Over the last few years, there has been a lot of talk about "gentle discipline." For many of us, when we hear the word "discipline," punishment of some sort usually comes to mind, making "gentle discipline" sound like an oxymoron. In our quest to "mold" or "create" a well-rounded, generous, loving, well-behaved, patient (insert more positive adjectives here) human being, we will undoubtedly come across challenges that push us to our limits and may move us to dole out punishments when "bad" behavior happens, and to then overcompensate for good behavior with exaggerated praise in the hopes that our children will vie for our affection through more good behavior. Let's be real though: childrens' brains and bodies are very different - and work very differently - than adults' do. And what this means is that the real challenge is helping to guide
(not control) our children towards positive behavior and independence by allowing them to make their own choices. We also need to allow them to feel their emotions, and be willing to take the time to sit with them to help process those emotions in a loving, compassionate manner so that they can eventually learn how to process them on their own. When a child "acts-out," it is easy to first warn them to change their behavior, and then - if the behavior continues - to punish them. Punishing is a rather loose term because every parent defines punishment differently. Some spank, some send the child to their room, some give "time outs," some take away priveleges, etc. The perplexing thing is that we would never "punish" a fellow adult in this way, so why a child? While it seems to many of us that this system of "guidance" should work, the reality is that it only teaches children that they are loved as long as they obey their parents. Obviously this is not the kind of message that we would ever want to convey to our children, but it is the message they receive nonetheless. If you want your child to be true to themselves, and to be their True Self, then you have to commit to identifying what your child's needs are, and to working in harmony with your child to get his/her needs met. If a child is "acting-out," most likely it is because they have a need that isn't being met. Perhaps they're tired, hungry, lonely, over-stimulated, under-stimulated, feeling unwell, frustrated, etc. Think about how these things effect your
mood, and then realize that children feel things on a much larger scale because they haven't yet learned how to process and deal with these emotions. Rebecca English, author of the article "'Gentle parenting' explainer: no rewards, no punnishments(sic), no misbehaving kids" has outlined this approach perfectly in the following examples: "There are many websites and groups that can help you to practise this parenting approach. Here are a few steps that parents take to encourage a partnership with their children: They start from a place of connection and believe that all behaviour stems from how connected the child is with their caregivers. They give choices not commands (“would you like to brush your teeth before or after you put on your pyjamas?”). They take a playful approach. They might use playfulness to clean up (“let’s make a game of packing up these toys”) or to diffuse tension (having a playful pillow fight). They allow feelings to run their course. Rather than saying “shoosh”, or yelling “stop!”, parents actively listen to crying. They may say, “you have a lot of strong feelings about [situation]”. They describe the behaviour, not the child. So, rather than labelling a child as naughty or nice, they will explain the way actions make them feel. For example, “I get so frustrated cleaning crumbs off the couch.” They negotiate limits where possible. If it’s time to leave the park, they might ask, “How many more minutes/swings before we leave?” However, they can be flexible and reserve “no” for situations that can hurt the child (such as running on the road or touching the hot plate) or others (including pets). They might say: “Hitting me/your sister/pulling the dog’s tail hurts, I won’t let you do that.” They treat their children as partners in the family. A partnership means that the child is invited to help make decisions and to be included in the household tasks. Parents apologise when they get it wrong. They will not do forced affection. When Uncle Ray wants to hug your child and s/he says no, then the child gets to say what happens to their body. They also don’t force please or thank you. They trust their children. What you might think of as “bad” behaviour is seen as the sign of an unmet need. They take parental time-outs when needed. Before they crack, they step away, take a breath and regain their composure." As you can see, "gentle discipline" does not mean letting your child do whatever they want whenever they want without consequences. On the contrary, gentle discipline allows children to make their own decisions in a safe and nurturing environment, and to see for themselves the consequences of their decisions, whether they be positive or negative. This also gives the child a sense of security, of unconditional love from their caregivers, and confidence by allowing them to do what feels right for them. It can be hard to give up "control" and simply let your child(ren) navigate their world the way they need to, but I have found that by letting go more often, my children are moving towards the very things I always hoped they would, and thensome.
Our Resident Mom, Lindsay Lewis