I am a solo mother, a HypnoBirthing practitioner, a counsellor and facilitator, and a practitioner at the Women's centre here in Christchurch. I am also someone who is committed to personal growth and to establishing healthy and attuned relationships. Needless to say, I am very interested in creating a loving connection with my child.
Does my current position make me an expert on this subject? By all means, No.
I am, just like any other mother, muddling along doing the best I can, with the knowledge, resources and personality that I have.
But since giving birth to Felix in early 2013 I have attended many parenting courses and read umpteen posts and books on the topic. It would be fair to say that I have treated parenting as a long and steep ladder on my mental, emotional, physical and spiritual journey.
Prior to the above photo being taken I had attended six parenting courses: an antenatal course at Plunket, a HypnoBirthing course, a breastfeeding course at Christchurch women's hospital, a PEPE course at Plunket, a course offered privately called 'Watch, wait and wonder' and another early intervention course called 'Circle of Security'. This was all by the time Felix was 1 year of age.
Since then I have attended a 14-week course aptly named 'The Incredible Years' and started doing a home-based parenting programme called HIPPY (Home Interaction Programme for parents and youngsters) and recently signed up for an online course that goes by the name of 'Positive Parenting Solutions'. The inspiration for this post came to me when I started session 1 of this course. I was introduced to what Amy McCready calls Mind, Body and Soul time, which is basically quality time that we spend with our children. I had one of those moments where I felt a sense of serendipity (or maybe sheer coincidence) because this is also the name of my business. I felt in that moment that writing about my learning in this area was something I really wanted to engage with.
All the courses I have completed encourage positive and present connections with our children. At the heart of this idea is that we can't address any misbehaviour before we focus whole-heartedly on creating quality and individual relationships with each of our children. The foundation blocks for any relationship is to be available and empathetic to our children as much as possible. So, what I have learned is that in order to create security, trust and wellbeing in my one and only child I need to devote time in my day to being with him, on his level, doing whatever he wants to do with me. I need to let him lead the play and I need to be gentle and unassuming in my interactions. This means, for me personally, that I need to let go of my attention to rules or getting things right, or being in control, and let Felix lead the way. Easier said than done sometimes.
What I've discovered is that children misbehave when they don't sense a sufficient amount of belonging and significance and they feel that they are not getting what they crave through positive means of behaviour. In some cases this is caused by well-meaning parents focusing on what their children are doing wrong much of the time without consistently commenting and encouraging positive behaviour. Encouraging and highlighting positive behaviour can be hard as, from my experience, if Felix is behaving well; playing quietly or using his manners, I will either breathe a sigh of relief internally or just have a feeling of this is the way it is meant to be, rather than giving praise or some form acknowledgement for this welcomed and positive behaviour. Kids need to feel emotionally connected and need lots of positive attention, not to mention personal power.
Feeling into the idea that when Felix misbehaves he is actually feeling discouraged moves me into a much deeper empathetic stance with my little boy. I have started to imagine that whenever Felix 'misbehaves' he is really saying I want to belong and feel significant, but I don't know how to do it. With this in mind, I have realised how important it is to see misbehaviour not as the problem but as a symptom. Human beings are hard-wired with a need for personal power and although it can be slightly frustrating (to say the least) or infuriating (at its worst) to deal with a defiant child it's important that we try and see things from a child's point of view as much as possible.
In order to see things from our children's point of view we also need to reflect and work on our own personalities and responses. Much of the way we are with our children stems from the way we were brought up and until we become conscious of these ways, we are likely to play out what we ourselves have experienced. In the 1950s Erin Berne invented Transactional Analysis which suggests that there are three ego states of personality; that of parent, adult and child. What may surprise you is that if the majority of our interactions with our kids are in the parent ego state then we can expect to have power struggles.
What does it mean to be in the parent ego state? It means we are taking responsibility for someone by reminding, ordering, directing and correcting. I still do this a lot! But I like to think that awareness is the first step and not a small one by any stretch of the imagination. The adult ego state is much more unemotional and involves more receiving, processing and transmitting. A child ego state, as you might imagine, is highly emotional. As parents we are going to spend time in all three ego states but research suggests that we ideally want to spend the most time in child state and the least time in parent state.
Right, so before getting to the crux of this post, I will admit that playing with my child was not intially a forte of mine. I had too much on my place! And child-led play? I was too bossy and in need of control for that carry on. But as time has gone on I have realised that I do actually enjoy playing. I do enjoy quality time with Felix. And, child-led play is not only fun, and empowering for my boy, it is also liberating and empowering for me and for our relationship.
To begin a process of positive growth for ourselves, our children and our developing relationships all we need to do is spend one-on-one time with each of our children for at least 15 minutes per day. During this time we need to be emotionally available and we need to be doing what the child wants us to do. We need to allow them to lead the play and resist our urges to be directional (or bossy) or take control in any way. That is all.
Based on what I have learned in courses I have done, the time together will be most beneficial if we loosen our reigns of control or perfectionism and just BE WITH our child.
So, take note, a misbehaving child is a discouraged child, seeking belonging and significance, in a world that is discombobulating. Soon I will be discussing the notion of power and how having a positive sense of power intersects with a positive sense of love and connection.
If you are pregnant or muddling your way through parenting and feel you might benefit from a HypnoBirthing course or counselling please don't hesitate to be in touch.