Have you been questioning your parenting style recently? I think lockdown has resulted in a lot of navel gazing for many of us. The combination of more free time (for some – I know not all, thank you to those of you working hard through this!) and more time spent at home with our children means 1. a lot more difficult behaviour and 2. a lot more time to spend second-guessing ourselves and our choices parenting wise. I bet many who try to follow a more gentle and mindful style of parenting are thinking “this just isn’t working” right now and are thinking of introducing more authoritarian methods of behaviour control (such as time out, naughty steps, sleep training and stickers/bribery).
The thing is – they won’t work either. At least not for long. Mainstream methods can produce quick fix results, but they create many problems in the long run. Sleep training without taking time to make the child feel secure and working to optimise their life with sleep in mind (diet, environment, routines and timings – as is my approach) may get you a few nights of ‘sleeping through’ (note – they aren’t really sleeping through, just no longer signalling wakes), however because sleep training is naive to the causes of the waking/need for you, in the long term it actually makes sleep worse (I can’t tell you the amount of people I work with in private consults who come to me with a toddler who was sleep trained as a baby who now has serious sleep issues!). Similarly, bribing a child with stickers/sweets/toys etc.. may get you temporary compliance, but you’ll need to keep going with those rewards (and increase their value), otherwise when you stop, so will your child’s compliance. Finally, ignoring/shouting/chastising/excluding may temporarily shock a child into compliance, it does nothing to consider the causes of their behaviour (often, just immature neural development – ie age appropriate!) and therefore nothing to resolve it. That ‘bad behaviour’ is going to keep coming back and back again and it often escalates. What I’m saying is, when you’re at rock bottom and questioning your gentle methods, I know how tempting it is to slip into a mainstream authoritarian style with its alluring quick fixes, but those quick fixes come at a price. The trouble with mindful and gentle parenting is the price comes at the beginning (and it’s you that pays it – with your time and patience and often exhaustion), but the results – when they come – are long lasting (positively so!) and wonderful.
Right now, I know it’s tough and many are questioning their choices, but if there’s one biggest mistake I find parents make again and again with gentle parenting, it’s that they expect too much, too quickly. It takes time for results and by ‘time’ I mean months and years, categorically not days and weeks! All your effort isn’t in vain, but it works in baby steps, not giant leaps. You are putting in so much groundwork even when you think your efforts are having no impact. What you do matters, even when your child still wakes just as much, still tantrums just as much, still refuses to eat anything but beige food or still hits just as much. Expect positive change, but don’t expect it tomorrow, or next week, or even next month. I love the picture I’ve used to illustrate this article, as I think it describes the journey of gentle parenting so well.
So, how do you get through the days if you don’t see change in them? Look for the glimmers. Those tiny sparks of hope – and tiny they may well be! Tiny glimpses into the future. That one night when your child slept 4hours in a row. That day when your son stroked his baby sister on the head when she cried. That day your daughter ate a whole piece of broccoli. That day your eight year old volunteered to help you set the table for dinner. The day your teen gave you a hug after you lost your temper at them, but then apologised. These glimmers give us hope. Grasp them and keep them safe in your memory, so that you can use them to reassure you the next time you question what you’re doing. Remember – your baby is still going to act like a baby, your toddler is still going to act like a toddler, your preschooler is still going to act like a preschooler, your pre-teen is still going to act like a pre-teen and your teen is still going to act like a teen WHATEVER you do, because that’s all their physiology and psychological development allows. Your efforts aren’t wasted, they are working – but you need to adjust your expectations for what ‘working’ means. Until then, look for the glimmers……