I want to talk today about those less-than-perfect moments in my day: the moments I am stressed to be alone with four kids, the moments I raise my voice, the moments I shoot commands at my kids, the moments I lose my patience and the moments I get verbally aggressive. In short, the moments I feel I am not in control and someone else – with a horrible tone of voice – has taken over.
On good days, it could happen once or not at all. On bad, tired, overwhelmed days, those ugly moments can happen 3-4 times a day. I really hate it but sometimes it is hard to control (Especially after I stay up all night with my one-year-old).
Books as life-changers
I started reading Mayim Bialik’s book Beyond the Sling. The entire book was worth reading so that I could reach chapter 11: Gentle Discipline.
What is Gentle Parenting/Discipline?
It means parenting without violence – physical or verbal. It means to rely instead on respectful communication. Basically, you are seeking to see your child not as someone lesser or weaker than you who you can and should control but rather as a partner. We are not peers – but partners. Gentle parenting is not permissive parenting. It means that I communicate my needs to my child while respecting his/her needs. Easier said than done. But do-able, I think.
Don’ts in Gentle Parenting
I plan to avoid the following actions in my journey to parent gently:
1. Avoid illogical consequences to misbehaviour. For example: Don’t say “No story tonight if you guys don’t listen to me”. It creates a bad atmosphere. Use logical consequences instead like: ”Oh, the bedroom has become a mess so instead of reading a book now, i think we will need to clean it up together”.
2. Avoid saying “Because I said so”. The child deserves an explanation about the limits I want to set.
3. Avoid saying “don’t cry”. According to the author, crying serves to release tension. Allow for crying and see it as a natural way for the child to communicate. They are just learning to express their feelings. It’s a process. Give it time.
4. Avoid countdown. Oh, this is a biggie with me. I don’t know where I picked up this horrible habit of counting down for the kids until they get something done (or until they stop doing something annoying) but I hate it! I want to stop. It’s disrespectful to my kids. They are not soldiers in an army. Get them to focus in another method.
5. Avoid threats and rewards: Threats are a situation where the parent always wins and the child can never win. Rewards work the same way: the parent decides what deserves a gift or treat and the child fears the consequences and so responds to the reward. The problem with this system is that the real values – being respectful, working with others, communicating your needs in an efficient manner – that I want to get across to the child get lost in the process.
6. Don’t worry about what other people think. If a meltdown happens in public, take a deep breath and handle it with gentleness that feels comfortable to me. Forget the other people watching you in the supermarket. They don’t matter. What matters is my connection to my child and helping him/her regain a positive outlook.
Do’s in Gentle Parenting
I plan to use the following “tools” in my quest to parent gently:
1. Always assume the best about my kids – no matter how they behave. Assume my kids are the sweetest, most loving, gentle, helpful beings. Because they are. Deep down inside they truly are good-hearted and seeking to contribute their part. Sometimes when they use unwanted behaviour, its easy to forget. My children will perceive themselves the way that we as parents perceive them. If I look at them as annoying and “bad”, that is what they will believe. If I look at them as adorable and fascinating, that is what they will see themselves as.
2. I want to see “bad” behaviour as a sign of an unmet need. This has helped me tremendously. I used to get angry at a child who was misbehaving. Today, I try to stop and think: What is he trying to tell me through his (mis)behaviour? What is he missing? What need is he trying to fill? Often, I find that the answer for my kids’ misbahviour is the need for attention – and legitimately so. They are four little kids and rarely do they get time alone with Mom and Dad. When I see my sons or daughters seeking attention these days, I try to create one-on-one Mommy time in order to fill that need. Note to self: bad behaviour=unmet need.
3. Take a parent time-out. Before I say or do anything that I will regret, tell the kids that I am stepping away to another room for a few minutes. This is a tremendous lesson for them as well. Think before you explode. If I can’t leave the room, go aside and sit and breathe and try to gather myself. A smart quote: You’ll never regret the things you didn’t say.
4. Give a yes for every no, sometimes two. You cannot do this – but you can do that. Focus on what they can do and not on what they cannot do.
5. Use distraction and humor. Make a joke! Laugh! Life is not that serious. Distract and move on when negative energies begin.
History repeats itself?
I think that we often parent the way that we have been parented. It is so hard to break habits. I literally hear myself saying sentences that I grew up hearing and am finding it a big challenge to let them go.
Note to self: Let go. Don’t go on automatic pilot with mean, belittling sentences when you are stressed and tired. Soften your tone of voice. These are your kids. Be gentle. Be soft. Be the mom that you’ve always dreamed you’d be. Don’t try to be perfect. Be good enough. It’s a process. Breathe. Disconnect and go to your room if you need but – do not lose control.
You are okay.