!”
There may be the threat—or the reality—of punishment or physical force. There is almost always the withdrawal of love, as parents walk away when little ones tantrum–the only way they know to make their No heard.
Being powerless and utterly dependent, we soon learn to hide our No’s. We begin to resort to whining, passive resistance, and manipulation. By the time we reach adulthood, we’ve often lost touch with our own needs.
So when our little one falls in love with the word NO, danger signs flash inside us. We know that NO is dangerous, even if we don’t know why. We think we MUST teach him who’s in charge, right away. Defiance from our child, whether two or twelve, is met with an emotional slap-down as we put him in his place.
The problem is that defiance is a sign that your child is having a problem. When we just rush in with an iron fist, we don’t address the real issue. Which might be that she feels you aren’t listening. Or that she needs your help to cry. Or that she needs you to teach her how to express her needs and wants without attacking the other person. Or maybe she feels she’s sticking up for her integrity.
If she’s a tween or teen, that should make you rejoice. Research shows that teens who are willing to stand up to their parents are also more likely to stand up to their peers. (After all, she could just lie to avoid a confrontation, which is what most teens do.) And kids who can stand up for their own truth start as toddlers.
So even though you get triggered, this isn’t about who is in charge. Your child knows you’re in charge. This is about your child’s right to his feelings, even while you honor your responsibility to keep him safe and healthy.
It IS possible to say “No” in a way that honors your own truth, while still staying in positive contact with your child. It IS possible to honor both your needs and your child’s age-appropriate need to assert herself. The secret?
1. Stop seeing your child’s NO as something you need to overcome. Instead, see it as a YES offering in a duet dance of negotiation. Every dance is a chance to partner with your child, and that foundation of partnership will create more joy — not to mention better behavior–in the years ahead.
2. Don’t take it personally. Your child is allowed to have a different view than yours. Her willingness to be different is a strength you want to nurture.
3. Listen to your child’s No. “You’re saying NO, No bath! I hear you!” Sometimes being heard is all our child needs. And the more your child feels seen, heard and acknowledged, the less he’ll need to get your attention by being contrary.
4. Listen to the YES behind the NO. “You love playing with the toy horse; you don’t want to stop for a bath, right? That’s okay, you can keep right on playing with the horses… Let’s gallop them into the bathroom! They’re all dusty from riding all day!”
5. Sidestep the NO! by making your request an invitation to play. The secret to smooth transitions is using yourself as the bridge, and no child can refuse your invitation to play. “Climb on my back, Cowboy, we’re headed for the bathtub in the hills!”
6. Sidestep the NO! by giving your child a choice. Win-win solutions mean you both get what you need. “NO bath? Maybe you and the horses need to be hosed down in the kitchen sink?” Who cares where he gets clean?
7. Sidestep the NO! by honoring his autonomy without giving up your request. “NO Bath right now? Ok, Sweetie. We’ll wait five minutes. Then you may look at the plastic containers in the kitchen and be in charge of which ones you want to play with in the tub.” Telling your child he “may” do something is magic. You won’t be able to restrain him from the bath.
8. Join the No. In a joking voice: “Whatever you do, DON’T get in the bathtub. NO, NO, NO, don’t turn on the water!! NO, NO, NO, don’t take off your clothes!!”
9. Honor the autonomy under the NO.”Want to be in charge of turning on the water and deciding what toys go in the bath? Who should take your clothes off?”
10. Teach your child to express his needs without attacking you. “You sound worried…Oh, you’re worried about that song about the child who goes down the bathtub drain? Don’t worry, you can be in charge of the plug. We won’t pull it out until you’re out of the tub, and then you can watch the water go down. You’ll see that only water can fit.”
11. Just say YES! Match the exuberance of your YES! to your child’s No. Trust yourself to find a way to make both you and your child happy by responding to her No with all the Yes energy you can summon. “YES, it’s time for your bath, and YES you can bring your horses, and YES you can ride on my back up the stairs on my back up the stairs, and YES I love you so much and YES, LET”S GO!” Your child will match your generosity of spirit.
12. Honor the disappointment when you can’t agree with the No. When you need to put your foot down, you can say your No with empathy and compassion for your child. “I’m sorry, Sweetie, it’s time. That makes you sad, I see. You wish you could play more. I bet when you grow up you’ll play all night, every night, won’t you?” (That will get a yes!)
These examples are all from the toddler years, but if you start off raising your child this way, you’ll raise a tween and teen who can stand firm in his own integrity while he respects yours.
Remember that you can always find a way to meet both your needs. If you keep your sense of humor, and honor both your own NO and your child’s, you can always find a way to get past the word NO — to the YES! energy right behind it.
Dr. Laura Markham is the author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How To Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. You can get her free coaching posts right in your In Box at AhaParenting.com.
- ‘5 Keys to Setting Limits that Minimize Tantrums and Meltdowns’ by Amy Bryant – Friends of L.R.Knost Rock the Guest Posts while She Battles Cancer
- ‘What I Believe He Will Believe’ by Abby Theuring, MSW – Friends of L.R.Knost Rock the Guest Posts while She Battles Cancer
- My Cancer Story, Part 1: The Diagnosis
[Portions reprinted from The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline by L.R.Knost. Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood and Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages also available on Amazon and through 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, understanding them, 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
Five little pumpkins
in a pumpkin patch
Playing a game of
midnight pumpkin catch
One little pumpkin
tossed a yellow gourd
Up through the vines and
through the air it soared
Over the pumpkin patch
and into the trees
Right past a robin’s nest
and hive of sleepy bees
Down through the branches
and onto the ground
Under the vines the
gourd rolled round and round
Five little pumpkins
bounced around with glee
Bumbling and tumbling
to see who it would be
To catch the roly-poly gourd
and send it sailing high
So they could guess where it would land
when it fell from the sky
One pumpkin, two pumpkin,
three pumpkin, four
Five pumpkins play and learn,
discover and explore!
~Books and Activities for your Little Pumpkins~
Play at Home Mom has a cool use for a huge tarp, some glowsticks, and balloons that would be fun to adapt for fall…just use orange balloons and draw pumpkin faces on them to make your own pumpkin patch and then toss them around for some ‘Midnight Pumpkin Catch’!
My children always anticipate the first ‘holiday’ movie of the season, and reading this fun classic from the Peanuts gang is great, too!
All it takes is white streamers, tape, and some plastic spiders to create some super scary fun!
And here’s a cute printable tree template meant for weddings that you can use to make some autumn thumbprint leaves for a special gift for Grandpa and Grandma.
The Pumpkin Patch Parable is a sweet book to usher in the autumn season every year.
And another great idea from Play at Home Mom~a DIY magnet ‘pumkin-head’!
On a Winnie the Pooh style ‘long explore’ my little Pooh Bear discovered the world in ways only a toddler can in…The Many Adventures of My Little Pooh Bear
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…Tots to Teens~Communication through the Ages and Stages
From hitting to defiance to tantrums to testing the boundaries and more, here are gentle parenting tools, tips, and techniques…Practical Gentle Discipline
[Portions reprinted from The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline available November 2013; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages and Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood 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.
[By L.R.Knost, author of Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages and Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]
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.
So there you have it…the physics of parenting!
As writers, we’ve all had the experience of publishing a piece we’ve worked hard putting together, and then posting it to Facebook, sharing it on Twitter, and pinning it on Pinterest…and having it just sit there, unliked, unshared, untweeted, and unpinned. Now, logically, we might know that only a small percentage of our audience sees what we share at any given time. And we know that, while some pieces we write hit just the right note at the right time and go flying around the blogosphere, others might need time to catch on or might simply remain a lonely, little, unread, unloved piece of ourselves that we’ve bravely put out there and the world has overlooked. But even knowing all of that, in those times when we share and no one hears us, when we bare our hearts and no one responds, the silence can feel like rejection, the work can feel pointless, the investment can feel wasted.
Our readers have lives of their own that usually don’t include hours of research and writing and editing and formatting and tagging and linking. They may not realize that their likes, comments, and shares are major motivators for us. They might not understand that, while our passion for our message, whatever that may be, is what drives us, their response is like a pat on the back, and a simple “Well said!” can make our day. And they may not be remotely conscious of how deflating, demoralizing, and depressing that awkward, deafening silence can be when a post goes ignored.
Most of us don’t make a penny from our blogs, but we’re okay with the heavy time investment, the personal sacrifices, and the risks involved in sharing our hearts so transparently…as long as we are heard. And how do we know if we’re being heard? Our readers’ responses, their ‘likes,’ their pins and tweets and shares, and their comments that tell us they’re listening, that they care, and that they appreciate our work.
And what makes writers want to quit? What makes them want to shut down their laptops, hang up their message, and go back to watching sit-coms, reading books, or doing whatever they used to do when they actually had downtime? Well, certainly meanness from people who’d rather cause trouble than just move on to another site, for one, but often it’s simply the silence that drains away the motivation. Sharing your heart with a world that doesn’t respond makes a person feel small, insignificant, unappreciated.
Enter the child.
A child comes to his mother with a drawing that resembles a game of pick-up-sticks and proudly announces that he’s designed a new airplane. She grins and says, “Good job!” and he runs off happily to draw some more pick-up-stick inventions. But his mother is cringing at her choice of words, wishing she’d stopped mid-diaper change with the new baby and turned her full attention to her son and said something like, “I see that you worked hard. You used lots of colors,” or something, anything that didn’t pander to his need for attention or approval. What if she turned him into a ‘praise junkie’?!? Bad mom! she castigates herself. When her son returns a few minutes later and enthusiastically shows her his pick-up-stick submarine, she’s ready. She smiles awkwardly, nods her head and says, “You obviously are trying to use your imagination. I see that you are in a creative mood. What else are you going to invent today?” in a stiff and unnatural tone. Her son stands there for a moment, not quite sure how to respond, then shrugs and drifts off to another activity.
Now, clearly, using “Good job” as a brush-off in lieu of taking the time to pay any real attention to a child is the core issue that parenting experts are getting at when they encourage parents to focus on the child and the effort instead of the product or achievement. But so often parents read these kinds of articles and come away feeling, as a concerned mother recently expressed to me, “Like I’m doing it all wrong. I feel like I’m messing up my child when I tell him I like what he’s done.” That mother wasn’t brushing her child off with her praise. She was interacting with her child with a natural, honest enthusiasm that may now be damaged by something she read. It breaks my heart to think of her little guy running up to show her his latest creation only to be met with an unnatural and stilted response because his mother is afraid her instincts aren’t good enough.
Here’s the thing, a healthy, natural, loving parent/child relationship trumps all. It is the foundation for autonomy, not merely a satellite aid to independence. It is the wellspring of confidence and trust that leads to exploration, creativity, and innovation. It is the safe harbor from which daring and boldness and risk can be launched to take on the world.
A parent whose focus is on connection will respond to their child’s need in the moment, whether that need is praise for a job well done or encouragement in the face of failure. A parent focused on ‘getting the words right’ may well inadvertently leave their child’s present needs unmet because they are afraid to respond naturally.
Just as it is the hungry child, not the satisfied child, who craves food, it is unmet needs that lead to attention seeking behaviors and unspoken approval that can create ‘praise junkies’ as the unpraised child seeks to fill the very human need we all have for validation.
Just as with adults, and specifically with those of us who are writers, children need to know they are being heard and appreciated. A ‘like’ on a post to us is like a pat on the back to a child, and a “Well said!” to a writer is like a “Good job!” to a child. In the same way that these acknowledgements don’t undermine our driving passions, but support and encourage them, spontaneous and sincere expressions of appreciation to a child don’t undermine a child’s passion to learn and grow and become. It is, in fact, the exact opposite. A parent’s sincere, spontaneous praise encourages and motivates a child to blossom in the warmth of their approval.
With my six children, while they are infants I am happy to let them independently scoot and shuffle and roll in an effort to reach a toy, but I am there to offer help the second they express frustration so they will grow up knowing that they never have to struggle alone in life. When they are older and happily working on a drawing or popsicle-stick invention, I don’t hesitate to spontaneously express my enjoyment of their creation. That isn’t interference. It’s a connection point, a message that they don’t have to actively seek my approval for it to be theirs.
I know that the world won’t always treat my children kindly. I know that failure, disapproval, and rejection will inevitably be a part of their lives. But I want my children to grow up knowing that there is one place in the world where help is always available, and approval, acceptance, and appreciation are always freely offered. I want my children to have the assurance of a safe harbor to return to so that they will have the confidence to take on all the challenges the world will throw at them.
And so, parents, the message here is this: Read and research and educate yourself about all the various ideas and methods and theories about how to raise happy, healthy, confident children, but at the end of the day remember that you are your child’s parent. You love your child more and know them better than anyone else on earth. Don’t let anything stop you from responding naturally and lovingly to your child’s needs, whether those needs are for a high-five, a “Good job,” a thumb’s up, or just a great big bear hug.
Remember, the only bad praise is the sincerely meant praise that is silenced. ~L.R.Knost
“Well done, good and faithful servant.” Matt. 25:21
Listen to the sound of silence.
[Portions reprinted from The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline by L.R.Knost. Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages and Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood also available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]
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…)
[Reprinted from Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost. Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline also now available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]
I was one of those children who was incredibly picky when it came to food and, despite my mom’s gently enforced ‘one bite rule,’ I went on to become an incredibly picky eater as an adult, as well. I vividly remember as a young child gagging as I tried to force down a bite, my throat feeling like it was closing up, and like there was no way food was going to fit through there. As a very compliant child, it bothered me immensely to disappoint my mom, and, being the logical person that I was even at that young age, I remember feeling that her expectations were very reasonable and being frustrated at my own inability to comply.
Fast forward a few years to when I began having children of my own and needed to make parenting decisions about everything from breastfeeding to cosleeping to discipline. On my journey to gentle parenting I revisited my childhood memories often, finding myself appreciating my mom’s gentleness and her way of using silliness to help me see the ‘silver lining’ in life when things were hard. In some things, I chose to follow the parenting path my mom took, and in others I took a different course and blazed my own trail.
When I was at university, I worked as a certified nutrition consultant with a focus on natural approaches to nutrition, health, and fitness. I took that knowledge, along with my studies in developmental psychology, human behavior, and communication, and incorporated all of it into my parenting decisions.
As I muddled through the toddler years with my firstborn, I decided to take an approach to nutrition that was unheard of, as far as I knew. I would offer to nurse, offer the food on my plate, and offer food I’d made specifically for him, and then let my little man decide. That was the beginning of our baby led weaning, though I didn’t know that term at the time.
What I discovered then and have seen proven time and again through the years with my own six very different children as well as with the families I’ve worked with is that, given the freedom to choose, children will generally experiment with more textures and tastes than if they are forced to eat their parents’ choice of food for them. It’s simply human nature that, if a child (or an adult, for that matter!) knows that they don’t have to try a new food and that they can run to the trashbin and spit it out if they do try it and don’t like it, then they are far, far more likely to give it a chance. And if they don’t try it the first time it’s offered, or if they do try it and don’t like it, making it available again off and on in the future will give them more opportunities to try the food and perhaps end up liking it when their tastes mature a bit more.
In our home, my children know that if they don’t like what’s being served for a meal there is always an alternative in the form of a PB&J or a reheat later if they just aren’t hungry at mealtime, though if we’re sitting down together I do expect them to sit with the family and chat with us while we eat. Even if they like the food being served, they may not feel hungry for a heavy meal just then or perhaps the last time they ate that meal their tummy got upset or maybe there are other reasons they don’t want the meal that they simply can’t articulate. As the adult, I can choose to make an issue out of it and end up in an unnecessary power struggle, or I can choose to offer my children the same respect I offer myself, because you can bet your bottom dollar that if I don’t want to eat something, I’m not eating it!
Among the many benefits of this approach, beyond the greater propensity for a child to experiment with tastes and textures and beyond the elimination of mealtime battles, I also saved myself a ton of mommy guilt through the years. I had no way of knowing early on that my renaissance girl had Sensory Processing Disorder which was strongly affecting her ability to eat or that my little caboose was missing an enzyme and couldn’t eat meat. Had I spent their toddler years forcing foods on them and engaging in coercive or punitive mealtime parenting, the damage to our relationship, not to mention their health, could have been disastrous. Additionally, children who feel powerless over their lives can begin trying to recapture a sense of power by exercising excessive control over their eating with the danger of a resulting eating disorder when they get into their teen years.
So, on a practical level how do you get a toddler or preschooler to eat? Well, first and foremost, rigidly scheduling mealtimes creates a battleground in and of itself. Toddlers’ and preschoolers’ ever-shifting growth patterns cause them to go through slow-growth periods where they simply aren’t hungry and other periods where they’re hungry 24/7! Grazing, or eating multiple small meals and snacks throughout the day, not only fits these growth patterns better, but is actually a much healthier way for all of us to eat because it stabilizes blood sugar which, when low, leads to overeating as does simply eating because ‘it’s time.’ Teaching our little ones to listen to their bodies’ hunger cues is a hugely positive step toward avoiding obesity later in life, as well!
Secondly, a combination of keeping little ones active so they work up a good appetite (which also sets them on the path toward an active physical lifestyle!) and offering a variety of healthy foods throughout the day will typically be all it takes to meet their nutrition requirements. As a general guideline, toddlers and preschoolers need:
- Two to three servings of dairy (i.e. 1 oz. cheese, ½ cup milk, ½ cup yogurt);
- Four to six servings of grains (i.e. ½ slice bread, ½ cup non-sugared cereal, ¼ cup pasta, 2 crackers);
- Two servings of protein (i.e. two 1” squares of chicken, fish, or beef);
- Two to three servings of veggies (i.e. 2 tbs peas, corn, cauliflower, etc);
- And two to three servings of fruit (i.e. ½ banana, apple, orange, etc., ¼ cup raisins, blueberries, raspberries, 3-4 strawberries or grapes, etc)
Here are some fun ways to invite your little ones to make healthy eating choices:
- Need an easy and healthy breakfast for little ones? Try an ice cream cone filled with almonds & bite sized chunks of fruit & cheese!
- Start little people’s day healthy & happy. Make a smiley face clock on their plate with almonds, cheese & fruit with yogurt to dip them in!
- Try making ‘apple cookies’ (apples sliced into round discs) into faces with almonds, raisins & cheese!
- Sundae breakfast! Yogurt sprinkled with granola & raisins & nuts & drizzled with local honey (helps control seasonal allergies, too), yummy! *Note: Never feed honey to a baby under a year old.
- Here comes the sun! Make frozen pancakes more healthy by surrounding them with fruit & topping with berries & almonds & drizzling with local honey!
- Banana Boats~Slice of whole wheat bread spread with peanut butter & local honey & wrapped around a banana. Top with just a sprinkle of brown sugar for a treat!
- Double Trouble~Celery, carrot & pretzel sticks with a scoop of cottage cheese & a scoop of peanut butter for double dipping!
- Picasso PB&J’s~Round whole wheat flat bread with small dollops of peanut butter, fruit preserves & yogurt around the edge in a colorful palate with pretzel sticks for paint brushes!
- Boil some cauliflower, carrots, zucchini & yellow squash until a bit mushy & puree.
1) Mix with your favorite meatloaf recipe for a hidden veggie serving!
2) Mix with spaghetti sauce & freeze in single serving containers.
- Spaghetti Twisters~Make rotini noodles instead of spaghetti noodles for a cute ‘twist’ and add your special spaghetti sauce for a tornado of veggie goodness!
- Pizza Racers~Use rectangular flatbread & lightly coat with olive oil and broil for a couple of minutes to crisp it up, then add your souped-up spaghetti sauce & let your little ones top with mozzarella ‘racing stripes’ & pepperoni ‘racing tires’ for a super-charged dinner!
- Pureed cauliflower also works great mixed with mac & cheese, stuffing, and mashed potatoes for a hidden veggie to round out any meal!
[Portions reprinted from The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline by L.R.Knost. Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages and Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood also available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]
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. Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline also now available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]
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.
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!
[Portions reprinted from The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline by L.R.Knost. Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood and Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages also available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]
You look a little frazzled, Dude. Hard day?
Man, I love my mommy to pieces, but seriously, she does NOT know how to share. I took one little thing out of her purse, and she freaked! Snatching and saying, “Mine!” and everything. And right in the middle of the store, too! So embarrassing. Everybody was looking at me, rolling their eyes. I felt like a total failure.
I hear you! I have the same problem. And mine has been getting into EVERYTHING, too! Like, I stashed my cracker under the couch so I could have a little snack later, and she totally threw it in the trash! Who does that?
You think that’s bad? Check this. I’m minding my own business, just chillin’ with my toys, and she just snatches me up and carts me off and straps me in the highchair, no warning at all. And I’m not even hungry! Then she gets all upset when I do a little physics with my food. Btw, so cool how sometimes it falls straight down and sometimes it splats against the wall. I think it has something to do with the consistency of the food and the angle of my trajectory. Just a working theory atm, though.
Cool! Let me know what you figure out. How about this. I can’t get anything done! No joke! I spent all morning building this stellar block tower. Dude, you should have seen this thing. It was epic! So, I walk away for like one second, and she dumps the whole thing in the toy box! An entire morning’s work, gone. I don’t know why I bother sometimes.
Same! And what’s with this new ‘time-out’ thing mine’s into all of a sudden? I get the slightest bit upset about something, and, just when I need a cuddle, she sticks me in this chair and won’t let me get up! Like a chair is a good hugger? Really?
That is just wrong. Hey, how about this whole potty training dealio? She wants me to do my business in a little plastic bowl. We eat out of those things! Seriously, you gotta wonder what goes on in their brains sometimes.
You’re lucky. Mine keeps propping me up on that big white contraption with water in it. I could drown! And you should see what happens when she pushes down that handle in the back. Can you say vortex of DOOM?!?
Not cool, Dude, not cool at all! Are you dealing with tantrums yet? Mine has got a temper like you wouldn’t believe! Anytime she doesn’t get her way, watch out for the fireworks! She yells and flaps her arms and stomps around, and, I hate to say it, but she’s starting to hit. Like that’s going to solve anything. I have no idea how to handle these aggression issues! Why can’t they just be reasonable like us?
I think it’s a communication issue, myself. I mean, they’re just barely starting to understand us when we talk to them, so I try to cut mine a little slack when she starts getting frustrated. I just stay close, maybe pat her arm or offer her a toy. Sometimes she settles down a bit and starts smiling again, but sometimes she just needs a little time to calm down. I stay present, though, so she knows I’m always there for her.
I think you’re messing up there, Dude. You need to walk away, just walk away and let her deal. If you comfort her, she’ll expect you to help her process her emotions, and that’ll lead to dependency issues, mark my words! When she freaks, you’ve got to force her to control herself! When she’s ready to be reasonable and listen, then you can be friends again.
I don’t know. Mine flat out won’t listen. I can’t tell you how many times I have to ask her to play with me before she finally looks up from her toy. What is it with parents and electronics, anyway? And then all she does is say, “Just a minute, hon.” What exactly is a minute, btw?
‘Just a minute’ means ‘This is more important than you,’ Dude. Come on, get with the program. You have to make them pay attention! Yell. Throw something. Bite the cat. Whatever it takes! Don’t let them get away with disrespecting you like that or they’ll never pay attention.
Word. Talk about getting with the program, how do you handle the sleep issues? I just cannot take another sleepless night! She keeps me up for hours every. single. night. It starts out great, bath-time, a book and cuddles, but then she just clocks out like I’m some kind of a toy she can switch off when it gets dark! And, man, is it dark. I don’t know what’s living in my closet, but it is ginormous!
Sleep training, Dude! It’s the only way. They turn that light out and shut the door, you follow them! Every time. Or, if you’re too scared (totally get that, btw) then just start hollering and don’t stop. If you can’t sleep, make sure they can’t, either! And don’t give in. Not even once. You let them get away with that stuff one time, and you’ll never get any sleep, ever! They have to learn that it’s their job to take care of you day and night, even if all you need is a hug!
Got it. Oh, man, here she comes. Seriously, do you have this problem, too? We’re at the park. Everybody’s having a good time. And she just up and decides to leave. I think she’s got some anti-social tendencies. I’m thinking of having her tested.
Same here! But I’m working on it. They’ve got to learn it’s not all about them, and it’s our job to teach them. Look, here comes mine, too. Watch and learn, Dude. I’m using the arched-back, flail and wail today. Deep breath and, “No! No! Noooooo…”
- Your two-year-old digs his heels in at bedtime in an Oscar-worthy imitation of a mule. Give the ‘one slippery sock’ routine a try. Put socks on your feet and, when you call him to head off with you to begin your bedtime routine, start slipping and sliding on one side. Just little slips and slides will do the trick, along with a good helping of parental confusion over the possible reasons you’re having so much trouble walking. Little people love slap-stick, and you can bet your dawdler will hurry along to get in on the fun!
- Your eighteen-month-old suddenly stops enjoying the novelty of tooth-brushing and locks her little jaws tighter than a bulldog latched onto a bone. Try ‘tickling the ivories.’ Brush your own teeth first, giggling and dancing around the bathroom the whole time like you’re tickled at being tickled (while your little one watches, of course). Then release the gentle tooth-tickler on your most likely already giggling baby and say, “Tickle teeth! Tickle teeth!” while brushing those pearly whites.
- Your three-year-old eschews the use of shoes no matter how many choices of style and color you offer. Try the ‘superhero’ approach. Instead of the tired, old, “Time to get your shoes on,” routine…say, “The terrible-toe-tickling super villain is on the loose! We need some superhero armor on those feet, quick!” Be prepared to take the time to discuss the relative protective qualities of the available ‘armor’, but then get those toes to safety!
- Your six-year-old chatterbox could make a monk revoke his vow of silence just to say “Shhhhhh!!!” Try the ‘seven super silly seals sent slippery slippers to their sisters’ treatment. Give your little chatterbox a tongue-tying-twisty-treat and the promise of your full attention for five minutes when she thinks she’s ready to say it ten times fast. Then enjoy your two minutes of quiet until she returns!
- Your nine- and seven-year-olds are at each other like cats with their tails tied together. How about a ‘bag on your head while you listen to the ‘he said/she said’? When you head in to break up the gazillionth argument of the day, slip a paper bag with a great big goofy smile and a couple of googly eyes drawn on it over your head first. It may not solve everything, but it’ll be super hard for them to stay mad at each other, and a little levity might just diffuse the tension!
- Your high-schooler is one stressed-out teen with SATs looming, homework mounting, friend drama annoying, and hormones swirling. It’s time for a ‘pajama-night-out-orama’! Wait until the house settles, everyone’s in bed for the night, and all is quiet…then leave your spouse in charge of the house while you sneak your teen out the back door with you for a one-on-one run through Dunkin’ Donuts and sit in the car in your driveway stuffing your faces and letting her unstuff all the angst that’s been building up inside of her. Might not be good for your arteries, but it’ll do her heart a world of good!
Silly works! Don’t handicap your parenting by forgetting one of the most powerful tools in your parenting toolbox.
[Reprinted from Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost. Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood also 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!