Learning To Guide Instead of Push

Learning to Guide Instead of Push

Envision a scenario with your child in a public place, behaving in a way that is not acceptable. Now consider your standard response to his or her poor behavior(s) as you look around and see the disapproving expressions of others. While struggling to keep the onset of rage unnoticeable, the reactions of common strangers can sometimes be the breaking point.

Even more, consider the redundant (and, at times, frustrating) input so freely offered by family members. From their perspective, this expert advice is based on tried-and-tested experience, of course. If they did not ridicule you about the way you discipline your children, it could be an epic failure on their part. And most importantly, because of their loving desire for you to learn from their successful parenthood, it would be a great disservice to stand by and allow you to parent differently.

Um, okay.

In their defence, I believe most people who offer parenting advice have truly good intentions. However, there are times when it would be easier to stay home where you can determine what works best for each child, and avoid unwarranted feedback.

What’s different about parenting today, to the way it was a generation ago?

Keep this in mind – older generations faced many of the same challenges when raising their kids, and now we are experiencing a host of new concerns and influencers that have only developed in recent years.

1.  Technology

Electronics have not only progressed at lightning speed, but they’ve become mandatory for academic learning. Let’s be honest – without a tablet and an interactive site or software app, many kids would have been behind when they started Pre-K. Expectations are higher to meet the needs of our swiftly-evolving tech world.

Academic success was once based on hands-on teaching, in-person with large text books, reinforced by decent studying practices. Today, we assume children should attend school, but already know most of the material. Add normal childhood learning experiences, plus the task of learning how to work every new gadget that is introduced, and suddenly it’s understandable that they might have more anxiety and stress-related health issues than we ever did.

2.   Social Acceptance

Society has dramatically changed over the decades, and several large adjustments have taken place within the past few years. Acceptance used to mean being nice instead of bullying. Today, social acceptance runs far beyond behavior, even exceeding racial and economic concerns that once determined the parameters of inclusion.

With the goal of teaching children how to recognize and accept the differences in others, there is also the matter of helping them find their own way and not become misguided. Looking ahead, the standard topics of “the birds and the bees” look pretty dull in comparison.

3.   Parental Acceptance

Our children aren’t the only ones who want to be accepted. We are too.

How many times have you responded differently to your child’s behavior to meet the approval of those around you?

And how many of those times could you have maintained your own disciplinary plan, knowing and believing the consistency and nurturing methods would pay off, even if positive results were not noticeable at the time?

Parenthood is not for the weak. I can attest that it is the happiest, but most understated role there is. In a perfect bubble with my little family, life would be great! But in reality, shielding ourselves and our children from the world will not fix our problems. We cannot mould our behaviors to fit the expectations of everyone around us. And there is no benefit to foregoing the strategies we believe are best for our children.

4.   Tradition

Generations have slowly softened, and we are in a time that is much more liberal. All the while, we may feel that we are faced with only two options: following in the footsteps of (1) our parents, or (2) society.

The thought of walking in the footsteps of our parents can seem overbearing…

“If I had acted like that, my daddy would have…..!”

“Well, you weren’t allowed to act that way….!”

And friends all move in their own directions, with no single method that works for all of them. It is not easy finding sound advice, and proactive research is very helpful before you are caught in an unexpected situation and simply reacting. Even if the past seems oppressive and discriminatory, the thought of having a common road map for the modern mom sounds terrific. Without a consistent form of communication and discipline to observe around them, how can our children learn a sound model of parenting?

Consider the best of both worlds.

‘Old school’ parenting offers aspects that are very favorable in guiding a child. Through the mother’s availability and nurturing behavior, children felt safe and secure. The father, who was the family’s provider and disciplinarian, offered a solid understanding of daily expectations and consequences.

Modern parenting may not mean acting in these specific roles, but the behaviors are just as meaningful.

5.   Science

Research in the fields of behavioral and social sciences has been very beneficial in understanding the causes of behavior, and how to handle them.

According to a recent research study on varied parenting discipline and the response in children, the importance of positive parenting continues to top the list of Parenting 101. Structure, with assertive and supportive boundaries, demonstrated better outcomes. Negative consequences resulted from those who did not include these important aspects.

Why does consistency matter?

When I talk to my kids, I expect them to listen. One sunny afternoon, following an entire week of rain, I could not understand how (or why) my sons could not be excited on our ride home from school. After all, we could go outside. After drilling them with questions to determine what the problem was, they had become more irritable and began a back seat brawl. Finally, I was forced to pull over.

I had calmly spoken to them as long as I could, and proceeded to flip out – yes, with full-blown yelling and wild gesturing – right on the side of the road in oncoming traffic. I felt my face burning red, and stopped abruptly when I ran out of air. My sons sat there staring at the crazy lady standing before them.

“You tell us to stop shouting, and then you shout at us! How fair is that, Mom?” my oldest son inquired in his dry, almost-teenager-but-not-there-yet voice.

Let’s gain perspective. Yes, I looked nuts. HOWEVER, I felt I was justified in my actions – I would never act like that if they would not push me so far!

Wrong.

I am learning that consistency sounds amazing and fuzzy and promising. But it is hard. And I mean, physically demanding. I began back-pedaling, fast.

Herein lies the problem. Attempting to reason with children sounds ridiculous. They are just little people, after all. But we forget they do have feelings, and experience emotions they do not yet understand. Reasoning with them does not mean trying to have an adult conversation – it means caring enough to first understand the root of their emotions, and how they may be responding visibly. Until they are guided through these emotions and given acceptable ways to communicate their feelings, a child only knows he or she is just unhappy and wants someone to know it.

The National Institute of Health provided the results of a study on how the actions of parents influence children. From their research on 978 parents of various cultures and ethnicities, they determined that a parent’s discipline responses play an integral role in influencing a child’s socialization as an adult. Hostility, aggression, negative stress responses, and other negative observations have long-term effects on our children.

We have no choice but to consider how we can help our children, instead of harming them with our own behaviors.

Develop a long-term action plan.

Take a deep breath before responding to unacceptable behavior, and ask yourself the following questions:

–       Did something happen earlier in the day to trigger or instigate the actions you are seeing?

–       Are you being firm, yet supportive?

–       Is your response going to show your love and concern for him or her?

–       Will your reaction be fair and justified?

The first step to guiding is to remember children are learning.  On a calm day when you are not feeling overwhelmed, note common triggers to certain problem behaviors. Once you identify a pattern, it is easier to determine how to handle each situation. Rather than always avoiding them, sit your child down to talk through a scenario and how you expect he or she to behave. In doing so, you may be surprised at the progress you see.

Next, get to know your child. Understand what makes them happy and what you can do on a daily basis to reinforce your love for them. Talking is not an easy task for some, and it helps to be flexible in your delivery.

Finally, interact. Your child is not an adult, and this is a wonderful time to teach him or her how to communicate effectively. It is also the perfect opportunity to encounter difficult topics or situations, and work through them as they arise.

Regardless how you end up moving forward, the intentions that drive your actions will make or break your parenting model.  Don’t be afraid to make changes, and embrace your own motherly instincts.  You will one day look back and be glad for the changes you made!


About the Author: Shannon Jones

Shannon writes to encourage others through the journeys of parenthood, marriage, and other life stages, while offering insight into the sources of behavioral and communicative issues. She and her husband are founders of The GRACE Project, a non-profit organization that focuses on awareness and prevention of human trafficking, which provides free services to victims of abuse and single mothers.  Grounded in her faith, Shannon sings and reads, smiling through life’s lessons and embracing each day with enthusiasm.

In her goal to educate others, she studies published journals and medical reviews that offer evidence-based solutions through experimental research and case studies. Shannon is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in the field of psychology, with specializations in behavior and neuroscience.

 

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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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