A Quick Guide to Peaceful Parenting
We all want a peaceful life and when it comes to our relationship with our children this is paramount. We have given ourselves the enormous task of role model to, at birth, a mostly blank canvas. The role of leader and life-guide to these little beings is the most important one we will ever have and oftentimes the most challenging. We are thrown in at the deep end without a rule book and our only real support system is our desire to do the best job we can.
We are there to provide a safe environment filled with love and guidance, to nurture their every need and calmly deliberate every instance whereby a challenge arises.
Is this reality?
Not always. Not in my house!
We get tired, we lose our patience, we live stressful busy lives and children can be seriously difficult to handle when we are under pressure. NOT their fault, but it is ok to feel challenged and wonder why you are not capable of winning the super-dad or mum award every week.
To combat your own natural instincts - or should I say, instinctual reaction under duress - is a mighty tough ask. To practice consistent patience and prevent losing your cool when things get testy is really challenging.
For some helpful methods take a look at this guide to managing your emotions, take the bullet points and carry them with you mentally, if this is something which hits home.
TAKE A BREATH: Don’t lose it. Don’t yell. Shouting at your kids makes them assume that this is a normal reaction. A child experiencing stress will naturally go into survival mode - fight, flight or freeze. They may mimic your behaviour by yelling back or at others. They may also begin to reject your words, if they come loaded with aggression they may not even hear them. Worse still they may become so used to being shouted at that they eventually build up a resistance to it and it doesn’t affect them at all. We need to manage our own emotions and set the standard for our children to follow. So before you release any pent up aggression verbally, stop, take a breath and reassess your mindset. Work out what needs to be said and say it in calm. If this proves difficult, take a moment to walk or shake out your hands, anything to release the bad energy.
RESPECT THE IMMATURE: We have to recognise that children are in fact just that, children. They are not small adults who decide they are going to purposely disrupt the rest of the world with their unnecessarily loud voices or unruly actions, they just don't know better yet. They can’t always rationalise their feelings, just as us adults struggle to do so sometimes! A child will express intense emotion as opposed to rationalising a situation. And it is the job of the parent to advise and guide them into the more socially acceptable and beneficial ways of life. This needs to be done calmly and on their level (in language that they will comprehend).
SEE THE WOOD FOR THE TREES: As a parent there will be times when life builds up, you may have had a bad day at work, you may be upset with a partner or friend, or perhaps feeling under the weather. This is not your child’s fault obviously, so if you feel that tension building up into unjust reactions you need to take a moment. Take responsibility for how you are feeling and analyse the situation at hand, not your entire day. Find your resolve and then go forth and resolve!
EMPATHY OVER SYMPATHY: When a child reacts (or in our eyes, overreacts) emotionally there are often tears and screams and even a fist or two swung about. In these moments they need to be understood, a hug does do some good but they are still experiencing and probably will again some sort of frustration that needs to be addressed. If you take the situation or cause apart and show the child that you understand what they are feeling, make it real, make it everyone’s, empathise. From this they may learn to be able to handle it better next time. If they know that we are all going through that feeling then perhaps they’ll feel a bit apprehensive to throwing a crazy tantrum over it.
CONNECT THEN CORRECT: We need to teach lessons, the best way to get a child to really listen is to first be on the same side. Use that empathy we talked about, find your emotional generosity, show them you care and understand, and reconnect. Once they see that you’re on side they will be far more likely to hear your words of correction and instruction and take heed.
COMPASSIONATE CORRECTION: When we do need to say no, to redirect behaviour, to correct a situation with a child this is still perfectly achievable in a peaceful manner. Remove the child from the surroundings and find a quiet comfortable situation to sit and talk. Go over what is happening in a clear calm voice in order to show them that you understand things from their point of view. “I see that you are really upset with your brother, and I totally understand, it is so difficult sometimes to control your emotions”, followed by an explanation of why their behaviour wasn't acceptable, and an understandable reason as to why you are saying no to it. “It is not OK to shout or kick, using aggression is not a good way to solve an issue, you need to use your words, or come to me for help”. “To cause harm and pain to someone else when you are upset doesn’t help the problem, let’s work on fixing the problem together”. Show that you know that this is not easy and you don’t expect miracles but ask them to try for you, because it is really upsetting to see people you love being unkind to one another. Give them positive reinforcement and empower them by giving them the reigns on repairing the issue, ask how they would go about it and provide encouragement.
RELAY AND RELATE: If you’re struggling to connect or resolve a situation try to think of an example in your own life (or make one up) whereby a similar thing happened to you and what you did to make it better. Relay this to the child in story form, this helps the child relate to you, relate to the situation, realise that it happens to other people too and also the story is a great distraction from the intensity of the moment. Win win.
FAMILY RULES: Yes it does, but also we need some. Rules that is. If we are going to make a shift towards patient, peaceful parenting a family needs to work as a team. Making some family-wide commitments is a huge progression; if everyone works together, far more can be achieved. Work on bonding with each individual in the family, and also as a unit. Explain calmly and clearly what your ‘house rules’are and initiate them as something important but that you all have to work at as a team. For kids to see a grown up working at the same things they are, such as speaking respectfully to each other, repairing our mistakes, and maintaining good behaviour, will make these things more approachable for them. They are not alone in this, we are all in it together. Work on kindness and listening, for example, and ask the children for their help in making this the way of life in your home. Give explanations they can understand, keep things real, and ask them for their input and ideas. Acknowledge their perspective but stick within the set boundaries.
DAILY COMMITMENTS: Every morning go through the ways in which you will achieve peaceful parenting. Remake the commitment daily to stay calm and choose love.
BE HUMAN: I personally feel that honesty goes a long way. To admit to being human and capable of error is far more conducive to a healthy relationship with your child than them assuming everything you do and say is the word of some higher plain. We can be real, we can err, and we can apologise for this. This does not make us lower in their estimations but rather teaches valuable lessons to our small folk. So if your patience slips and you need to start over, say sorry for what you feel went wrong and move on. Asking for their forgiveness also teaches them compassion and empathy which will serve them well in life.
If you find yourself routinely irritable and unable to accomplish these tasks (none of which are easy so don’t give up on yourself too quickly) then perhaps a bigger change is needed for you personally, such as taking more personal time for things you enjoy, a better diet, healthier sleep patterns, breaking bad habits, etc. There is nothing wrong with admitting a few faults and making a few positive and needed changes to make life easier and more peaceful for everyone.
The secret of making this transition is having compassion for yourself, just as you do for your child. Expect to make mistakes. Expect some days to be a huge struggle. Parenting is hard.
Compassion, acceptance, trust, empathy, safety, understanding, love. Try to find and give all of these to yourself as well as your child. You’ll probably make mistakes, we all do, all the time, and that is ok!