“How Can I Make My Children Listen To Me?”
Short answer – I don’t know exactly.
But I do have some strategies from my days as a teacher and my own parenting to share with you which may increase the chances!
When some of my readers told me that they struggle with getting their children to listen to them, I knew it was something that almost every parent can relate to. Because I certainly can! When our children don’t listen to us, situations can quickly escalate. A simple reminder that it’s time for them to do their homework can rapidly become a shouting, stomping affair (and not just by the children!). So, I decided to do some thinking and see if I had anything useful to offer…
WHAT’S REALLY HAPPENING WHEN OUR CHILDREN DON’T LISTEN?
I took a moment to think about what’s happening when our children “don’t listen” and I realised that there are two main scenarios –
1. Our children really aren’t listening, they’re zoning us out (how dare they?!)
2. Our children have listened but they’re not doing what we have asked them to do.
In our house, it’s usually the later (although I understand that, as they reach adolescence, children become more certain that what their parents are saying doesn’t actually apply to them and they nonchalantly ignore it much of the time). I don’t take it very well when my boys don’t do as I have asked. I feel frustrated and disrespected. But when I questioned myself, Are my boys really disrespecting me when they don’t listen? I had to conclude that, no, they’re actually not disrespecting me – it’s just that they don’t agree with me.
They don’t agree that they should turn the tv off to leave for school – they just want to see how the program ends.
They don’t agree that they should wear tidier clothes for our special family lunch – they like this t-shirt.
They don’t agree that they should come and set the table now – there’s playing to be done and setting the table is such a draaag.
When I remember that my boys usually aren’t meaning to disrespect me by not listening, it diffuses my emotion because I know it’s not personal and then I handle the situation more calmly. I can aknowledge that my children have their own concerns and opinions that deserve respect. Who’s to say their interests are less important than my own? As inconvenient as it sometimes is, they need to have a say in their own lives. As spiritual parents, we understand that our children are not ours to control and we are bound to at least take their point of view into consideration. After truly considering it, we can then fairly decide whether to insist on what we’ve asked for, compromise or allow them their way.
What I’m getting at here is that our relationship with our children is a relationship between equals. True respect doesn’t see age. Sure, there are times when I am certain that I know best – I’m the one who can read the clock and I know that, if the tv isn’t turned off now, we won’t get to school in time. But I don’t want to be heavy-handed in my authority or use my age over my children. Perhaps it really doesn’t matter what they wear to the family lunch – my family will just be glad to see them, chocolate-stained Star Wars t-shirts and all. We do not lose our power when we decide to allow our children their way – we are more powerful for sharing it.
5 STEPS TO HELP YOUR CHILDREN LISTEN TO YOU
How we approach things really depends on the scenario and the age of our children. But here are 5 general steps for increasing the chance of having them listen to us when it really is for the best, beginning with the way we tell them what we want –
1. Get their attention
Often, I can’t be bothered trudging upstairs to my boys’ bedrooms so I holler instructions to them from the kitchen as I chop the onions. Then I wait for the response – none.
The key is to get our children’s eye-contact before telling them what we want them to do so we know they are engaged. Looking into our eyes, they can’t pretend to themselves or to us that they haven’t heard. This may require us to make the effort to go up the stairs and maybe to temporarily remove distractions (such as toys or screens) to get our children’s attention. For young children, physically getting down to eye-level is helpful too.
2. Insist on a verbal response
When our children reply, they’re acknowledging that they have heard us. Sometimes, “ok” is sufficient. Sometimes, they need to tell us more, depending what it is that we have said to them. Again, they can’t deny hearing or understanding our message if they have responded appropriately. And it’s just good manners to respond when someone speaks to us.
3. Give them a chance to share their point of view
If they disagree with us, our children need to be able to say so. It is an important life-skill to be able to express a point of view that differs from someone else’s. Also, when we take the time to listen to what they have to say, it shows them that we care about their perspective and feelings. Disagreement doesn’t have to become an argument. If they do start arguing back, I tell my boys, “you can tell me what you have to say but do it respectfully”. When we hear our children’s point of view, we might find that we’re actually happy to accommodate them or are willing to compromise. All these things strengthen our relationship with them and, when we still insist on them doing what we have said, they are more likely to do it, having felt acknowledged.
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. – Steven Covey
Note of caution: With some nimble-tongued characters, it can be a slippery slope of persuasion and excuses not to do whatever has been asked of them. Be on the look-out and don’t get sucked in. If, after hearing their persepctive, I still want my son to do as I asked and the attempts to change my mind continue beyond reason, I just say “I have listened to you but I am not changing my mind”.
4. Explain our reasons for what we have asked them to do
When we decide that we are not going to change our mind, it helps for our children to understand our reasoning. “I don’t have to justify myself to my own kids!” I hear more than one of you saying. 😊 Giving them our reasons also shows them that we’re not being arbitrary or simply pleasing ourselves. Our children may even agree with us in the end. My son doesn’t like being late to school so, if I point out that he may be late if he doesn’t turn the tv off now, he’s usually happy to co-operate.
5. Use the sliding scale of insistence
When I have heard my son’s point of view and still want him to do as I asked, I begin lightly, with the assumption that he will now do as asked. For example, I might simply say, “So, come and set the table now please”. If he doesn’t, I gradually up the stakes – “If you don’t come and set the table now, I will have to take that Lego away until it’s done because it’s distracting you from doing your job”. etc. I try to use natural consequences as much as possible and not to manipulate. You might find my post Discipline 101 helpful here.
This 5-step process might sound like a bit of a palaver when you just want your kids to stop jumping on the couch. In some situations, you will zip through these steps in just a minute or two. But it’s helpful to have the structure in place, practised for when there are larger issues to be resolved.
IN SUMMARY – GIVING EVERYONE A VOICE WITHOUT GETTING LOUDER
Often, when we complain that our children are not listening to us, we’re really complaining that they’re not doing what we’ve told them to do. This erks us on so many levels! We tend to increase our volume to get our message across – and they do the same! But using a process like the one I’ve suggested respects and empowers both ourselves and our children. The final decision does rest with us, the parent, but we have to (and want to) take our children’s point-of-view seriously. Creating an atmosphere of co-operation instead of control in our homes reduces the amount of struggle and increases everyone’s willingness to help.
My son has actually told me a few times that I’m “always right” which I like to jokingly remind him of from time to time. But, when I take everyone’s perspective into consideration, I am doing the right thing.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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I came across Christina Fletcher of Spiritually Aware Parenting online, through our shared passion for seeing children thrive mind, body and spirit. Her website is full of great resources for parents wanting to honour and nurture their children’s spirituality. When Christina invited me to contribute this guest blog post, I was thrilled to be part of her great work.
Here in New Zealand, teachers at early childhood centres and schools encourage children to use the phrase “stop it, I don’t like” as a clear and respectful way to stand up for themselves when needed. So, I have taught my boys (aged 2 and 5) to use this phrase with one another at home. One morning, I heard my eldest saying “stop it, I don’t like it”, repeatedly. His brother obviously wasn’t listening to him so I went over to investigate what was going on. It turned out my son was talking to me!
“What am I doing that you don’t like?” I asked, incredulously.
“You’re being bossy”. I was told.
And I was. It was a humbling reminder that I had strayed from my intentions to collaborate with my boys rather than insist on unquestioned compliance. When we demand compliance from our children, we silence their voice and teach them to bow to the expectations others have of them. On the other hand, when we recruit our children’s co-operation, we teach them to value the needs and wants of themselves and others equally. They develop a sense of their power to impact their own lives and others’ in positive ways.
I believe we are spiritual equals with our children. I don’t think we have the right to thoughtlessly dish out instructions and expect them to do everything we say. Sure, there are occasions when our children just have to do as they are told, perhaps for safety or practical reasons, but we have to respect their needs and wants as much as our own. As a parent, I also want to teach my boys to regard everybody’s needs and wants equally themselves.
The way I parent, including the way I get my boys to do what I need them to do, is an important part of teaching them to value everybody equally and to approach life with a collaborative spirit. Being bossy is not a part of this! Here are some of the things I do to enlist their co-operation rather than enforce compliance –
I ask my children for help rather than instruct and demand. For example, our Wednesday mornings are particularly busy as my husband leaves home early for a breakfast meeting. Things need to go smoothly in order for my boys and I to get out the door in time. So, over breakfast, I tell them that I find it hard doing everything without Daddy’s help and ask them to please help me by being especially quick with their morning tasks. It’s a team effort and, lately, we’ve been running early on Wednesday mornings.
I thank more than I praise. When one of my boys has done something that is helpful to me, instead of praising (eg. “Good boy”), I offer a sincere thank you (eg. “I really appreciate you getting the mail, I already had my hands full”). Showing appreciation acknowledges their giving heart. Praise only affirms that they did what I wanted them to.
I acknowledge spontaneous co-operation. Doesn’t it make your heart swell to see your children thinking of and serving others of their own accord? My youngest often finds my things around the house and brings them to me in case I might need them. I give him a big hug of thanks for his thoughtfulness.
I get my children to do chores. In our house, chores are unpaid. They are an opportunity for my boys to co-operate and help with the smooth-running of the house. If my son doesn’t set the table, for example, we can’t eat. The natural consequences of co-operation are far more enjoyable than the natural consequences of not helping. My boys see and experience the fruits of their labour.
I co-operate with my children too. Co-operation is a two-way street and my example is one of my best parenting tools. I help my eldest to find the missing Lego piece he needs. Sometimes, I change my plans around to accommodate a playdate he has requested.
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent. – John Donne
Apart from being a respectful way to get our children to do what we need them to, a spirit of co-operation in the family helps them to see the big picture – they are a part of humanity and everyone’s behaviour impacts on the other people around them. They learn that, when people co-operate, it makes a positive difference for everyone involved. Co-operating also helps our children to see that they have something to contribute, giving them a sense of their own worth and everybody else’s.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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Giving our children screen time is something we parents can feel uneasy about sometimes. Seeing my boys staring at a screen in that zoned-out state makes me uncomfortable. The media regularly reports on research that shows screen time can contribute to attention issues, obesity and violent behaviour, among other things. I take all this on board but I am of the opinion that there is very little in life that is all bad or all good. Most things have the potential to be both and it’s how we use them that is important.
The reality is that our children have been born into a screen-centric era. Technology is used to communicate, entertain, do business and so many other things. I think it is less important to raise our children screen-free than it is to raise them screen-savvy. Use of technology is unavoidable and as parents, we need to teach them to use it thoughtfully.
My boys, aged 3 and 5, only watch children’s programs. They don’t play games because they’ve never asked and I’ve never shown them. Sometimes, I’ll search the internet with my eldest because there’s something he’s interested to find out, – such as, the answer to a question that arose at school, or how much pocket money he needs to save for the Lego set he has his eye on. Since my boys are so young, I perhaps haven’t encountered yet some of the issues you may have if your children are older. Even so, I hope today to offer food for thought to help you determine whether the attitudes and behaviour around screentime in your home are right for your family or need adjusting.
GOOD USE OF SCREEN TIME
So, here are some of the good reasons for children to have screen time, taking into account the needs of the whole family.
The child is at ‘breaking point’ in some way. When I can see that one of my boys is exhausted and struggling to cope, I find a bit of screen time gives him a chance to rest physically and a break from coping with the day.
The parent is at ‘breaking point’ in some way. When I’m feeling that my resources for coping with my boys have run out (perhaps because I’m underslept or they’ve been bickering all day), screentime can give me a break to make sure I don’t take my mood out on my children. (This relates to a recent post, Why Am I Shouting At My Children?!)
For enjoyment. Amongst all the motivations we have for our parenting decisions, we can at times forget that enjoyment is important too. I love to cry over Long Lost Family and my boys love to join in with all the Paw Patrol songs and catchphrases.
For the parent to get stuff done. This is a practical one, especially for those with younger children. When I’m packing for our family to go away on holiday, for example, I find it almost impossible to get done with the boys around so they might get a bit more screentime than usual.
As a practical motivator. In the mornings, my boys are allowed to watch tv once they are completely ready for school or kindy, including bags packed and shoes ready at the door. It provides incentive to keep them moving so we can get out the door in time. I think screen time should be used for mutual advantage when possible.
As a point of discussion. Programs and movies especially provide good material for discussion and we can talk with our children about them just as we might when reading them a story. The possibilities are endless. For example, we can discuss characters’ motivations & emotions, ask our children what they would’ve done in the same situation or which character they would want to be friends with & why. As they get older and are using the internet & social media there will be lots to discuss about how to determine if information is valid, what advertising is trying to do and how to use social media positively (but this is a whole other post!).
REASONS NOT TO USE SCREENTIME
Before I write this list, I put my hand up to doing every single one of them…more than once.
To avoid dealing with difficult behaviour. Needing a break sometimes is one thing but avoiding dealing with real issues is another. Sometimes getting to the bottom of our children’s difficult behaviour or sibling arguments can feel too hard and we know a bit of screen time would diffuse the situation for now. But, for a long-term solution, we have to figure out what’s happening and provide the necessary guidance for our children.
To soothe an upset child. Sometimes I find it hard to deal with my youngest’s emotions because he doesn’t have the language to explain all that’s going on for him. It is tempting to turn the tv on to distract him and allow his emotions to settle. But, by doing this, I teach him to avoid his emotions. I don’t want to teach my boys to soothe or distract themselves with the screen (or other things like food). Our emotions are important indicators of what’s going on for us and I want my boys to have the strength to face theirs.
Instead of play, physical activity and quiet time. I’ve heard it said that play is the work of childhood. It has so many benefits to all aspects of a child’s development – physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual. No one can argue that screen time isn’t sedentary (that’s often part of the appeal!) so it needs to be balanced with activity. I also think it is essential for children to have quiet time alone each day to connect with themselves for their spiritual well-being (see my post Just Be: Presence and Stillness) Screen time should be as well as these things, not instead of them. If our children are bored, it is not the time to turn the tv on but to encourage one of these things.
TIPS FOR MANAGING SCREEN TIME
It’s all very well to be clear about when we’re happy for our children to have screen time and when we’re not but we parents are just one side of the equation. Our children have their own intentions around screen time and they often don’t match ours. This can result in some difficult behaviour. This is what works in our house…for now.
Have clear guidelines for when and how long children can have screen time. When the rules are clear, consistent and fair, there is less arguing over them, the children just accept them. My boys are allowed screen time twice a day for 30 minutes at a time. I expect this to change as they get older.
No fussing allowed when it’s time to turn the screen off. We used to have loud whining, stamping and crying whenever it was time to turn the tv off and I dreaded having to announce that time was up. So I explained to my son how unpleasant & disrespectful his behaviour was and asked him not to do it. He kept doing it so I introduced a new rule – if you fuss when it’s time to turn the tv off, there’s no tv the next day. He missed out once…no fussing since.
Monitor the content and how it impacts our children’s behaviour. When my eldest discovered Star Wars, he started wanting to watch it. I’ve never let him watch a real Star Wars movie but I figured the Lego Star Wars movies would be child-suitable. Well, they weren’t suitable for him. After watching them, every interaction with his poor little brother was a reinactment of what he had seen. He made violent threats, rough and tumble got too rough and he wasn’t respecting his brother’s requests for him to stop. We gave him the chance to improve his behaviour but he didn’t so he’s no longer allowed to watch Lego Star Wars.
Be the example of moderation. Nothing speaks louder to our children than our example. If they see us glued to our screens, unable to get out attention, they will consider that the norm.
IN SUMMARY: KEEPING SCREEN TIME IN PERSPECTIVE
I wrote this post because I don’t think we need to feel bad about screen time in our homes but we need to be intentional about it. My intention is for my boys to be able to use technology as one of many tools for enjoyment and learning in their lives. Because they are young right now, I mostly manage their screen time for them but, as they get older, I hope they will develop an attitude that helps them to manage it positively for themselves.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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Thomas and I had a few items to pick up from the supermarket on our way home. Always eager to help, Thomas likes pulling the wheeled basket along behind him and eating the free fruit the shop puts out for kids. The two of us usually have fun together at the supermarket.
When we got to the supermarket, there were no wheeled baskets and the fruit box was empty. You can probably guess how the rest of this story goes.
Thomas, being 2, insisted on carrying the regular basket with only handles himself. It was awkward and heavy for him but I gave him a chance to try and to see for himself that he couldn’t manage it. Uncharacteristically, he was getting himself in knots over it and our shopping wasn’t getting done. In the end, I had to insist that I would carry the basket myself. I was ready for crying and complaints but not for what came next.
Tears, screaming, pulling at me and the basket. He had himself in hysterics. I am not exaggerating when I say the whole supermarket could hear Thomas – and I could sense their ears listening. I needed the few items on my shopping list and I knew it wouldn’t take long so I forged ahead.
But I had a choice to make about how I was going to forge ahead – with love or with fear. I chose love. And I mean self-love, not love for Thomas (bless him). He was in no state for reason or, even, comfort. He just needed his moment. So I mentally detached myself from Thomas. I detached myself from the shoppers and the staff. I detached from my embarrassment. “My child’s behaviour is not a reflection of me or my parenting,” I told myself as I charged down the aisles on my mission to get our essentials and get out of there. (Well, limped, really, as Thomas was semi-attached to me – but with the conviction of charging.)
I sensed the discomfort of the staff and shoppers at being witness to the scene I was responsible for. My strength was wavering as I was heading for the one last thing I needed when…a stranger came up to me and said, “Excuse me, can I give you a hug?”. She gave me a firm squeeze and said I was doing a good job. With her kindness and understanding, I was fortified enough to finish my job with composure both within and without. I am so appreciative of her support and, whoever you are – thank you, enormously.
I headed straight for the self-check-out as standing in queue wasn’t an option. Like the parting of the red seas, people made room for me and my red-faced child. A staff member pointed me to the next available check-out. The customer at the check-out next to me offered to scan my groceries through for me.
The whole ordeal felt like forever but was probably under five minutes, due to everyone’s effort. They and I both wanted us out of there!
By the time we got to the car, Thomas was hitting me in his frustration and overwhelm. I simply told him, “no hitting, hitting hurts”. He wasn’t in a place to receive any lessons. I figured I’d let him get it out and offer him comfort when he was ready to receive it. (see my post Helping Children to Manage Difficult Emotions)
So I had the joy of driving home with Thomas screaming in the back seat. By the time we pulled up outside our house, he had quietened somewhat but told me he wanted me to keep driving and to listen to “Yellow Submarine”, which we’ve been playing a lot of in the car recently. So I ended up reversing back down the driveway and cruising around the suburb with “Yellow Submarine” on repeat. I looked in my rear vision mirror and Thomas was happy in the back seat, pretending to play the trombone along with the music. He was reset.
That morning, I had listened to a podcast interview with Gabrielle Bernstein, author of The Universe Has Your Back as I was filling lunchboxes. The interviewer had asked her, “How do you know the Universe has your back?” This is how I know – the hugging stranger, the eager helpers at the self-checkout, Ringo Starr. My quick stop at the supermarket didn’t go the way I would have had it, but there was help for me everywhere I turned. I love the title of Gabby’s book and it is a truth I want my boys to know.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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At the end of my last post, Discipline 101, I promised I’d share my best discipline technique with you so I’ll jump right in.
Here it is –
Maybe you were hoping for something a bit more “practical”- 3 steps to take when your child’s behaviour goes askew, perhaps. We all want a magical, quick-fix strategy to manage our children’s difficult behaviour and the discomfort it can cause. But, when they require guidance, it’s our presence, not strategies that is needed.
By “presence” I mean having our attention focussed fully on our child and the moment we are experiencing with them (not on the phone call we just finished or where we have to be in ten minutes’ time). Our total presence with our children enables us to tune into them and to see what is really going on. Without presence, our ego gets loud – “he’s blatantly disrespecting me!” it shouts in our heads. “He’s not getting away with it!” With presence, our Love asks, “what is he needing from me right now?”
Two very different responses will come from these different kinds of thoughts. The ego will likely make a declaration of our authority and perhaps an arbitrary removal of a ‘privilege’. Love might acknowledge how our child is feeling, offer a comforting cuddle and, when they’re ready, an appropriate follow-up. (See my post, No Such Thing as a Naughty Child)
I’m not a fan of using strategies thoughtlessly, but some good ones have come to me in moments of presence that I’ve been able to reuse selectively in the future. One such technique is my “try that again” strategy for when my boys speak disrespectfully to myself or someone else. Jake went through a phase of putting up big resistance when it came time to set the table for dinner. I started feeling a sense of dread when I needed to ask him to do it because of the roaring, stomping and whining that would ensue. One evening, my simple request for Jake to set the table had evoked a shout of “No!” and an exaggerated stamp of the foot. He had struck me in a moment of presence and I realised it was upto me how things would go – whether I escalated the situation by arguing with him both about the way he had addressed me and the setting of the table or whether he accepted his job and did it, albeit grudgingly. I recognised that all he was needing was a bit of understanding that he didn’t want to set the table – he knew the expectation wouldn’t change. So I said to him, “try that again”. He looked at me, puzzled. “Tell me what you have to say respectfully”, I said. He hesitated for a moment then mumbled, “I don’t want to set the table”. “I know it can be annoying to be interrupted from your play to set the table”, I commiserated then continued, “ it still needs to be done so we can eat our dinner”. He went ahead and set the table. Through presence, I had reminded him to speak respectfully to others, given him a chance to say what he had to say and got him to set the table. Now, I just say, “try that again” when he speaks disrespectfully and usually the situation is diffused because he’s being polite and I’m listening to how he’s feeling. So simple, yet I don’t think I would’ve thought of it had I been trying to “figure out” what I should do when he refused to set the table.
I regard presence as an essential personal and parenting skill (see my post Just Be: Presence and Stillness). It helps us to discipline effectively and with Love. In any moment, disciplinary or otherwise, it allows us to really see our children and recognise what is required of us.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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With Christmas around the corner, perhaps you are bracing yourself for your children’s “holiday behaviour”. We know they will be excited and more tired than usual. They’ll likely test the boundaries to see if there’s any “holiday flex” in them too. Or it may be that, heading into the new year, you’re wanting to change the dynamic between yourself and your child so that it is more respectful and peaceful. This time of year can be particularly joyful and particularly testing for parents so it seems a good time to offer a few thoughts on discipline from a spiritual point-of-view. I try to appeal to the love in my children to encourage the best from them first but, there are times when discipline is needed.
DISCIPLINE: LOVE & FEAR
From teachers of A Course in Miracles, I have learned that, in life, we are constantly choosing between Love and fear. In a spiritually-led life, we aim to choose Love every time, though, of course, we don’t always manage to do so. We can bring our intention to Love to those moments when we need to discipline our children. To highlight the features of a love-based approach, let’s compare the two –
Fear-based Discipline: With a fear-based approach, we use discipline to control our children so that they behave in a way that we judge as acceptable. We don’t see our child in this approach, blinded by our own egoic fear – fear of being judged for our children’s behaviour, fear of losing control of our children, fear that our children won’t respect us… We go on to create fear in our children in an attempt to avoid the things we’re fearful of,making threats and dishing out punishments of various kinds. The punishments may be practical, such as removing screen time, or they may be emotional, such as humiliating our child or expressing our disapproval of them. Ultimately, we undermine their self worth when we discipline from fear. Sometimes their behaviour improves quickly, it may appear to “work”, but at the cost of our child’s belief in their own inherent value. We set our children up for a long-term struggle with fear and unworthiness.
Love-based Discipline: With a love-based approach, we use discipline is to teach our children. And what we are teaching them is to stay aligned with their own true nature. When disciplining from Love, we remember that our children are our spiritual equals, each a representation of God, just as we are. We know that they are essentially “good” and it is only their behaviour that needs correcting, not themselves. When disciplining them, we have unconditional Love for them in the form of non-judgement and respect, even when we feel differently about their behaviour. The discipline techniques we use when we are coming from Love can sometimes be slower to see effect but leave our child’s self-worth intact and empower them to be the marvellous person that they are.
PRINCIPLES OF LOVE-BASED PARENTING
S0, here are a few ideas to guide us in disciplining our children with Love.
Be Respectful We need to be asking ourselves when disciplining whether we are being respectful of our child or not. We can measure how respectful we are towards our children by the respect they have for us (this can be sobering at times). Our respect for our child can be shown in many different ways when disciplining them. For example, when possible, we should give our child a (one) reminder of the expectation and the consequences if they continue their inappropriate behaviour before we follow through. Suddenly springing a “punishment” on them when they’ve gotten carried away and forgotten to manage themselves is disrespectful and doesn’t give them the opportunity to self-correct (which is preferable for everyone). Another way that we unwittingly disrespect our children is to send them to their bedrooms as a punishment. I think we need to respect their bedrooms as their sanctuaries (see my post Home Sweet Home – A Place for Our Souls), a place they can retreat to when needed. Let’s not make it their jail.
Be Consistent By managing behaviour using a familiar set of expectations & consequences and applying them consistently, our children know exactly where the boundaries are and what will happen if they don’t stay within them. They can then deliberately choose for themselves how to behave (and sometimes they may decide the consequences for stepping outside of the boundaries are worth the excursion!). Consistency allows us to carry out any necessary consequences in an objective way – we can calmly follow our family’s process and detach our emotions from the situation to an extent.
Always Make Emotional Support Available To Love our children unconditionally is to do so regardless of their behaviour. When they are struggling with the emotions of a situation, we cannot withdraw our support without giving them the message that they are unworthy of our love in that moment. Sometimes, I offer a cuddle in the middle of a disciplining situation because I can see my son needs reassurance and help to manage his big emotions. A child’s emotions need to be allowed to settle before they are in a position to learn anything from the situation (see my post Helping Children to Manage Difficult Emotions).
Allow Life to be the Teacher Many situations are “self-disciplining”. By this, I mean that the natural consequences of a child’s actions are enough to teach them what they have to learn. In these situations, we need to step back a little and give our child the space to experience life’s lessons. I’ll explain this further in the section below.
I can think of three types of self-disciplining situation where the lesson naturally unfolds and we just need to allow it to.
A natural emotional response There have been times when Jake has done something he shouldn’t have and I have immediately seen the regret on his face. The point doesn’t need driving home any further. He has learned.
A natural consequence A simple example of this is when our child treats a playmate unkindly and the other child refuses to play with them anymore. Fair enough!
A natural opportunity to put things right For example, Thomas, like many two-year-olds, sometimes spits his food out if he doesn’t like it. I don’t mind (too much) if he spits in back onto his plate but sometimes he spits it on the floor. When he does, I simply get him to pick up the food and put it on his plate and remind him briefly of our rule. No fuss needed.
In any of these types of situation, there is no need to use an arbitrary punishment to make our point. ( What does his television-watching have to do with spitting food, for example?) There’s also no need to add heat to these situations with a telling-off or lecture. If we do need to explain things a little further to help our children grasp their lesson, we can do so in a calm, informative way. Fear-based parenting can see our egos wanting to have a bit of an authoritative rant at this stage, but it’s unnecessary and only serves to undermine our child and, in turn, our relationship with them.
IN SUMMARY: MANAGING OURSELVES
When disciplining our children, we are really managing ourselves! We are putting aside our fear and allowing Love to be the teacher. This can be hard to do when our buttons have been pushed and we are feeling tired & frazzled. If you see yourself in my description of fear-based discipline, as I do regularly, please forgive yourself. So much of our fear is unconscious and most of us are doing the very best that we can.
What we are wanting is for our children to come through the disciplinary experience a little wiser and with their self-worth intact. I’m sure I will come back to the topic of discipline many times, it’s complex and often highly emotional. I hope I’ve provided a good starting point today. Look out for my first post of 2017, “My Best Discipline Technique”.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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“Jake! How many times have I asked you to put your things in the car?! We haven’t got time for this!” I shouted, wondering how many of my neighbours could hear me right now. It was cold and I was trying to bundle my boys and all their gear into the car to get Jake to school on time. I grabbed Jake’s coat & bag off him and put them into the boot myself. My uncharacteristic outburst shocked him into action and he was in his car seat in a flash, ready for me to do up the seatbelt. But, as I clipped him in, he said, “You didn’t need to talk to me like that,” his eyes becoming wet. Of course, I knew he was right. I took a breath. “You’re right”, I said. “I’m sorry I didn’t speak nicely to you. I should’ve said ‘Jake, I’m feeling angry that you still haven’t put your things in the car and I need your help to get to school on time. Do it now please’”, modelling a more respectful tone of voice.
By giving Jake an example of a better response, I was trying to show him that it’s ok to express emotions but not to let them run riot. I started replaying verbal exchanges in this way a couple of months ago. The idea came to me once when the roles were reversed and Jake was shouting at me. I just said to him “try that again”. He knew I meant, “say that in a respectful way please” and did so straight away. I see adults and children as equals so, on that cold morning, with the clock ticking, I had to “try that again” too.
The above situation was not monumental, but it counts. The little, everyday interactions we have with our children are frequent and provide both the example & the practice ground for “bigger” emotional events – practice for adults and children alike!
HOW CAN WE HELP OUR CHILDREN TO NAVIGATE DIFFICULT EMOTIONS?
As parents, our hearts bleed along with our children when they are upset. Our first instinct is to defend and protect them but what we really need to do is to build their ability to cope with emotional pain in all of its forms.
How do we help them to accept their emotions instead of avoiding them?
How do we help them to express their emotions without disrespecting others?
How do we help them to grow from difficult emotional experiences?
How do we help them to respond wisely to situations that have resulted in uncomfortable emotions?
I could list many more questions that I had when I started writing this post. Through the writing process, I’ve come up with 3 steps that I think can help to answer them. Honestly though, I haven’t yet had to nurture my boys through any really overwhelming emotions so it’s a largely untested approach. As they get older, I expect it to be thoroughly tested out and can let you know how it goes! As I’ve said on my website, my posts are simply the explorations of an ordinary mother, intended to prompt other parents & caregivers to reflect, not necessarily to agree. So, see what you think –
STEP 1: VALIDATE & BE
When my boys are experiencing difficult emotions, I initially just “validate and be” with them & their emotion.
To validate, I name the emotion and offer my understanding, eg. “I can see you’re disappointed that it’s time to leave the playground, you were having fun”. When we’re upset, having just one person understand and acknowledge how we’re feeling helps at least a little, doesn’t it?
Then, I offer just to be with them and their emotion until the bigger part of it has passed. “Being” looks different depending on the age & personality of the child and the situation that has given rise to the emotion. It may be having a cuddle on the sofa, sitting with our child while they pace the room or giving them space but having them know I’m on hand while they take time out in their bedroom, for example. This “being” stage may last from one minute to, I imagine, a number of days. Whatever form it takes and however long it takes, the essence of “being” is that we adults do nothing but be fully present with our child – not judging their emotion or trying to stop them from feeling it or fixing the situation. We’re just there, letting the emotion take its course.
As a toddler, Jake rarely got upset but, when he did, he was loud and inconsolable. Nothing worked to calm him down. All I could do was wait it out and this is how I learned to “validate and be”. Once, at a mothers’ coffee group get-together, something upset him and he launched into a good, loud cry over it. I just sat and cuddled him, while some of the other mums looked at me as if to say “why aren’t you doing something?” They seemed to think there was a problem to be solved and started offering him toys and food to distract him – with no effect. I told them he’d soon calm down on his own – and he did. When I sensed he was ready, I played with him for a few minutes before he returned to playing happily alongside the other children.
“Being” with an emotion results in more calm but the journey to calm is often not calm itself. Our bodies and brains do all sorts of things to make us feel our emotions. So, stamping feet, crying, sulking, scowling is all permmited. My opinion is that everyone is allowed to be in a mood and to express it, but not to take it out on others. I’m finding this a hard line to judge. Jake has taken to expressing his anger with a loud dinosaur-like roar and it’s difficult to tell whether a roar has been directed at me because I’ve told him to set the table or whether it’s just a release to get it out.
Our willingness to be with their emotion shows our children that emotions are not to be feared or avoided. They are part of our experience in life but not part of us, so will come and go on their own, if allowed. Often, “validate and be” is enough on its own. Our children will talk if they want to, but they won’t always need to.
STEP 2: PLUG INTO LOVE
“The best way to get rid of the pain is to feel the pain. And when you feel the pain and go beyond it, you’ll see there’s a very intense love that is wanting to awaken itself.” – Deepak Chopra.
This quote popped up on my Instagram feed this week. I had to use it because it is so relevant to my post. I don’t think I understand yet all that it means but I think step 2 relates to it.
When I was losing patience with Jake as we were getting into the car that cold morning, without thinking about it, I took a breath get me back to centre. For me, even one breath can act as a switch. It doesn’t turn the emotion off but it helps my mind to plug into my higher self instead of the emotion. Plugging in, helps me to see the situation differently, in a way that is more loving and useful. Using their “breathing switch” is definitely something I could teach my boys.
In this step, we are choosing compassion. Compassion both for ourselves and for any other people involved. I think Love has a lesson or message to offer in every difficult situation. And, even when we are sure that we are the one who has been unfairly wronged, there is a lesson for us and about us. We can’t undo whatever has happened, but we can choose to grow from it.
After school yesterday, Jake was upset because he had been called a nasty name in the playground simply because he was in another child’s way. Logically, it seems simple – the other child had called Jake a name and he shouldn’t have done that. What more is there to it? But switching from the emotional position of seeing my son as a victim to seeing through the eyes of Love, I saw an opportunity for Jake to learn about self-love. I wanted to help him to understand that people won’t always treat him nicely but it doesn’t mean that he deserves to be treated poorly. I also wanted him to realise that the other child’s behaviour was not to be taken personally, it was simply that he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. These are seemingly little lessons but, remove the context, and they are very important ones. Through the experience and our discussion of it, Jake has begun to learn that he is worthy of good treatment and that, when he’s not treated well, it’s not personal. (If only I had understood these things about life earlier, I would’ve hurt so much less!)
With my eldest being only 5 years old, I currently have to do most of the work in this step. But by showing my boys how to look for Love’s lesson, they will eventually learn to do it on their own. As they get older, my job will be more to ask questions than to explain – questions that help them to connect with their true selves so they can interpret and respond to the situation upsetting them with Love, rather than with the emotion itself. They can also remember the lesson next time they find themselves in a similar situation, which may lessen the emotional blow.
STEP 3: RESPOND
Responding to an action comes only after validating, being with the emotion and tuning into Love’s wisdom. In the grip of difficult emotions, we are not able to deal effectively with the situations we find ourselves in. We might resort to blame, shouting, self-medicating, avoidance… Then we are left to deal with both our unattended emotion and regret over our reaction to it. So, once our child is present, calm(er) and plugged in, they are in a better position to decide on a response that is loving towards both themselves and the others involved.
Again, I will usually direct my boys at this stage while they are so young. As they get older, my role will shift from making suggestions to asking questions that lead them on their own answers. One day, they will be ready to decide for themselves.
Sometimes the conclusion is that there is nothing to do but accept the situation as it is and be prepared for a similar situation if it reoccurs. In the case of Jake being called a nasty name at school, he walked away at the time and there really was nothing more to do once he’d got home, had a cry and realised that it wasn’t personal to him. He agreed he will just walk away if he finds himself in a similar situation again.
IN SUMMARY: EMOTIONAL RESILIENCE
If we take these 3 steps when our children are experiencing difficult emotions, I think we can help them to navigate the emotion of their current situation but also begin to build their emotional resilience. By this, I mean their ability to tolerate difficult emotions without handing their power over to them. Instead, they can choose to receive the wisdom that comes with their pain – wisdom that can help them to respond with love to this situation and that may reduce the extent of their pain the next time they’re in similar circumstances.
PS: These 3 steps are the same for adults. Doing them ourselves will help us to guide our children through them.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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