The start of each new year beckons people from around the globe to reexamine their habits, lives, and goals. Resolutions are made. Goals are put in place. Promises are tucked away into every corner of our brains. This year will be different! This year will be better! This year I will meet my goals!
While the typical New year’s goals are certainly worthy, there appears to be a lack of focus on growing as a parent. Billboards abound with every kind of goal imaginable, but nowhere is there a mention of becoming a more peaceful parent.
This is unfortunate because parenting involves constant growth. It requires flexibility and a desire to constantly evaluate the approach you take as your children grow and develop. Realistically, we should be examining our parenting approaches and methodology daily. The unpredictability of parenting children means that parenting itself has fluidity about it. Something that worked yesterday might suddenly not be the best approach next week. However, not many of us really sit down and focus on our parenting goals, at least, not as often as we should.
In the spirit of growing as a parent, of becoming a gentler, more peaceful mother or father, let’s examine 10 gentle parenting goals that can help you on your 2014 parenting journey.
This is probably the most obvious of all parenting goals. Yelling is not an ideal parenting approach, unless it is a safety issue like a child running into the street. Then yes, yell out to them to keep them safe. In
day-to-day parenting, yelling to get a child’s attention, yelling as a form of discipline, yelling to set boundaries, and yelling to accentuate a point will not further your relationship with your child. Nor will it evoke the behavior desired. Yelling erodes the parent-child relationship.
What happens when you yell at your child? When a parent yells, the child typically, but not always, interprets that one of two ways. Mom is angry with me or mom does not love me. Children cannot help these feelings. Furthermore, when a child hears the yelling, he or she will probably have an immediate reaction of fear, stress, worry, anger, frustration, panic, hurt, and the like. Yelling induces a negative emotional response. A negative emotional response opens the door to a negative physical reaction or repercussion. Essentially, it has the exact opposite effect most parents would like. Instead of the child changing their behavior for the better, a child might possibly act out even more. The more yelling a child is on the receiving end of, the deeper the long term-impact is on their emotional and mental health.
When you find yourself getting ready to raise your voice, stop for a moment and consider the impact. Remember, yelling doesn’t just affect a child in that moment. It impacts that child for the rest of the day, the week, possibly much longer. What kind of impact do you want to have? One that lifts your child up or one that tears your child down? One that opens the lines of communication because there is respect or one that slams the door on communication because of fear?
Maintaining control of your own emotions and not unleashing your frustration and overwhelm in the form of yelling at your child might be difficult for you. However, it is easier for you to stop yelling than it is for a child to flourish as a person in an environment where yelling is the default parenting style.
Parents mess up. It happens. We raise our voices. We yell. Unkind words might pass our lips. Eye rolling, sighs, negative thoughts and comments…it happens. Parents are human and therefore imperfect. Children are a mystery, often a very overwhelming mystery. Even the most gentle, patient parent will lose his or her cool.
The single most important thing any parent can do is to re-connect after a difficult moment. The parent-child connection must be fed daily but especially after any sort of emotional struggle, a poor reaction, or volatile outburst by the parent. If a parent reacts poorly or treats the child badly, walking away without connecting further damages an already hurt child.
As soon as you realize that your parenting approach is going south, stop. Just stop. Immediately get down on your child’s level. Apologize or at least acknowledge that you did not handle the situation in the best way possible. Explain, briefly, why you reacted the way you did. Help your child to see the root of your misguided response. Rewind if possible. Children love this!
Re-do the situation with your child, this time with a gentler reaction. Include your child in the process if it is appropriate to do so. Asking your child how mommy or daddy should have responded can be very eye-opening.
GUIDE YOUR CHILD
Mindful parenting involves guidance and support in the most peaceful manner possible. Children thrive on loving, gentle, balanced guidance, not on being constantly ordered around and commanded to act a certain way or do certain things. Children want and need parents who provide firm boundaries that are lovingly and consistently enforced. Children will naturally fall into a behavior pattern based on the guidance parents provide. If parents constantly demand and dictate, children will tend to push back resulting in a lose-lose situation. More importantly, a child will fail to develop a true understanding of the ‘why’ behind their behavior. Commanding teaches nothing and potentially instills fear. Guiding opens the door to lifelong learning.
How can you guide your child? Try to put yourself into her shoes. Look at the behavior and ask yourself if this is developmentally normal or if something else is going on. If it is developmental, physically help your child direct her energy more appropriately. show her a better way. Provide a short explanation of the “why.” If something deeper is going on, your goal as a parent should be to get to the root of the behavior then partner with your child to address it.
LESS WORDS, MORE ACTION
In the spirit of guiding, it is also important to consider how much you talk at and to your children versus physically engaging in the art of parenting. Gentle parenting certainly includes discussions and brainstorming with your child. It also means explaining. But more importantly it means modeling the behaviors and actions you want to see in your child. Instead of always verbally teaching your child, simply “do” the very thing you would like your child to do. Children love to mimic and this is how they learn best. so show them what mindful living and gentle behavior looks like by modeling that daily.
No should be used minimally. When you over use the word “no” children eventually stop hearing it or figure that you will say no and stop even asking. For very young children, the tendency is to always say “no” as a means of establishing boundaries. These no’s are better left saved for times when no really means no. For example, if a child is about to touch a hot stove. A firm no is warranted. However, if a child is simply trying to open a drawer to explore what is housed inside, it would be more mindful to show our child what drawer she can explore versus just saying “No, leave that alone.” I like to tell my daughter that she may do XYZ instead and then succinctly explain why, at this point in time, she may not do whatever it is she was attempting or successfully doing.
Children are playful beings. That is what childhood is all about! Imagination, games, exploration, adventure, and delighting in the simple things…this is where a child is rooted. When a parent engages a child on an intellectual level, it forces that child out of their ‘being.’ Children find it very difficult to move from the state of play (which for the child under 7 they are constantly in) to a state of intellectual awareness. They cannot understand logic and reason the way an adult can. This is why it is important to communicate to children in the language they speak best. Play! When your child is struggling with a particular behavior, put a playful spin on it. Engage in imaginative play where you are able to weave in a lesson or use toys to demonstrate a certain behavior. Tell a story! storytelling is a very powerful way to communicate with children. If your child needs a physical outlet, engage them in chase or with permission, gentle wrestling.
VALIDATE YOUR CHILD’S FEELINGS
It feels good to be heard. It feels good to be understood. Yet somewhere along the way a child expressing emotion became impolite; a sign of a poorly behaved child. Make this year the year where you never come down on your child for expressing themselves. Think how it feels when you express your emotions and leave yourself vulnerable just to have someone mock you or make you feel like your response or feeling is unwarranted. It hurts. It brings feelings of anger, and potentially resentment, to the surface. It certainly breaks trust. Even more detrimental, it makes you second guess the way you are feeling.
Emotions and emotional reactions/responses are beautiful even when they look ugly or feel uncomfortable. Feelings are a release. Gentle parenting is all about allowing children to express themselves safely. Let your child know that it is okay to feel how they feel. Never make a child feel like less of a person for expressing an emotion, even if it is at the worst time or in the worst place (middle of a grocery store comes to mind). Do your best to support your child in any situation even if that means removing your child so you can respond better.
Many parents like to daydream about who their child will be. Will he look like dad and have mom’s fiery wit? Will she have her mom’s laugh lines and her dad’s sense of determination? While it is fun to imagine what traits your child will inherit, it is critical to accept who your child is and who he or she will become. When you accept your child’s inherent personality and general approach to how he or she lives life, it becomes easier to parent your child. When you fight who your child is, you are in essence rejecting the center of their being which is very unsettling to your child. When you learn who your child is, you can respond much more effectively and gently. A deeper bond based on respect, love, and trust will be able to grow.
Simplicity frees your parenting. The more “stuff” you have, the more it takes over your life. Things get in the way of happiness. Things create more work and take you away from what really matters – time with family. simplify commitments. Children do not need to be involved in 5 activities per week. The more children you have with multiple activities, the more stressed everyone is and the less you see each other. Spending time together as a family is more rewarding than any class will ever be. Children benefit from simplicity for two reasons. First, the mother and/or father will likely be happier. More can often lead to overwhelm and unhappiness. Happier parents naturally invite happiness in children. With less to do, children will also receive more attention from their parents. Children also benefit from simplicity as it opens the door to more predictability and rhythm in their days/weeks.
Children thrive on knowing what comes next and feeling secure in their environment. The chaos that “too much” can bring with it can potentially be difficult for a child to function in.
LOOK FORWARD, NOT BACK
Parenting is about growth. With growth comes missteps. Some missteps are intentional. Some are unavoidable. Some are circumstantial. Some are completely accidental. Whatever the root cause, learn from a less than stellar parenting decision and move forward. Guilt and shame won’t allow a parent to grow. Those powerful emotions hold you back. They cloud your ability to grow as a parent. Do not allow yourself to wallow in the past. Instead, celebrate the present and move into the future mindfully.
Let today be the day where you resolve to expand the tools in your gentle parenting tool chest. Let today be the day where you commit to being the most mindful parent possible. Let today be the day where you continue to grow as a gentle, conscious parent who operates from a place of love, trust, and respect.