Last Tuesday John and I started a new parenting class and I already love it.
The days of our RIE classes (which end when your child is two) seem so far behind me. Jules is starting kindergarten in the fall and Hudson is days away from being three. And while certainly most RIE principles can be adapted to older children, there’s no substitute for a class to bring ideas to the forefront of my busy brain. I’d definitely been feeling like I need to be a bit more on my parenting game lately.
So when a friend e-mailed that there were a few openings in a 6-week Echo Parenting Course, John and I jumped on the opportunity. I’d heard good things about Echo from a handful of people over the last couple of years but really didn’t know much about it. I was hoping it would be kind of class I was jonesing for.
So last Tuesday, John and I drove to a house in West Hollywood owned by a couple who were generous enough to invite a bunch of strangers in for two hours. (As it turned out, we knew four other couples in the class.) After introductions, the first thing that Brian, our friendly leader had us do, was to tell him the qualities we hope our children will have when they’re our age.
As we called them out, he wrote them on a big sheet of paper. It was a pretty extensive list and included the following:
Kind, Sensitive, Empathetic, Respectful, Free of addictions, Loving, Fulfilled, Risk-taker, Self-motivated, Considerate, Generous, Compassionate, Tenacious, etc etc.
Brian then explained that the most effective way to ensure that our children grow up to embody these qualities is to be that person ourselves. We need to model the behavior we’d like to see in our children. If we want them to be considerate, we have to be considerate of them. Etc.
He said we may not realize it but we’ve already taken a very long course in parenting—from our parents. The way they treated us made an indelible impression on our growing brains and like it or not, we’ll default to treating our kids as we were treated unless we make conscious choices to do otherwise.
Many people could relate.
Then Brian explained that the way most people parent in our culture is by instilling fear in their children in order to control them, as in: If you don’t do _____, you’ll get a time out, or lose a toy or a privilege or my love and approval or even get a spanking. (The most horrific figure I heard all night was that 80% of Americans still spank their children. And even worse, in 19 states corporal punishment is legal in schools. You can get hit and home and then go to school and get hit some more!) Brian explained that while many of these tactics may ‘work’, they don’t encourage the child to become the type of person that we’re hoping our kids will be.
Some people then bravely shared parenting moments they weren’t proud of.
On the Echo site they explain that…
This conditional parenting undermines a child’s sense of self worth and self -dignity as a vital, alive, feeling human being.
Fortunately, there is another way!
Parenting through empathy. Which is what Echo Parenting is all about.
Brian gave a personal example of modeling and being empathetic to your child. He recalled a time when his he’d asked his 5-year old son to clean up the mess in his room but realized that he was extremely tired, and he knew that pushing him wasn’t the right thing to do at that moment. So he took the opportunity to model generosity and asked his son, “I can see that you’re feeling really tired. Do you want me to pick up the toys tonight?”
Hell yes he wanted his dad to clean up his toys!
The fear for many parents is that this child would get used to his dad doing stuff for him. But Brian said, Au contraire. He explained that if you’re coming from a genuine place, your child will be more apt to pick up the toys the next time. He said he knows it’s a leap of faith to believe this, but it works.
Then our time was up.
While most of what Brian talked about in our first meeting wasn’t new to me, I’ve found it’s affected me.
Today after picking Jules up from school we’d made our towards the parking lot when she told me wanted to go back to her classroom to get a t-shirt out of her cubby and give it to her teacher as a gift for her daughter. I wasn’t feeling well at all and couldn’t wait to get home and in bed. The last thing I wanted to do was what she wanted me to do.
I started to explain to her how sick I was feeling, but she didn’t care. She was struck by her idea.
“I want you to come back with me so I can give it to her now!” she said emphatically.
“We’ll do it tomorrow honey,” I said, dying to get the hell out of there.
She drooped. She frowned. “I want to give it to her now.”
I thought about what was happening for a moment, I thought about our class and I made a shift.
“Jules, it’s really important to you to give the gift to your teacher. Isn’t it?”
She nodded her head.
“You really want to give it to her right now.”
She nodded it again.
“You don’t want to wait until tomorrow to give it to her.”
She nodded a third time.
“Jules it’s so thoughtful of you to want to give Claire your shirt. If you want to go in and give it to your teacher right now, I’ll wait for you. But I’m not feeling well enough to go back in with you. I’ll stay seated here. Or we can go home, make a card to go with it and decorate a bag for her and give it to them in the morning. You decide.”
“Okay, let’s do that,” she decided.
And we left. And I attribute the success of that interaction to that one class.
Anyway, sorry for the long post. I’ll be reporting back after our next class. I’m very curious to see how RIE and Echo dovetail and to see if and how they are different—philosophically speaking.
If you have any specific questions, please let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them.