Understand, Connect, Correct

Today is the first day of my first Powered By Love Parenting Classes here in Barrie.

And since not everyone can join us, I thought I might share a bit of what we’re going to be talking about today for everyone to see.

There is fear and there is love – which one do you currently parent from?

Which one do you want to parent from?

How do we get from there to here?

We have to start by recognizing that there’s always a reason – and that to figure out the reason, you’re going to have to get compassionately curious.

What does that mean?

It means you start to look at you and your kids’ seemingly random behaviours and you assume that there must be a reason for what is going on.

What if I were to start to notice that my child was almost always a bear on the way home from school – except for that day I brought a snack with me and they wolfed it down before we even got out of the playground?

What if I noticed that I was yelling at my kids every morning that they weren’t ready for school on time, but that it was because I had pressed the snooze button an extra time?

What if I noticed that my child seemed to have a really hard time telling me – or telling me accurately – what their emotions were, but that the more emotional they got the more likely they were to take it out on their sibling?

What if I noticed that I was yelling at my partner regularly about seemingly trivial things – is it possible that the yelling doesn’t actually have anything to do with whether the dishes all got put away or the laundry was finished, and has more to do with the fact that I’m feeling overwhelmed and undersupported in this whole adulting gig?

What if I noticed that I was likely to get upset on days when I needed three or more cups of coffee to get me through? Is it possible that that might have anything to do with not getting enough sleep the night before? Or with not eating healthy foods or getting enough exercise to maintain my own health?

An awful lot can change in our interactions simply by becoming aware of this idea that there’s actually a reason for the things that people are doing – and that that reason is rarely about me, and almost always about the individual’s reality.

As a parent, however, that doesn’t stop us from having a responsibility. And according to Dr. Karyn Purvis, our responsibility in this moment is to:

Understand – We build understanding by identifying the root feeling of what’s going on in our child at that moment. It would be wonderful and so much simpler if they could just tell us, but we’ve all had that experience where a friend verbalized how we were feeling when we couldn’t find the words, right? Our children need us to do that for them, too.

So lets imagine our older child was busy building a tower in the living room while we were doing the dishes after dinner. Their younger sister wandered out into the living room and the next thing we know we hear a scream. We come running out to find the older child trying desperately to hold their little sister out of the way – and prepared to use whatever force necessary to do so.

We could pounce on our older child and scream at them not to hit their sister.

Or we could recognize a few key things about this situation. We could recognize that our older child has been really enjoying building towers recently – and that they’re obsessed with seeing how high they can build it.

We could recognize that our younger child is at that super-curious-but-completely-clueless stage when keeping the tower up is of little interest and knocking it down is a priceless victory.

We could recognize that both kids are tired – that it’s five minutes until bath time – and that the tower is one of your child’s tallest ever.

Having understood – now what do we do?

Connect – We want to enter in to their reality, to break in to their fear or their panic or their anger or their destructiveness and fill that place with love.

We can do this best when:

  • we use time (by giving our child our undivided attention),
  • we create space (in this case, perhaps we hand little sister off to another adult, or put her in her playpen with some toys she enjoys so that it’s just us, one-on-one with our older child);
  • we offer nurturing, appropriate, consensual touch (a hand on the shoulder, or a cuddle on the couch);
  • we offer the trust of loving eye contact (which will often require that we get down at the child’s level); and
  • we give words to help them understand what’s going on inside of themselves.

The words might be something along the lines of, “was your sister getting too close to your tower? Was it making you feel nervous that she might knock it over? And you worked really hard to build that tower, didn’t you? Did it make you scared to think that she might knock the tower down before you’d finished it? And you might not get a chance to finish it before you had to go to bed? Did you mean to hit your sister, or did you just want to try to protect your tower and you got too rough?”

But what about the punishment???

In fact, in this model, we focus far less on punishment and far more on correction – because love-based correction is far more likely to create new patterns of behaving than a fear-based punishment.

Correct – Our goal at the end of the day is to raise fully functioning adults. Adults who can go out in the world and make wise, healthy decisions for themselves and eventually for their own families. This moment becomes an opportunity to teach the very next step in enabling them to be independent and make good choices. So we don’t simply want to tell them what to do, or lecture them on how bad the thing they’ve just done is, we want to empower them with the tools to understand the situation, and work with them to make the corrections necessary to help them to succeed moving forward. This shouldn’t be long-winded, but quick and to the point.

So following up on with our example from above you might say something like: “Your sister’s at a tricky age – she’s so excited by everything that you can do, and she wants to join in, but she’s only little, and doesn’t know how to do things like you do yet. Because she’s little, though, we can’t just push her away, because that might hurt her. Can you say sorry to your sister for hitting her and give her a gentle hug?”

But then we can sometimes take it one step further and ask the child something like, “Can you think of a different way you could respond if this happens again?” This gives the child a level of control over the situation, and allows him or her to problem solve ahead of time – when they are calm and can think more clearly in the midst of your loving attention and touch – and come up with a more appropriate response. (You may have to give your child some prompts to begin with, or brainstorm ideas together … ideas might be things like ‘ask mama to hold sister for a minute so that you can finish your tower’, or ‘work on towers at the table out of sister’s reach’ or ‘build towers together with mama so that she can be on baby watch’ …)

If you found this material helpful, or want to know more about putting these ideas in place in your family, please feel free to get in touch today!

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