Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ten Steps To Kinder, Gentler Parenting

It seems many parents know exactly the "Mean Voice" I wrote about in Did You Kiss Your Baby With That Mouth? Now some people want to know: How do you stop yourself from being mean? What do you say instead?

So here are some suggestions for adjustments that might help you move toward kindness.

Adjust Your Thoughts

1. Think About How You Like To Be Treated
Do you like it when someone makes you feel even worse about your messy moments? How do you feel about the person who punishes you, criticizes you, rubs your face in your mistakes? How differently do you feel about person who shows compassion and understanding? The one who offers assistance and grace? Which kind of person do you want to be for your child?

2. Think About How You Would React To Someone Else
Your daughter just spilled grape juice on the white couch. How do you react? Do you show your frustration? Do you feel need to teach her a lesson about being careful with the juice? Well, think about how you would react if it were someone else who spilled the juice, like your best friend. Would you have the same feelings? Would you make her feel bad? Or would you calmly clean it up, and reassure her that is was not a big deal, and she shouldn't feel bad? Why wouldn't you be as kind and forgiving to your child as you would be to a friend?

Adjust Your Focus

3. Focus On the Relationship, Instead Of Appearances
In every interaction with your child, ask yourself: Am I building up my relationship with my child? Or am I sacrificing it for the sake of looking like a model parent? Are my words and my actions contributing to closeness with my child, or are they driving a wedge between us?

4. Focus On the Situation Instead Of the Behavior
Your son is hitting his little sister. Instead of focusing on what he's doing wrong, focus on what's wrong around him. Get them safely separated, comfort them both, and then figure out what were the conditions that lead to the problem.  What does your son need? Help him figure it out. Help him get his needs met. It could be as little as a snack or a drink. It could be as much as a chunk of your undivided attention. It could be a complex combination of needs.

5. Focus On Prevention Instead Of Correction
What's done is done. Either your son already knows he shouldn't have hit his sister, and he feels bad about it already, or he doesn't know. Either way, you can offer a gentle reminder to your son that people don't like to be hit, but you can't undo the action. The best you can do is figure out how to prevent a similar thing from happening again. Why was he in a position to hit his sister? Did you walk away from your kids when you knew one was in a volatile mood? Try to be more careful about leaving them alone together for a while. Bring one of them with you when you have to tend to something else.

Adjust Your Words

6. Listen To Yourself
Notice when you are kind, and who you are kind to. If you ever speak kindly to anyone, then you already have the tools you need to change the way you speak to your children. What words do you use when you are being kind? What tone do you use? Notice when you start to sound mean. What sets you off? How do you feel afterwards? What have you accomplished by being mean?

7. Have a Back-Up Plan
When you find yourself about to say something to one of your kids that you might regret, take a deep breath, relax your face, and say softly "I love you." It's almost impossible to be mean after reminding yourself and your child that you love her. In many cases, this change in you can diffuse a situation. Even if it does nothing to calm your child, at least it helps to calm you. You can think more clearly and be more present to help your child figure out his needs and get them filled.

Adjust Your Routine

8. Get Your Own Needs Met
Be proactive. Eat as soon as you notice your hunger. Sleep. Yes, there will be times when you won't be able to get as much sleep as you need. But do make sure to sleep when the kids are sleeping. If you do choose to stay up for hours after they go to bed, don't complain to them about how exhausted you are. Take showers. Bring the kids in with you if they are tiny, or put on a movie if it's safe to leave them alone for a few minutes. Use the bathroom in the quiet moments, instead of waiting until you are about to burst. You will be better at everything if you are not needy.

9. Let Go
Let go of all of the things that won't matter down the road. The unimportant things that take you away from your kids. Let go of the idea of having a sparkling clean house. Let go of the idea that every meal needs to be picture-perfect. Cling to the things that will always matter. Invest your time in being attentive to your kids. It will not be time wasted.

10. See the Choice, Then Make the Choice
Maybe it feels like being mean is automatic. It feels like you can't help it. But you don't have to surrender to it. You can be in charge of your own behaviors, your own reactions. If you can't control yourself as a grown up, how do you ever expect your children to do so? Choose to be kind. Choose to adjust. Choose to be gentle, soft, and sweet with your words and your actions.

And when all else fails, and you slip into Mean Mode, remember you are human too. You can apologize and move on. You can ask your children to gently remind you when you are off the track. You can be kind to yourself. You can figure out what needs you have that are not being filled,and take better care of yourself. You can prevent yourself from doing the same thing again. You have a choice.

Remember this, when it comes to your kids: 
If you can't think of anything nice to say... you're not thinking hard enough.