It’s when children experience BIG feelings that we, parents, experience their worst behaviors. And it is then that we’re compelled to discipline them, teach them how to behave, what not to say, and what not to do. The problem is that when the emotional brain is triggered, young children can’t access their logical brains. As do many adults…
Why Nothing Works
When we talk and talk, and lecture, and explain, and our children can’t seem to fathom what we’re saying, we experience this as a failure, and we try harder because no one likes feeling like a failure, especially not when parenting. So we then yell, try to assert boundaries, send on a time out, punish, or take things away. And the harder we try – the harder they try, too.
I know this experience from two different angles; I’m raising a strong-willed child, and I wasn’t one as a child myself.
Strong-willed children don’t react well to force; no one does, really (and I’ll get to that in a second), but the stronger the child – the bigger the conflict, and using force, the only outcome we’ll get is breaking their spirit. Or ours. And it’s not an outcome we want, not for us, nor our children.
If you’re raising a strong-willed child, you already know this because nothing you do seems to work.
We Were Children, Too
I remember growing up. I lived the first years of my life in fear. When my dad took me out running, and I fell – I wasn’t allowed to cry. I had to stand back up and keep running. I knew the rules so well that I had to go to my dad myself and turn around for a spank when breaking them. And I did because if I wouldn’t, it would be worse.
Being a child in 1980’s Russia wasn’t an easy experience, and my parents did what they thought best, what was then the norm. When I was a teen, it all exploded in our faces, theirs and mine. After years of such blind obedience, my desire to experience my freedom was stronger than my need for their protection. I ran away from home for the first time when I was 12.
As I said, I wasn’t a strong-willed child, but no one reacts well to force.
Why Positive Parenting?
I’m here on this journey to positive parenting because no child should ever give up protection for freedom or freedom for protection. I’m here because I want all children to know that their feelings matter and that their feelings are accepted.
The healthy balance between freedom and protection, the acceptance of children’s feelings, no matter how big, empathy and unconditional love are the components of emotional intelligence and unbreakable bonds between children and parents. Isn’t this what we all want? 🙂
How to Teach Acceptable Behaviors While Allowing Children’s BIG Feelings Using Positive Parenting Techniques
I’ve been coaching parents to positive parenting for the past five years through my membership program and via one-on-one sessions. I developed the following process based on my Nonviolent Communication studies and my vast experience. Before reading on, take a deep breath and prepare yourself to open your heart to a brand new approach 🙂
The Ten Step Process
- Ditch all methods of power and force. Children (all human beings, really) don’t do better when they’re made to feel worse.
- Make a conscious decision to parent differently and make love and connection the biggest motivator in your family life (instead of fear).
- Connect to the fact that the behavior you see is the last link on the chain of your child’s experience; beneath it, there are always needs and feelings.
- Use your child’s behavior to learn about his needs and feelings.
- Connect to your child before anything else
- Observe, don’t judge. Communicate what you see, not what you think.
- Describe your observation (“I can see you’re kicking the wall”)
- Show curiosity about the possible feeling beneath the behavior (“are you feeling angry right now“?)
- Accept and allow the feeling while trying to guess the need behind it (“being angry is okay, I get mad, too. Is it because I didn’t allow XYZ and you want your autonomy“?)
- Love the response and the little human being behind it, no matter what comes up.
This process, in which you see and acknowledge your child’s feelings, give these feelings names and explanations, and refrain from judgment, is the key to actually changing your child’s undesired behaviors.
This process keeps you connected, builds your child’s trust in you, gives him space and place to be – exactly how he is right now. This connection will make your following conversation a success when you return to the behavior later on, when your child’s emotional brain is no longer triggered, and say something like, “remember earlier, when you were kicking the wall? I know that you were angry, but this is not something that I can allow you to do again. This is our house, and we all live here together; keeping the house safe and in order is our shared responsibility, okay honey”?
Talk to your child when he can hear you, use words that he can easily understand and don’t hurt his feelings, be persistent. You’ll see how your child’s undesired behaviors decrease and decrease as he gets more familiar with his needs and feelings and grows more connected to you.
This is a process, a journey, and it’s not easy. But it’s worth it, and we need it for the future of this planet.
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