Being a parent who is attempting to be less controlling and judgmental of a child’s tantrums, hitting, throwing things, speaking rudely and lashing out in other “unacceptable” ways and instead is trying to be more empathetic and unconditional in their parenting so that the child not only feels heard, understood, considered and cared for but becomes more empathetic herself is…
SO FUCKING HARD!
For me. For my husband John. For the people in our Echo Parenting class. For RIE parents. For the parents at my our super progressive preschool. For my friends that love Alfie Kohn and for those that follow Dr. Laura Markham. As in, it’s fucking hard for everyone.
This week in my life there’s been a lot of frustrated, self-questioning parents talking about what we did, what we maybe should have done, what we’re trying to do, and if we should even be trying to do it:
“Is taking them to another room but staying with them a ‘consequence’ or a ‘solution’?”
“If I can’t tell them that they can’t say that, what am I supposed to say?”
“I don’t know how long I can take doing this…it doesn’t seem to be ‘working.’”
“If I don’t tell them they’re being rude, won’t they just continue being rude? Don’t they need to know?”
“I don’t want them thinking the world revolves around them. Don’t they sometimes just have to suck it up?”
“Don’t you at some point need some kind of consequence? The real world is full of consequences!”
“Okay if they’re crying, but what if they’re hitting ME? Then what? How am I supposed to deal with THAT?”
“I’m exhausted! She’s totally unwilling to get up and go to her room to go to sleep. She grunts and sticks out her tongue.”
“Okay, I get the idea, but just tell me what the fuck I’m supposed to do already?!”
To make matters worse, everything is conspiring against our best intentions:
- OTHERS: Many of us have parents or spouses or neighbors or friends or nannies who can’t believe the way we’re trying to parent and give us glares that say,”Enough with how they feel already! Your kid needs real discipline.”
- OUR CULTURE: We live in a rewards and punishment based society. It’s alive and well in schools, business, religion and our penal system. (I live in California where seven out of ten prisoners return to jail or prison within three years which tells me that punishing, isolating and threatening isn’t the answer.)
- TIME: It’s just easier to demand our children’s compliance via some kind of threat so we can then just get on with our lives. Trying to see the world from their point of view, helping them understand how their actions affects others and engaging them in the solution takes so much time, so much thought, so much patience.
- OUR PAST: And then there’s our subconscious that’s working against us! It’s hard to actually try to keep in mind that the way we’re subconsciously driven to parent our kids is a direct result of the way we, ourselves were parented and that it is only with some serious, plodding efforts to do otherwise (classes, therapy, journaling, twelve-step work, RIE, reading) that we can begin to break the cycle. Here are some quotes from the late pyschologist Alice Miller who devoted her career to making the world realize the role of our childhood in how we parent:
“The reason why parents mistreat their children has less to do with character and temperament than with the fact that they were mistreated themselves and were not permitted to defend themselves.”
“Those children who are beaten will in turn give beatings, those who are intimidated will be intimidating, those who are humiliated will impose humiliation, and those whose souls are murdered will murder.”
“Wherever I look, I see signs of the commandment to honor one’s parents and nowhere of a commandment that calls for the respect of a child.”
“It is very difficult for people to believe the simple fact that every persecutor was once a victim. Yet it should be very obvious that someone who was allowed to feel free and strong from childhood does not have the need to humiliate another person.”
And while that is all well and bad, it seems what people just want to know is:
“WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?”
“WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO SAY?”
And the frustrating answer is that parenting is an art. And a practice. It takes trial and error. Each situation is different. Each child is different…
Today I’m offering TWO go-to phrases that I think can be the life saver you toss yourself to start making your way through:
When you hear a child threaten to uninvite their friend to their birthday, or tell their friend they are no longer friends, or a sleep over with never happen again, or someone is yucky, or mean, or stupid, or poo poo….Instead of telling them that their words aren’t nice. Or that you won’t allow that language. Or that they are rude. Try starting with this:
“I’M HEARING SOME ROUGH LANGUAGE…”
It’s non-judgemental! It’s descriptive! So far, so good.
“I’M HEARING SOME ROUGH LANGUAGE…”
It says, I’m here. I hear you. Something is wrong and an aware, calm, helpful adult is here to help!
Feel free to continue describing from there. Perhaps something like:
“I see some hitting (put your arm up to block the hitting). I see some tongues sticking out. Some grunting. Some growling. Some crying. Some name calling. There are a lot of feelings here….”
Now for #2..
“When you’re finished crying, I’d like to hear what happened from both of you..”
Both sides should be heard. Miscommunications clarified. Solutions sought.
This takes time.
And sometimes it doesn’t.
Sometimes kids just want to move on.
To review my recommendation:
I’M HEARING SOME ROUGH LANGUAGE…
followed by a very genuine…
If you do try it, will you tell me how it goes?
Tell me where you get tripped up.
Tell me what doesn’t work. What might be working, even just a little bit.
Tell me what the kids say.
I think we’ve got take this one step at a time.