I want to answer one of the biggest doubts (and most common question) I hear from people about using mindful parenting (especially coming from partners!).
“Aren’t we teaching our kids to be naughty if, every time they act out, we reward them with our attention?”
It’s a good question! And the answer lies in understanding how our children’s minds work and how they develop control over themselves.
First, always remember: young children are not in control of their emotions nor their bad behaviour driven by strong emotions. (It’s not until they're about 5 or 6 that this skill starts to develop). So they are not being manipulative or rationally trying to control you. They are just reacting to their big, scary emotions or to their physiology (tired, hungry, unwell etc) or to their very short term desires like “I’d rather play right now!”.
To help them learn to manage their emotions and reactions, we need to teach our children the behaviour we expect and coach them how to do it. And they can only do this if we can keep them (and us) calm. We can’t scare them into controlling themselves (which is what angry threats aim to do).
There are four main reasons that mindful, connection works better than angry authoritarianism in getting the behaviour you want and keeping your kids calm:
1. When they’re overwhelmed children need our help to control their reactions. Connecting with them calms them down so they can listen to what you’re saying and move on to what you need them to do.
2. Once they are calm you can also coach them about what behaviour you expect – you can talk about the why shouting/hitting/biting etc is not acceptable and what to do instead when they get frustrated. This is key – you aren’t condoning their bad behaviour and you need to teach them this.
3. Connecting reminds them that they love you and want to please you (deep down) so they’re more likely to behave. This accumulates over time – if they trust you will be kind and calm, they will want to please you.
4. NOT connecting with them makes them feel worse and will often escalate their emotions to a full meltdown because you’re angry with them and you’re removing your love.
In short, they are much more likely to do what you want them to if you connect with them and calm them down!
One last thing: in the long term, using fear to get children to behave has real risks. If every time your child gets upset or does something wrong, you get angry and remove your love, you’re teaching them that they are only loved when they are “good”. This means large chunks of their being are “unlovable” – a recipe for low self-esteem or a lack of self-love (which is rife on our culture).
In my next post I’ll answer a related question many parents ask when their child has a habit of hurting their siblings or other children:
“What about the other child they have hurt? Shouldn’t we be giving them all the attention, not the naughty one?”
I recently released a free Cheat Sheet on Minimising Meltdowns and Getting Kids to Co-operate - it's full of strategies to get through those difficult moments when your kids get upset or refuse to do what you ask. It gives you loads of mindful parenting techniques to keep your kids calm and cooperative. Click the button to get your copy!
I’d love to hear what's worked for you. Jump onto the Feed the Parent Facebook page and leave a comment!
Until next time,