Aha! Parenting Blog

Practical solutions for real parenting problems

Yes, Lindsey, Love Actually Works

Yesterday I ran a note from Lindsey and asked you to share your parenting stories to make her day.  The response was overwhelming--a cascade of loving, thoughtful, honest letters that brought me to tears over and over again. If you wrote, thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing.  I'm reading and treasuring each and every word, and will personally acknowledge your note soon.

As promised, your responses will be up on my website soon and I'll send out the link.  But I can't wait to share the wealth with you, so I'm picking just a few at random to share with you today and tomorrow.  All are anonymous, as promised.  As you read, if you hear cheering in the distance, please know that's all the parents reading this, cheering for every step toward love that each one of us is taking.  The verdict is in:  Love actually works.

I've seen amazing improvement in my *very* angry son after acknowledging that there was a reason he was so angry and acting out.  We have had several heartfelt conversations and I have seen a real change in how he treats his younger brother, and how he treats me.

i really DO believe that these techniques work. In my experience it's the moments where I stop, check out of my own headspace & reconnect with the fact that I love my child & am ready to be there 4 them in this moment - that are the game-changers. My children feel the love, they feel validated & they feel heard. When I barrel on with my own mind full of "busy adult stuff" I make life so much harder for myself & my child. That disconnect makes us all suffer.

It was hard to open up to my son and say, "I have been going about this in an ineffective way, I've made mistakes, I'm sorry, let's try another way." When you've been raised in an authoritative manner, you want to keep that authority, and it's humbling to admit to your own children that you realize the error of your ways, but it sets up a whole new dynamic that is easier, more sustainable, and feels a lot better to both parent and child. It's simple, but it's not easy, and it requires addressing one's own childhood, which is messy, hard work.

For starters, keeping my cup full (and being aware of the reasons for doing so) has helped enormously. Using humor and play to diffuse situations almost always works. The tantrums are easier to get through. I'm not always "perfect" but I'm sooo much better! And my two-year-old daughter has started volunteering apologies after the tantrum has cooled and she's had a chance to process everything.  Two things you said that have stuck with me:
1) Remember the innocence
2) Every difficult moment between child/parent is an opportunity to connect...
These two things have been huge for me!!!!!!  Finally, your advice about slowing down the pace, and being more flexible with as much as possible has really helped me with my own expectations. Thank you, Dr. Markham. You help me create small miracles every day. You have changed our lives for good!

It definitely works...a recent incident (though there are quite a few more)...It was my daughters birthday and she had a school holiday. My elder son (6 yrs) had school. Everyone was calling up to wish my daughter well...i was busy with my son to send him to school. He generally never is fussy about getting ready for school...but that day he was not eating his breakfast or taking a bath but was just wasting his time...I got irritated but then something told me he must be feeling jealous. So i gave him a hug and asked and he replied yes....then just for 5 minutes i took him in my arms and told him that even i am feeling so too...but its ok....that everyone has his own special day...and believe it or not he was feeling better and went to school on time.  I was really happy that i could read his emotions and that i behaved in a helpful manner.

i want to be a loving and compassionate parent, yes, but i am also a practical person. i want results --> a child who is emotionally healthy and emotionally intelligent. if i thought for a minute that this connection-based parenting style was resulting in a bratty, selfish, entitled, walk-all-over-you kid, i would drop it like a hot potato and look for something else. thankfully, i don't have to, because i find just the opposite. my daughter is almost 9, we have a great connection, and she is thriving and a pleasure to be around. that's not to say i do it "right" all the time -- i don't, i lose it plenty, i fall off the path on a regular basis. when i do i correct, i apologize, and i say how i hope to do it next time. yesterday my daughter got upset about something and stormed off into her room. 15 minutes later she came out, crawled into my lap and said 'mom, i'm sorry i yelled at you. it's not your fault, i just had a bad day today at school, and i took it out on you. that was wrong of me. next time i will try to talk to you about it first, or hit a pillow, or something. i love you and that's not how i want to treat someone i love.' i about fell over! it took me 40 years to learn how to do that (access my emotions, apologize, take responsibility, etc.) and she already does it better than me at age 8! deciding to consciously parent differently than how you were raised is one of the toughest, transformative, and ultimately wonderful things you can do.

Yes. It works. It’s not an overnight cure, but it works. My mother was a yeller, and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t stop yelling. I have been practicing approaching my children in this new way, and although some days I get it right, other days – especially if I’m tired – I just lose it.  So you’re absolutely right! Getting sleep is important. For me, it usually means letting go of “time alone” in the evening, and going to bed when the kids go to bed. But it’s soooo worth it!  In the morning I’m rested, and when the moment comes that I feel overwhelmed by my own emotional response to their behaviors… I can pause. In that pause, all the things I’ve been practicing on the kids come to mind. Only this time, I’m using them on myself.  I respond empathetically to myself first. And that empathy, connection, and soft response flows then on down to the kids.

One of my biggest triggers has been when I’m trying to make food for them, and they come at me, one after another, demanding, crying, whining. I KNOW they’re just hungry. I KNOW they really want my attention, and I don’t have any more hands. And they. are. so. persistent.  And loud. Any all my calmness usually goes right out the window. But the last couple of times, I’ve been able to take a deep breath, and start with repeating their request back to them, “oh, you really want to paint right now. That sounds like fun.” And in the time it takes them to describe respond, I breathe, and look for the “YES.” Or try asking them to help me get ingredients, or stir (even if it doesn’t need stirring).  Instead of yelling, I am finding a way to meet their need to connect, to be close. (silent cheering for myself!!) And my kids are so enjoyable at the dinner table! They help clear off the table, put food out, and are excited to sit down together. What a difference! Learning how to respond to needs without yelling will have rewards beyond the joy, peace & warmth you will feel toward your kids (and they for you). These tools have improved every relationship I have – including with myself.

Yes, it does work. Yes, it’s hard work. VERY HARD WORK sometimes. But it’s like it makes you a “rational” parent. You’ll never find yourself looking ridiculous in public screaming at your kid(s) like a maniac. LOL. Looking calm and loving and your child responding the same way looks way better than the “nut-job of a mom” out of control trying to get control. Trust me. I’ve been at this changing thing for a while. It’s not easy. Some days I’m good at it and some days I just suck at it. Totally.  And that is usually when I’m in a hurry; overworked and unbalanced. I like living the other way. So I’m making a change. A little at a time. And it does work. PERIOD.

You hit at the heart of why children misbehave:  because of fear and because of problems with relationships.  My husband and I always try to reconnect and focus on the relationship, rather than "punishing," and then we deal with the bad behavior.  Then our daughter (just turned 4 years old) will open up about what was going on, and instead of having to insist on an apologize, she will give one naturally because she genuinely feels it.  It's harder but works so much better, and as a parent, I am not left with feelings of guilt and shame for being mean to my child.

Here's a recent example.  We are getting ready to move out of the country, and my daughter has been antsy and clingy.  I was busy working at home and my daughter came up to get my attention.  I explained that I was busy but I would play with her shortly.  She came in for a hug and bit me in the stomach pretty hard!  It really hurt, and I screamed, and she started laughing.  I said, "I am very angry and have to come to talk to you in a few minutes."  My husband took over with her for a minute, and then I came in and had her sit with me on the floor.  I told her, "I love you very much.  Why did you bite me?"  She was still laughing and started talking in a baby voice.  I said, "Are you frustrated with mom for not taking time to play with you?"  She shook her head yes.  I said, "Are you sad because you want mom and I couldn't play?"  She shook her head yes again (no more laughing).  I said, "How do you feel about our big move?"  She said "I won't see my friends again and I might not see you again!"  Then she crawled up under my shirt and I rocked her, and comforted her that we were a family and families moved together and she would never be apart from me.  When she climbed out of my shirt, I said, "I know you were frustrated, but we don't bite in our family.  That really hurt me."  She said, "I know Mom, I'm sorry" and she kissed me in the area where she had bit me.  She really was sorry. 
That's it.  We dealt with the root of the problem, rather than just slapping her down for bad behavior -- which would not have solved the underlying fear -- meaning that the bad behavior probably would have resurfaced and gotten worse.  Our relationship was strengthened, not diminished, and I can feel good that my interactions with her were loving and positive AND firm.

What I have noticed is that empathizing with your child does dissipate the conflict. I am not always good at it....and at times catch myself retaliating in the temper tantrum ....but then I catch myself...and try to remember what it must be like for these little guys. I try REALLY hard to put myself in their shoes. It's tough, but when I do stop myself, take a deep breath and switch gears to a more empathetic self....a lot changes....not in seconds, but usually within 10 mins or so. Its tough b/c I have three little ones, so it can be a juggling act. My husband uses humor with the kids when things turn south. It ALWAYS works.   And when giving a time-out (so to speak), I now always go on the "time out" with him. If he is violent, I keep my distance, by closing the gate or door if needed...but I always keep the connection (as Laura suggested). This has made a huge difference. To let him know his feelings are ok and that I am right there with him as he is raging has made a world of difference. My husband & I talk about how hard raising kids is almost daily. But I do agree with Laura, its better to lay the ground work down now, when they are young. To keep that bond and connection with your child. Because if you do not, you can not get it back. Its like creating a brick wall. With each disconnect experience they feel from you, another brick is getting placed on the wall. As the child gets older, it will be too hard for them to really feel close to the parent on a deeper level because their trust has been broken. I have first hand experience with this. My parents, who practiced the old fashion methods of discipline, & I are not very close. I pray, I do not repeat this cycle and am trying hard to practice Dr. Laura parenting style. So far I see it is working!

The transformation is astounding:  Her hitting, kicking, scratching, screaming, whining, sticking out her tongue and verbalizing aggression are all but gone in 3 weeks.  She has a voice at meetings and elected to start doing chores, so feels valued; she comes up with many of her own solutions, so feels powerful; she is seen and heard and appreciated, so feels cherished, supported and loved.  We now have a child who feels good, and so acts good, who feels connected and so stays connected.  Deep appreciation and acknowledgement are the sunshine and rain this tender blossom needed in order to bloom. We are forever indebted and are paying it forward through our daughter and all the love and goodness she is now better able to spread.

Hearing that cheering?  It's for all these parents, and for you, too.  May you create miracles today, large and small.

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