Why Does Empathy Scare Us?

I grew up in a family where our “bad” emotions (jealousy, anger, rage) were not validated.  My parents weren’t unkind people, but true empathy was not their forte.  We were a highly emotional bunch of kids, and we were told, sometimes gently and sometimes not so gently, to brush it off, stop crying, don’t be so dramatic, smile and be nice.  I think they truly believed that was the best way to handle negative emotions. As a highly sensitive child who struggled with a lot of fears, bouts of melancholy, and anxious feelings, I never felt fully understood or free to express myself.

I became a parent and stumbled upon Janet Lansbury’s writings about respecting babies and children.  She suggests staying unruffled during the craziest of tantrums, and acknowledging and validating the ugliest of emotions.  This seemed radical to me, but I tried it. Instead of my go-to strategies of distraction or just shooing away the feelings (“You’re ok! No more tears!”), I really leaned into them.  I said the feelings aloud and made them even more real. “You are sad that I had another baby.  It makes you angry and makes you want to head butt your brother.  I understand you are sad and mad, but I will not let you hurt him.”

Empathy and validation absolutely works with my kids.  They simmer down quickly and seem to have good emotional intelligence for being so young. There are few grudges, little anger bubbling underneath the surface.  Best of all, we’re on the same team.  But it took a lot of getting used to for me.  In fact, such radical empathy felt scary.  To not contradict, correct or ignore negative emotions seems indulgent, too loose.  Shouldn’t we stand our ground as parents?  Shouldn’t we re-train a child’s emotions?  Isn’t that our job?  As a Christian, old testament verses are sometimes thrown around as proof that we need to spank, punish, and control.  Yikes.

When Sisi needed surgery for her broken elbow, she and I were both frustrated by the way the doctors are nurses distracted and redirected Sisi instead of listening to her fears and questions and answering them straight, even if she didn’t like the answers. It was then that I realized my radical empathy and straight talk was truly counter-cultural.

 

Here’s the thing. I think about how I like to be comforted.  Does it really help for someone to tell you your feelings are wrong, immature, and you just need to get over it?  To give you lectures or advice that you’re just not ready to hear? Do you like being ignored or banished when you are having your adult tantrums (and we all have them, right?) No.  We just need someone to say, “You sound really upset.  I’m so sorry you are having such a hard time.  I’m here for you.”  How healing are those words?  The older I get, the more tragedies I’ve experienced (suicide of my dad, miscarriage, family discord, etc.) the more I realize that’s ALL you can say most of the time.  There are just no other words. Please don’t try to rationalize or punish me in my sadness and grief because you will get nowhere.

I have a loved one who suffers from a severe mental illness.  During flare-ups, this person’s thoughts and emotions are in another galaxy.  In the past, I have tried to convince, contradict, correct, distract.  All the things we try with tantruming kids.  But like tantruming kids, my loved on is not in a frame of mind to hear my great reasons and arguments.  Rather than convince this person to get help and get back on meds, I pushed the person away even more.  I became someone not to be trusted.  How very sad.

The book I am not sick, I don’t need help! by Xavier Amador reminded me so much of Janet Lansbury’s strategy, but applied toward those struggling with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  The book argues that poor insight into their own symptoms is a symptom of the mental illness itself.  This means that a schizophrenic or bipolar person is not just being irrational or stubborn when they say they are not sick, don’t need meds, or suggest something crazy like aliens are speaking to them through a blink 182 song on the radio (I’ve heard it.)  They truly believe this, and there’s no way to convince them otherwise.  It’s wasted breath, not to counter-productive.

Next time I get to talk to my loved one, and I hope to cross his/her path soon, I will stop saying “You need help.  You have to get back on your meds.  You are just paranoid. Your plan is not going to work.”  Instead I will say, “Tell me if I’m hearing you right.  You don’t want to take meds because they make you feel terrible and you don’t think  you need them.  You don’t want to stay in your apartment because you think someone is after you.  It must be scary to be in your position right now.  Nobody likes to feel followed.  I’m here for you.  I love you.”  And then I’ll wait- weeks, months maybe, until my loved one is ready to hear me and my wise suggestions for his/her life.   (Of course, if someone is a harm to himself or others, it’s important to step in and force help. But this should be the last resort.)

So radical empathy isn’t just for tantruming kids.  Or grieving adults.  Or schizophrenic loved ones.  It’s for every single person.  Let’s not be afraid of radical empathy.  It will make the world a kinder and more emotionally intelligent place.

5 Frugal Moves in the last Year

We didn’t even budget until last summer when we started saving up for our land.  We were so mindless about our spending because we didn’t really have a goal.  Now we have a HUGE goal- to build our own home and to give Joe a few years sabbatical to do so.  After analyzing our spending that first month, our eyeballs popped out and I may have cursed.  We needed to shave off thousands annually in order to invest for the future.  While we’ve cut down on the little things (no more coffee shops, acai bowls, eating out all the time, expensive musicals and concerts, etc.)  it’s the big changes that make the most difference.

Here are 5 frugal steps we took this past year, in order of impact on our bottom line.

  1. Fired my housecleaners.  This saved us almost 1800.00 this year.  Having maids come every three weeks was a lovely post-partum gift to myself, but it had to end.  I worked up the courage to fire them last summer by a) relaxing my standards of cleanliness, and b) finding better cleaning products that make cleaning an easier habit.  Now the house isn’t ever sparkling clean, but it doesn’t get filthy the way it did 2 or 3 weeks post-maid.  As an HSP, I am my own filth-o-meter and tackle messes when they bug me. But I only clean about 15-20 minutes a day, which is totally doable.  I’ve embraced the idea of “clean enough”.  As for products, I’m loving Norwex envirocloths and glass polishing clothes. They deep clean using just water. Water is free!!!  I also purchased the e-cloth microfiber mop.  Mopping my kitchen, bathrooms, and main traffic areas takes less than 10 minutes now, so I have no excuse but to do it once in a while.   Piggybacking on this one, we also fired the gardeners to save 600.00 this year.
  2. Played the miles card game.  We’re finally in a place financially to play the miles game without racking up debt at insane interest rates.  This means paying our balances in full each month via automatic payments.  After just 3 months, we’ve scored 700.00 in travel credit, and will add 1000.00 more credit in a month or two.  That’s enough to cover our 4 flights to Oregon this summer, plus rental car.  I wish I’d started racking up miles long ago.  We used the advice in this post to get started.

    Our Oregon trip last year should have been free!
  3. Joined a homeschool charter school.  In exchange for work samples, activity logs, and meetings with a teacher each month, we are given funds to pay for books, school supplies, lessons, classes, memberships to museums, zoos,  our local mission, and more.  I pretty much don’t buy Sisi anything out of pocket anymore.  It all comes from the charter school.

    Our charter school purchased our family membership to Mission San Juan Capistrano. We bring picnics and chill in the gardens regularly.
  4. Shop used clothes.  I started this for ethical reasons, but we save a bundle on clothing shopping used (almost exclusively, barring undergarments and my husband’s clothes.)  Here’s my shopping strategy: My favorite is thredup.com for myself and the kids.  I put anything that catches my eye into my cart.  Narrow it down to my favorite 10-15 items.  Have it all sent to me (free shipping!).  Try it on, mull over it for a few days and see if it fits in with my (fairly minimal) wardrobe.  Send back what I don’t want (usually 80% of the items!) for a refund.  I’m left with a few items in great condition that have already proven they stand up to washing and normal wear.   I haven’t set foot in a mall in a long time, which is crazy because that used to be one of my favorite places to take the kids!
  5. Took up hobbies like embroidery and map-making.  These hobbies provide me with cheap entertainment, are very therapeutic, and make cute handmade gifts for friends.  I’ve also vowed never to buy cards again.  Instead I’ve stocked up on blank white cards and envelopes so I can quickly watercolor a pretty design.

    My second project ever! A very colorful H for my friend Helen on her birthday. There are lots of little symbols tucked into the design (can you spy a surfboard, sun, lavender sprigs, boat, anchor, and horseshoe?) I love embroidering for friends because I can’t help but think about them and pray for them while I stitch. So it’s truly a labor of love, although a little wonky and imperfect for sure.

I have more frugal moves in the works- switching our cell plan to twigby, getting rid of the tv and netflix (!!!) and meal planning to cut the grocery bill down even further.  Food is by far our biggest expense.

My Christmas Don’t-Do List

Everyone has limited time, energy, and resources.  We can’t do everything.  Sometimes it’s hard for us conscientious folks to let these things go, especially if they are objectively good things to do, or things that our culture deems important.  Or even things we’ve done every year in the past but don’t have time for this year. That’s why a “Don’t-do” list can be so freeing- by giving ourselves permission to not do some things, we can do other things very well.  This 2016 holiday season has been easy as pie.  My “Don’t-do” list is a mile long.  My “To-do” list is pleasingly short.  And yet everything feels nicely balanced in our household.

My Christmas Don’t-do list *

  1. No Christmas lights on the exterior of the house.
  2. Not a lot of decor inside the house.  We do the basics- a paper banner, a tree, stockings.  I just don’t like the clutter.
  3. No Elf on the Shelf or Santa.  In our home, Santa is a lovely folk tale that none of us take seriously.
  4. No Christmas shopping at malls/stores.  What few presents we buy all come from online stores.
  5. No pretty gift wrapping.  It’s butcher paper with sharpie doodles over here, which I like to think has it’s own special charm 🙂
  6. No Christmas cards.  Never have, never will.  But I do love receiving them.  Very hypocritical of me.
  7. No daily advent calendar activities.  I don’t like the pressure.
  8. No Christmas cookie bake-off.  We eat paleo, so the cookies take twice the effort, twice the cost, and taste half as good.  Not even trying this year.
  9. As evidenced in  the picture below, I don’t clean up pine needles.  I just let em fall and fall.

My Christmas Must-do list…

  1. Nightly Weinachtspyramide lighting ceremony.
  2. Buying a fresh-out-of-the-ground tree the day after Thanksgiving.
  3. Impromptu dance parties in the kitchen at least 3x a week.
  4. Making our own ornaments. This year was salt dough sculptures, and I finally caved and let my kids use glitter for the first time ever.
  5. Low-maintanence magnetic advent calendar.
  6. Almost nightly Christmas devotionals.  If we skip some nights, no biggie.
  7. For our kids’ gifts, we are trying the “something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read” thing.  It was so easy to shop for them this year, and we actually used our charter school funds for the “educational” toys.

*Don’t do lists are very subjective.  We will all differ in our priorities and values.  Please don’t think I’m telling you not to do any of those very  good things.  And please forgive me if my daughter tells your kids that Santa isn’t real.  I have sworn her to secrecy, but we’ll see how that works out.

 

My Toddler Scratches Other Babies

When Matteo scratches or pulls the hair of another child, it fills me with so much anxiety and shame.  That sting of embarrassment as the other parent tends to their injured child and tries to hide their  shock.  That deep feeling of disappointment as I think “Matteo, you’re so much better than this! What is wrong with you?”  Or worse, “What did I do wrong as a parent? Did I fail in some way?”

It all started months ago at the park.   The first time he scratched a cute little red-head at the park, I was shocked to see a “mean streak”. I can’t remember my reaction, but I’m pretty sure I made the scratch a very big hooplah.  Clearly this wasn’t effective because he did it again.  And again.  In the church nursery, at the playground, in the library play room.  Always with kids his size or smaller, when they seem to enter his territory or show interest in something he’s playing with.  What started out as an occasional defensive scratch or hair-pull has now turned into a habitual and preemptive strike anytime a little one comes near.  It’s gotten to the point when I dread seeing babies or young toddlers at the park. I’m tempted to high-tail it home.

We HSPs are pretty good at seeing patterns and consequences.  If we’re the anxious types, we tend to imagine worst case scenerios.  That’s what I did- I imagined that Matteo’s behavior, if unresolved, could lead to serious aggression and even violence down the road.  Maybe he’d be a bully!  This talent for forward-thinking causes me a good deal of anxiety.  But thankfully, it also motivates me to action.  I’d rather take this problem too seriously than too lax.  It always baffles me when people only tackle problems after they have turned into crises.  That’s not really the HSP way.  It’s certainly not my way. When it comes to parenting, I’m a nip it in the bud kind of girl.

So I came up with a game plan. But first I did my research.  I turned to the parenting expert I admire most, Janet Lansbury.  One of her podcast episodes (My 2 Year Old is a Bully) was exactly what I needed to hear.  She said the most important thing you can do is remain unruffled.  This scratching behavior makes sense to Matteo. He’s not a “bad child”, nor am I a “failure.”  He’s trying to communicate something with actions.  I need to answer him in a way that will take away this need to scratch.

  1.  Notice a pattern.  Matteo scratches or pulls hair when a young, small toddler gets in his space, looks him straight in the eye, or tries to touch him or something he’s interested in.
  2. Figure out what he’s communicating.  What I think he’s saying is, “I don’t like when little kids are too close.  It makes me feel scared and I don’t know what they’re going to do, so I will protect myself because you haven’t protected me from other smothering or aggressive toddlers in the past.”  In the past, I should probably have spoken up to parents whose children were violating his space, but the people pleaser in me really really really didn’t want to do that.  I tried to make it no big deal because toddler aggression is just a part of life.   But  my lack of response when he was clearly uncomfortable has caused him to strike first before others can hurt him.  When I look at it that way, his scratching and pulling is actually quite reasonable.  But of course, it’s not acceptable.
  3. Try to prevent the aggression.  I pride myself in letting my kids loose at the park to discover things on their own. I never wanted to be a helicopter parent.  But because Matteo is feeling scared and vulnerable in these situations, I probably need to shadow him a little more, even keep him in the carrier at times if he’s showing me he’s overwhelmed.  I may even opt out of social engagements and stay home a little more until he’s ready to face little ones.
  4. If he does scratch, I will calmly restrain him by holding down his hands and say, “Grabbing hair hurts.  I won’t let you grab hair.  We need to be gentle with our friends.”  Then take him somewhere else where he’ll have his own space.  The goal is to sound calm, unphased and confident, even though inside I’m probably freaking out.  I just need to practice that calm demeanor, and hopefully I can internalize it.
  5. I don’t believe in forcing aplogies, but I will check in with the other child and say sorry on Matteo’s behalf.

You guys, it feels so good to have a game plan.  How do you handle biting, scratching, and other aggressive toddler behaviors?

I also found this article super empowering.

Update 12/22:  My game plan is working, or maybe the phase is just passing.  He is scratching much less often.   And I’m responding with the calm, unruffled confidence of a mom who is in charge.  So yay me!

 

Operation Christmas Child Meltdown


My child had a meltdown in the checkout line at Target.  Why?  Because I was buying so many goodies for needy children, and none for her.  I made sure to prepare her before our target run with a little talk about  Operation Christmas Child and why I’m so thrilled to participate in it.  My child seemed genuinely excited to fill a shoebox for a little girl her age, and was very thoughtful about her choices.  “Ooh, I think she’ll like the pink toothbrush  because most girls like pink… except for me.”  But after a while, as the cart filled with sparkly wondrous things, the jealousy and the disappointment (and I’ll say it, the consumerism that plagues all of us  despite my efforts to squash it) welled up in her, and she had a full on tantrum.

There are so many words I wanted to use in that moment.  There was a nice little guilt trip on the tip of my tongue… “Why don’t you appreciate the abundance we have?  Why do you always want to buy things you don’t need?  Don’t you realized how other kids in the world are suffering?  I’m so disappointed that you can’t be a joyful giver.” But thank God I didn’t say any of those things.

You may disagree with my silence, but I don’t regret it.  Have I ever felt jealousy?  Have I ever lusted over stuff I don’t need?  Have  I rejoiced in someone else’s misfortune?  Absolutely.  All the time.  And I’m way older than 5.  I do NOT need someone lecturing and guilting me about my selfishness.  That is never the answer.

So what did I say?  Nothing for a while.  Then when I felt kinda centered, I told her, “You seem really upset and disappointed.  It’s always hard when we want something we cannot have.  But today we’re shopping for needy kids around the world, not for ourselves.  I will not be buying anything for you today.”  That’s it.  She cried the whole way home, then an hour later apologized for getting so angry.

One of my parenting goals is to step aside and allow my children to pursue good things of their own free will, not out of force, guilt, or pressure to please me. I think it’s a hard route to take, and that the good pursuits will take time.  Honestly, guilt trips definitely work on my sensitive child in the short run.  But I’m parenting for the long run.  I figure that the best I can do is be an example of love and generosity for my kids.  I’m already seeing some of the fruit of this “hands off” approach, but I’m sure the best is yet to come.

operation-christmas-child-meltdown

Why I Love Forest Kindergarten

why i love forest kindergartenImagine a classroom without walls where it’s ok to get muddy or run barefoot.  Where you can play with sticks and no one will yell the dreaded, “You’ll poke an eye out!”  No whiteboards, just drawing the ABCs with sticks in the dirt.  No books, just old fashioned story telling. No flourescent lights, just dappled sunlight beaming through the trees.  This classroom exists, and it’s called Forest Kindergarten.  The concept started in Germany- Waldkindergartens.  I’m blessed to have one just miles from my house. It’s like preschool, summer camp, and girl/boy scouts rolled into one.  And it makes my highly sensitive hippie heart sing!

Sisi is enrolled in this magical program, and Matteo and I get to come along for the ride.  For 5 hours on Tuesday, rain or shine, we sing, hike, study animal tracks and play.  The kids play and play while the parents sit on blankets under a canopy of trees and chat about the book assigned to us: Simplicity Parenting, which just so happens to be on my list of life changing books.  Our teachers are gentle and cheerful, always greeting us with a warm, genuine hello.  They have clear boundaries (this is no Lord of the Flies anarchy situation) but allow much freedom within those boundaries.  For example, “You may get muddy but please do not splash the mud on others.”  “You may play with sticks, but not during circle time.”thanks for your support!

I found this program googling “homeschool supplement programs”. I intend on homeschooling next year, but don’t want to do it all myself. I want to provide my kids with some sort of classroom experience.  I was looking into half and half charter school/homeschool programs, but they clashed with my unschooling approach.  I came upon a local Forest Kindergarten program and got the chills, it was exactly what I didn’t even know I needed.  It meshes with my parenting and educational style, and it gets my child out into nature doing what kids do best- play!

I love almost everything about Forest Kindergarten, but here are the main virtues:

  • Slow and calm pace.  Just a few structured activities, but mostly time to explore and play and be free.
  • Group snack.  Everyone brings a diced piece of organic fruit to mix together into a giant fruit salad we all get to share.  Every week Sisi gets to try new and interesting fruits (and it’s a snack that work with our paleo diet, hooray!)
  • Respectful speech.  There is no talking down, or baby talk, or sarcasm, or yelling.  The teachers speak to the children in the same respectful tone they speak to the parents.  This is so refreshing. And rare for preschools.
  • Rituals.  There are lots of little routines that give the day a nice predictable rhythm.  There is circle time, the hand-washing ritual, before meal blessing,  story time, quiet sit time, mystery bag, and the day ends with the goodbye song where the children walk under a silk rainbow bridge.
  • Positive Discipline.  No time outs, punishments, shame.  If a child is not able to participate in the activities in a calm and respectful way, the teachers may suggest that the child take a rest on their blanket until he or she is ready.  Since most kids have a parent with them, it’s up to the parents to guide the children and be positive role models.
  • NOT academic.  I know, maybe I’m weird for thinking this is a virtue, but I am happy that they are not forcing the ABCs or reading or numbers.  Each week, we “journal” (draw the moon phase and attempt to write the date and season),  learn one letter in sign language and try to make that letter with sticks, but this academic portion is not forced or stressful.  Trust me, Sisi is learning a TON at Forest Kindergarten, but it’s happening so naturally and organically that she doesn’t even realize it. That is the essence of unschooling!
  • Respect for nature.  They are exploring nature while being careful not to destroy it.  They compost their leftovers, use reusable containers, and try not to waste anything.
  • Trust.  Even the littlest students are trusted with breakable ceramic bowls and teacups, and trusted to help wash them.  We trust the kids to navigate the freedom that is given to them without abusing it. We trust they can handle a little heat, some scrapes, some rain.  Handle new tastes (pine needle tea, acorn pancakes, fruits and vegetables they have never tasted before.) I’m even learning to trust Matteo, that he can handle 5 hours out in the wilderness and be just fine most of the time.  We also trust that if our kids are showing signs of wear and overtiredness, it’s ok to leave early.  No one will judge.
  • Did I mention quiet sit time?  It’s 10-15 minutes where we just choose a little nook and sit there.  Quietly.  It’s an introvert HSP dream come true 😉
  • Cell phone free zone.  We are all present.  We give each other eye contact.  We are hands free parents for at least 5 hours of our week.  I hate my cell phone so this isn’t a challenge for me, but it may be the only time some parents are disconnected from their phones.

I encourage you to check and see if there is a Forest Kindergarten near you!

nature is the antidote

 

 

No More Mommy Tantrums

mommy tantrums

You see it everywhere: Parents pushed to the limit.

At Macy’s, a dad mocks his sobbing child.  “Wahh wahh, I’m being such a baby!” he says, winking at me as if to say, “Aren’t kids ridiculous?”  The boy cries even harder.

At the library, a mom yells at her child, “Be quiet!  We’re going home now because you can’t remember to be quiet in the library!”  She drags her out kicking and screaming.

On the sidewalk I overhear a dad saying to his boy, “Man!  It’s only 8:30 in the morning and you’re already annoying me!  I seriously can’t handle you right now!”  His boy looks defeated.

You can tell I’m an eavesdropper from this post.  Sorry-not-sorry!  It’s partly an HSP thing– this hyperawareness of others’ emotions.  It’s almost impossible for me to pass over a parent and child in conflict without taking it all in.

Trust me, I’ve had my meltdowns, too!  I’m not really hot-headed or prone to anger, but when I reach my limit, I tend to get cold.  I shut down. I might roll my eyes and give a guilt trip.  I think that kind of coldness is just as hurtful as a full-blown mommy tantrum.

But fortunately, I’m steeped in enough awesome parenting resources that remind me over and over to be calm. Breathe. Be cool.  Your kids are people, too, even when they are acting crazy. It’s normal for them to act crazy.  They deserve to be treated with respect all the time, not just when they are angels.  I repeat these things like mantras almost every day.

Janet Lansbury calls it wearing your superhero suit like a shield.  I love that image.  Because to your child, you are a superhero.  You are your child’s fearless leader.  You are bigger, stronger, wiser than they.  You are their role model for how to handle overwhelming feelings.  We add fuel to the fire when we are anything besides calm, consistent, and compassionate.

It’s so very hard to exude this zen attitude when your kid is crying and flailing in the frozen foods aisle and you have to leave your cart full of groceries in a hurry (I speak from experience.)  But you’ve got to fake it til you make it. You’ve got to exercise those zen muscles until a chill response is second nature.

Here’s what it looks like for me:

Your child hits another child in public.  You are mad, embarrassed and panicked.  Breathe, walk over, and calmly but sternly say, “I won’t let you hit.”  Hold down his hands and look him in the eye.  If he hits again, repeat “I won’t let you hit.  We need to go home now.”  Pick up the kid and go home.  As he throws a royal tantrum in the car, say “You sound frustrated and mad.  You wanted to hit and you wanted to stay at the park, but I am taking you home. You can cry and let it all out. I’m here if you want to talk or cuddle.”

Calm, cool, empathetic.  I guarantee, this strategy works better to simmer kids down than a mommy tantrum or that cold passive-aggressive thing I do. Promise.

Disciplining a Highly Sensitive Child

disciplining a sensitive childHighly sensitive children are often extremely sensitive to tone of voice and facial expressions. A stern look or shush from an authority figure can immediately crumple their faces to tears. I knew very early on when my eldest was a baby that typical discipline measures (time outs, lectures, spanking) were not going to work for us.

Highly sensitive people usually want to do the right thing. We are rule-followers. We try hard. When we fail, we are crushed. We don’t need as much correction because we are already beating ourselves up for our mistakes. Even in high school, a stern correction from a teacher could make me sob in front of the whole class. I can remember several clear instances of this. I didn’t get in trouble often, but when I did, I was a total wreck for the rest of the day.  It was awful.

Why did I care so much? My brother was always in detention, even suspended once or twice, and didn’t seem all that phased. I understand now that my sensitivity to correction stems from my experiencing it- the disappointed look of a teacher, the harsh words of a parent, the sting of being caught, and the public embarrassment- much more intensely than the typical kid. Because of this, I tried so hard to be perfect.  But I’m a human and a sinner and perfection is not possible. My perfectionism probably made me an easier child to raise than my less sensitive brother, but it filled me with inner turmoil. I am trying hard to steer my children away from that same turmoil.

So, if I don’t lecture, spank, yell, or do time-outs, what’s left? How can we discipline children sensitively? I’m not lax in my parenting.  I run a pretty tight ship.  I have routines, rules, standards, but also allow a ton of freedom.thanks for your support!

I call it front-end discipline.  Taking a preventative approach.  Setting up the situation carefully to decrease the odds of misbehavior.

1. I set my expectations up front, clearly. Time-limits, expected behavior, spatial/behavioral boundaries. This is like 90% of discipline in our household. It takes a lot of time and effort to give a detailed rundown beforehand, but it is key to keeping the peace.

2. I pick my battles so I’m not always nagging. I offer lots of freedom within boundaries. For example, at restaurants, I often let my child choose her meal between a few healthy options I give her. I let her eat with her fingers if it’s easier for her to do so. I don’t force her to eat everything on her plate. I even let her play with her food a little (put the olives on her fingers, disassemble the casserole, stuff like that.) I know, horrible manners, we probably get judged. But I’m just not going there right now. If she sits and eats peacefully, I’m happy. As long as it’s not disruptive to those around her.

3.  There are certain realms that I just don’t enter.  It’s just not my business.  Giving kids control in these realms allows them to submit in other situations.

  • PLAY: She can play however she wants as long as no one is getting seriously hurt, she cleans up after, and abides by whatever boundaries I’ve set. I’m always baffled when I see parents butting into their kids’ play- “Honey, go on the swings now! Share your ball with Susie! Build a tower like this!” That seems like such a royal waste of energy. She knows much better than I do what is fun for her.
  • EMOTIONS: Her emotions belong to her, so I don’t discipline her for negative emotions (anger, grumpiness, jealousy.)  I discipline actions that stem from these feelings, like hitting, but not the emotions themselves.

3. If she has outright crossed my boundaries, I am calm but firm.  I calmly say, “I will not let you hit.” I don’t leave any room for argument, I simply tell her I won’t let this behavior continue. If necessary, I physically stop her (hold down her hands) or remove her from the situation if need be.  But always calmly (or at least, that’s what I aim for.)

4. Empathy, not shame. “I understand you are frustrated, and that makes you want to hit, but I will not let you.” Sometimes this sparks a tantrum, but usually it fizzles out quite quickly because a) I’ve left no room for negotiation, b) I didn’t make it personal by slathering on the guilt, c) I honestly allow so much freedom that she doesn’t feel the need to push back for very long. She accepts there are just a few big-time no nos, and that she must abide by them.

Sometimes even the gentlest correction brings forth a tantrum or tears, which makes me feel so crappy. But I don’t need to feel guilty about correcting my child so long as I did so respectfully. Correction is a part of life. I then give her a little space and say she can come to me if she needs a talk or cuddle.

5. Give them time. I find that if I give her time to choose the right, she often chooses it. If the night time routine is dragging, I will say, “Please brush your teeth and use the restroom.  If you dawdle, we may not have time to read books.” I’m simply stating the natural consequences of her actions.  99% of the time, she’ll pause, think, and then rush to the bathroom, no punishments needed.  I learned to pause and calmly wait for her to choose the right path from the amazing book Bringing Up Bebe.

Recommended Reading: I highly recommend checking out Janet Lansbury’s blog Elevating Childcare or reading her book No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame.  Although she’s not directed at highly sensitive children per se, her ideas about respectful, empathetic parenting are especially well-suited for HSCs.

Question: Were you super sensitive to discipline as a child?  How did your parents handle it when you misbehaved, and how do you wish they’d handled it?

gentle parenting methods