They Come With Their Own Ideas

This was a fairly hilarious exchange between my first grader and I yesterday (see if you don’t get a chuckle out of it at least!)

Daughter:  “When I grow up, I want to draw, paint, write books and be an illustrator and paint big pictures on walls – what’s that called, Mommy?”

Me: “Painting murals.”

Daughter: “Yes, that’s it.  I had an idea for this picture I could paint over our fireplace and it would perfectly coordinate and everything.”

Me:  “That would be nice.”

Daughter: “Yes, and when I grow up I am not going to college.  I am going to Italy!”

Me (searching my mind wildly, I swear I have not heard this one before): “Italy?  Why Italy?”

Daughter:  “Italy is where Leonardo DaVinci painted.  I read about that.  I am going to go there and paint.  What language do they speak in Italy, momma?”

Me:  “Italian, boo-boo.”

Daughter: “Okay, I need a tutor so I can start learning Italian!”

Okay, kiddo, guess that will be your next language to learn….The ideas they have, and the plans!  Gotta love it!

More About Fostering Creative Play

“I could go out in the yard and entertain myself for hours when I was a child!  With one stick!  With half a stick!”  you exclaim. “Yet, my child can’t entertain themselves for five minutes!”

Many parents feel this way and wonder what they are doing wrong, or what they can do to foster more imaginative, independent play.  There are several things to think about regarding the child under 7 and play.  To me, the child under age 7 is an imitative creature:  therefore,  it makes perfect sense  that a child under 7 is not developmentally ready to go off and initiate play for hours on end. 

However, there are several things you can do to help the process.

The first step is to consider that a child needs a play environment as discussed in the previous post, “Fostering Creative Play.”  Most of all, think about seriously streamlining the amount of toys available to your child at one time, make sure there are places and spaces for the toys to be placed neatly, and do make sure there are small places where like items can be grouped together for play.

The second step is to provide your child with something worthy to imitate.  Your child under the age of 5 is probably not going to follow you around the house peacefully while you “get your work done”, at least at first.   Being child-inclusive but not child-centered does not mean that you never play with your child, nor does it mean you never help your child get started with play.

With small children, you may only get fifteen minutes of work done at a time.  You  may, without any words, then be able to take down something for your child  to play with and start the play off and  then wander back to your work.  I say without any words because the moment you say, “Let’s play with the wooden kitchen now..” they will screech, “Nooooo!  I don’t want to play that!”  However, if you get engrossed in playing or setting something up  without words, they will watch you and start to do what you do.  Imitation at its finest.

One thing to consider is that in the decades before families had two cars, most mothers were home all day with their children – they had no car to go anywhere else!  There were tasks to be completed around the home and the children were there to see this.  Some families carry this tradition on today, and work hard at staying home and providing their children with real work.  For example, you could wash on Mondays and let your child help wash toys in the playroom or the linens from his room.  He could help fold napkins or washcloths from the laundry or hang things out on a small line to dry.  On Tuesdays, if you bake bread , your small child could help you put the ingredients in the bowl, assist with the mixing and the kneading and later with the shaping of the bread (and the eating, of course).  Cleaning up the kitchen could also be a part of this day while the bread is rising.  If you do handwork on Wednesdays, your child could also have a small basket with scraps of felt or yarn.  An older kindergartner could learn to finger knit.  Some families garden every day or at least once a week; small children can help plant or pick produce or pull weeds in between their investigations for bugs.  Fridays in many families is housekeeping day.  On this day, your small child could help polish wooden toys or help you clean.  Every family has a rhythm to the week that is unique to them and to their children; the above are just random examples for you to think about.  These everyday, mundane kinds of tasks come out in their play. Baking day can turn into the play of  cutting out homemade dough shapes to “cook” on a red play silk, for example.

The third step is to carefully and mindfully consider the amount of screen time your small child is viewing.  Many parents find that the problem with TV is that there are things that their children are not doing by watching TV.  In the book “Alternatives to TV Handbook” by Marie McClendon, she states, “Children now play about 2 hours less a day on average than they did 10 years ago.  Yet those who play more have richer vocabularies, better problem-solving skills, more curiosity, higher intelligence, longer attention spans and better abilities to see the perspectives of others.”  Regardless of what the content of the TV show is, the images are re-drawn or scanned about 60 times a second.  TV-induced alpha brain waves are considered by researchers as a non-learning mode of brain behavior.  If your child is showing such behaviors as poor school performance, poor attention span, lack of imaginative play and spontaneous play, aggressively talking back to adults, hitting or pushing other children or frequent nightmares, please consider the amount of media your child is watching.  

The fourth step is to consider the amount of time you spend outside every day; this is vitally important in your child’s creative play.  If you are outside, nature will provide the backdrop for the child’s indoor play.  Whether this is in the simple worms and pillbugs your child delights in, providing food for the birds, picking flowers or produce out of the garden, it will all show up in your child’s play and the songs they make up to sing.  I know families with three and four year olds who spend the vast majority of their day outside.

The fifth point to consider the overall rhythm to your day – it should not be just “play all day” for your child.  We have discussed involving your child in your work.  However, the rhythm to all of this is quite important as there should be times for in-breath and out-breath, times of expansive physical movement and play grounded with time for quietly listening to a story that mother is telling or for rest.  An example rhythm for small children under the age of 7  may be a period of playing outside, snack,  work focus for the day, lunch, quiet time/down time, storytelling , perhaps something involving art either inspired by the story or some sort of seasonally– based art, snack again, free play or outside play again, dinner preparation and dinner and then a bedtime routine.  Every family’s daily rhythm looks different, but if you take the time to meditate on it and think and yes, even plan, you may come up with a wonderful, peaceful day that enhances the quality of life for every member of the family.

Many blessings,

Carrie

Top 10 Must Have Tools for Gentle Discipline

So, we arrive at the point where we must think about the gentle discipline tools we have in our toolbox to replace physical punishment, yelling, nagging.  This post is especially applicable to those families with small children under the age of 7, although many of these techniques will work with school-aged children as well.   A brief note before we get to our Top 10, though.

Barbara Patterson and Pamela Bradley say in their book, “Beyond the Rainbow Bridge – Nurturing Our Children from Birth to Seven” this:

“In The Kingdom of Childhood, Rudolf Steiner says that the child in the first seven years is really an eye. If someone has fits of temper and becomes furiously angry either with the child or in the presence of the child, the child will have the picture of this outburst throughout his entire being.   ….Everything we do in the presence of the child goes in deeply.  Scolding, threats, and yelling do not help in disciplining young children.  This approach may actually weaken their ability to deal with situations later in life.”

So the first thing to remember is that we always guide the under-7 child with the principle of imitation.

Imitation Rahima Baldwin Dancy says this in her book, “You Are Your Child’s First Teacher”:  “If you want to teach a certain behavior to your child, one of the best ways is to actually do it in front of (or with) him.  This demands that we as adults get up and actually do something, rather than giving the child orders or directions.”

This idea of imitation is so important, it doesn’t even get a number!  It is the basis for so many things in life with a small child.  A small child will imitate in their play the exact way you do things down to how you throw a cleaning rag in the sink, how you roll your eyes when you are upset, and everything and anything else.  So, when you see a behavior, look first to yourself

So, without much further ado, let’s look at some other tools you can pull out in the moment:

1. Humor – Lots of parents take parenting very seriously.  But please don’t take every word that comes out of your small child ‘s mouth so seriously and feel whatever they say is in deep need of serious explanation and weight. 

Here is an example of a “loaded statement” a child may make.  I had a friend recently ask me about her three-year-old saying “I hate you!” when the child was upset.  Fun?  No, but I would give it about as much weight as a three-year-old telling me they can ride their tricycle over hills in the Land of the Giants.  A three-year-old simply does not understand the depth and weight of that statement, and to imply that the child does is not in accordance with their developmental stage or maturity level.  They are mad; but don’t digress from the original situation and get sidetracked!

I think for children of all ages, a better tact to try sometimes, particularly with children under the age of 12, is humor.  I have a wonderful friend whose parenting I really admire, and humor is her number one tool.  I so enjoy watching it at work.  One day her daughter was in the backseat of their car with some other children,  just playing,  when suddenly she looked  like she lost her balance and sort of fell into the corner of a book.  She was holding her eye and getting upset.  There was no blood, no visible bruising, the eye was not teary or red…….

Daughter:  “Mom, someone hit my eye with their foot!”

Mom:  “I thought it looked like you fell a little into that book.”

Daughter:  “No, no, it was a foot!  It was someone’s foot!” (wailing, gnashing of teeth)

Mom:”Hmmm…..Oh well, in that case – Was it a stinky foot?  Does your eye smell?”

(Little brother is now giggling).  Daughter, still teary:  “I don’t know if it was stinky or not. I didn’t get a chance to smell it.”  (Little brother and adults now laughing).

Mom, grabbing daughter for a hug:  “A stinky foot might cause a stinky eye, let’s see!  Um, yup, definitely stinky!”

This could have gone another way – complete escalation as all the adults were certain it was a book corner in the eye, the daughter was sure it was a foot in the eye (like it matters, still hurts!),  it could have deteriorated into reasoning (well, it couldn’t have been a foot as no one was near you at the time), or just being overly serious and pulling out ice packs and lots of concern (remember, there was no blood, or redness) or it could have turned into a small Treatise On The Danger Of Playing in Close Quarters with Others.

Think about humor, think about not taking it all quite so seriously.  There are many situations where humor can save the day.  Humor helps de-escalate things and also models for your child a positive way to look at the sunny side of things and a way to deal with a stressful or frustrating situation.

Many parents say, Save your big reactions for the big things in life! I agree, but in order to do this, you must know what is BIG in your family and to you.  Think about the developmental stages and what fits where and decide what is BIG….Go back and re-read the post on “Big Tools for the Big Picture of Positive Discipline.”

2.  Distraction – this is a viable tool for all children under 7, and even children that are 7 or 8  can still be fairly distractible.  However, this takes creativity in the heat of the moment to think of an appropriate distraction.  Distraction is not a bribe; it is a way to change to scene to your advantage.

Distraction can also show itself by changing the environment.  Some children just need to be outside when they are upset!

3.  Hugs and kisses and being held – solves lots of things without a lot of words. Sometimes you do not need to say much of anything to your child; just holding them lets them know you are there for them.

4. Pictorial imagery –  This is a Waldorf tool that is very useful with small children.  Instead of pulling children into their heads and into a thought-decision kind of process, try using phrases that paint a picture instead.  This can be anything from “Turn that siren down!” for a noisy little one or “Hop like a bunny over here for some food.”  You are re-directing behavior into something more positive through the images that arise from these types of phrases.  For those interested in more about pictorial imagery, please do see Donna Simmons’ bookstore and look under her audio downloads for her CD entitled, “Talking Pictorially” at www.christopherushomeschool.org. 

5. Use of the word “may”  – as in, “Little Johnny, you may bring your plate to the counter for me.  Thank you!”  Be sincere, and this word works well as you set the tone for your own home.

6. Limited choices, less words or no words at all – Sometimes just a look suffices more than a hundred words.  Try just helping your child get into their coat while you sing a song that you usually sing when you go outside.  Try just handing your child their toothbrush after their bath instead of a whole book about the necessity of dental hygiene.  This idea leads to…

7.  Time-in.  According to Alfie Kohn, author of Unconditional Parenting,

“Sometimes parents are advised to use a time-out instead of spanking their kids – as though these were the only two options available. The reality, as we’ve seen, is that both of these tactics are punitive. They differ only with respect to whether children will be made to suffer by physical or emotional means. If we were forced to choose one over the other, then, sure time-outs are preferable to spankings. For that matter, spanking kids is preferable to shooting them, but that’s not much of an argument for spanking.”  -Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting, page 65-66.

“Time-out is actually an abbreviation for time out from positive reinforcement. The practice was developed almost half a century ago as a way of training laboratory animals….When you send a child away, what’s really being switched off or withdrawn is your presence, your attention, your love. You may not have thought of it that way.” -Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting, page 26-27.

So, consider the value of time-in instead.  Some families have a place where adults and children can sit together until they all calm down, some mothers just have their child sit near them while they do some sort of rhythmical work.

8.  Ignoring –yup, you heard me right.  The Gesell Institute books routinely recommend turning a blind eye to some of your child’s behaviors if it is not hurting others or themselves (or just driving you plain crazy!).  There are times to draw a line in the sand, but if you nit-pick every behavior, you are on the verge of demanding, and not commanding as an Authentic Leader.

9.  Physical follow-through – If you say something to a small child, you should expect to have to physically  help them follow through.  You should expect to have to physically hold an upset child if they need it.  The physicality of life with a small child is always there – hugs, kisses, a lap to sit on and help to do things as needed.  The child’s respect and dignity always needs to be respected, so you need to be calm when you are following through, but please remember a young child under 7 is probably not going to function well on verbal directives alone.

Rahima Baldwin Dancy states in her book, “You Are Your Child’s First Teacher”:  “It isn’t until elementary-school age that a child is ready to respond consistently to authority that is expressed only through the spoken word without being accompanied by actions. With the preschool age child, you need to correct and demonstrate again and again, but you can’t expect children to remember it.  Their memories simply aren’t that mature yet.”

10.  FREEZE!  One of the best tools in parenting is learning to take that quick pause in your mind’s eye and ask yourself if what you are about to do is going to help your child be the adult they were meant to be; is it going to escalate or de-escalate the situation, is it going to teach your child something or is it just a moment of anger for you that will pass?

This series of posts about being an Authentic Leader has been great fun for me to write.  I would love to hear from all of you what situations you could use help with in being an Authentic Leader in your own home; please leave it in the comment section and I would love to address it in a future blog posting!

Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.

Big Tools for the Big Picture of Gentle Discipline

In the past few posts, we have looked at providing discipline to our children within the context of being an Authentic Leader.  Part of being the leader of your home is that you have a vision in mind for the future and also that you have a vision in mind for what is happening right here, today, within your own home.

Here are some ways to invoke the big picture of guiding your children’s behavior within your home:

First and foremost, you must start with yourself.  There was recently an article in my local newspaper regarding Alcoholics Anonymous and other support groups for alcoholics.  A mother wrote in and said that she had been sober and attending AA meetings for 22 years.  She started attending Al-non as well and stated, “I was dating a crack addict.  It was the most insane things I could do.  I knew I loved alcoholics; that’s the gist of it.  They’re fabulous people, exciting.  In Al-non, you learn to focus on yourself because your part is the only thing you have control over……I have the freedom to do anything I want to do, to be anything I want to be…….”

Most of us have not had this extreme of an epiphany, but I am asking you today, right now, to consider what kind of parent would you like to be to your child and what is holding you back? 

Vimala McClure, in  her book “The Path of Parenting” writes,”We all have  the power to change the scripts we have been given, to alter them so they accurately reflect our values and the timeless principles we decide to  consciously embrace.”

In order to do this, we have to make conscious choices about what we believe and how we live.  Many mothers do this through some form of inner work.  How you do your own inner work is up to you….Some mothers work through prayer, meditation, drumming, reading books of a spiritual or self-help nature, walking meditation, study circles, tai chi, yoga, journaling or the use of exercises created by Rudolf Steiner and laid out in his book,

If you don’t know where to begin, start thinking about some of the very necessary qualities for parenting. This might include working on patience, gentleness, self-discipline, compassion, your flexibility in situations, your ability to stay in the present with your children. 

Work on framing things in a positive way.  I see mothers every day who say they love mothering, love being home, but yet complain quite a bit.  When you were out in the work day, was every day a fabulous day?  Every day may  not be a fabulous day at home unless you frame it that way.  When you are a mother of small children, you start out measuring the days of your toddler and preschooler by how THEY acted that day; start measuring your day by how YOU acted that day.  If you kept your cool no matter what your child was doing, then it was a great day!  Start with you!

Second, you must begin to look at the spiritual reasons behind being a wife, a mother and a homemaker.  Many mothers never look at this and wonder why they do not feel fulfilled within the home environment.  I highly suggest the book, “The Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker” by Manfred Schmidt-Brabant in order to stimulate some questions for you to ponder and meditate on.  This is available through the Rudolf Steiner College Bookstore or through Bob and Nancy’s Bookshop, www.waldorfbooks.comIf you come to the belief that you were called to the role of being a wife and mother, that creating peace in your home is the best and most wonderful way you can make this world a better place, then you will see the things you need to do to care for your home and your children in a different light.

Be committed to making your home a peaceful place – this may involve being the calm one when your spouse or your kids are not feeling calm, it may involve compromise.  It can be hard work, be committed to it!

Third, create a peaceful atmosphere within your home by creating a physical environment of  beauty. People new to Waldorf in particular worry about their lack of wooden toys and play silks for their children, but that is not really what Waldorf is all about.  Waldorf is about creating a place of beauty within your home in simplicity.  This may involve seriously less stuff than what you have now.  It may also involve organizing things and implementing a daily and weekly cleaning regime.  There are many resources to assist with this, my personal favorite is www.flylady.net.  There are also many books on the market detailing weekly, monthly, seasonal and yearly cleaning agendas.

Fourth, you must develop a rhythm.  A yearly, weekly and daily rhythm. Schmidt-Brabant writes in “The Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker”, “Rhythm is strength.  And strength arises where time and life are formed  rhythmically….Life is tension.  Tension arises through contrasting elements. If we succeed in moving rhythmically within this tension, then strength will arise.”

A rhythm is meant to give you stability so you and your child know what is coming next.  Future posts will look more carefully at the way to craft a rhythm and make it work for you and your family.

Fifth, you must learn to understand childhood development.  Many folks like the Gesell Institute Series Your One Year Old, Your Two Year Old, etc.  These titles are slightly outdated in many of its references as it was written in the 1960’s but the portions regarding childhood development are spot on and helpful.  From a more anthroposophical point of view, you may want to try some of these books: You Are Your Child’s First Teacher by Rahima Baldwin Dancy, Beyond the Rainbow Bridge by Barbara Patterson, or Lifeways: Working With Family Questions by Gudrun Davy and Bons Voors.  Other excellent places to look when you are ready include Rudolf Steiner’s The Kingdom of Childhood, The Education of the Child, and the wonderful Soul Economy (my personal favorite).   These books look at the overall picture of the small child and the role of the homemaker. 

Being with a small child all day requires an integration of developing inner fortitude, a rhythm to help carry you and your child, an understanding of child development and being able to shape and guide your child’s behavior through gentle tools. For a small child under the age of 7 or 8, these tools would include the ability to make the environment one the child can be in without so many “no’s”, the ability to have a good sense of humor and creativity in response to typical childhood situations; these tools do not involve reasoning with a small child or physical punishment.  More about these tools in the next post!

The five concepts mentioned about are for the big picture to help you be an Authentic Leader within your own home.  The next post will take a peek at what to do when you feel close to losing it with your child and some techniques you can pull out at the drop of a hat to make life more beautiful for everyone in the house.

Developing Healthy Boundaries

My last post was written toward an audience of parents who are using spanking, hitting or yelling as their main disciplinary tools.  Today we are going to tackle the opposite problem – that of a child with a parent who feels almost overpowered or overwhelmed by their child’s behavior.  Becky Bailey, in her book entitled,”Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline”, writes that in the past, if a child’s needs and an adult’s needs collided, the adult’s needs would take precedence, mainly because the parent considered any strategy that negated the child’s  needs a success.   She notes that this has reversed in our society today:  “Powerful, strident children seem to dominate powerless adults.  Parents who know that they do not want to repeat the patterns that governed their childhoods, but lack a better approach, have simple flipped the equation.  They have negated their own needs and let the children rule.”

There are certainly situations where children have special issues and needs that cause the parent to feel overwhelmed, but this post is focusing on the parent feeling this way because of the choices they make in their parenting. Barbara Coloroso, in her book, “Kids Are Worth It!  Giving Your Child the Gift of Inner Discipline” discuses two types of families that she terms “Jellyfish A” families and “Jellyfish B” families.  “Jellyfish A” families are described below; “Jellyfish B” families are composed of parents who are having personal problems of such magnitude that preclude them focusing on their children, such as parents recovering from addiction issues or other personal issues.   Of interest, she also includes in “Jellyfish B” families parents who are intense work-a–holics or pursuing personal and professional goals at the expense of their children.

Of the “Jellyfish A” families, Barbara Coloroso writes, “The first kind of jellyfish parent was taught what, when and how to speak, act, and react; he was not taught how to think  So when it comes time to develop a backbone structure in his own home, he doesn’t know how…..He is frightened of repeating the abuse he knew, but doesn’t know what to replace it with.  So he becomes extremely lax in discipline, sets few or no limits, and tends to smother his children.  Anything his child wants, his child gets, even if the child’s wants are at the expense of the parent’s own needs.”

Parenting advice columnist and family psychologist John Rosemond (whom, I have to say, is not at all attachment oriented and someone with whom I certainly do not agree with most of the time) had this to say in a newspaper column entitled, “Parents need to be husband, wife first” (October 4, 2008).  He writes:  “ The 1950s mother went about her child rearing with an almost casual attitude.  It was “all in a day’s work,” as opposed to being all of her day’s work.  She exuded a sense of confidence in her authority; therefore, her child recognized her authority.  She established a clear boundary between herself and her child (as in, “I don’t have time for you right now, so go find something of your own to do”) that today’s mother feels prohibited from doing.  Thus, today’s mother often feels as if she is under assault from her children from the time they wake up until they consent to occupy their beds.”

These are  interesting perspectives to think about, even if you do not agree or feel that way in your own family at this time.  These quotes got me thinking!  However,  if you are feeling slightly stressed by your own children -who seem to never get to bed on time, who don’t want to eat what food you have, who seem to do the opposite of everything that you desire and suggest, and you are feeling powerless to change the situation – I have a few encouraging thoughts for you.

My first thought is that for many attached parents, the want and need to set some boundaries actually takes time to develop, and many attached parents do feel challenged by the shift in parenting that must occur as the baby grows up.  The relationship between mother and baby in an attached relationship is a unified one.  This is because the biology of the baby actually screams for the mother and baby to be one unit.  I think this is the main point that John Rosemond actually misses in many of his columns when he discusses the need for leadership and boundaries before establishing involvement and connection.  In my opinion, he misses the fact that a human baby is hard-wired for connection from the point of birth,  and, that if we follow the baby’s cues at all, connection must take place first.  All infant reflexes are present in order that once the baby is born, the baby can make its way alone to the mother’s breast and attach to the breast without assistance.  Connection!  We are mammals who by the very nature of the fat content of human milk are going to be frequent feeders.  Connection!  Human babies are born essentially underdeveloped neurologically because they cannot remain inside their mothers any longer and still pass through the birth canal. Connection!   Human beings mature slowly compared to most other mammals and need support for a much longer period of time than other mammals.  A mother who has practiced listening to her baby’s cues, breastfeeding on demand, co-sleeping in order to satisfy frequent breastfeeding has worked with the biology of her baby to foster a close bond that will serve this baby well over time.

Again, connection to our children is so important and the connection between the mother and father and baby sets the stage for wonderful social adaption in the later years and for good health in so many ways.  I do not in the slightest want to downplay the connection that babies and all children need from their parents.  Yet, as these attached babies grow, many mothers I have met seem to  feel their slightly older toddler (who was and is still a baby), is not perhaps their equal, but almost a small friend or semi-peer.  They seem to  feel their small child’s every opinion needs to be seriously weighed and measured.  Sometimes parents are then caught off guard when the toddler or preschooler’ behavior does not live up to the picture of the child as a small friend – the first time the child yells,”I hate you” when they are a preschooler, the first time the child has a huge temper tantrum, the first time the child hits or bites or kicks – the parent feels like the wind has been knocked out of them because they realize the relationship is changing and that the child is not as mature as they thought!  Or perhaps the child’s ever-changing opinions are just a source of fatigue!  All of this is the beginning of the gentle shift toward more boundaries that happens as the child grows and can also help signal where a child is in their own maturity.  It can be challenging to move from that “one-ness” of babyhood and early toddlerhood into an area of a bit more structure, a few more boundaries, a sense that there are certain limits within the family and to hold that space and those limits with gentleness and love.

The toddler and preschooler is certainly deserving of dignity and respect and of being guided in a way that is gentle and loving.  We will continue to talk about these tools in future posts.  However, another thought in this picture is this:  in my stance from a Waldorf perspective,  the best way to preserve your toddler and preschooler’s dignity and show them respect is to understand they were just a very little  baby a year or so earlier and to not expect them to make decisions that an adult should be making and to not burden the small child with adult concerns.   Please do not give them the burden of adult decision-making in the guise of being fair and respectful to your child.  Provide a wonderful, child-inclusive environment, love your child, find humor and wonder with your child, but do not equate the child as your equal in this loving relationship. 

Eugene Schwartz, a Master Waldorf Teacher, has this funny little scenario regarding what we do to our children every day, published in the book Beyond the Rainbow Bridge, page 115:

Good morning, dear.  What do you want to wear?

A sleeveless jumper, a short-sleeved dress, or long-sleeve dress?  Flared skirt, denim skirt, or flowered skirt? Short-shorts, capri pants, hiking shorts, or pants?

Pants and a shirt.  Good.  Which ones?

Red, blue, green, striped, checked or plaid pants? Straight-legged, flared, roll-up, or regular-cut designer jeans? Tank top, turtleneck, short sleeved, or long-sleeved shirt? A shirt with a cartoon character, cereal box hero, or plain front?100% cotton, cotton-polyester mix, cotton with lycra or spandex?

Let’s have breakfast.  What would you like to eat today?

Orange, cranberry, grapefruit, or mango-tangerine-guava juice? Granola with nuts, honey, brown sugar, or with organic fruit? Served with 2%, 1%, soy-based milk, cream, or low-fat yogurt? Regular or cinnamon toast, English muffin, or bagel?”

And the list goes on.  It is one of those scenarios that is funny but rings true for so many of us.

I have parents who tell me they never “pick battles” with their children, that there is really nothing that big to get upset about. I do understand.  But there are times when your children will need to know and see that you can be a wall for them to bounce off of when they are spinning out of control and that you will not crumple because they need you to be the parent, the more experiences adult,  at that moment.  There will be the time when you realize, as a parent, that all the things they want are not all the things they need.  There will be times when they will not like you – this is part of parenting and part of transitioning from the “oneness” between mother and baby to the separation required for a child to go out into the world and have his own experiences.  Waldorf looks at the child separating from the parents later than most developmental sources, with what is called the nine-year change frequently typifying the beginning of separation. In looking at childhood development, we expect the parent to understand more about life than a small child under 7 and to use their wisdom and experience to guide their child.

So, in my view, the best way to be attached to your young child is to be the authentic leader, the model of the emotions you own, the person who thinks about the rhythm of the day, the person who sets a gentle and loving tone for your very own home.  And you see your wonderful small child as just that – a small child who has an intense need to be  home, a need to be loved by his or her parents, and yes, a need to be treated as small.

I know many attachment parents who would disagree with this view (and I said in my very first post that everything you read here may not resonate with you and your family!)  However, if you think I am on to something, try it out for a few days.  Offer very limited choices if you have to offer choices at all, stop talking so much and explaining so much to your small child and just let your child be in the wonder of your day – working, playing, being outside, listening, resting.  Structure your rising times, nap times, bed times and meal times.  Have a rhythm to your day that involves your child.   Work toward that earlier bedtime so you can have some time to just be, and to be with your spouse.   It is difficult to present being on the same parenting page if you never get a chance to talk to your spouse without your child present and listening.  

Just as a parent who is working to develop patience needs to stop and think before they open their mouth, a parent working to develop a more authoritative (not authoritarian, not demanding!) parenting style needs to think and have something to say that involves a bit of direction to the child that is younger and has less experience.  This is your job as a parent.

Remember these wonderful words from Adventures in Gentle Discipline:“Bear in mind that to say children are equally deserving of dignity and respect does not have to mean that the relationship itself is of equal power. As a parent, you have a broader view and more life experience to draw from, and these are assets you bring to the child as his adult caretaker. You also bear more responsibility for choices surrounding your child than he does.” (Adventures in Gentle Discipline, page 11).

Work toward parenting your child toward the wonderful adult you know he or she will be, and respect the natural progression of childhood.  Give your children a childhood that is free from adult concern, but yet asks for respect and responsibility from your child within your family and home.  It can be done!

Next up, Big Tools for the Big Picture of Gentle Discipline.

Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.  Thanks for reading!

Command, Don’t Demand

If you are a parent who is trying to orient your compass to more gentle points than hitting your child or yelling at him or her, this is the post for you!  We are going to take the time to talk about why hitting a child  or yelling at him or her does not solve the problem of unwanted behavior. 

Children are immature and not fully developed, and yet we expect them to control their impulses.  It takes lots of time  (years, decades!) to learn self-restraint, and many of us would admit we are still working on impulse control ourselves in different areas.   However, hitting and yelling for conflict resolution is not a skill you can bring to work with you or use with your spouse, and many parents would like to work toward having different tools to use as they guide their children. 

There are excellent reasons for wanting to leave spanking, hitting and yelling behind.  Eda LeShan, in her wonderful article. “Please Don’t Hit Your Kids”, published in Mothering Magazine (www.mothering.com) in Spring 1996, outlines seven points regarding why hitting or spanking a child is not the way to attempt to manage behavior.  Her thoughts include these:

  • We should not hit a child because it leads to the belief of a child that hitting is a decent, ethical and moral thing to do and it is not.
  • Any time we hit or spank a child they believe they are bad and unlovable.
  • When children are spanked, they feel their behavior is something they could have controlled, which is not always the case.  She writes, “It is the nature of childhood to be immature and unable to control one’s impulses.  That’s what adults are for: to help children deal with impulses they will eventually learn to control themselves.”
  • Being hit is demeaning.
  • Nobody learns anything of value by being hit.  “All spankings and beatings do is prove that as soon as one is big enough and strong enough there can be retribution by hurting others.  Hitting produces fear, anger, feelings of rejection, and perhaps most of all, confusion.”
  • The way children learn civility is to have it modeled for them by the adults in their world.
  • There are many other ways to handle the misbehavior of a child.

MORE REGARDING SPANKING:

THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, page 259, says the following regarding spanking, “Spanking does not help a child learn self-discipline…….Of course, there are other things parents do that can be harmful to a child. Physical punishment is only one aspect. Parents can undermine a child’s self-esteem in other ways, too. Nancy Samalin, author of Loving Your Child Is Not Enough, explains: “Children take criticism from a parent very personally. They feel attacked by someone whose admiration they crave…Children need appreciation and praise, not indifference and punishment.”

A Word About Yelling:

“Yelling frightens children. Being yelled at is an attack that triggers the fight or flight response. Some children defend by fighting- yelling back at us. Some children defend by fleeing – trying to escape either physically or emotionally….Intentionally yelling at children to get them to do what we want is bullying. It teaches children to yell at people to get them to do what you want. Unintentionally yelling at children is the loss of control. It teaches children that yelling at people is an acceptable way of dealing with frustration.” (Connection Parenting, pages 104-105). 

Some parents are truly baffled at this point.  I have actually had parents say to me, “Well, if I can’t hit my child and I can’t yell at my child, what do I do?  How do you punish your children if you don’t hit and you don’t yell?”

Again, there is that word:  punishment.  Marshall Rosenberg, author and founder of NonViolent Communication says this regarding parenting,

“Somehow I had gotten it into my head that, as a parent, my job was to make demands. I learned, however, that I could make all the demands in the world but still couldn’t make the children do anything.”

Guiding your child does not mean your child gets to do whatever he or she wants.  However, how you view the process of  teaching your child the skills needed to grow into a mature adult makes all the difference.

Alfie Kohn, in his book Unconditional Parenting, discusses a view of conditional parenting.  This is a view in which the child is looked at in terms of his behavior, the overall view of human nature seen by the parent is negative, the view of parental love is that it needs to be earned and that the strategy involves “doing something to” a child.  This is in direct contrast to unconditional parenting, which focuses on the whole child including thoughts, reasons, feelings,  the view of human nature by the parent that human nature is good, the view of the parent regarding parental love is that it is an unconditional gift and that the strategy used involves working with the child..

He goes on to point out a study done on more than a hundred mothers of grown children: “Those mothers who, as children, sensed that they were loved only when they lived up to their parents’ expectations now felt less worthy as adults.  Remarkably, though, they tended to use the identical approach once they became parents.  The mothers used conditional affection “with their own children in spite of the strategy (ies) having had negative effects on them.”  He comments that parenting styles can be passed on to one’s children.  My personal  thought is that how you teach and guide your children is planting the seed for the next generations. Therefore, it is important to stop and think about what discipline is for you.

DISCIPLINE MEANS TO GUIDE.  Discipline does not equate to punishment.  As parents, we are to guide our children…They are in some ways, like a foreigner showing up in a brand new country or culture without understanding the language, the rules, what is accepted and what not is accepted.  It is our job to guide them, and show them lovingly what it acceptable.

However, using gentle methods to guide behaviors does not mean we let behaviors slide; it does mean that we keep working on what we are modeling for our children,  that we understand the developmental stages and that we have the tools to deal with common developmental challenges.  It means that we understand our own temperament and that of our child.  It means that we teach our children and that we guide our children’s behavior.  It means moving past fear-based tactics and being a truly Authentic Leader within your own home. 

I implore you to keep going back to the framework of being an Authentic Leader for your child.  If this framework is new to you, expect that you will have to keep repeatedly aligning your compass to this new point .  Parenting can be wonderful, but also challenging and frustrating.  It is wonderful to read about being a gentle parent in books and quite another thing to pull it out of your tool box when everyone in your house is crying, screaming or yelling over something, the dog is barking, the phone is ringing, the toilet is overflowing and you are at your wit’s end.  I have seen parents who have walked into the backyard or the bathroom and pulled the door shut for a few moments just so they could calm down enough to not spank or hit their child.   I applaud them.   It can take a long time to change your own behavior.  You are worth it to learn how to change and acquire new tools for your parenting.

Parenting requires a great deal of inner work, and some of the qualities that parenting best develops within ourselves seems to take a long time to mature.  But, as Becky Bailey writes in her book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline, “Once you model self-control for your children, they will show better self-control than you have ever imagined they could achieve.” 

Keep your compass on that guiding star of alternatives to punishment,  and keep reminding yourself that gentle discipline is worth it as you strive to keep not only a peaceful home, a home where you set the tone, but to teach your children skills they can use for their whole life.

Our next post in this series will take a look at how some parents have fallen into the hole of permissive parenting and reasoning with small children and then we will finally look at creating a roadmap for gentle discipline within your own home.

Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.

Gentle Discipline as Authentic Leadership

“From infancy on, children need loving guidance which reflects acceptance of their capabilities and sensitivity to their feelings.”  THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, published by La Leche League International.

“In practice, gentle discipline means making mistakes, working with your own anger, and growing as a person.”  (Adventures in Gentle Discipline, pageXXii).

“We would like to think that children learn the civilizing virtues- caring, compassion, consideration- simply by our good example, but most children need a little more than that. A clear definition of acceptable behavior, our expectation that they can meet the standard, and periodic guidance when they stray- all of these are necessary…..Guiding our children-lovingly-is an important part of caring for them and helping them to be loving and lovable to people within our families and beyond.” (THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, page 256-7).

“Gentle discipline means, quite simply, placing empathy and respect at the very center of your parenting.”  (Adventures in Gentle Discipline, page 3).

Okay, quick!  When I say the phrase, “Gentle Discipline” what comes into your mind – the first thing? No censoring!  For many of us, gentle discipline equates with permissiveness and the thought of a Kids Gone Wild Video!  For others of us, gentle discipline equates with being the parent, who, for lack of better phrasing, is the “valium parent” –you know, the parent who never raises their voice, the parent who is always calm and composed.  “Okay, you just pierced your little brother’s nose with a screwdriver in the garage?  Okaaaay, maybe next time you should ask before you do that!”

Maybe some of us are sad when we hear this phrase, because we would like to not be yelling at our children, or hitting our children, but we are not sure what other tools we have in our toolbox to use.

What if I told you I see gentle discipline in a completely different light?

Many parents equate discipline to punishment.  My Webster’s Dictionary defines discipline some other ways, including as “instruction”; “training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character”.  I love the idea of discipline being a way to guide or lead a child.  There are consequences to the behaviors we choose as individuals, but many times we punish children for being in a developmentally normal state.

Eda LeShan, in her wonderful article, “Please Don’t Hit Your Kids”, published in Mothering Magazine in Spring of 1996, writes:  “We actually tend to hit children who are behaving normally.  A two year old bites because he doesn’t yet know better ways to deal with problems.  A five year old steals crayons at school because five is too young to control the impulse to take what she wants when she wants it.  A 10 year old lies about having joined some friends in teasing a newcomer at school, since at this age it’s normal to want social approval more than fairness.  It takes many years to learn self-restraint.  This is not a crime.  And making children feel guilty and bad doesn’t solve the problem.  What is called for is help in making retribution, having adults explain why such behavior must be overcome.”

Guiding with loving firmness.  THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, page 257 states: “Discipline is a much maligned word, often associated with punishment and deprivation. Yet discipline actually refers to the guidance which we as parents lovingly give our children to help them do the right things for the right reasons- to help them grow into secure, happy, and loving persons able to step out in to the world with confidence in their own ability to succeed in whatever they set out to do.”

“Bear in mind that to say children are equally deserving of dignity and respect does not have to mean that the relationship itself is of equal power. As a parent, you have a broader view and more life experience to draw from, and these are assets you bring to the child as his adult caretaker. You also bear more responsibility for choices surrounding your child than he does.” (Adventures in Gentle Discipline, page 11).

So, there is another oft-maligned word that  I believe needs to be attached to the idea of discipline as a way to guide a child – and that word is AUTHORITY.  Authority is a word that leaves a bad taste in many parents’ mouths.  “Authority?  We don’t need any of that here!  Our home is not a police state!”

Well, when I looked up authority in my Webster’s Dictionary, it said that authority is “a citation from a book or file used in defense or support”, “a decision taken as a precedent”, or finally, “power to influence or command thought, opinion or behavior.”   Influencing my child’s behavior is part of my job as a parent, but I felt it did not get across everything I wanted to say in this situation.  Then I noticed that authority and the word a few entries above, authentic, share the same root.  The dictionary says that authentic is “authoritative” and “worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to fact of reality:TRUSTWORTHY.”

So, perhaps you could view your path in gentle discipline as a way to authentically guide your child.  You, as a trustworthy, authoritative guide.

Truly AUTHENTIC LEADERSHIP.  In the next few posts, we will be taking a look at spanking and yelling, what tools we can use in our gentle toolbox to replace these, and what wonderful ways an understanding of child development encourages us to be an authentic leader for our child.

Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.

Pregnancy is Preparation of the Soul – Part 3 of 3

This last step is one of the most important things to think about, especially in our society where children seem almost instantly “grown-up”:

Look at how your views regarding children and talk about them with your partner. I believe the child comes into life on earth slowly and there are things appropriate for one stage of child development that are not appropriate for a different stage. What are your thoughts and feelings about how children differ when they are just born, six months of age, a year old, two years old, nine years old?   We seem to be living in a very fact-based world where small children are met with facts and information from an early age on.  What would you tell a two year old, a five year old, a twelve year old about a particular subject? These are hard things to ponder when your child is not even born yet, but interesting and important questions nonetheless.   Go to the park and watch children of different ages if you have not been around a lot of children. Attend mother’s groups. Get to know the children in your neighborhood and their ages and how they act. This can be very eye-opening indeed and prepare you for some of the developmental stages that lie ahead.  Many mothers and families who have small children often feel that when their child is seven or eight or whatever the next age is, that the child will be very grown up and much more mature than they are now.  Your child is growing, but there are still developmental changes happening all the way through the cycle of life – even to us!

Many women and their spouses focus, and rightly so, on the physical preparation required for pregnancy and birth. However, the soul and the spirit of transitioning into this new role of parenting is one that deserves focus as well. Birth is but the beginning of parenting, much the way there is an entire life of marriage after the wedding.

Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.

A Poetic Interlude…..

This is a poem written by my little first grader, in her second month of school (complete with all lack of silent letters for your reading pleasure):

The Flowers and Pumpkins

Ther’s larkspur, rose, baby’s breth too.

My mom likes ice plants, how about you?

My dad says daisys are such a frigt –

Much to a witch’s deligt.

My sister thinks pansies are great!

I say, c’mon, it’s fall!

Let’s talk about pumpkins, ok, let’s go!

First mom, then sis, then finally Dad says

Pumpkin time!  And we get in the car

And drive away.

Pregnancy is Preparation of the Soul – Part 2 of 3

 Here are some more ways to delve deeper into the transition of the heart and soul of mothering.  The hyperlinked book titles will take you into Amazon in case you want to check out some of these wonderful books for yourself.

3.  Investigate how you and your partner may handle such things as increased errands due to the baby, increased financial costs with possibly a loss of one salary, household chores and really talk about these things. It is hard to pinpoint everything before your baby arrives – babies come with their own unique personalities and temperaments, but these things are worth thinking about and attempting to plan a bit! Many mothers who are transitioning to staying at home from a full-time career have a thought that their home will be perfectly clean, that they will have time to exercise and greet their husband with a warm dinner every night, and are shocked when they find it difficult to find the time to take a shower. Talking about things ahead of time can at least get you thinking.

4.  Cultivate optimism , humor, and flexibility in yourself. These are essential tools in parenting. Look within yourself and see what areas you would like to work on as you will be modeling human emotion and interaction for your child as they learn about their world for the very first time. How do you handle stress or boredom? Do you have difficulty sitting still or difficulty getting outside and moving around? The height of imitative behavior is in the early years, so concentrate on having worthy things to show your child to imitate.

5.  Learn all you can about breastfeeding and infant massage. The baby’s first well-developed senses include sensation through the skin and the use of the olfactory system. Rahima Baldwin Dancy writes in her book You Are Your Child’s First Teacher:

“Compared with other cultures, Americans are touch-deprived. Cross-cultural studies have shown that the United States has one of the lowest rates of casual touch in the world – about two times an hour- compared with Puerto Ricans who have one of the highest rates, about 180 times an hour. Studies showed that French parents touch their children three times more often than American parents.”

Sobering but true facts in our society that so value independence instead of interdependence.

The benefits of breastfeeding are too long to list in this post! However, in general, breastfeeding offers protection from disease, promotes a sense of safety and security in the baby with bonding between mother and baby, promotes optimal facial and jaw development, provides neuro-protection and promotes optimal intelligence. Breastfeeding is also a natural part of a woman’s passage from menstruation, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause with health benefits for the mother. To learn more about breastfeeding, please see La Leche League at www.llli.org and view all the wonderful resources there. Attend a meeting of your local La Leche League group to learn more.

My favorite books about breastfeeding include The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, Jack Newman’s The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers, and the book Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers by Nancy Mohrbacher and Kathleen Kendall-Tackett. Law Number Two of the Seven Natural Laws is “Mother’s Body is Baby’s Natural Habitat.” Chapter 2 of this book and the explanation of the animal studies, effects of skin –to- skin contact after birth, how skin –to- skin contact works, and the long-term effects of touch are just riveting. Every new mother should read this book!

A wonderful read on the importance of infant massage and how to do it is Vimala McClure’s book Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents. She talks about how the first language for a baby is done through the baby’s skin. She also discusses the debate regarding “infant stimulation” – such as the use of recorded noise, black and white images and other stimulation.

She writes in one thought-provoking passage, “Our great concern about our children’s ability to compete on intelligence tests can drive us to accept programs that may or may not be valuable and that may in fact be detrimental to a child’s long-range emotional and spiritual development.”

While graded developmental stimulation may be of use with children who are not developing normally, the healthy, full term baby is well-supported by giving him or her your touch, your face for them to look at, your singing voice, a calm, peaceful environment and your body as their habitat in which to grow.

Many blessings,

Carrie