Friday, April 29, 2011

My Personal Toolbox, Part II

Image credit: boeke on Flickr
I have found that gentle discipline is not just about the tools that I have for my children, but also what I am doing to build myself.  Some days I think that it takes me a lot longer to learn than it does my children, but the cool thing is looking back to a year ago, or two years and realizing how less often I feel the urge to hit or yell or shame, and how much more peace there is inside of me.  I know that I have a long way to go, but progress is always exciting and encouraging.  :)  Part I was posted recently, and these were all originally written as a guest post for Authentic Parenting.

Eliminate useless tools.  
Don't mentally save them for a last resort.  I used to justify yelling or shaming my kids since I wasn't actually calling them names or saying terrible words. I tried not to do it often, but it was still in my toolbox for "really big things".  One day, I saw my daughter's eyes and really looked.  Despite my internal justification, she saw it exactly for what it really was, and it hurt her.  Toss out even the possibility of hitting your children. 

Find appropriate ways to express your big feelings. 
Write. Paint. Dance.  Exercise.  (OK, I threw exercise in because I've heard good things about it and it seemed to fit.  Have I personally tried it?  No way!  I've got four kids and a paycheck job--do you honestly think I have energy or motivation to work out???   Just pass me some chocolate, please).

Use your words. 
Well, depends on which ones.  Finding words that are accurate and powerful enough to convey your feelings takes thought and practice and perhaps creativity, particularly if your children are going to be imitating you ;). Nonviolent Communication is a great resource.  Another way to use your words is to talk to another adult who can listen and encourage you.  Particularly if you didn't have a healthy model of parenting as a child, this can be a great way to learn what healthy relationships look like and how to help them grow. 

Expand your toolbox.  
If you have the tools you need to discipline your children, you are less likely to find yourself pushed to the edge.  Some of my favorites are here, and I love this post and the comments, too.  This is another place where your support circle can help you to see things from a fresh perspective and find something that will work for all of you.

Look at the big picture.  
Image credit jkfid on Flickr
Remind yourself of your long-term goals, both for yourself and your kids.  Look back at your own growth as a parent.  Like a child's growth, it may not be obvious from a single day to another, but look back a few months and you might be happily surprised at how much you have grown.  Also, like a toddler, sometimes we regress a bit in times of stress.  Be patient and repeat what you want to do and how you want to parent over and over to yourself.  These are skills that take practice.  If you screw up, apologize, forgive yourself and try again.

Pray.  Meditate.  
Image: AlicePopcorn on Flickr
My greatest help in becoming the parent I want to be is drawn from my love for Jesus Christ.  Whatever your beliefs or non-beliefs, taking a moment to stop and breathe in love and peace can calm us down and inspire us to treat our children as we would want to be treated.  It is hard to give what is not inside us, and developing peace in our hearts is crucial to sharing it with our family.

It's all in your head.  
Your perception often is reality.  If you focus on the "shoulds"--my baby should be sleeping through the night, I should be getting more time by myself, etc., you can miss the gifts in the present.  If you start looking at night nursing or other things as a special time, you can often transform them and find that they no longer cause you as much stress.  I know, this only works up to a point, but it is astounding how much our attitude affects things.  Once I stopped looking at the clock in the middle of the night and calculating how much time I had left to sleep and instead focused on the scent of my baby's head, the soft sound of his breathing and the blissful stillness (probably the quietest time in that 24 hours) I felt so much more refreshed.

The hormones help.  Each time your baby suckles, oxytocin and other powerful hormones are released that help you to feel loving and peaceful.  

When I was preparing for the birth of our third child, I learned to recognize when I was tensing up and to deliberately relax.  Sure, it was helpful during birth, but I've found it even more useful a couple of years *after* the birth!  Become aware of your body and stress levels and teach yourself to let go of that tension.  

Follow a script.  
Create and memorize a short list of steps to handle your triggers that you can follow in the moment.  For me it goes like this: STOP.  DEEP BREATH.  Let go of any unhelpful thoughts. How can I help this situation *right now*? Later on, I can assess what I can do to prevent things in the future, but if I try to focus on what will make it better in this moment, it throws out punitive, angry responses and gets me thinking about positive strategies to solve the problem and maintain/restore connection.  Then practice, practice, practice!  It takes awhile for it to become automatic.  The results are worth it, though.

Find little ways every day to fill their love cups.  Shower them with love, especially on the days when you don't feel as if either of you deserve it.  Learn what makes your child feel loved--it might be different from you.  If you are upset, use that as a signal to pour out love on your child.  The Five Love Languages of Children has a lot of great ideas to help them feel cherished.
I think that most of us come into parenting with a need for some restoration and repair.  There is no better time than now to strengthen and rebuild our lives so that we can parent our children the way we were designed to, and walk in peace and joy.


Zoie @ TouchstoneZ said...

This is such a great post. I'll be sharing it on twitter & fb because I think you express so well how we all strive to parent. Breaking it down makes it accessible when you're in those moments of heightened tension. I especially like your advice to change perception and relax. I'll be adding these to my toolbox.

Leslie said...

Love this post! I tried to leave a comment last night on the post below about community and it had an error - also your "contact" doesn't seem to be working either! Hopefully this comment goes through - I just had to get in touch with you, I've been following your blog for awhile and your posts seem to always hit home with me. You are so brave. To be posting your true thoughts and heart, even when you know others with opposing views may be reading it, etc. I just appreciate your heart and honesty, and my mama's heart resonates with yours and your process has been very similar to mine. Your post about community really struck me, because that is one thing that has been hard for me - the lack of community. I am really the only mom who parents the way I do, and so many times the books I read say to surround yourself with like-minded people. Well, what if that is non-existent? I guess we need to cultivate these online relationships to receive the encouragement and fellowship that we need to move forward in this way of gentle discipline, that more and more is becoming apparent as being God's heart for children. Anyways, sorry for rambling, but had to finally comment and let you know how much I appreciate your blog and YOU. many blessings from Costa Rica,



dulce de leche said...

Zoie, thank you so much! <3

Leslie, many hugs to you! I am so sorry about the glitches--thank you for letting me know. I will check into them. Your kind words made me feel so warm and loved. Thank you so very, very much for refreshing my heart like that! <3

I understand the non-existent community and I've got a post in the works on that--I would love to have your input!

Lots of love to you!

melissa joanne said...

Such great advice! Some of these have worked wonderfully for me, and others I know I need to implement (that exercise thing couldn't hurt either, I suppose!). Thank you for sharing your "toolbox" with us!

dulce de leche said...

:) Thanks so much! Yeah, I keep thinking about that exercise thing too. I'll let you know if I actually try it. ;)