Positive Parenting: Update 9 Months Later…


About nine months ago I posted about empathy parenting and then the next day did a short update. It has been awhile. We have had a lot of life changes in the past few months; including but not limited to two separate moves to two separate homes, ending up over four hundred miles away from where we were in August and a new baby. I wanted to update on how our empathy approach has lasted (and waned) over the past few months.

Empathy is an easy concept, but a difficult follow through during hard times. It is all well and good to say “YES! Abusing my child is bad! No spanking or yelling!” and this is something that we all want to; and can, achieve! However, I am human after all. And a tired, stressed, heavily pregnant human who has packed her stuff and unpacked over and over can get kind of fed up with a tot. Have we had a few backslides where she got a tap on her bottom or got hollered at? Yes. Do I feel shame and embarrassment about it? Yes. Do I regret spanking and yelling? Yes… and no. It did achieve the goal, at least short-term. And in those moments that is all I cared about. Getting through another day on unemployment. However, it did affect our relationship, at least short-term.

Sound like I am making a lot of excuses? I am. I should be capable of always being the adult and remaining calm in a crisis situation. I usually am. I have handled zoo emergencies without breaking a sweat every time; from escaped animals to capture and release to zoonotic disease and darting and surgery and medical emergency to the dreaded rat run. But nothing seems to set me in a panic like my baby upset. For all the work I have done to learn to steady myself in emergency situations, when she throws a tantrum I have only one thing on my mind: how do I get her to stop and calm down?

Even during this transition period, we were still making daily attempts to be mindful and empathetic to her needs and feelings. I am not saying we turned into crazy neglectful parents. I would still do my best to hold her when she needed holding, scold her when she needed scolding and talk to her when she just needed someone to explain the situation.

Now that the dust has settled so to speak and we are getting back to routine and I can think back and reflect. As a rational adult I can understand that life was extra stressful the past few months, for EVERYONE. Not just hubby and me. Our toddler had a WORLD of change and then some. On top of the stress, she was also confused and having to quickly adapt to completely new life situations. I know what I went through, but I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for her! Toddlers are so resilient we don’t often see how much all the changes affect them. I can get on my blog and write about it and think about my feelings or I can talk with my hubby in-depth about how stressed we are, whereas she can only try to show me how she is feeling as best as she can: by throwing a tantrum.

Her tantrums, and acting out, and disobedience were all her ways of telling me: Mommy, I am stressed out and need help!

Is she acting more like my smart and well-behaved wonderful child now that things have settled down? Of course. She is back to a normal schedule, her pacie use (another anxiety marker for her) is back to only being at night and her potty training is back on track. She is even staying dry most nights and we are considering taking diapers away completely even at night. She is back to my snuggly and sweet and independent and strong little girl.

She is still only two and a half, so she still has tantrums and bouts of “my way!” So how are we handling discipline now that we are back on actively being mindful and empathetic of her feelings? About back to normal. We have added a “time out” chair. But we use it sparingly. We try to use it as a time to calm down, but yes occasionally it does get used as a punishment. However, she doesn’t throw large tantrums anymore. We have gotten back into the habit of just talking. She will actually say things like “OK, lets talk. I am having a big emotion.” Almost every conflict we have now we can solve it together. Our biggest issues come in when she gets confused on what is going on. If we explain whats happening it almost always avoids a meltdown. For example “Mommy is going to drop you off at Circle Time. While you have fun with your friends I am going to be running errands. I will see you after Circle Time is over.”  Before, leaving her was almost impossible. It was a nightmare. Now, she still gets a bit clingy before I leave, but as soon as I am out of sight she is a jewel. Sometimes a gentle reminder is all she needs. Example “Are you supposed to be jumping on the bed?” She then realizes she shouldn’t be doing it and stops.

Now what about “big emotions?” After the birth of our new son she was AWFUL to me. Just me. Not my hubby, not grandma, not the new baby. Only me. Everything I said she would reply “no.” Everything I asked her was “no.” She didn’t want me around. I was so flabbergasted and frustrated with her! My mom actually helped on this one (a shocker I know!) She helped me remember to be empathetic. She helped me understand that my daughter wasn’t being belligerent on purpose to be spiteful; she is just a toddler having big emotions she doesn’t understand! She felt angry with me, but couldn’t understand why she felt that way or how to express herself. Anger is such a big emotion, even more so when your angry at someone you love. So, she was acting out against me trying to find some way to work through her feelings. Once I understood this, I didn’t get so stressed with her and I tried to just let her have her space when she needed it and give her the snuggles when she wanted them.

I guess we are doing better and still going pretty strong with the empathy parenting. I want her to be able to express herself. I want her not to be afraid of us or of making mistakes. I want her to feel supported and loved. But I also want her to be able to behave and listen to us. I want to not hold her to unreasonable expectations.

Those were our goals when we started this, and so far we have achieved every one. She has grown and we have grown and it is back to just being more natural between us all instead of a power struggle (like it was 9 months ago.) I have done a lot of research and reading more on the subject and that has definitely helped me keep our goals in sight. The point I guess of this particular update is to say that we are all human. We all can’t be perfect 100% of the time, and that certainly includes toddlers! Maybe if more people think about that, then they may not be so quick to turn to corporal punishment?

Here is a good resource to help if you want to learn more about how to be an empathetic parent:

Click here to visit Mindful Nurturing.

Or to buy an eBundle (on sale after May 28, 2013) directly with lots of resources.

Good Luck Listening!

Coming Soon: Empathy and your newborn…

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