This post is written as part of the Round Table Discussions with Natural Parent Network volunteers. In an effort to discuss, support, and promote a kinder, more gentle world, we are taking an in depth view of various books. Our current book is No Drama Discipline by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph. D, authors of the book The Whole Brain Child. We hope you will join us with an open mind and a desire for change and growth.
Setting the Stage for Connection Connect before you correct. The idea of connecting with our children in the moment is simple on its own but often times more difficult in practice. In the middle of a situation, we often find ourselves grappling with our own big emotions, especially if we were raised in authoritarian households. In order to break that model and deal with each situation on a case by case basis, we have to be flexible. The authors of No Drama Discipline refer to this as our response flexibility. It is this response flexibility that allows us to decide how best to parent in unique situations by assessing situations and making decisions on how best to handle them in the way we respond. Parenting is Not One-Size-Fits-All (shared by Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children). Emily speaks more about responsive flexibility at Embrita Blogging.
What can we do to help ourselves connect with our children during these times?
Connection Principle 1: Turn Down the Shark Music Imagine a scene. Light-hearted, upbeat music plays in the background. You are in a forest, with a trail. The sun is not too bright. Butterflies flit across the path. Little woodland creatures scurry about in the flowers near you. The day is ripe with adventure. Life is good. Pause that scene, and replace it with ominous music. You are about to enter a path leading into a darkened forest. Insects buzz around you. Unknown creatures are following you. The fear of impending doom settles around you with a suffocating presence. The scene remains the same, but your perception of the situation changes depending on your preconceived view. Sometimes our imaginations really are our worst enemy. If we assume the worst and approach situations negatively, we can’t expect them to get better.
Connection Principle 2: Chase the Why There is a well-known phrase that says, “When you assume, you make an a** out of you and me.” The same can be applied to parenting. When, as parents, we assume negative intentions from our children, we vilify them in our minds. When we then react to those, usually wrong, assumed intentions, we make ourselves into our child’s enemy. There is always a reason why we do things. Our child’s reasoning may not always be apparent, even to them, but the reason still exists. As parents, it is our job to deduce that reason and to help our children navigate the situation differently.
Connection Principle 3: Think About the How Differing approaches to any given situation can elicit very different responses. At Code Name Mama, Dionna discusses how the way in which we respond to our children can help guide the current situation and further situations in Changing the Shark Music: Reframing the Way I Approach My Children’s Behavior. Our ultimate goal in parenting is to help our children learn, and in order to do so, our children need to be in a receptive state. When the three connection principles are put into practice, we have a No-Drama Connection Cycle.
First, we communicate comfort. Our children are not able to respond and reflect on a situation if they are still reactive. We must first help them calm down. We can do this with a simple gesture. We might put a hand on our child’s arm, rub their back, hold their hands, or give them a hug. It is important to be cognizant of our body posture during this time. If we tower over a child, or have a threatening face or tone, our children will move into a defensive, reactive mode. Try to relax. Move so that you are at, or below, your child’s eye level. Sometimes it helps to take a moment to take a deep breath.
Next, validate. Feelings are so often at the root cause of problems or situations. If we tell our children how they should or should not feel, we are invalidating their experiences. Instead, we use empathy to sooth and calm our children and ourselves. This compassion shown to another human being helps the overall situation, as Dionna writes in Make Sure Not to be Angry, Mama. We can help our children identify and name their feelings so that they feel understood and simultaneously build their emotional vocabulary.
Listen. We want our children to listen to what we have to say. Part of that means modeling it ourselves. We need to listen to our children. If you start in on that lecture waiting on the tip of your tongue, your child will shut down or ignore you. Distraught people are not in a position to listen to verbal appeals or reasoning. They need to be heard so that they understand you are their ally, working with them and helping them to learn.
Then reflect back what you heard. Active listening allows us to show the other person that we have heard what they are saying. We can also use it to clarify any points that may be unclear. Active listening allows both parties to work together to find solutions to problems. Mandy discusses Diffusing Situations using Active Listening and how she was able to help her children see each other’s point of view at Living Peacefully with Children.
Don’t be afraid to give your kids attention when they act out. Children have a need for attention and a need to have us help them when they are at the end of their capabilities. Help them learn how to navigate situations while reinforcing your relationship with them. We are all better for it.