Monday, September 20, 2010
Adventures in Gentle Discipline
It's the parenting philosophy my partner and I *try* to follow. Teach them love and respect by loving and respecting them. Self-discipline, empathy, independence will naturally follow. No tricks -- bribes, threats, punishments.
On paper it sounds beautiful. Who doesn't want to connect with their child, see the world through their eyes and know precisely how to fulfil their needs? Frig, that also sounds like the perfect marriage. Since neither of us have been parented this way ourselves, it feels wholly unnatural. Yet, we both feel strongly that it's best for our kids to be the best people we can be for them.
In practice, I'm not one for following general platitudes. Just tell me what I need to do: Situation A, Reaction A. However this style of parenting is not formulaic. If you focus on their needs and have love in your heart, then everything *should* work out. As we start down this road for a 3rd time with our toddler, you'd think I could remember what worked. Warning, this is a long list and really just another of my posts that is more a reminder to myself then anything. So here goes -- my refresher (from a Mothering Magazine article):
Measures you can take to prevent a battle of wills :
1. demonstrate how you want your child to behave
It's easy to forget that my toddler does not understand the rules when I communicate them in the same way as I do with my older children. Sometimes I've got to GET OFF MY BUTT and just show him what I want. For example, if he pulls the cat's tail, I show him how to be gentle, rather than relying on words alone.
2. provide a period of preparation
Sometimes we role play appropriate behaviour. For example, if we're expecting company, I tell them how I expect him to behave. I've found that when I take time to prepare them about a difficult situation, there are fewer battles when we're in the moment.
3. make small concessions
These go a long way if done sparingly. For example, "I'll let you skip reading tonight because you are so tired". It's easy to be reluctant to give a little for fear of coming off weak. I can think of many times I've shot my partner dirty looks when I've heard him making concessions. But then I remind myself that there's nothing wrong with changing your mind and that 'peace' is what we're striving for.
4. look for underlying needs
I often forget that kids are generally impatient and need to explore. When faced with a situation where I know they'll be bored and cranky, I should look for ways to help them cope (such as giving them something to play with while waiting in line) or try to avoid the situation altogether. Losing my cool and yelling at them for being kids is what usually happens.
Easy techniques for when you are 'in the moment' and need to find a way out of the mess :
5. give information and reasons
For example, if my child draws on the wall, I explain why we colour on paper only. This works! Problem is my kids are so accustomed to having reasons for everything that when I am tired and rushed and don't have a reason other than "because I said so". they refuse to comply -- "give me a reason Mommy". Chances are, if I don't really have a reason, then it's probably just my hang-up and I should let it go. What does Barbara Coloroso say? Is it dangerous, immoral, illegal? If not, then what's the harm?
6. give choices rather than commands
This one is my favourite -- "Do you want to brush your teeth before or after putting your PJs on?" I know, it's not much of a choice. It's also super easy for me to remember because I hate being told what to do. Problem is, the kids want choices for everything and it can be maddening when there is only one choice. "This is not a restaurant" is also one of my favourite expressions -- "eat it or go hungry" isn't much of a choice either, but it's life.
7. make a deal, negotiate
My kids are highly skilled negotiators thanks to our over-use of this strategy. Of course the minute dinner hits the table, my 4-year-old now asks "How many more bites?"
8. change the environment
Things digress quickly when I hold fast to my position rather than thinking outside the box and looking for a win-win. For example, this article suggests that if your child repeatedly takes CDs off the shelf, move them somewhere else out of reach. Problem solved.
My instinct is to say 'no' to my kids. But then I have to deal with their disappointment. Sometimes I'm just too tired to listen to the whining, so I spoil them by giving in. What's obviously better is to (here we go again) seek a win-win. For example, this article suggests that if you don't want them to build a fort in the living room, don't just say no, show them where they CAN build one.
10. let natural consequences occur (when appropriate)
I LOVE natural consequences because I don't have to say a damn thing. For example, when my child doesn't hang up her bathing suit and towel, she may find them still wet the next day. Experience is their best teacher.
Touchy-Feely tactics (not my specialty)
11. acknowledge, accept and listen to feelings
I've blogged about this before -- my empathy skills still have a WAYS to go. I'm quick to wipe away the tears and tell them to suck it up. But that does not teach them to deal with their emotions. Nor does it send the message that they matter. To feel loved, is to feel understood. I'm learning to become a better detective too, by looking for the underlying feelings. For example, if my child hits her baby brother, I should encourage her to express her anger in other ways (she many need to cry or rage).
12. hold your child
This one makes me smile because back when we were dating, my partner used to wrap his arms around me in a straight-jacket-type hold whenever I'd lose it. It always diffused my anger and helped me realize that I was over-reacting. When it comes to my kids, holding them is often the last thing I feel like doing when they are behaving like monsters. However, as this article says, "it allows them to channel their pent-up feelings into healing tears."
13. remove child from the situation and stay with her
We try to do 'time-ins' rather than 'time-outs' because we've found that isolating our children just makes things worse for everyone. Of course it can also be a way for them to get attention -- I certainly don't want to reward bad behaviour. I've found that it works best when we don't make it pleasant for them. This article suggests to "use the time for listening, sharing feelings, holding and conflict-resolution."
14. do it together, be playful
Gotta hand it to my partner on this one, he is the King of Kid Fun. I still marvel at the ways he uses his goofy sense of play and humour to get the kids to cooperate. It can be as easy as taking turns brushing each other's teeth. I know I have it in me too (somewhere?). Can be tricky to find my creativity when I am so focused on the result.
15. defuse the situation with laughter
My partner recently commented that I'm too serious and rarely smile. *sigh* It's not because I'm unhappy -- life is good. I just find that I have to be serious with the kids if I want to be taken seriously. However 'good cop' can be just as effective. For example, "if your child is mad at you, this article suggests inviting them to express their anger in a playful pillow fight with you. Play your part by surrendering dramatically. Laughter helps resolve anger and feelings of powerlessness." I'm making a strong mental note of this one. After all, I should ENJOY my kids while they're still young.
16. do mutual conflict-resolution
I've blogged about problem-solving before. Good in theory (discuss ongoing conflicts, state your own needs, ask for their help in finding solutions, determine rules together), not so easy to put into practice, but we're getting there.
Things you can do for yourself to help ease the pain :
17. communicate your own feelings
Thankfully, I'm pretty good at communicating my needs. For example, "I get so tired of cleaning up crumbs in the family room." It helps build their empathy skills and at the same time alleviates some of my own stress.
18. revise your expectations
I have to remind myself that children have intense feelings and needs, and are naturally loud, curious, messy, willful, impatient, demanding, creative, forgetful, fearful, self-centered and full of energy. Try to accept them as they are D!
19. take a parental time-out
Probably the number one reason I need to go running. Nothing better than a break to regain your sense of composure and good judgement.