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.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Follow Hey Sigmund on Instagram

Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This