My Best Discipline Technique

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 –

Presence.

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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Discipline 101: Love-Based Principles

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.

 

SELF-DISCIPLING SITUATIONS

I can think of three types of self-disciplining situation where the lesson naturally unfolds and we just need to allow it to.

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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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Should I Make My Child Apologise?

I’m sure you have watched a child apologise without meaning it on many occasions.  “Sorry”, they mumble, fidgeting and looking anywhere but at the person to whom they’re apologising.  Then – they get out of there as quickly as they can!

Likely leaving behind the well-meaning adult who had insisted they apologise.  I have been that well-meaning adult, embarrassed both by my child’s misdeed and the inadequacy of their apology.   Then, at some point, I realised that I had been insisting that my son apologise because I thought it would reflect badly on me and my parenting if I didn’t.  My ego had clouded my judgement and I wasn’t actually teaching him what an apology really is.

 

WHAT IS AN APOLOGY?

So often, making an apology becomes a punishment we dish out to our children.  At times, there is even an element of humiliation to it which we think will ‘teach’ them.  But, if children learn to equate apologising with fear, they’re going to become reluctant apologisers, unable to offer to others and experience for themselves, release from the situations they have created.

A true apology comes from love – sincere regret for our unloving behaviour. It is also a recognition of worth – both the worth of the apologiser and the recipient.  When we make a real apology, we know the other person was worthy of better treatment and that we are worthy of forgiveness.

 

WHAT MISTAKES ARE WE MAKING AS PARENTS?

When our children make empty, embarrassed apologies, it is because they are not ready to apologise.  So often, adults expect children to make an almost instant apology, before the child has had time to process the emotions they are feeling.  When something difficult has gone down between two people, resulting in an injury or insult, both parties may have big emotions to deal with.  The child who has done ‘wrong’ needs time to allow the emotions to pass before they can sincerely apologise.  They’re most likely dealing with remorse in tandem with the anger or hurt that made them lash out in some way.  And the other person may also need time before they are able to receive an apology.  (See my post Helping Children to Manage Difficult Emotions)

The child who is needing to apologise may need some physical space away from the situation while their emotions settle.  They also need our support. Too often, we withdraw our support in a show of disapproval but a cuddle or gentle words show that our love for our child and their worthiness are unconditional.  In doing this, we remind them that their behaviour is separate from who they are and we empower the love in them.  Once the strength of emotion has dissipated and they are reassured of their worth, the child will be ready to address what has happened and make an effort to put things right.  This may take only 30 seconds or it may take a lot longer. When we can see that they’re ready, we might suggest an apology by asking, “What do you want to do about it now…?” and discussing with them what they will do.  If they want us to accompany them while they apologise, I see no issue with doing so as long as the words come from their mouths.

Sometimes, a child refuses to apologise if forced to do so before they are ready.  I have seen parents apologise instead of their children (I have done this myself).  But it is their apology to make, not ours.  If we do it for them, they have lost their opportunity to learn how to weather their emotions and reach a point at which they’re ready to apologise.  An alternative to apologising instead of our child is to enquire after the hurt party and show our concern for them.  While we are doing this, the attention is off our own child and they are getting a moment to themselves to calm down.

 

TEACHING CHILDREN HOW TO APOLOGISE

Apologise ourselves, especially to our children – Children are worthy of receiving apologies just as adults are (see A CHILD’S WORTH).  When we apologise to them, we show them how it’s done and communicate their worthiness.  I usually know I will apologise immediately in the situation but I only do it when I’m ready.    Sometimes, I explain my process to my eldest. For example, “I was feeling very angry so I went to my room to calm down until I was ready to say ‘sorry’”.  A cuddle and a kiss put a nice fullstop on the situation.

Accept their apologies gracefully – A simple “thank you” is all that is needed.  Leave it there.  There is no need to follow-up with a lecture on why they shouldn’t have done what they did or a stern warning not to do it again.  They know!  If we respond with our ego, determined to “teach them a lesson”, they may come to dread apologising for the likely telling-off they’ll receive.  That doesn’t set them up to become generous apologisers as adults.

Teach the 3 elements of a good apology – These are eye-contact, using the person’s name and saying specifically what they’re sorry for.  At the dinner table a few nights ago, Jake apologised to my husband for something he had said and did all of these 3 things of his own accord.  I could see his sincerity and it went straight to my heart

For young children, with limited language and self-managing skills, I’m not sure it’s appropriate to insist they say ‘sorry’.  They would simply be parroting us, doing what we expected of them, which is rather meaningless.  What we can do is grow their awareness of the impact of their actions on others.  Yesterday, Thomas (2 years old) was playing at a water table with his little friend.  They were having a great time together until Thomas started hoarding all the equipment.  Too busy chatting, I hadn’t noticed.  Soon, the other child was crying because he had nothing left to play with.  In simple language, I showed Thomas that his friend was crying because he hadn’t been sharing the water toys.  My hope is that, when he’s older, Thomas’ apologies will be sincere – words that come from his love and empathy for others.  Compassion is our starting point.  He will learn about apologising by watching the older people in his life and receiving apologies himself.

 

IN SUMMARY: APOLOGISE WITH LOVE

My verdict is that we should teach our children how to truly apologise but not make them do it.  There is a lot of power in an apology.  I don’t entirely agree with the phrase “Forgiven but not forgotten”.  If someone sincerely apologises and the receiver sincerely forgives, it is forgotten in the sense that both people put it down, they don’t continue to carry the pain of what happened around with them.  Infact, sometimes an apology even brings us closer.  We know someone sees our value when they offer us a heart-felt apology or generously accept our own apology.  That can strengthen our connection with them.  And, in my experience, an apology is relatively easy to offer when it comes from love rather than fear. As the nurturer in our children’s lives, it is our own approach to apologising that shows our children how to say ‘sorry’ with love.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

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Goggles, Training Wheels and Self-Belief

Over recent months, Jake has been taking swimming lessons and also learning to ride his bike.  I have sat on the side of the pool and watched him transform from being too nervous to put his face in the water to playing in it confidently, as if he’s a dolphin.  My heart swells to see him trying so hard and feeling so proud of himself.   I have also clocked up many kilometres, jogging alongside him as he rattles along on his training wheels, complaining all the way around our short route and stopping at every slight challenge.  I’ve possibly never been more frustrated by him than when taking him out on his bike.  Why have learning to swim and learning to ride his bike been so different?

A few weeks ago, as I was coaxing Jake to come out for a short bike ride with me, I met resistance all of the way – as usual.  When he was finally sitting on his bike with his helmet on and ready to go, he moaned, “I can’t”.  And that’s when I realised the difference.  For some reason, he believed in himself as a swimmer but not as a cyclist.

 

WHAT DO OUR CHILDREN REALLY NEED TO PRACTISE?

It is not about the swimming or the biking.  You see, my hope is for Jake and Thomas to believe in themselves so that they will not be held back in their lives by fear.  I don’t want them to live small if, in their hearts, they have much bigger dreams.  Many self-help and spiritual books describe the magic combination of self-belief and effort in creating what we want for our lives.  More than wanting Jake to practice his biking, I want him to practice self-belief.

I believe that God is within us all.  This adds an extra dimension to the challenges I set myself.  It enables me to have faith and to keep going when the ride is wobbly.    If God is within me, surely I am capable beyond measure and there is no reason not to have self-belief!  I want my boys to know that they have this power within themselves.

 

HOW CAN WE HELP OUR CHILDREN DEVELOP SELF-BELIEF?

NOT by throwing our hands up in the air and saying we’ll give the bike away to someone who wants to ride it, as I have done!  Not my proudest parenting moment.  Added to his fear of falling off, I created fear of a parental meltdown for him to contend with also.  Poor Jake!

Learning a new skill is usually challenging and requires lots of accidents & mistakes as part of the process.  Falling off the bike a few times is pretty much inevitable.  I asked myself “how can I help Jake to believe in himself enough to face his fear of hurting himself when his current experience is that he has limited control of the bike and sometimes falls off?”  How can we nurture self-belief in our children?

Assure our children of our belief in them Once I got over my frustration with Jake’s apparent lack of effort and recognised that it was really fear that was paralysing him, I started responding to his “I can’ts” with “Well, I know you can”.

Teach our children about the power of self-talk
“Be careful how you talk to yourself because you are listening”. – Lisa M. Hayes
I was gifted an easy example to use when talking to Jake about this.  As I was helping him to practise his floating in the pool once, he said to me “Let go, I can do it”.  When he next came to riding his bike, I was able to remind him that, in the pool, he tells himself he can do it and he has learned so much.  I then pointed out that he says “I can’t” when biking and he has found it much more difficult & less enjoyable to learn.   Since that conversation, I have caught Jake saying to himself, “I can do it” in a number of different situations – including riding his bike.

Remind our children of other successes   As they build up a history of “successes”, they will begin to see that they are capable of learning new things and of achieving that which they put their minds to.  Since seeing himself progress so well with swimming, I have noticed that Jake is a lot more willing to attempt new physical skills and to persevere.  He can now slide down poles at playgrounds and spent close to an hour trying to climb the rock wall at school yesterday.

Be a self-believing example to our children – As I always say, our example is probably our biggest tool as parents, teachers and friends to children.  We need to show our children what self-belief looks like and its power in the face of fear & set-backs.  This is a challenge for me as my history is of having very little self-belief.  For most of my life, I felt as though I was cycling on a stationary bike – putting in lots of work and not getting very far.  Writing this blog is one of the first big acts of self-belief I have taken.  I am even going so far as to have a logo and website designed for me as a way of backing myself (watch this space!)   I have plenty of fear – but more self-belief.  I’m working hard but I’m on a mountain bike now and each cycle of my legs is getting me so much further.

 

IN SUMMARY: THE GIFT OF SELF-BELIEF

I don’t mind if Jake’s not a cyclist.  I just want him to give it a good go so he can know for sure if it’s for him or not.  As with all new skills, he needs to persevere through the challenges of learning to get to the point where he’s able to ride for fun.  Then he can really decide if he’s interested or not.  With self-belief comes the willingness to put in the effort.

It is in childhood that we do much of our experimenting to find out what our strengths are and what brings us joy.  Without the willingness to experiment, our children limit their opportunities to discover what works for them.  Imagine going into adulthood with a good sense of who you are and a good dose of self-belief.  That would be a real gift.

Finally, incase he reads this post one day, I also want to say that, since taking the steps above to build his self-belief, Jake has become much more willing to ride his bike and can now cycle our route without stopping and without complaining.  The training wheels’ days are numbered.

 

STILL WONDERING…

Self-belief is best applied to those things that are part of our/God’s vision for us.  I have no self-belief in regard to becoming a rugby player, for example, but that’s ok because I don’t feel I’m meant to be a rugby player!  As children experiment with the opportunities in life, how do we nurture self-belief in the activities that aren’t a match for them and through ‘failure’?
What are you wondering about?

 

Much love to you and your little souls,
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No Such Thing as a Naughty Child

When I was at primary school, I had a boy in my class who we called “Naughty Jason”.  He had to sit at a desk by himself while the rest of us sat in groups together at tables.  His place on the mat was right at the front, by the teacher’s feet.  I can’t, right now, remember one naughty thing he did but I do remember that I didn’t trust him and kept my distance.  Now, I feel horrified that Jason had to go about every day with the word “naughty” glued to him.  Once it stuck, did he have any hope of being anything but naughty?  Most likely, he just went on living up to that expectation.  What if he wasn’t naughty and was really just needing?

“Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart”. – Anne Frank

One of my core beliefs is that we are all extensions of God, intended to be distributors of His love.  If I believe this, then I must believe that everyone is essentially good.  So what happens to make people behave poorly?  One explanation is that they have a need that is not being met.  In my time as a teacher, I taught many children with difficult behaviour.  I can’t, though, think of one of them that I would have called naughty.  As an adult, I don’t think I’ve ever used the word naughty to describe a child.  In all of them, I could see a need that wasn’t being met.

Before I continue, I should clarify that I’m not talking about those occasional moments of misbehaviour, when a child is simply unable to resist their impulse for fun or curiosity, or they’re unwell and less able to manage themselves.  I’m talking about children who have consistent patterns of disruptive behaviour.


WHAT NEEDS MIGHT A CHILD’S NAUGHTY BEHAVIOUR BE INDICATING?

Needing To be Noticed and Have Their Worth Affirmed
My first post was about how we can know that we are all worthy, simply because God put us here.  If the key people in a child’s life don’t see that and don’t treat them according to this truth, misbehaviour might be a way that the child says, “Look at me, do you see me?  Am I worth anything?”  They may find that unwanted behaviour at least gets them some attention and decide that it is better than being ignored or under-valued.

Needing To Have Boundaries Set
Children are designed to test out boundaries, to check where the limits are and that they’re still there.  They like boundaries so they know where they stand.  We’ve all heard it said that giving our children boundaries is a way of showing our love so, at the same time that they’re checking their boundaries, they’re checking that our love is there also.  A child with very loose or no boundaries will push hard to find them, escalating their difficult behaviour as they push.
A very simple example recently in my house has been Thomas’ meal time behaviour.  First he started by standing on his chair either to reach things on the table to play with or to try to climb onto my knee.  My husband and I asked him to stay in his chair but weren’t particularly firm about it.  Then, he started throwing food and utensils.  Within a few days, he was playing, shouting and throwing every meal time.  Meal time chaos had crept up on us because we hadn’t been consistent with our boundaries.  What Thomas did was appropriate to his age (2 years) but a reminder that the boundaries need to be in place.

Needing Help To Manage Emotions
Behaviour that stresses us out can indicate that the child is stressed out themselves.  Anxiety, anger and hurt are the first emotions that come to mind when I think of children whose difficult behaviour stems from overwhelming emotions.  It is hard to see beyond our own frustration when our children are challenging us but we’re not going to help the child or improve their behaviour if we don’t excavate and find the root of the issue.


WHAT DO I DO?!

Noticing a need does not mean we allow the child to behave as they please. It means we are compassionate and proactive in meeting their needs but whatever discipline method we use, should be followed (as long as it’s respectful, in proportion to the behaviour and consistent).  I think there are also a couple of other things we can do to help.

Label our child’s behaviour but don’t label them
It is okay to tell our child that what they did was inconsiderate, disrespectful or unkind.  They need to be aware of how their behaviour impacts on others.  Everything we do affects others and it may be that they were too wound up in their own needing to think about their impact on the people around them.  However, don’t label the child.  “You are so rude”, for example.  This makes them feel that they have no chance of improving their behaviour because they are innately bad and no chance of redeeming themselves with us.  Their lost hope will likely make changing their behaviour much harder.

Show our faith in our child’s good
Notice the times that our child does behave well.  When doing this, try to appreciate their co-operation rather than praise it excessively. For example, “Thank you for asking nicely to stay longer at the playground today”.  When behaviour reverts back, as it will at times, we can say, “I know you can speak respectfully to me because you did it yesterday when you wanted more time on the playground”.  Let them see how their “good” behaviour positively impacts on us or the other people involved.   By doing these things, they begin to believe that they are essentially good and capable of behaving well.


IN SUMMARY: WHAT DO THEY NEED?

Remembering that we are all God’s children is a helpful start when a child’s behaviour is fraying our nerves.  For me, it activates compassion and waters-down my frustration enough to be able to help my child rather than punish them with my disapproval.  “Needing, not naughty” I tell myself.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

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“Good Job” – Can We Praise Our Children Too Much?

As parents, our days are scattered with “good job” and other similar phrases, such as “great work” and “well done”.  Or, even worse, “good boy/girl” which suggests we see no separation between them and their behaviour.  We litter these comments about, thinking we are being positive and encouraging of our children. But, often, we are actually using them to “train” our children to do what we want them to do.  We are using positive reinforcement so they’ll continue to meet our expectations and, in the process, we are turning them into praise-junkies.   Each time we throw out one of these phrases meaninglessly, we teach our children fear rather than Love.  There are a couple of main ways that we use “good job” and I will use them to explain what I mean and suggest alternatives.

 

“GOOD JOB”: WHEN OUR CHILD HAS CO-OPERATED

We all need co-operation from our children to make our day manageable – as in the example in my last post ( when I needed Jack to put his bag and coat in the boot of the car while I strapped Toby into his carseat so that we could get to school on time. There are a million instances in the day when a bit of co-operation makes all the difference.  When our children do as we have asked, we say “good job” in the hope that the praise they get will encourage them to be helpful again next time.    Perhaps we also say it with relief that we didn’t have to battle this one out! But how do our children hear it when we say “good job”?

As judgement.  Positive judgement in this case, but judgement none the less.  “Mum’s pleased with me.  She approves of my behaviour”, their little brains think.  They may also think, “Phew, she didn’t tell me off”.  Their co-operation has come from fear of disapproval and fear of our reaction if they don’t co-operate.  We have manipulated them into compliance and taught them nothing about teamwork, consideration of others and our faith in them.

So, what’s the alternative?  I use “thank you”.  With “thank you”, I am showing my boys that I believe in their willingness and ability to help.  I am expressing appreciation instead of judgement.  It shows them that their contribution is valued.  I’ll often go as far as to explain to them how their behaviour is helpful.  For example, “Thanks Jack.  Putting your things into the car yourself helps us to get to school on time”.  For my boys, “Thank you” changes the exercise in getting to school on time into teamwork instead of point-scoring for approval.  I enlist their co-operation instead of demanding it of them.

 

“GOOD JOB”: WHEN OUR CHILD HAS ACHIEVED SOMETHING

“Sweet words are like honey, a little may refresh, but too much gluts the stomach.” ― Anne Bradstreet.

I’m all for praising our children when it is due.  But often we find we’re praising an achievement that we know didn’t really require much of them.  Perhaps they finished a puzzle they’ve done many times and we know they can do easily.  Hearing “good job” in these circumstances has 2 main sticking points.

  1. Our children come to expect it and feel upset when they don’t hear it.  They become addicted to our praise.  They are doing the activity for our response more than for their own joy or satisfaction.  Their fear is that we won’t offer our praise and approval.
  2. Our children begin to think “she always says that, she doesn’t mean it”.  When we over-praise, they don’t believe it when we really are sincere.  Their fear is that they’re not really good enough to get genuine praise.

So, when my boys have done something that I want to acknowledge but don’t feel warrants “good job”, I use one, or a combination, of the following:

  • I make affirming comments that suggest I knew they could do it eg. “that’s it”, “yes” or “look at that”.
  • I ask a question eg. “What is this part of your block tower for?” or, simply, “tell me about it”.
  • I make a statement about their process eg. “You worked for a long time to get that finished” or “It looked like you really enjoyed making that”.

I am showing them that I am interested in what they have done but I am offering no judgement.  I am simply sharing in their satisfaction.

So, when I do say “good job”, my children know I really mean it.  I usually try to qualify my praise with a reason why it’s good.  If it’s art work, I might say, “Those colours look great together”.  If it’s a Lego creation of a spaceship, I might say, “You’ve thought about everything a spaceship needs”.  Being specific both gives useful feedback and shows that my praise is genuine.

 

HOW BETTER PHRASES NURTURE THEIR LITTLE SOULS

Reconsidering our use of phrases such as “good job” and finding meaningful alternatives is a small way to activate love rather than fear in our children.  Choosing our words shows we believe in the love inside of them and that there is no need for them to prove their worth.  These are, for me, essential principles in nurturing little souls which you can read more about in A Child’s Worth and The Real Purpose of Parenting.

 

IN SUMMARY: NEW HABITS

Given we tend to say words such as “Good job” so often, they are significant. Our language either empowers or undermines our children and choosing our words more thoughtfully can have a big impact.  And the good news is that this is one of the easier adjustments to make to our parenting styles.  Once I realised I wasn’t using “good job” consciously, I thought up a handful of alternatives that felt natural to me so that I was ready with new responses.  It’s been a case of creating a new habit when responding to my boys.  “Good job” still slips out at times when I’m distracted or busy but, most of the time, I only use it genuinely.  As a parent, it is empowering to realise that a small change such as this can make a real, positive difference for my boys.

 

STILL WONDERING…

What else do I say out of habit to my children that I could rethink?!  (Let’s listen to ourselves more carefully!)

 

Much love to you and your little souls,
julie_signature

 

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Helping Children to Manage Difficult Emotions

“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 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,

julie_signature

 

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