the evolution of a parenting style: part 1

I’m starting this little mini-blog series as a diary of my own journey through this process called “parenting”. When my daughter was a one-year-old, I started asking the same questions that most parents ask: when do I start to discipline this kid, for which things, in what way, and how often? Many conscientious parents also ask themselves how they can prevent the need for discipline in the first place (such as by removing temptations, setting up spaces where the child can be herself, helping her burn off energy, get enough sleep, and son on).

First, a confession. I retract my earlier blogging about the Super Nanny technique. Yes, indeed, I have changed my mind completely and it happened as a result of the following: 1) Time-outs don’t work to stop the behavior, 2) more importantly, time-outs were harmful to my child emotionally, and 3) my goal isn’t only to get my child to stop “doing” a certain thing at a certain time, but also to teach her how to be a person who is capable of making good decisions on her own, a person who has empathy and respect for others. Inflicting a punishment upon her, at my discretion, whether time-out or spanking or removing her toy or whatever, did not feel to me like I was teaching her anything other than how to resent me.

And so began my journey I continued on my journey to find a parenting style (method, theory, etc) that felt right for my child and for the goals I have for her. So far, three things have inspired me, guided me, and pushed me along:

  1. My search for a school and preschool program that will respect the individuality of my daughter, and support her unique learning style, needs, and strengths. This led to exploration of alternative schooling, and the Montessori methods in particular. Exploration of alternative methods of early childhood teaching led to the books I talk about below, but also has lead to me to also focus on respecting the unique needs, strengths, learning style, and developmental stage of my own daughter. (Coming soon: a blog post on how I’m “Montessori-ing” my home, and why I’m doing it.)
  2. These books: Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn, and No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. It’s like my eyes are opening for the first time to the realization that punishment is ineffective, rewards and praise are just bribes that lower the innate drive to learn and succeed, and there are ways to set healthy limits, create routines, and raise respectful children without inflicting unhappiness on them, dismissing their opinions or emotional needs, or engaging in never-ending power struggles and battles for control.
  3. The biggest, most important reason I’m on this journey? It feels wrong to me when my daughter sobs her heart out because I’ve placed her in her crib for time-out. She’s in the crib, by the way, because she no longer sits in the corner. She thinks it’s much more fun to watch me chase her around and around the house. She could do this for hours, and meanwhile, whatever lesson I actually want to teach her about not hurting other people, not breaking or destroying things, etc has completely gone by the wayside as we both struggle for power. I think to myself, this just cannot go on!  My intuition says that it’s not working, not helping, and is in fact making everything worse. The problem is, there is no other model. We are taught to be “firm” and dole out “consequences”, otherwise our kids will take advantage of us and be lazy, messy, disrespectful brutes. I look at my daughter and I know that that isn’t the case. I know there must be a better way, it’s just never been shown to me.

I haven’t even made it to the halfway marks on these books, however, and I already find myself nodding along, grimacing when I think of the pain in my daughter’s eyes when she’s in time-out, and understanding completely that when she “suffers the consequences”, she’s not actually learning how to make better decisions or use empathy for others. She’s only learning that her mom can overpower her and make her suffer.

So what do I do instead??? I’m not to those parts of the books yet, but I’m pretty sure that knowledge and awareness is key. “When you know better, you do better” (as Oprah always says), and I’m already starting to feel like I’m “doing better” just by stopping the controlling madness. I’m trying to connect with M, give her space to feel her emotions and empathy for what she’s going through, and I’m also trying to demonstrate better ways of doing things, sometimes by asking her to “oops, try that again”. I’ve been holding back the “No!”s and trying to give positive direction, instead. “Do you need my attention? Let me show you how to get it instead of biting”. I’ve been trying to allow her more time, and not get impatient because she isn’t going at my speed. Apologizing sincerely to her when I lose my temper, or in some other way treat her disrespectfully. I’m not to solutions yet, but I’m already feeling better about my parenting, and the type of mother-daughter relationship it is creating. It certainly has already led to a decrease in drama!

In this blogging series I’m going to highlight some of the “problem areas” I experience in parenting. They are also the things my kid does that make me see red, sometimes. I’ll try to blog honestly about how I’m handling the situations, and hopefully will be able to look back over time and see improvement, not just with the behavior but with how I feel about the outcomes.

  1. Refusing to get in the car seat, as well as refusing to get out of the car when we arrive somewhere. She wants to crawl around inside the car instead and physically and forcefully resists both getting in her seat when we leave and getting out of the car when we arrive.
  2. Throwing things. She throws things at people, at animals, at walls, and at high speeds and astounding distances. She also throws things hard at close range. This is rarely done in a vicious manner… it’s almost as if her impulse to just let something fly is as strong as mine is to stuff chocolate into my mouth whenever I find some. Until her brain grows and develops a bit, it’s been nothing but damage control after the projectile missile has crashed.
  3. Getting dressed is a nightmare. She doesn’t want to do it! It takes all of my patience every day to figure out how to get her to cooperate with putting on her clothes. And yes, I’ve tried letting her pick her own, letting her do it herself, etc. She finds it a fun and humorous game to run, refuse, and put clothes on “wrong”, but she also kicks, screams, and fights hard if I try to just put the clothes on her.
  4. Putting things away… does any parent not struggle with this? I don’t want to beg. I don’t want to punish. I don’t want to threaten. And I don’t want to give sugar-coated praise when she does do it (don’t want her to think I only love her when she does what I want), but what the heck do I do then? Cause leaving your trash or spilled toys or whatever just lying around isn’t going to fly, either.
  5. Running away from me… full-speed, in the opposite direction, gone, buh-bye. This is sometimes not safe (when in crowds, for example) but usually it is just rowdiness (like when we’re at school). Calling her? Forget it. Threatening her? HA! She could care less. All I can do, so far, is chase her down. This is a problem because she’ll probably be able to run faster than me by the time she’s four, at this rate. I often use the stroller as a restraint but… I’d really like to not have her strapped into a stroller when she’s 8.
  6. Physical aggression: mostly, smacking me when she’s angry, but also shoving or hitting other kids, and biting (especially her grandma, sometimes me, and thankfully so far not other kids).

Would love to hear from anyone and everyone on what your hot spots are when it comes to discipline, and your methodology if you are a parent who doesn’t “punish or praise” your kids to get them to behave. What do you do? Which books or other sources of inspiration do you lean on? Do you have friends or family who parent similarly who support you and understand you?

I’m pretty sure I’m on my own with this parenting when it comes to the people I see on a regular basis. I have yet to feel anything but pressure from some family and many acquaintances to be more strict and make my child obey. I know that I will have to walk through tunnels of judgment everywhere I go when it comes to the way I’ve decided to parent… and I’m totally ok with that. I just hope I can find some like-minded support, somewhere, cause like anything to do with raising kids: this won’t be easy.

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Categories: mindfulness, parenting

10 Comments »

  1. I’ve been following the RIE style of parenting for the past several months and it just feels right. If you haven’t already, check out Janet Lansbury’s blog – her blog has given me SO many helpful tips and coping mechanisms in living with a toddler. No punitive actions, all about connection and using gentle language.

    I have more to say on this but I need to get in the shower or I’m going to be late for work!

    • I know this all along the same lines… I am going to go back to her website, but I guess I got a little disheartened by her because of the “child independent play” stuff. M is not interested in that, no matter what I do!

  2. I have found that apologizing to Carter and talking about it when I do something wrong or lose my temper is really helpful. I think it opens the dialogue and it shows that I am responsible for my actions but it doesn’t always mean that I act like I want to act. We go through a lot of phases of different parenting techniques. I find that what works for a couple weeks might not work for the next few. When we are dealing with multiple factors like growth spurts, transitions, exhaustion, developmental leaps everything is more challenging and the resistance to everything makes my temper wear thin. I have trouble reading books because so much of my job is reading so i’m just exhuasted but I try to read blogs and get new ideas here and there.

  3. We don’t do time out. It’s just not effective. I myself try to take a time out when I’m pissed off, and if I walk out of the room and ignore her, that usually gets her attention, because she wants a reaction out of me. Traditional time out doesn’t work because she won’t stay wherever I put her, or I literally would have to lock her in her room by herself, where she’d have a huge meltdown, and I just don’t see the point. It doesn’t accomplish what I want it to accomplish, which is to correct the behavior and prevent it from happening again. She usually wants attention when she acts out, and it’s SO MUCH easier to just say, “I think you want my attention, but you know that’s not what you need to do. How can we make this better?”

    And I try to remember that when she’s at her worst, it’s because she’s overtired, and that’s not her fault. But it’s not like I’ve never lost my temper! She smacked my face with both hands (hard!) the other night when it was time to get out of the bathtub, and I spanked her bottom, which is something I DON’T want to do, particularly when it’s reactionary (and it was. Parenting fail.). So we had to talk about how we both hit and it made us sad, and that’s not what we want to do at our house.

    Instead of praise, I really try to do is celebrate when things are going well–it’s so easy to ignore kids when they are being “good,” so I really try hard to call her out on it when she’s being a good listener, a good helper, a kind sister, a sweet daughter by telling her how happy I feel or reminding her how much fun we are having together. So I’ll say something like, “I love going to the store with you when you listen and don’t fuss when it’s time to go!” “We have so much fun at the library when you sit and listen to the story!” and I want her to feel like we are a team, so I talk about rules that we ALL follow. “At our house, we always ask to be excused from the table.”

    And mostly I try to remember that she’s 3 and some of the most obnoxious stuff is stuff that she’s going to outgrow. The hitting/running stuff–at 2 there was no reasoning with her. At 3, she might still make a decision to do what I don’t want her to do, but it’s more calculated and we can talk about it. I also ask her teachers for the language they use at school, and I try to talk the same way at home.

    As for the getting dressed thing, I ask her to show me how she puts something on and if it’s wrong I’ll say, “Oh, that’s so silly!” and laugh like she’s making a joke as we fix it together (sometimes it works). Other times, I’ll just let her put it on wrong and then once we’re downstairs after breakfast, I’ll act like I’ve just noticed: “Oh my gosh! Your shirt is backwards! Let me help you!” It usually meets with less resistance that way.

    Dude. Parenting independent kids is HARD. Your posts always inspire me to be more thoughtful and deliberate!

  4. My baby is still young, but I am already trying to research different parenting styles to figure out how I want to parent him. One thing I have seen work when children hurt others is to point out the emotion they are causing in the person they have hurt. Saying, “look, that little girl is crying because you hit her. When you hit someone it hurts them and makes them sad” can help your child understand the natural consequences of what she has done. Children sometimes have a difficult time understanding things from other people’s perspective, so sometimes it can be helpful to draw their attention to the perspective of others.

  5. Dealing with similar issues with my 2.5 year old, the big one being refusing to hold my hand when we are in a car park or street. I too have daily struggles with getting ready or taking a bath – glad to know its a 2 year old thing and not us as parents.

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