Sunday, June 8, 2014

Looking for a Middle Path

Acknowledgement: In the sharing of my ideas and observations there is the risk of seeming as if my ideas are ‘the one and only way’ to think about the subjects at hand. I may come across as sounding like I think that I know something. I do not want to offer any recipes. I do want to offer my ideas and experiences, and actions I have chosen. 

I am continually trying to overcome the human affliction of thinking that what I am thinking are the right and only thoughts possible. For this post, and all past and future posts, I offer my apologies and acknowledge my communication shortcomings. 
‘Nuff said.

The other day I saw an announcement for a class for parents that would teach how to develop “listening and cooperation” from their young children. To me, the flyer said that what they were going to learn was how to be more authoritarian and bossy, and that 'listening and cooperation' in this context meant that the children would do what the parents told them. That isn’t what I think of as listening and cooperation.

Don’t get me wrong. I think boundaries are important. In previous posts I have addressed the importance of establishing boundaries for the children, and ideas of how to respond when the children say ‘No’ to what we are wanting. Discipline is a challenging realm for parents and children alike. First and foremost discipline makes me think of self discipline in the adult. Parents are older and have a more developed brain, and have had more time to develop some self discipline. It is up to us to teach the children by example how to manage challenges when things don’t go as planned or desired. 

Authoritarian parenting offers lots of guidance and direction for the child by the parent who is in control, but not so much parental warmth. The child experiences this as being ruled by threat - 'something bad will happen to me if I don't follow orders.' Young children learn primarily by imitation, and how we adults deal with the realm of ‘discipline’ is absorbed by the children. 

The main motivational techniques developed and passed down over thousands of years are threatening and bribing, AKA the stick and the carrot.  Anytime you get your needs met by a strategy of rewards, bribes, guilt, threats or punishment, the result is a loss of connection, immediate and/or longterm. All of these strategies are coercion. When our child doesn’t do what we want, what strategy does our unconscious habit-self want to do? Most of us use both threats and bribes in various situations. Which is your default mode? What did your own parents use?

The extreme opposite parenting style is that of giving the young children full autonomy to do what and when they want - freedom to be led by impulse without boundaries. This type of parent thinks that loving their child translates into letting the child do whatever the child wants. Perhaps there is a lot of warmth and love from parent to child, but little guidance and leadership. Here love is the predominant parenting intention and the parent doesn’t offer much in terms of guidance and boundaries. Too much freedom and choice for the young child leads to insecurity and a later lack of self confidence. The child needs guidance from adults. Without this guidance, the child is insecure and confused. Young children simply cannot understand in the same way as adults because their neurology is not fully developed. Boundaries create a feeling of safety and protection for the child.

How do you speak to your young children when they do something other than what you want? Scolding, threatening, and moralizing aren’t effective, neither are lecturing and reasoning. Freezing up, walking away and ignoring are also unsatisfactory for both parent and child. “Don’t, don’t, don’t…” is too often what the children hear. Instead we can present a positive alternative in simple words, accompanied be actions. Instead of saying, “Don’t run inside,” you can try, “We walk inside, we run outside.” Instead of “Don’t slam the door,” try, “We close the door gently,” in a quiet voice while demonstrating. “Hands are for work and play and taking care of others,” while gently stroking the hands that have hit, is a favorite of mine. Patience is essential because we will have to repeat many times over many days before we start to see changes. It’s important to keep in mind that young children are not naughty or bad! They are by nature adventurers and explorers searching for understanding of the world. When we understand and remember that, our job of guiding and leading is easier. We can keep our calm and patience longer and the children experience our love for them through our actions and words.

Here are some techniques that people unconsciously use when things don’t go the way they want. If you learn to live without these habits, I guarantee that your interactions with your children will go much more smoothly and you will feel a stronger connection. Do YOU do or have any of these?
  1. A need to be right and have the last word
  2. Attempting to control 
  3. Blaming and shaming
  4. Retaliation and Punishment
  5. Bribes or Threats, Demands, Ultimatums, Should/Shouldn’t
  6. Withdrawal from challenging situations

I have exaggerated the two extremes in parenting style so I could delineate a middle way between authoritarian parenting and stand-back-parenting. This is what I like to call loving firmness (a la Margret Meyerkort). Loving firmness means we try to determine the real needs of the child, and lovingly create and hold the boundaries we think will best serve those needs, and the needs of the others in the child’s life. Loving firmness means guidance and love as equal intentions for the parent. Loving firmness is a middle path that fuses love and warmth and interest with guidance and boundaries to deliver to the child what the child needs. Children are more likely to go along with what we want when they feel our love and our interest in them. They know when we are seeing their potential rather than what we think is wrong with them. Just like all of us, young children thrive on interest and recognition. If we connect with our children and listen to them truly, and then create boundaries that will serve their needs, then the children are more likely to cooperate.

“At the end of the day, there truly is a “one and only way” to care for young children...It is the way in which you, as an individual, can be your most creative and honest self, based on practices, inner and outer, which encompass a deep understanding of the developing child, and in which you are filled with love...” (from an article by Cynthia Aldinger, Executive Director of Lifeways North America)  

Let me know what you think about all this. 

P.S. And please forward it to your friends.

No comments:

Post a Comment