This parenting experience I am having is truly fascinating. I’ve spend the last almost 3 years building this brand new relationship with a brand new human being, and yet, I’m the one who feels brand new.
My daughter invites me to examine life more closely. To experience simple things with more depth and intention. To see so much of myself mirrored in another person. Everything has become a giant question mark, and life is more exciting this way.
Reya is almost 3. And there is a lot going on at almost 3. I’m just trying to keep up.
My very best parenting lessons come when I pay attention.
One day, I was paying attention, and I noticed that whenever Reya does something that I do not like or approve of, my go-to phrase is “That isn’t very nice, Reya.” or something of that variety.
I say this because it felt like a softer way of communicating my disapproval, a more gentle way of asking her to reconsider her actions.
But I question myself – what am I really asking my daughter to do?
When I engage in a parenting interaction with my daughter, I try to go through these 3 filters, often retrospectively.
What is this teaching my child about themselves?
I’m teaching her that she was not “nice.”
And perhaps, with repetition and reinforcement – that she IS not nice.
What is this teaching my child about life?
That being nice or being perceived as nice is a priority.
What is this teaching my child about me?
Mom does not like it when people are not nice.
Mom does not like me when I am not nice.
Being nice means behaving in a way that my mom likes and accepts.
My mom will tell me when something is nice and when something is not nice.
I reflect on this and realize that none of these things are what I want to teach my child about herself, life or me.
What I actually know to be true is that while being nice is lovely, there are so many other important things to be, as well as being nice, and sometimes at the expense of it. I know that sometimes you will not be perceived as “nice” when you do the right thing for you. I know that being perceived in any particular way by someone else is kind of irrelevant. And I also know that getting in the habit of prioritizing “niceness” cultivates people pleasing tendencies – which has a complicated path of its own.
So, let me once again go through my filters, this time thinking about what I do want her to know about life.
What do I want to teach my child about themselves?
Every action has a reaction and a consequence. It is up to me to decide if it is worth it.
Labels are irrelevant, especially when they come from an outside source.
What do I want to teach my child about life?
Doing the right and appropriate thing is more important than being nice.
What do I want to teach my child about me?
My mom loves me for me and I can choose how I want to be in any situation.
My mom’s happiness does not depend on me being a certain way or doing a certain thing.
My mom does not define who I am.
My mom can be wrong about things.
What my mom likes and accepts are not rules for me to live my life. I will live by my own unique vision.
I have the innate wisdom to know what is right for me and what is wrong for me, and I have the power to make choices. (& I must do the work to cultivate that trust, clarity and vision for my self and my life.)
And from here, I can decide how I actually want to respond to her. What I actually want to say. What I actually mean.
Here’s what works for us:
What I find works to support this kind of relationship with our children, is simple judgement-free narrating of what’s unfolding. No shaming, blaming, praising, fixing, or judging.
Cause and effect might not be apparent to young children right away, so having a parent reinforce reality with words can help. The less we say, the more our children can think, reflect and problem-solve on their own.
So instead of saying something like: “Oh no!! You ripped your book, you naughty girl! Now what are we going to do? Why did you do that? This is the third time you ruined one of your books, you’re always getting into trouble!”
Try: “Awe, you ripped your favourite book. It’s going to be hard for me to read it for you now.” Simple and to the point.
Instead of “Stop running so fast! You are going to get hurt. See! I told you you this would happen!”
Try: “You are running soooo fast with socks on! The table is in the middle of the room, but you are running around it. Does the floor feel slippery?”
Gentle, firm reminders & confident parenting
Unconfident parenting looks like:
- Yelling – “NO!, WE DO NOT DO THAT!”
- Punishing – “Come down in 5 seconds or you’re going into time out! 5…4…3…2…1”
- Bribing – “If you eat your whole dinner then you can go on the iPad!”
- Shaming – “You’re not a baby are you? You’re a big girl, and big girls don’t wear diapers! Look, your friends don’t wear diapers!! Only babies wear diapers”
- Getting flustered and panicked, using your emotions as a desperate attempt to engage your child. “Look, mommy is so sad/angry, pleaseeeee just stop, you’re embarrassing me, and I’m freaking out right now!!”
Listen – no judgement, I dip into these too – especially bribing and the occasional shaming tactics. I feel like these things were so deeply ingrained in how I was brought up, it comes so automatically to me sometimes! If I advocate for not judging our children, I certainly stand by not judging the parent too.
Confident parenting to me, looks like respectfully setting boundaries and offering gentle but firm reminders about them.
It looks like:
- Limits – “You seem frustrated with me, but I won’t let you hit me.” or “This is what I have made for dinner tonight. You don’t have to eat it if you don’t want to, but we are not eating cereal for dinner.”
- Options – “I know it’s so hard to stop playing and leave the playground. It’s time to go home and eat dinner. Do you want to do 10 big frog jumps to the car or do you want me to carry you?”
- Empathy – “It looks like you are overwhelmed at the grocery store, let’s go back to the car and spend some time together.”
- Patience – “It’s okay if you don’t feel ready to wear underwear yet. Sometimes it takes time. We can be patient until your body is ready.”
- Respect – “Have you had enough of dinner? Is your tummy feeling full already? Ok, let’s go wash your hands.”
Evolving as a parent when life is so full
This might sound a little intense for an interaction with a 3 year old about throwing a toy in my direction – but I truly believe that how we parent the small things become how we parent the big things.
Parenting is full on! It requires so much from us mentally, emotionally, and physically that sometimes the thought of thinking of “how to be a better parent for my child” is the last thing on our mind. I get it.
Things that help me still focus on evolving as a parent even when things feel so busy are:
💕 I try to decide on one area to focus on every week. Some weeks are more practical things like potty training, or being devoted to her night time routine and making sure everything gets done, or less screen time or recently – I’ve noticed we haven’t been reading any books at all! So I’d like to focus on bringing books back into our life, getting some new interesting books, and prioritizing reading again. So I focus on that for one week to set the ball in motion.
💕 Some weeks have a more subtle focus like – focusing on how we handle disappointment together, or focusing on getting her more involved in my day to day tasks OR me getting more involved in HER world.
💕 Another technique I use is just paying attention to the things that come up a lot. Things I say a lot, things I do a lot, situations that come up a lot for us – all opportunities to question, reflect on and tweak as necessary.
Self reflection prompts
💕 Identify something you tell your child often and examine it.
💕 What are you teaching your child about themselves? About life? About you?
💕 What do you want to teach your child about these things?
💕 In what situations could you work on being a more confident parent?
💕 What is one area of your relationship with your child you could focus on this week? What needs attention?