Doing Gentle Discipline….Even If You Don’t Think You Know How

I think so many of us want a better connection and closeness for our relationship with our children, and we all want our children to grow up to be happy and functional adults. Yet, sometimes I think parents think these two things are at odds with one another – like connection and the things required to be a functional adult are separate and almost at odds in a way.  Love may be this important but soft commodity and surely children need stronger discipline to make them grow into success, right?  I think that’s what people think.

Many of us grew up in punitive if not downright abusive households where we weren’t heard on any level.  Many of us know we don’t want that in our families, but then we aren’t sure what else we want and how would that work.  Is any level of confict okay?  How do we handle conflict without damaging?  In order to be a gentle parent, does that mean no boundaries whatsooever? Will I damage the connection I have with my child by setting boundaries?

Secure attachment in the years of infancy and toddlerhood of our children is extremely important and sets a foundation for the rest of a child’s life.  However, attachment and connection must change to be developmentally appropriate as a child ages, and this involves boundaries set with love and respect.  So if you are wondering how to be a better guiding force for your child and having a peaceful family, it begins with the end in mind.  What do you want your family to look like?  What do you want your relationship with your child or teen to look like?  Do you want your child to be a functional adult, and if you don’t want to work towards that in the school aged years, when will you start helping them be more independent?

Love and respect is the foundation of  all of this, but do not mistake respect for equality.  In the scheme of things, you are the adult and while the child has input at the points that they can, you have a lot of life experience to hopefully guide them through the things they can’t think through as well for themselves (and you can use your experience to help them learn these skills as developmentally appropriate through your modeling).

Attachment to your child is also not the same as doing everything for them.  Attachment is supporting and guiding, and letting them make the small mistakes or the decisions they can handle with the consequences included without you rescuing them as if they are incapable.  To do so, takes away their power as an individual. For example, you can help a teenager brainstorm ways to deal with consequences, but you cannot remove the consequence.  Otherwise,  nothing has been gained by this practice of making smaller decisions.

Gentle parenting means getting a handle on our own triggers, building community so when we are exhausted our children are not bearing the brunt of this without other adults around to help. It means taking care of ourselves, and letting our children know they are okay with trusted other people besides just us. It means not just sucking in our child’s energy and spitting it back at them.  If our children are wound tight, we might need to be loose.  If our children are angry and frustrated, we might need to be calm.  We can empathize and sympathize, but we also need to be the grounded one.

Halloween is in two days, so please share with me your favorite gentle disciple tips and tricks!

Love,
Carrie

 

Book Study: Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles – Chapter 2

“The best antidote to U.S. teenagers’ major health problems – bad habits such as drinking, smoking, promiscuity – turns out to be a close connection with caring parents.” – The Journal of the Medical Association

This is a great quote I think, and it reminds all of us when we lose the forest for the trees why we try to do what we do.  Parenting and being in the trenches is exhausting!  The cajoling to reach normal things in the day for littles – going to the bathroom, brushing teeth, washing hair leads into  juggling homework, dealing with friends for older children and into navigating high school, driving, employment, romantic relationships and more for teenagers.  How can we do it?

I think the answer is in the title of this chapter, Chapter Two:  “The Decision to Connect.”  If we perceive the child as an obstacle to getting something done, something accomplished – then we may be sorely disappointed.  If our goal is to connect with our child in the process of life and in doing all the life things along the way, then we have a much better chance of success.

Chapter Two starts off with a great observation from children jumping rope.  The author writes, ” When we’re in those tugs of war with our kids, it’s much easier to see those struggles as opportunity once we realize we have the same options the kids across the street did.  We always have control of our end of the rope!  We can decide that this is the time to hang on tight, stand firm, and insist, “In our family this is the rule!”  Other times we may decide to step in and work with our child, enjoying together what we couldn’t do alone.  And then there are occasions when we realize it is time to let go of our end of the rope, to hand the whole thing over to our child, and say, “You’re ready.  Take it. You can make this decision.  You can handle it on your own.”

How do we know which of these tactics to use? I think some of it has to do with the size of decisions to be made, and the age of the child. and what our vision is for their adult life. How are we making them functional adults?  The author talks about Stephen Covey’s adage of “Begin with the end in mind.” She gives the example of sitting  with a three year old at bedtime, and people say don’t start that!  However, do you want your teens to see you as someone who makes time for them, who can answer their questions, who can be trusted and help them?  Think about the significant adults in your life who helped you (and those who didn’t) – what were their characteristics?

This does NOT mean we don’t have limits.  When I was a young parent, I think I had a picture of doing all the things so my children would feel close and connected.  I now think what children need to know is family is a partnership of respect, trust and communication between all parties.  Emotional coaching and teaching our children is about meeting their needs – of course!  It is about being responsive and senstive to them!  But it is also is about teaching them through being supportive and encouraging to meet the things that must happen, that need to happen.   How do we emotionally coach a child versus intimidating them?  Building relationships, and building a emotional coach type of parenting style is a process. You will mess it up along the way!  You may go back to less desirable behaviors.  Keep moving forward.  

One way to keep moving forward is to keep track of the developmental phase your child is in- what common things come up?  What has come up for your child?  What are potential strategies you could use to guide this while still connecting?  Who is YOUR support team?  I find many American mothers at least are functioning with NO support team.  No family really, if they have a partner they are gone for long hours, no neighbors per say.  You need a web of support.  Who can be in your pocket?  Who can you call when you are ready to melt down?

Can you identify what your child is feeling and why?  They may not be able to articulate it.  Most feelings have a need behind them.  What’s the need and what’s the best way, including the health of  you and the rest of the family, to address it?  This is partly why I am such a big proponent of rhythm for children – having the same rhythm really decreased the amount of decision making and stress.  If the bedtime order is always the same, there is less protesting and fighting.

Start with the little things–  there is a list on page 34, but here are my favorites from that list:

  • Don’t invalidate. Even if it doesn’t make sense, it can be important to your child, especially littles.  They don’t always make sense; they are little.
  • Take time to listen.
  • Assist but don’t take over
  • State things calmly.

There are great tips in this chapter!  I hope you all are enjoying this book.  When I first read this book, a long time ago, it seemed so much to take in but 18 years into parenting it seems pretty logical – so I think I am proof that we can grow and internalize these behaviors.  You can do it!  If you need help, and want to talk, I have some coaching sessions available by phone if you email me at admin@theparentingpassageway.com

Lots of love,
Carrie

Book Study: Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles

We are kicking off our new book study on Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s “Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles:  Winning for a Lifetime.”  Some of you may be familiar with Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s book, “Raising Your Spirited Child,” but this book is just as wonderful and I think applicable across a wide range of ages and stages. So grab a copy of the book and follow along!  Also, check out IG and FB @theparentingpassageway for tips/reminders each week based off some of the ideas in each chapter so we can all have winning families and be the parents we want to be!

I love how Mary Kurcinka writes, ” On the surface power struggles look like a tug of war.  Parents and kids pitted against one another.  Opposing forces pulling in different directions.  Two individuals at odds with each other, both determined to win!  The trouble is that if you win by simply outmuscling your child, you still feel lousy.  There’s little pleasure in victory when your child is left distressed and angry.  If you lose, it’s even worse.  When kind of a parent can’t even get a child to brush her teeth or finish her homework? Power struggles are frustrating.”

What a great summary of how things really go!  Who hasn’t feel angry or frustrated as a parent?

The reality is that a power struggle is like the tip of an iceburg.  Below the surface, every power struggle is about feelings and needs.  And feelings and needs encompass both parties involved.  Recognizing emotions and building relationships by responding to emotion is a way to deal with power struggles, because power struggles aren’t really about winning or losing.  

“Every power struggle offers you the opportunity to connect with your child or to disconnect.” (page 4)  If we can connect with our children, we can help our children and ourselves  cooperate, get along with each other – and play for the same team.  If we can become more emotionally intelligent, then our ability to manage our own intensity and our own triggers increases.

You can have a more harmonious home; emotional coaching is the key.  Seek first to understand and then be understood.

More to come on this wonderful book!

Blessings,
Carrie

Raising Functional Adults

This is the main function of parenting: to raise functional adults.  This is done through understanding stages of developmental maturity, through appropriate connection between parent and child and child and the world, and through slowly letting go toward the child becoming an adult making their own decisions but having a family to support and encourage them.

It sounds brief in that way, and requires much more thought in real life than what I just wrote in that sentence. There are situations that come up a million times a day that can help your child move toward being an empowered adult.  So how do you do it in real life?

First, know your DEVELOPMENTAL norms.  Every child eventually weans.  Every child eventually sleeps in their own bed ( usually by age 10, if not before, is when they stop cosleeping or wandering into your room in the night with a bad dream).  If you know the developmental norms, then that helps you know what is NOT normal and when you might need help.  It might also help you identify anxiety or depression and when to intervene.

Second, respect your child’s IDENTITY.  This is not only extroversion or introversion, but temperament, and likes and dislikes.  This doesn’t mean you don’t get to nudge  a little at the appropriate points toward things that would be healthy, but it means you have a fundamental knowledge of who your child is. Nudging is different than dramatic pushing. Sometimes all of us, including adults, need a nudge from those who love us in order to better ourselves.  It is okay to nudge towards health and balance and normal developmental maturity.   And we respect their changes.   Because they are children who are growing, they have every right to grow and change into something different.  Do not peg your 15 year old into a spot because they acted a certain way when they were seven years old.

Third, provide ENCOURAGEMENT and CONNECTION.  Supportive phrases include encouragement, which is different than praise. Encouragement allows room for growth and room for the child to decide when and where to be proud of him or herself.  Connect with them in their love language.

Fourth, teach your child how to be EMPOWERED.  Teach them how to listen to others, teach them how to manage their own intensity, teach them how to  problem solve, teach them how to set boundaries.  Do not rescue them from real-life consequences.  These are skills you must have YOURSELF before you can teach them!

I would love to hear some of your real life situations – let’s help each other.

Blessings and love,
Carrie

Book Study: “The Winning Family: Increasing Self-Esteem In Yourself and Your Child”

How is everyone doing reading along in this fabulous book?  We are up to Chapters 9 and 10, and these are great chapters.

Chapter 9 is entitled, “Parenting Responses That Affect Self-Esteem” and it gives a number of different scenarios with responses from a nurturing parent, a structured parent, a marshmallow parent, and a criticizing parent.  I think this could be really helpful to parents new to different developmental stages.  If you are curious about the differences in these responses, I refer you to the scenarios but in a nutshell:

Nurturing Responses – based on respect, love, support, encourages self-responsibility, parents help children, children are seen as having capacity to grow and succeed, warm

Structuring Responses – also based on respect, but offer more set limits and sometimes demands a performance outcome; expects children to be capable and responsible.  This kind of response can work well WITH a nurturing response.

Marshmallow Responses – grants freedom but doesn’t make a child accountable or responsible.  It sounds supportive, but in reality views children as inadequate and incapable.  It blames others, or the situation for a problem.  Views children as fragile.

Criticizing Responses – based on disrespect, ridicule, blaming, fault finding, comparing, labeling.  Humor is often cruel, touch is not warm but instead punishing.

What style do you use the most?  The good news is that it is possible to change your response style!  You can catch your children being good, you can find the things they are doing right, you can give up blaming and fault finding.  Mistakes can be fixed, and children can learn responsibility!  

Chapter 10 is about parents being leaders.  I love this, as it was one of the first topics I ever blogged about when I started this blog 10 YEARS ago!  So, if we are going to be leaders, we need

1- Vision, direction, goals.

2- We need to communicate our vision, direction, goals.

3.  We need to keep focused

4. – We need to consider the needs of others  – we are team as a family!  This is the FIRST place that children learn teamwork.  Team sports are awesome, but the family is the first team!

5. – Support the progress – support over the obstacles.

6.- Expect success!

If you are a REACTIVE parent, you are reacting, usually with threats, force, criticism, humiliation, ridicule, punishment.  We can, instead, be proactive!  What are the biggest sticking points for the day?  How could thing flow smoother?  What is our big vision as a family and how are we communicating that?  If you want to see more, here is a post I wrote some time ago about writing a Family Mission Statement.  Pages 93-94 of this book also talk about crafting a vision of a Winning Family.

A closing thought from page 94:  “If you live your life from your highest values, you will bring peace and compassion to your family, community, and world.”

The change begins with us!  Please leave me a comment and if you have a link to your Family Mission Statement, I would love to read it!

Blessings and love,
Carrie

Empowering Your Child

I think sometimes we as parents can really confuse what we are supposed to be doing as parents.  Our children need to be able to do things that will help them learn how to make great decisions, that will foster their skills in communication, that will help them become functional adults.   There will be mistakes along the way; protection from mistakes and therefore protection from a child developing resilience is not the goal.

So, in that vein, these are the messages that I wish more parents would say to their children when things get hard for the child:

You can do this.

You can do hard things.

I believe in you and I believe you can handle this.

I love you no matter what, but I do expect you to make good choices.

You don’t need avoid the things in life that are difficult.

You can deal with the things that come your way.

It is okay to make mistakes.

It is okay to ask for help.

Taking responsibility is important.

You are going to make great decisions now and as an adult. I trust you.

You are amazing, and  you’ve got this.  I am here to help, but you really can do this.

 

Are there any other empowering phrases you wish people would say to their children?  Leave me a comment in the comment box!

Blessings and love,
Carrie

Toolbox of Tips For Communicating With 9-12 Year Olds

This is second in a three-part series of discipline, communication, and development for 9-12 year olds so we can all be more effective parents!  The first part to this series can be found here and got a warm reception from readers as it tackled discipline, responsibility, protection, sports, emotional intelligence, and more.

One thing I love about this age is that I think we have a chance to make a big impact on how we resolve conflict and communicate with one another.  The home is really the first and most major place in which children learn this!

So, the first thing to be aware of is what is your communication style?  I find many adults have a really hard time helping 9-12 year olds with conflict and communication within the family because they themselves were never taught communication skills or conflict resolution?   So, I think we need to think of things such as:

  • How do we deal with things and other people when things are not flowing smoothly? How do we react? What do we say?
  • Do we accommodate conflict by being a people pleaser and backing down on our boundary?  Do we avoid conflict and run away?  Do we become competitive and try to win over why we are right?
  • How good are we a collaborating during times of conflict?
  • Are we direct?  Can we say and use “I ” statements directly when we communicate – “I am frustrated!”  “I am angry!”  But……
  •  What do we do with those feelings then, though?  Take it out on everyone around us?  Yell, scream, shut people out, cry?
  • Do we put people down when we are frustrated or irritated at the situation?  What do we perceive as “disrespect”, why, and what do we do about it?
  • Do we use steps in resolving conflicts?  Only then can we really model.

For younger children, we often think of things such as using our bodies to walk over to the child, connecting with the child and getting the child’s attention, using a calm voice with a simple request, helping the child follow-through in the request.  If conflict ensues, it often is just a matter of hungry/tired/exhausted/needing connection, helping the child calm down, following through or making restitution.  Attacking, lecturing in a long tirade, blaming doesn’t do anything to teach a child how to communicate or solve conflict.

For older children, things become infinitively more complex however.  There is often less of a “working together” model in place developmentally, which is normal, but it can also impact communication and openness.  Here are some suggestions to lay a good baseline:

What are the ESSENTIAL family rules (boundaries)?  Not like pick your socks up off the floor, but the really essential things. What specifically triggers the adults in the family, and the 9-12 year olds and makes the house less peaceful?  What is so essential it can’t be avoided, but what is not essential and could be discarded?  Pick and choose the ESSENTIAL.

In our family, this does include respect and good manners for one another.  Manners are how we show we care about one another, and we should have respect for the fact that we are all different people with different temperaments, personalities, and interests living in the same house together.

If there are things like doing homework or completing chores causing conflict in the family how could you break it down into an action plan that garners cooperation?

Make the family a place of POSITIVENESS and SUPPORT.  One of my favorite phrases to use with my children is, “I am here to help you.  Tell me what you would like to see happen.”  That opening often sets up a much better conversation.

Make the family a place of TEAMWORK.  This is often set in ages birth-9, but it is never too late to start!

EMPOWER.  Children ages 9-12 are not going to do things the way you do them as an adult, but the more empowerment you can give them within the rules of the house and what needs to happen. What will happen if responsibilities are not done?  If poor words are chosen?  If the child becomes completely angry?  Figure these things out in a time of quiet and calm, and have it ready to go and draw upon.

START TEACHING. Responding to what other people say in a defensive way is not an effective way to communicate, and just like learning to walk or throw a baseball, learning how to communicate takes PRACTICE.  A few hints:

Everyone must be calm. This step often takes much, much longer than everyone would like.  Take the time to calm down. Come back later.  There are few things that have to be solved in a split second.

No defensiveness. No yelling. No name calling.  No accusations.  No physicality. If any of these things happen on the part of your 9 to 12 year old to you, stay calm.  Tell your child you would like to help them.  Most 9-12 year olds can still get really overwhelmed by emotions, and need space and time. Defensiveness, yelling, name calling, accusations only ramps up the whole thing and instead of problem solving it is just emotions spilling everywhere.

We can all disagree, but the reality is if we all live together, we have to come up with solutions that work for the family, and we have to agree upon boundaries and rules in order to  live together.  Nine to twelve year olds are often not really logical, so it is important to help guide the discussions.

Listen carefully, and talk about how things happened and what you would each like to see happen.  Come up with a plan.   Make restitution.

I would love to hear your experiences in communicating with your 9-12 year olds!  Let’s exchange ideas!

Blessings and love,
Carrie