Poking the Lizard: Why You Should Strive to Work with Your Children and Stop Fighting with Them

NPN RTD feature

This post is written as part of the Round Table Discussions with Natural Parent Network volunteers. In an effort to discuss, support, and promote a kinder, more gentle world, we are taking an in depth view of various books. Our current book is No Drama Discipline by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph. D, authors of the book The Whole Brain Child. We hope you will join us with an open mind and a desire for change and growth.

 

 

Punishment doesn’t work. Long term, studies show that punishments such as hitting, yelling, time outs, or even the reverse of a reward don’t work long-term. Fear and threat based parenting is dependent upon extrinsic motivators. Those extrinsic motivators won’t always be there or may loose appeal over time, and they don’t teach our children what to do.

Flickr (gautsch)

Flickr (gautsch)

While these techniques might sometimes show short-term effectiveness, when we look at how the brain functions, we realize that nothing good comes from reactionary parenting. Parenting with threats, whether implied or implicit, results in what the authors of No Drama Discipline refer to as poking the lizard. This phrase references the differences between what the authors simply refer to as the Upstairs and Downstairs Brains.

The Downstairs Brain, which includes the brainstem and limbic region, is sometimes referred to as either the reptilian brain or the old mammalian brain. It controls basic functions, including those for strong emotions, instincts such as protecting ourselves or our young, and bodily systems and cycles. The Upstairs Brain allows for more sophisticated and complex thought. This area is undeveloped at birth and takes time to develop as we grow. It is used in decision making and planning, regulation of our emotions and actions, personal insight, empathy toward others, adaptability, and morality.

At the times that our children are melting down, acting out, or otherwise at a loss, they are using their Downstairs, or Reptilian, Brain. They aren’t capable of rational thought at that point. Subconsciously, it is an issue of survival, one in which they must use either fight or flight. Any view of threat just increases that reaction in them. It is a basic brain function.

When we encounter a situation with our children, we have a choice to make. We can work with them, guiding them through the situation, engaging their Upstairs Brain. A person can’t be both reactive and responsive/receptive at the same time; so when we nurture empathy, remain open to them via collaboration and discussion, show active listening and work with them, we help them with thoughtful contemplation and conflict resolution, networking neurons which will help now and in the future. Work on holding your own lizard at bay and engage in the rational thinking you want your child to exhibit. Otherwise, if we choose to react ourselves, whether through hitting, yelling, punishing, or even with our tone, we are merely poking the lizard. 

Parenting: What To Do or Not to Do

NPN RTD featureThis post is written as part of the Round Table Discussions with Natural Parent Network volunteers. In an effort to discuss, support, and promote a kinder, more gentle world, we are taking an in depth view of various books. Our current book is No Drama Discipline by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph. D, authors of the book The Whole Brain Child. We hope you will join us with an open mind and a desire for change and growth.

 

Articles and online threads regarding gentle parenting often find themselves subject to a frantic cry from parents who want to do better but don’t know how. “How?” they ask. “You tell us what not to do, but what is it that we should do?”  This is a valid question. If someone was trying to teach you to use a computer and only told you what not to do, it would be difficult for you to figure out what exactly it was . Imagine going to orientation for a new job and only being told what not to do. It would be frustrating at the very least. You might feel like screaming, or crying, or just flat out giving up.

Now imagine a similar scenario except as a child. In families that use punishments, you often find a similar situation, times one hundred. “Don’t hit your brother.” “Stop leaving you stuff all over the house?” While you may be frustrated at work, at the end of the day you get to go home and take a break. If the situation is really bad, you might request a change or even decide to leave and find a better job. But what if you didn’t have any recourse? A child doesn’t have those possibilities. Home is supposed to be their safe place. If all, or even a significant amount of, what they hear is what not to do, they aren’t learning what they should do.

Parents may say that punishments are set up to help children learn responsibility and to do better, but the truth is that punishment is set up to make child feel bad. Punishment, whether hitting (i.e.spanking), time-outs, or grounding, is the easy road for parents. They can feel like they did something while putting very little effort into the situation. Your child hits her brother? Punishment. He forgets to take the dog out? Punishment. She got home later than the agreed upon time, left his homework at home, didn’t take the trash out, questioned an adult, wanted a different pair of pants than you wanted to buy, chose his words poorly, and on and on. Frankly, when you are a child living in such a world, everything you do is subject to judgment and punishment. And you thought the work scenario was bad.

Kids are going to screw up. We, adults, aren’t perfect, either. We screw up quite a bit. Kids haven’t even had the same opportunities we have in order to learn how they should be handling all of these situations. And yet, many adults, parents included, expect kids to be able to handle everything perfectly. It is bad news for the kids who don’t have everything figured out yet. In this punishment mindset, we can just hope they figure it out for next time.

Right about now, you may be thinking to yourself that I still haven’t told you what to do, You would be right, and there is a reason for that. Every situation is different. Every person is different. While punishment takes a one-size-fits-all attitude, life isn’t like that, though. I can’t tell you what you should do in any given situation, because I am not there. I am not you. I don’t know your child or the background. There isn’t one thing you should do.

So, how do you know what to do then? You have to think about it. Sometimes you have to put yourself in your child’s place. Ask yourself why they did what they did (there is always, always a reason behind why a person does something, even if they, themselves, don’t know it). Talk with your children. Listen to them. Work with them. Connect with them. Help them to figure out a better way to do whatever it is. I won’t lie. It is not always easy, especially when you are first starting out and especially if you grew up with the authoritarian mindset. But you know what? No one ever said parenting was easy. But it is definitely worth it.

The Inauthenticity of Anger

Welcome to the July 2013 Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival: Anger

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival hosted by Authentic Parenting and Living Peacefully with Children. This month our participants have written about anger. We hope you enjoy this month’s posts and consider joining us next month when we share about breastfeeding.

***

Feelings…..nothing more than feelings….Anger. It’s a very real emotion and one that many parents have experienced. Anger, even when expressed in healthy ways, is not healthy tough.

How can a real emotion be unhealthy? It is unhealthy because it is a manifestation of our inauthenticity. You heard me correctly. While anger can be very real, it isn’t authentic.

Anger is actually a secondary emotion. It always follows after other emotions. While emotions point us toward our met and unmet needs, as a secondary emotion, anger doesn’t let us know what is going on.

When we find ourselves angry, we have ignored the primary emotions, the ones that were there to tell us about our met and unmet needs. We haven’t been honest with ourselves or with the people we love.

It is important to take the time to discover the primary emotion we are experiencing in order to address what is really going on. When we are being authentic, including with our parenting, we address issues before we reach that point of anger. Sure, there are times that we may be frustrated, sad, upset, or just feel unappreciated. The time to address those issues is when they occur. Bottling up our feelings until they explode into anger isn’t helpful to anyone.

Be kind to yourself and kind to your family. Acknowledge the primary emotions and work together to meet everyone’s needs. Be authentic.

photo credit: Mysi(new stream: www.flickr.com/photos/mysianne) via photopin cc

***

APBC - Authentic Parenting

Visit Living Peacefully with Children and Authentic Parenting to find out how you can participate in next month’s Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival, when we discuss breastfeeding!

 

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon July 27 with all the carnival links.)

Saying Goodbye to White America

Rosa Parks defies segregation on Alabama busIt’s election season in the United States. In a month voters will flock to the polls in order to vote for the candidates they think will best serve as our representatives, including the person they think will best serve as our country’s president. With that, political discussion are popping up all over. That’s a good thing. We need to discuss, we need to learn, and we need to work together to do what we believe is best for our country and our children. Unfortunately, most of the political fodder doesn’t come in this form.

Sharp attacks on various political parties or special interest groups comprise the majority of the posts out there, placed on message boards, on Facebook, and through e-mails. I may be new on Facebook, but I am not new to the e-mails. The e-mails are almost all about hate. Hatred against a political party or against the people the person deems as causing the fall of our society in the way the person thinks it should be. I try to just ignore most of these. On occasion, I have had to block a person’s e-mail address, when the person was specifically sending hate e-mails that they knew were against our beliefs. The upcoming election, along with some increased connection with extended relatives new to e-mail, had us reeling at the hate, debating whether to say something to the newest offender, ignore her, or block her from our e-mail accounts.

The manner of sending such hate e-mails escalated, in my opinion, with a message about the impending loss of White America. I was shocked. I was outraged. Deep down I felt a tiny sense of relief that it wasn’t someone from my side of the family. It reminded me just exactly what is wrong with this country.

As a country, Americans are letting fear of the unknown overcome them and fill them with hate – hate for anyone who isn’t exactly like them. Forget the great American melting pot. They want a homogenous country filled automatons guaranteed to think and act like them, because frankly, that would be the only way to find a group of individuals who agree with you on every single topic. The problem with America is that we have forgotten what our country was founded on. America was supposed to be a new start, a new opportunity for those immigrants travelling to the New World. Our country, the United States of America, was supposed to give opportunity for all.

Instead of being united, the debate about who should lead us is bringing to light the persecution and segregation that has been hiding, in one form or another. How can we ever expect to be united if the hatred of others due to race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, and so on and so forth continues to breed and purposefully be bred among the generations?

It doesn’t matter what your political leanings are, if we want to say hello to America, the United States of America, we have to become united and stop the discrimination and hate. We have to start working together. For me, saying good bye to a white America is a good thing. It’s a very good thing. I may not agree with you on a wide variety of issues, but you are my fellow citizen and I should be fighting, not against you, but with you for the freedom and rights of all people. Americans will never be a free people until everyone is free to enjoy the same freedoms and rights.

 

Conflict as Opportunity

I’m happy to share a guest post with you today. Kassandra Brown of Parent Coaching speaks of how conflict can be an opportunity. In addition to sharing her thoughts here concerning how we can turn conflict into a way to both connect and better understand our children and ourselves, Kassandra has a special coaching offer for readers. She is willing to offer three free coaching sessions to the first person who asks. Consultations are always free. If you are looking for a way to change how you communicate and interact with your children, she is willing to help.

*******************************************************************

When children disobey parents, parents are often told – by experts and other parents – that a Time Out is the solution. We’re told that our children need consequences. We’re told it’s a good idea, and it will give them time to think about what they’ve done. We’re told if we’re not firm, then we’re permissive and our children will never know discipline.

togetherYet here at Parent Coaching, we have a different opinion. Abandonment is one of the biggest punishments known through human history. To be kicked out of the tribe and made to be away from the protection of the rest of the group is an awful, sometimes fatal, punishment. This is the premise that Time Out is based on. If the fear of being isolated, alone, and ostracized is great enough, then a child will learn whatever rules parents or society say are ‘right’.

Leaving baby alone to cry in a crib, or sending a toddler or older child away in disgrace for a time-out can seem like you’re not doing anything much and it may be better than spanking or hitting. But it is not harmless. It is psychological warfare and adults are much better at it than children. We use the power of more words, longer sentences, and more complex arrangements of our thoughts and feelings into ideas that manipulate better and make isolation sound just. No wonder our children stop listening and pull out big hammers like “I hate you” when they don’t get their way.

I believe most parents want their children to be happy and safe. I believe most parents want to be happy and safe themselves. And I believe the biggest obstacle to being more effective and compassionate with our children is our own unfelt pain. For me, this happens when the unmet needs, the old hurts, and the developmental sequencing that never happened get stimulated by my child’s needs. I don’t like these old hurts being stimulated and I want to make the stimulation stop. My child’s crying, whining, and wailing pleas are the stimulation. If I send my child away the stimulation will stop. Making the parent’s pain stop is another part of the foundation on which Time Out rests.

What can we do instead? Try a Time In. When conflict happens, welcome your own feelings and your child’s feelings by gathering together. Our family often sits on the couch for a Time In. We sit together. Often my children don’t want to come and sit. They still want whatever it is they want – the game, food, or activity that stimulated their longing and that they think will satisfy them. But if I sit quietly, or my husband and I sit together quietly, eventually the girls come over and sit with us.

Once we’re fairly quiet, we take turns talking about how we’re feeling, what we want, and what we just did. I often use reflective listening to let my children and spouse know they are heard and to get clear on what they really wanted me to hear. A Time In is a time to come together and acknowledge the pain we’re feeling when one of us cries or yells. It is a time to share what each of us needs and wants. It is a time that often leads to more feelings of trust and safety in our family. It is not a magic cure-all, but sometimes it feels like one.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Kassandra Brown is a mother, parenting coach, yoga teacher, and friend. She recently moved with her family to a rural ecovillage in Missouri where they are creating a life of radical sustainability and emotional honesty. Three free teleconferencing calls introducing parent coaching will be happening with her this September. You’re invited! Read more of her writing at Parent Coaching’s Blog or connect with her on Facebook.

The Benefits of I-Messages

Photo by Paul Stocker

I-messages seem simple enough, but the benefits that come from them are anything but simple.

  • We are more likely to influence another person to change an undesired behavior by using I-messages. Because they are less threatening, I-messages are less likely to provoke resistance or make the other person feel bad.
  • We place the responsibility for changing the behavior or action on the other person. Stating an I-message brings attention to the problem at hand without dictating how it must be rectified, trusting the other person to repect our needs and allowing them to take ownership of their actions. We relinguish any attempt at controlling the other person and allow them to take responsibility for their own actions.
  • When we use I-messages, we model honesty. Honest, open communication from one person in a relationship promotes reciprocal treatment from the other.
  • We open ourselves to the other person. Not only do we show that we are a feeling person with needs, we show that we can also trust the other person to be cognizant of our needs. By sharing of ourselves, we strengthen our relationship.

Balance

Photo by Murray Barnes

Balance is a continual process. In order to stay balanced, we must be constantly shifting and adapting to even small changes in the environment or situation. When something changes, we must also change in order to maintain our balance. If we don’t, then not only do we lose our previous balance, but we tend to topple down the other side. This is true not only in regard to our activities and the busyness of our lives but with our relationships, including those relationships with our children. When our children are out of balance, we need to step over and help regain that balance rather than spiralling down, out of control.