I’ve received a lot of judgement over the years for the way I’ve chosen to parent my children. I’ve seen the side eye when I mention we don’t spank in our home. I’ve heard the comments similar to needing to “whip that child’s” behind. I’ve read the memes exclaiming that the “problem with kids these days is that they are not disciplined and just need a good spanking”.
I could explain that Gentle, Peaceful, or Attachment parenting is not permissive parenting and that my child is, in fact, disciplined. I could explain the actual meaning of the word discipline. I could provide all the statistics showing that the generation often referred to as “the problem children” actually often come from homes where spanking is used as punishment. I could go on for days. But that is another post for another time.
Right now I want to talk about my sweet girl. To the outside looking in, she has been super naughty lately. We had a rough summer. Four was a hard age. I lost my cool more times than I can count. Most people would choose to spank their child for the things she’s done, sending them to time out (aka social isolation), and choosing to see their behavior as an attack on their parenting, an unruly child who just won’t behave.
I’ve been tempted numerous times to see her that way, too.
But I choose to see my daughter as a human being experiencing big emotions, as someone who’s not giving me a hard time but as someone who’s having a hard time. And because of this, I knew there was something below the surface going on. I knew she was crying out to us through her behavior.
Last summer, we took her to see Finding Dory at the theater. She was mouthy, kept getting out of her seat and running off. She just wouldn’t listen to either of us. And it was super frustrating and brought out a lot of anger in us.
On the drive home, she was saying things that were just not nice. I turned around and looked at her and I asked her what was going on. I asked her why she wouldn’t listen and why she would run off and say hurtful things. She rolled her eyes at me, so I turned back around, tears filling my eyes, completely at a loss of what to do. I didn’t even recognize my own child.
Suddenly, my sweet, sensitive girl started crying. I looked at her and what she said next completely wrecked me.
Through tears, she looked at me and said, “I act like this because I know when Brother comes that you will not have time for me. You will be busy with the baby and will not have time to cuddle with me anymore. I just know it.”
All of the sudden, I could see more clearly. She wasn’t acting out to spite me. Her behavior was not a reflection of my parenting. She was acting the way she was because of her anxiety and worries about no longer being an only child. And I knew it. Deep down, I knew it had to be related to the baby coming.
So we reassured her how much we loved her and that she wasn’t being replaced. We told her that things would be different when Brother came, but that we would still have plenty of snuggles and love for her. We talked about ways that she could help out when the baby came and we talked about ways that she could be involved, even if we were helping the baby.
She calmed down after that. She seemed lighter, as if a weight had been lifted off her tiny shoulders. That’s not to say that she stopped testing her boundaries or that she suddenly became the perfect listener. The point is that we could have easily sent her to time out or spanked her or punished her for her behavior, and in doing so, accomplished nothing but making her feel like her feelings didn’t matter. But by showing her that we respect her as a person and that she is entitled to her feelings, she felt comfortable enough to open up to us and share her feelings. And those are things I want her to hold on to as she grows into an adult.
I want my children to be equipped with the skills to express themselves and to process and express their emotions, rather than hiding everything inside and acting out through aggression.
My girl is sweet, and sensitive, and has a huge heart, and I never want to suppress or change those things about her. Emotions are big and difficult to work through for adults, let alone for children. Give them the opportunity to trust you enough to talk through them. It makes a huge difference for your relationship!