In the relatively short time I have been parenting my two children, I have learned something very important:
What I do and who I am reflects back at me through my child’s behaviour and actions.
This is the single most important thing that I have learned about parenting, and what I keep coming back to. I see it referred to by those who write about parenting as well as those who write about energy.
It seems to be the answer to all of the challenges we come up against in our household. I could try to implement discipline strategies A, B, and C or put strict routines in place, or bribe or reward, but the bottom line comes down to ME and how I feel about the world. I do include my husband in this (and their other carers too, such as grandparents and teachers), but as a stay-at-home parent who is with them all day aside from brief periods and when they are sleeping – the onus is much more strongly on me. This is my responsibility as their primary carer.
This works in multiple ways. Firstly there is the concept of energy and the interconnection of all of us, the children intuiting feelings and responding to them because they are aware of them. Secondly there is the concept of them learning by what is being modelled to them and what they are getting from cues that they see. And it’s not just a one-off thing necessarily, it’s a pattern that’s repeated.
If I want my children to be more respectful with their belongings, I have to ask myself if I am modeling respectful behaviour in general and am I showing them how to treat things kindly with my own actions.
If I feel like they are not listening to me, I need to look at my own listening abilities. Do I stop and pay attention to what they have to say? Am I too busy talking?
If they are finding it hard to relax and flow with their day, and sleep well at night, I have to look at how relaxed I am and whether I took some time to chill out and let go of stresses.
Essentially I need to: Be the change I wish to see in my kids!
The stress factor is the biggest issue of all, and is my purpose for writing this. It is such an important message and one that needs to get out there. Stress upsets the physiology of the body, alters hormones, affects organs such as the heart. It can also upset the digestive system, libido and immune system. It is a contributor towards many illnesses and disorders such as sleep issues, obesity, skin issues such as eczema, and anxiety and depression. There are links between stress and issues such as ADHD and autism.
So how does that work, how does a stressed mum impact upon her children, and why is it her ‘fault’?
I will use myself as an example, because I know myself best, but in talking to other mums it is a similar story in other peoples’ houses. When I am stressed, I may not necessarily come out and rant and rave verbally about how stressed I am to my kids, but I might move quicker, my tone might be more monotone when the kids ask me questions. I might be shorter with them. I may not take time to smile and engage in conversation, and may look much more serious. I may make less eye contact because I am too busy juggling the things that I’m juggling and can’t make time for anything else. I might inadvertently sigh or tsk or roll my eyes when someone spills a drink. Anything that causes me to stop is an annoyance. I might rush through things such as getting dressed and get more impatient when they aren’t happening according to plan. My kids may get a little edgy seeing their mum in stress mode and start to get a little more sensitive or worried.. touchy you might say. And if they bumped into each other, the reaction is going to be far more heightened than if they were calm and relaxed. This is where my daughter might yell “OW!” and growl at her brother, even though it was an accident. And her brother, who is also on edge, gets a fright with the loud noise and yells “YOU DON’T DO THAT!” in my daughter’s face, which leads to a fight between them and a mother tearing her hair out. “Can’t you just play nice?! What’s wrong with you kids!!”
The stressed mindset and feelings (and associated body language) have a flow-on effect and they create further stresses and frustrations.
So what is the alternative?