Last night was a bit of a disaster. After a fun evening with Yiayia, the last half hour before bedtime with Ellie was pretty awful. She was exhausted, there was a lot of screaming, crying, arms flailing, and general sadness, none of which are conducive to deep, calm sleep. Somehow, we got her ready for bed and lying down. Remembering that this had worked before, I started stroking her hair and telling her all the things I could think of that I loved about her.
I love the way you think of ideas for art and just make them! I love the way you are being kind and patient with Mark, helping him lean how to do puzzles. I love the way you are learning how to sew. I love the way you like to dance and have “ballet school” in our living room…
Fairly quickly, her body relaxed, the sobs subsided, and she turned back towards me. Soon, she was laughing, talking about what she wanted me to teach her when she was 7 (the current favored age of all things good), and not too long after that, she was asleep.
A couple things solidified for me last night:
First, Ellie needs words of affirmation. They seem to be balm to her soul. When I take the time to honestly tell her what I love about her or what I’ve observed her doing (rather than using empty words of praise), she soaks them in and they seem to help her stand stronger.
Second, I recently read about the “Connect, then Correct” parenting concept in Dr. Laura Markham’s book, Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids.* She contends that until you reestablish a connection with your child, all the teaching/correcting you might try to do will not be received. It’s really easy to feel like I have to keep driving a point home, “We don’t use our hands to hit! We don’t bite!” (or whatever the current offense might be) until Ellie concedes the point but she counsels parents to pull their child closer, to connect in whatever way it takes (hugs, roughhouse playing, words of affirmation, etc) and once the child/parent relationship is back in close connection, the teaching/correcting will be received.
I’ve certainly found this to be true many times. Last weekend, something else happened (insignificant I’m sure), and a MAJOR temper tantrum ensued. We had one really sullen, unhappy girl on our hands. She had shoved herself into a corner and didn’t even want to look at me. So I just started talking generally to the air about how I thought it was fun that Ellie liked to dance (or whatever, I don’t really remember what I said). Soon enough, she had unfolded herself, was moving towards me, and then accepted my invitation for a hug. At that point, she was sitting on my lap and we were able to talk about what happened and she was willing to talk through, figure out better actions for next time.
The last time I wrote in any length about gentle discipline was in my KIOS post about it. At that point, Ellie was young and I basically had to say that we’d work it out because we didn’t really know what to do.
“Connect, then Correct” is a concept that’s helping me learn to control my own anger, to relinquish some of my own desire to be right and respected instantly, and to value the heart over the exterior. It’s helping me to learn how to express unconditional love to my children. Certainly (I hope obviously), I don’t do this perfectly every time, but I’m working on it and it’s helping my mama heart feel less panicky, more calm, with a really solid parenting tool in my toolbox.
I’m sure this girl appreciates it too.
*That’s a great book about gentle discipline, among many other things. Read it!