Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Opening Up the GD Toolbox: Redirection and Mutual Solutions

One of the toughest seasons I ever endured as a parent was when I was first pregnant with our third child.  I was throwing up at least seven times a day, and trying to parent a 3.5 year old and an almost 2 year old when I only wanted to lay on the couch and wallow in misery.  I wanted to be able to say something once and have my children obey perfectly without any follow through on my part.  Since they were real, live kids rather than stuffed animals, that was only minimally effective.

Photo credit Andy Welsh on Flickr
Whatever season of parenting you are in, I believe that the same pressures and temptations call out to us.  We want an easy button.  It becomes reflex to Just Say No.  What I learned, though, was that if I was willing to spend a little more energy in discovering the reason for the behavior and working on finding out something else that would meet that need, then there was much less energy required--physically, too, but especially emotionally.

Around that time, my 19 month old began to love hitting.  He wasn't even angry most of the time.  He just got a kick out of the sensation, the noise and the reactions.  We tried softly stroking our cheeks with his hands and telling him "Gentle touches".  He giggled and slapped again.  My temper and frustration were building, until I recalled something I had read by Dr. Sears.  We began teaching him to give us high fives.  His face lit up with delight, and he began to repeat it.  He still got what he was craving--the game, noise, sensation and excitement--but now it was in a socially acceptable way that didn't hurt anyone.  I would like to say that at least we got a little advance warning as he gleefully squealed, "High fibe!" before striking, but he usually didn't say it till he was already mid-strike.  Still, it was progress.

I'll be honest.  Most of the time, when I am tempted to say no, it isn't because they want to do something morally wrong or even dangerous, provided my help and supervision.  It is because I don't want to spend the time and energy required to keep it from becoming dangerous.  Is that a good enough reason?  Sometimes, but not often.  When it is, then I have learned to streamline as much as possible, adapt my standards for all of us as much as I can, and worry about picking up the pieces once we are all in a place where we can do that.  The rest of the time, I must remind myself of my long-term goals for myself and my children.

I remember as a kid a friend who wouldn't even ask her parents for permission to do things (and we are talking about things that my fairly conservative parents would have approved without hesitation) because she was pretty sure that the answer would be no. She decided at an early age it was easier on everyone not to even put them (or herself) in that position.
   I don't want the default for my kids to be to shut me out and look elsewhere for guidance, help or even just fun and love.

One of the keys is finding out what their true need is and then helping them find a way to do it.  Is it a craving for attention?  Sensory input? Experimentation? Exploration?  Physical activity? Reassurance? 

When they are tiny, it seems like a lot of effort to decipher the desires that they are unable to even articulate themselves.  But the more connected you are, the easier it is, which reinforces the whole circle of trusting, loving relationship, which also makes it easier for them to want to please you.  And even if you wrack your brain to no avail, each suggestion met with wails or frustration by your baby, at least they know that you care.  Their feelings matter enough for you to try.

As the get older, they can do an amazing job of brainstorming with you so that everyone's needs are acknowledged.  Sometimes my three year old really wants to eat on the living room floor.  I explained that if food got on the carpet it would be hard to clean.  She thought for a second then ran to grab a big beach towel to protect the floor.  My eight year old, who loathes having her hair brushed, has asked on occasion to wear a hat when we go out so that she only has to brush the bottom part. 

My kidlets have learned from the time they were babies to negotiate.  Not in a win-lose situation where neither party is satisfied, but to be creative with ways that get everyone's goals met.

I know that some parents consider this backtalk, or defiance or disobedience.  "But if my child is in an emergency situation, they had better obey instantly without discussing or arguing!"  OK.  I don't know about you, but in an emergency situation, I will be doing everything I can physically to help keep them safe, most likely being right next to them to help them carry out any instructions.  And my kids have sufficient emotional awareness to tell by my voice and body language when I am deadly serious.

Another huge difference is the attitude.  My children are being respectful when they present alternatives.  Knowing that their input is valued, that they will be heard, and that I will do my best to meet their needs means that they don't have to fight defensively or belligerently for a grudged concession.  Their ideas are welcomed in our house.

We look for ways to say yes as much as we can to each other.  Not just them to me or me to them, but all of us honoring the other and seeking to understand and bless each other.  That kind of intention is a powerful thing.


[4/365] Handy Man
Image credit goaliej54 on Flickr
Moving away from punitive parenting requires a brand new set of tools.  Let's open it up together! For the rest of the series, click here.  And if gentle discipline is revealing areas where you need to work on yourself, see if any of these personal tools resonate with you.

Looking for more practical tips?  Check out my favorite post from the Hippie Housewife on The Hows of Discipline (and read through all the comments!),  Pearl in Oyster's 52 Tool Cards series and Aha! Parenting's blog.  Do you need inspiration and a reminder of why and how to do this?  Read Emerging Mummy's Practices of Mothering and Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond.  If you have other great resources or ideas, please add them in the comments.
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