Permissive Parenting a Spirited Child
Does Your Child Rule the Roost?
There truly are many approaches to parenting. Most of us who are raising children now grew up with authoritative parents, you know "do what I say and not what I do" and "because I said so, that's why" type of parenting.
As new parents we remember those years of frustration at what we deemed as parenting without reflection. As adults, we've read all the parenting books, we subscribe to the parenting magazines, we want to be the best parents we can possibly be. We're organic, natural - living, flexible and easy going. What's not to adore? We're going to show the world (and our own parents) that parenting means peaceful, loving kindness and that we have all the answers, before we have kids that is.
Along comes a child, maybe even a few. If you have a calm tempered baby than he will easily fit into the normal parenting boxes that all the books talk about, and permissive parenting works pretty well. Positive parenting books will give you wonderful examples to uphold and which work perfectly with docile kids.
But what about the spirited child? What about the rebel who seems adamant on making you pull out every hair in your head? The child makes you wonder 'what did I do wrong' because it's so hard. You never thought parenting could be so difficult, and sometimes you feel like you want to run away and hide from it all. You may be in tears daily and you may ask God 'why?' You never signed up for this!
You cannot see any parenting errors. You're being a wonderful parent, letting Johnny have his freedom and think independently as people should. You give explanations for everything you do, to live democratically; and yet you feel like your child's energy could overtake you at any given moment. He drags you around stores and around play dates. You're running ragged, you're at your wits end and you want things to be different. But where are the real answers? How do things change?
If it sounds like I am talking from experience, I am.
I knew it when he was six months old. This was no ordinary baby. I knew it when I was called into the director's office day after day in a short stint in Kindergarten. I knew it when I held a constant slight fear in my heart of how my child would act around family and in public. Would he decide to listen today? Would I be able to 'manage' him today?
Once you get into the habit of what I call Loving Discipline Parenting, your family will be transformed. At some point, having the natural tendency to be permissive (because of your flexible personality) you're going to have to realize that a healthy parent-child relationship means having a strong sense of personal power. If your child is spirited, you certainly see he has no problem with his own sense of personal power, so why should you? Spirited children can teach us a lot.
My journey to a peaceful, low stress household has been a long one. But we have arrived. Once I started implementing the basic tenets of Loving Discipline Parenting, life turned around 180 degrees and everyone's happy now. Our family bond has never been tighter and we love each and every day. I'm going to share some of the basic facets of Loving Discipline Parenting with you now.
1. Redefine your idea of who you think your child is. It's a self-fulfilling prophesy. What you think about your child becomes the role he fulfills. Think of and describe your relationship with your child honestly. Let it all out. It's OK for things to be NOT OK. We have to acknowledge the current situation for the healing to begin. Now begin to think of what outcomes you want to see happen. Keep that image in your mind as you continue to implement new ways of parenting. Only describe your child in positive terms to others, and begin yourself to look at the positive aspects of your child's character. This begins to set the standard for your new relationship with your child. I am surprised at how often I see parents unwittingly (perhaps) comment how difficult their children are right in front of their children. What message do you think that is sending the child? Children will not disappoint. But they get stuck too and need someone to show them the way out. Change the way you view your child and your relationship with your child, and you will then see that change.
2. Set limits and stick to them. This is an especially difficult one for those of us parents who are so open and free-spirited. We don't like limits ourselves, why would we push them on our kids? Actually kids desperately need limits. In order for them to feel safe, they need to know someone is actually in control around here. They need to know they can depend on you to step up and step in to defend something. What are you defending with a laissez-faire attitude? You have to show an example of a strong sense of self in order for your child to understand the true meaning of that.
3. Give your child responsibilities. For us, that meant a responsibility chart for starters, for the whole family, not just kids. We've now let go of that and my children understand that we are a community: a family living together and everyone has to pitch in and help for the well-being of the community. Giving children responsibilities fosters growth and maturity. Kids, whine as they may, are then able to understand the value in a hard day's work. Teach them the value of helping family and community. Helping the family is expected and required. No buts.
4. Get off the food dyes and unhealthy junk food. I cannot emphases this enough. Many children have behavioral and emotional reactions to food dyes and preservatives. You may not be aware of it especially if your child tends to eat these type of foods on a daily basis. You may just think that your child has a personality issue and he is a rebel or refuses to listen to you. Food dyes and preservatives have been closely linked with ADHD symptoms. Darting eyes, not paying attention, lack of focus or concentration: these are all associated with food dye and preservative allergic reactions. My son made tremendous strides with eliminating these alone.
5. For every fault you find in your child, find its opposite (eg. how can persistence be helpful in the real world?) When we are frustrated, we tend to see more negatives than positives, even if we are generally positive people. Realize that this special child you have is going to help you grow spiritually and emotionally if you allow that growth to happen.
6. Just as you respect others, demand to be respected and that your child respect others as well. This includes communication, word choices, listening to one another, respect for others' well-being and property. You must not give up on this one. Children who do not respect their parents and others many times end up in very bad situations.
7. Sit down and talk with your child - Explain the changes. Your child will need an honest explanation of the changes that are going to take place. Your child is smart. He knows things are out of control, he feels it and yet he has no idea how to make things better. He has long been sensing a feeling of rejection in one form or another from others and even from you (those frustrated looks, those tears, those sighs). You and your child are a team, there is a lot of love deep within and you are going to make it through this! Your relationship will be improved and life will be so much better for everyone. Let your child know exactly what changes will be taking place and that it's because we're making some changes that will make everyone happier.
8. Know that after the novelty wears off, you have to continue with your consistency. Parenting is like that. If you give up and go back to your permissive ways of being, life will go back to being as it was. Your child will go back to feeling out-of-control, and so will you. Just like healthy eating, new habits must be constantly maintained in order to receive true lasting benefit. But the good news is that you get to begin again continually. Kids will get angry, they may say things that hurt you.. but as long as you are continuing to use loving discipline parenting, things will settle down and turn into the family life you have yet only dreamed of.
9. Respect comes naturally from a close, loving bond. If you do not currently have a close bond with your child, chances are, there is a lack of respect as well. Get emotionally close to your child and you will see that all the sudden your child eagerly does things you ask of him and is happy to help you and listen to you. He does this, because he loves the closeness with you, and we naturally desire those we love to be happy. Bonding with your child includes things like reading stories every day together (no matter what the age), the sharing of experiences and the retelling of past experiences, being genuinely interested in what your child does and where his interests lie, and taking his feelings and thoughts into consideration (but not letting them rule you).
10. Make your family and the education of your children top priority in your life. Parenting can be by default or it can be a fulfilling journey to truly know yourself. You want the latter. Why let this opportunity of personal growth and enrichment to pass you by? To sustain an emotionally healthy family at the center of your life is to actually balance your life, enhance life's meaning and your own well-being. Implication in your child's education is the crux of parenting. Don't turn away from your responsibility as guide and educator.
Loving Kindness Parenting means that you do allow freedom for your child, but in turn, your child respects the freedom of others, including your own. You are not a slave to your child's desires just as he is a not a slave to yours. Your child must be respectful to you just as you are to him. Children will test every once in a while and you have to get down to their level (literally) look at them directly in the eyes and calmly tell them "I do not talk to you like that, please don't talk to me like that." The best thing you can do when the emotions escalate is to lower your voice, even to almost a whisper. You remain calm and talk quietly. This does not mean you lack power in your voice with what you are saying. You have to show calm power... but you speak quietly. This calms emotions and lets your child know that you are very comfortable with your own sense of inner strength and you do not have to scream over him to know you're being heard. It is an invaluable tool has served me well from Maria Montesorri's methods. It's a staple in my life.
By implementing these simple steps, you will see drastic changes in your relationship with your child and your child's behavior. You must stick with these methods though. Part of the problem with permission parenting is exactly NOT sticking with any type of rigor. That's the one thing that must change in order for your situation to change. You may be afraid of making bad choices and hurting your child in some unknown way. We all make mistakes; it's the nature of parenting. But the result is nowhere near as disastrous as children without limits and miserable, tired, worn out parents who are on the verge of giving up in despair. Ultimately, you are responsible for your child and your child's well-being. If your child is out of control, he is not feeling safe or loved. Lovingly enforced rules and boundaries indeed help a child know he is loved and deeply cared for. You are not supposed to have all the answers, but kids respect people who have convictions (even when those convictions are not always right) more than people who are wishy-washy. So gather up that inner strength my dear friend and stand up. Be that proud, loving, gentle but firm parent who is a true educator! This is your life and you deserve to enjoy parenthood for the joy it truly can be. Why suffer when the answers are right here in front of you?