Parenting with Respect

When I started our Family Project back in July, high up on my list of hopes and achievements for the project was that ‘my children would learn to be more respectful.’

So as usual, when I want to learn how to do something, I buy myself some books. There is nothing more I like in the world (except perhaps food!) than buying and reading books.  My aim was to gather tips and techniques on how to teach children to be more respectful – of themselves, others, their parents, teachers, the environment, possessions, strangers – everything, in fact. It seemed to me that if they could just ‘get’ respect, i.e.understand the need for respect and how to do it, then most of my parenting problems would just dissolve.  In essence I was searching for the holy grail of parenting -I thought that if I could teach my children respect I would have it sorted.

So I picked a couple of books already on my shelves, ordered a couple more, and set about reading them.  At the beginning I read methodically and took copious notes, but soon I became so eager and hopeful for answers that I skipped chapters, read from two or three books simultaneously depending on which book was in reach, in any spare minute. On the loo, in the car waiting for the kids to get out of school, at 6am in the morning, while cooking tea, while the kids were in the bath, and last thing at night.   

But I was in for a big shock.  What I read in those pages did not give me the tools and techniques to teach my kids respect.  They didn’t even pretend to do that, because they said that was impossible.  Instead, I found out that I was the one who needed to learn respect. 

Initially I tried to struggle against this, and deny that I – such a caring, conscientious, loving mother – needed to learn this. Surely I did this most of the time already?  But very quickly I realised that not only were they right, but that I had unconsciously chosen books which matched my true, inner beliefs and the way that I instictively wanted to parent, but didn’t know how to.

The books all stressed that:

  • Rewards and punishments don’t work in the long run, since they are based on fear.
  • Creating a loving connection or bond with your children is the key to parenting.
  • Showing unconditional love and providing a safe, non-judgemental home is the foundation to this approach.
  • How you speak to your children, or about your children, has a huge affect on how they learn respect (or not).
  • A parent can only model respect not teach it. 
  • Listening to your children is a key skill to connect with your children.

Over the next month I will look into these, and many more ideas, in more detail, and review and discuss the books I’m reading.

If you are interested in learning about unconditional, connection-based parenting because you are finding that rewards and punishments, coercion and fear are not working for your family, then these are the books I’ve started with:

  1. How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish.
  2. Respectul Parents, Respectful Kids: 7 Keys to Turn Family Conflict into Co-operation, by Sura Hart & Victoria Kindle Hodson.
  3. Connection Parenting: Parenting through Connection instead of Coercion, Through Love instead of Fear, by Pam Leo.
  4. Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason, by Alfie Kohn.
  5. Playful Parenting, by Lawrence J. Cohen.
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Family Project Update

Well, the chaos of the holidays and the start of school term have taken their toll on me, and I have to admit that I haven’t kept focussed on our Family Project as much as I’d hoped.

However, despite my lack of planning this month’s family activities, the concept of respect has been central in my thoughts, and has caused much relief, hope and despair.

The story goes like this:   For most of my parenting life, I have felt uneasy with the general parenting techniques that our society uses, namely the culture of reward and punishment, blaming and shaming, and the reliance on external motivation to mould children’s behaviour.

However,  I’m also not comfortable with the more permissive, liberal side of parenting either, where we let our children discover their own path, and put their needs first.  I do believe that we should teach our children certain ways of behaving, and for them to learn that there are consequences whenever and however we act. 

Add to that the recent realisation that I am a perfectionist who feels the need to be in control of everything – especially her children – you have a set of contraditions that are not likely to bring about a safe, nurturing, respectful environment for children to grow up in.  Instead you find a mother who is instinctively loving and nurturing but who on a day to day basis uses threats, blaming and shaming with her children (and herself) in the misguided belief that this what you have to do to instill proper values, principles and manners into her children.  But it doesn’t work. And because I’m a perfectionist, I blame myself (when I’m not blaming the children!) which makes the whole situation ten times worse.

So when our Family Project focussed on respect I ordered three new parenting books.  But I didn’t get what I expected.  Instead of learning new techniques to teach my children how to act with more respect, I was told what I already knew deep inside: that it was me who needed to learn to treat my children with respect, not the other way around. 

Cue relief (my instincts were right after all), hope (it will be ok when I’ve practiced this respect thing – it can’t be too hard, especially since it is in tune with my thinking) and then despair (it’s sooooooooooooo hard.  Habits are hard to change, and my children don’t respond in the same way that they do in the books). 

So our Family Project will be concentrating on respect for as long as it takes, and it will involve as much learning, and changing, from me and my husband as it will from our kids.  It’s tough, and will continue to be tough, but it feels right. For once I feel like I am living in line with my values.

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Respectful Parenting Quotes

If a child is to keep his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in. – Rachel Carson

It’s not only children who grow.  Parents do too.  As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours.  I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun.  All I can do is reach for it, myself.  – Joyce Maynard

What we are teaches the child far more than what we say, so we must be what we want our children to become. – Joseph Chilton Pearce

The trouble with learning to parent on the job is that your child is the teacher.  – Robert Brault

Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve.  – Roger Lewin

Sources: Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids, by Sura Hart & Victoria Kindle Hodson.

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Family Values No. 2 – Respect

Jasmine's rules for being a good family.

Our Family Project Value of the month for August is Respect.*

I’m always talking about respect with my children. And I quite often talk to my children about respect.  I talk about it so much they probably switch off and don’t hear me anymore. So this month we are exploring respect in more detail, so they have to take notice. 

My children understand why respect is important, and when we talk about it around the kitchen table, they sound like perfectly programmed angel children, who know what showing respect involves.  But like most of us, acting with respect every single moment of our lives is much much harder to do than simply talking about it.

Often it’s not just the children who need to learn to think and act with more respect. Many parents don’t treat their own children with enough respect either. How many times have you heard yourself scream at your children, “Stop shouting, show more respect for each other!”  Or is it just me?

Respect can be hard when a situation gets stressful.  But in my mind, respect is the foundation that helps the individual or family stand firm against stressful, negative situations.  I know that when I deal with a ‘discipline’ issue with my children by speaking calmly and respectfully, the situation is less likely to escalate into a heated battle.  But it is difficult. With our own children, our emotions are involved, buttons get pushed and the ‘red mist’ can descend in an instant.  With all the will in the world, it is not always possible to be calm and respectful in the face of this. 

However, I believe that trying again and again, learning what works for each person and then practice, practice, practicing it, will pay off eventually, especially within a family with young children.  All we can do is keep trying and improving things bit by bit. Hopefully our Family Project will keep us focussed on this.

*I am a bit late organising and blogging about this, but hey, it’s the holidays!

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Using Gratitude to Survive Bad Times.

Appreciating the beautiful sunset while stuck on the hard shoulder for 6 hours.

I had an amazing experience yesterday. 

From the outside it might have looked like I’d had a bit of a disaster, because quite a few things went wrong. Not least of which was running out of petrol in the outside lane of the M25. With 2 children in the car. At rush hour. With the motorway closed in front of us, and many miles of tailback behind us. We had to wait six hours for the breakdown truck, and another two hours to get home, which we did at 1.30 in the morning.

What made the day amazing was how my children and I coped with it, and how the kindness and support of a few strangers made us feel connected and alive.

I am truly amazed by how my children  dealt with the situation yesterday (Harvey is 9 and Jasmine is 7 on Monday. Luckily Zach, 4, was with my husband).  They tried to be calm when it was very scary, hopeful when everything seemed doomed and appreciative of the positives when our spirits started to fade.  We talked about feeling grateful that we weren’t the ones who were involved in the crash, or we hadn’t lost someone we loved.* We reminded ourselves that we were warm enough in the car, and had enough to eat and drink for the next few hours. We had our books to read, we talked about the trucks and cars inching past, and we remembered our day at Thorpe Park. We said hello to sheep stuck in trailers and wished the sedated horses a speedier journey home.  We picked blackberries, buried acorns and watched the sunset.

One converstation epitimised our attitude throughout the whole experience. We watched a man in a big truck get angry, beeping and shouting at a car infront of him. He wanted to change lanes and was infuriated that the silver saloon infront of him wasn’t getting out of his way.  

Me: ‘Oh, look that man is getting a bit angry isn’t he?’

Harvey: ‘He’s getting angry because he’s been stuck in traffic for four hours.’

Me: ‘But we’ve been stuck in traffic for four hours too and we’re not angry.’

Harvey: ‘Oh, but we know that there’s no point in getting angry about it.’

Those of you who have been reading this blog will know that we’ve been focussing on gratitude as part of our Family Project this last month or so.  I have no idea whether our daily gratitude habits have made the difference but I can’t help thinking that two months ago, none of us would have dealt with things in the same way. Can spending a month focussing on gratitude really change the way people (especially children) deal with difficult situations?

I know that if I hadn’t been calm and positive, the children would most probably taken their cues from me, and I am proud that I was a good role model yesterday (particularly because it doesn’t always happen!). But as most parents know, even when we are managing to be good role models, our children don’t always oblige by copying us.

What I do know is that Harvey and Jasmine seem to be two different children to the ones we took on holiday two months ago. If it was because of our Family Project that makes me really proud. If it’s because of their personalities and charactor I’m also really proud. Either way, it seems that I’m managing to get at least some of my parenting (or genetics) right. And this gives me hope that I haven’t completely damaged them with the many mistakes I do make. It’s a message to all of us to keep trying, keep learning, keep doing the best we can in this crazy challenge called parenting.

*The rumour on the road was that someone had died when an articulated lorry crossed the central reservation, but the news today did not mention it, so I am hoping that all involved will be ok.

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End of Term Gratitude

Harvey's Thank You card to his teacher.

I am happy it is the end of term.

For the next six weeks I will not be able to work as much with the kids at home (maybe I’ll stop all together?) I will not have time to myself to Get Stuff Done. I will have 3 children demanding things of me all day, every day. And I’m still looking forward to it. 

For me, the holidays are a chance for us all to slow down. Including me.  In the holidays my To Do list is not constantly hovering in my mind, and I’m not having to get in and out of the car all day dropping off and picking up children from nursery, school, friend’s houses and activities. It is our time to just chill.  We can go out for the day, or we can sit around in our pyjamas playing games and watching movies.  We can play in the garden, go for walks, visit friends or just potter around with no particular schedule to follow.   We will also spend a few days at my Mum’s in Devon.

My children are also looking forward to the holidays.  We have high hopes.  I know by September I’ll be probably be glad to get ‘back to normal’ but for now, we’re going to enjoy and appreciate our lives slowing down.

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Reframing the Situation

Zach gave me these flowers for being the 'best mum in the world.' So maybe I do get it right sometimes!

We’ve been a little less focussed on our Family Project for a few days because we’ve had visitors and all the extra activities of the end of term have kept us busy.  But the good news is that we still seem to be talking about what we appreciate in our lives much more than we did before.

This week we are looking at reframing our experiences, and rethinking our reactions to what happens to us.  We are learning to say things like: ‘Nevermind, at least…’ and my two youngest have surprised me on a couple of occasions by using this technique.  My only-just-four year old said – when he didn’t get a turn at a game at his music group – ‘Nevermind, maybe I’ll get a go next week.’  My six year old daughter said last night when she was going to bed on the old futon mattress in my son’s room (my mum is staying in her room) ‘Its a bit funny sleeping on the floor, but at least I have a bed to sleep on and a cover to keep me warm.’

They still have their tantrums, and they still complain at the smallest thing. And I am still having my tantrums and complaining at the smallest thing. But we are learning. We are learning to bite our tongue and remember to see the positive in seemingly bad situations.

We are getting there one step at a time, and I feel very proud that we haven’t given up after 3 weeks!

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