“I want new silver ballet shoes (she already has more shoes than I have). I want a new blue bike with a trailer. I want to watch Fireman Sam on You tube. I want a new school bag with wheels I can pull like Esti. I want to go to Genesis park after school.”
Enough, I want to scream. Enough. You can’t have everything. Always wanting, needing, demanding. When will it end. I have to put a stop to it. She’s becoming a brat. Spoiled. How can I say no. Should I say no.
Until I went to a parenting workshop with my daughter’s principal/teacher which offered a different possibility. Here’s my summary:
There are two ways of looking at our kids:
1. They are obstacles/ enemies/ things to be managed, controlled and tamed. We are scared of them. It’s us against them. Trying to get them to bath without a tantrum to eat their vegetables to brush their teeth more than once a month to not physically harm their siblings to speak with respect to do their homework. The list is endless.
2. They are little human beings with a soul. Each has their own unique personality and depth and are just waiting to be connected to and explored and known.
Option 1 results in how I feel a lot of the time. Yet with option 2, each encounter is not a mini-battle. It’s an opportunity to engage connect and get to know these precious little beings G-d has entrusted us to raise. Enter their world. See it as a moment of potential connection. Not a war.
Sounds nice? Idealistic? Unattainable? Give me a break I thought – this can never work. Until a a few days later, an image came to my head, and I got a glimmer of what she was talking about.
Imagine. You are walking with your husband/mother/sister in the shopping center. A sign for a 5 star cruise to South America is advertised. You are overworked and busy and been so stressed.
“Oh honey, look at that – let’s book for that, I have always wanted to go there”, you say whimsically. “Don’t be ridiculous, you know we cant afford it. School fees have just been increased by 30% and I just had to replace your car”, your husband grunts.
At best, the conversation ends. At worst, you feel unseen unheard and un-validated. The truth is you didn’t really plan on booking the cruise.. You were expressing a wish. A desire. A fantasy for a fancy holiday and white beaches. Nothing more.
Imagine. Imagine if your husband didn’t feel threatened/ inadequate/ pressured from your request. Imagine if he simply turned to you and said, “Oh , how awesome that would be. What do you want to do on the cruise? ” And the conversation goes on like that. You return to reality and no cruise is booked. But as John Gottman says, you have turned towards each other.
Deposit in Emotional Bank Account. Check.
This makes sense. As adults we get this. We don’t always do it, but we get it. Yet with our kids I had no clue that it could be the same. Until I witnessed a true life example of what was possible.
A TRUE LIFE EXAMPLE:
The Scene: Josh is sitting on the floor after supper. He find a toy cataloge of every single Bob the Builder lego set available. His eyes go big and wide. Mom, I wish we could have all of these, he says.
Reaction 1 – Our kids, the enemies
Moms feel: Irritated, annoyed, guilty, pressured, tense
Mom thinks: Oh, he’s so spoiled. Look how many toys he already has. Nothing he has is good enough for him.
OR I am such a bad mother, I can’t afford to get him everything he wants. If he has a tantrum it will be my fault. I have to just make a plan to get him all of them.
OR Will it never end. wanting, wanting, wanting. All these children just want and want. They are always asking things of me. When will I get a break.
Mom responds with subtle (or not-so-subtle) annoyance or tension: That’s a nice idea, but you already have so many toys and you don’t need anymore. Maybe some other time.
Encounter ends. Connection with your child: None/ Negative
Reaction 2 – Opportunity for connection with precious being
Mom sits down with little Josh and looks at this catalog with the most wonderful selection of toys: Sweetie, she said with genuine excitement, wouldn’t it be just amazing if we could have each of these in our home? Imagine what fun we could have and how many things we could build.
Josh: His eyes twinkle and he nods enthusiastically. Yes we could build the bridge and then we could play the game when the builder fixes the pipes. He talks away sharing all his plans for what he fantasises about.
Mom feels connected, calm and present. No internal stuff clouding her. She just accepts his fantasy, and enters into it with him. A moment of real connection with her son. She enters his world and connects with him there. He felt heard and validated.
Connection Score: High. Feel good factor – High. Increase relationship – check.
Here’s Leah’s formula for no-battle parenting for connection:
1. Hear the request
2. Notice your own resistance and put it aside (eg guilt, irritation, tension)
3. See it as a moment of possible connection
4. Enter into your child’s world. “Oh wow, you wish you could go to the park. What is your best game at the park.” Or “Wouldn’t it be fun if we could eat all the chocolate for breakfast lunch and supper”. Or my own personal challenge with a daughter who has a shoe obsession. “That would be so nice to have silver shiny ballet shoes. They are so pretty. You would feel so fancy and look like your friend Avigail”.
5. Set boundaries if appropriate. “It’s supper and bath time, so we will go the park tomorrow”.