With a move to the Central Coast, I will now be working with parents in San Luis Obispo County. I will miss all the families I have had the honor to meet and serve here in Nevada County for the last 18 years. For five of those years, I have thoroughly enjoyed writing this parenting column for the Union.
One of the ways I look at parenting has been through the lens of what I call Majority Cultural Attitudes – accepted perspectives about parenting that might not always serve us in the current times.
Here is a revisit of three reframes that I have written about in past articles.
Your are in Trouble Now vs. A Good Problem
Many parents are quick to conclude, “Just look at what that child did. Now he’s in trouble.” After all, there are good behaviors and bad behaviors, right? Therefore, a child is either being a good child or a bad child. This often reflects on the parent as well: they are either a good or bad parent.
Here’s your chance to change a cultural paradigm by changing your perspective toward children’s misbehavior.
Instead of looking through the window of shaming judgment – “That is such bad behavior,” or “He is really in trouble now,” – try looking through the window that allows you to react calmly, without anger, and without the lens that you are a bad parent for allowing such bad behavior.
That off-track behavior? It’s not bad. The child’s not bad. You are not a bad parent.
Instead: That behavior is a GOOD PROBLEM. Now you either know if your child has an unmet need you can help him with, or the child is showing you what he needs to learn and you get to teach him.
The child is not in trouble.
If you are trying to be a more respectful role model for your child, this is an important change in attitude.
Majority Cultural Attitude on ’You are in trouble’: My child did a bad thing. “Come here right now. You are in big trouble.” (Scolding voice, crossed arms, scowl on face.)
Respectful Attitude Reframe to ’A good problem’: My child’s off-track behavior is a good problem. “You’re not in trouble. You are showing me what you haven’t yet learned and what I can teach you.” (Calm voice, easy body language.)
Did You Hear Me? vs. Show Me
Some parents believe that if they have told their child something, then he should learn it. They may say, “Did you hear me…?” or “I told you already…” with a shaming expectation attached. Or they may repeat themselves many times, do not get the response they want, and then say angrily, “I’ve told you a thousand times to…”
Telling is not teaching.
Imagine that you have a new job at the copy store. The boss keeps telling you how to run the copy machine but never takes the time to show you how it works. Each time you use the machine, you break it. Sometimes, learning new behaviors is like that for our children.
A combination of addressing your child’s stage of developmental learning, finding creative solutions, and using a variety of learning modalities allows the parent to “show” the child the expected behavior instead of constant nagging.
Some examples of how you can do this are story-telling, role play with puppets or toys, act out the expected behavior, draw a picture of the desired behavior, or read a book to them on the particular topic.
In turn, the child can show the parent what she’s learned. Her body becomes involved and internal learning is present.
Then you can have “practice” sessions of the new behavior using play, humor, exaggerated timing (super fast or slow), or real time repetition of the new behavior. When you ask children to “Show me what you’ve learned,” they get to be witnessed and display mastery – a good feeling.
Majority Cultural Attitude on ’Did you Hear Me?’: I’ve told my child the same thing over and over. Why isn’t she doing what I asked? (upset, angry)
Respectful Attitude Reframe to ’Show Me’: Let me find a way to show my child what I want her to learn and help her practice. Then she can show me what she’s learned. (calm, curious)
Afraid of Child’s Anger vs. Accept All Feelings
Parents often find themselves triggered by the intense emotions of their children. They may even walk on eggshells to keep their child from getting upset.
Some parents can easily respond with empathy and patience when their child cries because of an acceptable hurt: she skins her knee, loses her favorite toy, or is hurt by another child. The parents’ respectful self is easily accessed.
But what if the child’s behavior feels like it is purposefully causing chaos, undermining the parent’s authority, filled with resistance, or completely uncooperative. What about those feelings? The child screams because his toast is burnt and won’t be consoled with a new piece of toast; he cries for hours at bedtime; he kicks and hits when he has to leave the park.
Children can sense their caregivers’ concern, anger, or desire to make their emotional expression stop. Some children will respond more intensely to try to learn about limits and if there are any. Other children will stuff their emotions away if there is not a safe space to express them.
Often, what we resist, persists.
Repressed emotions become unconscious and will eventually appear later, usually in an undesirable way, like acting out with aggression. The child’s system must find some way to let out the pent-up emotion.
What if the crying as a demand does not put pressure on the parent? The parent can be a witness and assistant for their upset child instead. Know that all behavior is communication. This knowledge can help bring more empathy to the situation even if we don’t know the reason or source of the upset.
This is a good problem with opportunities to bring more closeness to our child as we listen to their upset feelings. We can offer warm, physical contact and snuggle time. Then, when calm, we can teach the child to express anger in healthy ways – using their words, for example, or jumping up and down 10 times to release pent up chemical reactions.
Majority Cultural Attitude toward Fear of Anger: My child’s anger is so upsetting to me that I will do anything to try to avoid those big emotions – from giving in to scolding, punishing, or hoping they will feel something different. (Only certain emotions are okay.)
Respectful Attitude Reframe to Accept All Feelings: Allow a safe space for all emotions to be expressed. “I’m okay with your feelings, therefore, you can be okay with your feelings. Let me help you find ways to respectfully express your anger.” (All emotions are okay, even though some behaviors are not.)
As you observe how these historical attitudes crop up in your own parenting or the parents around you, take a moment to mindfully practice a new reframe. Sometimes that small act can make a big difference in how we react respectfully to our children when they are upset.
Annie Keeling, MFA, is the Parenting Specialist for Nevada County Superintendent of Schools. Contact information: firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-268-5086.