We were taking our usual after dinner walk with the dogs. Kerry, me, Clara in the stroller, and Hank and Homer. Deciding to take a longer walk, we strolled by the pool in our neighborhood bustling with children playing and splashing in the water. Such a refreshing sound on an early summer evening.
There were a few people at the park down the way, when Clara said “baby!” pointing at the ducks at the pond who recently had baby ducklings. Then she excitedly yelled “swing!” We didn’t consider going to the park, nor did we anticipate that walking by the park and not going wouldn’t make sense to her since every other time we stroll by the park, we get out and play. It was almost bedtime and she was barefoot. We turned the corner to go back home and she started to whine.
When I said “we’re not going to the park” and kept strolling, trying to continue the conversation Kerry and I were having that was interrupted by whining, it started to escalate into a full out cry.
Kerry and I are both people pleasers. I’ve always been a “peace maker” and “analyzer”, whereas Kerry tends to be a “conflict avoider”. But parenting has taught us to go beyond our usual ways. We could have given in to what she wanted. We could have been firm and said “no park! stop throwing a fit!”. We could have ignored her cries and just kept walking. We could have been annoyed and frustrated, concerned with what neighbors were thinking about our screaming child.
But, I stopped the stroller, squatted down to her eye level and listened to her and tried to feel what she was feeling. What was it like to be in her position? Excited about seeing the ducks and the swing and wanting to go play, but couldn’t. I gently touched her and told her that I knew she was upset, that we didn’t think about how walking by the park and not getting out to play would be disappointing, that we didn’t bring her shoes and it was too close to bedtime to get out and play. But, we were not going to the park tonight.
Although she calmed down a bit to listen to me, when I stood up to keep walking, she let me know she was still not happy with the decision. But, after a short time, she was distracted by something else and let it go. It felt good to stop and relate to her. We could have kept on walking, ignoring, and let her eventually give up after having a tantrum, doing what is comparable to “crying it out”. But instead of being annoyed and frustrated the entire time, we were back to our peaceful stroll, confident that the tantrum was handled in a caring but consistent manner.
I’ve discovered a lot of things lately about how I want to parent. Everyone has their own way and I’m not here to judge that, even though I might choose differently. A common way is to relate to children as uncivilized beings that need to be controlled, to conform and learn to exist in an adult’s world and not treated as equals, to learn who is boss and receive punishments for doing what the adult doesn’t want. The opposite that I often see is to ignore and avoid, hence not creating any boundaries, to be inconsistent, and not follow through with what you say. This style seems mostly a reaction to the traditional style of child rearing by parents who know they don’t want to be firm disciplinarians, but who haven’t given much thought of how to do otherwise. Unfortunately some refer to this as “modern parenting”, but there are many styles different than the old fashioned “do what I tell you or you’ll get a spanking” style of child rearing. A popular trend right now is the “rewards” style of parenting, giving rewards for doing what the parent wants or positive reinforcement. On the surface the positive reinforcement style seems the most “positive”, but many criticize it for being manipulative and ineffective in the long run, especially when you consider what you’re teaching the child to be motivated by.
None of these common paths completely resonate with me, which I know because I’ve tried them all out! I’ve learned a lot from a couple of authors lately, Alfie Kohn and Daniel Siegel and some mommy blogs such as Play at Home Mom. I’m excited and confident about parenting and raising my child. Many people make comments about how they think I read too much and how you can’t learn things from a book. Well, I’m not raising my child based on what a books says. But, research is important to me. The mystery of the mind, how it works and develops and the complexities of relationships are all fascinating to me. I’ve learned many things that have made a huge difference for the better in our lives. So, I’m going to keep on reading!