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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For way too long, there’s been an idea that discipline has to make kids feel bad if it’s going to steer them away from bad choices. But my gosh we’ve been so wrong. 

The idea is a hangover from behaviourism, which built its ideas on studies done with animals. When they made animals scared of something, the animal stopped being drawn to that thing. It’s where the idea of punishment comes from - if we punish kids, they’ll feel scared or bad, and they’ll stop doing that thing. Sounds reasonable - except children aren’t animals. 

The big difference is that children have a frontal cortex (thinking brain) which animals and other mammals don’t have. 

All mammals have a feeling brain so they, like us, feel sad, scared, happy - but unlike us, they don’t feel shame. The reason animals stop doing things that make them feel bad is because on a primitive, instinctive level, that thing becomes associated with pain - so they stay away. There’s no deliberate decision making there. It’s raw instinct. 

With a thinking brain though, comes incredibly sophisticated capacities for complex emotions (shame), thinking about the past (learning, regret, guilt), the future (planning, anxiety), and developing theories about why things happen. When children are shamed, their theories can too easily build around ‘I get into trouble because I’m bad.’ 

Children don’t need to feel bad to do better. They do better when they know better, and when they feel calm and safe enough in their bodies to access their thinking brain. 

For this, they need our influence, but we won’t have that if they are in deep shame. Shame drives an internal collapse - a withdrawal from themselves, the world and us. For sure it might look like compliance, which is why the heady seduction with its powers - but we lose influence. We can’t teach them ways to do better when they are thinking the thing that has to change is who they are. They can change what they do - they can’t change who they are. 

Teaching (‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘How can you put this right?’) and modelling rather than punishing or shaming, is the best way to grow beautiful little humans into beautiful big ones.

#parenting
Sometimes needs will come into being like falling stars - gently fading in and fading out. Sometimes they will happen like meteors - crashing through the air with force and fury. But they won’t always look like needs. Often they will look like big, unreachable, unfathomable behaviour. 

If needs and feelings are too big for words, they will speak through behaviour. Behaviour is the language of needs and feelings, and it is always a call for us to come closer. Big feelings happen as a way to recruit support to help carry an emotional load that feels too big for our kids and teens. We can help with this load by being a strong, calm, loving presence, and making space for that feeling or need to be ‘heard’. 

When big behaviour or big feelings are happening, whenever you can be curious about the need behind it. There will always be a valid one. Meet them where they without needing them to be different. Breathe, validate, and be with, and you don’t need to do more than that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days and some things are rubbish, and that sometimes those days and things last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. 

But the learning comes from experience. They can’t learn to manage big feelings unless they have big feelings. They can’t learn to read the needs behind their feelings if they don’t have the space to let those big feelings come back to small enough so the needs behind them can step forward. 

When their world has spikes, and when we give them a soft space to ‘be’, we ventilate their world. We help them find room for their out breath, and for influence, and for their wisdom to grow from their experiences and ours. In the end we have no choice. They will always be stronger and bigger and wiser and braver when they are with you, than when they are without. It’s just how it is.♥️
When kids or teens have big feelings, what they need more than anything is our strong, safe, loving presence. In those moments, it’s less about what we do in response to those big feelings, and more about who we are. Think of this like providing a shelter and gentle guidance for their distressed nervous system to help it find its way home, back to calm. 

Big feelings are the way the brain calls for support. It’s as though it’s saying, ‘This emotional load is too big for me to carry on my own. Can you help me carry it?’ 

Every time we meet them where they are, with a calm loving presence, we help those big feelings back to small enough. We help them carry the emotional load and build the emotional (neural) muscle for them to eventually be able to do it on their own. We strengthen the neural pathways between big feelings and calm, over and over, until that pathway is so clear and so strong, they can walk it on their own. 

Big beautiful neural pathways will let them do big, beautiful things - courage, resilience, independence, self regulation. Those pathways are only built through experience, so before children and teens can do any of this on their own, they’ll have to walk the pathway plenty of times with a strong, calm loving adult. Self-regulation only comes from many experiences of co-regulation. 

When they are calm and connected to us, then we can have the conversations that are growthful for them - ‘Can you help me understand what happened?’ ‘What can help you so this differently next time?’ ‘How can you put things right? Do you need my help to do that?’ We grow them by ‘doing with’ them♥️
Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting

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