Why I Don’t Tell My Children to “Be Brave”

Have you noticed this? –

When a child has fallen and scraped their knee, the adult on hand usually praises them “you’re so brave” – even if they do cry.

When a child is facing a fear, perhaps about to slide down a pole at the playground for the first time, we’ll often coax them to do it by telling them to “be brave”.

 

THE PROBELM

Of course, we’re meaning to be supportive and to encourage the child when we say these things, but let’s think about the messages our words are really giving them –

* what you feel is a problem.

* do not show the way you really feel – pretend if you have to.

 

The Short- Term Problem

When our children are encouraged to feign bravery rather than be honest about their feelings, it tells them that they cannot come to us with all of their emotions, certain ones have to be kept neatly tucked way, out of sight.

But, if they can’t come to us, the adults in their lives, when they are fearful or in pain, who are they going to go to?

After being told to “be brave” often enough, they may eventually conclude that it’s best to avoid putting themselves in any situation where they’ll potentially experience pain or fear –  because there will be no real support for them and the adults around them will likely disapprove of their feelings.  In trying to avoid pain and fear, they avoid the fullness of Life also.

 

The Long-Term Problem

If our kids learn that they must “be brave” as children, they will take that belief with them into adulthood.  Concerned with appearing brave, they risk becoming one of the emotionally disengaged adults we meet all too frequently.  They may even use negative behaviours to avoid their emotions in order not to let slip how they’re really feeling.

Most of us can probably think of a number of people we’ve met who are distant.  There’s a feeling that their walls are up and they’re hard to connect with or develop a meaningful relationship with. So we don’t usually bother.  If we do have a relationship with them, communication is difficult and frustration is high – for both parties.

When I was at university, I did an assignment on friendship.  I learned that personal disclosure is the number one way people make and deepen friendships, including disclosure of emotions – the good and the bad.

We want our children to be emotionally available to the people in their lives so that they can enjoy rich relationships.  Being honest about difficult feelings is a life skill that helps them to do this.  But they have no way of learning how to do this if they are told to “be brave” whenever they’re in pain or fear.

Of course, not every “be brave” is going to make a child risk-adverse and turn them into an emotionally distant adult who leans on destructive behaviours to help them avoid their feelings.  But I want to be intentional in my response to a child’s pain and fear, to make sure I am giving them the support they really need. We can teach our children that all feelings are normal, even uncomfortable ones, and that they are better expressed than avoided & denied.  The ability to both accept and express how they feel are skills that help them to be their authentic selves, which, from my spiritual point of view, is the purpose of parenting.

 

A BETTER WAY TO RESPOND

Thomas had his 4 year-old vaccinations this week.  I waited until the morning of the appointment to tell him about it.  I used a picture book he has in which a vet gives a kitten its vaccination to help me explain what was going to happen.  He was not pleased to get the news, saying he was scared and worried that it would hurt.  I sat him on my knee and listened to his feelings.  I told him I understood it was scary and it would sting for a short while and also that I would be right there with him.  Once we were in the nurse’s office, he inched his way under my chair, trying to hide from the inevitable.  I talked to him about how he was feeling, not labouring over it or trying to coax him to feel differently.  When it came time for the pricks, he squirmed and squealed a bit in anticipation and needed to be held firmly so the nurses could do their thing.  Afterwards, he had a bit of a cry and cuddled up on my lap for comfort.  Within a couple of minutes, though, it was if the pricks hadn’t happened.

My approach was to acknowledge how he was feeling and show my caring but, basically, to just be with Thomas, his fear and his pain.  He got through it and he learned that feelings are okay & they pass in their own time.

When we show that we accept their feelings, our children learn to do the same for themselves and for others.  At the moment, we’re talking grazed knees and vaccinations but we’re teaching our children to navigate the bigger fears & pains that they will face when they’re older – new jobs and broken relationships, perhaps.

 

CONCLUSION: WHAT IS BRAVERY, ANYWAY?

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers was my first self-help book.  In my mid-twenties, I would listen to it in my car (on cassette tape!), trying to muster some courage after years of fearful living.  The title sums up the best strategy for using in times of fear & pain – allowing ourselves to feel the feeling while moving forward.

Perhaps this is where bravery and courage are a little different.  Bravery is about hiding our feelings and white-knuckling the situation at hand, essentially so that everyone else is impressed by us or to avoid their disapproval.  Having courage, is to experience the feeling in full and show up for the situation on hand because we know it’s worth doing.

Bravery is putting on a face.  Courage is facing the fear & pain.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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What if I Can’t Think of any “Natural Consequences”?

WHAT ARE “NATURAL CONSEQUENCES?”

When it comes to discipline, natural consequences are held up as the ideal in many parenting circles.  Natural consequences occur without the parent creating them – Life is allowed to step in and becomes the teacher eg. If you’re late to bed, you’ll feel tired tomorrow or If you don’t share the toys with your friend, they might not want to play with you anymore.  I still think of natural consequences as the preferred choice to offer a child when needed but, sometimes, pointing out the natural consequence doesn’t really help.

 

WHEN NATURAL CONSQUENCES AREN’T SUITABLE

I give my boys a choice of consequences when setting non-negotiable boundaries (usually using the process outlined in my free Respectful Discipline Printable).  Non-negotiable boundaries are ones that I fully believe need to be insisted on, there is no room for compromise. Whether a particular boundary should be negotiable or not is a whole other blog post but, for me, non-negotiable boundaries are usually related to health, safety and respect. But there are 2 scenarios I sometimes find myself in when natural consequences aren’t suitable –

1) I have a non-negotiable boundary and the natural consequence is not enough to motivate my child into doing what I need to insist on. 

For example, bedtime is non-negotiable, especially if my child has to go to school or kindy the next day.  A natural consequence of them not going to bed is that they’ll feel tired the following day.  But, in my experience, telling a preschooler that they’ll feel tired tomorrow if they don’t go to bed now is not going to work – tomorrow is too far away for them to care and they can’t quite imagine all the implications of feeling exhausted.

Take this scenario which my husband and I have been suffering through recently – Thomas (aged 3) is messing about as he’s getting ready for bed, drawing the bedtime routine out with various antics.  He has kindy tomorrow and it’s already past his bedtime.  He’s ignoring all of my positive prompts to stop being silly and just clean his teeth (for goodness’ sake!).  He doesn’t listen when I tell him he’ll be too tired to enjoy his day tomorrow if he doesn’t get to bed.  My words have no effect, it’s as if I’m not even there.

2) I have a non-negotiable boundary and I can’t think of a natural consequence.

What’s the natural consequence for poor language? – the words have already been said.

What’s the natural consequence for throwing food on the floor? – the food is just going to sit there.

I’ve had times when I’ve been kind of stumped, unable to think of a natural consequence.

 

WHEN WE NEED AN ALTERNATIVE TO NATURAL CONSEQUENCES

When a natural consequence isn’t appropriate for one of these reasons, I turn to the next best thing – logical consequences.  In contrast to natural consequences, logical consequences are imposed by someone (us).  The important factor is that they are directly related to the behaviour.

If poor language is used, a logical consequence is for the child to leave the room so that others don’t have to hear them speak that way.  “Please leave the room until you’ve finished using those words, we don’t want to hear it”.  (If they won’t leave, I leave the room, saying I’m not listening to disrespectful language).

If food is thrown on the floor, a logical consequence is for the child to help tidy it up.  “If you choose to keep throwing the food, you’ll have more of it to clean up”.

And, if Thomas is procrastinating as he gets ready for bed, it’s already past bedtime and my encouragement to hurry along isn’t working, I tell him, “Thomas, if you’re being silly & you take too long to get ready for bed, we will run out of time for a story.  Are you going to choose to mess around or to clean your teeth now and have a story?”

 

WHEN LOGICAL CONSQUENCES DON’T WORK EITHER!

I view consequences on a sliding scale.  Natural consequences are the first and ideal choice.  Logical consequences are the next-best fair and reasonable choice.  Most times, they work well…but occasionally they don’t.   What do we do then?!

Not everyone may agree with me here but, if it really is a non-negotiable boundary, I’m prepared to get creative to teach my child what he needs to learn.  I will use illogical consequences in as fair a way as possible after trying natural or logical consequences first.  Take this current scenario that I’m working through with one of my sons –

He has been using unkind name-calling and  toilet talk recently.  I have non-negotiable boundaries around treating others with respect but a month of natural & logical consequences did little to improve his language.  So, he now gets fined $1 of his pocket money each time he speaks disrespectfully (I give him one warning/reminder first).  Before implementing this system, I talked to my son (again) about his behaviour and why it’s unacceptable.  I invited him to solve the problem and asked him, “what do you think we should do about this?”  He didn’t have any suggestions so I offered this idea of fining him.  It kind-of appealed to him because it felt a bit like playing police.  I explained to him that , he would need to improve his language over the next couple of days or I would start charging him $1 of his pocket money each time he used toilet talk or name-calling.  His language didn’t improve so, effectively, he chose this system of consequences himself.  When I do have to fine him, he accepts that he has to pay because the process is transparent and he got himself into this situation.  I have been as fair and respectful as I can in setting this boundary around resepctful language.  Fining him will not be a long-term strategy but the message is getting through.

 

IN SUMMARY – IT’S OK TO SET BOUNDARIES

I saw a YouTube video recently that opened with two parents saying they give their children no boundaries because they want their children to be free spirits.  I’m still not sure if the video was tongue-in-cheek or real because I turned it off after the first 3 sentences but my first response to it was that children are given parents for a reason.  Part of our role is to teach them skills and attitudes they can take into life, which is ultimately to empower them.  And, while I’m trying to give my boys more space as I parent & I do think we sometimes impose boundaries on our children that we don’t actually need to, there are absolutely some things we must insist on.    I don’t think, we need to be scared of setting boundaries if we know that they are fair and necessary.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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How to Respond to an Angry Child – A Step-by-Step Guide

This post about responding to an angry child  follows on from my previous post Anger in Children – What’s Really Going On?  You might find it helpful to read it first.

 

To be honest, angry people scare me.  I feel myself shutting down when one of my children starts shouting and stamping at me.   I don’t know what to do when another person is angry because I’ve never been allowed to get angry myself.  As a child, my anger was judged as “disrespectful”.  As a teacher, I had to “be professional”, always calm and reasonable.  In romantic relationships, my anger has often been ignored.

I know I’m not the only one whose anger has been silenced.  It is socially unacceptable to express anger, for women in particular.  But, when unacknowleged and unexplored, anger can become harmful to us, turning into depression, addiction and any number of illnesses & destructive behaviours.  Although our behaviour may be “unreasonable” when we get angry, we get angry for a reason that is asking to be addressed.  When I realised this, I was able to stop judging my boys for their anger and begin to learn how to help them through it.

 

STEPPING THROUGH ANGER – THE PROCESS

I wanted to find a way to allow my boys their feelings and empathise with their perspective while also upholding one of our highest values – respect for others.   I have found that the best thing to do in angry moments is to get really present.  This helps me to tune in to what’s really going on with my boys when they can’t understand and express how they’re feeling for themselves.

It also helps me to remind myself that, once we reach anger, most of us, no matter how old we are, are not in a position to be reasoned with.  So we cannot appeal to our child’s reason in the midst of their anger and we have to help them to get through it before we help them to learn from it.  So, here’s how I have started going about this –

  1. Acknowledge how your child is feeling. Eg. “You’re disappointed that you can’t go to James’ house today, you really wanted to go”.   If we only see anger and we’re not sure at this stage what our child’s primary emotion is, (the real reason they’re angry), we can acknowledge their anger.
  2. Allow your child their feeling. Don’t try to talk them out of being angry, distract them from it or criticise them for it. Being with them through all emotions is the nature of unconditional love.   This can be hard to do, especially in the company of others because we often feel embarrassed that all eyes are on us to see how we’re going to deal with our “naughty child”.  In such moments, I focus on staying present with my child as if no one else were around.
  3. If your child becomes disrespectful, either verbally or physically, state the expectation. Eg.  “It’s not ok to hit your brother, it hurts”.  We need to be brief here, not letting the setting of this boundary distract us from what’s really going on for our child.
  4. Give your child what they need to get through their anger. Some need a hug, others need space. My Thomas responds well to the assurance of a cuddle and calms himself down quite quickly on my lap.  My Jake needs space and only gets more enraged if I engage with him about the situation, so I might say to him, “I’ll be in the kitchen and we can talk about it more when you’re ready”.
  5. Help your child to understand and cope with their primary feeling. Once they are calm, they are in a better position to talk about what was going on for them.  Their primary feeling is the one that looked like anger but was actually something else. Eg. I find that my boys’ anger is often actually towards themselves when they feel regretful about how they have behaved.  So, in such a situation, they may really be wanting to apologise or make good with the other person.  Here our children can begin to learn how their emotions are their spiritual barometers (More on this in my post Anger in Children).
  6. Identify a strategy our child can use to calm themself down when they feel themselves getting angry in future.  Here, we can emphasise that it’s important to express their anger but that they need to do so respectfully.  We can offer suggestions, but, our child chooses for themself a way to calm down so they’re able to share their feelings respectfully.  Eg. asking for a hug, going to their room and having it out on a pillow, doing something they enjoy eg. bike ride or Lego, taking 5 slow tummy breaths.  In future, we can remind them of it at step 4.

Throughout this process we are not trying to control our children or to punish them but to teach them how to manage their anger and its underlying emotion.  How we go about each step will depend on our child’s stage of development and particular needs.  We also need to take a long-term approach, not expecting that, having gone through these steps with them a couple of times, that they will be able to manage their emotions independently – that’s our intention for our 18-year-olds but probably not our 5-year-olds.   And helping anyone in a state of anger is rarely neat and tidy.  I hope this framework is helpful but, in a state of presence, we ultimately each need to follow what our intuition tells us to do in the moment.

 

IN SUMMARY – BECOMING UNSTUCK

No more hiding from angry children for me.  No more punishing, placating, pleading and all those other things I used to do because I didn’t know how to respond to their anger.  I’ve found that taking this time to write a few posts about anger has made me far more comfortable with it and has enlightened me as to what would really help my boys when they’re angry.  I will leave you with this quote –

“The more you try to push a child’s unhappy feelings away, the more he becomes stuck in them.  The more comfortably you can accept the bad feelings, the easier it is for kids to let go of them”.  A. Faber & E Mazlish, “How to Talk so Kids will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk”, p42

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Anger in Children – What’s Really Going On?

Most of us have heard it said that, when someone feels angry, they’re not really angry, it’s a symptom of something else that they feel deeper down.  But often I forget this truth because, in the moment, it certainly feels like anger – all that boiling within and, usually, roaring without.  However, a few things happened recently which reminded me to look for what’s really going on beneath a person’s anger and have helped me to feel more confident about dealing with anger – mine and my children’s.

 

THE ANGRY FORK STORY

Begin with a recent Summer evening.  Having enjoyed a barbeque dinner outside, I was sitting at the patio table and my boys were playing on our lawn.  Jake picked a stray fork off the ground and I could see in his eyes that he thought it would be a fun idea to throw it.

“Please don’t throw the fork”, I said.

He threw it.

“Jake, I told you not to throw it”, I said calmly.

Jake immediately jumped into a defence of himself, accompanied by angry faces & gestures, volume quickly rising.  He ended it all with the exclamation, “You’re always so rude to me!”

“I don’t want him talking to me like that”, I thought but, perhaps thanks to the warm evening and a satisfied belly, I was able to keep calm and present.  Without knowing what I was going to say, I asked Jake to come and sit down next to me.  He reluctantly sat at the table beside me.

“The way you spoke to me wasn’t respectful.  What were you really trying to say?”

He was a little surprised by my question.  I think he sensed that I was right – his response to me was out of proportion to my simple statement that I’d asked him not to throw the fork – but he needed to figure out for himself why he was so upset.

“Tell me what you were trying to say, respectfully” I encouraged.

“I’m sorry for throwing the fork!”, he suddenly blurted, brow creased and avoiding eye contact with me.

“Is that what you were really trying to say when you were shouting at me?”

Jake nodded.

“Tell me if I’m wrong, but when you shouted why are you always rude to me? were you actually feeling bad that you threw the fork, even though I’d asked you not to?”  I didn’t want to put words in his mouth but I felt he perhaps didn’t know or couldn’t quite articulate what had happened for him and needed a little help.

“Yes”.

“You shouted at me, but really you were angry with yourself?  You felt kind of guilty?”

“Yes”.

He needed no reprimand for throwing the fork or shouting at me, the natural consequence – the discomfort of his guilt – was enough.

 

THE PURPOSE OF ANGER

It was an eye-opening conversation for us both.  It made me wonder, how often do we end up “disciplining” our children for showing anger when really they just had an emotion they didn’t know what to do with?  We need to teach them to take a moment to recognise their feelings and respond intentionally to them.  To do this, we can guide them through a kind of self-exploration suitable to their age and give them an opportunity to understand what’s happening for them, like I did in the angry fork story.  And, importantly, we need to do this without punishing or criticising them for their age-appropriate struggles with their emotions.

Guiding our children through their anger is part of growing their broader emotional intelligence.  Our parenting can help them to develop emotional awareness and an ability to articulate what’s going on for them.  In this way, our children can become more at ease with the range of human emotions available to them, less controlled by them and able to choose good-feeling ones for themselves.

Our emotions are like a spiritual barometer.  The good-feeling ones tell us we are aligned with our truth.  The bad-feeling ones show us something we need to be aware of in order to become more aligned.  By taking a moment to be with Jake’s anger, he was able to realise that he, in fact, felt guilty and it showed him that not listening to me when I asked him not to throw the fork wasn’t aligned with his true loving self .

Your negative feelings are there for a reason. Like pain in the body, they are a call for awareness and healing. There’s nothing wrong with you.  You are not your emotions.  But your emotions do come bearing lessons, and you can’t learn those lessons until you feel them. – Mastin Kipp, Claim Your Power, p.51

 

ADULTS GET ANGRY TOO

But developing this kind of emotional intelligence is a long-term goal for our children.  I cannot expect my 6 year-old to deftly manage all of his many emotions.  Especially as our emotions sometimes hide beneath anger, they can be hard to get to.  Heck, we adults struggle ourselves.  Here’s my story –

The next night after the barbeque, I slept in the spare bedroom downstairs because my husband was feeling unwell and I didn’t want to get sick too.  When Jake came in to see me in the morning, he said he’d vomited during the night.  When I got up, I saw that my husband had left a bundle of Jake’s dirty bed sheets in the laundry sink.  I started fuming.  Why hadn’t he rinsed and soaked them – or asked for my help to clean them?!  I might not be able to get the stains out now!  I splashed & stomped & barked around for a while and my poor boys steered clear of me.  Then I asked myself, “why am I so angry?” My husband had done the best he could in the middle of the night, trying not to wake me so I could have a good sleep.  I paused and realised that I wasn’t really angry, I actually felt guilty that he’d dealt with a vomiting Jake and the dirty sheets on his own when he was feeling unwell himself.

It really is never anger, it’s always something else. Thinking back to Mastin’s quote, my guilt was pointing to my discomfort at the thought of causing someone else any kind of trouble, an aspect of my sometimes shaky sense of self-worth that I’m still working on.

 

IN SUMMARY – THE ANGER ICEBERG

Later that day on Pinterest, I came across this anger iceberg infographic by The Gottman Institute.  I think The Universe wanted to drive the point home to me, make sure I really got it.

 

For me, it feels easier to know that I’m dealing with guilt or some emotion other than anger.  Anger seems so explosive and unreasonable (even in a person who quietly seethesrather than shouting) and I’m never sure how to approach it in another person.  But these experiences of late have given me some ideas about how to go about it.

(You may find this essay about how we can respond helpfully to our children when they are angry helpful).

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Giving Our Children a Resilient Sense of Self-Worth

My first ever blog post was called A Child’s Worth.  I still remember writing it, pouring over each word and struggling for hours to create a (rather ugly) website to publish it on.

I opened the post with the following quote –

“When we realise we are worthy, simply because we were born, we no longer look outside of ourselves for validation and approval.” – Emmanuel.

The point I wanted to empasise was that we’re here, so we’re worthy, no question, and my intention since publishing the post has been to pass the knowing of this spiritual truth onto my boys.  To give them a sense of worth that they would never have to doubt became the first purpose of Nurturing Little Souls.

Admittedly, my purpose was born of my own pain, the weighty sense of unworthiness I don’t remember not having.  As my spiritual journey continues, I am gradually believing more in my own worth but it’s possible that I won’t have fully “got there” in this lifetime.  When I wrote that first blog post,  I had hoped that I could somehow ensure that my boys would never feel unworthy like I have.  That was the gift I wanted to give them.

 

IS UNSHAKEABLE SELF-WORTH EVEN POSSIBLE?

But now I am starting to wonder if we can give our children an unshakeable sense of worth.  Don’t most of us live, to some degree or other, in a constant to-and-fro between fear (ego) and Love (spirit) – perhaps not Jesus, Buddha and Ekhart Tolle, but the majority of us for the majority of our lives?  I’m disappointed.  I wanted to spare my boys the pain of self-doubt.

I guess that, as I’ve written my blog, I have become far less idealistic.  Writing has helped me to get practical about spirituality, parenting and kids.  And I do see a beauty in the “mess”.  Abraham Hicks points out that, in any situation, the learning is in the contrast.  Through experiencing what we don’t want, we become clearer about what we do want.  Without the night, we wouldn’t know what daytime was.  Without the fear that we might be unloveable and unworthy, perhaps we can’t discover the true depth of our inherent worth?  We have to know both to know either – and so do our children.

Not to mention the times have been the one undermining my children’s worth.  I told my son once he was “annoying”.  When disciplining them, I have judged them in anger.  I have ignored their opinions and wants when it hasn’t been convenient.  I’ve done my share of parental ranting.  I have provided them with plenty of contrast!

 

RESILIENCE

I think I was right when I said in that first blog post that every interaction we have with our children is an opportunity to show them their inherent worth and I listed some ways that parents can do that.  Ultimately, my message was that our unconditional love reflects to them their unconditional worth.

However we each go about reflecting our children’s worth to them, though, the component I didn’t address was how to teach our children to cope in those inevitable times of self-doubt.  Perhaps they have disappointed themselves or been humiliated in some way.  Perhaps a parent has said something regretful to them in the guise of “teaching them a lesson”.  At these times, how can we help our children to return to themselves as an inherently worthy soul?

 

3 Ways to Teach Our Children Resilience When Doubting Their Worth

  1. Be there, loving them, despite their behaviour.
  2. Get their self-talk on-board! Help them to choose thoughts about the situation that support their picture of themselves as inherently worthy.
    Eg. Instead of “I missed the goal and let my team down”, “I gave the kick my best shot and tried hard for my team”.
  3. Help them to know themselves as Spirit and that they are not their thoughts & feelings. In this way, their sense of self isn’t tied up in these forms. The key to this is developing our children’s ability to observe themselves.  By watching themselves having a thought or feeling, they realise that their real self is the watcher, not the thoughts and feelings themselves.  We can teach them to watch through discussion and through teaching them practices such as meditation.

 

IN SUMMARY – A 2-PRONGED APPROACH TO SELF-WORTH

Trying to give our children pure, unshakeable self-worth is maybe impossible but it is not pointless.  I am not giving up, it is a high priority for me and a driving factor in both my parenting and my writing.  But I have realised that we need a 2-pronged approach when raising our children, involving these 2 things –

1. Reflecting our children’s worth to them.

2 Enabling our children to return to their sense of self-worth when it has been undermined in some way (resilience).

 

To finish, I’d like to share my favourite quote of my own from that first blog post

a person's worth doesn't need measuring, it just is

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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How to Make Discipline Easier and Do Less of It

The quality of our relationship with our children determines how we go about our many tasks of parenting – disciplining, instructing, making decisions… If you’ve been reading over the past few weeks, you’ll know that discipline is a hot topic for me right now and this post is about how nurturing our relationship with our children makes it easier for us to discipline them.  I don’t mean that it allows us to control them and punish them but to teach them, get more co-operation and reduce the need for discipline in the first place.

 

HOW QUALITY OF RELATIONSHIP IMPACTS OUR CHILDREN’S BEHAVIOUR & DISCIPLINE

Our ego wants a relationship with our children in which we are in charge, things go smoothly and they go our way.  But this kind of relationship becomes a power struggle, an all-too-familiar battle of wills.

On a soul level, though, both our children and ourselves know that we are equals and there is no question that our love and respect for one another is mutual and unconditional.  We want to see that expressed in our relationship.  We both long for connection.

Making that connection with our children has incredibly positive impacts on how they feel about themselves, how they feel about us and on how they behave –

  • Giving our children our attention affirms them.  It shows them that we like them and we think they’re worth spending time with.  This affirmation is something all humans crave.  Giving our attention to our children in positive ways means they don’t have to try to get it, perhaps through inappropriate behaviour.
  • Being approachable and responsive to their needs gives our children a sense of security & support.  It reduces the likelihood that their needs will be expressed as difficult behaviour.
  • Seeking our children’s points-of-view and involving them in decision-making (as appropriate) shares the power in the relationship and builds our children’s trust that we are fair.  They then know that, when we have to set boundaries, it’s not just on a whim, we have considered their perspective and they are, therefore, more likely to be co-operative.
  • Showing that our love and caring for them doesn’t change no matter how they behave is essential to a child’s sense of self-worth.  When it comes to their behaviour, they can’t feel bad about themselves and do the right thing.  So, in loving them unconditionally, we also support their positive behaviour.

Every interaction with our child either is an opportunity to strengthen our relationship with them or to chip away at it.  That includes when we discipline.  The focus of my respectful discipline resource is on using discipline to teach, connect, learn what’s really going on for our child and give them choice (whether to experience the natural consequences of their behaviour or to change it).  There is no judgement of them, threatening, manipulation or over-powering – all of which can appear to “work” in the short-term but ultimately undermine our relationship with our child.

 

WAYS TO BUILD OR REPAIR OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH OUR CHILD

Struggling again & again with our children deteriorates our relationship with them and we find the tone of our days spiralling downwards into resentment and shouting.  As I wrote about recently in my post My 6-Year Old Put Me In Time Out, I found myself on that slippery slope.  I now have a bit of repair work to do both by disciplining my son differently and putting some intention into deepening our connection.

 

 “Children who disrespect us are showing that they don’t feel enough connection, warmth and respect from us” – Dr Laura Markham.

 

When our connection with our child is needing repair, we can look at the list above to see what’s been missing. For my son and I, I think the missing component has been my attention – both in terms of time and presence.  It’s not that I ignore him but, particularly on school days, organising our family’s life keeps me occupied and I don’t make enough time to just be with them.  So, I’m getting deliberate about being more generous with my attention.

I’m sharing my intentions with you here in case it’s helpful because I think finding the time for the mental & physical work of parenting as well as enjoying our children is a challenge many parents are familiar with.  Here is what I will be doing –

  • Getting down on the floor and playing their games with them is the ultimate quality time for both of my sons.  In my post Mummy, Will You Play With Me? I shared ways to fit playtime into a busy day.
  • My son loves “talking time” when I tuck him into bed so I will allow more time to chat together at the end of the day.  Communication seems to be at it’s best at this time of day.
  • Stopping what I’m doing, making eye contact and giving my son my full attention when he’s telling me something that’s important to him.  (My eyes glaze over at the first mention of Star Wars so I am working on actually listening to the intricacies of the battles so I can then give a meaningful response.)
  • Giving attention to the good stuff.  We’ve all heard that where our attention goes, energy flows.  When things are difficult between my son and I, it’s easy to only see everything that feels “wrong” and I find myself kind of picking at him.  I want to make the effort to acknowledge all the great stuff about him (of which there is PLENTY).
  • Giving him affection.  “Just because” squeezes and putting my arm around him as we walk make him glow.

 

IN SUMMARY – RELATIONSHIP AS THE FOUNDATION

While our relationship with our children is one between equals, it is upto us as the adults to set the tone of the relationship.  Ultimately, our children will follow our lead.  So it is our choice whether we intentionally create respect, communication & connection or fear, defensiveness & conflict.

Of course, a good relationship with our child is not purely in order to make disciplining easier!  It is primarily to enjoy the relationship itself and is the foundation of the life we share together with our children.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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My 6-Year-Old Put Me In Time Out

I had sent Jake to sit on “the step” – essentially our version of a time out.  I’d warned him that his disrespectful behaviour would land him on the step if it continued.  It had continued so he’d spent 5 minutes sitting by himself on the step by our laundry, to “think about his behaviour” and give us all a break.

When Jake got off the step, he asked me tearfully, “How come you don’t have to sit on the step?”

“Well, no one has ever given me a warning”, I replied.

“I’m giving you a warning now,” he said with a scowl (probably the same scowl I use to give him warnings).

“What for?” I asked, thinking through my various parenting misdemeanours of the afternoon – there were a lot of them.

“Shouting”, Jake grumped at me.

“Fair enough.”

 

WHAT’S WRONG?

It was then that I realised I’d lost my way when it came to disciplining my boys.  I guess I’d sensed for a month or two that I was on a downward spiral, my discipline methods slowly slipping further away from my values, but I hadn’t stopped to rethink things. Sending my boys to “the step” was not a strategy I wanted to be using but it had turned into a habit and become my default approach to correcting my boys’ behaviour.

And that’s where the first problem was.  The step didn’t actually correct their behaviour at all.  The evidence lay in the fact that they were sitting on it more and more often.

The second problem with the step was that it didn’t reflect my parenting values, especially the way I was using it.  That we are all spiritual equals requires me to treat everyone with respect, regardless of their age or behaviour.  There are times when we parents have to position ourselves as an authority to guide our children but there is no power struggle in a relationship between equals.  The step had become a weapon in our power play, me using it to threaten, manipulate and, ultimately, control Jake and Thomas.

How had it got to this?!

 

LOSING MY WAY

I think the main factor that saw me resorting to the step was that my boys were, inevitably, throwing new challenges my way.  I was unprepared to deal with the backchat, defiance and attitude that was increasingly featuring in Jake’s interactions with me and I hadn’t taken the time to figure out how best to respond.

Additionally, the personal truth is that I saw red each time Jake used his new attitude with me, my insecurities about being disrespected instantly triggered.  I hadn’t consciously realised that he’d struck a nerve and I had immediately started trying to control Jake rather than taking my time to see what was really going on (for both him and I). I was trying to control him because my I felt out of control.

Being both challenged and triggered, I had slipped away from my own parenting values and my relationship with Jake was suffering.  I felt ashamed and disappointed in myself.  What was I going to do about it?

 

GOING INTO TIME OUT

I put myself in a self-imposed time out of sorts to reflect on what was going on and to find a new way of doing things.

The first thing I had to do was forgive myself.  In my blog post Self Love – Not Just Warm Fuzzies, I wrote –

“Forgiving ourselves is perhaps the truest act of self-compassion.  It allows us to move forward without the burden of our past.” 

Taking the time to consider what was going on within me when met with Jake’s emerging ‘tude helped me to understand and empathise with myself.  I realised that, when I’m tired, triggered and uncertain what to do, it is natural that I’m going to struggle and this made it easier for me to forgive myself.

Then, I put all my to-dos aside for one morning to figure out how I wanted to go forward.  I was prompted to read back over some earlier blog posts I had written about discipline and found that they were actually pretty helpful! I also flicked through some of the parenting books I keep on my desk and thought about what my boys are needing from me at the moment.  I devised respectful strategies for dealing with my current parenting challenges.

 

IN SUMMARY – FLOUNDERING, FORGIVENESS & MOVING FORWARD

As parents, we constantly need to re-evaluate what we are doing, whether it be around discipline or another area of life.  As our children grow older, they will bring new challenges our way which will require us to adjust our way of doing things.  Don’t we all bemoan the fact that, just as we feel we’re getting the hang of this parenting thing, something new comes our way?  It certainly keeps us on our toes -parenthood is about our own evolution as much as it is about our children’s.

We can’t expect ourselves to adjust seamlessly to every change in our children’s development.  The changes can surprise us, we’re not necessarily anticipating them.  It’s understandable that we will flounder around for a bit each time until we find our way.  I’m hoping that, having gone through this, I will recognise more quickly what’s going on when there is another significant change in my boys.  Instead of being overwhelmed and punishing myself for my  imperfect parenting, I will take a time out to forgive myself and to strategise with Love.  Having compassion for ourselves and moving forward deliberately are the only ways to keep up – more or less – with our children.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Why I’ve Stopped Telling My Children to “Be Nice”

“Be nice”.

“That’s not nice”.

“Speak nicely please”.

I tell my boys these things with the best of intentions.  It’s important to me that they treat others well. But I’ve been wondering recently whether telling them to “be nice” is what I really should be doing.

 

“Be nice” seems to imply that my boys should be sweet-as-pie to anyone and everyone all the time.

“Be nice” seems to suggest that they should censor what they say and do so that no one is upset by it.

“Be nice” seems to assume that what they think and feel doesn’t really matter as much as what the other person thinks and feels.

 

At the end of the day, “being nice” sometimes isn’t nice for them.  It requires them to ignore their own thoughts and feelings for the sake of someone else’s, which contradicts two ideas at the heart of my soulful parenting approach.  They are that –

* our role as parents is to empower our children to be themselves.

* we are all equals, regardless of our age, gender, intelligence…regardless of anything.

These beliefs mean that everyone’s thoughts and feelings, needs and wants count.  As a parent, I feel a tension between teaching my children to be considerate of others and taking care of their own needs, which I wrote about in my blog post Walking the Tightrope of Parenting.  I wrote –

“There are times in life when, in order to be true to ourselves, to back ourselves, we need to do things we know others won’t like.” – Julie

When I wrote the post, I had no solutions as to how to teach my boys to find this balance between their needs and other people’s but, maybe if I stop telling my boys to “be nice”, it would be a good start.

 

WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE?

So, if I’m not going to teach my boys to be “nice”, what am I going to teach them?  I think what I’m really trying to get at are kindness and respect.

Kindness and respect are sincere and honest.  They aren’t as sickly sweet as “nice”.  They feel more mutual.  Being kind because “I should” or “mummy told me to” isn’t kindness at all but obligation.  When I’m really being kind, it’s because I want to so I benefit from the act of kindness as well as the recipient.  Respect is only truly respectful when both parties are respected.  When I resentfully sacrifice myself for another, it is not respect and not a true gift to the other.

 

5 Ways to Teach Kindness & Respect Rather than “Niceness”

Here are some ways I’m trying to shift my behaviour to help my boys honour both themselves and the other person in a situation.

  1. Replace “nice” with “kind” or “respectful”. For example, if they’re shouting their disagreement with me or someone else, I’ll remind them that they can say what they need to but they must do so respectfully.
  2. Be an example of kindness & respect myself. For example, I personally shy away from expressing my disagreement with others, often opting to be nice rather than honest. Here’s my chance to learn to be brave and to find the words to be honest in a way that is also kind & respectful of the other person.
  3. Let them choose not to be nice if they can’t do so sincerely. For example, if they can’t willingly share a favourite toy with a visiting child, perhaps I shouldn’t make them. (Though I wouldn’t let them play with that toy in front the other child).
  4. Notice and affirm their acts of kindness & respect. For example, tell them, “it was kind of you to let her go down the slide first”.
  5. Talk with them about what feels “right” for them – For example, if I see that they did something nice for someone else but with resentment or, conversely, that they enjoyed a sense of satisfaction from being kind to another, I can talk with them about how they felt. This reflection will encourage them to honour themselves by using their internal sense of what’s right to make decisions.

It’s a complex thing, trying to teach our children to give only when it feels right for both themselves and the other person.  Sometimes we intentionally choose to do something kind for another because we want it for them while still not wanting it for ourselves.  It feels right, if not personally desirable.  At 6 years old, Jake’s pretty tuned-in so I could introduce this concept to him but I wouldn’t expect him to grasp it fully until he’s much older.

 

IN SUMMARY – ME, WE & YOU

I want my boys to grow up with a “we” mentality, not a “me” mentality.    We is that middle ground between You and Me.  But it’s not a stationary half-way spot where there’s a perfect, mutually-pleasing solution in each situation.  In life’s usual messy way, it’s probably more a case of sometimes leaning further towards me and sometimes leaning closer to you.

Judging what to do each time takes a certain amount of skill that niceness doesn’t require.  At 3 and 6 years of age, developmentally my boys are not yet able to judge it easily.  It would be easier just to tell them to “be nice” – and probably looks better to other parents too.  But I will be patient and persistent (as we parents are often called to be ) because we are being kinder and more respectful of our children if we teach them to be kind and respectful of others rather than nice.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Why we Can’t (and Shouldn’t) Protect our Children from Pain

Thomas and I were at preschool Kindy Gym and the session had just started.  I patted my pocket and realised I had left my phone in my bag, on the other side of the room.  I wasn’t expecting any important calls or messages so decided to leave it there and give Thomas my full attention.  We had a great time playing together and I enjoyed being present, not distracted by the pings & buzzes of my phone.

When I eventually did look at my phone, once Kindy Gym had finished, I saw a series of missed calls from my older son’s school and my husband.  I looked at the times on the screen – they’d been trying to get hold of me for almost an hour.  My heart started racing – what was up?  I set Thomas up with his lunchbox and listened to the first message.  It was the school principal himself calling, asking me to phone him back “urgently regarding Jake”.  Feeling jittery, I tried calling the school – no answer.  I tried calling my husband – no answer.  There was nothing to do but keep making calls until I got through to someone.

Eventually I got hold of my husband.  “Don’t worry, Jake’s fine” was the first thing he said.  (Don’t those words always seem to imply that there is something to worry about?)  He told me Jake had hurt his head and they were in my husband’s van, driving to the hospital.  “His head!” I exclaimed in alarm, imagining copious blood, screaming pain and serious concussion.  I didn’t ask for details, I just wanted to get to the hospital and see Jake as quickly as I could.

Thomas, bless him, was in a particularly co-operative mood.  I hurriedly packed up his lunchbox and told him Jake had hurt himself so we needed to go to the hospital.  You can imagine the onslaught of questions that prompted.  I answered them patiently as we speed-walked to the car.  As I drove, we said a prayer for Jake & all the people looking after him.  I wondered what kind of state I would find him in but resolved to keep myself together, no matter what I found.  I searched for a place of steadiness within and focussed on it.

When we got to the waiting room at the hospital, I saw Jake sitting on my husband’s knee, a bandage around his head, a miserable expression on his face and his complexion an unnerving shade of greyish yellow.  I gave him a careful hug.  “You got a big fright, didn’t you?” I said and he nodded sadly.  “Are you ok, Dake?”, Thomas asked him.

Thomas was getting tired and we decided it was no use all of us being at the hospital.  I’ve got the stronger stomach for blood and medical procedures so my husband transferred Jake to my knee (when did he get so big?) and took Thomas home.  As we sat there in the waiting room, Jake’s colour started improving and he began chatting a little. He told me that he had been playing tag with his friends and had run into a wall, knocking his head.  I looked at the red sign the staff had put on the counter to save themselves numerous enquires – it said the wait was “more than 2 hours”.  “This is a child with a head injury, why are we still waiting?!” I wanted to shout.

Fortunately, a nurse appeared with an ice-block not too much later and asked us to follow her to an examination room.  It turned out that the school staff had done such a great job caring for Jake’s injury that there was nothing more to be done except to put a clean bandage on top.  I had been unsure how I was going to get Jake to co-operate if stitches were required and was very relieved he didn’t have to go through that too.  We were soon sent home for a quiet afternoon.

That evening, as I was drying Jake after his bath, he told me that, when his head was bleeding at school, it had felt like water coming out of his head and he had been scared because he didn’t know if he’d be okay.  I realised that he had genuinely believed he could die and I felt dreadful that I hadn’t been there for him in what must have been the most terrifying moment of his life so far.

Having had a significant blow to the head, I kept Jake home from school the following day.  In the morning, we had to pop out to drop Thomas off at kindergarten.  At kindy, the same one Jake had attended when he was younger, the teachers were pleased to see him again and fussed over him kindly.  After we settled Thomas in, we went to a bookshop to get Jake the next book in a series he’s been reading – I figured he needed something to do if he couldn’t run around and jump on the sofas like usual.  Once we found the book, he wanted to browse the shelves for a while and we pointed out interesting reads to each other.  As we wandered back to the car, he said “I like having time just you and me”.  He told me the same thing again later in the day.  “I do too”, I said, “Hanging out with you is one of my favourite things to do”.  Since he started school, we haven’t had much time for just the two of us and it was a reminder to make dates more often.

Before heading home to relax, I took Jake to a café for a fluffy.  (For those of you not in New Zealand, a fluffy is a child’s drink of warm, frothy milk, made with an espresso machine, usually served with chocolate sprinkled on top and marshmallows on the side).  As I watched him sip his drink, a chocolate moustache above his lip and the square of white bandage crooked on his head, my eyes filled with tears.  I felt just how deeply I love him.

I understood in that moment that pain (physical and emotional) is inevitable in life and I won’t always be able to protect Jake from it.  Not only is it impossible, it’s not my job to protect him from it all.  It’s through pain that our children will learn things and discover their own strength.  Sometimes the only thing I will be able to do is acknowledge Jake’s pain and sit with him through it.  There will be times, too, when I won’t be there (like when he was injured & panicing at school) and I can only hope that, at those times, he knows I am coming to him as fast as I possibly can.

Our children’s pain often feels worse than our own, doesn’t it?  As parents, we learn and discover strength through enduring their pain as much as we do our own.  If we didn’t let it grow us, our children’s pain would break us (or so it feels) and we would be no use to them then.   On this occassion, I learned that my place of steadiness within is always available to me and I was reminded to have more dates with Jake, “just us”.  I wonder what Jake feels he has learned through the experience – I’ll ask him tonight.

Unfortunately, there is likely bigger pain to come for Jake – a variety of diappointments, perhaps a more serious injury, a broken teenaged heart…  I can’t say I invite these times ahead but I won’t live in fear of them.   Whenever I see the scar on Jake’s forehead, I will be reminded that he and I, both, can survive, the pain ahead and, even, allow it grow us.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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5 Things Children can Learn from the “Mean Kids”

My boys and I had driven to visit my parents, music turned up, singing along merrily – or so I thought.  When I parked the car and got out to undo my boys’ seatbelts, I saw that Jake had been crying.

“I miss you when I’m at school”, he sobbed.

I knew something was up.

I carefully probed around with a few questions and it came out that Jake has been having a few troubles with his friends recently.  His description of what’s been going on was sketchy and, not being at school to see for myself, it’s hard to know what exactly has been happening.

For any parent, the thought of our child being disrespected in some way and feeling alone during a long day at school is crushing.  We can probably all remember a time in our own childhood when we were the one in that position.  I certainly can – for a period of time when I was five, my poor parents had to prise me off their bodies when they took me to school each morning.  I’d cling on to them for dear life, not able to face the classmate who was bullying me.  While Jake is still going to school largely happily, I’m anxious that his situation may deteriorate to the point that he starts clinging to me.

On top of not knowing what’s really going on, all this emotion (his and mine) makes it incredibly hard to handle.  I’m a pretty reasonable and diplomatic person but my fear has its sleeves rolled up and is ready to get in there and fight for my son.

Fortunately, I wrote a blog post last week about parenting from Love instead of fear – must’ve been divine preparation for now because I can see that there is actually no fight to be had.  I have realised that the way I handle this situation with Jake and his friends will be an example to him and I have to ask myself, Do I want to model Love or Fear?

As painful as it is to see my son in tears, I also see the potential for him to learn so much through this experience, if I choose.

“In every situation you have two choices: Will you learn through fear or will you learn through love?” ― Gabrielle BernsteinThe Universe Has Your Back: Transform Fear to Faith

 

CHOOSING LOVE: 5 LESSONS

  1. We are all worthy. This is an opportunity to remind Jake of his inherent worth. He is worthy of being treated with respect, as we all are.
  2. How to set boundaries. When sure of his worth, it will be easier for Jake to set boundaries. My husband and I have always encouraged him to respectfully tell children to stop when they’re doing something he doesn’t like. At the moment, his friends are testing his boundaries and it is my hope that Jake will learn to be insistent enough that others respect them.
  3. The nature of truly unconditional love. I will not speak unkindly about his friends, label them as bad or encourage Jake to be unkind to them in return. I want him to see that my respect for others does not change because of their behaviour – I think that this is what unconditional love does.
  4. How to go inward for his answers. In a situation such as this, it’s all too easy for worried parents to take over and try to manage the situation entirely ourselves – I am tempted to bombard Jake with my ideas about what he should do.  I will discuss possible solutions with him but I told him that he needs to do what feels right for him and that I will support him.  I asked if there was anything he wanted me to do and he asked me to talk with his teacher, which I have done.
  5. How to take responsibility for himself. If Jake chooses to keep spending time with children who don’t treat him well, he’s exposing himself to the risk of being hurt. I can see, though, that he is conflicted.  The children he has great fun with are the same ones who often end up being disrespectful and unkind.  I know it’s not easy.  Jake can also take responsibility by making sure he’s not participating in the same kind of behaviour that upsets him.

It would be easy to be too heavy-handed, letting my fearful fight-or-flight instinct kick in.  Naturally, I want to protect Jake and a part of me wants to give the other children a talking-to and demand that the school keep them away from Jake.  But that would not be a good example to Jake and all the bluster & controlling would be avoiding the real issues as well as the chance for Jake to learn.

Focussing on how “bad” the “mean kids” are is a waste of time – I can’t change them and the school staff are not at liberty to talk to me about other students for privacy reasons.  What I can do is help Jake to choose his response to what is going on.

I want him to see that he can handle whatever comes his way.

 

IN SUMMARY – WORKING TOGETHER

I am hoping that, through working together with Jake and his teacher, the difficult dynamic within his group of friends can be amended.  Jake is popular and his school is a friendly place – when I walk into his classroom in the mornings, lots of kids say “hi” to him and want him to join in with their play. Whatever’s going on may turn out to be a small blip in his friendships, it won’t necessarily decline into ongoing bullying.  As a parent, my role is to be proactive while also showing my son both his own worth & capability and what it really means to Love.  All situations we find ourselves in really are opportunities to fear or to love.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

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