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Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Right Way to Parent?

Smile

There is certainly no shortage of articles telling us all what not to do as parents, yet few offer concrete advice on what we should do. As a parent, I know how frustrating it can be to have all of your tools yanked away because they're all "wrong" and then being left feeling like you're adrift on this big sea without a paddle. (No pun intended.)

I was there once, too. I had this exact realization.
Okay, spanking is bad. Definitely bad. Now time outs are bad too. Wait, all punishments are bad. Oh, and imposed consequences? Not a great idea. So what's left?
Can you relate?

If you're floating adrift out there, let me throw you a lifesaver. Well, its more like arm floaties and a map, but just stick with me. I'm going to give you some tools you can start using now to replace your time outs, threats, and taking away privileges, but I'm not going to give you concrete advice on what to do either.

Sorry.

Here's the thing. The reason why there are so many articles available telling us what not to do is because there's been a ton of research in child development over the past few decades, and we've learned a lot about the adverse affects of traditional parenting methods. The reason we don't have a lot of concrete advice on what to do instead is because just about EVERYBODY is still trying to figure that out, and honestly, the ones who have it figured out and are telling us about it aren't telling us what we want to hear, because what they're saying is "this takes a lot of inner work and a lot of navigating the unknown until you find your course" and that frustrates us because we want quick fixes NOW.  We don't want to have to do the work. It's hard to examine ourselves, examine our triggers, our faults, our beliefs. It's hard to change.

So here's where I have good news and bad news. Bad news first. I cannot tell you what to do that is going to work 100% of the time, or probably even 90% of the time. Neither can anybody else. Good news! You don't have to be spot on 100% of the time, or 90%, and, even better news, it's really, really, honest and truly NOT about discipline. Don't be stressing out about how to discipline your kids the "right way" because 1) there is no "right way" so get out of the hamster wheel, and 2) there are so many things that go into parenting that are way more important than how you discipline. Here are 10 of them. 

I'm not going to leave you hanging! Of course guidance and correction are important. Don't make the mistake I did and say "Well, guess I can't do anything that won't harm them, so I just won't do anything." Yes, I was Mrs. Permissive for a little bit. Those were my "adrift" days. I can tell you that is not the way to go. Chaos. Not good.

Here come the arm floaties.

Instead of time out, try:

1. The calm down corner.  This is a calming area for your child to go to when he's dysregulated, upset, out of sorts, or just plain mad. This is not intended to be a punishment or a soft form of time out. The idea is to get your child's nervous system calmed down so he can then process the situation and accept your correction. It's optional for the child to go to the calm down corner, however, it should be encouraged, and you can encourage this a few different ways. 1) Model. When you get upset, go to the calm down spot, shake the jar, read a book. Hey, I use ours! 2) Go with your child. Get the book out and read to her. Shake the jar and talk about the glitter swirling with her. This is going to calm her down faster. Each time you aid your child in calming down, you strengthen her neural connections to help her calm herself down. 3) Never make the calm down corner feel like a punishment. Don't yell at your child to get the to calm down corner NOW! Make it a safe, inviting place. Put things in the box that are special and unique for your child.

We've had the calm down corner for a little while now, and when things start to get heated, my 5 year old says "I think I need my calm down jar. Mom, do you need yours too?"  It works!

2. Time-in.   From the article: Time-In
  • The adult invites the child to the time-in place. (However, a child who has lost control and presents a danger to others may need help getting to the time-in place.)
  • Time-in is time together. It promotes a cooperative partnership between adult and child, during which communication remains open.
  • Time-in focuses on regaining peace between all concerned, rather than on right or wrong. It assumes that the undesired behavior feels unpleasant enough in itself without adding to that pain.
  • Time-in is time to regain connection, balance, centeredness, and mutual well-being.
  • Time-in shows the adult's willingness to help the child. It shows that the adult's ultimate love and care of the child are unconditional and unphased by any undesired behavior.
  • Time-in is about feeling good. Children are invited to time-in as a positive reinforcement of the adult and child's caring relationship.
Instead of threats, try:

1. Choices. Give away power where you don't need it. I read that somewhere, and it's good advice. Kids like to have some control over their lives. Making choices for themselves is all different kinds of good for little ones. Instead of "If you don't eat your peas, you get no dessert!" you might try "Would you like peas or corn tonight?" Don't want to offer a different item on the menu? No problem. Even choosing a different chair or they're own utensils may make a big difference in compliance. 

2. Games. You're at the park, it's time to go, you've told your child it's time to go, and surprise, he's going back up the slide. Instead of saying "If you don't get in the car now, we won't be coming back to the park again!" try "I'll race you to the car!" That works for me! Or instead of "If I have to tell you again to pick up this mess, I'm putting it all in a garbage bag and sitting it on the corner!" try a beat the timer game, or who can pick up the most the fastest. 

3. Humor. Many times, being silly will break the tension, dissipate the power struggle, and put everybody in a better mood. When people laugh together, it opens up channels of connection and cooperation. 

Instead of "made up" consequences, try:

1. Problem-solving.  Throw the word "consequence" entirely out of your vocabulary and replace it with the term "problem-solving." Do you see how this changes the whole concept in your mind? Now it's not about coming up with something to do to your child, but it's about working with your child to find a solution. Having your child involved in the problem-solving process will not only teach him valuable lessons and instill self-discipline, but it will leave his dignity intact, and he'll feel good about himself and his relationship with you.

2. Natural consequences. These are things that happen naturally as a result of your child's action without any interference from you at all. If it's chilly outside and your tot refuses to wear a jacket, disengage from the power struggle and let her go without her jacket. She'll figure out that's not a good idea pretty quick. I'd bring the jacket along for when she gets cold and asks for it, but I'm a softie that way.

3. Logical consequences. Most often, the above 2 are the better way to go, but if you need a third option, logical consequences are consequences that are directly related to the misbehavior. For example, if your child throws a toy at her sibling, take away that toy. If your son is horsing around and breaks your mother's collector's plate, he can do chores to earn the money to pay her back. Remember to deliver these with empathy and be kind!

I hope these are helpful. I believe I mentioned arm floaties and a map.  These practical tools are going to help you on your journey, but they're not going to get you to your destination. This is the part where you're going to have to do the inner work. 

A map tells you where you should go, right? Here are some great places to "go" that will help you with the inner work.

Lu Hanessian is very inspirational in helping parents make the "parent-digm" shift. Check out her site.  

Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves is a book that is going to help you with the inner work as well. 

Changing Your Mindset is an article I wrote about how to begin the process of switching from fear-based parenting to love-based parenting.

TEACH Through Love is another great resources. There are great affordable classes and free audios.

AhaParenting is one more incredible resource. The answer to practically all of your parenting questions can be found on this site. I can't tell you how many hours I've spent reading through Dr. Laura's articles.

Good luck out there, and hey, don't forget to enjoy the ride.



4 comments:

  1. This is really a remarkable piece. Thank you.

    It's so important to understand that parenting is an experiment. There is no one size fits all approach (which is something I've learned about teaching, as well as every relationship I've ever had with another person). Former generations relied on things that "worked," like bossing the kids around, punishments, and generally using our larger bodies and key to the pantry as ways to control children. That they "work," however, is a superficial reality, one that might result in desired behavior, but teaches the lesson that "might makes right," and this is simply not what I want to teach children.

    It might seem overwhelming to have to un-learn so much while figuring out how to treat young children like fully formed people, but it is so, so worth it!

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  2. My friend, this post is so brilliant. I think you have hit on something so true for almost every parent: we are looking for someone to give us the answers, but we don't like the answers we are hearing because they're not easy fixes! The struggle to figure myself out so that I can parent from a mindful place has been my greatest challenge. It's something I work on every day & it's not easy. But when I clear something away, I see what a huge difference it makes in my parenting.

    And I love what Teacher Tom said about un-learning things. That is exactly how I feel most of the time! I love your suggestions, advice and list of resources. Thank you!
    - Gina

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  3. Great post! I especially like the part about problem solving. I've been focusing on this with my kids for a while now, and it really is SO helpful in changing the whole dynamic.

    When my 3 year old and 6 year old fight over something, I don't need to be the judge and jury. I don't need to figure out who's the instigator and who's the victim. I just help them find a solution. "L wants XYZ, E wants ABC. Do either of you have any ideas how we can make this work?" They come up with some great ideas, and when they are stuck, they see my ideas as the optional suggestions they are instead of top-down orders. So much better for communication!

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  4. Thanks for the kind words. Much love.

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