Our daughter has always been spirited and strong-willed, and as we entered her fifth year of life, my philosophy of parenting authentically and gently was met with a very strong punch to the gut. Here are a few things that have been very helpful to me in responding to my growing child in a loving and nurturing way.
1. Change Your Perspective.
Many times, I would find myself thinking “Oh my goodness, why can’t my child be like these other [angelic, quiet, responsible, obedient] children!?” . . . and it was only when I let those thoughts go for good that I was able to start really responding to Abbey in a way that was successful for both of us.
Many actions that we see as quirks or annoyances in our children cannot be changed. Children are little people, and it is only when we stop trying to change them that we can really be the parent they need us to be!
Changing our parenting perspective certainly helps. Instead of worrying about doing what’s right and producing a child that acts correctly, we can try embracing who our children are. Instead of trying to change them, we can work on guiding them. “The more we are willing to agree with our children’s feelings while calmly holding on to the boundary at hand, the easier it is for our children to release resistance and move on.”1
2. Use the Gift of Choice.
Choices are amazing. They empower children and can revolutionize a relationship. But choices can also be overwhelming, so watching and listening to your child is important to see when choices are useful and helpful, and when they actually cause more stress.
When our daughter is acting in a challenging manner, I can let her know that she has a choice in the matter: “Abbey, you have a choice – you can whine and cry and miss the rest of our playtime, or you can allow me to help you, and we can enjoy the park.” Or “You have a choice. You can choose to stop screaming in my face, or we can leave [the party, playdate, etc] and talk about this outside.”
This is also useful for children that want to do things themselves, but may need a little help. “Would you like the blue cup, or the green cup?” . . . “would you like your sandwich cut up, or would you like it in one piece?”
3. Escape Negative Energy by Doing Nothing.
Responding with sensitivity includes taking the time to figure out what needs to be said, instead of instantly responding without considering the reaction. I have written about using minimal reactions before, when my little girl was a toddler, but doing nothing when possible really is a useful “tool” for our parenting tool kits. It not only saves us the grief of yelling and scolding, but it also leaves our children free to learn by doing, and to come to us when they need help.
For example: if I see that my child is being bossy or unkind during playtime at the park, I can stay silent, or say a very short reminder – “Abbey, Be Kind!” instead of scolding her or giving her way too many words to contemplate while she is playing. The reminder may need to be repeated, but it is minimal – which is so much easier for a child to comprehend than “What do you think you’re doing/ saying that to that little boy. . . That’s very rude. . . blah blah. . . wah wah wah. . . ”
4. Read Reactions Properly.
This one is really simple: “all of your child’s resistant, impulsive, objectionable behavior is really just an awkward request for your help.”2
She isn’t screaming in my face to make me mad – she’s screaming in my face because she needs my help, but she doesn’t know how to ask right now.
5. Help, Don’t Harm.
If they are simply always asking for help, then let’s help, not harm, our children. This thought has actually become a mantra for me in tough times with my little ones “Help, don’t harm. Help, don’t harm.” I repeat to myself in my head, as I’m dealing with a tantrum or burst of anger, or resistance to cooperate from one of my children.
I have learned in my most recent months of parenting that with both my toddler and my preschooler, boundaries coupled with reminders, empowerment by offering choices, and changing my perspective on my parenting relationships has helped me to feel more calm and in control in my relationship with my children. I find myself yelling less and comforting more, and doing less complaining about and more guiding and enjoying my little ones.
Nothing’s ever going to be a forever-fix for frustration in parenting. But seeing my frustration as a signal to revisit these tools and other reminders helps me to continue responding to my growing child in a loving and nurturing way.
What perspectives or tools have you used to free yourself from the rotten feeling of being at odds with your child?