My general parenting ethos
A couple of weeks ago, I shared how I was having a tough time with my 3-year-old who is in the midst of a brutal developmental phase aged 3 years and 2 months. I was surprised to receive lots of messages from people telling me they thought my approach to dealing with it was good.
A) I didn’t realise I was doing anything particularly out of the norm.
B) I was being quite hard on myself as to how I was handling it – as us mothers often are.
After thinking about it though, I realised that we do try to parent mindfully and responsively with our kids. Papa Ginge and I have a core belief that our children are equals to us, they are just as intelligent as us. Yes, we know more about the world and have more knowledge but we have also forgotten so much of what children know to be true. And we believe that no one knows our children better than they know themselves.
We’ve always followed our kids leads. I think when you do that, you can’t go too far wrong. In fact, I think if we consistently override what our children know to be true about themselves, they will have trouble keying into their gut instinct as adults. We are politically liberal and anti-hierarchical. We don’t believe our kids should respect their elders any more than we feel their elders should respect them. And I know lots of people will really disagree with us on that. We believe respect should be earned and we teach them that nothing is more important than being kind to everyone.
So this informs our parenting style. Largely, we always try to understand where the kids are coming from and respond with empathy. We aren’t perfect so sometimes we do spectacularly lose our shit (like a couple of weeks ago when I had a meltdown on my Instagram stories when Lena ran into a road and nearly got hit by a car). But we try. I know that when I’m shouting, it’s because I’ve lost control of the situation. I’m not responding intelligently, I’m just reacting. I still shout, no one is perfect 100% of the time though. I just try not to get there as much as possible.
What’s been going on?
With Lena’s latest challenges I’m an experienced enough of a mam now to recognise that she was going through a mental leap. I always like to think of these as a huge increase in mental capacity, like an area of the brain suddenly being unlocked so the world doesn’t make sense to you anymore – a bit like the Matrix. You feel overwhelmed, nothing makes sense anymore. All the things you understood to be true have been turned on its head. This makes you feel agitated and overwhelmed.
I could see this manifest itself with Lena as she started crying having to go to nursery. She stopped playing independently and started being very clingy and demanding with me (#velcrobaby). Her dad normally puts her to bed on a night and then I bed share with her after she first wakes around 10.30pm but she’s began refusing him and crying for me. She’s been having huge tantrums over the things she wants but can’t have. We had 6 hours of crying because she wanted to go to the park and couldn’t wait until I could take her at 2pm. She had a 90 minute tantrum because she wanted to go to the moon.
She was super emotional and very angry but I understand that anger and emotion comes from fear, stress and overwhelm because the world and her place in it is confusing to her right now. One way this really manifests is that she is much worse for me than anyone else. I’ve heard many mams say ‘but why do they act up for me’ and its simple, we are their safest place. Our unconditional love allows them the security of getting that emotion out. It’s tough on us, but it’s really the biggest compliment when you really think about it.
Some techniques we use to help
- We don’t do time outs but we do time ins. If my kids are acting up (and it’s not hunger or tiredness) it’s generally a cry for attention. Even if they get it in a bad way, it’s still attention. Removing them from us is not going to help. I usually stop whatever I’m doing and spend some focussed time with them. Then when they are calm, we talk through what’s going on. This works 99% of the time but at the moment, when Lena goes into one of these ‘fugue’ tantrum states, unfortunately it doesn’t really help calm her down.
- Let her revert to babyhood. If that’s what she is showing me she needs then constantly denying her it will just prolong the insecurity. Go max attachment, once they feel secure again, they’ll soon feel confident enough to be independent again. However much one on one time you spend with your child at the moment, increase it to as much as you possibly can.
- Like all interactions, treat others how you want to be treated yourself. I don’t think this should be any different just because you are dealing with a child. I know when I’m feeling my most stressed and overwhelmed or full of PMT and taking it out on my partner, him shouting back at me doesn’t help, it makes me worse. What helps the most is him simply cuddling me in to his chest and saying it’s ok and then talking to me about what’s wrong and how he can help. The same goes for kids. Everyone wants to be understood and this builds trust.
- Be firm but empathetic. We don’t give in to her demands but we say no with understanding. Things like ‘I’m so sorry that you can’t go to the moon. You really wanted to go and you feel sad and angry that you can’t don’t you. Do you want me to give you a hug to help you get the sads out’. Then sometimes we play a silly game where I pretending I’m getting all her ‘sads’. It really helps to get them to verbalise their sadness or anger, even if you have to say it for them initially it helps them work through the emotion and get it out into the world, outside of them where it’s overwhelming them.
- Give choices wherever possible. Offer a couple of options you’re are comfortable with and then they feel in control and it’s a win win.
- Keep them occupied – the park, playgroup, kids groups, activities etc all help them burn off some steam and as long as you are near they can feel safe exploring and re-understanding the world this way. Play fighting or anything that makes them belly laugh (not tickling though) really helps them get some emotion out too. Our favourite is to do an impromptu dance party to shake some tension out with loud music.
- Research the issues – my go to site for help with parenting problems is Aha! Parenting and Hand in Hand Parenting. Also, go to your tribe. Whatever your parenting style you need a tribe. Over the years I have found like-minded mams who parent like me and I know I’ll get useful advice from. For example, I’m more of an attachment type parent so it’s not helpful for me to seek advice from someone who will tell me to do cry it out or spanking as it’s not our style. It wastes their time and mine. Find your tribe and let them be your village.
- Help them to understand the daily routine more – when a child is feeling overwhelmed with the world, it helps them to have confidence in their daily routines. At times like this we talk about what’s coming and when. We try to have the same parent do the same things and stick to the same routines. If we have to deviate from routine we talk about it a lot. If the child is favouring one parent it’s important to try to build trust back up with the other parent. Start out with smaller things that aren’t as much of a battle, for example, the unfavoured parent can do the fun things like play games, get snacks, do bath time, take them somewhere fun. Then you can work up to the more intimate things that might be a battle like nappy changes, dressing and bedtime. You want to remind the child that they can trust this adult and that they can meet their needs.
- Understand that tantrums aren’t just your child being upset about something that they want. It’s also a way for your child to let out stress. They might not be truly upset about what they are crying about right now, it might really be about what happened at nursery two days ago and they’ve not worked through it yet.
- Practice big breaths – big breaths in and out to help calm them (and you) when you are both very angry.
The most important thing with all of this is that you want to help your child feel understood and safe. Aha! Parenting says it better than me….
‘…kids who test limits repeatedly are usually showing us they don’t feel safe. Children may love the idea of being all-powerful, but it also terrifies them. They need to know that we as parents will be in charge and keep them safe. Once they’re convinced of that, they no longer need to constantly test the limits to find out where our boundaries are.’ This is another reason us losing our shit and shouting doesn’t help matters.
When your child is going through a developmental phase and acting out it can be physically and mentally draining (I am clocking an additional 4000 steps a day on my Fitbit meeting Lena’s needs at the moment). Initially, I didn’t react as well as I felt I should have. I was getting frustrated and annoyed. I had lots of work piling up. For the first time in my two years blogging I couldn’t get a blog post out. She was consuming every minute of my time 24/7.
It’s SO important to look after yourself when this happens so you can be a more responsive mother.
In the end, after a chat with my friend Sam I decided to remove the pressure of blogging and only focus on the essentials that I had to do. The same went for my household tasks. I just focussed on Lena. When it came to the weekend I arranged with Papa Ginge that I would go out for a few hours so I had some time away from the kids. This helped me decompress and when I came back I had reserves to draw from again.
Can you ask someone to watch the kids while you go meet a friend or have a bath? Whatever and however, just try to carve out a little time for yourself in amongst the chaos. It may seem a luxury but you’ll be unable to be the calm and empathetic mother you want to be if you have nothing left to give. Don’t be too proud to ask for help, many people will surprise you with how much they can help.
With all of this, try to remember that most humans, children included need your love most when they deserve it least. If we live this way, and raise our kids this way, I’m convinced we’ll have a future with less Trumps and Brexits…
Disclaimer: All photos in this blog post were taken (and gifted) by the fabulous North East Photographer – Fiona Saxton Photography