Oh Firmness… Why do you elude me??

This may sound really crazy, but some days I feel completely lost when it comes to maintaining firmness with my kids…  Don't get me wrong, I know how to yell, to freak out and feel really bad about it later.  I know how to give commands and live in rigidity, grasping for control of a situation (or a child) when it feels like it's spinning out of control.

But this isn't firmness, this is reactive.  This is hurtful.  This is blame, shame and humiliation….  And it doesn't solve problems or change behavior in the long run.  Not to mention, it is completely exhausting, and I am not proud when I slip into this model of parenting.

I remember the very first Positive Discipline class that I taught.  I invited a group of moms from the Montessori school where my daughter went.  I asked them to commit to seven weeks, to buy the book, and to let me stumble through this new curriculum that I was so excited to explore…  Most of us had toddlers too, so one of the participants brought her home schooled son and we paid him a couple of bucks to keep track of the little people.

It was amazing.  Those women were a gift to me, digging in to the material, starting email conversations during the week as they played with the tools, asking questions that stretched me and help me to learn both the philosophy and the art of facilitating, at a deeper level.

I will never forget the week I introduced "Firmness" - we were 5 or 6 weeks into the course.  Firmness is introduced as a companion to kindness.  When we are kind,  we respect the needs of our child (read: we treat them as human beings and recognize that they are experiencing emotions, thoughts and beliefs that are leading them to the decisions they are making), when we are firm, we are respecting our needs and the needs of the situation.  Firmness is about following through with the boundaries we have set, about allowing our kids to live in their emotions, about modeling what it looks like to take care of ourselves.

Back to that class….  I am sharing all of this wonderful language around firmness with the group, guiding them through a role play that illustrates how to use firmness with a child that doesn't want to turn off the TV, and my huge 18 month old (really, he looked about three) is standing up in from of me, NURSING.

Not ever being afraid to point out the obvious, I say, "and clearly, I could do some work in the firmness department…"

Looking back on this experience, I wonder if this was the beginning of a pattern I have created in my parenting….  I recognize the needs of my child, yes, especially my son.  But have I coupled that with recognizing my own needs and the needs of the situation?

As I mentioned before, I know how to yell, to snap, to get rigid and demanding - this is not the firmness I am looking for... 

I also know how to give in with an exasperated, "Fine!' and walk away.  Again, not the firmness that I seek.

As I write this, I am beginning to understand that it goes back to me and my willingness to live in the discomfort of the moment...  My willingness to live through the emotional response I receive from my kids when I hold firm…  My willingness to quiet the always present voice in my head telling me how I am doing it all wrong and creating stories about a future that are irrational and unfounded...

Ugh.  It's so annoying!!!  What is the solutions???

HellllOOOO - I teach a fantastic program that I believe in with my whole heart - perhaps there are some answers there…  Ya think?

Here are the tools we share with parents who are struggling with using kindness and firmness at the same time…  The examples given fit the situation of a kid who doesn't want to do an after school  chore (yeah, this real life situation showed up just yesterday at out house…)

State clear expectations… 
I trust you to pick a job you can do this afternoon.

Respond with a question
I wonder if you can pick a job that you feel is quick and easy so that you can get on to playing in the yard?

State a given (i.e., a rule or condition) 
Our after school routines includes picking a job.  It's not always fun, its ok to feel irritated about it.

Check the child’s knowledge or understanding… 
What is our after school routine?

Invite cooperation
I know you don't want to pick a job, but to make it fun, do you want me to time you?
(This nearly always works with my son, my daughter?  Not so much…)

Limited choices… 
You could do your job now, or you could wait until after you eat a snack.

Say what you want/mean… 
You need to pick a job before you can play outside.  Its okay to feel mad about this. 

Use non verbal language…
Tap him on the shoulder and point to the jobs chart we have hanging on the wall.

Ahhhhhhh, easier said than done, right?

Remembering that there are tools for this, I am ready to turn this ship around...

My first step ( the first step for us all ) is to recognize what is happening in my body.  Generally my body responds before my head does - with tension and heat, tingles and tightness.  My shoulders go up, my jaw is clenched, my arms cross.  

After I recognize I am there, it is time to change my body - pull down the shoulders, release the jaw, open the arms….  BREATHE…  And invite compassion, or peace, or ease, or what-EVER I need in that moment.  

Once I am in this body, this present body, aware of where it just was and choosing to be somewhere else, THEN I can pick one of these tools to use during the discomfort.  This is the body I need to hold boundaries, to respect myself and the situation, even as my child pushes and grumbles, and falls apart because he doesn't like it. This is the body I need to treat my child with dignity and respect, even as the voice (that DAMN voice!) tells me to yell, to blame, to freak out….  

Ahhhh!!!  This is a wild ride!  It blows my mind the depth of growing and stretching and learning about myself that parenting brings…  I know I'm not alone out here.  I know you are struggling too…  Be in touch, share your story on the Joyful Courage Facebook Page, and join the tribe of parents who are determined to show up differently, to show up as their best self even when its the hardest thing to do...

Thanks for reading….  Casey

** An added side note to readers (6-16-14) - I was a proud breast feeding mama.  I nursed on demand for many years, tandem nursed the kids for about 3 months (whoa, that was intense).  My daughter nursed until she was three and I weaned my son when he was 2 1/2.  My reference to firmness around breastfeeding in this post is to highlight that sometimes disconnect between needs of a child and needs of the parents happens.   I had not set up any kinds of boundaries around nursing with my little guy, and this showed up while  I was in the role of facilitator of a class.  Up until that moment, it hadn't occurred to me that I needed to…  And maybe I didn't.  This post in no way is intended to place any kind of judgement around your personal beliefs around breastfeeding…  This is a share of my own struggles with firmness.  :)

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