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How To Parent with Love: Be Firm, Be Kind.

Updated: May 1

Why does parenting feel so hard today?! What is going on in our schools?! I find that this conversation keeps coming up for a lot of us on this parenting journey. 


As an Ontario Certified Teacher, trained Meditation Teacher, and Momma, here is what I have gleaned (so far!) to guide you through this new era. 


Chances are you already know a lot of these things and are doing a lot of them! So let this be a confirmation for you and maybe you will try a new strategy or two! Please do what works best for your family and your values. 



Future

We are transitioning (constantly!) to a new way of parenting, a new way of teaching, and a new way of living, given the new information, new technologies, new studies, and new research that comes with time. Great!  Knowledge is power. 


Buuuuuut, there is SO much information now and a lot of it is contradictory, from parenting and teaching, to how we move, and what we eat. 


Past

We have evolved as social beings, ‘survival of the kindest,’ is our ability to connect and communicate with each other, what has kept us alive even more so than the fight or flight response (‘Cured,’ Dr. Jeff Rediger).


Which brings to mind the old adage, it takes a village to raise a child. 


Middle Path

Yet here we are feeling more alone than ever, our responsibilities have skyrocketed and inconsistency reigns.  The ‘future’ isn’t necessarily better than the ‘past’.  Yet we can’t go back to the past. So here is where we blend our past with our future, we can learn from and adapt to both!


It is like a pendulum, we need to find a balance somewhere in the middle without swinging too far towards one idea or the other. 


       Be Kind, Be Firm

I will explain some tools and strategies that fit this model, but first some background information is necessary to support this method. 


Observation 1


Prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed until 26 years old. This region of the brain is largely responsible for executive functioning skills such as planning, problem solving, and self control to name a few.  As such, children require support to navigate how they process their environment. 


So allow children to feel EVERY emotion. Happiness and joy are way more pleasant I know. But anger and sadness have a place too. If they are allowed to feel upset, they should also be allowed to feel angry. 


Observation 2 


Kids are naturally self-centred as they navigate their world as they are taking a read of their environment, is it safe for me here?


So when something happens, they tend to think of it as all their fault. Second place in a race, a divorce, a mean comment etc. 


To them, it can feel like the end of the world and everything is horrible at that moment. Aaaaand as a result, their reactions might seem waayyyy over the top! 


They can’t see beyond it in that particular moment. They often live in the now, which is in itself a gift. If we can use this gift to guide children to process their emotions and thoughts in the moment, they don’t need to hold on to and store stress in the body. 


Observation 3


If children are overstimulated, sick, tired or hungry they will probably react by acting out as they are still learning (like ourselves too, on how to cope with the feelings in their bodies they don't fully understand yet.  


They also LIVE IN THE MOMENT. What a beautiful thing! It is time we allowed children to have big feelings and teach them how to process them while also learning ourselves (I am still learning too!) It’s time we release the shame from it. Your child having a meltdown in public? We’ve all been there, you're a great parent doing the best you can with what you know my love. 


Being mindful of what is happening can help you deal with the situation and guide your child towards a soft place to land. See more in the strategies below* 



Observation 4 


For parents it can feel frustrating and upsetting to hear comments like this is the worst day ever, I hate you, you’re the worst mom in the world.


Children can often reveal our traumas or stressors so we can heal them. Heck most of our close relationships are this way, for a good reason. For healing, for growth, for better understanding, to learn forgiveness, acceptance, and patience. 


Self-care is selfishly unselfish! Haha 

It is selfish, but in a good way! 


If the home environment or school environment doesn't change with the child, then the child doesn’t change.  Mental health and emotional regulation needs to be embedded in routine and culture.  Yet mental health in our society is at crisis level.  The change starts with adults. If their needs aren’t met, how can they properly meet the needs of the child? This is a new era, and a lot of parents are learning how to deal with stress, and trauma in healthier ways without learning them as children. So most of what I write and teach about now focuses on adult healing. 


Observation 5


Do you remember growing up and your parents saying to you, “because I said so.” Their word was law! You definitely didn’t question it.  


We want children to have a voice.


Yet, children will naturally push the boundaries to see where they are. Boundaries are NECESSARY as children feel SAFE.  They learn that what you say is exactly what you do.  They learn that the rules you have created together matter.  They also learn that when a line is crossed, you will follow through out of respect for yourself as a caregiver, and for the child. 


When we choose to view parenting, teaching, or life in this way we can start to make new habits and routines that work better for us and for our children. We do the best we can with what we know!




So what does kind and firm look like?


Key Components

A stronger focus on these positive strategies builds a solid foundation for your relationship.


  1. A strong focus on what is appropriate and positive behaviour. Focus on what you WANT to see, language matters. FROM: why are you still not ready?! TO: you are getting your shoes on now.

  2. Establish a connection by setting aside some time each day to play and engage in activities with your child. Have conversations! This makes children feel valued, seen and heard. This could mean 1:1 time. It could be 5-10 minutes playing soccer outside, reading a book at bedtime, playing a board game on Fridays, cuddling up with a movie you chose together. 

  3. Play! Even with requests and transitions. Example: I think it will take you thirty seconds to get one shoe on, do you want to count or can I count? 

  4. Positive Reinforcement. It can be specific. Thank you for getting ready to go swimming with all of your things, I appreciate your independence (Yes use big words!! And explain them!!)

  5. Self-esteem.  Children need to learn how to be proud of themselves and learn what they like and what they are good at. I tend to shy away from, “I am so proud of you,” because that implies they need to seek your approval. Instead, I use positive encouragement and say I am so happy for you, you must feel so proud of yourself! 

  6. Empathize and provide a safe and soft landing spot for them to feel. For example, you seem to be having some feelings, can you show me on the chart? How can I help? Free Resource - Zones of Regulation Charts.

  7. Model the positive behaviour you want to see in your child. Your child looks up to you! If you are swearing, talking negatively about someone, yelling at a driver in the car, or smacking the dog, your child is watching, listening and learning from those behaviours. *****That said, you are allowed to make mistakes, you are allowed to not be perfect! So forgive yourself, forgive yourself again, remind yourself you are human, think of three awesome things about yourself, and forgive yourself again! You do not need that guilt and stress, you are doing the best you can! Even when you 'know better', it takes practice!!!!***** Perhaps model what it looks like to apologize to your child and own a mistake! Yay you!

  8. Routine and Commitment: routines are so helpful as children know what to expect and create feelings of safety. Part of this routine is following through with what you say, be firm and stick with it. 

  9. Emotional Regulation Routine: try to practice some calming breathing exercises, yoga sequences, and time in nature. These all have the natural ability to calm the nervous system and are preemptive in order to avoid behaviours that can be preventable. If children are overstimulated, they might react by acting out as they are still learning (like ourselves too, on how to cope with the feelings in their bodies they don't fully understand yet. There are so many yoga books for kids that tell a story through movement (great way to connect with your child too!) and breathing stuffies that light up differently when to inhale, hold, and exhale. 

  10. Building resiliency: children need to experience the world around them. This includes making their own judgements that lead to success or failure, in order to build up their confidence to believe in themselves. Give them time and space to try something new.  A great way to build confidence and independence is to give children an opportunity to contribute to the household chores. 


Strategies for Emotional Regulation

A lot of these strategies can be built into a routine and be preemptive so when you see signs of over-stimulation, you nip it in the bud! They also serve to meet the child’s needs rather than focusing on punishment. 


  1. Identify the feeling (Zones of Regulation are helpful and they have lots of free resources here). 

  2. Shake and wobble the whole body (seriously, animals do it after surviving a chase - release the emotion!)

  3. Dance game (move like the music - put some calm ones in there, Momma). 

  4. Heavy lifting, pushing activities.

  5. Wrap them up like a burrito in a yoga mat!

  6. Yoga - try balancing challenges!

  7. Stretching, exercise.

  8. Going for a walk/hike. 

  9. Breathing Exercise.

  10. Drawing the Emotion.

  11. Ripping paper or cardboard.

  12. Squishing play-dough or pillows. 

  13. Taking a break from an activity or homework (use a timer). 

  14. Snuggle & back scratches!


Boundaries:

  • Name calling

  • Physical violence

  • Safety (in my example, holding hands to cross the road or in a parking lot!)

  • Overusing tech time

  • Lack of follow through

  • Interrupting / Impatience


Consequences:

When you need to use a consequence as a boundary has been crossed. Children learn that they have the ability to make a choice and that choice can be a positive consequence or a learning opportunity. 


  1. Related to the boundary that was crossed. 

  2. Happens right away if possible, so it is meaningful.

  3. You can involve the child in this beforehand.

  4. When the child understands the consequence in advance, it can be more helpful and beneficial. 

  5. Create a list together.


Some Examples We Use:

  1. 3 warnings to turn it around. 

  2. Counting (an oldie but a goodie!)

  3. Touch your door and reset.

  4. Writing Lines: Ex. I use kind words. 

  5. How can you own your behaviour? Putting the ball in the child’s court. 

  6. An apology, verbal or letter, or picture.

  7. A kind gesture.

  8. Extra Chores. Looks like you pulled landscaping duty pal! (Any hints on this film reference?)

  9. Talk it out (if it is a big feeling, we come back to this after we have calm bodies). 


Withdrawal of privileges - not often, but time and a place!

  1. 15 minutes off tech time.

  2. Sweet Treaty Break! Children don’t constantly need to have a treat, it’s detox time Annie! 


Ultimately, the journey here is all about coming home to that source of light within and connecting to that energy that is in and through all things. Your children are also on this journey with their own purpose too.  They need to learn and you can’t protect them from alllll things unpleasant. To know happiness is also to understand sorrow. To feel the light, we have felt the darkness. It is all for our highest good, the light and the dark. 


Let’s keep shining our light and sharing it with our kids.



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