“However we treat the child, the child will treat the world.”
– Pam Leo
I was raised in a fairly authoritarian family, my parents were very interested in child development and my mom loved learning about psychology but if we mis-behaved we were given hidings. This is what they truly believed to be the best approach to parenting and back in those days information was not as easily available as it is today, and gentle parenting was never heard of!
Studies in parenting were done using mice, they monitored the mice and observed their parenting techniques and what they learned is that mice tend to parent how they were parented – if they took a baby mouse away from its parent who was naturally a more aggressive mouse and they placed it with a more calm mouse those mice would grow up to be calmer and parent in a more gentle manner and so was true of if they took mice away from a calm parent and placed them with a more aggressive parent those mice would grow up to be more aggressive and parent more aggressively. They concluded that parenting techniques are a learned behavior, from the moment your baby is born they are learning how to be a parent. Scary.
(links at the end of the article)
That explains why it is so difficult for someone who was brought up in an authoritarian household to change to being a more gentle parent, we are fighting against our natural instincts. It can be a slightly nerve racking journey and you’ll ask yourself more than a few times if you are doing the right thing. I’m here to assure you that you are.
I have read countless studies and articles on gentle parenting and I am all for it 100% but when the pressure is on and tantrums are flaring and everything is chaotic, the little authoritarian parent within me tries to poke its nasty little head out. Its not always easy, in fact, I think gentle parenting is a lot more difficult than authoritarian parenting because there are no quick fixes, but the end result is so rewarding.
The studies on spanking show that when you spank a kid, the act tends to INCREASE, rather than decrease, the frequency of the kinds of behaviors you are trying to prevent.
But when you practice gentle parenting you get to raise a person who is able to express themselves without the fear of punishment, a person who can face and deal with their emotions rather than stuffing them inside, only to erupt in a host of emotional problems as an adult. A child who truly wants to do the right thing, not because of the reward or punishment he or she may be dealt, but because they enjoy doing the right thing. A person who will truly respect others, not because they are forced to but because they understand and value respect because it is shown to them.
You are raising a child who is aware of natural consequences, not focused on forced consequences and therefore will more carefully think through their actions and how their actions affect those around them. You will no longer be raising a child who doesn’t bully others when you are around because he/she is afraid of the punishment (you can be sure they will bully when you’re not around though), you will be raising a child who doesn’t bully because they are free to express emotions and so do not have pent up anger and frustration, and they truly understand the natural consequences of bullying, hurting someone’s feelings and alienating themselves from others because no-one wants to be friends with a bully.
When people know you are practicing gentle parenting they place expectations on you. Suddenly all the “bad” behavior is amplified all the more. One thing to understand about gentle parenting is that your child will still “misbehave”, you dont suddenly have a perfect child who never throws tantrums, but once you start to understand the reason behind the tantrums you start to realize YOU are not the victim. Your child is having a hard time. Your job is to help your child learn how to express their emotions in a safe way and slowly they will learn how to do that without your help – it doesn’t happen over night though.
There’s a post going around the net at the moment and whenever I read it its like someone is scratching their nails down a black board, for the sake of this blog I’ll regurgitate it “My parents smacked me as a child, and as a result I now suffer from a psychological condition known as ‘respect for others”… yes that one!
Something that has stood out to me throughout this journey is a quote I read once “If you have to keep smacking your child for the same thing, its not your child who is the slow learner”, and I think that about sums up authoritarian parenting for me.
Studies show that when human beings are being hurt emotionally, our thinking shuts down. When our thinking is shut down we cannot learn, we can only record. When adults try to “teach” children by criticizing, lecturing, shaming, ridiculing, giving orders, screaming, threatening and hitting, it shuts down their thinking so they can’t learn what the adult intended to teach them to do or not to do; they can only record what is being modeled.
Without realizing it, adults teach bullying behavior to children by modeling it when they use the threat of their physical size or power to make children do things. Parents use threats to get children to cooperate because that was what adults so often modeled when we were growing up. Most of us are familiar with the phrase “or else.” We did what we were told out of fear even if we didn’t know what the “or else” would be.If the only way we can get children to do what we ask is by intimidating them with our greater physical size and power, how will we get them to do as we ask when we are no longer bigger and stronger?
Children do not always have the language to tell us what they need, so they must communicate their needs through their behavior. As parents we often take unco-operative behavior in our children as defiance, when we understand the underlying cause behind that behavior we can begin to sympathize with our children and better help them deal with the emotions that are causing them to behavior in an inappropriate way. The first step to dealing with conflict in a positive way is to accept that your child is a small human being with their own opinions, wants and priorities and what is important to you is not necessarily important to your child. You getting your shopping done is not as important to your child as them playing with their toys and its when you get into a battle of wills that conflict and tantrums begin.
So how do we deal with conflict?
This is where things get creative. We need to show our children that their needs and feelings matter, dont yank them away unsuspectingly from their game. Explain to them that you understand they are enjoying their game but you need to go to get stuff done so you can give them 5 more minutes and then its time to go. Perhaps you could explain that when your errands are done you’ll go back or maybe you tell them you’ll go back another day. Its the art of compromise, a very valuable thing for kids to learn.
You could put some of their favorite toys in the car and they only get to play with them when they are in the car – that works wonders for getting them in the car and keeping them entertained while you drive around!
When we show our kids that everyone’s needs are important, we teach them to respect other’s needs.
Yes, there will be times when you can’t work out compromises and spend another five minutes somewhere before going – thats ok! Communicate to your child what is happening, explain it to them and sympathize with their disappointment. One of the biggest things for me about gentle parenting is teaching kids that its okay to have emotions, and then helping them learn by example, safe and appropriate ways to express those emotions.
Pam Leo writes “When a big kid says to a smaller one, “Do what I say or I’m going to hurt you,” we call it bullying. When an adult communicates the same thing to a child by counting, we call it discipline.”