Have you ever noticed yourself thinking in extremes? And then feeling defeated and worthless because the goal seems so unattainable? My mind loves to think in extremes. Something that can be quite frustrating, at times. But I notice a lot of us are like that. It can cause us stress and overwhelm when we think in absolutes. For me, it lessens my motivation and confidence.
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A great example of this is when I encourage parents to give children more control in their lives. I recommend this in order to build a whole host of skills and emotional development needs; autonomy, problem-solving, perseverance, confidence, decision making skills, a sense of self and belonging.
There are always a few people who read that as TOTAL control. That is not what I am saying. In a world that is not child-accessible, total control can be dangerous. Finding the balance can be even harder.
3 Questions to Ask Yourself
1. Is this boundary about health or safety or is it about needing control of the situation? (not bad just good to recognize)
2. Is there a safe way to give my child more control in this situation?
3. Is the reason I need compliance relevant to me or my child?
In most cases, the whole “make sure you follow-through” is only relevant to lessons you actually need them to learn. If you realize halfway through imposing a boundary that this is more about following-through than the actual necessity of the boundary, it’s ok to reflect and try and be more flexible.
If your child is doing something dangerous; usually a warning and then removal from the situation, might be necessary, to keep them and others safe. However, even these moments can be hard to figure out, sometimes.
Your child pushes someone off the stairs on the playground set, while trying to scurry up (not super hurt but not safe). You go over and talk to them on their level say “hey, did you see that kid fell off when you pushed them on the way up? You need to be more gentle on stairs.” (“Gentle” is a word my child would understand well). Then if they did it again, I would walk over and check on the other child, then say “ok love, time to take a break from the playground for a bit. Seems you’re having a hard time being gentle.”
And no my child would likely not come right down. I may have to climb up and get him or wait until he goes down the slide.
Now here’s the tough part. If he does not come down but the roughness stops, do you follow through???
Well it’s up to you but it’s not necessary unless this is an ongoing issue. The point is to get him to play more gently. If that has been achieved, there may not be a need to follow-through. They got it. Play gently or we have to leave.
Examples of Responsive Parenting concepts that people often take as extremes
Let children have more control
Empathize instead of distract
Respond instead of react
Model instead of teach
Encourage instead of praise
So you know how diets often don’t work because they are unsustainable? It’s too massive of an extreme from our natural body rhythms. In fact, most things are unsustainable when we think in absolutes.
Instead of looking as Responsive Parenting as something you need to do all the time, in every context, no matter what else is going on, which is an unsustainable practice, try just seeing where you can implement this approach.
So let’s take that idea of even trying to do it all the time, off the table. Instead, maybe ask yourself, “can I think of at least one way to incorporate this idea into my parenting?”
And perhaps take this approach with your parenting partner, if you are struggling to get on the same page. Ask them to consider one way they can implement a certain principle, without requesting that they change everything. Smaller changes are much easier and cause less resistance. The learning is more gradual.
Let children have more control *INSTEAD* What is one way I could give my child more control over _____?
Be responsive *INSTEAD* What is one way I could increase my responsiveness?
Empathize instead of distract *INSTEAD* What is one scenario where it would have been safe to empathize instead of distract?
Respond instead of react *INSTEAD* What is one way you could respond instead of react?
Model instead of teach *INSTEAD* What is one way I can step back and model for my child the behaviour I want to see, rather than try to teach them?
Encourage instead of praise *INSTEAD* Choose a common praising phrase of yours. Now, how can you reframe it to be encouraging instead?
I had a therapist once tell me “if your plan is to never yell or be upset with your kids, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Everyone yells, just apologize.” Well I can’t tell you how much that bit of reality helped me reframe my expectations of myself. This therapist was a social worker who used to work for CPS. Since then, I have applied this to everything; all things parenting, all things emotional health, all things self-care. Holding ourselves to unattainable expectations does not model grace and healing for our children. It may even make them feel like they need to be perfect too; never feeling safe to make a mistake or have big emotions. If you feel that way, consider how not giving yourself enough grace may be reflected back to your child. Do you want your child to learn how to give themselves grace? Let them witness you doing the same ❤️
Looking for co-regulation exercises you can do with your child? Click here
Our Toddler Workshop Series is filled with examples like this about how to find the balance. Click here
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