Thursday, 28 February 2008

Peaceful Parenting

"Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me."
~ Matthew 25:40

I have always known I could never raise a hand to a child. So, when I became a parent it seemed only natural that when I disciplined my girls I would not do so physically. When I became a Christian I felt my natural instincts were supported by what my faith teaches about peace; simply put, we are to love God, love our neighbours and enjoy the "peace of the Lord that passeth all understanding". I wanted to become an instrument of love and peace to my own, very precious, children and it was unconscionable for me to inflict an act of violence upon those small, fragile beings. It was not until I spent a couple of months browsing Christian parenting websites until I realised that much of the advice given to young parents on raising their children was centered around smacking, in some cases those giving the advice stated that not smacking was a sin. I am not making any judgments here, I am not without sin and I am not criticising those who have chosen to raise their children in this way, however, I can honestly say to any young mother who may be reading this blog post, that there is a way to parent your children without resorting to smacking.

Although I have only been a parent for ten years both of my children have come through the toddler/pre-school ages and are biddable, happy girls whom respond well to instruction. We are able to take them pretty much anywhere and we can generally predict their behaviour. They are far from perfect children and I am far from the perfect mother but we muddle along quite nicely and I rarely feel harassed or embarrassed because of their behaviour (although I am often harassed and embarrassed in general!lol!) I wasn't going to write this post at all, it's one thing giving my fellow homemakers instruction on how to make an easy sourdough loaf, it is quite another giving instructions on how to parent. However, just recently my younger sister asked for advice on how to discipline her own toddler, and I remembered how tough the ages between one and four can be, both for child and parent. So with this in mind, if you read my advice and it resonates with you, makes sense to you, and you feel comfortable with it, then feel free to use it. If my advice does not ring true then discard it as, when it comes to parenting, your own instincts are your best tool.

Modelling Behaviour
If you want your children to behave in a certain way remember that they learn through observation. They pay particular attention to the parent of the same sex, so boys watch their dads and girls watch their mums. There have been a few times when the DH and I have been rude or silly with one and other, often for a joke, but the children have learnt from this. So if you want kind, generous loving children then you and your partner must be kind generous and loving. It is always best to keep arguments to the minimum and in private, many children think they cause arguments between parents. Someone once said that when you have children you have your own little paparazzi following you about, mentally noting your every flaw and indiscretion. Although we are all human, flawed and sinful, having little eyes watch our every move is further incentive to work on our character flaws and our relationships with friends and family.

Most people like a defined rhythm to their lives, especially the elderly, people who are ill and children. Having a definite rhythm to your day, week, month and year establishes a sense of security and predictability. And feeling secure helps develop a sturdy self-confidence. Daily rhythms are very important to small children who enjoy knowing when bedtime is, what happens when they wake up, morning snack time, afternoon outdoor play etc. Decide for yourself a daily rhythm for you and your children, one which best suits your family life. Weekly rhythms can include having a regular trip to a market, a weekly trip to the library and monthly and yearly rhythms could be established by celebrating the liturgical year (depending on your denomination) and observing the seasons. Please note I use the word rhythm because when children are small their rhythms change with their development, establishing a flexible rhythm is more beneficial than establishing an inflexible routine which can be a little regimented to cope with the regular physical and emotional changes a child goes through in the early years.

Sleep, Food and Exercise
A toddler still needs twelve hours sleep per night, less if they still have a nap. A comfortable, tidy and quiet place to sleep is very important for us all. I have no time for our present culture which seems to dictate that rest and sleep are for wimps! Rest and sleep are crucial aspects of good health, especially for little ones, as when they sleep they grow! Also, to promote proper rest young children need a remarkable amount of exercise, preferably in the fresh air. Long walks, running about the park even scooting about on their trike on the front drive will help them burn of excess energy and keeps fractious tempers at bay. Food needs to be healthy (proper fat is essential for a child's growth) and regular. When my children were toddlers they "grazed" throughout the day. They were not keen on eating a proper breakfast and lunch, but they had bananas and yoghurt, strawberries and carrots, bits of ham and pasta, slices of bread and so on every hour or so. Luckily, they were happy to sit down at tea time and have a plate full of food. In the day I just kept them topped up so we didn't have any hunger/tiredness related tantrums. My allowing my toddlers to graze brings me to my next heading!

Choose Your Battles, but Always Win Them
Any battle you have with a little one is one which you must win. "No", must mean "no" or children can become manipulative. I hope I'm not sounding harsh here, but if a child asks for sweeties and you say no. But they whine and whine and finally you give in you're only teaching the child that whining will get her what she wants. If whining continues into childhood and adulthood, then it's called manipulation. With this in mind, you don't want to battle with a child over every little detail of their lives, or you become a bit of a tyrant, controlling and scary, and this is the last thing any parent wants. So you have to find balance. My advice is to sit down with your partner and discuss the crucial "battles". The DH and I wanted our children to be kind and polite as soon as possible and to be able to come to us when we called. We also felt that obedience was crucial in matters of safety. We felt that sitting down at mealtimes, tidying up, what they wore, sitting still in church (lol), sleeping in their own beds and where and how they played were things we could teach later on. So, we let them graze for meals and let them leave the table, we let them choose their own clothes to wear if they wanted to, let them sleep in our bed and play in the living room, but we came down quickly and decisively on shouting, unkindness and not doing as mummy asks. Once, when my mother, my sister and I were at a restaurant my little one decided to flick her juice over everybody's lunch, including her own. I asked her not to flick her juice, but she continued, I told her not to flick her juice or I would take her home, but she I had to take her home. Both of us were fed up because we don't get to see my mum very much, but she no longer flicks her juice in other people's food! Oh, and yes, our children often look crazy because they choose their own clothes, but generally kind people come up to them in the street and say "did you put on your own clothes today? Aren't you clever."

Taking Time to Reprimand a Child
If a child has misbehaved you have to stop what you are doing and go to them. I am the world's worst at this. It is so easy to just shout from the kitchen into the playroom "just stop that please". But shouting from another room NEVER works in my experience. If you hear bad behaviour you must stop whatever you're doing, go into the same room as the child, kneel down, look them in the eye and say in low, moderate tones "please stop (name the behaviour) it is unkind/dangerous/upsetting your sister/brother". Always, use your ps and qs (remember you're modelling good behaviour all the time) and try not to raise your voice. If you want noisy, shouty kids just start shouting (I learnt this as a teacher!lol!) If the child continues to misbehave, go in and reprimand them in the same way but this time warn them that there will be consequences. We use the "naughty chair", but use of the "naughty chair" is down to you, you may prefer to take away a toy, or not let them watch their favourite TV programme. But, the "naughty chair" ties in with the idea of rhythm and predictability. Ironically, it is kinder to a child if they can predict their punishment/consequences of misbehaviour. Not knowing what kind of punishment you're going to get can be nerve wracking...better the indignity of the naughty chair, and any chair can be "naughty", so it is a very portable punishment. We give a minute on the chair for every year of the child's life. We started using it at around the age of two and for the first few times we had to sit on the naughty chair with them. We rarely use the naughty chair now, as although our children need to be reminded of good behaviour fairly frequently, they never push it to the second reminder, that is to say, they always stop when the naughty chair is threatened!

Mummy Time
Now, listen carefully. There has been a lot of talk on blogs about the "sinfulness" of "me-time". An argument put forward on how we wives and mummies are called to serve, and the concept of "me-time" develops a sense of entitlement and selfishness in the modern mummy. This modern mummy says codswallop to that! The idea that we can keep serving without a mental and physical break is likening parenthood to climbing Mount Everest, just one more sprint to the top girls, don't rest they're nearly out of nappies/feeding themselves/helping with the housework, just keep serving and you'll be all right. There is no top of the mountain in motherhood, and there is no end to Christian service, service and motherhood are life and in life there is a "time for every purpose under heaven". There is time for you to have a cuppa, read a magazine, a chapter of a book, watch a bit of telly, paint a picture, chat to a friend and paint your nails. If the kids are happy, quite absorbed in play, leave the ironing for half an hour an put the bloody kettle on! The chances are you haven't been to the loo for two or three years without a little person looking you over so you deserve to re-charge your batteries for a few minutes and let your brain and body have a well deserved rest.

Fun, Fun, Fun
Motherhood is the most exhausting fun you will ever have. So, keep a sense of humour when they tell the waitress in the local cafe that you pick your spots (it happened to me), remember to smile whenever you see them and if you ever feel you're going to have a mummy meltdown, put on a record and get funky. The kids will join in with your "expressive dancing" and you'll feel a lot better for the exercise. Yes, people have a boogy with your blessings and dance away your troubles!

If in doubt remember these wise words:
Proverbs 15:4 Gentle words bring life and health; Griping is discouraging.

Well, I hope this post has been an encouragement to any young mum reading. I'm about to embark on the adventure of parenting an adolescent and a teenager, thankfully I have a few years of pure childhood yet before my girls grow in to women, but the precious moments are flying by and I look back on their toddler hood, despite the lack of privacy and the exhaustion with a sense of wonder and privilege, and I know that you will too. Keep happy, fellow mummies!


Anonymous said...

Oh my, it is tough between 1 and 4 when one's little monster has a will of their own! ;) Not that I am speaking from experience, of course my own children are perfect...ahem ;0.

I agree shouting upstairs doesn't work. We try to have a time each evening without the TV or computer on so that we can focus on the girls, which is especially important as hubs works long hours, etc.

I've personally never liked the expression 'me time', but I understand where you are coming from. I do know that as human beings we mothers do need to able to rest and take time to read/pray/blog ;)/watch tv/nap, we can't work constantly and motherhood is a 24 hour job on call all the time.

Oh and LOL, my Chatterbox has absolutely no dress sense whatsoever. She has been out in the most disturbing clothes combinations.

Hugs chuck.

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Sarah
Yes, my children are absolutely perfect too! Wink, wink.

I think with the me-time thing is that sometimes we take a good idea too far. "Me-time" when taken too far *is* selfishness, but the opposite idea of non-stop service can be harmful to our well-being. We need to rest because we do an important job! Like you said, it's 24/7!...Why do so many people take up extreme positions on things?...(she muses out loud).

Jenny said...

I detest the expression "me time", generally it seems to involve the need to spend money from the "me time" that I've witnessed. I do agree though that everyone needs a little time space for themselves, for their mental health. I remember when a friend of mine had her first baby she was feeling tired and washed out and very stressed. She felt guilty because when the baby went off to sleep her first guilty thought was to have a coffee and a sit down but she instead got on with things that needed doing and by the time the baby woke she still hadn't had her cuppa and felt cross towards the baby. She took my advice and had the coffee first and also learned how to do some housework when the baby was awake.
I have occasionally ( I remember each incident) smacked my children when they were small and it was basically a loss of control on my part. I think each time I was stressed and tired and probably desperately in need of some down time. The result was a crying child and mother each trying to console the other and terrible guilt for me.I guess it diffused the situation but wasn't a very mature action and certainly not a planned action. I suppose it taught the child that parents have a breaking point and don't always behave well.

Anonymous said...

Balance is the key. From a Christian point of view I'd say that God is neither a hard task master, nor does He spoil us. He is just the perfect Father. Merciful, kind, loving, just, always there for us. Exactly the best example of a parent we could have really.

p.s. can we have a Youtube video of the mad stressed parent boogy? ;)

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Jenny
Yes, the phrases "me time" and "pampering" tend to go hand in hand. It's just daft to go and buy expensive treatments, clothes etc as recreation, when the financial headache just gives you a load of stress and self-worth can never come from the purchase of material goods anyway! A bit of a destructive cycle in my opinion.

However, I'm not too keen on the other side of the coin either, a kind of guilt induced, hair shirted thinking which makes the average woman who needs to rest, for the good of herself and her family, feel tremendously guilty. Like you I've learnt that rest is absolutely essential. I haven't hit my kids but I've had embarrassing tantrums which have probably hurt them just as much as a smack. Why did I tantrum? Well, I was tired, bothered about what other people might think of my house, myself, my kids and just had a meltdown. Leaving the ironing, getting the playdough out and having an hour in the afternoon to knit, drink tea and watch an old movie has made me a better mother. At least, that's what I claim, he, he, he.

Hi Sarah
This isn't the first time you've asked me to put my expressive dancing on youtube. When I hit forty I might just do it...then you'll be sorry!