Positive discipline is all about the right relationship

721847_mother_and_daughterSome parents misconstrue Attachment Parenting (AP) as promoting undisciplined children and martyred parents, when in actuality, Attachment Parenting has a strong basis in discipline and balance.

Parents are encouraged to look at child behavior in a different perspective than a punishment-based mindset. Children need abundant nurturing and an authentic, open bond with their parents based in trust rather than in fear.

This doesn’t mean that AP parents never say “no.” In fact, boundary-setting is very important to Attachment Parenting. What it means is that AP parents approach discipline in a different way — instead of punishing for undesirable behavior, they teach and guide their children through non-punitive ways. AP parents strive to teach problem-solving.

It’s also important for AP parents to teach emotional health by modeling. Take tantrums, for example, a natural response to boundary setting for a toddler or young child. Tantrums, or “losing it,” is a learned response for adults. A parent who “loses it” in response to their child’s behavior and punishes the child isn’t meeting that child’s need for guidance into how to handle strong emotions like frustration and disappointment, but actually teaching the child that tantrums can’t be controlled except by lashing out at others — or alternatively, stuffing emotions in the case of a parent who is more likely to not set firm boundaries. AP parents are able to identify and respond to their own strong emotions, and therefore are then able to teach their children in how to manage their own tantrums over time through emotion-coaching and problem-solving.

For example, for children — and, to be honest, adults too — a meltdown may be precipitated by tiredness, hunger, illness or a feeling of emotional disconnect from others. These contributors can be addressed, which can significantly and immediately reduce the number of tantrums. The remaining tantrums can then be addressed from a point of view of what emotional needs is the child trying to express: Does the child feel misunderstood? Does the child need more choices? Does the child need help learning a new skill?

I like to say that discipline begins at birth, because parents are always teaching their child something, even newborn babies, by how they respond and what priority they give to a warm, compassionate but balanced parent-child relationship. Positive discipline is rooted in the right relationship between a parent and child.

Saying “no” the Attachment Parenting way

“Many of us were brought up to feel that we were greedy or selfish if we wanted things. Our parents turned our wants into occasions for shame.” ~ Love and Anger: The Parental Dilemma by Nancy Samalin

stephanie peters familyThis quote is completely true for me. Even now as an adult, sometimes I feel ashamed for wanting something I know isn’t possible to have at that moment.

Our children have a right to ask for things that they want. And we have a right to say “no.”

Our child will be unhappy with the “no” and likely feel angry, sad or disappointed. As the parent, our job is to allow them these emotions while setting limits.

350691Editor’s note: Join this and other discussions on Goodreads through the API Reads online book club. You can read along in your own copy of Love and Anger, or even if you don’t have the book, you can follow the discussion and take away bits of parenting ideas to try in your home. Learn more about the API Reads program or join for free directly at Goodreads.


Loving one another in anger

LeyaniRedditiI feel a lot of love in my house.

But there are conflicts, hurt feelings and misunderstandings. I know we are on a journey together to love each other the best we can — to forgive and accept, and to challenge ourselves to feel our feelings without hurting others with our actions or words.

This is a big challenge for me, having grown up with a parental mandate to be happy. If I wasn’t happy, my parents became annoyed or angry. So strong feelings went inside.

I want my children to express their feelings — all of them — and I want us to be a family that shows respect and kindness. So how to manage the moments when the feelings come out and they are hurtful?

“You gave me a broken lollipop!” screams one child at the other. “Well, I didn’t know!” the other yells back, tears welling up in both their eyes.

What do I do as a parent who wants to validate emotions, live in an environment where strong feelings are OK and model communication that is not hurtful?

My instincts from childhood direct me to snap at my children to shut down the yelling. I feel my anger rising in response to theirs. I just want them to be happy! I feel annoyed that they are not.

I have a moment of empathy for my parents. I am chilled, knowing how easy it is to repeat the cycles we grow up with even when we did not thrive in them and do not want to repeat them.

So I stop myself from saying anything in the moment. I pause and breathe.

My children are each sniffling in the back seat, one with her hands over her face and the other staring at a book. We are in the driveway, about to drive away from the house. I turn off the engine, and we just sit for a moment.

This is my chance to change the cycle. This is my chance to do it differently. If I really believe that how I deal with conflict helps them learn to deal with conflict, then this moment is important.

I take another breath and think about myself as a kid and what I would have liked my parents to say and do when I was angry, hurt and frustrated. And the answer? Hugs, empathy, help expressing my feelings, reassurance and a gentle, strong presence that told me it’s all going to be OK.

Struggling with Attachment Parenting?

100_0272I feel it is such a sign of true strength when parents can be honest with themselves and others that they, too, struggle.

Especially with Attachment Parenting (AP), many parents feel that they have to be “perfect” but that is an impossible standard. We all have moments where our knee-jerk reactions get the best of us.

Just the other day, I stubbornly insisted my oldest daughter was the one misunderstanding a situation. She was in tears, and I was adamant that I was “right.” It was a little past our usual lunch time, but it didn’t even dawn on me that perhaps I was seeing things in a different light because I needed to eat.

And then as soon as I got some food in me, my mood mellowed out and I quickly realized that I was completely in error in how I related to my daughter. So I apologized and we talked about how I need to work on taking care of myself better so I’m not taking out my low blood sugar on others.

Emotion coaching is such a huge part of AP. It’s not that AP parents always have it together, that we are superhuman in handling our strong emotions and therefore never raise our voices or give in to our knee-jerk reactions. It’s that we are comfortable with teaching our children that all of their — and our — emotions are healthy. We don’t need to be scared of our emotions, and there are ways to work through them in a healthy way.

That includes when we’re thinking thoughts that we think “real AP parents” never think of. Ha! It’s not that other AP parents don’t have these thoughts, and sometimes the actions that go with those thoughts, but rather how we repair the disconnection that happens when those thoughts/actions arise.

I try not to sweat an occasionally hard day of relating with my kids. But when I get into a pattern of relating with disconnection, I go back to Attachment Parenting International’s Eighth Principle of Parenting: Strive for Balance. I also go back and re-read my AP books to relearn and remind myself of what I’ve been taking for granted.

Earlier in my “career” as a mother, I had a very difficult time with API’s Sixth Principle of Parenting: Practice Positive Discipline. It took me seemingly forever to get the healthy patterns in place to change my mindset from punitive discipline to positive discipline. I was particularly vulnerable to others’ opinions of my parenting approach, especially from disapproving family members.

When I was a younger mother, and still figuring out how AP was going to work in our home, as well as healing my own childhood emotional wounds, it helped me so much to talk to parents who had “gone before” me and whose children were living proofs that AP works. There are times in the early years when it seems to some parents new to AP that this child-rearing approach might be setting a child up to be aggressive or “spoiled,” but so much of that perspective is part of the growing pains of wrapping the non-AP brain around the concept of Attachment Parenting.

The development is different for a toddler who is being raised AP than for a toddler who is raised in a way where strong emotions are suppressed, but when a child is raised with guidance through API’s Eight Principles of Parenting, the seemingly difficult toddler grows into a child very aware of his or her emotions who is empathetic and creative and exceptional at problem-solving.

I’m seeing it in action with my own children, the oldest of whom is 8 years old. And I’ve seen it in action with others’ AP-ed children, some who are in their teens or preteens and even a few who are grown, married and are raising a second-generation of AP kids. Attachment Parenting works.

There were times when I would have to remind myself that my child acts a certain way, because he or she was not raised with an iron hand or where crying was punished — and that is OK. For example, some of my family members’ views on children are that they are “to be seen and not heard, and preferably not even to be seen.” Children are expected to play by themselves in an out-of-the-way room while the grown-ups talk together. But my kids are used to, and like to, be part of the togetherness of family. They don’t want to be out of the way; they want to be with and connect with the grown-ups.

Some of my family members may see this behavior as impolite or bothersome. And that is OK. What any one person defines as “good” behavior is subjective.

What’s more important to me is that my children are absorbing the values I want them to have as adults — and right at the top of the list is a desire to connect with others, emotional health and authenticity. So much of that is how I respond when my own strong emotions come up — like anger, sorrow, fear, disappointment, jealousy, embarrassment and others — especially when I didn’t deal with them well the first-time around.

My children are learning how to navigate life from me, and it’s important that part of what they learn is how to navigate when I make mistakes in my relationships so they know how to do that when they are parents themselves.