I’ve been committed to Gentle Discipline since my kids were first born. There are different ways to define GD, but for me it means I strive not to use punishment (nor the flip side of that coin – rewards and bribes) with my children. I believe it is, at best, ineffective and, at worst, damaging to the child and my relationship with them. Many have written about GD – check out the link on my sidebar to the Natural Child Project where you’ll find dozens of great articles on the subject.
I was not raised in this manner, and therefore I don’t always have the right tools for a given situation. As kids get older new behaviours and situations emerge so that just when you’ve figured out effective ways to handle everything they are going through, something new comes up. Caught in the moment with no idea how to proceed, letting my own emotions get in the way, it is too easy to fall back on the punitive style of parenting that I and most kids I know were raised with. Inevitably I find this leads us all into a vicious downward cycle, where their behaviour gets worse (because I’ve stopped listening, treating them with respect, and empathizing) so I get even more punitive until one day I snap out of it and realize I’ve strayed off the path.
Daughter turns 8 years old this week. She has become more independent in so many lovely ways that any parent can appreciate, while at the same time exerting that independence in ways that make me want to scream. I have not been responding to this new emergence of her Self very well and there has been more conflict in the home than I would like. I’d already caught myself and made a promise to start doing things better when I came across this post by Code Name: Mama, via the Authentic Parenting blog. It was just the boost I needed. Honestly, I find that the best way to keep from wandering off track is to spend time with mamas who hold the same values I do. When I can’t be with such friends in real life I head to blogs like A Wild and Precious Life for inspiration. And that was just what happened last night after reading this post from This Inspired Life. In it the author talks about not judging our children and I realized that I’d been guilty of a lot of that with Daughter.
I want to share with you a situation that happened today and how I dealt with it after reading and thinking about the issue of judging and of treating our children as people with values and points of view that may be different, but are equally valid, to our own.
The kids and I went to meet our new dentist today and then went to the library. Son was playing on the computer and Daughter was on the floor surrounded by books. I’d had time to get my own books and do some browsing, and I was feeling done (we still had grocery shopping to do). Normally I would simply tell the kids it was time to go, and gently corral and badger them until we left. Today I asked myself: did we really NEED to leave? I didn’t have to be anywhere, we weren’t in a rush, everybody was happy…I asked myself “If I was here with a friend, and not my child, what would I say?”. And so instead I went up to Daughter and said “I’m feeling ready to go now, how about you?” She wanted to keep looking for more books, so I said I’d go sit and look at some of my new picks. I ended up deciding against one and finding something better. I went back to Daughter and asked her how things were going. She made an effort to quicken her pace, limit her selections, and finish up. She did this not because I insisted it was time to go, not because I had made the decision for her, but because she knew I was ready to go and respected that. It felt really good!
After the library we went to the grocery store. In a fit of good mood I offered to buy the kids a treat each (candy from the bulk bin, a rare treat) because I’d had such a good day with them. It was not something I’d brought up at the start, it was not held up as a carrot, and they hadn’t even asked. That’s the kind of treat I feel good about giving. Well, on the way home Son took one of each colour gummy bear and began playing with them. It was important to him that he had one of each. To make a long story short, Daughter took a bunch of his gummy bears and cut them up with scissors as part of a game she was playing. She told me he’d given them to her, but it turns out he hadn’t. He was understandably upset and in my desire to stand up for him I was tempted to tell her off and then make her give him some of her candies. In fact, he said he would be happy if she would replace the colours he lost with her own gummy candies. But she didn’t want to give any to him.
Normally I would step in and basically force her to do so, passing judgement on her for being a selfish and mean person. While I wouldn’t call her those names the message would have come through in my tone that what she was doing was wrong and I was going to make it right, like it or not, because obviously she was incapable of doing so. This implies 1) she doesn’t know that what she did was wrong, 2) she won’t feel bad about it unless I make her feel bad, and 3) she won’t do anything to make up for it unless I force her to.
This time around, I decided to do things differently. I didn’t scold her or try to tell her what she did was wrong. I simply pointed out how her brother felt about her taking and cutting up his candies. I let her see how her actions had affected him. I could immediately see that she indeed felt bad. I didn’t pass any judgement on her for not giving up her own candies, even though to me it would have been the right thing to do. Once she saw that I was respecting her choice not to give him her candies, she noticeably relaxed. No longer focused on having her own precious things taken away she was free to consider the situation, see her brother’s feelings, and come up with a solution. Which she did. A minute later she suggested that the gummy bears would stick together if squeezed (they were only in two pieces each) and she managed to put the bears back together. Son was really happy about that and off they went. It was so rewarding to see how this gentle and respectful approach changed things.
That wasn’t the end of it, however. Some time later, she found the put-together bears and ate them. Son was very upset and we came together to talk about it. Again I refrained from passing judgment or telling Daughter what the right thing to do was. I assumed she already knew she had done wrong, and I wanted to give her some space to find an answer herself. Son asked again for two of her candies in the same colour as the bears she ate, but again she didn’t want to do that. Having eaten them, putting them together was not an option this time. I didn’t pursue the issue with her, I simply went off and comforted Son about his loss. A short while later while I was making dinner, Daughter went of her own accord over to Son and offered him her candies. She would never have done this had I tried to insist she hand them over, and it hasn’t escaped me that perhaps her hoarding stems from fearing that things will be taken from her when she slips up and does the wrong thing (which all of us do from time to time).
I can see now how much I rob my kids of growing and developing as persons when I step in, pass judgment, and make decisions as to how they should deal with things. By stepping back and giving them a chance, they showed that they could in fact handle things – maybe not the way I would have, but handle them just the same. I feel like I’m heading back on the right path now…Thanks to all the mamas who inspire me!