“Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure.”
The way I am in this world is what ripples out beyond my skin. When I think of my children and how I see them interact with others, I feel ashamed at times watching them live out some of my own unwanted behaviours. I have been heading down a new path – learning about peaceful parenting, and struggling through an overhaul of my parenting practices. As a teacher, my style of discipline was authoritarian with clear consequences for actions. I have a LOT of experience working with children and doling out appropriate consequences. The issue was not that my children were not listening to me. Rather, they were listening to me, on every level. The deep emotional connection I have with my children does not evade us during times of turmoil, moreover these are the times when my children are testing our love the most. They want me to respond in a way that is firm but gentle. Years in a classroom setting did not prepare me for what it was like to have my own children. With other people’s kids, you don’t have to worry about what they think of you so much, or how strongly you’re attached to each other emotionally. The bottom line is, I want to be nice to my children. I want to be happy with them. This doesn’t mean I’m not setting limits for them, but rather that I’m listening to them and trying to treat them with respect and dignity.
My observations thus far have centred around control. I find the more I try to control a situation the more it gets out of hand. As the children test me, I used to come back stronger and more assertive. My responses were usually met with more adamant resistance, creating a power struggle. I don’t want to live my life as a series of power struggles! Like all change, altering my style of interaction with my children is taking time, and I am watching myself make mistakes; many mistakes.
If I can avoid ‘controlling’ my children, and instead offer logical consequences for misdoings, they respond better, and are getting a truer sense of what it is to mess up. As adults, when we make mistakes all we can do is learn from them and try to fix them the best we can. I feel my new approach to parenting is like watching a river flowing. Now rather than building a dam, I am carefully placing rocks to divert its flow.
As an example of my new approach to dealing with unsavoury situations, my approach to intentional messes made at mealtimes is now much different. It used to be a matter of scolding the child and giving them a time out while I got the mess cleaned up. Now, they clean their own mess, under my direction. All other activities are suspended until the mess is cleaned. They are getting a sense of what it means to be part of the larger home structure. Sure, there are MANY days where I don’t want to take the time to watch my 2 year old smear juice over a larger patch on the floor, but it is in these moments where I must slow myself down. These are the very moments where the learning happens. It is only me who is in a rush to get the juice cleaned up. To my toddler, it is yet another game. So why not keep it that way? He’s fixing his own problem and having fun while doing it. I have come to question just how much control and punitive punishments have robbed joy from life.
I feel that peaceful parenting reflects permaculture much better than punitive punishments. The children have a chance to live out so many of the permaculture principles. Here are a few reflections for each principle:
- Observe and interact; They are starting to really understand how their actions cause change, for themselves and those around them. It doesn’t mean much when you’re told you’re affecting someone else, but becomes a lot more meaningful when you have to actualize a solution.
- Small and Slow Solutions; this one is huge, the whole basis of this style of ‘discipline.’ The idea is that I’m trying to coach my children on how to be in the world, teaching them rather than just lecturing them. They are able to make their own small and slow changes to moderate their behaviours.
- Creating Vision and Responding to Change; they can experience what happened the last time, and not perform that behaviour again if they didn’t like the outcome. This has worked wonders for my 4 year old, who will now say, “I’m not going to…because then I’ll have to clean it up!”
- Catch and Store Energy; We have been using the energy for learning opportunities when it is there. By this I mean that when a child makes a mistake, the time to learn about that mistake is not after they’ve sat for 5 minutes away from it, but in the moment it is a problem (or in some cases after a short cool down period). They are storing the energy or learning for the next time they encounter a similar event. This one is sometimes tricky to actualize, but I try to keep the momentum of the event contained until it’s fully resolved.
- Cultivate Diversity; I don’t have to look for ways to teach my children a range of problem solving skills, they are always presenting them to me!
- Integrate, don’t Segregate; keeping my children engaged in the whole process of discipline is key. They don’t get segregated by sitting in time out, but rather must be integrated into the processes of restoration.
- Use and Value Nature’s Gifts; this one isn’t as clear for me right now, except that many of the learning comes from the crazy things the children get up to using nature’s gifts of water, soap, and toilet paper…why are these resources so alluring?
- Pattern to Details; This is a nice way to sum up the how behaviour patterns are formed for children. The idea that ‘when I do this, this is what’s going to happen’ can be comforting predictability for growing minds. I was really good at being consistent with my discipline before, but now the focus is shifted from me to them, because the method of delivery is different. Now it’s not, ‘when I do… Mom will do this’; it’s rather ‘when I do … this is what I’ll have to deal with afterward’.
- Maximize the Edges; it is just on the edge of an event where I intervene, either just before or just after something has happened. If it is just before something goes wrong (for example, I need to catch an arm before it hits) I use the phrase, “I won’t let you…[hit your brother]” and diffuse the situation. If it’s afterward, we look for something we can do to make it right. I try to get the children to do their own thinking on this, but usually it consists of cleaning up the mess, apologizing, or both. I will have to be careful here that we don’t fall into a rut of flippantly apologizing to each other. So far making them connect with eye contact has kept it good, and the children are able to quickly resolve hurt feelings, skipping away to their next activity. Usually they just need to be heard.
- Obtain a Yield; the children are LEARNING, which is the whole point of discipline in the first place. With punitive punishments, I question how much was learned, other than, ” Mom doesn’t seem to like me when I…”
- Make no Waste; every situation is an opportunity for my children to learn and gain the skills necessary to act differently the next time. This one has helped me to gain some distance from the interactions, realizing it’s not about me, but about them learning a new skill.
- Self-Regulate and Accept Feedback; I think this is the most important area I’ve seen change. Instead of ‘let’s see what it takes to get me a consequence,’ the children are now self-regulating their behaviours, because they are thinking of what the natural consequences might be. In addition, they are much more likely to accept my feedback, because our relationship has not been compromised by me trying to dominate or control their behaviours. I feel I am making great progress in this area by actually teaching them this as a skill rather than trying to impose it upon them. I also feel I am better modelling for them the type of behaviour I want them to exhibit. How is it fair for me to step in and dominate a situation when that’s exactly what I’m often trying to prevent my 4 year old from doing to my 2 year old!
I have seen much growth in my children over the past few months. I’m feeling more centred, and able to observe their behaviour before reacting to it. I find myself being able to respond to misbehaviour more often now instead. I am getting there, but still making mistakes along the way. The beauty of this small shifting is that it is happening within me…the only thing I really have control over in this world anyway. The same things are happening, but I’m approaching them with new eyes. I will continue my journey down this path, because it’s definitely a beautiful one! I am hoping to change the feel inside the walls of my home, and the hearts inside the little bodies that I’m working so hard to cultivate. My hope is that as we venture out into this world, our peacefulness will expand like ripples in still water.