When parents have more than one child, they dream of siblings playing together and sharing life. We envision bright sunny days of imaginative play and fun. We do not imagine them fighting or not getting along.
And then the fights break out and we police. We police their engagements, we police their toys, we police everything they do together. Sadly that policing is the reason so many siblings grows up hating each other.
Imagine for a moment the impact it would have on your intimate relationships with other adults if you had someone constantly polices your disagreements, your belongings and how you interact with said person. You hardly get a chance to do something or figure things out together as a team, before someone swoops in and takes control. It will feel as if you have a third party to your relationship.
This is the impact our interference has on our children when they are building sibling relationships. Our interference creates a space where they cannot get along without a parent present to step in and take control. Their relationship depends on your input. We are doing our children a disservice by interfering all the time. I am not saying don’t stop the biting, hitting, hair pulling or damage that can occur when they get really passionate about something. Absolutely step in when bodily harm is a definite possibility.
What I am saying though is. Take a step back and let them find a solution that works for them. Even when you disagree with the solution. Them being able to strategise together and find their own solutions, enables them to do co-operative team work, faster problem solving and it builds the relationship to the dream you originally had. Siblings that loves each other and are each other’s best friends.
Dear mother and father of a boisterous child, I think of you in the chaos of everyday life. I see your exhausted eyes and uncomfortable smile as your child once again were the one who created havoc in the shops, or at home or at a friends house. I see the flicker of amusement and pride when they do something that you know is not socially acceptable, but darn they executed it so well. I see the fear when they push their bodies beyond the limit of your comfort zone. I see you.
Dear mother and father of the cautious child. I see your worry when you have social engagements and our child does not want to engage with others. I see the exhaustion when social conformity does not seem to be of any relevance to them. I see the caution in your eyes when people ask why your kid is not joining in the activity.
I feel your frustration when you see social media posts that label gender according to behaviour and your child is just not that. I feel the fear and worry you have, because your child just does not fit the box. The what ifs of the future and wanting for your child to fit in, for their own happiness.
I see you.
Here is the reality though. Gender is fluid and boisterous and caution is part personality and part taught behaviour. Sexuality has nothing to do with interest in activities and just because a child is born with certain anatomy, does not mean they have to behave a certain way. A penis does not equal broken bones and wrestling and a vagina does not equal nurture and sas.
So why is there this stereotype? Because it gets socialised into children, here is a link to a video that just shows us how much we use anatomy to socialise our children click here
Due to human nature that is genetically programmed to want to fit in (we are geared for survival and that means if we are part of a pack our chances of surviving exponentially improves). So at anytime our kids does not fit the “social construct” of their genitals we start to panic. We start to fear. That fear tires us out and we feel like we are failing our children.
Do we need to protect our children? Yes we have a responsibility to protect our children, but not in the way you may think we have to. Life is hard, life is tough and it is hardly ever kind to anyone. We will never be able to protect our children from the dangers of living life within the pack we choose to live in. There is always danger, but we can protect our children from ourselves. We can step back and allow our children to be safe to be who they are in our homes and in our company.
We can support them when they climb the highest tree or read the thickest book. We have a responsibility to protect them from arbitrary social expectations that is connected to their assumed gender. We do not have to fear our children being who they are, they will find their space and the less we insert our own expectations of who their true self is, the stronger and more resilient they will be.
Authentic people do not get blown around by the wind, they do not fear the social rejection, because they know who they are, believe in who they are, and they do so, because you as the parent embraced their authentic being. They will find their space and where they belong. They will find their pack and they will not just survive they will thrive.
So NO, Boys do not get broken bones or stitches because they are boys, and girls do not get sassy or hyper emotional because they are girls. Some kids are far more adventurous than others regardless of their genitals and some are far more cautious and sensitive regardless of their genitals. It is called being human. The sooner we realise and embrace this, the sooner we will start raising healthy authentic human beings.
There has been this big reaction about a young matriculant and his art. I am not going to share the video of the person who shared it for various reasons. What I want to address is the way a parent handled this situation, mostly because we tend to parent this way and don’t even realise it…
Just for those who missed the whole debacle, here is what you need to know as it pertains towards this specific incident.
An adult man, saw art pieces done by a matriculant (child) and felt deeply offended and upset and on the surface one could understand why he felt this way. He jumped to a conclusion, and disrespected the child’s work by making a video of it and basically shamed the matric for what he has done. He touched the art work and showed deep disrespect for the art itself.
In the video one can see that there is actually rationales added with each artwork as the theme is controversial.
The matriculant did artwork that is deeply researched and explained in the rationale. His artwork is displayed in an area where there is limited access to it and there was specific warnings put up. He has done everything right. Art is subjective and usually tells the story of how the artist sees the world, or the subject matter. It is a journey and has to be seen as commentary about the world the artist finds themself immersed in.
So what does this have to do with parenting you may ask?
As an adult we tend to jump to “superior conclusions” when we deal with something a Child has done. We tend to do what the man in the video did.
There is a sign stating this content is controversial – Our kids put signs up with their behaviour or just the tone of their voice. It warns us as parents to tread carefully, mindfully and be ready to actually hear what is going on.
Our kids give us their rationale – yet we tell them to stop back chatting, fall in line and that their thinking isn’t as superior as ours. “Mother/Father knows best”
They share their lived experience with us, how it shaped them – and we dismiss their feelings and experiences. We tell them what they have to feel, think and that if only they would get with the program, they will see it our way.
They ask us to not share, touch or just respect them – and we make “videos” and share it with the world. We make it all about us and forget about them
That painful controversial art in the hearts of our children are being battered and abused by us, because we think we know best. We do not listen, we share their stories without their context and the hurt they suffer, ripples to others.
We wonder why our kids stop trusting us. Reactions like this, that is why. Why should our children trust us, when we negatively label their lives and jump to conclusions? We as adults can do better. Our kids are thinking, living, experiencing human beings. If they open the hidden corner of their life to you, the best you can do is, keep quiet and listen and learn. Adults do not always know best
Between the ages of 0 to 24 months a child’s most developed part of their brain is the Lizard brain…Yeah a bit of an unfortunate name, but alas that is what it is called. See picture below for the triune brain lay-out.
Why Do Children Tantrum?
The lizard brain is in control of the survival. Physiological but also external. This part of the brain is also where fight, flight or freeze is located. (Our survival in the great big wild- basically outside of a mother’s womb). When this area of the brain is not triggered, the baby or child’s brain is in limbo and is able to rebuild neural pathways to the rest of the brain.
For a child this young, they cannot discern between need and want, their brain interprets it all as the same. If they need food and cannot have the food, their brain is telling them that they are going to die. Voila child cries and screams to get your attention, so that you respond and baby does not die. When they want a toy, the same feeling of upset triggers the “We are going to die” response and once again baby screams to get what they want.
Delayed gratification development lies within the limbic brain and only starts maturing from the age of 24 months. Thus it is usually recommended that you give a child what they want under the age of 2. We only start practicing delayed gratification and more strict boundaries after they have turned 2.
Biology of a Tantrum
There is also a physiological aspect to the cry that we as parents need to understand as this still plays out in us as adults as well. With the activation of the danger center in the lizard brain the following things happen to the body:
Our body’s blood and oxygen supply route is deliberately changed. Going away from the brain to the larger muscles in the legs and arms. The capillaries narrows in the brain and widen in the muscles during perceived danger. This basically means that any access we had to the frontal lobe has now disappeared and we only have primal instincts to go on.
This results in an actual loss of words. The inability to speak and if we do speak we do so irrationally and almost obsessively repeating the words we have said before the center was triggered.
During this time the ear canal actually closes to only let in low noises. The reason for this connected to when civilization lived in the wild. A creeping lion in the bush will make soft low sounds and our brain needs to be able to hear where it is coming from. When we parent any child of any age during a tantrum, we need to speak to them calmly and in soft hushed voices. They will hear what we say, and the soft calm voice will help them pull back from the perceived danger.
Once our children have calmed down can we try to engage in a short conversation – no more than 3 sentences as to why the boundary is there. Ie, I cannot let you play with the knife. It is dangerous. You can get hurt.
The impact of negative emotions on a child
A child’s main survival instinct is to be close to their parents or primary caregiver. They are completely vulnerable to the outside world, relying on us to help them make sense of the world around them and inside of them. As humans we are wholly flesh and wholly emotions. We use emotions to navigate the world around us. Basically deciding if something is safe by deciding how it makes us feel.
We feel emotions with our whole body, it is not just in our minds, emotions triggers hormones that impact how our body functions. Negative emotions often expressed as a tantrum is something that makes our bodies feel “bad”. Children under the age of 3 perceives this “bad” feeling as a real life threat to them. It becomes a body snatcher as they have little to no control over this reaction. Their brain goes to survival mode and they only know that crying has made the primary caregiver respond quickly. When kids get overwhelmed with the negative emotion, they scream and tantrum.
We see the remnants of the tantrum body snatcher in adults, when we ourselves stomp our feet or clap our hands to draw attention to our frustration or anger. Adults have a fully mature brain and can sense our emotions build up. We should be able to find a safety hatch to redirect our negative emotions too. Kids do not have that – That override switch actually only fully mature at the age of 25.
Why you never walk away from a tantrum
So why should we not walk away or throw a tantrum next to our child when they have a tantrum. Firstly a child has no physical or mental control over how they react. They feel threatened and their brain is telling them that they are actually going to die now. When we walk or run away, or even flop down next to them, expressing the same fear signals they are using. Our kids’ brains interpret this behavior as a sign of danger, we are exactly as scared as what they are.
So fight did not work. They might be immobile or strapped in, so flight isn’t going to work either, the next response then is, freeze. So they fall quiet. The problem is, they are just quiet, still in distress and the hormones that inhibits the oxygen to the brain is even higher. They are now physically preparing to die. This teaches a child that we are unable protect them. There is no reason to trust and believe that this person will be able to protect them.
If you have followed one of these strategies before. I would urge you to stop and rather lean into a tantrum. Allow them to express their fear and anger – remember anger is the gatekeeper of all the negative emotions.
Parenting tantrums in a healthy way
While holding them, if they are not flailing or fighting, whisper calmly that you are there and that you can hear their anger and fear.
Tell them that they are safe and you will not go away from them. They have all the time in the world to work through this emotion. When the tears and crying are done, we can start a rational discussion with our kids.
Join us in our Workshop: Parenting Toddlers (age 0 to 3) Click here and scroll down for more information.
“I was spanked and I turned out okay. Kids these days needs to be disciplined more, by discipline we mean spanking, hitting, smacking or removal of things that matter to them.” At least that is what we are told. “A child without punishment, becomes a child who sits in jail or ends up dead because of drug abuse. Without punitive parenting kids have become disrespectful and a social ill”… These are just some of the claims so often made by society. Unfortunately these claims are also so far from the truth. The reality is that punitive parenting leads to social ills and creates a fear driven society.
Living a life with social media has opened the floodgates for parents to ask other parents about parenting. Today we are going to look at some of those questions and reasons as to why these questions are being asked.
“I did not want to give my child solids yet. Research has shown that before a certain age it is not good for them. Now my mom said that we were given solids at x amount of weeks and nothing went wrong with us. Should I give my child solids now? How do I tell my mother/father or in-laws that I am not going to follow their advice?”
“We are recently married. We wanted to buy a couch set. My parents said we shouldn’t. We bought the set and now my folks are angry at us.”
“We don’t want children. My parents are angry at us for not wanting children. Should we just give in and have some?”
“My boy child wants long hair. I want to respect it, but I have loads of pressure from my family to cut his hair.”
“My mother cut my child’s hair without my or their permission. What now?”
“We decided to school our child differently, now my parents are angry because we did not consult them.”
These are the type of questions asked so often. The sense of powerlessness these parents feel comes across so clearly! These adults, fear their own parents, still! They fear going against their parents’ wishes. Some grandparents will even overstep the boundaries of parenting and do as they see fit with their grandchildren even when it goes against the wishes of their own children. The adult child then struggles to find appropriate boundaries or even fails to address their parents about the lack of respect, out of fear. Where does this fear stem from?
I have often wondered why parents struggle to say no to their own parents when it comes to living their lives. Why do adults struggle to stand up for their own life choices when they are in the company of their own parents and often even someone who is older than them? So often we see that an adult becomes like a child in the company of their parents. Partly because of relationship dynamics, but the larger elephant in the room is the power dynamics between parent and child, no matter their age.
As a parent of a small child, we as parents have the executive power over most of their life choices. What they eat and wear, who they visit, when and how. We try to manage their relationships platonic and romantic. We are the “boss”. (No wonder children who feel powerless often state “You are not the boss of me”) We have control and as they grow older we are supposed to slowly let go of that control, but the ability to do so becomes a minefield.
We are scared of letting go. We tell ourselves that it is because we love them and we only want the best for them. However, the reality is, it is because we are scared of losing our power and control over them. We are afraid that if we do not have the final say, they will make choices that we disagree with or cannot live with. We say we want them to be safe, but we only want them to remain in the spaces we deem as safe. We measure safety according to our own life experiences and feel threatened when they venture on paths we have not tread or do life differently than we have done. We know our own pains and mistakes and want to control their lives in a way that will prevent them from making the same mistakes we have made. We are running scared, so we try to maintain control the way we were raised to maintain control, we do it with punishment, threats and violence. Yes you read that right, violence.
So often we believe we respect our parents, however we were raised to conflate respect and fear. Respect is accepting someone’s intrinsic humanity, punitive respect is fear of punishment for not toeing the line.
How often as a parent have you had a discussion about your child with your own parents or a parental figure in your life. Your parents make a “suggestion” on how to do things and you almost feel bullied into having to do it their way? You know in your heart you don’t want to do it their way, but you have this fear in your heart that if you do not do it their way, you will upset them? That isn’t respect, that is fear. Not being able to make decisions as an adult that go against your parents wishes, especially if you know that the choice you want to make is the best choice for you and your family, is a fear that was created by punitive parenting.
An adult should never be afraid to make their own decisions and live with the consequences of their decisions. They should never feel that they cannot disregard advice given by their parents. For an adult to be able to embrace this, they need to be able to learn from a young age that their voice and choices will be respected.
How do we change the cycle? It starts when children are young. Allowing them to make their own choices and be part of the decisions that impact their day to day lives. From what they wear, to who they engage with. How they engage with others and respecting their boundaries. It is not a free for all and age will always play a role, but we as parents will have to start giving over executive power to our children as they grow up. BUT we as parents also have to deal with and address our views of children. How we engage with them. Where do we place them in their role in society? Are they to be seen, have to be obedient and not heard? Or do they have a voice, a mind and a personhood of their own.
We need to stop punishing our children for being human and being themselves. Punitive parenting or fear driven parenting creates the idea that love is conditional. If you toe the line, you are accepted and deemed worthy. If you do what I tell you to do, you are accepted and part of the family. If not… Well you will be punished and love will be withheld. You will experience isolation, humiliation and pain. Now think again why it is so difficult to say no to your own parents. It is not because of respect, it is because you fear that they will stop loving you.
Our darling child. We sit here and watch in awe as you mature into a kind young person. You are slowly but surely letting go of our hands. We see you venturing into the world and looking over your shoulder back at us just that little bit less often as you grow up.
You are spreading your young wings and attempting to make them stronger, so that one day you can soar the skies of life and not just survive, but live a full life.
We knew this day will come, and we know that this letting go and pulling away will become something that happens more often than not. So for now while you are still learning to navigate the world with what we have taught you, we need to tell you some things.
Not all people are good or kind. Not all people view life the way we do. Isn’t that amazing? You will be get opportunities in life to try different things and have adventures, to make mistakes, to learn, engage, understand, challenge and as much as it pains me to say, even to get hurt.
Don’t let the moments of disappointment and mistakes colour your life in shades of grey. Allow it to bring colour, understanding and new skills to the already vast set of skills you have been born with and taught.
Know that life won’t just be filled with disappointments or mistakes. There will be great moments of success, trust confirmed, moments of such intense joy that you cannot ever think that life could possibly get even better. Life will be as adventurous as you allow it to be and as mundane as what you choose to settle for. When you can choose adventure, even if we raise an eyebrow.
Ashleigh Brilliant stated – “Life is too important to be taken as a joke, but too ridiculous to be taken seriously” Laugh at yourself at least once a day. Remind yourself that you are worthy and that whatever you do, it matters.
Here is the thing though. Life is filled with choices. Good ones and bad ones, but there is always a choice to be made. Life does not wait for indifference, even by not actively making a choice, you are choosing to let life take you to wherever it wants to go. Be the one in charge of your life, make as many choices as you can, so that when life swerves your choices remain good ones.
No, the good guy does not always win. I wish it was different, but it is not. However living a life filled with goodness, will afford you a quality in life you will see others seeking for. I won’t be around forever and you need to learn to navigate life and choices, so that when I am gone, you know how to live a full life.
We have taken a step back now, we are still in the water with you. We may not be able to stop your fall before you hit the ground, but we will help you up. Even when the time has come for us to sit in the bleachers and cheer you on. We are not there yet. Where we are now, is us as parents allowing you to test your freedom, ready to help you when you ask. Ready to step in and help you navigate the choices you have made. No, we won’t shield you from the consequences that would not help you at all. But we will get down and dirty with you and help find solutions to the tricky parts of life.
You are 7 now. The time has come where you truly will slowly start to drown out our voices and give precedence to your peers and others. You will try to measure your worth in comparison to your friends. You will push harder to fit in and some will even try to abuse your kindness. I wish I could protect you from this, I hope that the foundation we laid will be strong enough to bolster you, give you confidence and faith in who you truly are. Fitting in, is really not what it is made out to be. Stand for what you believe in, even if you stand alone. It takes more integrity and character to stand for what you believe in, than to stand for what someone else has told you to stand for.
Let no choice paralyse you and remember, you will always make the best choice you know how to make, with the information you have available. Never stop asking questions, never stop investigating and never stop believing in the power of learning from your mistakes.
Mistakes do not define you, it is how you grow from them that defines who you are. Be you, be true and remember love wins, always.
Lastly when confronted with a choice I want you to choose: Whatever:
“…whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise,…” Philippians 4:8
When you have children, it is more than just a life choice or even a career. It is a lifestyle change. Recently I have found myself in conversations asking why people like myself offer training to parents. Why do I do what I do? Is there a need for training parents? Why can’t we just keep doing what we have been doing over milenia without formal training.
We could probably just keep doing what we did for milenia, but if history is any indication of how well that played out, we probably have to rethink how we raise children. We can just look and see how many parenting support groups there are, how often we as parents are at a loss as to what to do and to be honest the world is changing at such a rapid pace that now parents are faced with far more challenges than generations before. There are so many adults who have to heal from their childhood. The reality is, we need all the support we can get.
When we want to enter a specific career, we go and study for that career. We read books and even attend courses. We inadvertently surround ourselves with people who share the same goals and we talk endlessly about what we aim to achieve in life. We dream and we invest in this future. Yet for some reason we don’t do this when it comes to parenting.
Why is it? We will read a few books, maybe. We join social media pages and follow some blogs (like this one) and then we just get on with life. The reality is, parenting a child and being successful at parenting, will take investment, reading and yes even attending courses or workshops.
There has been so much research done on the development of children, the impact of parenting styles, that we will be remiss as adults to assume that we can just do what our parents did and all will be well.
Parenting does not keep office hours, and where if we mess up at work, most often the consequences of our mistakes won’t resonate through generations,with parenting, how we raise our kids will ripple to generations after us.
Raising children into adults who does not need to recover from their childhood is so vital and important. Knowing why we do what we do and teach our children what we teach them matters. It matters how our kids view themselves, it matters how they view us as parents. It matters how we view them, because in the end of the day, they will become adults who has an impact on society.
So buy a book and read it, follow more blogs and apply it, and book a course on parenting and get the right resources to set yourself and your child up for success. We and our children and society needs it.
One of the more difficult concepts when raising children is the concept of trusting our children. It doesn’t really come easy, does it? We’ve had to do everything for our children from infancy, we had to trust our own judgement and we all know how under developed a child’s ability to think rationally is. We have all done the “Have you brushed your teeth? Come here let me check” mantra. We have to do it, because they are still learning, easily distracted and some kids just really hate doing certain tasks, like brushing teeth. So we as parents have to check them.
The problem is, that our children start with a deficit of trust from parents, at least that is how they experience and view it. We do not take them at their word from the get go. I am fully aware that there is the belief that trust is earned and not just given, and we want our children to earn our trust. Well what if today we challenged that belief? What if from today you give trust to your child from the get go? No, I am not saying don’t check up on things as they learn how to do certain tasks, what I am saying is, always give them the benefit of trust until proven otherwise.
“Oh, but that is not how life works.” I hear you say. However it is how life works in reality. Think about it in these adult terms: You are looking for a job. You send your CV to a company. The person who reads your CV has to trust that what you wrote on your CV is in fact correct. For them to actually want to do a check on your qualifications and experience, they first had to trust the information you gave them. They do the checks – well some do, some don’t, you never know – if you were truthful, the checks will confirm their trust in the information you gave them is correct. Now you finally earned some more trust. However it started with you trusting that they will look at your CV and them trusting the information given. That small step of trust sets the foundation to earn further trust.
Trust is usually shown in the small things we do. If we feel the need to check up on our children to see if they followed through on something then either we thrust responsibility upon them before they were ready, or, we have unresolved trust issues of our own. Yes, I said it!
The last mentioned, heralds the need for deep introspection, it goes to how you were raised. Did your parents patiently show through how they treated you that they trust you or was your childhood littered with phrases like, “Let me check” or “Ï trust you, but not your friends or the outside world”. The problem with these phrases, as innocent as they may seem, is it always reflects back to the idea that you are not trustworthy and the mistakes you have made count against you. “Let me check” says: I do not take you by your word, you have let me down before, so why should I believe you now? I don’t trust your ability to be honest, thorough or capable. I know, when they are young, they experiment with lies and boundaries, and it never stops until the day we die. I also know they need support while spreading their wings, developing their independence and decision making skills. Starting from the foundation of trust, it is easier to guide them and help them manage the journey.
“I trust you, but…” the ‘but’ nullifies the trust and the belief that you are trusted. If you don’t trust my friends, then you don’t trust my ability to make valuable friends and build positive relationships. If you don’t trust the world, then you don’t trust that I will be able to care for myself in this world. That means you feel I cannot be trusted to make good choices when you are not around. This typically happens in the teenage years. Yes, I know, we don’t really trust the world or that weird friend our kid brought home. Our child’s ability to make good choices is not fully developed yet, so of course the trust is difficult.
They are our kids and we mean well. We want to set them up for success. How do we encourage independence, honesty and good decision making, if we do not set up boundaries and check up on them?
Trust, like connection works with a bank account. When baby is born, we don’t need to earn their trust. They trust implicitly that we will meet their needs. They trust us to listen to them and protect them and love them. We trust them too, to let us know when they need something, whether by cooing, looking at us, making small gestures or even crying. The relationship starts with trust.
In infancy our relationship with our children either deposits trust into the account or withdraws trust from the trust account. Every time baby signals their need and we respond, it deposits not just connection but trust into the bank. When we miss a cue, we withdraw from both accounts. In infancy, a healthy relationship between parent and child creates a positive relational bank account in connection and trust.
After infancy, we withdraw often from this bank account. When baby starts to walk and explore, but instead of trusting them to be able to learn how to trust their own body, we keep telling them how to do it. We keep on stepping in and thereby interfering in the learning curve. The more we helicopter their movements – I am not saying let them tumble down head first down a flight of stairs – the more we create a deficit in the bank of trust. There is a difference between standing close by and waiting to catch them when they fall, and providing supportive commentary like “I see your hands need a place to hold onto” and holding on to their bodies as they try to manage climbing down the stairs. In the first scenario, we trust that they will find a safe way to climb the stairs, while we show them they can trust us to catch them if they stumble or fall. But with the second scenario we hinder them learning to trust their own bodies and skills. Do they fall and get hurt, yes they do, however allowing them to fall and get hurt their brain learns how their bodies feel when off balance. They learn to trust themselves.
At certain ages we hand over specific reigns of responsibility to our children. We stop brushing their teeth and they start doing it themselves. We stop feeding them and they start feeding themselves. There is still a learning curve involved here. Yes, you have been brushing your child’s teeth for 2 years, we would hope they have learned by now how to do it properly. They did not! They learn through doing. For the next two to three years, brush teeth side by side, prompting the next place or step in the routine. Eventually, you will brush side by side and you will see them brushing every tooth the way they learned how to. Now you can slowly extract yourself from their tooth brushing process. You remind them that it is time to brush teeth and send them off to do so. How do you know if they did it? Initially you can walk with them to the bathroom and see them off at the sink. Over time, you see them off at the door and finally you reach the point where you don’t walk with them. It is a gradual process and you can follow your child’s lead, they will show you and tell you to let them be, when they are ready. Never ask them to show you if they brushed their teeth. You will soon enough discover if they did not. That goodbye hug or kiss will tell you if they did not. Don’t scold them when you smell the stinky breath. Just hug and whisper, “I can smell your teeth are not brushed, quickly go and do it please.” and leave it there. If there is no time or the situation does not allow for going back and brushing, when they are younger than 8, have some breath freshener with you, just to help them out until there is time to brush teeth. If they are older, natural consequences is the way to go.
Brushing teeth is just a small example of how to maintain and build on the trust relationship. We need to apply this to all things they do, learn and have a responsibility for.
Steps for checking whilst keeping the trust relationship in the positive:
1 – Do it for the child
2 – Let the child do it with you
3 – Slowly step aside and give them space to do it on their own
4 – Be their back up, remember they are still learning this thing called responsibility – You are always a team
5 – Ask if they did what they needed to do, believe their answers
6 – If they did not do what they needed to do, and it isn’t life threatening, let them live out the consequences of their actions
7 – NEVER SAY – Let me check.
8 – If they have not taken proper responsibility for something go back one step and support them without condemnation i.e. let’s brush our teeth together today. That way you give them support without stating that you don’t trust them.
There is no incentive for a child to be honest if we constantly check up on them after they have stated that they have completed a task. There is only incentive for honesty if they get positive reinforcement and support when they make mistakes. Protecting our children from the consequences of their choices and actions while they are still learning responsibility, teaches them nothing. Punishing them for not doing what they said they did, will just increase the likelihood that they will rather do it behind our backs and develop better skills at being sneaky.
You can have a conversation about honesty and trust with your child. Have these conversations when you are calm and not angry. You can say things like “I am feeling disappointed that you did not brush your teeth like you said you did. Honesty and trust is important for us to be able to function as a family. I want to be able to trust you. So let us find a solution together to get your teeth brushed in the morning.”
This invites your child into a conversation and it will be a clear indicator of whether you have thrust a responsibility onto your child, before they were ready to bear it. Remember, each child is different and even though there are all these guidelines of at what age a child ‘should’ be able to take proper responsibility for a task, not every child will be ready at that age and your child is not failing if they need support for a little bit longer than others.
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Respect. What a difficult word to narrow down. We know what we believe it looks like, but what does it mean when we bring the word respect into the conversation with children.
We have so many cultural and societal teachings that revolve around respect. Respect is good, and we should teach it to our children, however, we need to narrow our understanding of respect and how we teach it. Respect is treating someone with dignity. The dictionary defines respect as follows:
A – Politeness, honour, and care shown towards someone or something that is considered important: You should treat your parents with more respect. / They have no respect for other people’s property.
B – A feeling that something is right or important and you should not attempt to change it or harm it: In their senseless killing of innocent people, the terrorists have shown their lack of respect for human life. / They did not have respect for the law.
C – The feeling you show when you accept that different customs or cultures are different from your own and behave towards them in a way that would not cause offence: They teach students to have respect for different races and appreciate diversity of other cultures
D – Formal respect: polite and formal greetings
Looking at the above, respect in a nutshell is how we treat each other and ourselves. In society today there are other ideologies connected to respect that are damaging to society as a whole. These ideologies balance on the tightrope of expectations, acceptance and power.
For the sake of this discussion, we will be breaking the concept of respect up into three categories
1 – Authoritarian respect
2 – Natural respect
3 – Earned respect
This is an ideology of what “respect” is that isn’t really respect. It is the enforcement of authority that silences the voices of people and children. Authoritarian respect is the idea that when someone is older or in a position of authority (whether given, gained or culturally enforced), they have respect and they are not allowed to be questioned or challenged. Their word is law and even when they are in the wrong, it is disrespectful to point it out to them. You have to do what they say or suffer some form of punishment. Authoritarian respect is fear mongering disguised as a position of importance and power.
Natural respect is a cultivated intuitive respect for people’s needs and ideas. The ability to recognise that each person is different and needs to be accommodated and supported. The best example will be seeing an older person who is frail and cannot stand very long and offering up your seat if you are able to stand for longer. It is respecting a child’s body as their own and not expecting them to hug or kiss people they do not want to. It is understanding that some people have invisible disabilities and creating space and accommodating their needs. It is accepting and including people into your community without judgement.
This is respect that is given to someone, based on their behaviour and knowledge. Earned respect can be challenged and questioned. It also falls within selected categories. We can respect someone’s knowledge, without respecting their actions. We can respect someone’s role in society, but we don’t have to respect or agree with their world views. For example I can respect that someone is a president of the country (thus respecting their position) but I do not have to respect their actions.
Authoritarian respect is usually the form of respect expected from children towards society. They have to obey and not question. They have to do on demand and they may not have any opinions of their own. They always have to speak in respectful tones of voice and never disagree. They have to allow people in authority (all people older than them) to do as they please and they have to keep those in authority happy. We often see it when an older person complains about not getting a hug when they want one, or when a parent complains about back chatting. We see it when people grumble about the “children of today”, what is it they are grumbling about? A child is dared not to toe the line or stand up for themselves. They demand that a child give up their seat, assuming that they have the right to that seat, just because they are older than the child. We see it daily when people grumble that a crying child is disrespectful to the people around them, because the child is audibly expressing their needs and upset. We see it in the narrative regarding breastfeeding in public. Authoritative respect demands that their needs and authority is of a higher order than anyone else’s.
Natural and earned respect is more inclusive. By practicing, guiding and teaching our children this type of respect, respect becomes internalised and easier to manage. I want my children to respect people, but I want them to respect all people as whole human beings. I want them to understand that age does not equal respect, that one can and should always ask questions even when you respect someone. I want them to learn how to question respectfully. I want them to learn that trusting their voice does not equal being disrespectful, but that the way they use their voice must be respectful. I want them to learn that in society respect is a two way street and that sometimes doing the right thing may be viewed as disrespectful and that is okay. I want them to value being questioned without them feeling that they have ever earned the right not to be questioned.
How do we teach our children Natural and Earned respect?
1 – Respecting their voice. Listen to them, not with an ear of correction, but an ear of engagement.
2 – Respecting their body. It is theirs, they get to decide what they do with it. They should be able to say no and stop, regardless of the situation.
3 – Discuss with them the challenges some people may face. Think in the lines of differently abled people, younger people and older people and racial disparities of the past and the here and now.
4 – Teach them how to question and disagree – This is why back chatting is so important. Read our blog on this. here
5 – Teach them to take care of their belongings and respect others belongings.
6 – Treat them with the same respect you want them to treat you. Kids always mirror the way we behave. This is how they learn. If we treat them like robots and not whole human beings, then we should not be surprised if they treat us the same way.
7 – Model respect to others. The way you treat the others, will be the way your child learns to treat others.
Throughout life we all face the challenge of having to disagree with someone who is older, or in a position more senior than us. We all face the challenge of having to engage someone in a position of knowledgeable authority, we struggle to do so, because we were raised to view fear as respect. Let us not make that our children’s legacy.
Often I see parents feeling undone by their children talking back, or back chatting, as it is called. It is tiring and frustrating and it feels like you are speaking to a wall. It makes us as parents feel like we are surely failing and that our kids are out to get us, like they don’t care in the slightest what we say. They tell us what they want, that they will and they cry. It can be very overwhelming if we as parents focus on getting the point across and then engage in a power struggle.
I want my children to backchat, I want them to challenge everything I say. I want them to dissect and find the loopholes in a struggle of ideas, I want them to share what they are thinking. In short I want them to learn to think and how to negotiate. I want them to develop their integrity and exercise their choices and ability to change their minds when they have access to new information.
The reality is our kids mirror what they see. So the way we engage with them back chatting teaches them how to deal with differences in opinion and how to engage with it. If we do not hear them out and listen to what they have to say or share how they think and why they think the way they do, especially when they are young, how will they ever be able to trust us to hear them when they are teenagers?
Children are deep thinkers, yet they don’t think like adults do, because their brains are still developing. Their thought process may be flawed, but more often than not they just need guidance and time to process what is being said. By engaging their back chatting and allowing them to share their thoughts, ideas and even disagreement, we create the space for our children to develop the skills to trust their own voice and instincts and rely on this well into adulthood.
The benefits for allowing and engaging back chatting, far outweighs the perceived rudeness and frustration. We usually become frustrated because of our own triggers (Learn how to recognise and handle your own triggers in Course 1 – Conscious, Creative, Connected Parenting click here for more information).
Most adults are raised with the idea that children’s voices or needs are secondary to those of the adults. We are raised to believe that the adult is always right, that the adult’s perspective is the only one that matters and that the adult has the monopoly on knowledge. But most of all we are taught that the adult can override and control anyone who is viewed as their inferior.
Many parents have asked me, but aren’t I then raising my child to be rude? No you are not. You are raising a child who will be able to manage adulthood with the right set of skills, as adulthood is all about negotiation, reflection, changing opinions when new information is presented and the ability to apply critical thinking to find creative solutions.
Benefits of back chatting:
1 – As a parent I learn where my child’s perspective lies and it opens up understanding of their point of view. This places us as parents in the position to know what and how our kids are thinking and where their reasoning skills are.
2 – Having an open discussion about what they think, opens up the opportunity to add value & understanding to their thoughts and for us as parents to reassess our point of view. It creates a relationship of trust, something parents and children really need to be able to rely on come the teenage years. It also teaches the child that their perspective is not only valued but also valid and respected.
3 – Humans have an innate desire to be heard and understood. By listening attentively to their perspectives and ideas, it navigates the emotional connection between ideas, needs and wants.
4 – It teaches their brains that they can change their opinion if they are presented with new information, without their integrity coming into question.
5 – It teaches them to become adults who will be open to learn and creatively problem solve within personal relationships and work relationships.
6 – It teaches them to be open to different perspectives and to be consciously aware that not everybody thinks the same way they do.
7 – It teaches them negotiation skills and the understanding, that in life any relationship is a two way street.
8 – It teaches them to internalise what they are being taught and police themselves, which develops independence and fosters a mind-set of good decision making.
How do you manage and engage back chatting productively
1 – Be sure you know why you are saying no or placing a boundary. Be sure that it is rational as you will have to explain your own thought process to you your child. “Because I said so” is never a good enough answer. It signals that you, yourself don’t really know why you are saying no and is thus just trying to control instead of guide.
2 – When the child is young, be ready for tears and possible screaming from their side. They are still very much emotionally regulated and not guided by rationality. Allow them to express their disappointment and work through their emotions.
3 – Keep the boundary while acknowledging their emotions and frustrations.
4 – When they have calmed down, ask for their input on the situation or boundary. Kids younger than 7 sometimes struggle with the blanket question “Why” so be specific. I.e.: “You said that you don’t want to clean your room. Is it because you did not want to do it by yourself, or that you prefer the mess?” A younger child may struggle to articulate how they feel or why, so try to break it down for them to understand. They will immediately be able to pinpoint why they don’t want to do something or why a boundary feels wrong, when they hear the wrong explanation come from the parent.
5 – Be open to their suggestions and contributions and be ready and open to change the decision when you have a better understanding of how they think – I have found that stating things like “I like the way you think.” opens our children up for conversation. Never tell a child that they did not or cannot think. They do and they can think, give them the space to develop those skills.
The conversation can then lead to one of five possible directions:
A – The parent asks for time to think about what the child has said and promises to get back them – in this situation the boundary stays intact until the parent has had time to think and process their feedback and how it affects the initial boundary.
B – With the new knowledge the boundary gets adjusted immediately – Be gracious about it, ie “Wow I like the way you thought about this. Let’s see if we can do it your way and see how it goes.” (There are many ways to get to the answer or solution, allowing our kids to try out their own is the best teacher they can have.)
C – The parent offers more information on the boundary, the information is accepted and they talk together about the best way the boundary can be implemented.
D – The child is not open or willing to accept new information. Parent accepts the viewpoint but keeps the boundary as is. The child will be upset and that is okay.
E – The child initially rejects the new information, takes time to think and then engages you on the boundary again.
6 – If it is a hard and fast boundary that cannot be moved, keep the boundary, while engaging with the content of their thoughts. Helping them to add new information to their thought process, without expecting them to immediately accept what you said. Be compassionate and allow them time to process the new information.
7 – If the tone of voice during this process is not acceptable, address it with kindness after they have processed their emotions. Engage with them on how to better engage with the process in future.
8 – Always be open to discussing the boundary again and again. A child who keeps coming back about a specific boundary is busy consolidating the information they have received, or they feel that they have not been heard and understood. So keep on talking it through even if you are tired of the discussion. We want our kids to internalise boundaries and tasks. We don’t want to police them, we want them to be able to govern themselves.
9 – Be honest and clear. Double check that you understand what your child is trying to communicate.
Throughout this process there are very specific don’ts.
The don’ts of back chatting:
1 – Never say, because I said so. It is a power play and it draws a line in the sand. It creates a combative situation and power struggle. It becomes a missed learning opportunity.
2 – Never tell a child that their thinking is wrong. Rather compliment their thinking and add more information with phrases like: “Have you thought about this? And add what you want them to take into consideration.
3 – Never tell a child that their emotions are insignificant and that they are not allowed to feel upset about a boundary. We all have negative feelings and are allowed to feel the way we do.
4 – Don’t rush to conclusions.
5 – Don’t be afraid of rethinking your own perspective.
6 – Don’t be afraid of apologising if you misunderstood.
In conclusion, back chatting is the early developmental stages of learning how to negotiate and problem solve. This process will only truly work if you as the parent are ready to be open for debate and apply proper communication skills.
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