Awakening Goddess: Empowering the Goddess Within

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Empowering Parenting

I got so many compliments about how well behaved and wonderful my son was at the Florida Pagan Gathering last weekend, mostly from people we don't know. I refrained from telling them all that he is that way because I practice positive discipline, as I didn't want to either come across as preachy or spend an hour explaining what positive discipline was to each of them, but I do want to explain how positive discipline works in my family, to my community.

 

It’s so hard to talk about parenting, because parents tend to live in a semi-permanent state of raised hackles.  Unsolicited parenting advice comes across as criticism, and since parents tend to be sleep-deprived and running on fumes, perceived criticism can crush an ego or ignite rage.  Often both.

Parents tend to be both sensitive to criticism and passionate about their own choices, while passionately against the different choices of others, which makes it difficult for us to share new parenting skills that could make our lives so much easier and our families so much healthier and happier.

In parenting, the same term can mean very different things to different people.  Some people think of spanking as a swat on a diapered butt, for example.  When I was a kid, getting spanked meant my bare butt being beaten until my parent’s hand hurt or until his or her arm was too tired to strike me with the belt any more.  Technically, both of those things are spanking, but if I say that spanking is abusive, I can see how someone who thinks of spanking as popping a diapered butt would be offended by my statement.

I am going to be very clear about what parenting terms mean when I use them.  First off, I hate the terms good/bad mom/dad.  To me, if you love your kids and you are trying to take care of them, you are a good parent.  You can only be a bad parent, by my definition, if you either actively hate or feel completely apathetic toward your kids – if you don’t even try to take care of them in any capacity or take pleasure from hurting them.

It is important to me that you understand that even if you parent in a way I disapprove of, that doesn't mean I disapprove of YOU.  Even if you completely disagree with everything I say here, if you care enough to read it, I still think you are a good parent.

I wonder how many mommy wars and fights with the in-laws and spouses could be eliminated if everyone adopted this policy.

In this article I am going to talk about three types of parenting.  By authoritarian parenting, I mean the model where the parent is boss and the child must conform or be punished.  By permissive parenting, I mean the parent neither punishes nor teaches, and let's the child do whatever the child wants.  By positive discipline, I mean the parent does not punish and instead actively teaches the child, and parent and child work together to solve problems.

I need to talk about my experience with Positive Discipline because it has completely changed my life for the better.

My son is almost six.  The first half of his life, I was an authoritarian parent who hated authoritarianism but didn't want to be permissive, and I was just learning that there was another option.

I was totally anti-spanking in word and thought, but when I didn't know what else to do or when I lost my temper, I ended up spanking my toddler anyway.  I started learning about Positive Discipline when my son was a baby, but it took a while for what I was reading about and what I observed in some of my mama friends to sink in in a way that I could use.  I yelled a lot.  I lost my temper a lot.  I got mad at my toddler for acting like a toddler, punished him for not being still and quiet when I wanted him to be, even knowing that he was just tired or overstimulated or hungry.  I wasn't taking very good care of myself, so how was I supposed to take good care of him?

Both authoritarian and permissive parenting make interactions with our kids into power struggles.  The main difference is that authoritarian parents tend to force their will on their kids, whereas permissive parents tend to let their kids have the power in the family.  I say “tend to” because I find that authoritarian parents tend to be selectively permissive, and even the most permissive parents will lose their tempers and go authoritarian once in a while.

Discipline in our culture usually means punishment, but its literal meaning is “to teach or instruct.”  Kids are supposed to learn from discipline.  Learning means a change in behavior as a result of experience.

There are three major types of learning:

*Learning through association, known as Classical Conditioning.  We all learned about Pavlov’s dogs in school, how he trained them to drool when they heard a bell ringing.  Marketing uses a lot of classical conditioning to get us to buy crap we don’t need, spend extra money on brand names, and sway the way we vote.  Classical conditioning tends to be subconscious, and few of us use it purposefully in parenting, although it affects us all every day. Permissive parenting relies primarily on Classical Conditioning.

*Learning through consequences, known as Operant Conditioning.  Spanking, time outs, grounding, removing privileges, and all other punishments fall in this category, as do all rewards – any time a parent uses pain or pleasure to manipulate their child’s behavior, the parent is practicing operant conditioning.  Operant conditioning usually works well in the short term, but fails miserably in the long term.  How many times do you find yourself punishing your child for the same frickin’ thing?  Authoritative parenting relies primarily on Operant Conditioning.

*Learning through observation, known as Modeling or Observational Learning.  Children learn best and most through Observational Learning.  They observe their parents, siblings, and other people and mimic what they see.  We model for them on purpose how to walk, how to talk, how to eat with a spoon, and countless other things that come so naturally we aren't even aware that we’re teaching.  Positive Discipline relies primarily on Observational Learning, and it goes both ways – we observe our kids, we observe ourselves, and then we model what we want our kids to do.

Positive Discipline requires forming a strong connection and loving bond with our children, a relationship that is mutually respectful.  In order to change how I parent my son, I have to recognize that he is his own person and relate to him, seeing what is going on through his eyes, not just my own.  Even when I spanked and screamed, we still had a powerfully loving bond, but punishment disconnected us. I had to learn how toddlers think and interact with the world so that I could relate to him and stop taking his misbehavior personally.

The quote that really struck home for me was from the Positive Discipline book, “Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children DO better first we have to make them FEEL worse?”

Yesterday, when I was irritable and my son demanded my attention, I glared at him and spoke to him in a mean tone using mean words, and instead of cowering and backing off like I would have back when my parents did that to me, he got really sad and mopey and moved in slow motion, his voice becoming quieter and even more whiny.  In my bad mood, I took his expression of hurt feelings as manipulation, and lost my temper and screamed at him.  Things got worse before they got better, and after I finally calmed down, we had to cuddle and talk for about an hour before we got our connection back and he could smile and laugh again.

Usually, when I’m not in such a bad mood, and my son demands my attention in a way I don’t like, I stop and really listen to what he’s trying to tell me.  Usually I find that he is trying to tell me that he is feeling scared or lonely, and my response is to help him put his feelings into words, offer him a hug, and ask him what he needs.  Just acknowledging his feelings by helping him put them into words, and topping off his tank with a moment of my full attention, is usually enough for him to feel secure and go off to play by himself again.

Positive Discipline helps me recognize that my son is not the problem – my son has a problem that he needs my help with.  My goal is to teach him through modeling how to solve his own problems, how to recognize his own needs and feelings, and how to behave when he feels badly without spreading the bad feeling.  Yesterday I failed in that last goal, but then I got to model taking responsibility for my misbehavior, apologizing sincerely, and reconnecting.  Even though I slipped out of the positive discipline model, I was able to slip back in.

This is how Positive Discipline works in our normal daily life.

-I model respectful behavior by treating him with respect and calmly correcting his behavior when he acts in a way that is unacceptable to me by connecting with him, explicitly explaining the correct behavior and what about the other behavior is offensive, and having him practice with me.  When he forgets later on, all I have to do is remind him.  As long as I am calm and speaking to him in a positive tone, he responds positively to me.  However, if I speak to him with disrespectful words or tone, he responds by becoming upset – just like I do when people do that to me.

-I set my son up for success.  I know his strengths and weaknesses, and I know my own, so I plan for them and prepare us both.  I am a self-employed single mom and I’m homeschooling him – that means when I teach classes or offer readings, he is with me, and I prepare him by explaining what we are about to do, what I expect him to do, and how he can get my attention respectfully if he needs me.  On Halloween, I offered readings at a local store, and I took him through the store beforehand, introducing him to the other workers and making it clear that if they asked him to do something then he had to do what they asked, because they were working too.  And he did.  I have not taught him to do whatever any adult tells him to do, for his own safety.  He has the right to say no to unwanted touch or interaction.

-I make sure my own tank is full, getting enough sleep, nutrition, water, quiet time, etc so that I can both model for him how to take care of himself and so I can think clearly and act with patience and respect.

-I offer concrete choices rather than asking open-ended questions.  For example, instead of asking him what he wants to eat, I offer him a choice between two things I know he likes and I am prepared to give him.  I also don't ask if he wants to go unless he really has a choice.  I tell him it's time to go, and would he like to race me to the car or see who buckles up fastest.

-I let him do things himself, even though he’s slower and less skilled than I am.  Maybe it’ll take him thirty minutes to vacuum the mess he made this time, but every time he does it he gets better at it, and he learns the important life skill of cleaning up after himself.  Maybe it’ll take an extra hour to prepare dinner, but he’s learning how to prepare food and appreciate the effort that goes into preparing his food.  I let him make messes, and I help him clean them up just like he helps me when I need his help.

-I get really clear about my values, and I make an effort to explain the whys and hows in an age-appropriate manner.  If I say no and he asks why, I will have a reason for him.  The reason might be because I’m too tired right now, so you do x and we’ll do y later, sometimes.  He knows that if I say a toy costs too much, then we are not going to get it and I can’t remember him having a tantrum in the store over not getting something he wants since I started saying that when he was three.  (He had tantrums as a two year old, when I was doing the authoritarian crap.  Oh, did he have tantrums…but what I didn’t understand then was that the tantrum wasn’t about whatever set him off, it was about his unmet needs.  He was too tired, overstimulated, hungry, and feeling disconnected from me, and he exploded.  Just like yesterday, I was too tired and feeling disconnected and I exploded.  Punishing him for feeling bad seems dumb and counterproductive, in retrospect.)

-I get really clear about the reasons behind his behavior, especially misbehavior.  Sometimes it’s just a new situation to him and he needs me to explain what I expect and what others expect, or need, from him.  Sometimes he knows what he’s supposed to do, but he’s running on fumes and unable to do it either because his mood is too low or his energy is too low, just like my misbehavior yesterday.  Sometimes he knows what he’s supposed to do but purposely chooses not to do it, and I have to figure out why, because how I respond is determined by that why.  He might be testing a limit because it’s an unfamiliar environment.  He might not understand the purpose of the rule.  He might be showing me that he is upset or otherwise unhappy.

-When he misbehaves purposely to show me that he is upset, I do not punish him.  That would make him feel worse, and then behave worse.  Instead, I help him get his mood back up, and when he feels better, he apologizes for the misbehavior on his own.  If he made a mess, he cleans it up.  I focus on solutions to whatever problem we are having.  It’s not a big deal.

 

One thing that my son has taught me is that he never means to make me mad.  He bursts into tears and isolates himself when he thinks he’s made me mad.  When I choose to see his misbehavior as defiance or manipulation, that’s what makes me mad.  It’s my perspective, not his behavior.

When I choose to see his behavior as communication, I am able to respond in a way that deepens our connection and makes him feel secure and accepted, and that, I believe, is why he is able to behave so well even in stressful environments.

I find Positive Discipline empowering as a parent, both for me and for my child.  Focusing on solutions rather than punishments, working together with my child rather than pushing my will on him, frees me to grow as a parent.  It is empowering to know that I will most definitely make mistakes, and that those mistakes are simply teaching tools.

 

Whereas punishments and rewards use external motivation to change behavior, Positive Discipline empowers kids from the inside to be considerate, self-reliant, self-disciplined, good problem solvers, cooperative, and helpful.

Check out this great infographic on the effects of spanking: http://www.online-psychology-degrees.org/psychology-of-spanking/

You can find out more about Positive Discipline here.

Here are some other great sites that help parents use the principles of Positive Discipline:

Aha Parenting

AttachmentParenting.org

Teach Through Love

Peaceful Parenting

The Natural Child Project

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Ashley Rae published her first book, a memoir, in 2012, and has been a professional psychic, healer, and teacher since 2003. Ashley's goal in life is to help you empower the divine spark within yourself so that you can love yourself freely, make your life awesome, and make this world a more beautiful, compassionate place. Visit her website to check out her other blog, find out her schedule, book an appointment and register for her classes.

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