Finding ways to support my children to understand and adapt through an approach that corresponds to the rest of my parenting practice continues to be one of my greatest parenting struggles. With practice though, I am trying to approach discipline from coming consistently from a calm, grounded and centered place.
Discipline is a bit taboo in the parenting world. Each of us are finding our own ways to survive the storms our children’s experiences and the behaviours that represent their challenges.
Noah and I were at the soft play last week when I noticed he was not showing the kindness and tenderness that he usually shows to one of his closest friends. I could see he had big feels and although I was putting in some loving firmness around his behaviours, I felt a bit stretched.
Usually in these situations, I wing my way through the moment itself and then pause to reflect on it later on – both individually and collectively – in order to integrate the experience and learn from it. This was my intention last week, however, in the car when we left soft play, Noah said to me that he had been being “the grumpiest Noah in town” and shared how he planned on apologising to his buddy when he saw him later on that week in bike club. I was curious and we kept talking.
When I get behind the eyes of my child and ask more, then listen deeply with my whole heart; when I sincerely seek to understand, I always discover there is a real and valid reason behind any behaviour. More often than not, it is a call for connection.
What we uncovered together was that Noah had actually been missing his daddy who was at work and he had been expressing these big emotions until he realised what was going on for himself. When I listened further to Noah’s sadness around daddy being at work, he told me that he also feels sad when I am working. I picked up on him saying that he is happiest when all four of us are together, “Mummy and Daddy and Noah and River, that is when my heart feels warm.” Knowing this means I can put more conscious effort into ensuring we create time for the four of us together.
The discipline our children experience should be used to form, guide and shape our children into pleasant, considerate, compassionate beings, the challenge is how do we contain these edges without jeopardising their power?
As parents we are not in control, but we are responsible and we are in charge. This hierarchy is in favour of our children and should never be used to be dominant. We are guiding, but it should always be with respect.
One of my own parenting struggles is around forming these boundaries and this structure and to use the metaphor offered in Miriam’s course (http://integralparenting.com/ref/heather/), seeing this as though it is the riverbanks. How do I bring structure to my child’s flow through skilfully balancing the yes and the no, the support and the challenge? In order to develop a healthy riverbank, we need to communicate in tune with our child’s development. I have therefore shifted this week from suggesting to Noah about having ‘5 more minutes to play’ because I realised he actually has little concept of time yet. I’ve noticed more ease in transitions when I say to him that he can have 3 more times down the slide or a few more runs with a friend.
We are dancing with such paradoxes as parents, where we are invited to provide a compassionate embrace whilst stretching our child, in alignment with their readiness.
For example, Noah has been struggling with Kevin working recently, especially since River has arrived. He is finding these transitions hard and therefore we have been doing more to bring ease to these times for him but it’s a dance and most of the time we are just winging it – with love at the heart of it.
It was very early one morning and Noah had been woken up with Kevin getting ready to go to work. Kevin was running late and in a bit of a tizz himself, so already, there was big energy unfolding. When Kevin left, Noah was mad! He threw things at me…things that hurt! He even tried punching me, which was new for us. Coming from this calm, grounded, centered place, I asked him in that moment to work with his energy and offered my hands for him to punch. I brought in some loving firmness, ensuring I was telling him that I heard why he was feeling how he was but also that it wasn’t ok to use his energy directed physically towards me (or anyone), unless invited to do so.
“Discipline delivered with calm clarity is actually an extension of love.” Miriam Mason Martineau
Later that night when I spoke to him about what had happened as we were snuggled up in bed, he told me that he felt this anger inside of his body and that it moved from his toes all the way to his neck. I actually got really excited at him feeling this emotion, naming this emotion and also understanding where it was felt in the body, but I digress…
Later that week, Kevin had to go back to work after popping home for lunch. Noah requested another kiss, another cuddle and despite these requests being met, before long the tears were flowing; he was in bits. I allowed him to feel everything he was feeling, being alongside him with his sadness at the situation. I noticed he had moved from mad to sad; he was really tearful, knowing he couldn’t change the situation.
We can bring consciousness to the art of discipline. We can offer our children loving firmness. When I come from a calm, centered place in myself, I don’t ever threaten our relationship. I stay present with my child and help him move from mad to sad, finding a new way around a situation in order to adapt.
After reflecting on the situation further, I decided not to lock the door next time round, despite Noah telling he was going to run away to get his dad. I thought, I will let him experience cause and affect – going outside without a jacket and without shoes would soon have an impact in this wintery weather (without either parent) and it did.
As Gordon Neufeld explains, we don’t teach a plant to grow up. You don’t pull the geranium buds in order for them to flower. Growth is spontaneous. Our job as parents is to be the gardener. Part of our potential is to be able to become transformed by that which we cannot change. We need the ending before the beginning, the winter before the spring, the tears of futility.
I am learning how to hold grace whilst disappointing Noah and not having trepidation about the upset or avoiding conflict with my child because I have come to understand that the futility we experience in our body creates this still point, where emotions can be associated with letting go. It is cleansing to cry; tears are a sign of resilience and recovery. I feel less willing to shy away from that in my commitment to parenting as a spiritual practice, as I learn how to hold space for all Noah’s emotions, without the need to fix it or make him happy instantly.
We need to bring back our cultural wisdom that children need to experience tears of futility in order to learn to adapt. Children don’t learn from logic so it makes no sense telling Noah that Kevin needs to be at work to make money. I am practicing allowing Noah to experience this sadness and disappointment for the things in his life that he cannot change. It is a dance for us as parents to support our child in this way.
What I can do in those moments is to focus on my own inner state, on where I am sourcing from within myself and then invite in a creative edge. I can imagine the world through my child’s eyes so that his reality can inform my response. I can ask myself the question, ‘what would love do?’
So on the third time that Kevin had to go to work when Noah didn’t want him to, we prepared all of us a little better for it. We spoke with Noah about the transition that was about to happen. We reminded him that daddy loves him and that Kevin would be home from work as soon as he could and that he was looking forward to doing bed time with him. We bridged any separation and we directed our attention to their next connection.
In this sense, what we put into practice was listening deeply to Noah’s concerns, to his sadness around missing Kevin, his sadness around the things he cannot change. Then we allowed his tears of futility, for him to feel seen, heard, connected with. We connected before directing.
We can seek to listen deeply and genuinely take on board what our children are saying, keeping it loving and accommodating and taking more time for transitions, as well as preparing for these to ensure their needs are met too.
As Gordon Neufeld explains, we have to play both the ‘Angel of Comfort’ and the ‘Agent of Futility’ simultaneously. We are double agents that are invited to facilitate this adaptive process, but in order to be present with sadness, we first need to be able to do this for ourselves. We need to trust that the tears of futility will bring new beginnings.
Noah happily said goodbye to Kevin and then more magic unfolded. Children delight in surprise gestures, those extra gifts of showing up for them, so on our third attempt at navigating this transition of Kevin going back to work, I suggested that we might have real fun together if we put up our inflatable bath.
What was supposed to happen was that I was meant to make dinner whilst Noah was in the bath, so it was an unexpected and well received gift for him when I also accepted his invitation to join him in the bath, as River watched on contentedly.
I really appreciate how Gordon Neufeld encourages affirming your relationship and love for your child and never letting anything separate us from our children or separate our children from our love.
I am finding that more often, I am able to gently script behaviour by easing Noah into more understanding and modelling this behaviour to him. Last week I used a quiet moment of play as an opportunity to teach Noah how to ask for things more kindly, with less grabbing and more patience. This was done gently, in a playful moment and I am able to use this moment as a reference point now. At three years old, playfulness, humour and fun are incredible tools to support Noah to make different choices and to work with big feels and redirect upset energy.
One of the things I mentioned above was that when Noah went to punch me that I offered my hands to him to actually release this energy in a physical way. I noticed the positive impact this invitation had so later in the week, when Noah was having a big feels moment, and Kevin as there, I suggested that Kevin invite Noah to do the same.
It was amazing watching this together, to watch Noah transform this energy. Noah done some punches before we suggested that he do some stomping, then shake his bum, do a twirl and finish with five press ups. By the time he had done this wee routine, the energy had been transformed, it was brilliant!
Transforming this energy can be so magical. We have created this new game that Kevin and I have play to get Noah excited for bedtime. Noah will say things to Kevin like “there is a giraffe outside” and Kevin will go away to look for the giraffe whilst Noah is at the table after dinner.
Then the game moves into the kitchen and Noah asks me for inspiration as to what to say next. He’ll say to Kevin, “there’s ants in your pants Daddy!” and Kevin will put on an exaggerated and utterly hilarious show, pulling off various pieces of clothing (and also pulling hilarious faces) as he prepares to take Noah for a shower. When explored with humour and fun, there is no longer a struggle or resistance during this transition from dinner to shower to bed. Instead, it is full of hilarity and connection as you can see in the photo.
When embodying parenting as a spiritual practice, it invites us to come together with clarity and kindness to offer our children loving firmness. Stretching our children is important when done with love, in line with their readiness.
I am practicing dropping my no responses into a great big yes! So that what Noah experiences is: ‘I see you, I hear you, I feel you, I care.’ I am making the time to empathise with his needs and then I am expanding the capacity by relating to his life and where I can using humour and fun to co-create solutions together.
Yesterday we had one of Noah’s friends over to play and they had such fun together, playing outside – with bare feet in the grass – most of the day. However when they came inside, Noah began throwing some really big animal toys at our window. I needed to step in and stop the behaviour. When I went to speak with Noah, anticipating him getting in trouble, his friend said to him, “Noah, run!” and so Noah did. I actually loved seeing this cheeky side of his friend who was sticking up for Noah and was able to really quickly, turn this situation into a game. I chased both the boys outside into the garden and caught both of them; they were laughing so much. So after having some fun, I caught Noah and gave him a really big kiss, told him how much I loved him and only after we were connected by heart again, did I speak to him about the behaviour itself (which suddenly didn’t feel like a big deal at all). I heard the invitation to get behind the eyes of the boys and bring more laughter and playfulness to their day! (Confession: it doesn’t always unfold like that, with such ease, but this is all a practice and yesterday it was easy to slip into that role.)
I am a big believer of time-in rather than time-out, of staying connected and in relationship at all times. I always knew growing up that no matter what I done, my parents would love me. They didn’t always like my behaviour and told me that, but they never used our relationship against me. They always loved me. I am grateful for my parents for teaching me this.
I want to offer my children unconditional love, reaffirming that nothing will change the love I have for them but also that I don’t always appreciate certain behaviours. Beyond this, I want to then practice bringing more consciousness, more willingness and more genuine curiosity to listen deeply to what is behind any behaviour.
In this way we continue to invite our children to spontaneously grow into who they naturally are, feeling loved and accepted as those beings and knowing that we will love them and that they will belong, no matter what!
Noah and I usually have reflective conversations in bed at night time, but more recently I’ve noticed little pockets of opportunity to have these soul-to-soul reflections during transitions, as we move from one place to another. I notice Noah is reflecting more and sharing what is in his heart and mind. I am doing all I can to be fully present to him in these moments, and I delight in hearing him opening his heart in this way, trusting me with what he shares.
Last week as I was putting him to sleep, I asked what he might like to dream about. We spoke briefly about dreams before he said to me that he wanted to dream about our “walk adventure”.
A few days before, Noah and I had this precious (and rare) opportunity to hang out just the two of us. To put the adventure simply, we walked down the street. But the truth is, it was the most magical walk I remember for a very long time.
‘Adventures with Noah’ – it’s a phrase I have used a lot in the past but something that we have been missing recently. We walked along our street, delighting in everything! I had Noah all to myself for this precious adventure. He had his little warm hand in mine and had invited me for some fresh air. We found fences to climb, we co-created stories about the houses – those that were lived in and those that we derelict, we climbed up hills, we found nooks and crannies and fairytales to fit inside them all, we found holes in the ground to put stones in and holes in the ground that rabbits lived in…
In this seemingly mundane walk down the block, we found an abundance of magic. It was so magic that Noah wanted to go and relive this adventure in his dream. I teared up hearing his request, knowing that my presence during that adventure had fed his soul and mine!
When I experience moments of magic like this in my life, I feel heartfelt excitement and deep gratitude for my continued commitment to bringing more consciousness to feeding the relationship between my children and I, with sunshine, raindrops and bare feet in the grass!