Much of the parenting advice around is specific ‘how to’s’ - three step behaviour methods, a ‘script’ for certain situations, stickers, time out stools and other gimmicks. This puts us in the realm of doing parenting.
It can feel good to take action, and we may see some temporary changes but if we take a more long-term view, we can approach our parenting a little differently. If we see parenting as first and foremost about being in a relationship, then our key ‘task’ is to respond.
You don’t so much need ‘tricks up your sleeve’, such as those listed above, but some tools to draw on are useful. Perhaps the most powerful way of responding in kindness, in any situation, is if we put ourselves in someone else's shoes. This is useful in all stages of parenting.
Put yourself in their shoes
Our baby won't stop crying? How would it be to be so new to this world, unsure of what is happening, and unable to communicate our needs? Identifying first means we can come from a very different place than if we are seeing our baby as ‘just trying it on’.
Toddlers are widely misunderstood, and society would have us believe they are ‘master manipulators’, and in need of ‘taming’ and ‘training’. To respond kindly we need a far more positive view. Our best chance of having the patience and gentleness with these amazing wee people is by imagining their plight.
Have you ever not been able to get your point across to someone, even though you felt you were giving the clearest explanation you knew how? Have you wanted the satisfaction of doing something for yourself, when your partner mutters about it being too slow, reaches over and does it for you? These are the kinds of frustrating situations toddlers deal with everyday.
Remember what it feels like
Our older children are navigating all kinds of decisions and storylines they aren’t familiar with as their world extends beyond us. We will have our own experiences of feeling lost, out of place, determined and let down to draw upon so we can remember what it is like for our child. We will have felt the pull of wanting to be more like a group but stick to our own values. We’ve lived it too, and we need to remember that as we respond to their missteps and confusion.
We've had years and years to learn to cope with the trials of life without screaming and crying, hurting others, ‘showing attitude’, slamming doors and the like, but our children haven’t.
They are responding as humans with very limited experience, and we need to respond as the more experienced, wiser and kinder version of themselves.
If we look to purely ‘manage’ our children, we lose something, the connection between two people. If instead we can see life through our children’s eyes we are saying, ‘I see you, I’ve been you’. We are able to respond with our being, instead of just a set of strategies, and we can come alongside them, and be the empathetic support that they need.