Today I owned my mistakes. 

Have you ever made a bad choice? Have you ever blamed others for the outcome? Parents make bad choices all the time, and we blame our kids all the time. We expect our kids to follow along at the same speed and jump when we tell them to, and when things turn bad we blame our kid’s ‘behaviour’ or their lack of patience we tell them their rude and naughty. But in reality we are the ones who made the poor choice and our internalised shame makes us lash out and blame defenseless children. 

We had a rough morning and decisions were made by the older children to forgo playgroup today. This seemed like a great idea to me, we needed to do the groceries we could go do that instead of playgroup. We got ready to go and into the car and off we went. About 500m down the road  Miss 5 spoke up and said “actually can we go to playgroup first?”. I had been looking forward to seeing my own friends there, so I agreed.  I clarified with the kids that they were aware we would still be doing the groceries after playgroup “sure mum that’s ok”…. ahhh famous last words. 

About now I was saying to myself you will regret this decision and is it really a fair expectation of your children? But I ignored my intuition and forged on with our new laid plans. Playgroup went well. Everyone was in good spirits, still I ignored my intuition and set off for the supermarket. 2 children in a trolley, one 2yr old refusing to sit, refusing to walk But still not overly upset. It’s about now that if I could have a do over I would have bailed, hindsight is great right? 

Miss 5 graciously gave up her seat inside the trolley and walked so that Miss 2 could have her spot in a effort to smooth things over. I won’t go into further detail as I don’t think it’s necessary or respectful of my children. But I did manage to summon my patience, empathy and kindness and not once did I loose my cool. This was my mistake, this was my choice, so I owned it. I was not about to burden my children with a tirade about their behaviour when the reality was it was my own fault. 

I did decide to bail on the trip to the butchers (yay finally I made a good choice), downside to that means I don’t have anything to cook for dinner… Yep its about now I regret sticking to my budget and grocery list and not buying at least some meat for dinner from the grocery store. Funny thing is when we are feeling stressed and tired (and I was) our brains don’t always think logically, a child’s brain is the same, so yeh I forgot the meat. 

Society expects kids to be logical and reasonable all the time. Luckily I don’t buy into that shit, we went home we cuddled and I apologised. Seriously be kind to your kids they have tough days too xx 

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This is about Secondary Emotions.

When I asked Miss 5 what I should call this story she declared a title should tell us what the story is about, so she chose this title, and yep that’s what this story is about, those pesky Secondary emotions, and the biggest pest of them all Anger.

Now I’m no psychologist, but I don’t think we need to be in order to understand how our emotions work and how they effect us. When we understand our emotions we are able to help change the way we respond to them, it has been a huge lesson for me and is something that has helped me become a much calmer parent. The other morning when Miss 5 and Master 4 were struggling to be safe with each other I decided it was time for some cuddles and a refresher on anger.

Here is a snap shot of our conversation.

Me: “Did you know that anger is a secondary emotion?”
*children looking at me like I’m speaking a different language*
Did you know that when we get angry, there is usually another emotion behind it? Our brain is trying to protect us from a different emotion that could make us feel worse? Can you think of some emotions that might cause us to be angry?”

Miss 5 “when I worry about things it can make me angry.”

M: “yep sometimes fears and worry can make us feel angry, sometimes we feel angry because we’re embarrassed, or we feel ashamed. Sometimes it’s because we are tired and sometimes it’s because we’re hungry. Some people call this Hangry. It’s ok to be angry and it’s also good to have a think about WHY we might be angry. Do you know why you’re both feeling angry this morning?”

Master 4: “I think I’m actually hangry. I didn’t have much breaky”

M: “I thought you might be. What about you ?”

Miss 5: “I’m worried about going to Jman’s playball class”

Master 4 wandered off to get a snack and Miss 5 and I came up with a strategy to help her with the change in routine and having to come along to her brothers class.

Anger-Iceberg-1.pngSince this little discussion both kids have been more conscious of their own emotions and each others. Miss 5 asking Master 4 yesterday “you seem angry? remember anger is a secondary emotion, have you had a thought about what is behind it?”

Or todays little conversation between master 4 and myself.

M “you seemed a bit upset at grans house? are you ok?”
Master 4 “yeh. I was angry, I don’t know why. My brain just told my hands to pinch and it told my mouth to say nah nah nah nah. I think anger was behind my anger today mum.”
M “yep sometimes its hard to figure it out, that’s why I’m here to help you”

We talk about feelings a lot, I try to touch base with each of the kids at least once a day. Sometimes we talk about how they’re feeling, sometimes it’s about how I am feeling, and some days they ask about someone they saw that was upset of angry. I perhaps haven’t been paying that big old emotion of anger enough attention of late and it seems that naming it to tame it really does work (Thanks Dan Siegel!).

Do you talk about emotions with your kids?

 

 

 

This gentle parenting thing. 

To understand and have faith in this gentle parenting ‘thing’ you really need to have a solid understanding of age appropriate expectations and developmentally appropriate behaviors. But most of us don’t start out parenting knowing any of that. What we do know is what we’ve experienced and seen and for many of us that is often the total opposite of what we’re trying to do by choosing to be a gentle parent.

So here’s some things that helped keep me on track in the beginning.

Infants and children until around age 6 have an under developed frontal cortex, they also have practically no impulse control and are only just beginning to understand and use empathy and emotional intelligence. 

There are things like impulse control that are simply impossible for a 2 year old to master. Just like it is impossible for a 6 month old to master walking. Do we get angry at the 6 month old for not displaying skills above her age? No. Do we set about walking the baby everyday, insisting on endless exercises and reprimands to make it walk earlier? No, and the evidence suggests that when we interfere with a childs physical development we risk hampering their development. So why don’t we apply the same principles to a child’s brain and cognitive development? 

Why can’t we trust that if a child can learn to roll, crawl, walk and talk on its on from trial, error and observation of its surroundings then why can’t a child learn to be kind, caring and empathetic using the same principles? 

So now that you understand a 2yo is incapable of controlling himself all the time what can we do about it? 

“when little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm not join their chaos. ” – L.R Knost

We role model calmness, patience and compassion. We become their frontal cortex (just as we are a babies mode of transport before they can walk). We actively choose to avoid shame, punishment and hurtful words as these all short circuit and interfer with our child’s development. We accept that we want our child to do the right thing because they know its the right thing not because they’re scared of us. Yes there are limits, that is part of our role. To guide them whilst they’re learning, to be present and consistent.

Then we read and read and inform ourselves about gentle parenting, about what is age appropriate. So that we can watch and enjoy them as they grow and figure out who it is they’re going to be. 

The Evolution of the letter E.

5 months ago we made the decision to unschool Miss P (5.5yo), we’ve had a lot of support from family and we’ve had lots of odd questions from strangers in the street (but that’s a whole other post for another day).

Tell people you’re homeschooling and they kinda get it, mention that you’re unschooling and suddenly your child is going to be 20 years old, a hermit and illiterate. People seem to think learning must happen in a set order, at a set time and with instruction. What I’m discovering is that learning happens without any of those things. 

Miss P has been able to write her name and all the letters of the alphabet (some lower case some upper case) since she was about 4 yrs old, I didn’t sit down and teach her it just happened. For the last few months I’ve watched the slow subtle evolution of the letter E, and it’s possibly been one of the most rewarding things out of this entire experience. 

Miss P has for a long time written her name using an upper case E smack bang in the middle of it. In the right place? Yep you bet. In the right case? Nope. I didn’t point it out I let it be. I figured that for now capital E’s were easier. Then one day she discovered how and why capital letters are used and then I noticed her writing her name and other words with some very awkward e’s. She would start at the end go backwards then stop and add a circle for the top part. Still I thought this is what is easiest for her, this is her learning the process and when she’s ready she will fine tune it. After all human beings are incredibly intelligent and we are designed to find the most efficient way of doing tasks. Given the space, time and opportunity. 

So I gave her the space and time and this morning she asked to finish writing the grocery list.  So I handed over the pen and paper and low and behold she wrote out a wonderful R i c and a perfectly formed and executed e. Then she wrote it again just because she wanted to. 

And so there it was. She didn’t need to be endlessly corrected, directed and tested. She needed time, space and the opportunity to explore. That is what our unschooling journey is about, surrounding them in experiences and knowledge, joyfully living, immersing ourselves into their worlds and interests and then allowing them the time to explore, then I sit back and watch them soak it all up. It’s kinda awesome.  

Finding the things that go right!

Is it human programming for us to get so fixated on the things we need to fix or the things that are broken? Is it one of those things that comes along with parenting? maybe it’s just me. This might be just a reminder for me, but if you are also one of those people who sometimes gets wrapped up in the wrong then read on, breath and remember your children aren’t broken.

We’ve been having an interesting time of late transitioning into our new unschooling life. its not that unschooling is hard or taxing infact it’s the complete opposite (but that’s a whole other post), its just that for some of us change can be a bit of a learning curve. I’ve watched our kids learn to navigate change, but it never dawned on me that I too may need to give myself some space and kindness whilst adjusting to these changes. I have felt the gentleness and patience I normally have begin to slip away in some areas, and the empathy I normally pride myself on seemed to be so much harder to find.

It wasn’t that the kids were having a harder time, it wasn’t that they were needing me more, it wasn’t even related to the fact that I now had 3 children home 24/7. I had simply got so lost focusing on the new and different aspects of life that I forgot to pay attention to the reliable reassuring things in life. Those precious tiny moments when the kindness, wisdom and empathy of a young child remind you of what is important.

This afternoon after a very stressful appointment for Miss P we were heading home when J-man asked Miss P if she would come play outside with him when we got home. Miss P worried about the impending storm, firmly said NO! J-man upset by this decision decided to beg and plead, please please just one chapter of our story (yep they tell their own stories by narrating and naming the chapters) before the rain comes. Miss P still not committing decided to change the subject. Meanwhile I was so worried about the argument that was bound to start up at home when he would inevitably ask again, that I didn’t even notice how calm they both were, despite the fact that they both had opposing views.

Finally home again and J-man asks Miss P again, “please come play with me”.
Ok she says, “but only 4 chapters”
J-man happily asks “7 chapters ok?”
*insert me silently anticipating J-man’s request being shot down in screams and anger*
Miss P “5 chapters”
J-man “hmmmm 7 chapters?”
Miss P “6 chapters, that’s my last offer.”
J-man “ok lets go start with the lion den chapter!”
Off they went to play outside, happily having worked through their different needs and arriving at a compromise without any adult intervention.
Leaving me sitting inside alone, wondering how many moments like these I had missed recently because I had been so busy focusing on the things that weren’t working.

So here is my reminder to myself: change can be hard on everyone, finding positive things helps take the pressure off the list of ‘broken’ things and if I want my children to be kind, considerate and gracious then I must do and be those things. After all you can’t fix yourself by breaking someone else.

 

 

 

 

Conversations with a 19 month old.

Parenting is hard, parenting toddlers takes patience. It’s the best combination of exhaustion and reward that I’ve ever come across. There are days when my husband comes home and I simply cannot form another sentence. I just cannot engage in another conversation, discussion, debate, or negotiate another toy hostage situation.  Baby boo is 19.5 months and is stuck right in that tricky phase – I cannot find the words to get my point across so I will stand here and squeal in the most ear piercing tone. It’s tough she has all these big ideas and wishes and she just doesn’t know how to get her point across the same way we would. I imagine it’s like being in a foreign country and you don’t speak the language, it must be tiring for them, and oh so frustrating. So even though those high pitched squeals make me clench my teeth, I can only empathise with her and try to help make our lives all a little easier. I can show her, I can teach her, I can role model it for her and I will watch her soak it up and grow.

8:30am – Baby boo tries to steal big brothers dinosaur map, she’s squealing and trying to make a break for it, he’s chasing her telling her not to rip it. Some simple calm words help diffuse the situation.

“you really want the picture, Its J-man’s. He’s worried you might break it. I’m going to help you give it back to him safely”

 8:45am – SQUEALING!!!! It’s the type of squeal that signifies something sacred has been taken! Big bro is exacting his revenge. He’s acquired Baby boo’s paper roll trumpet and is triumphantly attempting to play it as he makes his escape.

“you were using the tube, J-man forgot to ask you if he could have a turn. J-man you have the tube, Baby boo is asking for it back.”

Victory. Peace is restored the tube (trumpet) has been returned. Toddler wanders off happy and content.

 9:10am – Crying, the sad big tears of a toddler who’s been excluded from the big kids toy room. The big kids have told her they need space to play and have closed the gate on their safe space so Baby boo cannot destroy their towers.

 “You’re upset.”
“GATE!”
“they shut the gate on you”
“GATE”
“you’re feeling sad that they shut the gate?”
*nods head*
“do you need a cuddle?”
*nods head*

9:30am – Loud screaming and banging coming from the kitchen. I think to myself please not the fridge argument again. (Baby boo is obsessed with the fridge. Opening, closing and continually selecting foods from it.) I pause, take a breath and step into the kitchen.

 “you want something from the freezer?”
*stops screaming, and bangs on the freezer door*
*I open the freezer door, and she starts yelling again pointing and flapping her arms around*
*scrolling through my mind….what does she want, why the freezer?…ahhh*
“you want an ice cream? There isn’t any left”
*shows her big sad pout*
“here I’ll pick you up, see there isn’t any more. I know you really wanted an ice cream. We will have to make some more another time”
*happy with the conclusion she indicates to be put down and off she toddles*

 9:40am – Happiness short lived. Sad lost looking toddler comes in to sit with me.

 “you’re feeling a bit lost hey? Do you need some help to find something to play with?”
*baby boo reaches out indicating she wants to lead me somewhere. She leads me out to the big kids toy room and stands at the gate pointing into them.*
“you want some of the toys the big kids have?”
*big grin*
“ok we will pick some out. Do you want some cars? What about some people?”
*baby boo sits down in her own play space and happily begins playing.* 

10:30am – Screams are heard and loud banging on the front door not long after I had told Baby boo that we would be going shopping soon.

 “you want to play outside?”
*open door, baby boo wanders out and climbs into the pram*
“ahh you want to go for a walk do you? We can’t go for a walk now. We need to get ready to go to the grocery store.”
*cries, starts kicking legs in anger*
“I know you love going walking. We are going shopping now. You will get to sit in the trolley, which is like the pram.”
*kicks legs and squeals*
“I can see you’re having a hard time. I’m going to pick you up now. I know you really love the pram.”
*she’s gone quiet *
“we will go get you dressed now. You need a nappy on to go to the shops.”
*we head inside to the change table*
“I’m going to lay you down now.  I’m going to put the nappy on you, can you lift your legs please?”

The situation is diffused and we continued on getting dressed. I ensured that I slowed right down and used the time to reconnect and have some one on one time before we headed out for the day.

These scenarios and some different ones are played out over and over again throughout the day, and each time we meet them with calmness and empathy is one more opportunity that our toddler has to see these awesome skills in play. Of course there are moments when we forgot to pause, when we forget to meet them with kindness. We are human, mistakes are made to be learned from.  So apologise, reflect on the moment, make a mental note on what to do differently next time, file away what you learnt and move on. They are learning what they live.

 

Trouble Shooting – Gentle Parenting

I often come across parents who are frustrated and lost “he just keeps hitting me, over and over” “I know its normal for her age but she just wont listen” “I’m being calm and its not working!” and I wonder have they got the wrong end of the gentle parenting stick? I know I did to begin with.

When we first discovered gentle parenting I almost couldn’t believe it, how could it possibly work. How could people get their kids to follow instructions and behave without the use of time outs, smacking, bribes, threats, shame or punishments? At first we embraced the gentleness we started speaking kindly and listening more, we started accepting age appropriate behavior and it all seemed good. Except I was getting more and more frustrated as time went on and I started yelling more, “why isn’t this working I’m talking but she isn’t listening”. This is when I learnt my first lesson, talking alone doesn’t work, it really needs to be paired with connection (a hug, getting down or below their level, a gentle hand on the shoulder). This meant that gentle parenting was more hands on then I had first thought. I couldn’t just say “stop throwing” and magically expect her to stop, I needed to physically connect with her and put myself between her and the object/person, a gentle hand on hers as she prepares to throw a toy and some calm words “I won’t let you throw the truck, it isn’t safe” was most effective.

I learnt that when kids get wrapped up in their feelings their upstairs brain ( thinking, body control and empathy) shuts down, reasoning and logic go out the window. All those well meaning requests from me to “stop kicking”  weren’t being heard. A child in tantrum is being ruled by their downstairs brain (fight or flight). I discovered that mirror neurons in a child’s brain are hard wired to take note of the emotional state of the people around them, what they notice influences how they react. So when your child is upset, yelling and kicking and you meet them with gentleness and connection they pick up on your emotional state and their brain chemistry begins to return to a calmer state. Not all kids will be ready for a hug when they’re upset, but by being present and remaining calm and confident you are still helping them to reconnect.

Now I thought I had it all figured out. I needed to use less words and I needed to connect a lot more but what was I supposed to do when she disagreed with my limit? It didn’t feel gentle just letting her cry, it felt disrespectful to tell her to stop crying and it felt permissive to just never set a limit. I knew that I struggled to deal with her big emotions, I felt like I needed to stop her tears or prevent them but I also knew I wanted to raise my children to have better emotional intelligence than I did. So I went digging and then I stumbled across Janet Lansbury’s article “don’t fight the feelings” www.janetlansbury.com/2013/05/dont-fight-the-feelings/  I knew I had the final piece to our puzzle.

It was immensely liberating to discover that I didn’t need to silence my kids, and I think it was liberating to them to know that their big feelings were heard. To be able to say no to buying that doll and still cuddle them because they were upset made everyone feel better. Accepting a child’s feelings is accepting who they are, all of it, the good the bad and the ugly. It helps build connection, trust and secure kids. In our house it looks like getting down to my children’s eye level (I might kneel down or lift them up) and saying “you really wanted that doll didn’t you? Its really hard when you can’t have what you want. I’m here if you need a cuddle?” they feel understood, they feel heard. If anything it makes it easier to hold a limit because there is no need to silence the child, I don’t need to give in to the limit, there is no need to bribe threaten or shame them into silence, all that’s needed is acceptance.

I’ve had people tell me gentle parenting is permissive, that we will create wild children with no regard for anyone else. I refuse to believe that, how can something that involves connecting and accepting our weakest and most vulnerable members of society produce anything other then respect and admiration? Gentle parenting is a lot of hard work to begin with, but it pays off hugely in the long run. Don’t feel defeated when you hit a road block or something just isn’t working choose connection, choose empathy and choose acceptance. The world could do with a little bit more of each.