Guest post by Marwa Farouq
A friend of mine asked me a very core question few days ago. He asked; I am wondering what would make a mainstream parent shift his/her parenting into the paradigm you try to promote? – I thought this was such a profound question. What was more profound, to me, was the realization that I do not have a short answer for it. For a moment, I felt sad with this realization because I know that mainstream parenting uses tools and adopts assumptions that I genuinely believe are not true about kids, our humanity and ourselves as parents. So in an attempt to be my authentic self and come up with answers for those who wonder about why shift to peaceful parenting, I decided to write about the main strategies/tools used in mainstream parenting and share why I believe they do not add to the connection and quality of relationship between parents and their children as well as the behavior change that parents seek to attain through using these tools. And Punishment is my first pick!
I would first like to acknowledge that parenting is a difficult job, not only that but also acknowledge that in the heat of the moment when your child is hitting someone or yelling his lungs out I hate you, we (yes me included) find it difficult to invite space to choose a different approach to the situation – that doesn’t mean we are bad parents, on the contrary in this very moment we are probably aligning with our deep needs to contribute to our children’s growth, learning and coping within society, we are probably also holding some of our core values with a lot of integrity. However using strategies such as punishment, (even if in the heat of the moment) also deprives us from our core need for connection with out kids, and deprives them from meeting their needs of being heard, understood, empathized with and in a lot of cases accepted.
Sadly punishment as a strategy, though effective on the short term, is one that sends a lot of unhealthy messages to our kids, which I am sure as parents/teachers/caregivers we never intend to give our children. Messages include judgment “no ice cream till you stop being mean to your brother”, blame “you made me so angry”, shame “how many times did I tell you to be careful and not spell milk on the carpet”, that your love and acceptance is conditional to good behavior “I will not respond to you until you stop crying”.
In the short run (in that same heat of the moment), your child will probably respond to punishment. They even may be willing to come and apologize for what they’ve done but your child’s reasons in this moment for doing so are not those same values that moved you to react but instead are much deeper reasons; it’s their needs for your acceptance, and love. A child’s brain (and that applies to teens too) are in most cases not capable of processing difficult situation in such a speedy pace, as a matter of fact in moments of emotional outbursts a child’s brain is unable to do any of its executive functions, instead it is shut down and is in flight or fright or fight mode.
In his book, Raising children compassionately, Marshal Rosenberg poses two very important questions that invite parents/teacher/caregivers to reflect on punishment as a strategy and whether it really serves the deeper need of nurturing a connection with your child;
First: what do you want your child to do differently? And that seems like a simple question and we all probably have our lists for it.
Second: What do we want the child’s reasons to be for acting as we would like them to act? I truly believe that this is a key question to guide us when nurturing our children towards adopting family values or meeting needs. Do we want our children to change their behavior because they fear the punishment? Or do we want to help them build these internal limits to enable them to really live these values? The answers for these questions are crucial for our relationship with our children.
It is because we skip asking these questions to ourselves, that our kids are deprived from the opportunity to really be listened to, supported in processing their feelings, and taught tools to meet their needs in peaceful and cooperative ways. Having said that, I would like to clarify that I am not suggesting that we do not set limits. What I am suggesting is to really reflect in our intentions (in that case nurturing children to be values driven, for example) and enquire on how can we do that through setting limits that are compassionate, non judgmental and honor our responsibility for our feelings instead of blaming our children for them.
With this realization, I searched and experimented with alternative strategies to punishment and in part 2 of this article I will share some of the strategies that worked for me.
In part one of this article I shared two fundamental questions that have changed how I view punishment as a parenting tool; 1) what are the behavior I want to change in my children? And 2) what do I want their reasons for changing their behavior? – Answering this enabled me to be aware that my reasons are not fear of punishment, or blame or shaming my children. In this article, I will share my strategies to mitigate punishment within my family.
I guess the question becomes, what do we do? How do we alter behavior without punishment – right? Well that could be one way of looking at it, another way (and possibly more enriching to you and your children) is asking yourself questions like; why does my child behave this way? What is he/she feeling or needing that leads to such behavior? Or asking how can I empower my child to live peacefully and compassionately? What tools would contribute to this empowerment and to the enrichment of our relationship?
I still ask myself these questions, and in most times I learn new things to bring into my relationship with my children, and below are some for you;
1- Be aware of your triggers; we all have our buttons, those that when pressed we blow up and have strong emotions. Write a list of what are those for you with your child, then reflect on why are these things triggering for you and lastly prepare yourself with scenarios of what will you do the next time this happens. For example; My step children have a habit of hitting each other and this REALLY triggers me, so every time one of them hit another I use to go nuts. But then I reflected on the why do I go nuts, then prepared myself to the next time this happens- when it happened I was conscious of my feelings and had my scenario ready for me to pull in and use.
2- Own your feelings; your child does not have the skills to separate between himself and his behavior, so when you tell her “you make me sad” she immediately translates it into judgment of herself or blame. Reality is we want to teach our kids how to own their feelings and work with them and a great way to do so is to role model ownership to our children. Try saying “I feel sad, when I see your brother hurting, and feel worried that you are angry” – this will send a clear message to your child that you care for him/her even if they’ve done a behavior that you don’t enjoy (to say the least!)
3- Empower your child with tools; Teach your child ways by which they can channel their energy; breathing deeply, changing position (from sitting to standing or vice versa), washing their face..etc. and other tools that would help them process feelings; such as empathy (If your child learns that his brother must be hurting so much to hit him, and had no proper words to express – he will probably be more empathetic and even less hurt) – This worked very well with my daughter, specially at the beginning of her interaction with her new step brothers and sister.
4- Support your child with processing feelings; a lot of the times our children’s act outs are as a result of unprocessed feelings of sadness (that they missed training), anger (that they had to share their toy yesterday), overwhelmed (that they have to go out right now to visit grandpa and they are just not ready to) – and in most cases and in the heat of the moment we are unable to invite the time and spaciousness to attend to our child’s needs, a great way to compensate for that and let your child know that you care is to go back to him/her when there’s time and say “I noticed you were pretty upset this morning about missing training, do you want to talk about it? I would like to hear you out?”
5- Reflect on your boundaries; in most cases when we set boundaries, we do so because we believe they make sense. Well reality is, in most cases it doesn’t make this same sense to our kids. Reflecting on your boundaries enable you to really learn about the motivation behind them (is it so people won’t say your kid is messy or is it really related to your child’s wellbeing), how meaningful are they really to you and whether they first your child’s skills, development stage and personality
6- Be present; in most of the times kids do unpleasant behavior to solicit our attention, even if it’s going to be negative. It’s his/her call out for you to spend quality time, play, appreciation and silliness. Spending this time at various moments of the day send your child a concrete message that they matter, that they are seen and heard and that they are deeply loved – in this message lies their peace, security and consistency in cooperating with you
As usual these are not an all inclusive list, but it is my sharing of what I do with my kids and has been working. I dream of raising and treating our kids with empowerment and respect, so when they grow they would treat our world the same way and in that create a much peaceful world than the one we are living in. I hope both my articles empower you to progress in your journey of peaceful parenting.
Re-posted with permission. Marwa Farouq is a mother and wife in a beautiful blended family with four kids, and the founder of Blossom Family. She is a specialist in family, youth development and parenting education, and has coached youth, parents & educators supporting healing & compassion in relationships. Marwa has a dream of one day living in a peaceful world, and after working with multiple social change projects & businesses, she came to the realize this kind of change starts in building peaceful homes. Marwa is a certified Family & Youth Coach from the World Coach Institute. She is also certified in youth counseling, through the Institute of counseling. She is an advocate of the Non-Violent Philosophy and has completed training of compassionate parenting (Parent Peer Leadership Program), with the NVC Academy. She is the author of Thoughts that don’t Rhyme. Learn more on her website: www.BlossomFamily.net Facebook: www.facebook.com/blossomfamilynvc Twitter: Marwa_farouq Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/marwafarouq7/ G+: firstname.lastname@example.org.