Have you heard of connected parenting or attachment parenting? Until recently, I had not, at least not by that term. These ideas are widely practiced in other cultures, but are a bit foreign here in the US. Western parenting is very different from most other cultures. It focuses on controlling the child and helping them fit a specific mold by certain ages. For instance, the idea that a baby should be eating baby food by 6 months, or sleeping through the night by 4 months, or weaned by 12 months. These stringent milestones are how we measure parenting success. They are re-enforced by the medical community and can be found in just about any parenting material you read. But very little of these ideas are based in any sort of science. They dont make evolutionary sense. Connected parenting offers a more fluid approach that supports natural growth and development and focuses on the child as an individual. Connected parenting offers a very different approach to traditional, western discipline as well.
Growing up, I had a very “traditional” discipline system. “Do what I say because I am the parent or there will be physical consequences”. These physical consequences included grounding, spanking, time outs and things of the like. I believe that my parents chose to discipline in this manner because that is how they were disciplined, its what they knew and knew to be effective. I have heard both of my parents tell stories of their childhood and talk about being fearful of their parents and talk about the anger their parents displayed during discipline, at times. Now, I am not saying that my parents or their parents were mean or unloving or bad people, but I have always thought, that there must be a better way. For myself, this type of discipline was effective because I feared the physical consequences. I did not, in many cases, understand why or learn from discipline. It did not teach me an understanding of my actions and the consequences of those actions in many cases. I obeyed, because I feared.
When Levi came along, it was clear, from very early on, that “traditional” discipline was not effective for him. Time outs didnt phase him, spanking led to a worse behavior and always an escalation of the situation. But the scariest part, was the feeling in myself during the discipline. Anger often accompanied the giving of discipline and then severe grief; hatng myself for my actions. I did not want to be an angry parent. I did not want to feel that anger in my heart. I did not want to hurt my children. I just felt in my heart, that the discipline lacked connection and there was little learning being done on his part. I could see the fear in his eyes when he knew the spanking was coming. The flinch, turning away in fear. I dont want kids who mind out of fear. I want kids who behave because they understand how their actions effect others and want the best for those around them. When Levi was little, he was sick, very often. We spent alot of time in the hospital or at the doctors office. He ran very high fevers and had breathing struggles most of the time. We often gave him whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, to keep him quiet and to keep him from danger. In a sense, we “ruined” him. He got used to getting what he wanted and quickly learned that a fit would result in him getting what he thought he needed quickly. So how do you correct a child like this? I started reading every parenting idea under the sun looking for answers.
A friend of mine shared a facebook page with me called attachment parenting. These were “hippie mama’s” who talked about love and peace and harmony. At first I thought they were nuts. Permissive parenting is what this is. It may work when they are little, but certainly will lead to wild teenagers. My circle of friends has changed pretty drastically since becoming a mother which has exposed me to many new things. many of the moms I made friends with agreed with and practiced this hippie parenting. I watched these hippie moms. Watched my friends succeed as raising their children this way. I saw my older friends with teenagers who were respectful, did well in school, had jobs and friends and a desire to serve the community. They werent wild and out of control. They didnt hate their parents, they respected them.
So, because I am a total nerd, I went in search of the science. What does science have to say about discipline? What does discipline look like in other countries? How has discipline changed historically. Ultimately, my literature review led me to discover, that discipline should be rooted in teaching the child, not scaring or forcing them into submission. I learned that “discipline”, if you will, starts as soon as that child is born. Discipline is learned through connection.
Here is the definition of Connected Parenting, taken from a local chapter that I now belong to: “Connected Parenting is parenting that creates strong, healthy emotional bonds between children and their parents. These practices strive to nurture and fulfill a child’s needs, trust, empathy, and affection providing a lifelong foundation for healthy, enduring relationships. The long-range vision of Connected Parenting is to raise children who will become adults with a highly developed capacity for empathy and connection. It eliminates violence as a means for raising children, and ultimately helps to prevent violence in society as a whole.”
So what does this look like for our family? Its been a drastic change that has lead to a beautiful outcome. Its been a journey and we continue on that journey. I cant say I am a perfect parent, goodness, not a all! I often end the day, as many parents do, with regrets, wishing I had handled something different. But we are better parents than we were. Thats my life goal, to be better today than I was yesterday. To be constantly learning and growing. Its lead to an understanding of a child I once felt was “bad” and “out of control”. That understanding has helped me learn how to connect with him and in turn, his behavior has improved greatly. Its helped me learn to connect with all my children and even my husband. Its helped me to try and understand others and their actions and learn to communicate more effectively through connection. Here is a for instance situation: Levi is having a tantrum. I really dont know why, it seems like every little thing would set him off. before, I might have yelled at him to stop screaming or spanked him or put him in time out, but I have learned that tantrums are actually a form of communication for the child, albeit an ineffective form. So, instead of reaching for discipline, I take his hand, get down on his level and ask him to calm himself so we can talk about what he needs. I sit with him, quietly, just holding his hand, waiting. before too long, he is quiet, coming to sit in my lap, ready to communicate effectively. Offering that safe place of connection, helps him learn that the action of throwing a tantrum is ineffective and helps him learn to calm himself. Since we have been helping him through tantrums instead of forcing him to stop, the number of tantrums has decreased drastically. They still pop up when he is overtired or overstimulated, but its rare.
Its hard for me to put all these ideas into words. The basic principle here, is knowing your child, their needs and offering a connection to help them learn through situation as opposed to forcing submission through physical contact. Now, for the disclaimer, I know many of my friends and family will read this and think I have gone off the deep end. I am not here to tell anyone how they should run their family or raise their children or how they should discipline. My intent is to offer an alternative set of ideals that I have found very effective with my difficult child and now, have applied to all my children with success. For our family, We have chosen a non physical approach. I understand that at first, it seems like permissive parenting, but I will argue, that my children are not undisciplined, we just offer more natural consequences for actions as opposed to physical. For example, Emma this morning was throwing her wooden puzzle pieces. I ask her to stop throwing them and explain that throwing them is not how we play nicely and someone could get hurt. She continues. So, I calmly start picking up the puzzle and put it away, explaining to her that I had asked her to stop and because she didnt, we need to take a break from this toy. The punishment is in line with the crime. She will learn, even though it will take some reinforcement, that throwing toys is not an appropriate way to play.
In working to become more connected parents, we have changed many aspects of our lives not just discipline. Connecting with your child can be present in all aspects of care. Connection starts the moment they are born and blossoms from there. Other ways we practice connection is by breastfeeding, delaying the newborn bath, co sleeping, baby wearing, being conscious of our diet and what we eat and offering opportunities for child guided learning and exploration and so much more. Here is another quote from the connected parenting group that outlines the 7 pillars of connected parenting. I would like to talk about each of these and what it looks like for our family in the future:
“The members of Connected Parenting believe that growing a peaceful community can start from a single seed: emotional responsiveness. Truly listening to, understanding, and responding to a child can cause this seed to blossom and mature into magnificent radiance. The roots of Connected Parenting:
•Pregnancy, Labor, & Birth
•Feeding & Nutrition
•Emotional Connection & Responsiveness
•Holding & Touch
•Balance & Self Care”
I want to say thank you to the group of gals in the connected parenting group who have helped me and guided me and my family. For your wisdom, words of wisdom and support. For offering ideas and advice, for helping me understand how my children tick and how to respond appropriately. For offering me a “way out” from traditional discipline, which left me feeling wounded as an adult. For helping me understand myself and grow myself as an individual through nurturing my children. Thank you for being transparent in your own struggles and letting me know that we all have bad days. I appreciate the support of this tribe.
Here is some fun reading for those interested: