Sometimes parenting feels like being a broken record with someone forcefully pushing the needle down right in the spot where you skip . You have told the same child the same thing thousands of times. You can’t help but wonder if they are belligerent or dense.
I am here to tell you that they are neither. Patience is NOT something that comes naturally to me. In fact, parenting is a role I have often felt lost in – like playing dress up in my mother’s heels but not being able to run when you really needed to.
However, I think that is true for most of us. Whatever form or fantasy we held about parenting and ourselves in that position is laughable once you are in the trenches. It’s like girlhood happily ever after visions.
But I digress…
I have discovered that my children are not flipping me the bird OR morons. It was an epiphany to me when I read that a first grader needs to hear something at least 100 times before they have learned it (this is an average first grader, of course, your children probably are much smarter). My oldest son (Shooter) was around three at the time, and I remember wondering how many times a three-year-old would need to hear something.
About seventeen billion.
I discovered, though, my patience. I began to understand the process of gentle discipline and abandoned the angry, forceful type of parenting I had been falling back on out of desperation, determined not to have one of those kids.
I became highly conscious of my own example, seeing how Shooter treated his baby brother. I could see all my impatience and unkindness in his actions toward his sibling. It was mortifying.
So I did a couple of very important things. I read more books about being a calm, peaceful parent. The most essential one for me was “How To Talk So Your Kids Will Listen and Listen So Your Kids Will Talk.” It helped give me a focus when there was a problem: Say it in as few words as possible with direct eye contact.
I made a list of major offenses that made me want to beat my toddler son. With a stick. I then gave thought to and listed an appropriate mode of discipline for each offense. My previous mode had been to pick a punishment at the time, but I was always (over)reacting in anger and the message kept getting lost. Instead I was developing a relationship of fear and anger with one of the most important people in my life.
I tend to be on full-reaction all the time. My Farmer said once “With Jessica it’s ALL out there, she can’t hold back. You always know what she feels, she cannot hide it.”
Actually, in person (heck, maybe on the internet too, what do I know?) I can be a little hard to take. Some people don’t even like me (I know! WTH?), because I am SO, well, much.
These are some reasons I tended to even farther overreact to Shooter’s very age-appropriate and personality-distinct “learning opportunities.”
So I began my new parenting plan. My main goal was to remain consistent in guiding behavior without the over-boil of emotions, especially bad ones that I felt were ultimately destroying my relationship with Shooter and making me feel like a completely inept parent.
Whenever there was an offense, I checked my list (he was three, so I had limitless opportunities and it didn’t take long for me to have it memorized). I then waited with him until Shooter was calm enough to hear me, got down eye-to-eye with him and told him in as few words as possible what he did wrong and what would happen next.
“We don’t hit. If you hit you go to your room.” I worked very hard not to yell, but to maintain a matter-of-fact tone and to carry the screaming banshee with as much love as possible to his room, and deposit him along with a kiss or smile or shoulder pat, along with “I’ll come and get you when you calm down.” (disclaimer: the “go to your room” is child specific, my other children did not respond well to this and I used different consequences for them.) When he came out of the room, still screaming and flailing, we would repeat the process. (The need to repeat was really a result of my earlier parenting, and I was working at this point to undo the angry, violent cycle we were in. My younger children never went through this with the same magnitude because I had learned how to establish a peaceful relationship with them before the difficulties arose.)
Then came the third prong of my plan: Talk about it when no one is angry. This usually happened at the kitchen table during a meal or after reading a book. Everyone was feeling happy and secure. I was feeling calm and capable. It was a good time to reinforce my message.
I love you. You are the most important thing to me. It is my job to help you grow up to be a good person who makes good choices. Hitting is a bad choice. It hurts someone else and then you get in trouble. Remember when so-and-so hit you? How did that make you feel? That must have been sad for you. You baby brother feels the same way if you hit him. Isn’t that sad? That’s why we don’t hit in our family. We don’t want to make other people feel bad or afraid. It’s very hard when we are angry. What made you angry when you hit Little Farmer? I understand. Let’s think of some other things we can do when we are angry instead of hitting. Everyone makes mistakes. Even Mommy and Daddy! I forgive you and still love you.
Now, we had a conversation like this in some way every single day. I felt so much better about how I was parenting. Shooter and I were healing our relationship and were no longer facing each other on a battle field, we managed to work for the same side now. But every time there was another major offense I wondered if this would ever work, if I was turning my kid into one of those kids and whether I needed to go back to tough love and because-I-said-so.
About six months passed. I still felt like Shooter and I were in the trenches together every single day (multiple times). Then My Farmer and I were talking about it and I looked back to when I began the process. It was like I could hear the angel choir around me chanting “Ahhhhhhhhhhh!”
Even though I was still hard at work talking so he could listen, consistently giving the same appropriate response to problems from my list and reviewing concepts later, things were so much better. Gentle discipline is a high-involvement, continuous and labor-intensive way to parent. The results, however, can be quite astonishing. There are all sorts of resources out there, but I think if your goal is to model calm parenting and unconditional love along with building and maintaining a trusting relationship with your children it is worth it.
And this is how I learned to take “the long view.” If you are distressed about your child’s behavior, look back six months and be shocked at the improvements. If you are just beginning your journey with consistent, loving discipline, set your clock to looking six months ahead. Things will be much better then. Or close enough, anyway!