My new book, 10 Things Every Parent Needs to Know, has just been released – and thousands of them have made their way across Australia and the world… to make families happier! If you haven’t bought a copy yet, you do grab one here (or anywhere online or at your favourite book seller).
To coincide with the book’s release, I asked a regular Happy Families reader and mum of 3, Victoria, to share her favourite parts of the book.
Victoria’s blog is below. I hope you enjoy Victoria’s insights and inspiration. Be warned, reading this will inspire you to connect more with your kids
#1 On getting it wrong as a parent:
“There’s an important difference between feeling desperate and feeling discouraged. Feeling discouraged makes us feel lousy about ourselves. We feel hopeless and helpless. Then we treat the kids badly, which reminds us of how hopeless we are, and then we fall into deeper discouragement. Feeling desperate and admitting it – well that helps us realise we can’t do it ourselves, and so we look to other sources to guide us. This is where growth and learning occur.”
This resonates so strongly with me. I originally found your work because I was desperate but you’re right; I was not discouraged. I wasn’t ready to give up. I was inspired to look for help and guidance and I found your work. To me, this is strongly related to what we expect of ourselves. When we expect ourselves to be perfect and we are unforgiving of our own mistakes, it’s easy to be discouraged. It’s easy to think we’re failures as parents and our children will be scarred for life. However, I try to treat myself with the same kindness I show to others. I remind myself that I’m not trying to be perfect – I’m trying to develop better strategies. Unlike perfection, that allows for a process of continual improvement. Perfection is a static state. You are either perfect or not. I am not interested in perfection. I am interested in learning.
#2 Being on the same page
“look for the good in the parenting of your partner”
Reading these words made me uncomfortable. Experience has taught me to pay attention to that feeling. It usually tells me something important! My husband and I have very different views on parenting. We clash regularly. I think he’s too harsh and doesn’t take the time to work with the children when they are challenging. He scoffs at my approach and calls it the “United Nations meeting” where everyone talks endlessly and there are no consequences for poor behaviour. He will not discuss any alternative ideas or strategies with me. I have to admit that I am guilty of seeing the negative things about his approach and what I see as his poor choices and I am often frustrated by his refusal to engage with me about parenting. After reading this chapter, I am committed to trying to judge and criticise less and simply be the example of a kind, calm, respectful approach.
#3 “Time is the most important ingredient in our relationships”
This is so true. So simple in theory and yet sometimes so hard in practice. I love that this section of the book made me think about how I spend my time and why I don’t always prioritise time with the children. I suspect laundry has a bit to do with it! I do try to spend time with the girls but I know there are many times when I put housework first or talking on the phone to a friend. There are evenings when I just want them to go to sleep so that I can have some time to myself but of course that’s when they have a lot to talk about. This one sentence is so powerful because it shifts perspective. Of all the things I do, being with my children is the greatest investment of my time. My relationship with them and their well-being are so important. They need me and to be honest, I need them. Of course the housework still needs to be done and other relationships need to be nurtured but I am inspired to look carefully at how I use my time and how I can work on freeing more up for the things in life that really matter (hint: not the laundry). The tips for making the most of time together in this chapter are so helpful.
#4 “Form follows feelings…
That is: our children behave the way they feel. If they feel lousy, their behaviour is lousy. If they feel great, safe, loved and understood, they behave positively – even perfectly. We tend to not be so great at seeing things the way our children see them, though.”
This is such a challenge for parents I believe. For some reason, we tend to be programmed to react to challenging behaviour as bad behaviour and we tend to react with irritation and anger. Since discovering your work, I have done a lot of work myself in my home to help me connect with my children when they’re experiencing challenges and it has opened my eyes enormously to my own reactions and how unhelpful my “default” responses are. Since I’ve practised responding using your approach – with kindness and empathy when my children are struggling with overwhelming emotions and behaving in a way that I find challenging, they have actually become much calmer. It’s not always easy. Sometimes the things they’re angry or upset about seem so absurdly trivial but I try to remind myself that whatever the issue is, it’s important to them. I try to see it from their perspective and I no longer automatically expect them to understand other perspectives. Interestingly, with support, they are able to now that they’re a bit older. I have worked on helping them label and understand their emotions and they have started to recognise their feelings and how they impacts them and others. Even my very sensitive and emotional child now asks me for help and tries hard to breathe deeply to help calm herself and explain her problem to me. It’s not perfect and we still have lots of emotion around but I find it easier and easier to see things from their perspective and I’m sure they feel safe and understood and supported. I truly believe that this change alone has translated to kinder and more caring behaviour all around.
#5 Fast is slow, slow is fast
I’m not being dramatic when I say that these 6 words have changed my life! I remember them when my child is trying to do up her own seatbelt and I’m twitching because we need to get going. I remember them when they’re fighting and my instinct is to just tell them to stop it. I remember them when it’s past bed time and I really want to see the next episode of Call the Midwife and my 6 year old announces that she’s scared about going into the next level at school. I cannot think of a single time when taking over what they’re trying to do or dismissing their feelings or trying to shut down their emotions has made anything happen more efficiently but thanks to these 6 words, I can think of many times when recalling them, taking a breath and letting my child finish her task or tell me her feelings has led to peace and calm and happiness in our family.
#6 We want them to get out of BED and use their OAR.
We want them to “take Ownership, be Accountable and show Responsibility”.
This statement alone is a useful reminder of how we can respond constructively in a situation of conflict and use it to teach skills and values. However, it is followed with a very practical guide to holding the conversation which I found so valuable. One thing I think a lot of p[parents struggle with is putting new theories into practice We know what we want to achieve but how to do it can be elusive. As with all your work, you provide such practical ideas and tips which I find so helpful. I have used this strategy already with my kids and the results have been great; having a 6 year old empowered to identify how she contributed to the conflict and what she can do to make the situation better is exhilarating for a parent.
#7 “Our focus should be on helping, not hurting. We want progress, not perfection.”
I love this. It’s so simple and yet so easy to lose sight of in a busy or emotional situation. I often think that it’s easy to expect more from our children than we ourselves are able to do. We get angry but want to shut down our child’s anger. We shout but tell our children to speak quietly. It’s so important to remember that none of us is capable of perfection and we certainly cannot expect it from people who have only had a few years to learn to manage their emotions and develop their social skills. When we take the time to help our children progress, they will. Hurting them verbally or physically does not teach them anything worth knowing. We can’t bully them into being good people.
#8 On teaching compassion:
“we gently invite our children to feel love and compassion for their siblings. ‘You might not know that your sister looks up to you. She wants to be like you. I hope you can find a way for her to be with you while still accomplishing the things you set out to do.’”
This is one I will memorise and adapt for different situations. It is kind, non-critical and gentle. I can see that it would help with developing that important ability – seeing another person’s point of view. I see adults who struggle to do that and very few of us know how to help another person develop it. I particularly like that this provides a seed for the child to then move forward with a solution. It’s very different to a prescriptive approach telling the child how to include a sibling. Children can be so creative in their problem solving if given the space and this strategy provides that space.
#9 On success:
“What are the character traits that make a person truly successful? Kindness, respect, integrity, service to others, curiosity, compassion, understanding, a desire for excellence. There are attributes like perseverance, creativity, modesty and gratitude. Then there’s the vital ability to recognise our mistakes and grow from them.
One would think that this goes without saying but I think we all need to be reminded of it and it’s helpful to think about how these traits are encouraged or discouraged in our children. I think a traditional approach to parenting focused purely on making children compliant and obedient is not the best way to develop these qualities. I have read a lot of your work and we have discussed parenting on numerous occasions. All of that has convinced me firmly that the best way to teach a quality is to model it and to explicitly coach children in developing and using it. I believe this belief underpins so much of your work and all your advice supports it.
#10 On being who you really are:
“It can be hard for us to encourage our children to ‘be who they really are’ when they aren’t allowed to make any decisions. Worse still, they cannot discover who they really are when the decisions they are making are all reactions to our assertions of power. In an almost perverse perfection, however, our limits are essential for our children to figure out who they really are. They actually need something to push against.”
I have read this paragraph several times over. There is so much in it and it is a perfect example of the continual balancing act and analysis involved in truly careful parenting. We know that our children need boundaries and we (I hope) know that they need opportunities to make decisions for themselves. I have seen first hand the impact of a parent “micro-managing” children and making all their decisions for them their entire lives. It’s an extreme example but, as adults, they have no confidence in their own decisions and have never developed the ability to evaluate their decisions and use good judgment in decision making. They still make poor choices which reinforces their fear of making decisions and the cycle continues. Their self-esteem has been irreparably damaged. Allowing children space to make decisions within clear boundaries and coaching them through the process where needed rather than simply making the decisions for them is critical.
#11 On being both strong and caring
“Helping our children discover who they really are means we teach them to be strong enough to take a stand on an issue or principle, even when no one else will. It’s about teaching them that they can be both strong and caring.”
This is a concept that resonates strongly with me. It is something I deeply believe in and I think it is at risk when we focus on teaching our kids to be obedient. I have always thought that while it would be convenient for my daughters to do everything I ask, I am very uncomfortable with the thought that they will feel obliged to do everything that other people ask. I want them to be able to think independently and to stand up for themselves and others. Of course I want them to be kind but I don’t want them to be too eager to please others and certainly not at the expense of their own well-being. Reading this reminds me of a time when my then 6 year old was spending the day with my mother. They’d been for a walk and when they returned my daughter realised she’d dropped a toy she had taken with her. My mother said “Well you stay here in the house and I’ll quickly go over our steps and find it.” My daughter was quiet for a moment and then said “Nana are you sure you should leave a 6 year old alone in your house? I don’t think you’re supposed to do that.” She was calm and polite but assertive enough to speak up when she was told to do something she was uncomfortable with. I very much hope that nurturing that will stand her in good stead in the future.
#12 “Screens interfere with relationships.”
I often tell my husband that real life is all the stuff that is happening elsewhere while he’s on his iPad. I think that we instinctively know that screens are not great for us and certainly not for our kids but they do seem to infiltrate into everyday life so easily. It can be hard to fight them temptation to give into the kids and give them screen time more than we’re comfortable with. I also find that when they’re tired or fractious and quarrelsome, I’m tempted to put something on a screen to keep them calm. After reading this, I have found that reminding myself that screen time is not actually conducive to developing relationships or any of the qualities or abilities needed to have constructive relationships makes it much easier to stand firm. If the children are too tired or cranky to interact well then I would prefer to ditch the meal plan, feed them cheese on toast and be with them to help them cope. I’m sure that does more for the relationships within our family than an electronic device!
If you’d like this – and so much more – to be part of what you do as a family, get your copy of 10 Things Every Parent Needs To Know right here.