Recently I posted an article, Do You Want Your Children to be Obedient or Have Good Judgment? and it stirred up a little bit of controversy. The minute I start sharing about some of the problems with using punishments in the discipline of children, the immediate question is, so what do you do????
The assumption is that if you do not spank or use time-outs you must be a permissive parent. I think in many people’s minds it’s either one or the other. I want to propose to you that there is another way. Not punitive, not permissive. Two terms I’ve heard are, “Gentle Parenting,” or “Grace-Based Parenting,” but I don’t think the label matters. I like to think of it as parenting from the heart.
Answering the question, “so what do you do?” is actually not that simple. Understanding this way of parenting requires an entire shift in the way we view children and parenting.
The biggest shift in this style of parenting is a shift in the way we view behaviors. Instead of trying to find ways to get our children to obey, we look at ways to meet their needs, understanding that meeting a child’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs will change their behavior. All behavior is a form of communication and so we become detectives, learning to decipher the underlying cause behind the behavior – what is our child trying to communicate to us? At the most basic level it may be, I’m tired, I’m hungry, I need some attention. Or it may be, I feel frustrated, I had a hard day and I don’t know how to tell you about it, I’m angry because things aren’t going my way and I don’t know how to handle these strong emotions. Once you’ve uncovered the reason for the behavior, you can meet that need and the behavior will disappear at a core level.
Another thing we have to recognize is that emotions are not bad behavior. There will be things that I don’t allow my children to do. But they are allowed, even expected at times, to feel sad or angry. And I will be there to help through those strong emotions. The limit won’t be moving – we won’t be having candy for breakfast – but I will help him get through the strong feelings that follow. By being there as the anger and sadness pours out helps my children internalize that comforting and in time soothe themselves. This helps them learn how to regulate their emotions – not by stuffing them, not by being destructive, but by feeling them and knowing that it’s ok, we’ll get through it and in the end we’ll both feel better. The goal is to not break connection with my children by making them feel afraid or guilty for their feelings.
Like I said, it’s not a simple answer, but I have found this way of gentle parenting to feel so right. And through this process of parenting, I’m actually becoming a better person. In order to be the type of parent I need to be for my kids, I have to allow the Holy Spirit to reveal what’s going on underneath my own behaviors. When I lose my patience, or feel I’m at the end of my rope, I can’t take it anymore. What is really going on? I have to take this same view on myself and be open to the work the Lord wants to do in my own heart. It is a heart-wrenching process, but so worth it. The end result is a real feeling of closeness with my children. The trust, love and openness I feel with them is something I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Try it, you might be surprised!
Written by Leslie Freeman
Leslie is a wife and mom of four boys. She and her family live and work in Costa Rica reaching out to children at risk. She writes at Real Child Development about taking the study of child development and applying it directly to her real, everyday life with kids.