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I’m fortunate that almost all the comments people leave on my essays and social media posts are positive and kind.  I don’t think I write anything particularly controversial but my ideas can be unconventional at times and, very occasionally, someone leaves a comment like “that won’t work!” as if I don’t have a clue what I’m talking about.

To give an example, one such comment was left about an essay I wrote called Why We Don’t Need To Teach Values To Our Children.  It was about encouraging our children to turn inwards to their innate sense of right-and-wrong when they’ve made a poor decision, rather than criticising them for their behaviour.  I wrote –

“…we don’t have to judge, punish and lecture them when they stray from their natural state of Love.  Because they already know, in the instant that they do the apparently unloving thing, that what they did wasn’t right”.

I could hear the commenter’s scoffs as I read their words.  And I get it – if the measure of “working” is that, after one or two applications of my suggested approach to direct our child inward, they would always make the “right” decision, then, no, it wasn’t going to work.

So, what does it mean to say that our parenting is “working”? 

 

CRITERIA FOR PARENTING THAT WORKS

When I was teaching primary school, we developed a set of criteria for each learning outcome by which to evaluate our students’ levels of success.  Essentially, we broke each goal down into smaller components so that we could say very specifically why a child had or hadn’t met the outcome and to what degree.  I decided to have a go at writing criteria for my parenting and this is what I came up with.

Parenting that works…

  1. BENEFITS MY CHILD IN THE LONG TERM, sometimes at the cost of short-term ease. If we simply want things to be easy (which, if we’re honest, usually means getting immediate compliance from our children so we can go about whatever it was we were doing), our tendency is to be over-controlling and to resort to strategies that don’t pass anything of value onto our children except, often, fear of our disapproval or punishment. But, if we repeatedly bypass the work of parenting in this way, we bypass the benefit for our children.  Each parenting moment is loaded with opportunities for them to learn valuable skills that they can take with them into life.  Examples of such skills are – how to manage emotions, how to have self-awareness, numerous practical skills and the ability to understand another’s perspective.   The list is endless.

Consider the example I opened with – criticising and punishing our children for making apparently poor decisions teaches them nothing new.  However, helping them to tune in to their intuitive knowing teaches them that they have an internal compass they can check in with at any moment to guide them towards the most loving action.

  1. NURTURES MY CHILD’S SELF-WORTH. I believe in everyone’s inherent worth but, unfortunately, most of us spend our lives questioning our worthiness. Apart from feeling low, when we feel unworthy, we hold ourselves back in our lives.  Keenly familiar with this experience myself, I try to consistently reflect my children’s worth back to them, even in the challenging moments.  Because, when our children see that we believe they are unquestionably worthy, they are more likely to believe it themselves.

Back to the example from the introduction – if we use the guise of “teaching them good values” to judge and lecture our children for making a poor decision, it takes them straight to a feeling of unworthiness.  When we, instead, teach them something useful (in this case, to turn inwards to their essential loving selves), they feel worthy because we have taken the time to guide them and we are showing them that we believe in them.

  1. FOSTERS CONNECTION BETWEEN MYSELF & MY CHILD. The quality of our relationship with our children is where our power as parents lies.  An authentic connection with our child provides them with things such as the safety to be themselves, the motivation to learn from our example and the willingness to allow us to coach them or to ask us for help.  Every interaction with our child is an opportunity to shape our relationship with them and it’s up to us whether we use it to strengthen or weaken that valuable connection.

In our example – when we barrage our children with disapproval & punishment for poor decisions, we separate ourselves from them and, for that time at least, we are no longer the safe place that they need us to be.  Their trust in us gets chipped away by our judgement.  However, when they see us, instead, putting in the effort to teach them the skills of turning inwards, they feel accepted and that we are interested in them, rather than preoccupied with their behaviour.  

 

BRIEF SUMMARY: GETTING HONEST WITH OURSELVES

I think we often conflate “parenting” with “discipline” when evaluating ourselves as parents.  We think that, if we have our kids “under control”,  we’re doing a decent job.  But you may have noticed that none of these criteria are about how our children behave.  They are all about the way we behave as their parents and, especially, our motivations.   For me, the extent to which our parenting is working is the extent to which we are prioritising our children’s wellbeing over everything else, including getting our kids to do what we want them to.  (Gulp)  

 

Much love,

 

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When I was expecting my first baby, I devoured baby care books.  I used my library card to borrow almost every book that had been written about newborn babies and, from there, chose the best ones to actually purchase.  I packed the chosen few along with my birth plan in my hospital suitcase.  I was going to do this parenting thing right from the very beginning.

Well, the birth plan proved to be irrelevant and the books were too.  But I didn’t realise this about the books until they’d already put my baby and myself through the wringer.  My baby did not behave in the ways the books told me he would and very little the well-loved experts had written helped to make parenting him any easier.  I became very stressed – angry at myself and my baby for not “doing it properly”.

Some of you may be asking why did I cling to these books so tightly if they were stressing me out?  Others of you may already know the answer – because you relate.  

WHY WE READ SO MANY PARENTING BOOKS

I read the books because I didn’t think I could do it.  I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to keep this baby alive, let alone ensure he thrived in every way.  My insides were a tangle of self-doubt and, with a sense of the importance of the task before me, my confidence was at an all-time low.

These days, our society has us believing that there’s not much we can do without expert guidance.  It wants almost everything we do to be “research-based”, validated as “best practice” by someone with letters after their name.  It jams everyone and everything into important-sounding theories, including babies and their parents, measuring our actions against scientifically-proven ideals.

Well, I didn’t have a PhD in parenting so I put my trust in the experts who did.  I was a good student, too.  I read their books thoroughly, marking them with post-it notes and diligently following their guidelines.  The books had me doing all sorts of crazy things and making myself (and probably my poor baby) crazy in the process.  But I didn’t question them because they were written by the experts.  They couldn’t be wrong – I was doing something wrong.  My sense of failure was tangible.  

WHY WE DON’T NEED ALL THOSE PARENTING BOOKS

It took me a long time to come to the realisation that, as a parent, I was the expert.  It was my job to be the expert – not in baby care and parenting in general, but an expert in my own child in particular.

To become the expert, I had to carry out the research myself, observing my child and using what I learned to inform myself going forward.  Of course, I didn’t have the pure objectivity that a scientific researcher does because I was connected to my child biologically, emotionally and spiritually.  But I did have the ability to be present.

Getting present when we’re tired, stressed and anxious takes discipline but it helps us to connect with our children so that we really see them.  And, when we open ourselves to really seeing them, our intuition kicks in.  It shows us what’s going on beneath their behaviour and how to respond with what our child really needs.  (I have written more about how to use our intuition in our parenting in this essay).

Our power as parents is in the quality of our relationship with our children, not in our ability to implement a plan laid out for us by an expert.  In fact, our children can feel us applying strategies to them and it doesn’t feel good, often undermining that connection that tells us so much of what we need to know.  

HOW TO READ A PARENTING BOOK

Of course, there are lots of great parenting books out there and I have a number of them on my own bookshelf.  But I have sifted through them and kept only the ones that offer wise perspective, leaving room for my own judgement and the messiness that is childhood, parenting and family life. So keep your favourites on the shelf, but here is the rule: As you read, look for what resonates. 

If you read with an open heart, rather than with the fear of “doing it wrong” or desperation to find a “solution” to whatever parenting challenge you are facing, you will get a feeling for how well the ideas fit with your child and the circumstances before you.  Take what feels true and leave the rest.  (That’s true for my essays also.)  

IN SUMMARY: FOLLOW THE REAL EXPERTS

Those of us who are inclined to over-research parenting do so because we don’t trust ourselves.  But, if we’re willing to put aside our fear and its desire to control, we will find that we have access to intuitive wisdom we can trust.  The ideas in the books that we read offer us suggestions from which to choose the most suitable actions, they are not to be treated as the instruction manuals we often find ourselves looking for in the midst of challenge and self-doubt. My experience is that, once we trust ourselves more, we will also begin to trust our children.  We will realise that they  are the experts on themselves and we simply have to follow their lead.  

 

 

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I hear shrieks, followed by two sets of footsteps racing up the stairs to get to me first.  My boys burst into the room, words falling out of their mouths before they even reach me.  I had been happily minding my own business, making my bed as I listened to a podcast, but now I felt myself quickly fill with dread.  I knew they were coming to ask me to resolve a dispute that I didn’t even see and that I already knew would be impossible to get to the bottom of…

 

School holidays have just finished here in New Zealand.  As we were saying goodbye to our friends at the end of last term, I noticed an almost universal parental response to the impending break – they were looking forward to having more time with their kids but they were dreading the sibling conflict, which seems to escalate to new heights when our children have so much time together.

Last year, I wrote an essay called Snatching Squabbling & Slamming Doors – Siblings!  In it, I exposed the parental desperation around sibling conflict.  A lot of people related to the examples I gave –

…next minute…there’s shouting – no, roaring – and Jake has evicted Thomas from his bedroom.  Thomas is banging on the door, crying that he wants to be let back in.

Or…Thomas has decided he wants the toy car that Jake’s got (even though his fists are already full with 3 others) and the snatching and squealing begins.

Or…Jake begins to slowly wind Thomas up, taking advantage of his 3 years senior.  He argues, manipulates and competes with Thomas, who just can’t keep up and ends up hitting Jake in frustration.  And, of course, Jake comes running to report to me, very indignantly, that Thomas hit him.

Or…(and this one takes the cake)…we’re in the car and Thomas starts wailing “I don’t want Jake to look at me!”

In my essay, I admitted that I didn’t know what to do and concluded that I just had to ride it out and trust that, as they got older, they’d better be able to manage themselves.

 

MY SECRET TO MANAGING SIBLING CONFLICT

Well, I’m pleased to report that, now that my boys are a year older (4 and 7 years old), things are improving – considerably.  I put it down partly to their maturity and partly to my consistent message that we treat one another with respect & kindness.

But I have also discovered a secret that helps me to lead my boys more easily to a resolution.  It prevents the situation from spiraling downward into an impossible confusion of interjections and tears, as it once seemed to do inevitably.  Want know what my secret is?  It’s this –

Don’t take sides.

Have you noticed how sibling conflict quickly turns into a jostle for Mum or Dad’s attention and affirmation?  Our children come racing to us, wanting to be the first to have their story of mistreatment heard.  They want to be told that they are the one who is “right”.  Well, if one of them is “right”, then the other is “wrong”.  If we play the role our children want us to, someone is always judged.

But, as a soulful parent, I stand by my boys through all things without judgement (well, ideally, anyway).    My job in any situation is to be there for both of them, supporting them each in the way that they need to be supported.  Doing this takes enormous intention and patience on my part because often my brain insists that there is one boy who “is clearly in the wrong”.  It wants to pick up a wig and gavel, make an authoritative ruling and get onto the next thing (usually the next item on my to-do list).

But, if I don’t intervene by declaring who is victim and who is perpetrator, if I don’t order a “fair” solution to the situation, what do I do?

I upskill them.  I take my boys through a process which gives them the skills to express themselves, manage their emotions, problem-solve and work with others.

This process is less a step-by-step how-to and more of a conversation that is adjusted for the individuals and the situation at hand.  You could say I have found some rules for these conversations that help me to shape the discussion so that it is constructive (instead of becoming a cauldron of complaints, blaming and frustration).  Here are the rules I have set for myself when managing sibling conflict –

 

Managing Sibling Conflict: Rules of Engagement (for Parents)

* Take no sides (already explained).

* Give each child a chance to explain their feelings and have them acknowledged by me.  Usually, I do this with each of them separately because their sibling can’t help but interject if they disagree.  Feeling heard helps them to calm down too.

* Get each child to focus on their own behaviour and what they can do in the situation, not what their sibling did or should do.  For example, we discuss the impact of their behaviour on the other and prepare what they want to say to their sibling.

* Help the siblings to come together to problem-solve.  Having coached them each already, I get them together and become the mediator for their conversation.  I don’t usually put any ideas forth myself, I say as little as possible.   I just help them to take turns to tell each other what they have to say and to listen to each other.  The goal is for them to learn how to communicate well and to come to a resolution together.

After months of this kind of coaching and mediating, we’re beginning to see the reward.  These holidays, I have heard both of my boys try to use the skills I’ve been teaching them on their own, without stepping into my courtroom.  Having practiced the skills so many times, they’re getting the hang of how to express themselves, listen to each other and problem-solve together.  I am freed of my judge’s wig and gavel.

 

IN SUMMARY – SIBLING CONFLICT COURT ADJOURNED

Of course, this is not the secret to eliminating sibling conflict altogether – arguments are normal!  But, when I don’t take sides, my boys learn the many skills of managing conflict themselves.  I intend to eventually be made redundant.

Personally, it is an enormous relief to realise that I do not have to get to the bottom of every argument, to determine who’s right or wrong and what the “fair” resolution is.  Instead of wading through all the details, trying to excavate the “truth”, all I have to do is to help them find a way forward.

This makes each situation more positive for my boys too because, regardless of their role in it, they can both rely on my affirmation and support.  They don’t have to compete for my allegiance as they once did because I no longer take up the role of judge.  I give them the power in the situation instead of wielding it myself.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Check out this great book, Siblings without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (not an affiliate link)

THE BOY I COULDN’T FIGURE OUT

I distinctly remember the moment when I used my intuition intentionally for the first time with a child.  I was a primary school teacher and I had a boy in my class – we’ll call him Ryan – who was a complex child.  He was exceptionally bright, very friendly and had a good sense of humour yet every day he poked, niggled at and generally annoyed his classmates.  It was virtually impossible to get a straight answer out of him about why he was treating his classmates this way.  Whenever I asked him about what was going on, his clever mind would try to formulate the responses to my questions that would land him in the least amount of trouble.  I just couldn’t figure him out.

One morning, Ryan had just upset another classmate and we were going round in circles (again), trying to determine what had happened when I felt my mind almost stop.  Normally when I was teaching, my mind was in 28 places, trying to keep an eye on what each student was upto.  But, in this moment, the other children in the room faded away and my attention zoomed in on Ryan.  It became peaceful inside me and I let my resistance to his behaviour go.  I asked myself, “What does he need in this moment to be able to tell me why he’s upsetting the other children?”  And it came to me in an instant – give him the start of a sentence to finish.  Suddenly I understood that he had so much happening in his mind that he needed help to zero in on the information I was asking him about.  If I started a sentence for him, it would take his thoughts to the place where the answer was and all he had to do was finish the sentence.  To give an example, a sentence starter might be something like I poked Ben because… or I wanted Ben to… Each time, I could adjust the sentence I gave him to the situation.

Somehow, finishing the sentence was easier for Ryan than answering a question.  It didn’t allow him to go off on tangents or hide what was really going on with words. From then on, if I couldn’t get a straight answer from him, I carefully spoke or wrote the start of a sentence or two for him and he finished them off.  Being able to get the information I needed about his behaviour helped me to understand where he was coming from and how I could help him.  The rest of the school year was a lot easier.  That one moment of asking my intuition for what I needed transformed the dynamic between Ryan, me and the rest of our class.

I now use getting present and inviting my intuition in (like I learned to do in my classroom that day) in my parenting.  It especially helps me to respond appropriately to difficult situations with my boys.  Although I sometimes share with you strategies for approaching specific situations in a respectful way (eg. to discipline or to respond to an angry child), I prefer to use my intuition than to lean on a process or strategy by default.  Over the years, my best responses to situations have come to me in the moment when I’ve had no plan for how to approach them but my heart and mind have been open to really seeing what’s going on.  The trick is to ask ourselves the right questions.

 

ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

The questions we ask ourselves have a lot of power, they reflect our intentions.  Imagine, for instance, you have asked your child to help with the housework and they are flat-out refusing – rather loudly and aggressively.  If we ask ourselves “how can I get them to do what I want them to?” (just quieten down and pick up the vacuum cleaner, for goodness’ sake!) we are not approaching things with a spirit of respect and co-operation so we’re probably not going to hear much from our intuition.  It doesn’t want to be complicit in controlling our children.

As I’ve used my intuition more and more, I’ve found that there are 3 questions I tend to ask most when in a difficult situation with one of my boys. These questions help me to understand what’s really happening and what is needed from me in the moment –

 

“What is my child needing right now?”

Our intuition is likely to reply to this question with something like – acknowledgement of their point of view;  help to manage a big emotion; to learn where a boundary is; to tune into their values…  In the case of the child refusing to vacuum, they may need acknowledgement that they don’t like vacuuming and help to manage their anger about having to do it, for example. When I ask this question, I can see that that the child is not being naughty but has developmentally appropriate needs.

 

“What can I do to meet that need?”

Our intuition is super-creative, shiny with brilliance we probably wouldn’t tap into using our rational minds on their own.  It’s able to synthesise the various aspects of a situation to offer simple and effective solutions – like giving Ryan a sentence to finish.  It wants to help us empower our children.

 

“What belief about myself, my child or the situation has triggered me so much?”

Yes, we have to turn the questions on ourselves too, especially if we notice that we’re having a strong internal response to the situation at hand.  Infact, this question should probably be asked first as a way of clearing the air before responding to our child.   It might be that we believe children should always do as they’re asked and should never speak back – because that’s exactly what our parents used to say to us.  If we have that belief, we’re not able to see our child’s need, only our own sense of being disrespected or out of control.  But, once we are aware of our trigger, it no longer has control over us because we can choose not to let that limiting belief parent the child but our Love to parent them instead.

 

CONCLUSION

See how differently we respond to our children when we get present and ask our intuition the real questions, rather than simply trying to figure out how to get our child to do what we want them to?  Suddenly the situation is transformed from one of confrontation and competition, our child and ourselves each trying to get our own way, to one of compassion, co-operation and truth.  In this way, we can recruit both our brains and our souls for our higher purpose as parents – to love our children as they are and to lift them up.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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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 –

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).

 

CONCLUSION

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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WHAT ARE “NATURAL CONSEQUENCES?”

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

 

WHEN NATURAL CONSQUENCES AREN’T SUITABLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

WHEN WE NEED AN ALTERNATIVE TO NATURAL CONSEQUENCES

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

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

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

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

 

WHEN LOGICAL CONSQUENCES DON’T WORK EITHER!

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

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

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

 

IN SUMMARY – IT’S OK TO SET BOUNDARIES

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

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

WAYS TO BUILD OR REPAIR OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH OUR CHILD

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

IN SUMMARY – RELATIONSHIP AS THE FOUNDATION

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

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

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Shouting”, Jake grumped at me.

“Fair enough.”

 

WHAT’S WRONG?

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

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

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

How had it got to this?!

 

LOSING MY WAY

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

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

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

 

GOING INTO TIME OUT

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

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

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

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

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

 

IN SUMMARY – FLOUNDERING, FORGIVENESS & MOVING FORWARD

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

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

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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On my blog, I share my experiences as a parent who is trying to honour and nurture her children’s spirits in the ordinary moments of life.  I write because it makes me a better parent.  I find that I make discoveries as I type, uncovering loving wisdom as I mull things over and try to make enough sense of them to put into words.  I share what works for me in my posts, not because I regard myself as an expert but incase other parents might find it helpful in some way.

Today, though, I don’t think I have any tips to offer.  I’m writing about an area of parenting in which I feel stuck.  I will try not to let it turn into a pointless rant, I’m hoping, at least, that other parents who have the same struggles will feel less alone when they read it.  And, if you have any suggestions to help, please share them in the comments!

 

THE PROBLEM – CAN  YOU RELATE?

I want to say from the start that my boys are lovely.  They are kind, friendly, helpful and charming much of the time.  They adore each other.  3-year-old Thomas will put his arms around his big brother and say, “You’re my best friend Dake (Jake)” and Jake will return the affection.  My heart swells to see them play together, happy in their own world for two.

But, next minute…there’s shouting – no, roaring – and Jake has evicted Thomas from his bedroom.  Thomas is banging on the door, crying that he wants to be let back in.

Or…Thomas has decided he wants the toy car that Jake’s got (even though his fists are already full with 3 others) and the snatching and squealing begins.

Or…Jake begins to slowly wind Thomas up, taking advantage of his 3 years senior.  He argues, manipulates and competes with Thomas, who just can’t keep up and ends up hitting Jake in frustration.  And, of course, Jake comes running to report to me, very indignantly, that Thomas hit him.

Or…(and this one takes the cake)…we’re in the car and Thomas starts wailing “I don’t want Jake to look at me!”

 

Jake knows how to use his power over Thomas and Thomas can be just plain difficult sometimes.

Most of this squabbling occurs either when we’re in the car and I’m unable to resolve things because I’m driving or when I’m just out of ear shot so don’t know exactly how it got started.  And trying to get a straight story from the two of them is pointless.  Sometimes, I don’t even try.

Often, usually when I’ve just sat down for a 5-minute coffee, I hear them both declare “I’m telling on you!” followed by two sets of feet racing to get to me first in order to lodge a complaint against the other.  I already know the situation is going to be impossible to resolve.

The bickering, fussing, shouting and tears challenges my sanity some days.  I’m tired of having to stop in the middle of what I’m doing to try and sort things out. I don’t have energy to expend on what are usually quite petty arguments.  For all my efforts, I rarely feel that I’ve sorted things out properly and it all starts up again 5 minutes later anyway.  It’s like trying to referee a sports game without knowing the rules.  Some days, I end up bickering, fussing, shouting and nearly in tears.

 

WHAT DO I DO?!

As a soulful parent, I’m trying to teach my boys to show kindness and respect for everyone, regardless of who they are or how they behave.  Siblings are the perfect people to practise on and that is part of their purpose in our lives.  I still believe in my boys’ natural kindness because I see so much of that too but no amount of appealing to the love they have for each other seems to be making a long-term difference with the squabbling.

I’m also mindful of the fact that it is their relationship to have and it’s not my role to micro-manage it.  While I don’t allow them to hurt each other, I don’t often discipline them over the way they treat each other because I don’t see it as a discipline issue, I see it as a relationship issue.

Many days, by the afternoon (or sometimes by breakfast time), I’m fed up, too exasperated to try being wise and reasonable.  Sometimes I do what I always said I wouldn’t – ask Jake to back down since he’s the older one, just so we can all have some peace.   Other times, I confiscate the toy they’re fighting over or send them to play in different areas of the house or distract them with something else.  These things give us all reprieve.  But it’s only temporary.

 

CALL IN THE EXPERTS – SOME PERSPECTIVE ON THE SITUATION

As I’ve been pondering all the squabbling and my own feeling of helplessness in order to write this blog post, I’ve remembered a theory I learned when training as a teacher.  Psychologist Jean Piaget defined four stages of cognitive development and, according to his theory, both my boys would fit into the Preoperational Stage (approx. 2-7 years).  Among other things, at this stage, children tend to be ego-centric and struggle to see things from another person’s point of view.  This is reassuring – kind of.  It’s not that my boys are especially self-centred – they’re typical of their ages – but what am I to do in the meantime?

One of the most important things we do as parents is to accept our children as they are.  So here is another opportunity for me to practise full acceptance.  I need to accept the cognitive stage my boys are at.  I can keep reminding & encouraging them to be kind & respectful and explicitly appreciating it when they are but I may have to accept that it won’t be immediately effective.  Right now, I’m sowing the seed for when their brains are able to think beyond themselves.  If I can’t change the situation, for my own sanity, the best I can do is accept it.  I find praying helps me to find acceptance when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

 

IN SUMMARY – THEY’LL SURVIVE EACH OTHER & I’LL SURVIVE THEM

Thanks for listening to my grumblings.  Two weeks of school holidays are coming to an end I’m feeling a bit worn out by the bickering.  Jake and Thomas are the cause of each other’s highest highs and lowest lows in a day and it’s been a rollercoaster ride for me too.   If I can see their squabbling as one of those necessary stages all children pass through – like newborn nightime feeding and the toddler “whys?” – it might help.  Getting up multiple times a night and answering a barrage of inane questions made me borderline-wretched too…but I’ve lived to tell the tale.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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“How Can I Make My Children Listen To Me?”
Short answer – I don’t know exactly.
But I do have some strategies from my days as a teacher and my own parenting to share with you which may increase the chances!

When some of my readers told me that they struggle with getting their children to listen to them, I knew it was something that almost every parent can relate to. Because I certainly can! When our children don’t listen to us, situations can quickly escalate. A simple reminder that it’s time for them to do their homework can rapidly become a shouting, stomping affair (and not just by the children!). So, I decided to do some thinking and see if I had anything useful to offer…

 

WHAT’S REALLY HAPPENING WHEN OUR CHILDREN DON’T LISTEN?

I took a moment to think about what’s happening when our children “don’t listen” and I realised that there are two main scenarios –

1. Our children really aren’t listening, they’re zoning us out (how dare they?!)
2. Our children have listened but they’re not doing what we have asked them to do.

In our house, it’s usually the later (although I understand that, as they reach adolescence, children become more certain that what their parents are saying doesn’t actually apply to them and they nonchalantly ignore it much of the time). I don’t take it very well when my boys don’t do as I have asked. I feel frustrated and disrespected. But when I questioned myself, Are my boys really disrespecting me when they don’t listen? I had to conclude that, no, they’re actually not disrespecting me – it’s just that they don’t agree with me.

They don’t agree that they should turn the tv off to leave for school – they just want to see how the program ends.

They don’t agree that they should wear tidier clothes for our special family lunch – they like this t-shirt.

They don’t agree that they should come and set the table now – there’s playing to be done and setting the table is such a draaag.

When I remember that my boys usually aren’t meaning to disrespect me by not listening, it diffuses my emotion because I know it’s not personal and then I handle the situation more calmly. I can aknowledge that my children have their own concerns and opinions that deserve respect. Who’s to say their interests are less important than my own? As inconvenient as it sometimes is, they need to have a say in their own lives. As soulful parents, we understand that our children are not ours to control and we are bound to at least take their point of view into consideration. After truly considering it, we can then fairly decide whether to insist on what we’ve asked for, compromise or allow them their way.

What I’m getting at here is that our relationship with our children is a relationship between equals. True respect doesn’t see age. Sure, there are times when I am certain that I know best – I’m the one who can read the clock and I know that, if the tv isn’t turned off now, we won’t get to school in time. But I don’t want to be heavy-handed in my authority or use my age over my children. Perhaps it really doesn’t matter what they wear to the family lunch – my family will just be glad to see them, chocolate-stained Star Wars t-shirts and all. We do not lose our power when we decide to allow our children their way – we are more powerful for sharing it.

 

5 STEPS TO HELP YOUR CHILDREN LISTEN TO YOU

How we approach things really depends on the scenario and the age of our children. But here are 5 general steps for increasing the chance of having them listen to us when it really is for the best, beginning with the way we tell them what we want –

1. Get their attention
Often, I can’t be bothered trudging upstairs to my boys’ bedrooms so I holler instructions to them from the kitchen as I chop the onions. Then I wait for the response – none.
The key is to get our children’s eye-contact before telling them what we want them to do so we know they are engaged. Looking into our eyes, they can’t pretend to themselves or to us that they haven’t heard. This may require us to make the effort to go up the stairs and maybe to temporarily remove distractions (such as toys or screens) to get our children’s attention. For young children, physically getting down to eye-level is helpful too.

2. Insist on a verbal response
When our children reply, they’re acknowledging that they have heard us. Sometimes, “ok” is sufficient. Sometimes, they need to tell us more, depending what it is that we have said to them.  Again, they can’t deny hearing or understanding our message if they have responded appropriately.  And it’s just good manners to respond when someone speaks to us.

3. Give them a chance to share their point of view
If they disagree with us, our children need to be able to say so. It is an important life-skill to be able to express a point of view that differs from someone else’s. Also, when we take the time to listen to what they have to say, it shows them that we care about their perspective and feelings. Disagreement doesn’t have to become an argument. If they do start arguing back, I tell my boys, “you can tell me what you have to say but do it respectfully”. When we hear our children’s point of view, we might find that we’re actually happy to accommodate them or are willing to compromise. All these things strengthen our relationship with them and, when we still insist on them doing what we have said, they are more likely to do it, having felt acknowledged.

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. – Steven Covey

Note of caution: With some nimble-tongued characters, it can be a slippery slope of persuasion and excuses not to do whatever has been asked of them. Be on the look-out and don’t get sucked in. If, after hearing their persepctive, I still want my son to do as I asked and the attempts to change my mind continue beyond reason, I just say “I have listened to you but I am not changing my mind”.

4. Explain our reasons for what we have asked them to do
When we decide that we are not going to change our mind, it helps for our children to understand our reasoning. “I don’t have to justify myself to my own kids!” I hear more than one of you saying. 😊  Giving them our reasons also shows them that we’re not being arbitrary or simply pleasing ourselves. Our children may even agree with us in the end. My son doesn’t like being late to school so, if I point out that he may be late if he doesn’t turn the tv off now, he’s usually happy to co-operate.

5. Use the sliding scale of insistence
When I have heard my son’s point of view and still want him to do as I asked, I begin lightly, with the assumption that he will now do as asked. For example, I might simply say, “So, come and set the table now please”. If he doesn’t, I gradually up the stakes – “If you don’t come and set the table now, I will have to take that Lego away until it’s done because it’s distracting you from doing your job”. etc. I try to use natural consequences as much as possible and not to manipulate. You might find my post Discipline 101 helpful here.

This 5-step process might sound like a bit of a palaver when you just want your kids to stop jumping on the couch. In some situations, you will zip through these steps in just a minute or two. But it’s helpful to have the structure in place, practised for when there are larger issues to be resolved.

 

IN SUMMARY – GIVING EVERYONE A VOICE WITHOUT GETTING LOUDER

Often, when we complain that our children are not listening to us, we’re really complaining that they’re not doing what we’ve told them to do. This erks us on so many levels! We tend to increase our volume to get our message across – and they do the same! But using a process like the one I’ve suggested respects and empowers both ourselves and our children. The final decision does rest with us, the parent, but we have to (and want to) take our children’s point-of-view seriously. Creating an atmosphere of co-operation instead of control in our homes reduces the amount of struggle and increases everyone’s willingness to help.

My son has actually told me a few times that I’m “always right” which I like to jokingly remind him of from time to time. But, when I take everyone’s perspective into consideration, I am doing the right thing.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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