Have you ever heard someone say that if you believe something is true, you’ll see it? Or have you read the quote that said, “Believe to see”? This is actually one of my husband’s favorite quotes. The idea behind both phrases is really quite simple; if you believe in something it will happen or you’ll perceive it happening or in the least sense you’ll only notice when it happens.
This realization is beautiful in so many ways, as it really (only when fully adopted) gives you the peace of mind that what you expect will happen. When used in parenting, believing certain things about your child will always somehow manifest into reality, especially if you look at it in the long term. Sounds weird and unrealistic? Let me explain how this happens within the context of parenting;
When you have a certain belief about your children, i.e. they are kind and caring. Your perception of their behavior and how you act upon it, is always filtered by this belief. Hence when they become unkind in certain situations you’ll always use words, responses and even consequences that enforces your belief of them.
How? Well let’s say your daughter refuses to wash her dinner dish after eating, even after you’ve asked her nicely and told her that you’re tired tonight and cannot bother to do the dishes. If you unconsciously had the belief that she’s caring and loving you’d be first surprised as to why is she doing so, then you might ask questions about it or maybe immediately make the assumptions that she is very tired too or not feeling well to do it. What you’ll say and do in this situation then will not involve any shaming, blaming or maybe enforcement but will most probably involve empathy, understanding and curiosity on what would work.
This is not the only positive aspect of a positive belief about your children. Here’s where self-fulfilling prophecy comes in; when your child observes you day-in and day-out of their lives believing that they are loving and caring, they will eventually internalize this self-image. The belief that they are loving and caring will enable them to act in a loving and caring way to you and to others around them.
But self-fulfilling prophecy works both ways; if you internalize a negative belief about your children (i.e. violent, immature, selfish, dis-respectful), your responses and behavior towards them will also be filtered through this belief (i.e. warnings, ultimatums, punishments, strict rules, or even sometimes blaming them for things you’re not 100% sure they actually did) and they will in turn and in the long term (in most cases) internalize this belief about themselves.
My point is simple really, but ofcourse (like any other aspect of parenting) difficult to apply and be consistent about; are you conscious of what kind of beliefs you internalize about your children? If you’re not clear about it, I invite you to question the underlying beliefs of your responses to them in the different situations of life. Pick one situation at a time and reflect on it with curiosity.
Being conscious is a key ingredient of peaceful parenting, being aware of these beliefs will enable you to alter or celebrate them in the way that is in integrity with yourself and your values. It will also be a your way of teaching your children about themselves and their self-concept. Like every parent around the globe, I too want my children to have a loving, kind, resilient self concept that is re-assured my me and my husband day-in and day-out.
A few years ago it hit me while I was facilitating a feedback workshop for one of clients, that as parents we spend almost all of our time giving feedback to our children; don’t eat like this?, don’t yell?, I appreciate you cleaned your room?, I love it when you speak nicely? And lots of other things. But very rarely, if ever do we take the time to ask them, what do they think of us?!.
I mean how else are we going to teach them about being accepting and open to learning from experiences as well as empathy, if we never role-model it for them. What is a greater way to show them that we value their voice better than listening to them talk about us.
Well, when I returned home that day I took my daughter to a walk around the block and talked to her about feedback; I told her that I would love to hear from her what she enjoyed the most about my parenting and what she didn’t, I also asked her about what she enjoyed in our life together the most and what she didn’t. That night I did not get an answer for everything, and I believe I was overwhelming; but then the little information I got was eye opening in a beautiful way!
“Mum, I don’t like it when you promise me something and don’t do it. It hurts my feelings” – I didn’t reject her perception, though I didn’t think I did that at all, but went along with it asking for clarity; “it must be painful when I promise you something and don’t do it. Can you give me an example?”. I realized that day that when things come up and we change plans for one reason of another, I don’t explain things enough to my daughter and hence she created the perception that I don’t keep my promises. We later this week, worked out a way to explain what’s happening and a code that she says when she is really sure she understands why are we changing plans. It was an amazing experience, and since then I have been making it a point that I periodically solicit feedback from all of my children and let them know that I value this feedback and will work on it. I used a number of tools like asking them to write up what they want me to stop, start &/or continue doing as their mother(or step mother) or draw it up or tell me when something comes up – and it has been fascinating every single time.
So plan something this coming week, with your child(ren); take them for a walk in the park or have a tea party in their room or whatever works for them and ask them for feedback and share what comes up!
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I want you to imagine this with me; you just had something horrible happen to you “however you define horrible” – you walk by to your husband wanting to tell him about it and cry on his shoulders, but you’re also horrified and unable to express yourself in an understandable manner; you’re crying, and making sounds as if talking but nothing really is clear- this is how stressed you are.
You’re husband on the other hand, tries to receive you with kindness at first; “what’s wrong? What happened?” and here you are trying to explain but nothing is coming out of you except weird sounds – he then says things like; “I don’t understand you! And honey would you please just calm down a bit so I can understand?” and that just frustrates you more and more, because you can’t calm down, this is exactly why you came over to him, to help sooth you and calm you down. You cry lauder.
Well, this isn’t working for your husband at this point, he loves you so much, but he can’t understand you while you’re being hysterical and making nothing but weird sounds. Besides he really has some other things to do around the house; yes things that you’ve asked him to do like folding the laundry or organizing the garage or adjusting the cable. So he looks at you and says “ Honey, I can’t understand you this way, so I am going to leave you till you can talk to me in a calm, rational way. Because this just isn’t working” – and maybe he’ll add “you’re not a child to act the way you’re doing right now”.
My magical question is; How would you feel? Actually how are you feeling now just reading this?
Angry, hurt, frustrated? Does words like unvalued, unheard come to your mind? Okay, would you think of your husband at this moment as caring, loving, nurturing and has empathy? Did you, by his doing, get the security you were longing for?
I want you to ponder on these feelings a bit and on the needs behind them that were unmet and how this situation –if happened- would be very hurtful.
Now reflect, if you ever do this to your children? Your toddler comes by crying their hearts out about how the window is closed or the bird just flew; what do you usually do? What if you’re older child was talking in an unpleasant passionate way, would you say something like – I will not hear you except when you talk nicely? What about if they are having a tantrum about something? Do you ignore them? Yell lauder? Or do you empathize with their pain, sooth them; calm them down and then try to reason?
It’s hurtful for us adults, sometimes beyond our capacity when people we love, care for and trust ignore us at moments of vulnerability and yet we claim that as adults we have the tools and skills to overcome this hurt and reason to a better situation. But our children don’t have these same tools or skills to reason and deduce what our intentions are, they see things as they come in face value. So the message they get when ignored; is hurtful, demeaning and insecure.
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In part one of this article I shared two fundamental questions that have changed how I view punishment as a parenting tool; 1) what are the behavior I want to change in my children? And 2) what do I want their reasons for changing their behavior? – Answering this enabled me to be aware that my reasons are not fear of punishment, or blame or shaming my children. In this article, I will share my strategies to mitigate punishment within my family.
I guess the question becomes, what do we do? How do we alter behavior without punishment – right? Well that could be one way of looking at it, another way (and possibly more enriching to you and your children) is asking yourself questions like; why does my child behave this way? What is he/she feeling or needing that leads to such behavior? Or asking how can I empower my child to live peacefully and compassionately? What tools would contribute to this empowerment and to the enrichment of our relationship?
I still ask myself these questions, and in most times I learn new things to bring into my relationship with my children, and below are some for you;
1- Be aware of your triggers; we all have our buttons, those that when pressed we blow up and have strong emotions. Write a list of what are those for you with your child, then reflect on why are these things triggering for you and lastly prepare yourself with scenarios of what will you do the next time this happens. For example; My step children have a habit of hitting each other and this REALLY triggers me, so every time one of them hit another I use to go nuts. But then I reflected on the why do I go nuts, then prepared myself to the next time this happens- when it happened I was conscious of my feelings and had my scenario ready for me to pull in and use.
2- Own your feelings; your child does not have the skills to separate between himself and his behavior, so when you tell her “you make me sad” she immediately translates it into judgment of herself or blame. Reality is we want to teach our kids how to own their feelings and work with them and a great way to do so is to role model ownership to our children. Try saying “I feel sad, when I see your brother hurting, and feel worried that you are angry” - this will send a clear message to your child that you care for him/her even if they’ve done a behavior that you don’t enjoy (to say the least!)
3- Empower your child with tools; Teach your child ways by which they can channel their energy; breathing deeply, changing position (from sitting to standing or vice versa), washing their face..etc. and other tools that would help them process feelings; such as empathy (If your child learns that his brother must be hurting so much to hit him, and had no proper words to express – he will probably be more empathetic and even less hurt) – This worked very well with my daughter, specially at the beginning of her interaction with her new step brothers and sister.
4- Support your child with processing feelings; a lot of the times our children’s act outs are as a result of unprocessed feelings of sadness (that they missed training), anger (that they had to share their toy yesterday), overwhelmed (that they have to go out right now to visit grandpa and they are just not ready to) – and in most cases and in the heat of the moment we are unable to invite the time and spaciousness to attend to our child’s needs, a great way to compensate for that and let your child know that you care is to go back to him/her when there’s time and say “I noticed you were pretty upset this morning about missing training, do you want to talk about it? I would like to hear you out?”
5- Reflect on your boundaries; in most cases when we set boundaries, we do so because we believe they make sense. Well reality is, in most cases it doesn’t make this same sense to our kids. Reflecting on your boundaries enable you to really learn about the motivation behind them (is it so people won’t say your kid is messy or is it really related to your child’s wellbeing), how meaningful are they really to you and whether they first your child’s skills, development stage and personality
6- Be present; in most of the times kids do unpleasant behavior to solicit our attention, even if it’s going to be negative. It’s his/her call out for you to spend quality time, play, appreciation and silliness. Spending this time at various moments of the day send your child a concrete message that they matter, that they are seen and heard and that they are deeply loved – in this message lies their peace, security and consistency in cooperating with you
As usual these are not an all inclusive list, but it is my sharing of what I do with my kids and has been working. I dream of raising and treating our kids with empowerment and respect, so when they grow they would treat our world the same way and in that create a much peaceful world than the one we are living in. I hope both my articles empower you to progress in your journey of peaceful parenting.
A friend of mine asked me a very core question few days ago. He asked; I am wondering what would make a mainstream parent shift his/her parenting into the paradigm you try to promote? – I thought this was such a profound question. What was more profound, to me, was the realization that I do not have a short answer for it. For a moment, I felt sad with this realization because I know that mainstream parenting uses tools and adopts assumptions that I genuinely believe are not true about kids, our humanity and ourselves as parents. So in an attempt to be my authentic self and come up with answers for those who wonder about why shift to peaceful parenting, I decided to write about the main strategies/tools used in mainstream parenting and share why I believe they do not add to the connection and quality of relationship between parents and their children as well as the behavior change that parents seek to attain through using these tools. And Punishment is my first pick!
Hi Everyone, in the spirit of sharing the message of peaceful parenting i edited a video for an hour and a half workshop i've done in Istanbul on the topic.
It's not the best clip on the world and it might actually put a smile on your face as my camera man was my eight year daughter Nour :)
I enjoyed this very much and hope you enjoy it too. Please feel free to share this with the world.
Love and Peace,
When my daughter threw her first tantrum, we were in a mall; she laid there on the ground with laud screams and cries. I was shocked, ashamed, frustrated and completely confused on what triggered it and how to make it go away. That day I will remember for the rest of my life, I stood there looking at her, wondering what to do, and how to do it but most of what I remember from that day is my decision to learn more about what created such anxiety to my child. What created enough anxiety, that would lead any child to scream out in such despair, I wanted to understand if there was something I am doing or the environment around my daughter that frustrated her or touched her in a way that really caused her such pain. My daughter was two back then and she is eight now, since that day I have been on a quest on learning about anxiety in kids and this article sums up most of what I learned in a nutshell. I am still learning and I know it is still a long journey; but I thought sharing what I have would maybe help some parent somewhere, that is like me on that day, standing in complete puzzlement in front of their child’s tantrum.
What I found that there isn’t really an easy answer to this question, it could be a range of things and it could be more than one thing going on at the same time. So what I am going to do in this entry is to just name the reasons just as small pieces of a puzzle and as a parent you can simply take whichever pieces you see fit to complete your own puzzle.
Love is the core of everything; yes truly love and attention is almost the core of everything that is going on with your child. When reflecting back on that day in the mall, I noticed how I was busy shopping and really enjoying what I was doing and missed the fact that my daughter wasn’t really being engaged in my joy. She was simply bored and needed attention, she needed my attention, engagement and to be seen and heard. I think that tantrum was her way of saying, I want to shop too, or I want to have fun too..etc.
What I have learned is that there’s no such thing as enough love, no matter how much you cuddle, embrace, play, engage your child routinely there will still be times when their need for love and care will be even higher and they will want it to be met in creative ways, sometimes ways that are away from your routine. They will want you to snuggle a little bit more even if it’s already bed time, they will want to hold the grocery list in the supermarket or maybe pick the stuff them selves, they will want you to engage them with cooking. If they threw a tantrum over food, maybe they wanted to have choice about what’s for dinner tonight, or every night. Endless examples on how holding your child with tenderness and love in diverse ways can truly minimize their anxiety about different things.
Again and again, the core of my message here is; rather than looking at the behavior itself, I invite you to examine the why’s behind it; what might be going on for her right now? Why is she saying no? why is she throwing things? – Children often use tantrums as strong messages to us, indicating needs that are really alive in them in a given moment.
Just a bad mood; Have you ever woke up one day and felt you’re just not seeing how shiny the sun is? I have, actually it happens to me a lot. Whether it was a bad sleep, a flue that I am catching or something that happened at work that is really on my mind that morning or sometimes it is really nothing, just grumpiness, we as adults consider this normal, we actually see it socially acceptable to expect our loved ones to tolerate us on such days; I personally would tell my husband something like “I am really in a grumpy mood today and I just want to do nothing”. I tell my friends similar things, and thankfully I have people in my life that actually do generously put up with me when I am in that mood. And I do the same for them.
Now when it comes to parents and their children, we seem to sometimes forget that like us our kids have feelings, needs and moods that swing as much as ours do. Just like us kids sometimes experience the same swings and have a need to express their emotions in ways that to us as parent are uncomfortable. I think it is ok, for our children to be grumpy, whinny when they feel they need to… that’s the best they can do at this moment.
Ok, then what do I do when my kid wake up in a bad mood? My answer would be acceptance, empathy, and sometimes space. If we want our kids to know that we love them unconditionally, it is during these times that we send this message; when they are irritable and uncomfortable, we hold them with care and compassion, let them know that we are trying to guess what’s going on with them and that it is ok that they are that way. My daughter’s way of having a grumpy day is crying on anything, literally, it could be something as simple as not finding cold water in the fridge or because someone put her book somewhere or even that the lights are switched on. My way in dealing with this varies every time; I would help her put a bottle or even put it for her in the fridge, I would make empathy guesses on how it must be frustrating when someone puts her things where she doesn’t want them to be, other times I would just hold her in my arms, maybe engage with her in a calming activity, or maybe take her for a walk. But I try not to say things like; “this is really not worth all of this fuss” or “are you really crying over this?” or “would you please stop it” or anything around these lines. The key here is to give her the message that she is accepted and loved, that I am willing to be with her during her pain and hold her hands out of it.
Food and environment; This is an important one, I think most parents underestimate the impact of what our kids eat on their behavior and wellbeing in general. And again the rule is very simple; the more natural ingredients and less artificial you put in your child’s diet, the healthier and happier they will be. And it goes both ways; the same way there are foods that influence your kids negatively there are others (more natural ofcourse) that impact them in a much more positive way. For example, there are many ingredients that actually would contribute to boosting your child’s mood and calming them down such as bananas, warm anise tea (I like to add milk to that), yogurt, and dark chocolate. Actually most fruits and veggies also have a somewhat calming effect on children.
Another important aspect is the environment; whether the space is too small, or not enough sun, or you’re using the wrong detergent, or it is too laud or too quiet, all are reasons how the surrounding environment could be influencing your child. My child is sensitive to laud voice, so whenever she enters into a place with high musical or high sound in general (even if open) she would immediately react and be uncomfortable.
Life events; It was challenging for me to put an appropriate title for this, so I chose this one as I thought it gave the broad meaning I needed. In general, your child’s mood is heavily influenced with things happening around him/her; who left the house, who yelled, how the weather was nice or rainy, how grandma is sick, how a friend moved away or moved closer, a fight with friends at school or not liking the teacher in preschool, or moving to a new place or having an aunt visit, it really could be a million things and some of them together. The point is that children process these events much differently than we do as adults; we have accumulated the wisdom somehow to deal with some of these life events, even if we haven’t got the wisdom we would still have the resources within or around us to tap into. It is very different for our kids however, in most cases, they are experiencing these life events for the first time and no matter how small we think the event is, to kids it could have a traumatic effect. A good example that comes to mind is when few years ago I decided to re arrange furniture in my living room, I decided that while my daughter was at school and had help to enable me to do it. Now when Nour came from school, I was shocked at the response! She was very silent, stared at the living room for quite a long time, then went to her room. She had nothing to say, and when I asked her about what she thought about it, she wouldn’t say anything. It seemed like she didn’t want to admit that I have changed it. For the next few days, Nour was very uncomfortable around the house, whiny and very agitated. She was very sensitive to me going into her room, or arranging anything in it, not even tidying it up (which she usually enjoyed and was very thankful). In the weekend, a friend of mine was visiting (she already saw the new arrangement) said something like, “I really feel weird around the house, it will take me sometime to get used to it this way” – and it hit me in this moment, that I haven’t prepared Nour for this change, and since we moved to this place, I haven’t really re arranged anything and it has been a couple of years already. I pondered on this thought a bit, then went and approached Nour about it; “I feel sad that I didn’t think more about the re arrangement and didn’t take the time to let you know about it before I do it, in fact am wondering if it would have been even more fun if we re arranged it together” – she sobbed that day, telling me how she really didn’t feel home and how it was surprising and we talked about it and about how we could maybe put it back together and change it when we are both ready.
I invite you to take notice of what life events are taking place, notice if it is related to home or school or playgroup or else. The point is not to miss the signals your child is trying to send you through his/her tantrums.
Like all my posts, this is not an all inclusive list, but rather an attempt to enlighten other parents going through a journey of better understanding their kids and building the a meaningful connection with them. I hope that this post will touch you in a helpful, supportive way and will truly contribute to a more peaceful space at your home.
Like every “almost every” parent, I sometimes struggle with the “No” my daughter throws at me when protesting against a demand that I am making. It was actually quite an enlightening journey to learn “step-by-step” to appreciate those “NOs” and work with understanding the “yes” that comes within it.
Marwa Advocates for freedom, peace, and building compassionate homes.