The Messages We Send Our Children

I am currently at the end of nursing my two youngest children through a bout of Influenza. This year’s strain of influenza, the Influenza A H1N1 is spreading rapidly and bringing with it messages of fear even for the most positive thinking parents. When children are sick it is natural for them to be afraid. I have put a lot of thought into the messages that I want my children to hear about their bodies, illness and their body’s ability to heal itself. This carries over into the way I want them to view issues of weight as they enter their teen and adult years and is a long term way of giving them the tools they need to avoid falling into the trap of eating disorders either on the under-eating or over-eating end of that spectrum.

While they were sick I kept repeating the message to them “Your body is strong, it will heal itself” and “yes you have a fever, the fever is a sign your body is working to fight off the virus,” “throwing up is a way for your body to get rid of the germs in your stomach and is a good thing” and “coughing is a way for your body to get germs out so it’s important to not take anything to stop the coughing.”

I believe the body wants to be well and is a self-healing entity and when we are fighting off the inevitable viruses that attack our bodies as important as a strong immune system is a strong belief in the body’s desire for balance and wellness. These are the messages I want my children to hear while they are sipping water, lying on the couch watching cartoons and fighting off whatever bug has bit them.

I am very careful not to jump for the pill bottle for them or myself and even do not jump to the herbal or natural remedies too quickly either and when I do I describe them as support for the body rather than a cure.

And as important as what I say is what I do. My children watch me and know what I am putting into my body, they know if I’m fearful when I get sick. They worry about mommy when she’s not well and I repeat the same messages to them. And they are always true. I rarely get sick but when I do I get better quickly.
They see it happen and they know it to be true.

I apply this same approach in the matter of discipline.

I believe that children want to behave in ways that avoids hurting others, that they want to be kind and gentle and do the right thing for others. I’ve seen very natural and spontaneous acts of kindness from very small children and believe that they naturally want to follow that course. They are just in need of guidance as to how their actions affect others. I don’t believe being fearful of a parent is conducive to imparting that message which is why I avoid punitive discipline.

The messages I try to relay in all those situations are ones of emotion. “That made your friend very happy when you gave her that toy, you must be very proud of yourself,” or “you didn’t mean to hurt your friend, you seem very sorry,” and “I am very proud of you.” The last one I say a lot and is not dependent upon their behaviour. It is important that they know how I feel about them outside of their behaviour and I tell them how proud I am of them at random moments.

Another message that I try to impart to them regularly is that I am absolutely thrilled to be their mom. I tell them that I am the luckiest mom because they are my children and that being their mom is my greatest joy.

This message is the most important one because it counterbalances those very human moments when I am not the most patient mom, they know how I really feel so that when I apologise for being angry or disappointing them or for making very human mistakes they believe it because they have seen through my words and most of my actions that I mean it.

From the very beginning, from the moment we respond to their first cry, to that toddler moment when we return a snatched toy to impress upon them that others have needs as well as theirs, while consoling them during illness and while tucking them in on a regular old night, the messages we give our children, spoken as well as acted, are soaked sponge-like into their brains.

And because of this the messages we send through our words and actions are probably our number one tool in shaping the adults they become and increases the likelihood that they will become emotionally strong, healthy, capable and truly happy adults.

Redirection as a Discipline Tool…For Parents!

Victoria Parsons
Victoria Parsons

victoria 2

The beautiful little girl in these pictures is my niece Victoria. I will never forget the day Victoria’s mom called me and I could hear the panic and anger in her voice. As the story unfolded I could also tell that she called me as a means of protecting her daughter from the anger she was feeling more than anything else. She was mad. And although she asked for advice, that was secondary. She needed redirection. And I don’t blame her! Oh the mess!

My brother, Victoria’s dad, and his family had only recently moved into their new home. They had picked new paint colours and a vibrant pink was chosen for Victoria’s room. The cans of paint were left in each room waiting for the time when mom would get around to painting the walls. As you can see Victoria couldn’t wait. My very clever niece used a kitchen butter knife to pry open the paint and went to work painting the room herself.

When her mom discovered the mess she called me. “What do I do?” she asked desperately. My reply was “take pictures.” She was a little taken aback at my reply. But it only took a short while to convince the photographer in her that this was worth shooting. So she did. And I’m ever so grateful she did. These are treasures.

Of course she did have a conversation afterwards with Victoria about what she was thinking and why she decided to paint her room. And her reasons were quite logical. First of all, her mom hadn’t yet. Plus, she wanted to play “Trading Spaces” a HGTV home decor show where neighbours decorated a room in each others homes. Her brother refused so she went ahead herself and got started. Perfectly logical in the mind of a 3 year old! The show was a favourite of mom’s and the kids enjoyed it as well. In fact, mom later sent them off to the Life Network where they gave such joy there that my niece was rewarded with a t-shirt from the network!

In the course of all this, many people would suggest that my niece should have been punished. In traditional discipline I cannot imagine what would have happened to a child who had gotten up to such mischief. In fact I suggest that many of us, as children, would have been severely punished for this sort of thing. I’m sure I would have. But what would that have truly accomplished that wasn’t accomplished by a different reaction? My niece understood by the severity of her mother’s emotions when she was discovered that she had done wrong. She didn’t need punishment. She felt bad enough. Even though she was eventually photographed and fussed over, at just under 4 years old, she understood that this was not something she should attempt again. She watched her parents pull out the carpet in her brand new bedroom and work to remove paint where necessary and repair the damage that was done. She understood and she felt remorse.

And the parents, particularly Victoria’s mom is probably much prouder of her reaction at the time than if she’d lost control and spanked Victoria instead of calling me first to talk her down. Who knows how that would have gone? In such an angry state, hardly anyone would have blamed her for using corporal punishment, but not using it took greater self-control and strength and that is something to be very proud of.

And what of Victoria? Without punishment has she gone into a life of destruction? Is she a vandal now, wreaking havoc wherever she goes? Of course not. She’s a wonderful, well-behaved, well-loved and loving child. She’s delightful and sweet these many years later. She has not repeated the behaviour at all. She felt remorse, learned a lesson and I’m confident she will not repeat this or similar actions. Even without punishment! Imagine that.

We speak of redirection for children when they are young, to remove them from the temptation to do wrong, steering them gently in the direction we’d have them go, instead of allowing them to hit a playmate or snatch a toy.

As parents we need sometimes to redirect ourselves. We need to grab a cup of tea, go for a walk, call a friend, or grab the camera to help us through those angry moments when we’ve lost our tempers and feel like lashing out at our children for their antics. Long term the memories will be happier, the final outcome will likely remain unchanged, but the most important thing is that our relationship and attachment with our children is undamaged by our behaviour in the heat of the moment.

Do you have any examples of ways you redirected yourselves when tempted to slip back into the punishment style of discipline? They don’t have to be quite as dramatic as my neice’s little escapade!

Carolyn R. Parsons is a writer. She is married to Kent Chaffey and they have four daughters, aged 3 to 18. She blogs at BreezeDaze. Her first book, a poetry collection called Wind Rhymes will be published at the end of September.

Impulse Control; How to Gently Encourage Your Child to Develop It!

Should we go in?
Should we go in?

Everybody has heard the adage “When we know better, we do better,” and everybody also knows it’s not always true. We as parents are not perfect. While we know and understand that corporal punishment is wrong, even parents who subscribe to this belief slip into this behaviour sometimes. In life we all make decisions to do something that we know isn’t the right one. We eat the chocolate cake we know is detrimental to our diet goals, we drink the soda pop with aspartame although we know the chemical content isn’t healthy to our bodies, we know better but we don’t always do better. And we console ourselves that we’re being moderate and that it’s alright to occasionally indulge ourselves in our impulses.

Somehow though, we expect our children to have a higher level of impulse control than we as adults have. Children, like adults, have a full range of impulse control development. Some children are born sensible, with sober second thought a part of their nature. Other children fall on the other end of that spectrum where thought and action are almost simultaneous! Most children fall somewhere along the spectrum and have occasional bounces to the other end. I was shocked when my normally extremely sensible 6 year old cut her three year old sister’s bangs. I was even more surprised when my normally highly impulsive 3 year old stopped suddenly at the edge of the sidewalk before I had the opportunity to stop her and looked three times up and down the road to see if there was traffic and then looked back at me to ask if it was safe!

What is normal behaviour? How do we curb impulsiveness that is destructive, dangerous or out of control? What do we as parents do to protect our property and others from our children’s normal impulses? What do you do if your child does something that is extreme when you know they should know better?
Continue reading Impulse Control; How to Gently Encourage Your Child to Develop It!

Conversation as a Discipline Technique

Conversation About a Very Special Quilt!
Conversation About a Very Special Quilt!

As a child, I was raised in a “children should be seen and not heard” culture, and most of the talking was of the lecture sort, made by a parent, after I’d made my mistake. I was often not permitted to have input.  It is very difficult to know what’s expected of you if you’ve never been told.  I often felt frustrated and invalidated and it left me socially awkward and uncomfortable and more likely to make further mistakes.

As part of leaving this paradigm behind, embracing attachment parenting, and knowing that children understand things long before they can speak, it was important to me to start conversing with my children immediately and I likely appeared pretty odd as I explained to a newborn why I was buying a particular brand of Canadian grown mushrooms.
Continue reading Conversation as a Discipline Technique

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