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Category Archives: Gentle Parenting

Parenting With Less Wasted Words

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When my first was little, I used to talk to her all day. Almost a steady stream of explanations, questions and observations. I felt like it was up to me to deliver an experience of the world around her, through my eyes. When I watch old videos of us together, I wish I could have lovingly told the ‘me‘ of seven years ago to just be quiet and let her enjoy the new things she was discovering.

I used to say, “Oh, look at the moon! Look at the doggie! Wave bye bye!” ect. Interestingly, she went through a period where she was scared of the moon and of dogs! It was almost as if me pointing these things out to her and drawing artificial attention to them made her anxious! I also started to realise that it gets tiring always explaining, asking and talking!

This post is about my journey in the way I speak (or choose not to speak) to my kids and other children. I don’t want anyone reading this to think that I’m obsessed over every little thing I say to my kids or that I count my words or something crazy like that! It’s been more about the general awareness level and breaking free of the ‘record player‘ (the way we’re programmed to speak to children from our own past experiences). I feel I have a much deeper connection with my kids when I stop ‘talking at‘ them and really consider if what I have to say is actually helping the situation, or if I’m imposing my ignorance or my past, on their new experiences. The journey of awareness of speech is gradual and on-going.

Now, she’s 7 years old, and the other day, she was braiding a belt for her pants that kept falling down. She was putting in a considerable effort into the task that she had initiated herself. But, I could see straight away that the yarn she had cut was too short. For a second, I wanted to ‘save‘ her from making a mistake. I could have told her to stop and consider if the string was long enough. But, I didn’t. I watched. She finished. She realised it was too short. She simply said, “Wow, this is WAY too short!” and bounced away from her project and didn’t try to make another one.

In the short term, my intervention would have meant she would have been successful this time, but what about the next time and the time after that? I guess I could have encouraged her to make another one, right? Wasn’t she disappointed that she hadn’t succeeded? No… Her final product was only a failure in MY eyes. She didn’t have to know about the dialogue in my head! Who am I to say what learning experience she had gained? She had completed her activity and wasn’t attached by the outcome, only I was attached the outcome.

I found that most of the time when I ‘talked at‘ my children (explaining, asking questions, being unaware of their learning journey), I was interrupting a really important learning processes.

My four year old recently learned how to scoot really well on her scooter. By accident, I told her twice how awesome it was that she was scooting so well! (Cheer leader style). She rolled her eyes and said, “Why do you keep saying that?!” Oops… sorry. They’ll catch you in that moment of unawareness and let you know how irritating you are!

Kids complain. We try to reason with them. Instead of hearing them out.

Kids cry. We talk and distract, rather than listen to their hurts and frustrations.

Kids are sad. We try to talk them out of being sad, instead of allowing their hearts to be heavy (with kids, the heaviness usually only lasts for a few moments)

Kids discover something new! We try to explain their discovery even deeper and accidentally make it seem like they might not be able to learn all the answers on their own.

Kids get scared of something. Again, we try to distract or won’t validate their fears, telling them to stop being silly, or to be a big girl, instead of holding them in their space and allowing the fear to express itself.

The same goes for getting kids to cooperate. Let’s says it’s time to leave the park, I say we need to get going a hundred times, but they know that the first 99 times I say it, that we’re really not ready to go. So, I’ve literally wasted my breath. Same goes for put on your shoes, brush your teeth, etc. Unless the sound honestly does not reach their ear drums… they heard you the first time! Whether or not they cooperate is another story.

Over the years, I’ve gotten so so much better at responding, rather than reacting, but it’s hard to break out of ‘react‘ mode! Even people who have practiced some sort of self help/self discipline for years, suddenly find themselves spewing out words of unawareness from their past experiences when they become parents. Children bring out the best and worst of us!

Kids usually don’t need lengthy explanations on life. They get it. But, sometimes they DO need extra explanation. For example this morning, miss. 7 was bouncing on the bed doing flips and splits. Instead of telling her to ‘stop it‘ a million times, I told her “I need you do do your flips and splits in the other room because Marty is getting distracted by all your noise!” So, she went off in the the other room.

While writing this, my 4 year old came to me complaining about her sister. I listened. I told her in a few words that I understand how she is feeling. She left, happy that she was heard. I didn’t have to explain for ten minutes about another course of action she could take that would make everybody happy. I mean, if she had asked me for some advice, I would have given it to her. But, really, she just wanted a shoulder to cry on.

Young children live in the present moment, so there’s really no need for too much explanation, planning ahead, pondering, etc. If they’re ready to absorb it, they will. If they’re not ready, the event or phenomena will simply pass them by.

Although I do talk now with more awareness, I’m not so serious and rigid that I won’t sing a silly non-sensical song to the baby and do silly fart jokes with the 5 year old. I still talk and explain things and point things out. It would be really unnatural and stiff not to! The key is to be natural with my kids and leave those past experiences aside to make room for something new!

If after reading this post, you feel like you want to speak with less wasted words to your children, but you’re not sure of how to get them to cooperate, there’s a fantastic book that I highly recommend, called ‘Attachment Play’ by Aletha Solter. 

They Can Know The Truth And Still Believe

When my oldest was 2 years old, she was petrified of the dudes dressed up as Santa in the shopping centres. It was real, legitimate fear.

Without thinking twice, I told her that anybody can dress up like Santa. It took her another year, but after a while, she wasn’t frightened anymore. She’s 6 1/2 now, and we still ‘do‘ Santa. On Christmas Eve, we put cookies and (rice) milk out for him (daddy). And, sparkly oats and carrots for the reindeer… My kids know the truth and it’s still fun. Something that adults often forget is that children have an amazing imagination. They can know something isn’t real and still play along with all the enthusiasm as if it were real.

I generally don’t lie to my children about anything, and let’s face it, telling kids that Santa is real, is actually a big fat lie. I know it’s a nice, sweet, well intentioned lie… but it’s still a lie.  I know a lot of my friends are conflicted about whether they should ‘keep the magic‘ of Santa, or tell the truth and then Santa is ruined. So, that’s why I’m sharing my experience. You can do both! Tell them the truth and still have the fun.

Not pictured is my 4 year old… for some reason, she was terrified of Santa this year. I’m not really into the pictures of crying kids on Santa’s lap and I mean… really, look at the dude, he does look pretty scary. (He was actually the nicest Santa ever)

Fit Your Own Oxygen Mask First: Parental Self-Care is More Important Than You Think

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What good can you be to your family, if you’re walking around drained and depleted?

I almost didn’t go. The timing, the money… And then, on the morning I was meant to fly to Sydney for The Art of Silence course, a four day silent meditation retreat, my nearly 4 year old woke up with a fever and a cough. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be mean to go away while she’s not feeling well?” Mega guilt trip.

I asked in one of my mother’s Facebook pages if I should go and there was a unanimous chorus of GO! One of the responses was, “This is a fit your own oxygen mask situation! 

The past six months, I had been grumpy, tired, and snapping at the kids. Stressed from work. About to move houses. Pregnant. You name it. It was only going to get worse if I didn’t do something about it.

When I said goodbye at the airport, the kids were sad. I was sad. Was this *really* worth it??? Read the rest of this entry

Democratic Parenting: The Beautiful Middle Path of Meeting The Whole Family’s Needs

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I recently read an article in the Sydney Morning Herald about overly permissive parents and how they are raising terrorising, entitled, narcissistic teenagers and young adults. The article waves a finger at permissive parenting, but does not offer any solutions towards raising nurtured, emotionally intelligent children. Upon reading such an article, one might think that parents should go hard on the route of discipline and control…

The Problem with Conventional Discipline, Authoritarian (Dictator) Parenting

Punishment, strict rules, sticker charts, rewards, time outs, threats, etc. are what more authoritarian style parents use in order to elicit desirable behavior in their children.

  • Authoritarian parenting trains a child to obey, but is that what you really want?
    Swiss sociologist, Alice Miller, studied the early childhoods of Nazis high in power, and she found they all came from very strict, authoritarian households. As children, they were trained to follow orders. It sounds good to get immediate compliance from a child… but there are long term repercussions. Questioning morality, pushing limits, and standing up for fairness is a quality in our children that we want to encourage, in order to make our society a better place to live in.
  • Authoritarian parenting leaves children feeling powerless.
    How do you feel when you feel powerless? It’s awful, isn’t it? It makes you desperate. It makes you go on seeking attention where you shouldn’t have to. That’s why kids who are raised with punishment as a repercussion for ‘bad‘ behavior, often go on repeating their offenses.
  • Loving communication and open dialogue between a parent and the child becomes severed.
    Discipline appears to work when a child is younger, but often starts failing as the child grows up. Think you can send a teenager to time out? Even the fear of a threat won’t stop the child from acting out. The child keeps desperately looking for ways to connect (in ways that appear to be bad behavior). Or, the child starts hiding things from the parents to keep from getting into trouble. Children who are raised with punishment as a consequence, most likely, will stop confiding in the parents and start lying as they grow older. The lack of trust and inability to safely communicate is something that these children can carry with them when they become adults.
  • Authoritarian parenting is exhausting for the parent.
    As a school teacher, I often have to resort to a more authoritarian approach, and it really sucks the life out of you. You can’t just let one thing slide one day and not the next. Authoritarian parenting is an enormous amount of work for a parent, with little guaruntee that you are going to get a positive result.

If punishment worked, our prisons would be empty, nobody would commit any crimes because the fear of going to jail should be so great that it would stop anyone from committing a crime…

The Problem with Permissive Parenting 

Permissive parenting means that you are almost always setting aside your own needs to meet the wants and needs of the child. I’ve dipped into extremely permissive parenting, and I can tell you that it wasn’t fun.  I found myself feeling very insecure, questioning my every action and my needs became neglected. I watched as my kids became confused in my moments of allowing them to do anything they wanted. It’s one thing to open our boundaries and stop being so over-controlling of our children’s activities, but there needs to be some common sense and reasonable limits in place.

  • Permissive parenting can be dangerous and can make others feel very uncomfortable.
    My 3 year old loves to go really far out in the ocean, even when it’s rough. I have to tell her “No” sometimes because if I let her go as far as she wanted, I wouldn’t be able to keep an eye on her big sister, who likes to hang back in the shallows. Social norms are often bent past the ‘pushing it‘ boundary when parents are overly permissive. You can see people around get very uncomfortable and are not sure if they need to step in and interfere.
  • Permissive parenting can leave you feeling burnt out and neglected.
    It will start off with a little voice crying, “What about me?!” You try to rationalize the little voice as you overcoming your own limitations, but then, that little voice may turn into exhaustion, desperation, depression, anger and even violence. Permissive parenting leaves your needs being unmet.
  • Permissive parenting leaves a child feeling unheard.
    The other day at IKEA, I was on shopping rampage. I wanted to buy something ridiculous and my husband looked me in the eye and said, “Kate, that’s too much, it’s not a good idea.” I felt sad for a moment, but he was right. I was so happy later, that he said “No.” He was really listening to ME and what was looking out for what was best for us and our family. The same goes for our children. We don’t have to be mean about it, but we should pull in the reigns when things get unreasonable because a child’s request might not reflect his or her true need.
  • Permissive Parenting does not truly meet the child’s needs.
    Sometimes it’s the loving limit that is what the child needs in the moment. Some days, my 5 year old will ask for 5 different things in one minute! I look her in the eye, get down on her level and say “No” (nicely) and she cries. That release of emotions and connection, was exactly what she needed in that moment. Something was bothering her much more than needing those ‘things‘. If I had been in permissive mode, I would have tried to make her happy by giving her each one of those things, but I wouldn’t have been meeting her emotional need to express her emotions and connect.

Democratic Parenting, the beautiful middle path (sometimes known as Authoritative parenting)

Democratic parenting is when you do your best to accommodate everyone’s wants and needs. I first heard of the term when I was reading one of Aletha Solter’s books on parenting. Although, the idea is nothing radicle, I felt that it so deeply resonated within me and I had finally found something that made perfect sense.

  • Democratic parenting is fun and fair.
    Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it goes my way. Life is too fun to get stuck in strict rules and rigid routines. We all get a chance. Today, we have to walk past the ice cream shop, because I’m tired and have a headache. But, it doesn’t mean that tomorrow we can’t stop and get an ice cream. It’s never ok to cross a busy street without holding my hand, but if it’s a very quiet street, then yes, please go for it, just check with me first. It’s never ok to hit a person, but it’s ok to get angry, go punch the pillow.
  • Democratic parenting is dynamic.
    My needs change on a day to day basis and so do my children’s. Some days they eat like horses, other days not. Some days we really need rest and order, and some days we can go out and be all crazy. Some days we can play and mess the house up into oblivion. Other days, we need to spend time cleaning and being tidy. Some nights we hurry up to bed, other nights, we stay up late and read books, giggle and tell stories. But, if a set bed time makes everyone’s life easier, then so be it. Some days we have to do what daddy wants because it’s his day off from work and. Other days, we can do whatever you want to do. Some days, when the ocean is calm, the little one can go out really far. Some days, I can see that you’re self regulating your use of screens very well, but other days, I can see that you’re using screens as a distraction to some unpleasant emotions. Let’s deal with the emotions and put away the screens please. Life is ever changing and so are our needs. Let’s let common sense prevail.
  • The Consistency in democratic parenting is that we are aware and always listen.
    Kids and adults like consistency. But, we don’t have to get stuck in the same routine, rigid rules, actions, and rules every day. The consistency can be that I will do my best to listen to you. I hear that your needs are changing on a day to day basis, because my needs are changing too. The rules stay roughly the same, but we can be flexible too.
  • Democratic parenting and loving limits.
    If I have to say “No“, I ask myself these questions first.
    Are my child’s request reasonable?
    Are my expectations fair?
    Am I doing my best to eventually meet everyone’s needs?
  • Keep Your Decision AND accept the emotional response.
    If you do have to say “No” and your child protests about it, it’s ok to be firm in your answer, but be soft in your actions. My girls love buying frilly dresses. If they’re cheap, and we haven’t bought one in a while, I say ‘yes‘. But, if it’s unreasonably priced or we’ve accumulated too many, I just say ‘no‘. They cry. I say, “I know you’re upset, but we can’t buy that dress.” You can say no AND accept their reaction to your decision.

There’s no need to go extreme in either direction of parenting. You can do your best to meet everyone’s needs. You can say “No“, yet still be loving and fair. We don’t have to give up our own needs for the sake of our children. We also don’t have to be so strict and rigid that we suck all the love out of life. Have fun. Relax. Listen to your needs, and to the needs of your family.

I highly recommend reading Aletha Solter’s book called ‘Attachment Play‘ for gentle and fun ideas on how to get children to cooperate.

 

 

The Fascinating Reason Why Kids Have So Much Energy: Balance, Behavior and Longevity

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When I was doing Know Your Child Teacher Training, my instructor asked us if we knew the reason why kids have so much energy.

None of us really knew the answer, but we all agreed that kids have ridiculous amounts of energy. Read the rest of this entry

Questions I Need to Stop Asking My Kids

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Before my children could verbally communicate well, I got really good at reading their cues… Hungry? Tired? Hot/Cold? Upset? Have to pee? Yup, with a little practice, I seemed to be able to figure it all out. Now, they’re older and extremely verbal, but I keep doing something extremely stupid: I keep asking them questions which I (and they) already know the answers to. Asking these types of questions makes me sound like a broken record and is an obvious display of my lack of awareness.

1. Are you hungry?

I can generally calculate this answer, myself, if I think about the last time we ate. If they’re hungry, they’ll either lunge for food or they’ll have a melt down. Simple. Next.

2. Do you have to pee?

I ask the little one at least 29 times a day. If she has to pee, she holds her crotch and can’t sit still. I KNOW when she has to pee… SHE KNOWS WHEN SHE HAS TO PEE. I can just take her, but instead, I ask her. She says “No“. I ask her again 5 times until I take her… I’m an idiot. I could have saved my breath and just taken her at my first chance. Read the rest of this entry

No Lip Service in Our House: Please and Thank You are Optional Too

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When my older daughter was a baby, I used to enthusiastically encourage her to ‘wave hello and bye bye‘. However, I noticed that when I would say, “Wave bye bye’, it would startle her from her natural state of just ‘being‘. She would wave, but it wasn’t sincere and sometimes she would go all shy on me or flat out refuse… Most of the time, she just wanted to be a fly on the wall, happily observing the situation, with little, to no interaction. So, I stopped asking her to wave.

The same reason I stopped asking her to ‘wave hello and bye bye‘ five years ago, is the same reason why, now, I don’t make my kids say ‘please’ or ‘thank you‘.

Asking a child to say or do something unnatural, in a social context, breaks them out of their nature, which is to just ‘be‘.

Read the rest of this entry

The Mother Swallows the Anger of the Child

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I was sitting in our big comfy recliner when Goldie (2 1/2) came running to my feet. She threw herself on top of me and started crying. I pulled her onto my lap and listened while I stroked her head, “Oh yes,” I said, “I know, you wanted something and you couldn’t have it, you’re upset, etc.” Kissed her little forehead and eventually, she started smiling and then she bounced away.

I laughed as she toddled off because our interaction was not too dissimilar to many interactions I’ve had with my spiritual guru, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living Foundation. People, including myself, travel all over the world to see him. He’s a very busy man, so when we finally get the chance to talk to him, we all gather around, painfully eager to get a chance to sit with him. And… he usually sits in a big chair! We laugh, we cry, we ask questions, we tell him our problems and our triumphs. The question I’ve heard him ask me the most is, “Are you happy?” He doesn’t really care too much what we do, so long as we are happy. Read the rest of this entry

To Let a Child Blossom: Earlier is Not Better

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There’s a little magnolia tree at the top of the hill near our house (it’s spring in Australia). The only blossom that was low enough for Margo to smell, was one that was not fully open. She took a long deep sniff of the partially opened flower, and said, “I wish I could pull it open so we could see the whole thing.”

Well, if we did that, what would happen?” I asked.

She paused for a few long seconds and considered. “If we pulled it open, we would break it. That would be really sad.Read the rest of this entry

Why Are Kids Getting Into Trouble For Being Kids?

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My girls had asked for permission to get wet in one of the fountains at the playground. I told them it was ok because we had a change of clothes in the car. Read the rest of this entry