Sometimes we are required to let go of our fixed perspectives in parenting.
Have you ever noticed that sometimes, on our parenting journey, we get very attached to certain outcomes? I know, for me, two biggies are screen time and any new routines we’ve put in place. Once I’ve put boundaries and routine in place, I tend to get very attached and find it veeeery difficult to let go of them AT ALL! I have to be super mindful that I don’t become too attached to these outcomes, which is what I’m going to share with you all today; a couple of parenting moments I’m not proud of but that taught me a lot and illustrate beautifully why there are times that we need to step away from the outcome we want and hold space for our kids. Letting go of certain outcomes means we are required to shift our perspective to that of our young humans. The minute you do this and try and find the why behind your child’s behaviours and needs, it becomes easier to let go of that outcome and, well, shift the goalpost, if you will. You will now find yourself more able to hold space for your child as they journey their emotions in a safe space.
Here is my real-life example. So, my little ones are online schooling at the moment. Day one, we’re getting this done. “Break time” comes along, and I begin to insist that my Madi HAS to go outside and move around. I was so stuck on the fact that she absolutely had to have a break from the screen that I failed to take a moment to see where she was coming from. I failed to see her side of the coin. I failed to see that she desperately wanted and needed to connect with her peers, that are also online, during break time. Forcing her out of the room and off the screen caused her major distress and me major frustration as she spent her break melting down rather than moving around and enjoying her downtime. I could write another entire blog about how peers become front and centre for children when they approach their tween years. The need to connect and be accepted by their peers is very real. Unfortunately, I didn’t stop for a second to be even vaguely mindful of her needs. I was stuck on breaking the screen time bla bla bla, because we are all so hyper aware of how bad this is for our kids (talk about a rock and a hard space!). I’m grateful I had a second chance the following day. And I’m grateful for my daughter’s forgiving heart. I had to sit her down later in the day and apologise for my short-sightedness. I explained that it was my mommy heart that sometimes worries too much; that I don’t always react the way I should. In her infinite wisdom, she said it was okay and that it was in the past, and she wasn’t worried about it anymore. I had a tear. We moved on.
I’d like to mention here that, as parents, we can’t get it right all the time. The important thing is the repair work we do after we have reacted (or overreacted!). It teaches our children that we, too, make mistakes – and that it is okay. It shows them that it is also okay to be vulnerable and apologise from the heart. This, in itself, is a life lesson for our small people. They need to know it’s okay to not be perfect.
So as day two rolled around … Come break time, she again asked if she can please chat to her friends online during break. I allowed it this time, being more conscious of the why behind her request. And what unfolded was a happy little girl who got to giggle and connect with her peers. This version of downtime worked for her. This time connecting with her peers lowered her lockdown frustration levels, therefore she was ready for the next online school task at hand when the time came. I have found great connection moments during “school” time with Madi over these online school days, both this year and last. But connection comes so much easier when we are able to be conscious of our child’s needs and hold space appropriately.
This experience required me to break through my absolute belief that too much screen time is detrimental and that she had to have a break from the screen at “break time”. I had to let go of my outcome and really change my perspective. Sometimes parenting requires us to let go of our fixed positions and beliefs and be in the moment. And sometimes (only sometimes) screen time is actually okay!
Let go of the need to control the outcome. Trust your intuition. Trust yourself.
At the moment we are camping at the coast. This time camping is different. There was somebody in the camp who tested positive for Covid and suddenly all of us felt afraid, angry even. We felt we "ran" from home to be peaceful and safe. And suddenly it was shattered. They left after a couple of days and the sigh of relieve was palpable. We survived. It did not spread to anybody else. All of us talked about the Covid and how worried we are. Will South Africa get through this? How many people we know have to die until this is over? We shared stories of how many people have lost their fight against Covid already.
Then the fires started to rage. The news reports of looting and riots started to flood in... and the panic grew in the camp. These uncertain times bring so many emotions and questions. We were hardly coping with the 3rd wave of Covid hitting our country, when lawlessness struck...
Campers started to gather, sharing the information each one had. We were talking about where the riots are. Who will be affected in what way? Who had enough food? Who was safe?
It was quickly apparent who will work for the very best of the whole camping community and who wouldn't. I have a choice where I can focus. I choose to focus on these who will build the community.
We went to the shops yesterday to see if we can find a little bit of food to carry us a little longer in case we cannot go home because of the road closures. Women were in the shop with trolleys, panic buying. They overtly spoke about how scared they were. I went slowly through the aisles, observing what is left and what could be helpful. There wasn't much left anyhow. But what I did feel ample of, was the fear. I bought bits and bobs. Things to tie us over should we need it. I got back into my vehicle and looked at my children and husband. Something was stirring in my heart but I did not have the words yet to express it.
The question started to develop in me: what can I do for my family as the mother of this unit? Three words came up for me - selfcare, honesty and consistency.
Talk, talk, talk about your fears. Take care that you do not become trapped in your own mind with anxiety. Connect with yourself and keep tabs of where your anxiety levels are. Do special things to replenish your energy and take back every ounce of control you do have over your own life.
Gentle honesty can go a long way. Explain to children what is happening in your area. They hear the news when you talk to other adults. That is adult conversations and it can become very scary because it doesn't make sense to our children. Get down to their appropriate level and be kind.
Consistency - the biggest gift you can give your children (and yourself) is sticking with your normal ways of doing things. Stick to the routines and habits you have established. Keep your life as predictable as possible.
In the campsite we are making groups of who needs to leave when. Also we have started to establish points where we can phone to check of the roads are open or not. We decided travelling in numbers are safer than alone. Complete strangers are making plans together to increase everyone's safety.
I am reminded of the beauty of being human, because in the face of adversity, came the unity of taking care of each other. And in that I find solace.
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.