Gandhi said “be the change you want to see in the world”.
My children were very little when I was studying for my degrees. When I wasn’t busy caring for them I spent a lot of time reading and typing at the computer. My middle boy was about three years old when he set up a desk that he fashioned out of a cardboard box. He then made a computer out of cardboard which he sat upon this desk. And there he sat for two days, typing at his cardboard computer, only leaving his desk to eat, sleep, and stretch his legs. He said he was doing his “university work”.
They’re looking at you!
When I address parents at the beginning of every parent group, I start by saying that they have probably started the group to find out how to fix their child’s “problem” behaviour, and they will leave the course thinking about how much they need to change their own behaviour, parenting and otherwise. If your children are yelling at each other, where do they see and hear yelling? Where do your children learn: to be kind; to persist at a task; to stay and sort things out rather than walk off in a huff; to say please and thank you; to eat at the table instead of in front of the television; and to give a sincere apology (not just because it gets them out of trouble)?
YOU are what you teach your children. Magda Gerber
Many people struggle with parenting because they have lots of ideas about what they didn’t like about their childhood, but they don’t quite know what else to do. Your parents were your role models, you learnt how to parent from them. The hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of interactions between you and your parent/s were stored in your procedural memory, and now parenting has become automatic. You say the same thing that your parent/s did, you respond in the same way, and you say to yourself “I’m starting to sound like my mother/father”. This may displease, upset, or concern you.
You want to be different, and that’s the first step in becoming a “reflective parent’. Reflective parenting is not easy, it is really hard work, but it is worthwhile. It is the only hope that I carry into my work – that I can encourage parents to stop and think before they react to their children, think about how their child may be feeling and thinking (empathy), and think about what may have gone wrong in their interaction with their child and resolve to do better next time. It means pulling apart the interaction: what you said; what she said; thinking about how she may have felt; how you felt when certain things were said; what were your intentions and motivations; the point at where things went wrong and misunderstandings occurred; and what went well. This technique is grounded in the understanding that your child is a separate being with his/her own attitudes, beliefs, thoughts, intentions, desires, and motivations (Peter Fonagy).
I talk to parents about how fear often influences our reactions. An example that a parent gave me a while ago was where the child was misbehaving at soccer training, and it was causing conflict between the parent and child. The child was required to stand in the goal mouth and stop the balls, but he kept running out and back to his parents, who kept pushing him back to the goals. There was a lot of toing and froing with the child getting increasingly distressed. What often happens is that if the strategy the parent is using doesn’t work he or she does more of the same, louder or with more force.
So, I asked the parent in this instance “what was your fear in this situation?”.
The parent replied “he’s not doing what he is supposed to”.
I asked again “what was your fear in this situation?”.
“He looks like a sook, and it’s reflecting back on us as his parents.”
I asked again about the fear.
“We put him in soccer to learn some skills and make friends.”
Aha, now I had something to work with, “what’s another way of increasing his skills in this task?”
“Short of standing with him in the goals, I don’t know.”
“I wonder what might happen if you supported him by standing next to him in the goals?” “I wonder what your child is fearful of?” (All behavour happens for a reason and tricky behaviour doesn’t happen if the child is feeling good about the situation he is in).
The parent went away and tried it. She came back and said that it worked. By role modelling how to do the task, supporting the child to gain his confidence and increase his skill by giving some well-placed descriptive praise, the child moved from sook to super in a short amount of time. A fella named Lev Vygotsky was talking about this stuff in the 192o’s. Children learn best in a social environment supported by more competent others. I saw a saying the other day “together we go far”.
Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting. If we want to teach our chilldren to dare greatly in this “never enough” culture, the question isn’t so much “Are you parenting the right way?” as it is: “Are you the adult that you want your child to grow up to be?”. Brene Brown
How do we become really good role models for our kids when our own role models weren’t so great growing up? Sheer will power. Getting some therapy when it’s needed. I’ve worked with quite a number of men who have spent time in gaol for violence. They have had terrible childhoods. These men have been able to become great role models for their kids by thinking every day in every way about how much they want to change for their children’s sake. Wanting to make themselves better so their kids can be better. They have also developed reflective parenting as a way of life. When they stuff up, which they do (as we all do) they sit with their kids, and explain how they felt about the child’s behaviour (owning their own feelings, not blaming the child), they apologise (sincerely), and they engage in a dialogue about how they can do better next time. This is such good stuff, transformational stuff, the stuff that changes the lives of children and future generations. I feel so honoured to be a witness to it. It takes a lot of courage to get past old wounds, face up to where you are going wrong, and learn new ways of knowing, being, and doing. Parenting is always a work in progress.
“I believe that by being the best and most healed version of ourselves we can truly make a difference in the world. I’m not an activist or politician, and I’m not able to have any direct impact on the areas of the world where help is needed. But what I can do is make a difference in the small pocket of the world I call home. I can live with integrity and be honest about my feelings, even when they hurt. I can look after myself, knowing that by healing my own hurts I won’t be passing them on to anyone else. In a society like ours, filled with so many emotionally wounded people acting out their pain, this is possibly the most important work we could ever do—heal our hurts so we don’t pass them on.”
Mirror mirror two feet tall – Nathan McTague
What kind of role model are you? – Dr Phil
Life happens: Why it’s OK to course-correct – Dr Laura Markham
Be the person you want your child to become – Dr Darci Walker
Conscious Parenting – Dr Shefali Tsabary (video below)