Recently, I asked Col, Rose and their friend Kiva what children need most.
“Love,” Col said. “Yup, love,” Kiva agreed. “Love!” Rose shouted.
OK. Well, whew. That’s the easy part, loving our children. It’s like how your fingernails grow without any forethought or panicked book-reading about how to actually grow fingernails.
But if all our children needed was love, raising them would be simple: There’s no one easier for me to love than my children. And yet, there are questions that require digging deeper. How do I help my children take responsibility for their actions despite human instinct to blame others? How do I foster an openness and trust that lasts through their teenage years?
Raising these little people is sacred work. It is my intention, daily, to nurture relationships built on connection, communication, respect and trust. But what do these words mean? How do we get there? This is not necessarily intuitive work. Parents frequently list these top traits they wish their kids to develop: resilience, courage, curiosity and inner contentment. Rarely does someone hope his or her child will grow up being good at “following rules,” and yet, much of our discipline centers around obedience.
For example, do you value compliance in your child so much that you’re willing to bribe, threaten or reward him or her for it? We feel so desperate sometimes, it’s easy to believe our only recourse is, “if you have good behavior all week at school, you can get a new toy; if you don’t listen, you can’t go to the party; if you are kind to your little brother, you can have a treat.”
When we bribe, threaten and reward our children for behavior we expect from them anyway, we undermine their own intrinsic motivation and create power struggles that often eclipse the original issue we’re hoping to solve. Also, by focusing only on compliance, we may miss what is causing the behavior. When kids act out, there is a need that their child-sized self can’t rationally convey.
In May, Durango will host two leaders in the field of “Peaceful Parenting,” a philosophy that promotes mutual respect, compliance through connection rather than rewards or punishment, turning problems into solutions, deciphering and responding to the true needs behind difficult behavior.
Kathleen Hennessy of PeaceWorks Coaching, a certified instructor of “Positive Discipline” is offering two workshops the weekend of May 4. On May 13, Dr. Nancy S. Buck,will speak at Maria’s Bookshop about her book How to be a Great Parent.
Last year, Dan and I learned at a workshop, taught by Hennessy, how to reduce family struggle with tools that are neither punitive nor permissive. We learned that using empathy (which is simply nonjudgmental listening, without problem-solving, lecturing or trying to fix difficult emotions) is the shortest distance between a meltdown and a hug; and how it is easier to create a paradigm of cooperation through connection than it is to follow a Pentagon-level behavior sticker chart with check marks that get totaled at the week’s end like chips at the casino.
As I practice “peaceful parenting,” I can feel my muscles of patience strengthen and the space of my own pause before reacting lengthen. I notice that when a child and I are stepping into the place of locked wills, and I feel my voice rising from a knot of anger in my chest, I remember to pause and breathe. This prevents me from saying something I’ll regret and helps me see my child as needing support and encouragement, rather than as the enemy I need to wrestle into submission.
Buck, in her book, explains in detail how to create a peaceful family life, with a healthy balance of limits and freedom. Hennessy will help navigate common pitfalls (sibling battles, refusals to leave the park, getting dressed in the morning strikes) and provide the blueprints for dealing with them.
These concepts are radical because they don’t rely on manipulating your child’s behavior but asks you to manage your own emotions and responses to create connection and cooperation. It’s simple because anyone (including busy, working parents, single parents, including people who have used “time outs” and other punishments) can start enjoying a more peaceful relationship now.
Reach Rachel Turiel at firstname.lastname@example.org.Visit her blog, 6512 and growing, on raising children and other endeavors at 6,512 feet.