Don´t follow your instincts

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One of the most useless and common advice we receive about parenting is to follow our instincts. It´s really hard to define what our instincts are and what is our culture talking loud on our reflexes.

The common sense also varies from culture to culture, so if you come from an authoritarian culture like me, and you count on your common sense, you will most likely end up screaming, punishing and bossing your child around.

I´m reading a great book called Positive Discipline. I realize that if I want to follow the advice on this book, I have to shut down many of my instincts and trust the new information, just like Janet recently said about the the need for parents to let go of old ways in our interview.

Quoting Dr. Chris White, ¨Research shows that without parenting education and self-reflection we tend to pass on our unconscious patterns of thinking, feeling, relating, and behaving to our children. Like sponges, children absorb what is closest to them. If we as parents don’t continue our process of maturation, our children will undoubtedly face these same distortions in cognitive and emotional processing and the subsequent difficulties that they cause. Fortunately, many fields of study are pointing to a way forward: the practice and process of integration¨.

We need to look at ourselves carefully and check what kind of ¨instincts¨ is keeping us from better responses and then, obviously, correct that before we correct out children.

I´ll give you a personal example of when our instincts can really suck.

The Positive Discipline book talked about a classic situation, when a child spills her drink. Instead of reacting angrily and punishing the child, we can instead give her the chance to learn from it, think of what to do, like saying: ¨Woops, what are we going to do about this?¨ Instead of: ¨You are so clumsy, when are you going to stop doing this?¨

I read this, and half an hour later I went to the kitchen to fix us dinner. Luísa spilled two eggs on the floor, I acted spontaneously as ever, I went on a rage… I got so furious (end of the day, having predicted what was to come and being soft about preventing it), I grabbed Luísa, put her out of the kitchen and screamed: ¨Stay away while I clean the mess that you did!¨

She started to cry, it made me even madder. I realized I had screwed up a learning opportunity. Luísa was scared, feeling bad and disconnected from me.

That night I had a nightmare about Luísa spilling something and me grabbing her by the neck and squeezing her arms and shaking her (I hate to admit that I´ve done this before).

I was more ready to change my ways.

We were eating some cookies in the balcony and Luísa dropped half of them on the floor.

Refraining myself from saying that she needed to clean it up or complaining that I´d have to do it, I simply said ¨What are we gonna do about this dirty floor?¨. She thought for a moment and said: ¨We can use the broom.¨ She´d been asking me to go and grab her water so I said: ¨Why don´t we go down together to drink water and then we can bring the broom and the dustpan up here?¨ She enthusiastically said: ¨Yey, I´ll use the dustpan and you use the broom!¨

We cleaned it together. She wanted to clean the whole floor after that. It was such a different approach. So different from what I would had done if I had simply followed my ¨instincts¨.

Another typical situation I read on the book was about getting the children dressed in the morning. Luísa knows well how to get dressed on her own, but she wants me to get her dressed. I had asked her several times before for her to get dressed herself, but she refused it and to makes us ready I simply indulged and kept doing it for her. I now wonder what tone and expression I had used previously to ask her to get dressed…

The book said that when parents keep getting their over two-year olds dressed, they are not letting them be independent. They are pampering them and making them believe they can be as well just served in life for every little thing. This is not positive. Following my common sense about being ready and out in time was doing us no good.

So I decided to quit this bad habit cold turkey. The next morning I told her that from now on she had to get dressed by herself: ¨I read on this parenting book that children that can do it have to do it by themselves. You can do it, so I´ll wait for you to get dressed before we live the room to have breakfast¨.

She resisted, she screamed at me, she said that her teacher said that the mothers are supposed to dress their children. But instead of correcting her behavior, I stayed calm, I knew she would act it out on me and I stayed impassive. I said: ¨I´ll wait while you get dressed¨. She then put her clothes on (not before punching me).

In the afternoon, she tried it again, handing me the clothes. I said: ¨I know you can do it, so I´ll let you do it.¨ She acted it out again, screamed and hit me. Usually this could trigger me push her at least. But I thought about the fact that when you start using positive discipline, the child might act out worse to get the expected behavior from you (things get worse before they get better). So, I didn´t react, I just waited for her to get dressed.

Next morning, she brought me the clothes. And so I repeated calmly: ¨I know you can do it, so I´ll let you do it¨. She complained, but got dressed.

A few days later, she seems quite used to getting dressed by herself.

I´m commited to be her guide now more than ever, more than the lovingly-does-everything-to-please-her mom. I´m watching carefully my spontaneous actions and I´m becoming more mindful.

I´ll fight my own instincts if they are telling me to indulge or to be aggressive. I´m a work in progress switching from a permissive to a balanced mother.

Have you already noticed how your more spontaneous reaction might not be the best one?

This article was originally posted on Tripping Mom by Marilia Di Cesare on February 28, 2011. Republished with authorization. Click here for all other posts.


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