I need to mention that there appears to be a movement called 'peaceful parenting', but until very recently I was unaware of it. Until I educate myself on the movement, when I talk about peaceful parenting I am solely referring to my attempts to parent my children more peacefully!
As mentioned in my last post, I have taken on the Orange Rhino challenge, basically to stop yelling at my kids (Orange Rhino blog here). I have joined a small group of awesome, honest and brave ladies who have also taken on the challenge, and it is largely with them in mind that I'm writing this post... and who knows? There may well be others out there who are encouraged by it too.
So, sadly and frustratingly I have not held my peace since my last blog. But the occasions when I did lose it have been teaching me valuable lessons that I want to write down. It's not that I didn't know any of it before, but the more I have been paying attention to this issue, the more clearly I am seeing these things...
1) Most conflict arises because of a clash of wills: I want the children to do something that they don't want to do. Often it is something reasonable, like for them to stop running in a shop, or to eat their vegetables. Sometimes it is just something that makes my life easier, like them turning down the volume on their nintendo, or passing something to me. However, realising that I am asking them to do something they don't necessarily want to do has made it easier for me to see it from their point of view - to give them a little longer to answer, or just finish what they were doing before they respond - and rather than getting annoyed with them if they complain, acknowledge that what I'm asking is inconvenient and help them to work through their attitude to a peaceful one. Ultimately this one is about respect. It is an easy trap to fall into seeing our children as extensions of our selves, who should just do what we say. But they are not - they are their own people. Yes, our job is to help them grow and develop in healthy ways, but we can't and shouldn't try to "make them" do anything.
2) I am much more likely to 'lose it' if my attention is elsewhere. When my attention is given to the boys, focused on what they are doing, how they are feeling etc, everything goes a lot more smoothly. When I am distracted by my own stuff (usually something absorbing such as phone calls, reading a book, emails or facebook) I get irritated when the boys need my instant attention. Thinking about this, this is the reverse of the prior situation (me interrupting the boys) so I can see how irritating it is for them too! Anyway, it helps if I manage my expectations of what I can reasonably achieve during the day. Generally I do not make or receive phone calls, as we have long since established that Mummy on the phone is an instant cue for screaming, fighting and general chaos. Also I tend not to turn on my computer until after lunch as I do get fully absorbed, (and the mornings are more usually taken up with home ed work that needs my input). For example, today I switched my laptop on this morning as I had some things I had to sort out asap from being away. The boys were allowed to play on their nintendos, so I was confident that they would be equally absorbed, and once I finished with my online banking etc, I thought I'd try to catch up with a spot of blogging. As I wrote the above sentence about not making phone calls, Middle started complaining and whining. Immediately I could feel myself getting irritated & then realised the irony of writing about the need to give my children full attention, while not giving them my attention. So I forced myself to put down my train of thought and focus on Middle. His needs were quickly and easily sorted out, but that could so easily have escalated into my snapping at him - it kind of proves my point.
Of course, the draw back to this kind of full-on attention is that it can be pretty exhausting. Home Educators and stay-at-home mums are on duty all the time. As the children get older, the hope is that they will become more independent, but for now while at least some of mine are still small, it's all-emcompassing, and that's not easy. Don't get me wrong, it's totally worth it - and I'm not complaining. But just because we do the best thing for our children, it doesn't mean it doesn't cost us. And when energy levels are low it's much harder to manage our own emotional responses. This is why I protect my 'grown-up time' so much. I need that space in the evenings after all the children are in bed: to watch TV prgrammes of my choice, read a book uninterrupted, edit my photos, and generally just switch my brain off from full-on attending to the boys. It's not that I can't do my own thing while they're up: I just have to be prepared for them to need to interrupt at times - and I'm still learning how to peacefully switch attention from my stuff to theirs!
3) Shouting triggers more shouting. I know this sounds obvious, but it's made me think. When the boys were babies, their crying would generate immediate and physiological responses in me: the milk letdown was a pretty obvious one, as mothers who have breastfed will know - but also the stress levels would shoot sky high until I attended to my baby's needs. This is why men find it easier to let babies 'cry it out': they aren't hard-wired like we are to respond to a crying baby.
Well in the same way, if I hear my children shouting and screaming at each other, I have noticed that my stress levels rocket, and it makes me immediately want to shout at them to be quiet (as if that would work!) It's just a vicious cycle. They are only shouting at each other because they have learned that behaviour from me, so the only way I am going to help them stop shouting is to show them how. I have to respond peacefully & calmly if they are shouting. When my babies screamed I didn't scream back (tempting though it was to my sleep-deprived & addled brain on occasion) - no, I cuddled and soothed. Well if I could do it then, I can do it now - it's all about that moment taken to remind yourself that they're not the enemy: they just don't have the words/ ability to ask for their legitimate needs to be met.
4) Remember the reset button. If I have messed up and shouted at one of the boys or spoken unkindly, it obviously takes its toll on our relationship. I am learning not to beat myself up about it, but rather take a deep breath and start again... but not just reset my attitude - reset the relationship. The other day (the last time I yelled) there was a conflict between Eldest and myself. He had been in a fight with Youngest; they were both crying and needing comfort, but he was physically pushing me over in his insistence that I cuddled him first. It was hurting my back so I yelled at him to stop - and then he disappeared off, feeling rejected. It took me about five minutes to get up, make sure Youngest was OK, and calm down - and then I went to find Eldest. He was obviously upset still, and very quickly started shouting over what I was trying to say. All I could think was how hurt he must have been by my not hugging him back, so I managed to stay calm and explain. After a while cuddling, he was happy again, and went off to play. I do find though that after such upsets, even when peace has been restored, relationships can stil be a bit fragile and extra work is needed to stay close. Often the next morning, as children will process the day's emotions while they sleep - so I try really hard to find positive things to share in the mornings, to reset the day, in case they've woken up feeling unsettled. It just makes for such a lovely day when I remember to find a book to read together or a little snuggle and chat about what we'd like to do... or sometimes they like to look through our photobooks at pictures of us having fun together. whatever it is, the reset button is a deliberate (on my part) choice of positive time together, to remind them that all is well - and it's amazing how much easier the rest of the day seems to flow afterwards.
I have been learning a lot more besides these points, but these four things in particular I'm finding really helpful to keep in mind while I retrain myself. It's kind of risky sharing stuff this openly, but I've been so inspired by the Orange Rhino and her brutal honesty, that if I can help encourage even one person, then I figure it's got to be worth it.
And of course, for my boys it's totally worth it: four days in a row of not snapping, and hopefully many more to come. Happy days!