Learning New Skills

“Don’t spank; it is harmful.”

Even if you’ve been considering not spanking, does the above actually help you? Looking beyond helping, does it make you want to change?

What if instead I said:

“Reflect your child’s feelings.”

“If he won’t come to you, get up and lead him by the hand to where you were.”

“Assume positive intent.”

“When he cannot make himself obey, help him obey as you would help with any other task he can’t do on his own.”

If you’ve been wrestling with the idea of not spanking, would the above positively-phrased instructions be more helpful than the negatively-phrased “Don’t spank; it is harmful”?

In general, when we are trying to change our behavior or mindset we have a time period where we freak out. We don’t have enough coping tools in our toolbox to make changes even if we desperately want to make them. If people just tell us what not to do, we feel lost and desperately want help to know what to do instead.

Would you agree with that?

It is certainly what I’ve seen with years of helping other moms transition from spanking to gentle discipline or even to non-punitive parenting. Even when a mom wants to have a more peaceful home, she often doesn’t know what to change and needs help.

For those of you who’ve begun (or completed) the journey away from physically punitive parenting, is this a fair summary:

Things don’t feel right or good the way you suspect they should. People you love or respect reflect your feelings of uncertainty and discomfort rather than shaming you. They tell you there is a better way. Hearing what *not* to do isn’t nearly as helpful as being given suggestions for new behaviors. You try the new behaviors imperfectly, but with encouragement and more reflection of your feelings you keep trying and you master skills that once seemed beyond your abilities. Eventually you realize your toolbox has tools and–even more exciting!–you know when to use them!

Is that a fair summary?

If you haven’t attempted to learn to parent gently/non-punitively, does this summary reflect other changes and skills you have mastered? Please go back and read the summary again. Is it true?

This has been so true in my life that I’m going to assume that most of you reading are agreeing with me. (See how convenient blogging is? I can make up answers!)

Humans learn best in loving, respectful relationships that encourage, model, and support acquiring new skills. So–because our children are human–we should assume that how we learn best is how they learn best.

When your 2yo is losing his mind, he doesn’t want to be miserable. He isn’t trying to make your life miserable either. He is immaturely expressing his Big Feelings. His immaturity means he doesn’t know what to do and doesn’t have the skills to figure out a solution.

He desperately needs you to do what people have done for you when you’ve had a new skill to master.

Things don’t feel right to him. He needs you to reflect his feelings rather than shaming him for them. He needs you to show him there is a better way. Hearing what not to do (“Stop screaming!”) isn’t nearly as helpful as being given suggestions for new behaviors (“Take a deep breath.”). At first he will imperfectly perform the new behaviors, but over time–with encouragement and more reflection of his feelings–he will master skills that once were beyond his abilities. Eventually he will have enough tools in his toolbox to regulate his Big Feelings and to recognize when he needs help from people who love him.

Teach your children new skills. Know that it will take some skills years to be mastered. Give grace to both of you while you both grow into being the people God wants you to be.

[Credit to my friend JH for the foundation of this post.]

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Beyond Reflecting Feelings

What happens after reflecting feelings?

The answer to that question depends upon many things. To name a few:

  • the nature of the relationship
  • the age of the person
  • the intensity of the feelings
  • the reasonableness of the feelings

Clearly with infants and babies, we simply continue to meet their needs. Meeting their needs is reflecting their feelings and caring for them all rolled into one package.

As toddlerhood commences, we reflect their Big Feelings and try to help them cope with the feelings by distracting them or comforting them. Boundaries are involved if they are lashing out violently–we protect people and possessions either by using a bear hug or having them take a break.

When they are preschoolers and distraction is less successful, we reflect their Big Feelings and if their reaction doesn’t abate (and we’ve looked for other causes of the meltdown like tired, hungry, overstimulated), then we use boundaries. We explain that we know how they feel, but that they cannot use their feelings to justify holding people hostage to them. We enforce a time out and taking a break from being around people.

With teens and adults we reflect feelings and suggest solutions and then use boundaries. Big Feelings do not justify bad behavior. I can understand WHY someone did something while not excusing their irritability or selfishness or hatefulness or entitlement. I use boundaries to minimize the impact of their bad behavior on me and on others.

Reflecting feelings is valuable, but we cannot always stop there. Often we have to move on to holding people accountable through boundaries.

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Reflecting Feelings

Reflecting feelings is the most valuable interpersonal skill I’ve learned.

I first learned of its value when I was developing my Gentle Parenting toolbox. I was continually amazed at how much more quickly I could defuse my children’s Big Feelings simply by giving them the words to describe their intense feelings. Before I learned the skill, I tried to explain to the children why their feelings were over-the-top given the situation. (In retrospect, I’m amazed that I ever thought that was a good idea! Isn’t it funny how growth works?)

“You’re so frustrated that the blocks won’t stack the way you want them to!”

“You’re sad that your banana broke! You wish your banana were still whole!”

“Having a cup without a straw is disappointing! You had been looking forward to having a straw.”

If you are a parent, and this is a new concept to you, I encourage you to learn how to name the feeling your child is feeling—to state what you think they’re feeling without judgment. If they are verbal enough, if they correct your statement or give it nuance, then EVEN BETTER! Teaching our kids to identify and communicate how they are feeling sets them up for relational and emotional success in life.

As amazed as I was with how well reflecting feelings worked with my children, I was even more amazed that reflecting feelings is valuable in ALL of my interactions with people. No matter the age of the person, the reason for the interaction, or the level of involvement reflecting feelings helps.

To a friend online: “Of course you are disappointed! Of course! You were expecting this job to come through!”

To a fellow shopper at a busy store in a high stress time: “It is so frustrating for people to not follow the rules!”

To my husband: “It makes sense that that made you angry. I can’t imagine being overlooked like that and not being angry!”

To a friend: “You are feeling undervalued and taken for granted. Of course that makes you sad and angry!”

(An aside: If the feelings-reflection contains judgment or a note of rote, then the other person isn’t going to respond well. You must be genuine in your observation and reflection. If you cannot be genuine in your engagement, it is better to not even try.)

The beauty of reflecting feelings is that I can genuinely listen to how the person is feeling and let them know that I hear them. Reflecting feelings doesn’t mean that I think they are “in the right” or that I agree with them about the topic we are discussing.

I can care about someone and how they feel (loving them as myself) while knowing that their viewpoint is skewed or sinful (do not be conformed to this world).

With my children, my spouse, my friends, my acquaintances, and perfect strangers, I can care about how they feel even as I encourage them to do better. The relationships in my life that do this for me are good gifts in my life. My friends who love me—and listen to me and care about how I feel—WHILE ALSO helping to hold me to higher standards of love and righteousness than my feelings would direct me toward are a gift beyond measure.

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A Parable for 2016

crying teen“But I always get to sit in the front seat! It’s not fair!”

Tears of frustration ran down the cheeks of my fourteen year old daughter. She’d had a rough week at school. She was emotionally bruised and beaten up. Having to share the use of the front passenger seat with her younger sister from now on was just more than she could bear. It was the culminating symbol of injustice in her life.

In our house, I’ve chosen to simply follow the laws of my state for things like booster seat usage and who can sit in the front passenger seat. Since my girls are two years apart, my elder daughter had had two years of unchallenged privilege to sit up front beside me while her sister waited to turn twelve years old. With her sister turning twelve, a new age of sharing was upon us.

Now. Clearly I knew that her feelings were immature, self-centered, and somewhat spiteful (her words hadn’t reflected that, but I could see the anger and plans of revenge in her eyes). I knew that having the sole privilege for two years had made her complacent and had blinded her to the fact that sitting in the front seat wasn’t her due. I could see all of that and still reflect her feelings. I care about her, so I could reflect her feelings and let her know that I was listening to her.

“You’ve liked having a seat that was ‘yours.’ You’re angry that now you’ll have to share.”

“Yes! I hate having to share!”

“Yep. Sometimes I really hate having to share too.” I gave her a hug and a safe place to feel her feelings until their intensity diminshed.

Was that the end of the story? Of course not.

Reflecting feelings and listening didn’t mean that I allowed her to continue without opposition or correction.

I can say both “You are angry you’re going to have to share” AND “You are not allowed to be mean to your sister because you’re angry.”

I can both give a hug because I care about how she feels AND know that she needs to learn to see the impact of her actions on others.

I can both listen to her AND plan a future conversation with her about selfishness.

I can love her enough to hold her to a higher standard than her base desires would have her pursue.


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Stop Trying to Legislate Christian Beliefs

Many conservative Christians believe that “God’s values” should be imposed through our political and legal systems. They believe these values always ultimately bring good because they believe that God’s principles are universal (and can therefore be safely applied universally to Christians and non-Christians alike). They often want policies that support traditional gender roles, abstinence-only education, and biblically-guided public schools and policies that oppose sex outside of marriage, marriage equality, abortion, no-fault divorce, and feminism.

Because they believe that “God’s values” always bring good, they feel it is safe—even imperative—to make society conform to these values. They view this imposition of values as the loving response to a lost, hurting world.

Despite believing that God does have the answers for a lost, hurting world, I have several problems with their solution:

*Who determines what constitutes “God’s values”? Christians have NEVER agreed on what these are; this is one reason we have so many denominations. Is alcohol okay? Contraceptives for married people? Public schooling? Female pastors? Pants for women? Don’t laugh. Once we start legislating “God’s values” pretty much anything could be made into law because almost everything under the sun is disapproved of by some group of Christians. (And it isn’t helpful to voice the “What about murder? Theft? Pedophilia?” argument. Even non-Christians believe these things are wrong. Opposing those who harm and oppress people is not uniquely Christian even if this is certainly something God values.)

*There are people who would be harmed. What some people believe are “God’s values” DO NOT ultimately bring good for every person. For example, some Christians believe that divorce is never okay—not under any circumstance. Where does this leave the family of an abusive man? Oh, well then perhaps we would allow divorce in cases of physical abuse. But what if a man isn’t physically abusive—so there are no marks to show the people who would arbitrate these matters to determine “God-approved divorce”? Enormous damage is done through financial, emotional, and psychological abuse. In these cases, family members might be kept in the abuser’s sphere of influence in the name of “God’s value” of the sanctity of marriage. Once you begin making black-and-white rules for grey, nuanced situations, you fail people and do harm.

*Making people look and act like Christ-followers does not make them Christ-followers. And, in my experience, the last people to see that they need Christ are those whose lives look pretty and Christian-like. White-washing tombs does nothing about the rotting corpses inside them. Washing the outside of the cup might make it look nice, but the dirty interior will still make you sick.

*Legislating our beliefs through our judicial system puts our right to worship and live as we wish in danger. We cannot codify our religious beliefs without running the risk of another religion’s beliefs eventually being codified and imposed. This is the objection that is the hardest for me to reconcile:  because the people I hear being the most vocal about turning our country back to its “Christian roots” are also the people who talk the most about our country being overrun with foreigners and non-Christians. Can you see the contradiction there? If you’re afraid of eventually being the minority group, why wouldn’t you do everything in your power while you’re “on top” to create an atmosphere of individual autonomy, tolerance, and religious freedom?

Eliminating individual autonomy by increasing judicial control over private lives would not bring us closer to God as individuals or as a nation. In my denomination, we recognize God as the ultimate giver of liberty. God created us, God loves us, God allows us to sin, God provides means of salvation through Christ, but he never makes us do his will. He always gives us a choice. Our omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent God allows us to choose our way. Can I do any less for my neighbors?

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Slacker Preschool Mom

I strongly suspect that my son’s preschool teacher thinks I’m a slacker. Because I forgot when it was picture day. And I didn’t know he was supposed to wear his Halloween costume this week. And I didn’t know that he was supposed to bring in a roll of toilet paper for a craft.

But, HEY! I remembered to send a bag of pretzels for the Halloween Party!

Here’s the deal: if this had been my eldest child in preschool, I’d be reading all of the emails and newsletters. I’d be prepared and up on all of this stuff. But he’s not my eldest. I also have a Freshman in high school and a sixth grader. This means that life is UNBELIEVABLY busy. Cross country, marching band (and oh. my. word. marching band is so very time consuming), Wednesday church, three thousand hours of homework each week…

I’m not sending my 4yo to preschool to learn his letters or numbers or to learn to write his name. I’m sending him to preschool so that I can get my roots colored every four weeks because I’m old and to therapy because I’m dealing with depression.

Thank you for trying to teach my 4yo things, lovely preschool teacher. I’m sorry that I don’t remember and do all the things I should, lovely preschool teacher.

But, he’s not my first child and I no longer have things to prove. I’m too busy trying to carve out 20 minutes of quiet alone time to worry about his preschool experience.

Sad? Maybe.

True? Absolutely.

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FYI (If You’re Mrs. Hall)

Oh, my.

The FYI (If You’re a Teenaged Girl) post generated lots of discussion on Facebook and in forums in which I participate. As a fellow small-scale blogger I’m incredibly sympathetic to writing something, inserting pictures (actually inserting pictures seems beyond my abilities), and posting with nary a thought to the possibility of the whole world reading it. I imagine that it never crossed your mind that your post would be shared and re-shared and that rebuttals to it would be published on Huffington Post. I imagine that you are feeling beaten up and beaten down.

Some of us who disagree with the sentiments you expressed were surprised by how many non-Christians loved what you said and shared it on Facebook. We are used to Christians jumping on the “Men Can’t Help It/Women Are Responsible” bandwagon, but we expect more out of our non-Christian friends. (Yes. I hear allllllll of the irony there. We expect more out of our non-Christian friends. ::sigh:: ) I suspect that the hubbub over the Robin Thicke/Miley Cyrus performance is responsible for some of the non-Christian people embracing what you had to say.

Here’s the thing:

  • I *do* want women to be mindful of the pictures they post of themselves online. I want them to value themselves highly enough that they understand that their sexual allure is NOT their most important attribute. I want them to value themselves as women loved (and liked!) by God. I want these same things for men.
  • I *do* want parents to actively help their children navigate an online world that has a long memory, is fraught with evil, and is unforgiving. I want parents to protect their children.

I suspect that those are points on which we agree.

I bet your life is a bit stressful right now. You’ve gotten a lot of traffic and notoriety that you weren’t looking for. It is hard when we are faced with our un-Christ-like attitudes that we hadn’t realized were un-Christ-like because most of the Christians around us hold them in common with us. If this realization happens publicly, it can be hard to face and admit wrongdoing. It is easier to dig in our heels and assume that we are being attacked for our “Christian beliefs.”

I sincerely hope that you’ve been able to resist that temptation. I’m sorry for the pain you are feeling. No doubt you are feeling misunderstood. I sincerely hope that you are able to hear the concerns of those who have criticized the “Men Can’t Help It/Women Are Responsible” premise of your post. This premise is rampant in conservative Christianity. This premise flies in the face of the Self Control stance of the Bible. We are *each* responsible for our actions. We are to show love for (and submit to) one another, but this “love” shouldn’t be twisted into something that makes me responsible for your sin. I don’t see this twisted stance in the Bible, but I see it being taught frequently in conservative Christianity and in Fundamentalism.

Mrs. Hall, I’m so very glad that you take your job seriously: that you are praying for and guiding your children. I bet we’d be friends if we were in the same congregation. I pray that you know you are loved (and liked!) by God and that he comforts your bruised heart. I also pray that The Church can rid itself of the notion that women are dangerous and that men can’t help themselves.

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