You know the way you say to yourself about most things parenting that it’ll pass. It will get easier. They will start listening and the rest. Well, it gets different. It doesn’t get any easier, the struggles are just different. I used to tell myself they will start listening to me and behaving like little angels in a couple of years’ time. A couple of years have passed and while they are easier to deal with as they understand more, they still don’t behave like angels all the time. I still need to discipline them, preferably without losing my head.
I wrote this piece about four years ago and reading it now was a good reminder that while the kids are bigger now, they are still kids and the logic behind these techniques will work for them even as they grow. They still need to feel heard and understood, that we will stick with them and love them even if their behaviour is not ok, but that the behaviour will not be tolerated. So grab yourself a cuppa and read on…
It was a Sunday morning, I had just had a lie in as the Hubby took the kiddies downstairs for breakfast and I stayed comfy in our bed. We were downstairs, I was eating breakfast and the Little Messers were playing with their cars. Then for a reason I can’t even remember anymore, Mr Messer slapped his daddy. Then he slapped his little sister. Two minutes later Missy Messer had moved on and found our laptop on the couch and before I knew it, she had pulled two buttons off the keyboard… Bye bye Happy Relaxed Mummy, Hello Grumpy Pants!
Most of the time you can see when these kind of events start taking place. You know your own kids, you know when they start getting frustrated and often it can be fairly easy to prevent these situations from happening by offering help before it goes haywire. Or not leaving the laptop on the couch where the two-year-old can reach it! This is often the easiest approach, but sometimes you miss the opportunity and sometimes it just doesn’t work.
David Coleman, a clinical psychologist specialised in working with children and their families, has written a very interesting book about how to raise your children in a gentle way and also have fun while doing it. The book is called Parenting Is Child’s Play and it has given me many practical tips on how to handle different situations in a gentle but effective way.
The book starts with a chapter in communication. Coleman talks about some very valid points when it comes to communication. Things that we easily forget, such as active listening, i.e. showing your child that you’re paying attention and hearing what they are saying by using gestures such as lowering yourself at their level, turning to them when they’re talking, and repeating what they’re saying to you to show them you have listened and understood what they’re trying to tell you. It might seem like pointing out the obvious, but when you’re cooking the dinner, tidying up the living room, or writing a blog post (!), it’s easily forgotten. But I see the difference in my kids when I communicate with them properly and especially when I pay attention to them. I get very annoyed when they don’t listen to me but keep doing their own thing, so why should I expect them to be any different? How often do you hear yourself saying “look at me when I’m talking to you” when you’re talking to your kids?
Sometimes talking isn’t enough though. I’m sure every parent with a child over two years of age has come across a situation or two (or ten!) when the marbles are lost and there is no talking sense, neither to the child nor the parent… Slapping, shouting, or naughty steps/bold corners never appealed to me and when I came across this book, I thought it was the best thing ever.
In his book, Coleman suggests a very compassionate approach to dealing with tantrums and bold behaviour. He gives a number of examples on how to handle different scenarios and he explains the function and causes for tantrums and bold behaviour. Below, I have gathered a very short summary of some of the techniques recommended by Coleman and that I have found very useful.
For tantrums, he suggests a three-phased approach:
- Understanding the cause and empathising with the feelings the child is experiencing (“I can see you are very frustrated, because you can’t fix the train track…”)
- Letting the child know that you can’t help them while they’re having the tantrum (“…but while you’re crying and screaming like that I can’t help you”)
- Once the child shows signs of calming down (crying turns into occasional sobs and sniffs), it is vital to turn back to them and help them with whatever the cause of upset was (“Ok I see you are have stopped crying and have calmed down, now we can go and fix the train track together”).
When it comes to bold behaviour, Coleman doesn’t believe punishment is the answer. He believes in the idea of natural consequences for behaviour. This means that the consequence should always fit the misbehaviour, both in scale and in manner. For example, if the child deliberately throws food on the floor, the natural consequence would be to have the child clean it up either alone if old enough, or with your help if they’re younger.
Coleman also proposes a new approach to using “Time-Out”, which seems to have become the answer to all our problems when it comes to misbehaving. Using time-out as a punishment is the emotional equivalent to slapping, sending your child away to a step or corner when they are misbehaving is sending them a message of rejection, that you can’t even bear to have them near you. Instead, Coleman suggests that we use time-out to give ourselves and our children time to cool off, count to ten, and breathe:
- Take the child away from the situation (for example, if they are hitting or biting another child) to stop the misbehaviour
- Tell them this behaviour is not ok and that they have to calm down to be allowed back in (“Hitting is not allowed. If you hit, then you must sit on this chair and when you can play calmly, then you can join back in”).
- As you indicate the place to sit, you physically guide or carry them there. Once you’ve done this, you reduce your attention to them (don’t start lecturing about rights and wrongs of hitting, that can happen later once everyone is calm!).
This notion of actually being with your child if they are misbehaving and sticking with them and their difficult feelings is critical to the success of using time-out in the way I am suggesting. The underlying message you are giving your child by sticking with them is: “You are important, and that is why I am still here with you, but your behaviour is not OK, and you need to stop it and be calm so that we can move on from here”, Coleman explains in his book.
What I like most about Coleman’s book is the practicality of it and proper, real life examples that I can use at home when the situation is on. It is also quite comforting to read that the author himself has lost his head the odd time! I guess we’re all human, but there is hope for us yet.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this area – what works with your kids? What doesn’t? And most importantly, how do you keep your cool?