There are often great discussions going on, on my blog’s Facebook page. Sometimes though, there are comments from parents who disagree with a particular method or idea. I don’t mind this because we are all learning and I invite others to share their ideas with me. Being a gentle parenting page though, I do feel it’s my responsibility to share my opinions based on the research I’ve done and the experiences I’ve had, as a mother to a 9-year-old and a 3-year-old. In the end I respect that this is just my opinion, the way I interpret the research. I feel that much of it is fact but again, I cannot tell someone what their truth is. I can only hope that by hearing them and interacting in a respectful manner, something I share will cause them to reflect.
This was a comment someone wrote in response to an article about the harmful effects of time-out, on children:
“And for people struggling with tantrums, try to remember that tantrums are a natural part of development, and as hard as it is to endure, you are setting a precedent for the rest of their lives. Whatever the child is attempting to gain by throwing a tantrum, the best thing you can do is to see to it that they don’t get it. If they want an item, don’t give it to them. If they want attention, ignore them (if this is safe-obviously I’m not advocating for walking away from a child in a store). Then, when the tantrum is over, teach and practice a replacement behavior.”
I of course let the comment stand but because I feel that it’s harmful to advise a parent or caregiver to ignore a child, I responded in a status post:
I made a mistake in thinking this way with my 9yo, Ryleigh. I felt that I knew why she was acting out, and that the best thing I could do for her was to ignore her and to withhold attention. Now, at 9, she is a bright, funny girl who struggles to feel confident in herself. I’m sure that the way I regarded her pleas has played a role in this. She wanted attention and I sent a message to her that I didn’t deem her worthy of it, because I didn’t speak the tantrum language she was speaking. At the time though, that was her only language. So what I was saying to her was, “You are not understood so you will not be helped.” What’s more, I wasn’t even really trying to understand her. I was punishing her for not having learned to communicate the way I do, in an amount of time I felt was right.If a child wants attention and they know no better way to ask for it than to throw a tantrum, GIVE IT TO THEM. They NEED it. It won’t always stop the tantrum but neither does spanking or shaming AND YET WE CONTINUE TO EMPLOY SUCH TACTICS. Why isn’t gentle parenting worthy of the same effort? For me much of this didn’t work the first time or the first fifty or two-hundred times or it STILL does not work most days. But what is working is how confident Logan is, in ME. She believes me when I say, “Logan if you calm down I will help you.” When Logan throws a tantrum – and sometimes we have one EVERY. HOUR. – I stop and forget whatever Kimberley is thinking, forget whatever it is ingrained in me to feel about a small child wailing and spitting and screaming at me, and I say, “Logan, do you want help?” I am asking her if she wants her mother’s attention, because I know she does, and I want her to know that I get it, that I am trying so desperately to learn her language, and that I will help her. It stops tantrums so much easier than I ever learned to with Ry as a toddler. Logan says she does want help, and she calms quickly. I can talk to her and guide her and when she’s quiet I can tell her that we don’t have to yell and scream when we need help. She apologizes and says she knows. She’d just forgotten. Because she is 37 months old, newer than the shirt I’m wearing as I type.
You stated in an earlier comment that as adults we have to face consequences for the mistakes we make at work, with our boss. I agree. I think it’s less about conforming to expectations than being able to regulate your actions well enough. I don’t want my daughters to just think of the consequences, but the actions that could prevent them. Positive ones. Instead of, “If you’re late to work every day, your boss will write you up and you could be fired,” why not, “If you are feeling tired and rundown, maybe you need to reevaluate and decide how best to care for your responsibilities?” I don’t focus on negativity with my kids and I don’t teach with negative energy. I don’t feel they haven’t learned unless they face negative consequences. I give them something to look forward to in place of something to dread. That honestly makes them want to do well. They want to be happy and they want to follow what I say because they trust that that is what I want as well, and that I set boundaries to help us reach that goal.
I’d like to elaborate on my experience with Ryleigh, which I’ve written about often. Ry and Logan have very different personalities and I’m aware that this plays a role in their behavior – Ryleigh is a ‘yes’ child and Logan is a Logan child. Still, I see now how the tactics I used (detaching emotionally to enforce obedience), planted seeds of insecurity in Ryleigh that are now blossoming, and it breaks my heart.
I did ignore Ryleigh. I sent her away from me. I put her in her room for minutes according to her age. I spanked her. I made her face the wall and didn’t allow her to talk. I ordered forced apologies and only resumed loving her once they were payed. I did this to a 3-year-old child. A toddler who was still learning and was always trying. And now I can only think of an idea I first learned about from Dr. Laura Markham: that how I was speaking to my child has become her inner voice. Those methods I was using were sending very clear messages to Ryleigh, and now she believes them. I know this from my own struggles with childhood abuse; I was being abused while I was finding my identity, and so to me, the abuse became a part of my identity. I began to see myself the way I felt my abusers did. Same with Ryleigh.
Ryleigh now seeks attention in negative ways, because I taught her that that is the only way to get it. Instead of working with her and being empathetic, as I strive to do with her now, I disrupted that stage of her development – so she never moved past it. This is something else I learned from Dr. Markham. Ryleigh is not confident that just being Ryleigh is enough. She is unsure of whether we see the brilliance in her unless she clamors for us to do so. She and I discuss this often, and I am trying to undo the confusion my actions have caused her. I encourage her to speak her mind now, free of worry of consequences. I listen when she is upset. When she makes a mistake we talk about it and about which options will produce more favorable results. When she does something she knew not to do, even if it wasn’t necessarily a ‘mistake’, I remind myself that this is her first time being alive just as it’s mine, and that she’s just at a different place on her journey. She is still learning impulse control. I have learned to trust in my child, to trust that I don’t need to yell or ground her; that I can explain myself and help her to appreciate why we should control ourselves, and that if I do this with empathy she will get it when she is ready.
Why don’t we trust each other enough to believe we can learn, without feeling shamed or angered or humiliated? We are a species capable of empathy and love, and yet we feel we need harsh tools to teach. I have been asking myself this often.
I see the difference with Logan, so much. Listening to Logan, holding her hand while she screams, or even just not reacting and telling her that I must step away but that I am here for her when she needs me, allows her to fully process her range of emotions. I am confident she won’t feel the need to repeat these same behaviors when she is Ry’s age, because we will have tackled them together, as mother and child. She will have learned to recognize and identify her emotions, and I will have assisted her in knowing which tools she holds within herself, to control her behavior.
Ryleigh also went through a period of frequent lying, and sometimes still struggles with it. I feel that stems from her fear of the consequences I’d imposed for lying – my focus on the offense I perceived, instead of what caused her to lie. Now, when I ask her a question (which I usually know the answer to), sometimes she will still answer, “Yes”, and then immediately she changes it to, “No, I didn’t Mom. I didn’t brush my teeth yet.” Such a simple thing, and yet she feared so much to admit her mistakes to me. I have learned better. I know that the feeling I had before, of being enraged at having been lied to, was my own control issue getting in my way. What’s more, it was childist. Who does she think she is? I am the adult here, I am in charge. She needs to obey me and to respect me enough to not lie. She needs to know her place. I am very aware now that much of how I felt about my children’s behavior was because it is normal to view children as nuisances who need to be controlled. I try to question my actions and to ask myself if I truly feel this way, or if I’m reacting the way living in our society has trained me to. More often than not I am following learned behaviors because of ingrained ideas, and I make an effort to fight against them.
But What About The Real World?
I always hear this about gentle parenting: what about the real world? What about when they grow up and no one talks to your children the way you do? What about when they have to get up for work, answer to higher-ups, respect authority? How unprepared will they be?!
I used to think this way as well. I think this idea is a big scam. I was trained to do many things that I don’t do as an adult, we all were. I’m not going to go into the state of our world, but I think it’s fair to say that there’s chaos. I am trying to teach my children to respect authority, not to fear it. Because we can all outgrow fear. We can reach a point where we say, “You know what? This ain’t scary. I’m not scared of my boss yelling at me anymore. I don’t care if I get fired. I don’t care that this lady’s stuff belongs to her, I want it. I don’t fear the consequences. I’ll gladly pay them.” What then?
What about before then? That’s what I am focusing on now, with my children. We do discuss consequences, but we talk about what could happen before negative consequences have to be experienced.
Logan when you yell and scream it hurts my feelings and I feel stressed. When you are upset, try to breathe and to come to me. I can always help you to figure it out.
Ryleigh if you don’t straighten your room you will never be able to find or take care of your stuff. What can we do to keep organized? I know how you feel Kid, I really didn’t like cleaning when I was your age. Why don’t you try to just straighten up a few times a day, that way it doesn’t get so bad? I understand you’re still working on it, but try to remember, okay?
As hard as it can often be, because I am a single mom with no one to come in and help when I just don’t want to talk any longer, I try to do this. I strive for every single time, and I fall far short. But the more I speak this way the more I think this way. And as my thinking changes, the words I choose are wiser and wiser. Sometimes I honestly surprise myself. Especially with Ry. Now that I encourage her to “talk back” (later post) and to stand up for herself, it can be frustrating to look into her eyes and to hear words come from her that go directly against what I’ve said or what I want. But then, as I’m standing there listening to my child and staring at her and biting my tongue so as to give her her turn, I get it: she has her own ideas, her own view point, her own beliefs. She does not believe that her room needs to be clean in order for her to be happy because she is a different person.
So what good will it do me to threaten to punish her if she doesn’t clean it? She will get it done but what is the lesson?
Instead, I teach that even when we don’t like to do something, if doing it is for a greater good and will not cause us harm, we should find a way to get it done. That is a lesson that she can carry with her into adulthood. How to work in harmony with others, while still looking out for ourselves. No one to fear but herself. If you know you can do it Ry, don’t let yourself down by not doing it. Rise to the occasion and show ‘em what you’ve got. You will feel so proud of yourself and you will feel good about being able to get along.
Same with Logan. I don’t need to push them and I will not let them push me. But because we are a team, I can meet my children halfway. Because I was a kid once and that’s what I would have wanted. Because fair is fair. Because bigger does not equal better. Because I am an adult and that is still how I’d want to be treated. Because I wouldn’t put up with anyone else making my children feel unworthy so I should not be doing it myself.
Bringing light to childist thinking is fast becoming a passion of mine. Because of my own history, I know that there are many parents who adore their children and try their hardest each day, and just do not realize why they truly feel the way they do about how their children should behave. And many parents don’t even agree with me. That’s fine. But I do believe this and I know that I have a responsibility to work on myself, and to truly respect my children.
There should be no rule that humans are allowed to be disrespected until we’ve reached a certain height. It’s just silly. What message is that sending? If I am teaching my child that it’s okay to ignore or shame them, what does that say of my own self-worth? What does that say of the worth of anyone? We were all children once, right? So when does one make the switch from being voiceless, to being worthy of respect, and worthy of being heard? Do we ever? Or are we all growing into adulthood feeling slighted, confused? Is this what allows so many to treat their children so negatively? I have my own opinions on that but please ask yourself that question. Do you feel you are able to control yourself as much as you’d like? Even with little things? Do you obey authority figures because it makes you feel good or because you don’t want to get into trouble? Are you ever late to work? Have you ever received a speeding ticket? I can admit that I sometimes think to myself, “Oh, if I wouldn’t get caught…”
I think many of us could have benefited from having been taught to respect ourselves enough to do as well as we can, instead of having been taught that because we were small we had to obey. Now, we are big…what is left to fear? There is a lot more to this conversation, I know. I am still learning and trying to do well by my kids. I am going to continue to share and to listen and I look forward to the coming years. I hope you’ll join me and I thank all of you who have thus far shared with me and taught me what works for you.