The answer to most things can be found in the pages of a book.
Whatever situation you face in life someone else has been there before you. Often they'll have written a book to help you through it. Parenthood is no different.
Many of the books I read when my son was a baby, were very prescriptive. Unfortunately, my son hadn’t read the books himself and failed to respond in the way good babies should.
Then one day I ordered a copy of “Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids” by Dr Laura Markham.
It didn't offer me a prescription. She is very strict about certain points; no shouting, for example. But what I took away from the book was hope that I could grow and become the kind of mother I wanted to be. And I could allow my son to flourish in the process.
Learning to believe I can do better
“Our children don’t need perfection from us. What they need is a parent who embraces growth, makes amends and opens her heart when it wants to harden.”?–?Dr Laura Markham
My son is curious, strong-willed and fearless. They are awesome qualities, but they can push a tired mom to the limit.
As he entered toddlerhood, I felt like I wasn't up to the task of keeping my bright, energetic kid on the right track. But I wanted to figure out how to parent this sweet, lovable little boy in the best way possible.
I wanted a harmonious home. But my son had learned to say no, and his curiosity got him into all sorts of mischief. I was losing control. I hadn't been taught how to regulate my emotions in my childhood. Throw in some less than ideal circumstances beyond my control, and I wasn't achieving harmony.
Dr Laura’s book was a breath of fresh air. Two years after reading, I return to it often. I am still practicing the techniques, and I'm still a work in progress. But I am calmer, and my son is developing strong boundaries as he grows.
The three step approach
Many parenting books give you methods or techniques. Many of these focus on surface level behavior. "Peaceful Parents" is more concerned with the underlying emotions.
1 | Regulate your emotions
It can feel like our emotions come of nowhere. Among the tiredness of parenthood and the heat of the moment, emotions can overwhelm us. The good news is you can learn to manage your emotions and not get hijacked by them.
The technical term in neuroplasticity. Our brains are not fixed, the stimulus we provide continues to mould our brain chemistry. Through practices such as journaling and meditation, you can reshape your brain.
Once you learn to understand what triggers you, you can start to respond differently. When your kids push your buttons, you can become someone who responds not reacts to the situation.
For some, this process may take years of intentional practice. Our family background and our personality will come into play. We are all human, after all.
There are specific techniques outlined in the book, which I don't have space for here. And for me, this is where the work in becoming a peaceful parent needs to be done.
2 | Connect with your child
Connection is what makes parenting fun. Nothing beats the look on your kid’s face in the moments when they feel loved, and you are all they need.
But when you are busy and tired making time to play can seem impossible. And let's face it, we don't always share the same idea of fun as our children do.
My son, for example, wants to "race" everywhere we go, but he's usually on a balance bike, and I was never a runner. I have to dig deep to be engaged and having fun in those moments.
But, connection is also the key children who want to do what you say and are open to learning from you. For our children knowing that their moms delight in them is priceless. A healthy attachment will help them to form healthy relationships as they grow.
My son knows instinctively that he needs connection to mommy. He doesn’t hesitate to ask me to play. Playing together is the way he wants to fill his cup.
I wish I could say that it comes naturally to join in his games. But I was never a little boy. And I tend to prefer quieter, gentle pursuits.
But I remind myself that when my son is refusing to respond to what I say, it is a sign that he is feeling disconnected. Or that he is carrying some emotional baggage which needs unloading. Although sometimes he just needs a good night's sleep.
Which incidentally, is why post-school melt downs are so common. All day away from mom, no chance to connect with her. Throw in tiredness from a day at school and it's unsurprising our kids have a hard time in those moments.
I make an effort each day to make time for play and connecting with my son. I also allow him to unload whatever emotion he is carrying. There are times that it seems he just needs to cry and let it all out.
3 | Emotion coaching
Children don’t know how to handle and process their emotions. When little kids feel threatened, they lash out. They need us to teach and model appropriate behavior.
Which brings us back to step one, if we cannot regulate our emotions how can our children to learn to do any better?
Peaceful parenting does not mean we don't teach our children boundaries. But the goal is to be an Emotion Coach rather than a police officer. The child needs instruction, rather than punishment. Punishment often sends the message a child is flawed and creates a spiral of shame. Which is the opposite of the message children need.
Emotion coaching teaches the behavior is unacceptable, but the emotions behind it are part of being human. It’s okay to feel angry and use your words to tell someone how you feel, but it’s not okay to kick, for example.
Progress not perfection
In all honesty, I feel like I am only a few steps ahead of my son when it comes to learning to regulate my emotions. I don't always know how to express them in healthy and appropriate ways. I haven't achieved perfect yet, none of us have.
But my commitment is to be the adult. It is my job to do the work on my self-regulation so that he'll be able to reach his potential in life.
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