Attachment parenting, emotion coaching, concerted cultivation, parenting with love and logic, free-range parenting … the jargon of parenting can be exhausting.
I cannot sum up my parenting style in two buzz words; I think that’s a good thing. Parenting is hard. We are all different. There is not one parenting formula that will work for every family.
The Baby Whisperer series was a gold mine for me. Parenting with Love and Logic is like an old friend. We can go months without each other, but I know L & L won’t let me down when I need help.
A few months ago, I had a hard week. Daddylibrium was out of town, my calendar hemorrhaged obligations, a friend suffered a serious illness and I had family visiting. Frustration filed up that space in my parenting psyche that was usually reserved for love and joy. I got tougher on the boys, hoping to whip them back into shape. It failed. Miserably.
I celebrated Christian’s arrival and took some time to contemplate what went wrong. In a short week, I went from reveling in to resenting my kids. I knew I needed to reconnect with the boys, and I dove into The Discipline Book by William and Martha Sears, who revolutionized modern parenting with the creation and promotion of attachment parenting.
Fast forward 10 days – the kids were behaving. Had they gotten even cuter? Love and understanding replaced resentment, and our family was back on track again.
I realized that my attempt to clamp down on my children exacerbated the situation. They needed firm guidance that was rooted in love and understanding. My discipline was rooted in exhaustion, frustration and resentment. I was not kind or fair when I was disciplining them, and this caused them to rebel. They were being disrespectful because they felt disrespected.
Here are the top 9 attachment parenting lessons I culled from Mr. and Mrs. Sears:
1. Focus on connecting with your child. Slow down and listen to the verbal and non-verbal cues from your child. Be loving and responsive. Let him know you love him, you respect him and you want happiness for him. A connected child respects, loves and wants to please his parents.
2. Attachment parenting does not focus on tactics to control your child, but on building a relationship of trust where by the child and the parent bring out the best in each other.
3. Know your child. Know and avoid the things that set him off. If your toddler throws a tantrum if he doesn’t get to put his own shoes, try to plan your day so you have two extra minutes to wait while he puts on his shoes. Understand that your child does not have the capacity to think like an adult, and that it is unfair to expect him to. Instead of getting angry when your two-year old steals and cracks other kids eggs’ at the neighborhood easter hunt, remember that this is age-appropriate behavior and your job is to distract him or remove him from the situation.
4. Earn your child’s trust. For adults and children, respect for authority is based on trust.
5. Model the behavior you desire in your children. If you are prone to angry tantrums, you can bet your child will be, too. Likewise, your child will mimic kindness, sharing, self-control, patience and gratitude if he is consistently exposed to them.
6. Nurture your child’s self-confidence by showing him that he is important and loved. You do not need to bombard him with compliments – being overly generous with compliments can actually harm your child. Listen to him or her instead. Treat your child with respect. Make him know he is valued. According to the Sears’ book, “A child who feels right acts right.”
7. Put away your smartphone and play with your child. Anyone who has tried to make a call around a two-year old realizes your child knows when you are not paying attention to him. Make time to play each day. You will learn what your child likes and how to make him laugh. He will feel important when you take time to focus on him and in this way, and playing with your child builds his self-esteem.
8. Your child is not trying to control you, he is trying to control himself. This is a natural part of development. Just as you do not like being micro-managed at work, your child wants to exert some influence over his life. So long as it is not harmful or wildly inappropriate, let him chose the green pants, feed himself, or crawl into his car seat on his own. Ask, “Do you want carrots or broccoli? Do you want to wear your green socks or red socks?” We try to provide Benjamin, who is two, as many choices as we can each day. It helps him feel in control (which for him fosters better behavior). This also helps him behave better when he doesn’t have a choice.
9. Help your child express feelings. Have you ever been upset and needed to talk it out with someone? Remember how much better you felt once you were able to share those feelings? Your child sometimes needs to get feelings off his chest, too. If not, he may remain in an agitated state. If you see your child getting upset you can help by saying, “Did you feel sad when daddy left? I know, I can’t wait for her to be back. Lets play with your blocks until she comes back from the grocery store.” Sometimes being understood takes the bite out of your child’s emotions.