I was not a confident child. I hung back in social situations (if I hadn’t been able to avoid them altogether) and I always worried about failing tests at school, even though I had a history of achieving well. When I became a primary school teacher, I taught children who reminded me of myself as a child. Sadly, low confidence was quite “common” amongst the 7 year-olds I taught. For some of my students, it was a struggle even to begin a piece of work for fear of making a mistake. As a teacher, I just wanted them to care less and give and things a go but, at the same time, I understood the anxiety that they felt.
When we worry about our kids not being confident, we worry both about the anxiety they feel and that they will miss out on valuable experiences – experiences we know they really would enjoy and experiences they could learn from, if only they could forget their self-consciousness for a moment. We feel how much they’d love to play that birthday party game but they’re too unsure of themselves to join in. We know they need to develop their literacy skills but they won’t give new words in their reading a go, appealing to us to tell them instead.
So, I’ve been thinking lately, what is confidence? Of course, the first thing I did was Google the definition and this is one I came across –
a feeling of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.
This seems like a useful summary of confidence but it doesn’t give much clue as to how one gets to that place of appreciating their own abilities and qualities in the first place so they can feel self-assured. In fact, I realised, childhood is inherently an experience of trying things without knowing one’s own abilities or qualities! We sit here in the relative comfort of adulthood, largely operating within the comfort zones we’ve established for ourselves, based our abilities & qualities. Meanwhile our children are being stretched into the unknown daily. Childhood is risky business! Why do some kids thrive and others recoil from these challenges?
I think I struck something when I realised that the difference may lie in their relationship to failure. Every new experience comes with it the potential to fail. I’m using “fail” in a very broad sense here. It includes trying a tricky maths problem at school and getting it wrong. It includes being excluded by a peer group in the school playground. The list goes on. Those who are comfortable with the potential for failure within a situation have the confidence to try it. Those who believe that failure is disastrous, cower from the experience.
A POSITIVE RELATIONSHIP WITH FAILURE
Low confidence is likely to be a trait we can attribute partly to nature and partly to nurture. I don’t think it’s realistic to think that we can turn a very anxious child into a confident one overnight. But, I do think we can nurture a positive relationship with failure within our children that will make them more willing to give things a go by teaching them these things –
Fear of new things is normal – Presumably, fear of new situations and what could “go wrong” is a biological mechanism, designed to help us keep ourselves safe. We all experience it. If we’re honest with them about our own fear, our children will be more accepting of their’s. For example, when I facilitated my first workshop this year, I told my son, Jake, that I was scared because I hadn’t facilitated a workshop before. (Bless him, he offered to come with me for support – but it was after his bedtime.) We can also help our kids to become more comfortable with their fear by responding sensitively to them when they are fearful. Sometimes, we try to convince them there is nothing to be afraid of or we dismiss their feelings with comments like, “You’ll be fine”. These responses gives the message that there’s something wrong with them for being fearful and that we’re really not willing to support them in their fear. Acknowledgement and a hug of reassurance is much more useful – and so easy to do.
Some risks are worth taking – As I said earlier, one of our main concerns about our child’s low confidence is that they will miss out on an experience which is fun or from which they may learn something valuable. Seeing us take risks because we believe in the benefit provides them with a great example. I was nervous that I might not be able to explain myself clearly at my first workshop and that it might not being well-received but I went ahead anyway because helping parents and children was worth it to me. If we can help our children to see the benefit of taking a risk, they may be more willing to take it. I think we have to be careful here, though, not to project benefits onto situations that they don’t genuinely feel. When stretching them out of their comfort zones, it is better to do so in situations that they are motivated by eg. going to a pool party even though they’re not confident in large groups because they love to swim, rather than taking them to an event they’re not interested in.
Failure is OK, good even – If we respond positively to our own failures as well as our children’s, taking the chance to fail will feel less risky to our children because they know our support and acceptance will be there whatever happens. A term we often hear these days is to “fail forward”, meaning to look for the opportunity to learn and grow in our failures. Failing forward shows our children that failure is not failure at all, it shows us the way ahead. When they experience failure themselves, we can help them to reflect on what went well and what didn’t and to learn what to do differently next time. This gives them some optimism, resilience and willingness to try again.
I think that confidence is a multi-faceted thing and that giving our children a positive relationship to failure is only one part of it, but a very powerful part.
Failure is inherent in growth and living fully, unavoidable. Trying to avoiding failure is pointless, exhausting and anxiety producing – the opposite of meaningful, invigorating and confident. If we can help our children to approach risk with a sense of fun or growth, they will feel a lot better about giving things a go. As soulful parents, we want to empower our children to be themselves and to take the risks worth taking. One way we can do this is not by removing the potential for failure but removing the pain of failure to give them a little more courage to step into the unknown.
It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. – e e cummings
Much love to you and your little souls,
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When Jake was 4 years old, he enjoyed looking at bargain shops, especially perusing the toy aisles and all their strangely fascinating plastic junk. Inevitably, each time we went into a bargain shop, he would want me to buy something for him. I never did. He had enough toys. Also, I wanted to teach him that we can’t buy everything we want and happiness isn’t found in our material things. I figured it was time for Jake to have some pocket money both so that he would stop pestering me to buy him junky toys and to learn that “money doesn’t grow on trees”.
It seemed logical that he should have to earn his money by doing jobs because that’s how things generally roll in the “real world”. So, I would give Jake a job to do each weekend to earn a little pocket money, such as helping to clean the car or wiping down the bathroom vanities. There were also chores I expected him to do purely as a contribution to the family, such as emptying the cutlery rack of the dishwasher and taking his plate to the kitchen bench after eating.
When I first told Jake that he’d be getting pocket money, his eyes lit up. And, at first, he enjoyed the responsibility of doing jobs that, until then, he’d only seen adults do. You can probably predict what happened over time, though. He started refusing to do jobs unless he was paid for them and, eventually, any jobs at all as he decided that not having to work was even more favourable than having money to spend.
It was time to reconsider our system. I asked other families how they approached chores and pocket money with their kids. It seemed few had settled on a system that they were really happy with and many had experienced the kinds of bumps I had. Then I realised that the point was this – what did I want doing chores and having pocket money to teach Jake?
There are many different concepts we can teach our children through chores and pocket money but it gets confused when we try to teach all of them through one system. When we narrow the outcomes down and get specific about know what our intentions are, it becomes a lot clearer how to go forward. Here’s what I decided –
– I wanted Jake to do chores to develop a sense of his capacity to make a contribution and to learn practical life skills.
– I wanted Jake to have money to learn how to manage it.
I was willing to forgo trying to teach him that money is earned or to develop a work ethic through chores and pocket money in order to focus on contribution, life skills and money management. There are plenty of other ways he can learn about earning money and having a good work ethic, such as through the example my husband & I set and through the discipline he needs for his school work and sports practices.
So, I realised that, to achieve the aims we’d settled, on, I had to separate the money from the chores. Now, just as Jake does jobs to share in the family’s workload, he also shares in our family income. While the money and chores are no longer linked to each other, they are both linked to his position as an equal member of our family. This reflects one of my essential spiritual values – that everyone, regardless of age or any other factor, is equal and must be treated as such.
Now that he is 4, Thomas is old enough to also be involved in our system. I have recently made Jake and Thomas each a visual “Helping Chart”. We’ve scrapped the terms “chores” and “jobs” to make it explicit that the tasks they do are to help our family. On the chart are the ways they help in the mornings, the ways the help in the afternoons and the ways they help ocassionally, as needed. Thomas does tasks likes feeding the cat and getting the mail from the letter box. Jake vacuums and empties the bottom rack of the dishwasher.
One new addition to our routine is that Jake and Thomas each help me to make a meal once a week. I let them choose what they’re going to make (I fear we may be eating more pasta than I can take!). One side effect of giving them this responsibility has been that it gives me a little extra one-to-one time with each of them. And, all going well, in a few years, my husband and I will be able to sit back with a glass of wine while our boys take care of dinner.
HOW MUCH MONEY SHOULD KIDS GET & WHAT DO THEY SPEND IT ON?
Then there’s the question of how children spend their money. I’ve always been quite fond of the 3 jar system in which a child is given 3 jars, labelled “Save”, “Spend” and “Give”. They put a third of their money in each and use it accordingly. I guess I thought the jars were cute (particularly when you’re looking at Pinterest) But, when it comes to saving and giving, I think life will teach them better about this than being forced to save or to give.
Having a jar for giving makes it an obligation, not a genuine act of kindness. I prefer to invite my boys to share their money when opportunities naturally occur rather than to insist on it. Our local hospital has been appealing to the public to donate new Winter pyjamas for children who arrive at the hospital without them. So, last weekend, I took Jake and Thomas shopping to each choose a couple of pairs of pyjamas which we then delivered to the hospital. The day before we went, I explained to them what we would be doing and why and I suggested that, if they wanted to, they could use some of their own money to help pay for the pyjamas. I left it for them to think about. The next day, before we left to go shopping, I asked them each what they had decided. They were both adamant about their decisions. Jake wanted to give some of his money. Thomas didn’t. I acknowledged Jake’s generosity but I didn’t praise him or judge Thomas for not contributing.
As for saving, already, Jake and Thomas have both found themselves in the position of having spent one week’s worth of money on something small and later wished they had saved it so they could buy something more satisfying. Equally, last year Jake had his eye on a small Lego set. We put a picture of it by his money box and he saved up until he was able to buy it for himself. He learned about delayed gratification and prioritising how he spends his money.
Most of me believes that it is their money to spend as they choose. However, I have put my foot down when they’ve wanted to buy really unhealthy food. I couldn’t bear to watch them consume a whole chocolate bar after the efforts I go to give them a nutritious diet. I’m unsure if I should be restricting their spending in any way so I’m still mulling that one over.
How much pocket money they get isn’t, I think, too important. We’ve chosen to start small. 4 year-old Thomas gets $1 a week. 7 year-old Jake gets $2 a week. They have no need for more money and they can learn just as much about handling money at the bargain shop as they can at a department store. Making mistakes and learning lessons when the stakes are low is good practice for when the stakes are higher.
I can imagine that our system will have many reincarnations as the boys get older. Thomas will not be happy if he’s still only getting $1 a week when he’s 13! And that wouldn’t be enough to teach him what I’ll be wanting him to learn at that stage. Certainly, by the time they’re in their teens, I anticipate that we’ll be giving them quite a significant amount of money with which to budget in order to learn money handling skills. Perhaps they’ll have to use it to buy their own clothes and entertainment, really having to separate their needs from their wants.
I don’t think that there is one right way to manage chores and pocket money. My lesson has been to let our values guide me and get clear about what are the most important things I want to teach my boys. I have chosen to use it to pass on spiritual values such as their sense of belonging and contribution and to develop some early money handling and practical life skills. As my boys get older, my intentions may well change and the system itself definitely will to make it age-appropriate.
Much love to you and your little souls,
PS – There are a number of books available about how to manage money and chores with kids. There are many also that about values that relate to money, such as gratitude and non-materialism. I am hoping to read some of them and have just started reading The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Lieber which is great food for thought. (I am not an affiliate for Ron’s products)
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Before having children, if I saw a parent allowing their child to do something I didn’t think they should be doing (like being disruptive in a waiting room or talking back), I’d immediately judge the parent in my head. “They shouldn’t let their kid do that”, I’d think. Or, the rather self-righteous, “I’d never let my kids do that”.
Of course, once I became a parent myself, I realised that it is not actually possible to get our children to behave as we think they should all of the time. Short of manhandling them, sometimes there is nothing we can do that will stop them from doing something they shouldn’t or make them do something they should. And, unless safety is at stake, such as they’re about to run out onto the road, I won’t physically restrain children.
It has only just dawned on me fairly recently, though, that I can choose to let my kids “misbehave”. Sometimes, I can decide not to even try to change their behaviour when they’re doing something I think they shouldn’t.
WHY DID I THINK I HAD TO CORRECT MY KIDS EVERY TIME?
Letting go of the need to respond in some way to every behaviour I deem inappropriate has been a slow process for me.
Part of it is because I’m conscientious. I thought it was upto me to teach my boys everything and that I had to be consistent in doing so. I forgot that, by nature, children are essentially good and I can trust that their good will come through without my constant management.
The other reason is that I thought everyone was watching me, judging me like I used to judge other parents. And, actually, some people are. But the difference now is that it has come to my consciousness that my relationship with my boys is more important to me than what others think of me.
The big realisation is that my kids are not a reflection of me. The way I treat them is.
WHY WOULD I CHOOSE TO LET MY KIDS MISBEHAVE?
If I called them up on everything they did that I didn’t think they should, my boys would quickly feel that I was picking on them. We parents use a lot of sound reasoning to justify insisting on something – “it’s for their own good” or “they can’t get away with that” or “they need to learn that…” – but I don’t want my boys to feel that they are under the microscope all the time.
Although I use respectful strategies to manage my boys’ behaviour and to teach them, when I use the strategies, they know that they are being corrected in some way. If they are to know that I love them unconditionally, they can’t be feeling that I’m correcting them more than I am accepting them. I need to allow them space to manage situations in their own way as often as I can. And, as I’ve said, I believe that kids are essentially “good” – until we tell them otherwise. My boys are great but some days I have wondered if I’ve undermined their sense of worth a little by trying to teach them too many things in one day.
So, particularly when there are other factors involved, such as the child is tired or emotions are high, we can choose to just let it go. At these times, insisting on certain behaviour is fruitless – our children resist our boundaries and we resist their resistance! It only serves to separate us from our children rather than teach them (as good discipline is intended to do). Perhaps in each circumstance we can ask ourselves – in this moment, will correcting them actually help our child or push them away from us? If we get present, the answer will come easily.
Parents feel better, too, when we don’t try to uphold every expectation we have. It’s stressful feeling that we have to teach our children everything and we have to teach them now. But, as you will see below, we don’t have to do that. Now that I’ve decided that turning a blind eye is a perfectly acceptable parenting strategy to use sometimes, I can relax and enjoy my boys that much more.
HOW KIDS STILL LEARN WHEN THEY MISBEHAVE
The marvellous thing I’ve realised is that, even when we choose not to do anything in the moment, our children can still learn what they need to learn in the following 3 ways –
Follow-up after the event – when they’ve settled down, we can discuss with them why what they did wasn’t respectful or a good idea etc. We don’t have to be judgemental about it, we can simply point it out to them and have a conversation about it. Or we can choose to say nothing.
The unfolding of natural consequences. Often, life teaches our children without us having to do a thing. eg. an irritated member of the public asks our child to stop running in the shop (although I don’t condone strangers giving children a telling off, their polite request to “stop doing that please” is often much more effective than mine.) Natural consequences can unfold in a myriad of ways.
And if numbers 1 & 2 don’t happen, we can choose to do absolutely nothing other than being a good example to our kids – they don’t see me playing tag in the supermarket queue.
This more relaxed approach to our children’s behaviour is for negotiable boundaries – those ones that aren’t important enough to be insisted upon every time and around which there is room for compromise. Non-negotiable boundaries I insist on consistently, using my 6-step method (available here).
Ignoring bad behaviour is not my main parenting method. But I’m giving myself and my kids a break. We don’t have be constantly tinkering with our children like old cars, trying to fix them and their behaviour.
On Wednesday, I went to the supermarket with both of my boys – something I usually try to avoid. Thomas was boisterous, hollering from his place in the child’s seat of the trolley and throwing his gumboots around. Jake, who insisted on pushing the trolley, had rather questionable steering skills and was egging Thomas on in his unruliness. The noise and disruption was driving me nuts so presumably it was also irritating the other customers in the shop. But I could see that Jake and Thomas were both tired and not in a frame of mind take on board my requests to settle down. I got plenty of stares from the other shoppers and wanted to be respectful of them, but Jake and Thomas weren’t being naughty, just annoying. And that’s the thing – so many of the times I would’ve corrected them in the past they were actually just enjoying themselves. So I tolerated the disapproval of the other shoppers, my boys had a ball and we got through the shopping far more easily than if I’d tried to insist they settle down.
When a parent, sits back as their kids do something socially unacceptable, it isn’t necessarily because they don’t care, it could be because they do care.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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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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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 –
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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).
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,
PS – Do you have a strategy for helping angry children to share with us? Comment below.
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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?”
“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.
“You shouted at me, but really you were angry with yourself? You felt kind of guilty?”
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. Keep an eye out for my upcoming post about how we can respond helpfully to our children when they are angry.
Much love to you and your little souls,
PS – What emotions have you noticed sometimes appear as anger in your child/ren? Comment below.
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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 – RELATIONSHP 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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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.
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.
“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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As parents, we have to make many decisions on our children’s behalf. Some decisions come easily – it seems obvious what to do and we make them with confidence. But there are also a lot of decisions we angst over. As much as we try, we’re painfully aware that we can’t always anticipate what the ramifications of a decision might be for our children or how they might feel about it. There are times when we think “I just don’t know what to do!” I find that I start spinning in circles of indecision, getting myself quite wound up & anxious.
Here are just a few of the decisions that I’ve struggled with since having children –
whether to accept pain relief in labour.
when to start trying for baby number 2.
whether my son should go up to Year 2 in school or have longer in Year 1 (having to make this decision is a quirk of the New Zealand school system).
whether to get my son minor surgery for appearance, not medical reasons.
and, every year, what to get my boys for Christmas (something they’ll love for more than 5 minutes that won’t just become more junk around the house).
WHEN WE DON’T KNOW WHICH DECISION TO MAKE
More recently, my husband and I have been talking about possibly moving house. As you know, there are so many factors to take into consideration when deciding whether to move and where to move to, such as proximity of family and access to schools – it can be quite overwhelming. For many weeks, I felt paralysed, unable to make a decision because I couldn’t figure out what would be best for my boys.
One evening in bed, I realised I hadn’t prayed over it, I’d been waiting for the answer to become clear without really asking for it. So I briefly outlined my dilemma for God (He knew all the details anyway) and the answer came straight away – There’s no right or wrong, you just have to commit to whichever decision you make and make the most of it.
It hadn’t really occurred to me that there’s not always a right choice or a best choice. But, when I heard The Universe’s reply, I was reminded of a time when I was going through a rough patch in my twenties and I had to decide what to do next. I would listen to Susan Jeffers’Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway whenever I went anywhere in my car to give myself a boost of confidence (it was a cassette tape!). Susan spoke of tasting all the “goodies” along the path we choose. Along one path, there might be blueberries and, along the other, there might be strawberries – either way, we can pick and enjoy the berries that line our path. Back then, I thought that sounded lovely but really there was a right decision in every case. Fifteen years later, though, I understood what The Universe was telling me.
Still, when I first got my answer about moving house, I rolled my eyes at God and said, “very wise, but I still don’t know what to do!” But I tried not to be frustrated and instead to trust & be open to all the possibilities before us, focussing on the joys (the berries) each option offered.
Then, shortly afterwards, some new information came to light and my husband & I realised that we need to sit tight for now and review the move in a year’s time. There was our decision – for now. And I feel good about it.
As my spiritual connection grows, it’s that feeling of peace that I look for when making a decision. The pros and cons contribute to the process but, ultimately, I’m looking for what feels right. And that requires me to put my fear aside so that I can sense Love’s wisdom.
THERE’S NOTHING TO BE AFRAID OF
I think it’s often fear that keeps us stuck when making decisions. When it comes to my boys, I fear that they will miss out on something great or, conversely, suffer in some way if I make a poor decision. When deciding what to do, I tend to catastrophise, looking for everything that could go wrong.
What if, instead, like Susan, we looked for everything that could go right? Perhaps that would make our decisions easier to make and help us to trust that all paths have the potential to be great. Making decisions from a place of joyful possibility seems more empowering than making decisions designed to avoid the worst.
And if we make a decision that, as the consequences reveal themselves, we discover isn’t right for our children, we can view that discovery as a particularly sweet, juicy berry along the path. We haven’t made a “mistake” or taken the “wrong path”, because it led us to more knowledge. We can use that knowledge going forward and make another decision to take us somewhere else. Most decisions aren’t as fixed & irreversible as fear would have us believe. Sometimes we just have to get on, make a decision and feel it on for size, knowing we can course-correct if needed.
IN SUMMARY – EAT THE BERRIES
When we are feeling anxious over a decision we have to make for our children, perhaps it’s an indication that we need to let go of our fears. have a little faith and learn to feel our way. I know now that I can trust that, when the answer isn’t clear, it’s probably a case of “can’t go wrong” and an opportunity to relax, let things unfold and eat some scones with mixed berry jam – yum!
We promised to love our children and do our best by them. We never promised that their journey through childhood would be seamless, a paved-with-glitter direct route to a happy adulthood. But we can all enjoy eating as many berries as possible on the way.
I have a treasured memory of a visit with friends in England many years ago. We went blackberry picking along the meandering lanes of the English countryside. I had no idea where we were but the company was great and the berries were good. Now, I can imagine my family on that path, faces and fingers stained with various shades of red, purple and blue, grinning widely.
Much love to you and your little souls,
PS – What decisions do/have you found difficult to make for your children? Comment below.
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How many times have I heard grandparents declare that it’s their right to spoil their grandchildren?
They go on to say how great it is to treat and enjoy the kids without the weight of responsibility they had has parents…and to hand them back to us when it’s time.
But they say these things with a mischievous glint in their eye – because they know they’re not entirely right.
When the ways they spoil their grandchildren conflict with the parents’ values for their family, it’s not right.
When the children see that their grandparents don’t respect their parents’ decisions, it’s a poor example to them.
When spoiling their grandchildren sabotages the parents’ parenting efforts, it creates another mountain the parents must climb.
I have, at times, allowed my own children’s grandparents to spoil them in ways that bother me because I feel guilty. All that help they give me as a parent and all that love they shower on my boys – I feel that I’m being ungrateful if I don’t let them enjoy their grandchildren in the ways that they want to.
But, recently, I’ve decided that letting them spoil my boys weakens my own efforts as a parent and I have had polite but firm words with both sets of grandparents about where our boundaries are.
I really value the role of grandparents in my children’s lives for so many reasons. The delight grandparents take in their grandchildren is a gift to them both. But I realised that letting my boys’ grandparents spoil them had the potential put a wedge in the relationship – I’d become reluctant for them to have time with Jake and Thomas if I expected I may be undermined or treated as a spoil-sport if I spoke up.
So here are some of my guidelines for my boys’ grandparents. You may feel differently but I hope that reading them will help you to define your own –
3 WAYS I DON’T WANT MY CHILDREN’S GRANDPARENTS TO SPOIL THEM
By feeding them unhealthy food. It’s hard to teach our children good eating habits and develop their taste for healthy food in a world full of junk food. I care about my boys’ health and well-being and want help taking care of them. I don’t want them plied with chocolate biscuits at morning tea, chippies in the afternoon and ice-cream for desert all in the same day. And especially not an hour before dinner time! One treat per visit with the grandparents is enough. (I wrote about the importance of good food in my post Is What I Feed My Kids a Spiritual Issue?)
By buying them things, especially toys. In a materialistic culture, I’m trying to help my boys understand what really matters. I also don’t want them to equate receiving gifts with Love or to expect a gift every time they see their grandparents. Birthday and Christmas presents are welcome, but gifts for no reason aren’t necessary. (And so many of our children’s toys are forgotten within a week, anyway, filling our houses with more clutter.)
By letting them have their way. A few examples – Bedtime is bedtime, no matter whose house my boys are at. Whoever’s cooking chooses what’s for dinner – they can take into consideration what Jake and Thomas like but, once cooked, there’s no making a second meal to their preference. Screentime should be monitored just as it is at home. Our children are equals with everyone, they don’t rule the roost.
3 WAYS I WANT MY CHILDREN’S GRANDPARENTS TO SPOIL THEM
The thing is, my parent and parents-in-law are welcome to spoil my boys in other ways. I understand that grandparents shower their grandchildren with treats as an expression of love. But I want Jake and Thomas to understand what true expressions of love are and there are plenty of ways their grandparents can “spoil” them without spoiling them – with the kinds of things we can’t have too much of. Here are 3 –
By showing lots of interest & giving them lots of attention. I am working on giving my boys my undivided attention more often – it’s hard to do when there’s a house to run etc. Grandparents more easily put everything else on hold when their grandchildren arrive on their doorsteps and devote themselves almost entirely to the kids for the length of the visit. That kind of attention is gold to children. Coming along to school events, swimming lessons and other special occasions are also great ways of affirming grandchildren.
By telling them stories about when you were little. This is a great way for children to get to know their grandparents. They also love to hear how “old-fashioned” things used to be and they will remember the interesting details of the stories they hear. Further, children use their imaginations, ask questions and learn to listen carefully when being told a story so story-telling is a great way for grandparents to contribute to their development.
By creating memories together. Doing fun things together creates golden memories that will live in the children’s hearts. My memories of going on roadtrips with my Poppa and of feeding the birds with my Nan are ones I cherish now. Grandparents can take their grandies on outings (they don’t need to be elaborate or expensive), teach them new games or skills and have fun together at home.
IN SUMMARY – PLEASE PARENT WITH US, NOT AGAINST US
I don’t want the added stress of having to manage my children’s grandparents as well as my children. It’s important to me that my boys’ grandparents are involved in their lives for both their sakes but I need to trust that my parenting efforts will be supported, not sabotaged. Grandparents have the ability to genuinely help us parent if they’ll back us up – it takes a village, after all. I’m fortunate that, on the whole, my children’s grandparents do understand and stick to our rules but I know there are other parents for whom this is a bigger issue.
You’ll likely have different ideas to me about what is and isn’t okay with you when it comes to grandparents spoiling your children. My main point is that each parent needs to know what kinds of “spoiling” they are & aren’t okay with and each grandparent needs to respect that.
Much love to you and your little souls,
PS – If you’re a grandparent, what’s your response to these suggestions? Comment below.
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