You’re in a supermarket with your toddler. You have your shopping list and your little one is every so sweetly “helping” you to select items from the shelf and (not-so) carefully put them into the trolley. All is going well.
They see it.
The toy on the shelf.
Strategically placed by the store manager next to the “need-to-buy” items to guarantee being in your child’s direct eye-line and make the situation completely unavoidable.
The child wants the toy. You kindly say no. In your mind you can see the situation unfold in slow motion before it happens in reality. You try to remain calm, but the meltdown begins and you feel your own face getting hot. The child’s emotions are building like a hot stew in a pressure cooker. You try your best to keep the lid on the pot. Maybe you stay firm. Maybe you beg. Maybe you try to distract with some other product on the shelf. Maybe you get more stern and start using your “I mean it!” voice. You top it off with “the eyeball”. Nothing works.
The child erupts in a way that would put Mount Vesuvius to shame.
All the eyes in the shop are on you. Emotions range from disappointment to rage to embarrassment to helplessness. Thoughts like “I’m a bad parent” or “my child is so rude” or “I have no control” flash through our minds.
Why do these situations happen? Is it possible that there is merely a difference in expectations for the situation? When our expectations aren’t met, it elicits frustration, which most often leads to an undesirable outcome.
What were the differences between our (the parent’s) expectations and the child’s? The ability to prepare for the future is a skill that children develop over time. As the parent, we can see the sequence of events: go to the shop, get groceries, get done in time to miss the traffic, cook supper, bath time, etc… Children, in contrast, live in the here and now. And in this moment, the only thing that matters is the toy.
When we try to reason with our child using logic, it falls on deaf ears. “This is too expensive” and “We don’t have time now” are concepts that don’t make sense to young minds.
Once you identify your child’s capacity to regulate their own emotions on a developmentally appropriate level, it’s gets easier to accept that the contradiction between their expectations and our own are often at the root of the discouraged behaviour from both sides.
Finding the lost toy.
Rushing to find treats.
Anything to STOP the flow of tears and meltdowns.
Why do we do this?
Is it a bad thing to cry? Why does it make us, as adults, feel so uncomfortable?
Were you allowed to cry as a child? Maybe you were, maybe you weren’t.
The more we go out of our way to make our children happy at all costs- the more we teach them that crying is not ok.
What else can we do?
Listen. Let them cry and say things like, “I can see you’re sad. Do you want to tell me why?”
Validate feelings. “It’s ok to feel sad.”
Relate. “Sometimes I feel really sad too.”
Hug. If they allow you and it makes them feel better, then why not? Hugs are not a “reward” for bad behaviour. They’re a physical human need!
Do you cry?
When you cry, as an adult, do you say things like this:
“I’m sorry I’m crying!”
“I’m so embarrassed!”
“I don’t want you to see me like this.”
“This is so silly!”
How can you change that hidden belief that it’s not ok to cry?
Why do we cry?
Crying doesn’t mean we’re “broken”, it doesn’t mean we’re “weak”.
Crying signals to others that we are feeling emotions. Sadness, frustration, anger and sometimes joy! When others know we are feeling something, then they can be signaled to help fulfill a need.
How healing does it feel to have a good cry sometimes?
Sometimes I purposefully find a sad movie just to have a good cry!
Is it manipulative?
Often parents say they don’t want their children to use tears to manipulate. Manipulation implies getting someone to do what you want them to do by using any means possible.
Why would children use crying to get their own way? Well, if it’s worked in the past and someone has given in purely because of the flow of tears, then they’ll use it again.
Can you blame a child for trying to get their own way, when they’ve been taught that that’s a way to get it?
Big news! We actually give our children messages all the time by the way we react, that reinforces their behaviour.
If you don’t want you child to manipulate with crying, then don’t give in to crying. Let them feel disappointed and be there to support!
Let yourself cry, let your children cry, let everyone cry!
Next time you hear yourself saying, “Stop crying.” “Ok, that’s enough crying for now.” or “You’re ok!”
Stop. And maybe think to yourself, "Why must they stop? Why can’t they cry?"
CPASA Founder, Ripple Effect Parenting Owner
Has your child ever said they want your partner more than you? How did it make you feel?
My oldest daughter often says she wants her Daddy and she cries for him. Apparently, I used to do the same to my Mom. If I hurt myself I would ask her to call Daddy so I could tell him at work.
This week I heard my eldest daughter and her sister arguing over who’s Daddy he is. “He’s MY daddy!” “No, MY Daddy!” Which eventually turned into, “You can have Mommy! And I’ll have Daddy.” (face palm) That’s when I felt a twinge of rejection but also found it quite amusing.
Later in the week my child wanted her Daddy and I had one of my own “tantrums” and said to my husband, “I’ll just leave! You guys can have fun without me!” I realised as I said it that I was being a bit overdramatic and childish, but it brought up some feelings of rejection. My daughter came to me later and said, “Mommy were you sad because I said I wanted Daddy more than you?” And I decided to be honest. “Yes my baby, sometimes it hurts my feelings. But then I also see that you love spending time with Daddy and that makes me happy. You’re allowed to feel your feelings. Just know that I really love spending time with you.” I hoped that it was a good opportunity to also create some awareness for her without shaming or punishing her.
Why do they do it?
There’s always a reason for a child’s behaviour and often it’s a lot less complicated than we make it. We might think to ourselves, “My child doesn’t like me.” “I’m too strict.” “I should be the fun one, maybe then they’ll respond differently.” “My partner is too lenient! No wonder they want them more.”
It could be some of these reasons and it could be as simple as them not getting enough time with one partner. Sometimes children will prefer being around a parent who has more lenient boundaries- but this is for parents to discuss. In both cases this has nothing to do with the child- so shaming and blaming the child is not helpful or respectful. All it does is leads to a child feeling like they are wrong or bad and they have no skills to cope with these emotions. They are not able to question this and realise that their parents are making decisions (discipline strategies) that have nothing to do with them. They will take it on as their own issue- they may feel like the “bad ones” for choosing one parent over the other.
What we should try not to do...
1. Don’t label the behaviour – So often we hear people saying, “Ah such a Daddy’s girl!” And what do you think this does? It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. “We live what we create. We create what we live.”-Mommy Moo Moo
2. Don’t take it personally – Maybe easier said than done- but children aren’t intentionally trying to hurt your feelings. Children always behave in a way that they feel will help them to have their needs met. When children “prefer” another parent it doesn’t mean they literally prefer them or love them more. It’s not a reflection of your worth as a parent, but rather it fulfils their desire to have their needs met.
3. Don’t punish or shame them for it – “You’re so mean and nasty!” “That’s not a nice way to be!” These are ways to create less connection between yourself and your child and doesn’t build them up or encourage them.
4. Don’t use it for bragging rights – “The children like me better than you! See! I’m the favourite!” This is a great way to create an “us vs them” mentality and is likely to create a rift between you and your partner and you and your children.
What you can do
1. Validate their beliefs and feelings –If you have to say anything, just say it like it is- “You like spending time with Daddy.” or “I can see you enjoy it when Mommy puts you to bed.” Children don’t know the reason for their behaviour- and they’re not choosing the behaviour. Validation shows them that you see and understand their behaviour.
2. Explore the belief/reason for their behaviour – As I said above, there is always a reason for the behaviour. When you figure out the true reason, you empower yourself to figure out the best course of action. That may be – ignoring the behaviour and working on your own reason behind your feelings of rejection; or it may be working together to get on the same page in your approach to discipline.
3. Schedule special time with them – This is a great way to increase your connection with your child and to create memories and shared experiences that only you have together. Be curious about their interests and become a participant rather than the "leader of play".
4. Work on the reason for your own feelings – Ask yourself why your child’s behaviour triggers an emotional response. Are there some unresolved memories from your childhood that you may need to readdress? Sometimes just acknowledging the reason for your emotion helps your to respond to the situation rather than reacting.
5. Discuss it with your partner privately – If it seems to be something that needs to change and you feel that your parenting styles are too different (i.e. one of you is more dominant and the other is more permissive) you may want to find more Conscious Parenting strategies to use. Conscious Parenting has an amazing balance between kind and firm. It’s not Dominant or Permissive and it’s been proven to be the most psychologically healthy way to discipline children as it leads to an authentic parent/child connection.
At the end of the day your children are egocentric and aren’t always able to think of your feelings first. They are only conscious of their own needs and how they can be met- so it’s up to us as parents to find healthy tools to encourage empathy and understanding.
Co-Founder of the CPASA, Owner and Parent Coach at Ripple Effect Parenting
“Give it to your sister! She’s just little!”
“Come on, sharing is caring!”
“Kind children share!”
What is the big deal with sharing?
Why do we actually want our kids to share? Be honest with yourself?
It makes our kids look and seem kind. But did you know that the act of sharing is a huge developmental milestone?
Young children are developmentally ego-centric. They naturally think of themselves more than anything else in the world… not because they choose to. A child who is forced to share doesn’t learn to be kind, but may learn this:
Are kids who don’t share, bad people? Are kids who hate sharing less worthy than those who love sharing?
The messages we send our kids every day creates their sense of self-worth or lack thereof. It gives them an idea of who they are in relation to the world and those around them. If we let them choose who they are and why they do things, we’re actually empowering them to become much more independent thinkers!
Top tip: When encouraging any skill in your children always try to work with them not against them! Meet them where they’re at.
Do you like to share?
What are we actually asking children to do? Are they capable of doing it naturally? Often we ask them to give something away that belongs to them or that they had first.
Universal law… finders keepers ha ha ha
No, but seriously I wouldn’t share my cellphone with others, I wouldn’t share my car or other personal belongings either!
I wouldn’t want to share a pen I’ve just started using that I’m still busy with!
I definitely wouldn’t want to give up my spot at a coffee shop table because someone else wants me to.
And the big one… do you share with your kids? Food, pens, books? How often do we model the message that our things belong to us but their things need to be shared with others?
What can we do?
So now, it’s not to say we leave our children to think they own everything and never have to share! But can we find a way to encourage sharing and make them a part of the equation too? In order to encourage sharing we need one ingredient… internal motivation. How can we encourage a child to want to share? Sound impossible? Don’t worry! There are ways.
Sharing because a child is being forced to is not teaching them long term valuable lessons. It may even create resentment towards other children and a need to protect their things or become sneaky about their toys and other things. Using conscious parenting to help kids to understanding why we share and how we can share, can be such an invaluable lesson for them… and for us, too!
Co-Founder of the CPASA and Owner and Parent Coach at Ripple Effect Parenting
At face value, praise seems harmless, kind, and helpful. We’ve explored the pitfalls in a previous post, so read that first if you haven’t already.
Praise and encouragement can sound similar, so let’s have a look at the differences between each, and why encouragement is so much more powerful.
When we offer praise, we are providing approval. The focus is on our thoughts, feelings, and evaluations of the child. In other words, we are telling the child that they have met our standards. For example:
“You were so polite at the party today, you’re such a good boy.”
Child thinks: When I forget to be polite, I am a bad boy.
“Wow, I really love your drawing!”
Child thinks: “My self-worth is determined by other people’s opinions.” OR “I know this isn’t a good drawing, adults lie.”
“I’m so proud of you!”
The focus is on the feelings of the adult and detracts from the child’s effort.
“You got all A’s. You’re so clever!”
Child thinks: “I need to be clever to be acknowledged.” OR “If I don’t get A’s, I am not clever.”
So how does encouragement compare? Encouragement acknowledges effort and recognises feelings, rather than achievements.
“I noticed that you were very polite to everyone at the party today.”
Recognising the child’s polite behaviour without adding evaluation. Children are not good or bad. All children are good.
“You drew a butterfly!”
Stating the action without positive or negative judgement allows the child to option of self-evaluation.
“You can be proud of yourself.”
The focus is on the child’s achievement and emotions.
“You worked really hard and got all A’s. Your grades are the result of your effort!”
Focus is on the effort, not the result.
Children often seek out our attention. “Mom, Dad, look at me! I’m so high in the tree!” They do want to be noticed, but they don’t need our evaluations; we add these without being requested. At first, it might feel strange to say things like, “I see you, you’re in a tree!” Instead of, “wow, you’re the best climber!” After a bit of practice, it gets easier. You only need to state what you see, which acknowledges the child without any judgement. This has the added bonus of always being an honest remark. “You drew a butterfly” is still true even if to you it looks like a messy scribble.
You may be thinking that this is completely ridiculous and that these subtle word choices don’t make a difference. The thing is, we will likely only see the fruits of these choices in decades to come when our children are grown and have fully developed their sense of self. In an age of instant gratification, it’s difficult to focus on the long-term goal. Your goals for your children are yours to make, so I encourage you to look at who you want your children to be when they are adults. Conscious parenting is about evaluating our own goals and exploring how to best support your child in achieving these goals.
For the next week, try to notice how many times a day you use praise and see if you can convert some of these statements into encouragement. Ready? Go!
“You’re such a good boy.”
“Wow, I really like your drawing!”
“I’m so proud of you!”
“You got all A’s. You’re so clever!”
We’ve all said these statements to children. At face value, it seems like an appropriate thing to say in the moment. Children seek out feedback from us all the time. “Mom, watch me slide!” “Dad, look how high I’ve climbed!” So giving them praise is a good thing, right?
Here’s the thing.
If we praise children every time they do something that is considered “good” by our standards, will they be motivated to repeat the behaviour in the absence of the praise?
And when we dig deeper…
Lynn Lott, the co-author of many of the Positive Discipline books, suggests that approximately 75% of the patients she sees in her family therapy practice have psychological struggles stemming from the misguided belief of “Undue Attention”. In other words, these people have developed a belief in the first few years of life that:
“I only matter when I’m being given attention.”
This seems relatively harmless, but when one begins to look under the surface, there are significant consequences.
For these individuals, the need for attention is not merely superficial. They crave approval from external sources, and this approval shapes their opinion of themselves.
Their self-worth is determined by others, and not from within.
And if we dig deeper, we see that when relationships falter, the wheels fall off. The slightest fracture can result in the desire to fill the emotional void. The knock-on effect can present itself in the form of depression, abusive relationships, and even addiction.
If we teach our children to depend on their INTERNAL voice for self-esteem, we can break this cycle.
A voice that offers stability and confidence, amongst a sea of external negativity. And in today’s digital landscape, filled with keyboard worriors and internet trolls, this skill is more necessary than ever before.
So how do we do this? We need to shift our language from praise, to encouragement. Read our next instalment to find out the difference between the two!
The world as we know it has cultivated a “disposable” way of thinking. Things are made cheaply and available at the click of a button. If something breaks, it’s cheaper and easier to get a new one than to fix it. And hey, even if it doesn’t break, we can get a newer model in a few months anyway.
Most of us live busy lives, overflowing with to-do lists and problems to solve. Insert a screaming child into the mix and you have an instant recipe for disaster. In these moments, all we want is a quick fix. We want the tantrum to stop. We want the child to calm down. We want them to be more respectful! We may even be wondering, “how do I fix my child’s behaviour?”
But here’s the important thing:
The child isn’t broken.
Behaviour such as screaming, crying, back chat, whining, hitting, biting, and everything in between is not a fault, a weakness, or even misbehaviour. All behaviour has one goal; to send a message. If we can decode this message and identify the need behind it, we can be better prepared to respond.
Children do not need fixing. Children need understanding.
When we learn about behaviour and development, and as our understanding deepens, we can see the messages with clarity, which clears the debris from our parenting journey and allows for smoother sailing.
We all know that we have unconditional love for our children. The thing we don’t necessarily consider is that although our children love us back, it’s not the same. They will only truly understand the love a parent has for their child when they become parents themselves.
So how do we let our children know that we will love them no matter what? One way is to tell them on a regular basis and check in if they truly understand what it means to be loved to the maximum.
The script could go something like this:
“No matter what you do, I will love you to the MAXIMUM. This means that you can hurt others, you can lie, cheat, steal, and I will still love you. It would be better if you didn’t do those things because your life will be negatively impacted by these choices, but no matter what, I will still love you the MAXIMUM. I am your parent, so there is nothing that you can do that will make me love you LESS.”
Parents seem quite familiar with that concept. But what about the flip side of the coin?
“No matter what you do, I will not love you MORE. I will NOT love you more if you get good marks at school, or do well in your chosen sport. I will not love you more if you are generous and kind. I will not love you more if you choose the same career as I did, or earn a better salary than your peers. I love you the MAXIMUM already, so I cannot love you more."
This is very important. This teaches children that they are already worthy. Children do not need to “earn” a parent’s love. It is already present, at full capacity, and always will be.
This is the definition of unconditional love.
This beautiful song, “No Matter What”, by Calum Scott captures this idea perfectly. You can watch the video here: https://youtu.be/kBIhqNT5gsE
Most of us grew up being told and believing that actions need to be followed by consequences in order to “learn a lesson”. And so when a child is “misbehaving” an unpleasant consequence, such as a time out or a hiding, needs to be imposed in order to stop that behaviour from happening again. While this makes sense at face value, it disregards the core function of child behaviour; communication.
All child behaviour is communication in some form, and if we look a little deeper, we see what the child is really searching for; connection.
In his book “The Whole-Brain Child”, Dr Daniel Siegel explains that when a child is “misbehaving”, they are often feeling discouraged and disconnected. The right hemisphere of the brain is active at this point. Often what we do as parents is to try to reason with the child, appealing to their left hemisphere. The trouble is that when the child is overwhelmed by right-brain activity, they will actively reject logic and reason. Which means that, in this moment, imposed consequences will never have the desired effect! What the child really needs is connection. This will help them to integrate the two hemispheres and 1) be more receptive to reasoning and solutions, as well as 2) become better at emotional regulation overall.
In order to connect with a child, we have to suppress the urge to correct the behaviour or fix the problem. This sounds very simple but is extremely hard in practice! Here are two tools that can be helpful when faced with an emotional meltdown:
Once your child feels connected, they will be more receptive to logic, solutions and, above all, they will be developing true emotional intelligence.