Updated: Dec 17, 2019
Let me begin by reminding you of my catchy tag line "Parenting without the BS". As in, come as you are, leave all the 'perfection' at the door, the idea that everyone else is doing it right or better than you, that I have all the answers and have it more together, and yes, even the Gentle Parenting BS that you are supposed to be doing with your kids. Leave it at the door because I sure a hell did a long time ago.
As a therapist, I preached to the parents and caregivers that I worked with about being kind, gentle, and positive with their children. I shared the wealth of knowledge that I obtained reading books and articles, attending presentations and training's, having meaningful conversations with other professionals about the value and RESEARCHED BASED EVIDENCE that was out there on why being a gentle parent is helpful. I shared all of the ways it could benefit and fix a mountain of behavioral concerns that my clients were exhibiting.
Then I had children and I got it. I fully understood how absolutely frustrating and exhausting it is repeating yourself over and over about a SERIOUS safety issue and how utterly hard it is to muster up the sympathy for your child who got hurt doing the thing that you just told them not to do. Sigh. I began to see how I was constantly irritated with my sons behavior and really started to question if we were dealing with any serious problems and needed to consider medication. No really, Its true. There were times I would jokingly wonder if my son was a Sociopath to other times I disused ADHD concerns with my husband. But, as a well intentioned mother and licensed professional, I knew I had to try all the other options out before we began psychological testing and medication (I was serious you all!).
So I began where we all begin; Middle of the night brainstorm sesh reviewing every behavior I have noticed over the last year and the contributing factors. Sure we added a sibling to the mix, he started preschool, cut naps, and started a picky eating phase (was he just hAngry??) but my mama instincts told me those excuses were not enough.
Then I shifted into exploring my responses to his behavior. If someone had been video recording me, what would I see? Well, I would see my son doing a very age appropriate behavior and me being distracted cleaning or on my phone or with the baby or who knows what else because I have a laundry list of things to get done every day... and then I notice. I see the behavior and I give a command. My son does not hear or chooses to continue the behavior because he is THREE and I snap. I absolutely lose it. I'm sure I raise my voice, furrow my brows, say things in a rude and annoyed way. Maybe send him to time out or walk away pissed (isolation for my small boy).
This. This is the moment where the anger is reflected and I see it in my son. This is when he yells, roars loudly, screams "go to the trash!", and starts to cry. He will later ask me "are you happy mama?" which sometimes is a yes and sometimes is a no which causes him uneasy feelings. Here was my Aha moment. This was it guys. I finally saw that it was ME who needed to shift because my sons anger and reactions were because he felt scared and hurt. His safe person, his mama, lost it again.
Now hear me out. Its okay to have rules. Its okay to get mad. Its okay to have punishments or consequences for misbehavior. PLEASE DO! No one wants to raise spoiled kids who get to do what every they want. This is the no BS approach I preach; we all do this stuff and its okay and its good and its normal. Period. BUT it was becoming a *problem* in my house. My reactions to every misbehavior were so over the top, with limited wiggle room and I was becoming less "Fun".
So I made a plan. I decided that I would introduce all the Gentle Parenting ideas I use to share with the caregivers I worked with and information that I had gathered over the last 10 years and implement them. I made a choice to use play as a way to communicate and intercept misbehavior as soon as I felt it coming along. Not in an Authoritarian Do As I Say approach, but in a calm and connective way. And, not surprisingly, I saw results.
Here is what I did:
1. I started to meditate. Per a good friends recommendation, I downloaded a popular meditation app and utilized it regularly. I used the music that the app had during our play time, listened to guided sleep meditations (sometimes falling asleep within a few minutes), and even played some of the kid meditations for my son. It was amazing! I used it so much I earned badges and all sorts of virtual pats on the back. It helped me de-stress and re-focus my attention to a place I needed.
2. I began to play with my son more. Yes, I admit, I am one who doesn't really like to 'play'. I like organizing and coordinating our day. I love prepping for things and planning fun adventures and getting out to *do*. But ask me to get on the floor and "play"? Not my strong suit. I'm bored already. But play is the language of children and my son always asks me to do it. So I played and smiled and tried to notice how enjoyable it was for him. That is what kept me going.
3. Because I was engaging more, I was able to intercept problems before they happened. I could see a challenge about to ensue, such as little sister going for the train set up we just spent time creating, and I was able to grab her before destruction and tears and hitting and screaming began. Phew.
4. I was also able to understand why my son was upset better. Maybe I didn't get to sister quickly enough and she ripped apart the train tracks that were just set up. I get it. I was starting to get excited to roll Thomas down the track to help Percy who had derailed inside of the tunnel. I totally get the upset and anger what he is exhibiting.
5. Since now I totally understand how he feels, and this is where the majority of Gentle Parenting comes in, I was able to respond best to my son. Instead of an eye roll and saying "she just wants to play with you!" I was able to hold him and reflect his feelings back and create a strong place of empathy for him.
6. Finally, I was able to transform moments that could have been punitive into playful and silly moments. Now this was a bit trickier for me since I wanted to make sure there was a line between not okay behaviors and things that I would let go. Here is what worked for me:
My son turns around and pretends to pass gas in his sister face then laughs hysterically along with her. Ugh. Not my type of humor and my frantic mind thinks "what if he does this all the time and to other people?". Then instead of punishing and making it a time for consequences, I think "what the hell, everyone is okay here and I am letting this one go". So I play along and say "ewwww! Did you fart in her face?? Get out of here!" and proceed to tickle him.
He loves it. She loves it. I didn't yell. Winner winner.
"But Oh Em Gee aren't you reinforcing that behavior?"
-Leave it alone, Karen, I'm dealing with enough, okay?
After implementing these changes for a week, I saw a HUGE shift! Not only did I feel more calm and enjoy my days better, but my son had a notable difference in his behavior as well. -He began sleeping better (less night wakings)
-Yelling on his part went wayy down
-He cried less
-Became sweeter to his sister. He began including her more in his play and wanted to
engage with her more frequently
-Smiled and laughed more
-STARTED TO EAT MORE. I'm still shocked this was an outcome
-Had less negative interactions with classmates and peers
Overall you guys, just do it. Take the time to be less reactive and more responsive. I guess the research and books and articles are right. Gentle Parenting is still spot on. I, however, will still reinforce my stance that we have to raise good humans, even if it means fu*king up and yelling from time to time. You know, to keep them on their toes.