On Tuesday night I participated in my second of seven parenting classes. I wrote about my first class here.
The second class started with an exercise in praising ourselves (which is harder than it sounds!) and what came out of it was the suggestion to start a nightly ritual of each family member saying "I'm proud of myself because . . . " I have forgotten to do it the past few nights, but tonight something sparked my memory so Eloise, Iris and I did it around the dinner table. Eloise was proud of herself that she had built something really big at school. Iris was proud that she did her work at the therapist's office even though she felt shy and I was proud that I didn't yell at all today. When I said mine Iris responded "oh that IS something to be proud of!" and you know, she was right.
Overall I'm doing soooo much better, but changing behavior isn't 100% forward moving. It's a two steps forward, one step back sort of thing, at best. I just keep reminding myself, what do I want my kids to mirror? I will literally stand there and yell "stop yelling!" and it's like, jesus, what is WRONG with me?!?! Anyways, it's getting better.
At the parenting class we have been talking about the parenting ideal of being kind and firm and how difficult it is to parent in this way. Many of us grew up in pretty authoritarian families, the "my way or the highway" approach. It produced alot of kids who may have been well-behaved, but who also wouldn't necessarily remember alot of loving moments as they grew up. The other side of that coin is parents who are completely permissive and aren't setting boundaries for their children. The goal really is, we need to set boundaries and limits, but we need to be kind and loving in the process.
We also discussed the difference between encouraging our children and praising them. Before I go more in to what that looks like, here is a really cool definition of what encouragement is and why we should strive for it:
Courage (from the Latin word cor, for heart) is the very small step you take in the direction to be more of who you truly are when it might be easier to take a step in another direction. So when you encourage someone, you are creating a space for him or her to take that step.
Isn't it amazing that we can think of parenting not just as "how do I get this kid to behave and do what I want them to do?" but rather "how can I help facilitate this person becoming his or her very best self?" I found this idea incredibly moving.
Here are some examples of encouragement vs praise:
"Tell me about it" or "What do you think?" vs "I like it"
"Thank you for helping" vs "You are such a good girl/boy!"
"What do you think/feel about that?" vs "You did it right!"
Most of the encouraging statements ask the child to look inside himself/herself for what they feel instead of projecting your ideas on to them or judging/labelling them. The goal is to inspire self-evaluation of your child and not to have them rely on the evaluation of others.
Doing this in practice is pretty difficult for me, as I suspect it is for alot of us. I absolutely find myself saying "you're doing a great job!" (or the like) to my kids. Of course, the goal isn't to never ever say these things, but to incorporate more encouraging statements and less ones that judge the behavior (even a positive judgement).
What we're learning in this class is causing most of us who are taking it to completely re-think the way we are using discipline with our children. Believe me this is no easy task! As our teacher reminds us, it is a practice. A practice every day. It's not about perfection or reaching the ultimate goal of parenting perfection, but about practicing these skills with our children.