10 Days of Heart Parenting – The Relational Side of Parenting

Relational

I always thought the physical demands of parenting would be the things that exhausted me the most.  Things like sleepless nights with sick child, the mountain of laundry that never seems to dwindle, endless trips back and forth to practices and activities, mopping and scrubbing, carrying toddlers on my hip, bending to tie little shoes… and on and on.  There is no doubt, parenting sucks up a significant amounts of physical energy, but there is something that drains me even more… when the atmosphere in my home has turned negative because I am doing so much correcting.  These days leave me without the energy or motivation to even carry myself to my bedroom at the end of the day.

What do I do? My children need to be corrected.  I can’t just let things slide or we will end up with bigger issues on down the line.  However, I hate the negative toll disciplining can take on myself and the atmosphere in our home.  In our quest to help our children behave to the best of their ability it can be easy to loose sight of the love, grace, and appreciation they also deserve.

In the book The Christian Parenting Handbook: 50 Heart-Based Strategies for All the Stages of Your Child’s Life author Scot Turansky pointed out a key element that I had forgotten to teach and sometimes even model for my children… Empathy.  The use of empathy can be a powerful tool when raising children.  If, as a parent I can show and communicate empathy by validating the feelings my child is experiencing… then I will find it that much easier to move into a place where I can suggest better approaches for my children when they are traversing life in the day-to-day.

Here is how this has shaped our home.  My boys are Lego fanatics.  They can spend hours a day building elaborate creations.  We had one recurrent but I imagine common problem.  One child would be using some Lego guy or piece or figure and then set it aside as he added more to the building.  His brother would then decide he MUST be done with that piece since it was put down and he would then scoff it up.  Arguing would then ensue.  “I want that?” “But I was using it!” “No you weren’t you put it down!”  Sometimes they’d even start slugging each other.  Then Mommy would come in with my words blazing telling this one that and that one this.  Timeouts were distributed, punishments of no more Legos… EVER were tossed out.  In the end… no one was happy.  No one really got what they wanted.  Better behavior wasn’t really learned or discussed. Everyone was mad at eachother. And 10 minutes later they’d be at it AGAIN!

I had two goals in mind here… first, I didn’t want to be the one to always solve my children’s disputes.  I can’t always be there for them.  At some point they will need to figure out how to negotiate an their own.  Second, I came to realize that each child had a very narrow and rigid focus about ownership and property rights with their toys.  Neither was thinking of the other.  Of course, that’s true for children.  They are immature and to think of only one’s self is the very definition of immaturity.  I know that they won’t become mature unless I teach them.

The next time a dispute like this erupted I comforted the offended child first.  I did my very best to display LOTS of empathy.  I said things like “Oh man! You just set that aside so you could put the roof on the house.  It feels AWFUL when your brother swipes Lego pieces away from you like that, doesn’t it. I’d be mad too!”  The other issue I realized is that the offended child would generally just flop in a heap of screaming.  I set about teaching the offended child what words he could use with his brother to get things worked out.  Things like “Noah, I was just putting the roof on my house! I wasnt’ done playing with that.  I’ll give it to you later!”

Later when the tides were turned I went through all of this yet again.  “Remember how it felt when your brother took your Lego pieces before?  That’s how he feels now.  How can we make this better?  Can you ask your brother if he’s done with this before you take it.”

Back and forth and back and forth we went for several days.  Finally…. after slow and pain staking determination I actually hear my boys using my very own words with one another.  The screaming fights have definitely become much fewer and farther in between.  In fact, we put empathy so far ahead on our list of things we wanted to help our children learn that now it isn’t uncommon for all of them to cry when something goes wrong with just one.  It’s heart warming.

It was exhausting covering the same ground with my children over and over again.  Teaching, reteaching, and even asking them to practice the new ways to behave.  But the fruit is being reaped.  Mommy is no longer having to step in and correct them each time an issue like this comes up and the atmosphere in our home has been raised to a much happier level.

An interesting side effect that I must tell you about is how much closer my children and I have come to be with one another.  Each time I paused to show them that I truly understood how they felt helped to open their hearts to me just a bit.  When Mommy let them know that I got it, it also let them know that I love them.  My older son now even comes to me to ask me for advice about how to handle situations with his brother and sister BEFORE it turns into a blood curdling screaming bath.

I love this quote from the The Christian Parenting Handbook, it’s something I think of OFTEN…

When you come to the conclusion that changes need to take place in your child and that it’s time to put your foot down because you just can’t live this way anymore, think relationship first.

Not only do I need to pay attention to the relationships between my children, but also the relationship between myself and each one of them.

 

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