By Jo Field
Parenting Educator at Harbour Therapy Clinic
Jo Field parenting educator at Harbour Therapy Clinic, Coffs Harbour, outlines a respectful approach to parenting that is based on good relationships.
There is no such thing as control over our children. All we have is influence within a strong and respectful relationship. With a background in teaching, I took on the prospect of becoming a parent with naïve gusto. Having studied child development at college I though I would be well prepared for what was ahead. I could not have been further from the truth!
When my three-and-a-half year old daughter (now 20) would speak to me with her hands on her hips in a tone of voice I recognised as my own, I thought, “I need help!” It became very apparent this little human being had a will, agenda and feelings of her own. Most of my training as a teacher did little to guide me as now I was emotionally invested. This was MY child - not someone else’s I could give back at the end of the day.
How was I going to get her to do what I wanted, without having to resort to punishment or methods that did not sit well in my heart and with my values? This question set me on a path of exploration and discovery of what it meant to be in a mutually respectful relationship with my almost four year old and be able to guide her as her parent.
I felt lost and confused in the sea of information available. Much of it was contradictory and definitely not a match with my inner compass. The work of Carl Rogers was my inspiration and supported the way I knew I wanted to parent, where love was not conditional and where we didn’t only get what we needed when we ‘deserved’ it - dessert when we finished vegies and love and affection only if we ‘behaved’.
“Getting positive regard ‘on condition’ is very powerful and children bend
“The Heart of Parenting” is a practical, fun and enlightening look at how we live in relationship with our children.
• The skills to promote and support a strong parent- child bond/connection
• How to parent through connection, respect and true communication rather power, punishment and coercion
• Decoding children’s behaviour and responding to their needs instead of reacting to their behaviours.
• How to break generational patterns and learn how our feelings are caused by our unmet needs not our children!
• How to raise cooperative, respectful and self disciplined kids without being a dictator or a doormat
• The importance of emotional intelligence and how it helps to raise children’s self-esteem and independence
• How to strengthen and deepen your relationship to last a lifetime
Children do not rebel against their parents but rather against the control methods they employ.
They form themselves into shapes determined not by their natural actualizing tendency but by a society that may not have their best interests at heart. A good little boy or girl may not be a happy/healthy boy or girl. Children begin to like themselves only if they meet up with the standards others have applied. If they are unable to meet these standards they are unable to maintain self esteem.” Carl Rogers
For the past 13 years I have been researching this relational approach to parenting and facilitating parenting workshops known as “The Heart of Parenting”. The focus of the program is to develop awareness and skills to strengthen and deepen the parent- child bond. This connection is a vital condition necessary for children to mature and thrive. It is also the most potent parenting tool we have.
Parents often see uncooperative behaviour as a challenge to their authority. Once we understand that cooperation is directly linked to the emotional connection a child feels with the parent, we can decode the child’s behaviour as trying to communicate something, such as an unmet need or emotional hurt, which they are unable to put into words
For example, a child who is using a whiny tone whjch you interpret as ‘demanding’ may be asking for your presence or attention or for connection and reassurance. We forget how busy our lives can become and often our children are struggling with the pace. When we are stressed so are they!
“Children are like the corks that bob up and down on the waves of their parents’ stress levels.” Steve Biddulph
A child who is ‘unco-operative’ or plain angry may be in emotional overload. They may just need a cuddle or some ‘special time’ with you. They may just need a good cry as a download of their overwhelming feelings. This helps to re- regulate their nervous system.
Remember our children’s need for connection is on a daily level, just like food.
We do not say that we will not eat for a few days but will feast on the weekend! If your children are not getting enough connection time from you, they will demand it by way of their behaviours. For example, at bedtime if they have not seen you much that day it could be one more story, need to go to the toilet, want a glass of water, and so on. We need to be able to decode this as them wanting more time with us, not being ’manipulative’ or ‘naughty’.
In this example, a parent could aim to start bedtime half an hour earlier and give time willingly. Otherwise, children will find strategies to get the connection they need, even if it is not in the most enjoyable way!
We need to respond to the unmet needs rather than react to the behaviours, as children’s behaviour is their communication.
Instead of asking the question, “How can we get kids to do what they’re told?” and then proceeding to offer various techniques for controlling them, we want to be asking, “What do children need - and how can we meet those needs?” This question then generates ideas for working with children rather than doing things to them.
‘This all sounds great...but what about discipline?’ many of my workshop participants ask. Relational Parenting asserts that co-operation is directly linked to the connection and safety a child feels with the adult they are relating to. When a child feels safe, loved and connected to the adults around him, a child’s intelligence is fully engaged. He can learn, cooperate, be flexible about his wants and needs, and be more in tune to the needs of others. That’s why Relational Parenting grounds ‘discipline’ in love, connection and respectful communication rather than relying on rewards and punishment or fear and control.
Children need to rest in secure relationships, in the context of home and in any other framework in which they are cared for such as daycare, school or with grandparents. These secure relationships are vital for maintaining influence with our children, especially in their teenage years. Children do not rebel against their parents but rather the control methods they employ.
There is no such thing as control over our children. All we have is influence within a strong and respectful relationship. We need to model the respect we expect.
This approach is not permissive parenting. Children need firm boundaries. It is how we communicate these that will determine the amount of mutual co-operation. Authoritarian methods only disconnect our children from us and lock us into unworkable power struggles while a ‘hands off’ approach is just as alienating.
The ‘Heart of Parenting’ course I run, which explores these issues, is based on the principles of Connection Parenting and Compassionate Communication (alternatively called Nonviolent Communication) developed by Dr Marshall Rosenberg.
Dr Rosenberg asks “What do you want your child to do and what do you want their reason for doing it, to be?” We are hoping it is out of a genuine connection to you and your relationship, not out of fear of punishment, for a reward, guilt or duty.”
Jo Field- is our specialist parenting educator at Harbour Therapy Clinic, Coffs Harbour. For an appointment with Jo contact Harbour Therapy Clinic on 66521120.
These blogs have been authored by individual therapists, students and interns practicing at Harbour Therapy Clinic in Coffs Harbour, Australia.