If I had to describe my style of parenting, I would probably say I favour “gentle parenting” over any other label. I try really hard to parent S gently; I do my best to avoid shouting, and will always favour an explanation over “I said so.”
But sometimes, parenting is difficult. Sometimes I am stressed and tired; sometimes I shout before thinking.
Gentle parenting for the win
Our front door opens onto a flight of stairs; at the top of the stairs there is another door which leads into our kitchen. S went through a phase of coming through the door, running up the stairs and closing the top door on me. Sometimes she would do it just as I got to the top of the stairs, and more than once I had to grab the hand rail to avoid falling backwards. At those points, I ended up opening the door and shouting at her not to close the door.
The shouting actually seemed to encourage her, and what had been an occasional thing became something she did every single time we came into the house. I opened the door; she ran up the stairs; she slammed the door; I yelled.
Eventually, I realised that shouting wasn’t doing the job; if anything, it made her behaviour worse. I decided to try a different tack. We talked about what might happen if she slammed the door on me and I fell down the stairs, and whether she would like it if that happened to her. The next day as we got to the front door, I stopped and asked her, “what do we do when we get to the top of the stairs?” She answered that we don’t close the door – and lo and behold, she went in the door and up the stairs… and left the door open! For the next few days I reminded her each time we came in the door, and each time she listened.
I was slightly astounded, but secretly high-fiving myself at my clever parenting technique of “talking to my child.”
Since then I have employed this technique many times, and on the whole I find it works a lot better than shouting. Of course, I’m human and sometimes I still get frustrated and end up shouting, but I still never find that it actually works for anything other than voicing my frustration.
I’m a self employed single parent; life can be fairly stressful. I find myself treading a fine line in getting things done, where the slightest unexpected event can knock us off our balance. During those times, I’m more likely to end up shouting. But the more often those times come around, the more I realise that shouting actually gets me nowhere. All it does is damage our relationship. S is quite rightly shocked when I shout, and usually ends up crying. I apologise of course, but by then the damage has been done, hasn’t it.
Gentle parenting on the go
Last week S and I went to London on the train for an event. It was her first time in London, and I was decidedly apprehensive about the whole thing. I talked to her about it the day before, and we talked about it before we got onto the train. I told her London was very big, with lots and lots of people, and that it was important she stay close to me all the time. She was very tired and coming down with a cold, and we walked a long way for some very small legs; by the time we got home my Fitbit was showing about 14,000 steps. But S didn’t once wander off, pull on my arm or “misbehave” in any other way. I really believe that’s because I talked to her so that she knew exactly what was expected of her, and why that was. We managed to walk back across London along very busy streets, catch a crowded underground tran and then run through Waterloo station to catch our train – all with S carrying a helium balloon and goodie bag from the event – without any problems at all.
Talking: a revolutionary parenting approach!
When I was little, children really were “to be seen and not heard” – so many things happened that were never explained to us children. But I do remember being told off a lot, and I do remember a lot of the time either not knowing quite what we were being told off for doing, or knowing what we did wrong – but not until we were told off for doing it!
I think as adults, we tend to forget that children have very short memories and attention spans. Even if they’ve been told off for doing something twelve times, they still won’t necessarily remember on the thirteenth time, to do the “right” thing.