I must say parenthood has challenged me beyond my wildest expectations. I never knew I was capable of experiencing such a spectrum and intensity of emotions; love, anger, happiness, exhaustion, joy, shame, frustration, surprise, insecurity, elation, sadness, pride.. to name a few.
A newborn will push you to your physical limits; post-partum recovery, sleep deprivation, and aching joints from wearing a screaming colicky baby all day can be nothing short of exhausting. Then enter the “terrible two’s” and teenagers” – which takes exhaustion to a whole new level, but of the emotional kind. I used to spend my days bribing, negotiating, punishing, screaming, feeling guilty, being stressed. Raising a toddler made me feel at times like I was failing – no matter what threats I made, how much I yelled, or what punishments I dished out; certain undesired behaviours didn’t change. My parenting toolbox was empty, and I longed to be one of those cool, calm and collected parents, not one who would throw tantrums more extreme than my three-year-old.
A little while ago I stumbled across Janet Lansbury and the RIE approach to mindful/conscious parenting; the core principles of which are respect, authenticity and encouraging healthy and natural development at the pace of nature. This philosophy fits well with my beliefs and values – so much so it has become my parenting ‘bible’. For me, being a conscious parent translates to observing, thinking, feeling, and evaluating before we speak or act (something we are not always great at doing in a sleep deprived state, or when suffering pregnancy brain or mumnesia). Instead of being on autopilot; going through the motions of what can seem like ground hog day, I look for every opportunity to be present, grateful, respectful, loving, and considerate. It sure as hell doesn’t mean I’m perfect; far from it… and there are still times I can’t help but loose my cool. But with everything in life, it’s what we do the majority of the time which makes the difference; or the 80/20 rule as I like to call it!
We have the HUGE role as parents to shape our children’s social, emotional and intellectual well being and development; the way they learn and grow. In the first five years of life, our baby’s brains develop more and faster than at any other time in life. The experiences children have in these early years help shape the adults they will become. The responsibility of this can feel overwhelming at times; I don’t know about you, but the thought of f&@*ing it up absolutely terrifies me!
Just like our children, we are always learning; falling down, wiping off the scuff marks and trying again. When we know better, we do better. I’ve made mistakes. Some have been real doozies. I’ve had regrets, and close calls. I don’t claim to know it all; but if I was to offer any pearls of wisdom from the parenting years I have accumulated under my belt thus far, these would be my top 20:
1. Our role as parents isn’t to entertain our children; among the basics of keeping them warm, nourished, loved and well rested, our role is to create a safe space to nurture and encourage our children to explore, learn and discover without our constant intervention or interruption
2. Teach manners; please, thank you, excuse me, and looking people in the eye when speaking are the basic fundamentals which go a long way
3. Kids thrive on routine; implement one. Well slept kids who feel secure in what they can expect from us day in, day out – are happy, confident kids
4. Don’t wrap your kids in cotton wool; you’ll only do them (and you) a disservice – Let them make mistakes, fall down, and then get up again… on their own. This is the best for developing their confidence, sense of self, and independence
5. Let kids be kids; let them make mud pies, lots of noise, mistakes, play with cardboard boxes instead of the toys that come in them. Don’t expect them to understand adult concepts, nor behave like adults in certain situations
6. Limit Screen time; the use of iPhones, iPads, Television, and computer games can cause moodiness, sleep difficulties, and lead to agitation, poor memory and lack of social skills
7. Don’t over-load children with extra curricular activities; this quashes the imagination and can lead to overtired (sleepless) kids
8. Pick your battles; if your daughter wants to wear flowers with spots, with stripes, fairy wings and tiara.. does it really matter? If she is 21, then maybe you need to have a talk..
9.Get back to nature; allowing our children to organically reach milestones such as rolling, sitting, crawling walking, climbing, eating, toilet training etc without our premature intervention, ensures their confidence and success long term. As parents we often interfere with their natural flow, pace and ability e.g. ‘helping’ them roll from back to tummy or vice versa, propping them up to sitting position or holding their hands to teach them to stand or walk long before they are developmentally ready. Instead of helping, we are in fact hindering their ability to master certain skills and progress onto the next. Sit back, observe, and trust your child will hit these milestones when they are ready
10. Children need boundaries; set them and stick to them. Don’t be afraid to say no. Be confident, firm, and consistent in your conviction. As with a routine, children feel secure when they know where they stand, and what they can expect from us in response to their behaviours (including those surrounding sleep)
11. Tantrums are rarely about the moment at hand; low blood sugar, hunger, dehydration, over tiredness or pent up emotion is usually the root of the cause- rather than getting angry and frustrated, demonstrate empathy, remain calm, and validate (and help identify) your child’s feelings – e.g. ” I can understand you must be upset that Jonny just took your toy away”
12. Be respectful; respecting our babies as whole and capable human beings, and communicating our actions and intentions to them from the beginning (rather than ‘doing’ things to them), encourages their active participation; making them feel important, secure, and loved. This also helps foster secure attachment, imperative for raising well adjusted kids – both socially and emotionally. Communication and respect is key when your child is transitioning through certain life and/or physical milestones, or when implementing a new sleep routine
13. Walk the talk and lead by example; You are your children’s role model; so think about how you talk, act, treat people, and behave – as this becomes the foundations for your children’s behaviour e.g. expecting to teach your children not to physically hurt another child by smacking them as punishment, is counterproductive
14. Punishments don’t work – We don’t have to condone ‘bad’ behaviour, but if we understand the root cause of our children’s undesired actions, we can help alleviate it in future. As mentioned previously, bad behaviour usually stems from pent up emotion, or being hungry/tired/dehydrated. Time outs, naughty corners, and banishing our children to their bedrooms rarely improves the behaviour. To the contrary, shaming them through these punishments can jeopardise trust, and teaches our children that it is not ok, nor safe for them to express their emotions – resulting in them bottling up their emotions (and around we go)…
15. Follow through on consequences; empty threats and promises lead to children who will push boundaries and amp up undesired behaviour even more. When our children know the consequences to their behaviour (e.g. if you don’t get dressed now, we can’t go to the park), then you empower them to own their decisions, rather than running a broken record
16. Praise the positive behaviour, rather than shaming the negative; In simplest terms of law of attraction: what we focus on (think about), we bring about.
17. Don’t take your child’s behaviour personally; it’s not about you…these are just little people learning how to express themselves, and make sense of a big and unfamiliar world. Expect tears, tantrums, laughter, accidents, and encourage their overwhelming sense of curiosity and exploration
18. Be present; I hate it when people tell me this sometimes. But it’s true. The more we can live in the moment with our children, the more we realise that any of our stresses, anxieties, or the anger-provoking situations are bought about when we are either focused on the past or future… or just not paying attention
19. Observe and give them space; Avoid your impulse to jump in and interrupt or ‘rescue’ your children when they are struggling with an activity or becoming frustrated. Give them some space and time to work things out on their own, as ‘saving’ them can rob them of vital growth, learning, and life experience. Observing our children is also the most effective way we can learn about their likes, dislikes, social skills, strengths, and personality type
20. Breathe; Some days I wonder how my children made it through the day alive! Sleep deprivation, constant whining and unreasonable toddler demands aren’t a good mix. If we can remember in moments of conflict to just take a step back before reacting, most of the time we can stop ourselves before we completely loose our cool (which only ever ends in tears all around, and mother’s guilt). When we remain calm and in control, we encourage our kids to do the same. If all else fails, wine certainly helps…
…. and always follow your gut and intuition when it comes to your kids; Google doctor, online forums, mother’s groups and the plethora of conflicting professional advice (especially on baby sleep) can send you into a tail spin of confusion, and unnecessary stress!
Until next time… With love,
Sophie & Jett xoxo