Thursday, 7 January 2016

Why I'm Ignoring The Backlash For Discipline

My newsfeed is filled with viral articles shaking their fingers at parents for being too lenient with their children.  Too much praise!  Not enough chores!  Let them bleed! Too much indulgence!  And notice how the poor Millennials are taking the first beating from being raised as an entitled generation?  It will only get worse.

I suppose it's inevitable that with helicopter parenting comes the backlash on the case for discipline. 

Frankly, I'm ignoring all that.  I still read them and I take in the balancing wisdom, but largely I don't let it affect the parenting style I've chosen.  I think much of this backlash is old-school thinking.

My current corporate job + my forever-career as a mom has me nerding up on child development and reading the science behind child education.  I've realized that much of modern parenting and progressive education makes so much scientific sense.  (I'm putting Montessori as part of progressive education even though it started in the 1910s because Maria Montessori was a freaking genius whose methods are validated by brain theory today.)  

There is a reason why parenting is so different today than it was in the 1970s. 

This is my own experience with discipline:

I still carry my six-year old daughter.  Here's why.

The only golden-rule I follow in discipline is this:  follow your child.

If I took the discipline rules as gospel and applied them to my child I'm absolutely sure I would have damaged her self-esteem by now.  My child turned out to be a sensitive soul and if I hadn't been paying enough attention I would have probably succeeded in toughening her up, but left her feeling misunderstood and unimportant.

It happened to me.  My parents let me "cry it out" during my very terrible twos, thinking that ignoring me was discipline.  And I remember how that felt like. 

Modern parenting saved me.  I discovered the discipline of playful parenting and playing with my daughter helped me get to know her better.  I think people misunderstand when parents say they want to be their child's friend -- what parents really mean is they want a better connection with their child so that they can be better parents.

I love Maria Montessori's words: follow the child.

It's too tempting to stop paying close attention to children, especially once the needy baby stage is done or they start playing by themselves.  And especially when society judges parents so readily.  But how can we discipline if we don't tune into our child's feelings and understand why they feel that way?

One of the best things I picked up from reading Playful Parenting by Dr. Cohen was this: children's misbehaviour is their form of language.  You need to translate it into one of three reasons - isolation, fear or powerlessness.  Let that sink in for a minute and remember what it was like to be a kid.  True, right?

Here's an online journal entry last year showing how I continue to use this tip to decode my daughter:

Once I saw misbehavior as a sign of feeling lonely, afraid or overwhelmed, I was able to respond in a more loving and understanding way.  It never made sense to me when articles say that preschoolers are manipulating their parents.  Geez.  What a hostile and superficial way to see children!

I was lucky to be taught by my daughter how to discipline her.  Ladybug Girl had a very different version of "terrible twos" - she had "emo twos".  Her interpersonal intelligence was so acute, she would sense a change in facial expression or tone of voice and know that I was irritated even before words came out of my mouth.  This set her off running and slamming doors on me.  It took time to realise it was because she felt betrayed.  I don't let her wallow in loneliness like I did, not at this critical age.

Her lack of the typical tantrum made it a little easier to see that this was a burst of emotion, not an act of rebellion.  I can imagine the helpless frustration of parents when faced with a screaming child!  

But it's equally difficult to remove any trace of impatience out of my voice and face.  I know that once I've made her afraid of me, I've lost the teaching moment.  She will follow because she's scared of me or publicly embarrassed  - not because she understands why.  

Today I am still honestly surprised at how calm and natural the discipline happens with her now that we've understood each other a lot more.  Often I will tell her something casually or whisper a lesson privately in her ear, and that's it.  It's when I become the parent that internet articles expect me to be that starts the typical drama that internet articles love to headline.  

Even her hard-nosed Daddy learned to discipline in her language

I can also imagine how this might look to an outsider - completely coddling and indulgent.  Same thoughts for how we still give her a carry.  Sometimes its our quiet greeting for each other in the mornings, sometimes it's our way to reconcile, and frankly sometimes it's for no reason but to lovingly enjoy each other.  

I've had well-meaning friends shame her by saying "no more carry, you're a big girl na".  I tell her to ignore them.  Here is even where I ignore Montessori tips on not carrying children around.  

Because sometimes she needs to know we're on the same team even as I'm disagreeing with her.  Because sometimes she needs more bravery and a literal boost from her parents gives her that.

And really because I'm following my child.  
And that wisdom has worked better for me than any random tip on the internet.

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*more self-confessed learning about my parenting job in this gallery*


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  2. Amazing Article

    1. Thank you for reading and affirming our story!

  3. Thank you for your brilliant article! I hope and pray that I'll be able to do the same to my child. Sometimes I feel inadequate and clueless of what to do being a first time mom.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read it :) I can totally relate to feeling inadequate and clueless - isn't that why we read all those viral articles in the first place! It took a lot of time - 2 years - to really get to know my daughter's personality and get into the groove of what works with HER. And with my second child coming, I'll have to do that all over again! So everyone is really a first time mom aren't they?:) Wishing you mama's grace for your own child - he/she is already lucky who respects him!

  4. You're such a good writer, Trins :) What a moving article, and helpful for titas, too. My parents only stopped carrying me because I was too heavy, haha! But until now we hug and lock arms and hold hands. They were old school parents, but the constant lambing was something they never scrimped on and it makes a huge difference. I feel their embrace even when I live far away from them.

    -Kat Gutierrez

    1. Kat, thank you so much (can I put that on my resume coming from your stellar Masters degree opinion?!). I've always loved the easy warmth of your parents!!! It was obvious how lambing your mom was with her "sisters" which we'd always joke you guys were. It's encouraging to know that years from now it could spell all the difference in connection even if I stumble at the intellectual connection bit!

  5. Trina, I really found this so enlightening, especially since we are undergoing the same thing with Abe now. I used to wonder if there was something wrong if I hugged him after a specific outburst when it looked like he just needed attention. I would hug him on instinct, as if to assure him that I'm listening to him. Thanks for reminding that we can take our cue from our kid's specific personalities. Keep 'em coming :)

    1. Absolutely, Hannah! I think it may tougher parenting boys (I sure am scared of the thought!), with all the pressure on boys to be tough. It takes a brave mama to follow her son against all that pressure. To give an understanding hug rather than judge kids for their actions. Thanks so much for reading and leaving an affirmation, it means a lot to me!

  6. I'm on the same page! Follow the child! But I think these articles about discipline are directed towards parents of umm, how do you say it in a better way, misbehaving kids? Usually kids cry, whine, don't listen and its all a part of being a kid, but I've seen a few kids (very few actually) who are *really* spoilt and when I see them even I come up with all this talk in my head!

    But overall I think all kids are good kids (ok most of em!) and they have their own gentle, sensitive minds of their own. And many times simply explaining the reason is enough to make them understand! don't you agree?

    1. I wish I was self-assured like that starting out, but I wasn't at all. I'm just writing about it now because I already learned my lessons. Until I got to know my daughter well, I would apply every rule I read about and feel those articles were warning every parent like me! Speaking only for my experience with my sensitive girl, I thought I could just explain the reason to make her understand but it wasn't as simple as that. I've had times when I thought I was doing it right but she felt threatened and would run away from me in betrayal. My experiences with "spoilt" kids are too shallow for me to understand but I'm curious how "follow the child" could be applied. It might even work greater wonders!

  7. I'm so happy that I have read this! I am a mom to a 2 yo boy and I am really having a hard time to communicate with him. He runs all the time and throws everything he holds. I am becoming frustrated lately. Another thing is we are pregnant and I am really having a hard time understanding this stage of his life. But I'm reading and learning so I hope we get to pass this stage like you did :). Thank you for writing this article :)


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