I receive a lot of messages and emails asking for support on how to parent peacefully whilst navigating challenging situations. Here are three common parenting issues and some thoughts on how to approach them.
“My son just will not cooperate in the mornings. It’s a fight to get him dressed each day, and getting him to nursery on time is so stressful.”
Transition times such as leaving the house, getting into the car, leaving the playground, and moving from playing to sitting down to a meal can all be tricky at times, and getting dressed is probably the most common one! If this scenario sounds familiar, here are some things which might help:
- Ensuring you have a strong morning rhythm which allows your child to anticipate what comes next in their day. When mornings are chaotic and different things happen at different times on different days, it’s no wonder that children feel overwhelmed and mount a “pyjama defence” (thanks to Kim John Payne for this phrase!), refusing to budge from the known safety of the home. A strong family rhythm allows children to feel the safety that comes with predictability. It might take a little time for the rhythm to stick, but it is a powerful way of increasing ease and reducing conflict.
- Making a simple visual morning chart, including pictures of what they need to do every morning (eg. getting dressed, putting their pyjamas under their pillow, using the toilet / having their nappy changed, washing hands, eating breakfast, cleaning their face, having their teeth and hair brushed, putting their shoes on). You could laminate this and provide a wipe-clean felt-tip so that they can ‘tick off’ each item on the list once it’s done. Note: there are no rewards associated with this!
- Having a “getting dressed” song that you sing, or a special story or game that you play when it comes to getting dressed. Playfulness can have a hugely positive impact on your relationship with your child, and can make transitions such as getting ready to leave the home easier for the whole family.
- Getting dressed first thing in the morning, fresh out of bed before they have started playing or doing any of the million things which are more interesting than getting dressed. If they are a messy eater, keep an old t-shirt or a long-sleeved bib nearby to stop spills and stains. Involving your child in choosing and setting out their clothes the night before can be helpful too, and woven into their evening rhythm (you could also check the next day’s forecast together to ensure clothes are appropriate).
Something I have found really valuable to remember is to practice what I preach. It’s no good for me to ask my daughter to get dressed if I’m still in my pyjamas, or to call down for her to find her shoes whilst I am still brushing my teeth. My job as a parent is to be fully committed and available to her in those moments, supporting her to see whatever she needs to get done through to completion.
“My son snatches from other children all the time. It doesn’t matter where he is – playgroup, a play date, or at our home, he will grab whatever the other child is playing with and then scream if we try and take it away from him.”
As a parent, this situation can feel fraught and embarrassing – if our child is the one snatching we can feel under social pressure to tell them off, ask them to apologise, or even snatch back the item to return it, all as we worry that we are being judged for our child’s behaviour (and if our child is the one who is being grabbed from we can feel angry and hurt on their behalf and even annoyed at the other child, especially if they are older). Before diving into how to deal with snatching, if this situation applies to you I would invite you to think about how it makes you feel when your child snatches from another child. Does it trigger something in you? What are your fears? Being able to articulate what feelings our children’s behaviour brings up for us is a powerful tool in being able to respond in an empathetic, conscious way.
Snatching and grabbing is very, very common in young children, and is usually a developmental phase that eases off as they get older. My preference is, as far as possible, to let the children work it out together whilst providing emotional support and staying very close by to prevent escalation. The balance between respecting the children involved in the squabble and giving them time and space to reach a solution, and ensuring boundaries are enforced and everyone stays safe, is a difficult one, but it is important for children to be given the space to try and work these things out for themselves without an adult always stepping in.
A great took to support children in this situation is sportscasting” (“I can see that you both want to play with that toy, but Jane is playing with it and it doesn’t look like she is finished with it.” or “You were playing with the doll and now Milly has it, I can see how sad you are feeling”) and encouraging the children to come up with a solution themselves (“Ok so you both want to play with the pink ball. What can we do?”) or offering some options (“Shall we see if we can find any other balls? How about Peter tells you when he’s finished and then you can have a turn?”).
Of course, this won’t always be enough; I don’t think it’s ever OK to let children hurt one another, and I would also not stand by if my child was constantly snatching from another child. If things are escalating, then as parents our job is to step in. But trusting our children as much as we can and empowering them to work through issues – and giving them a chance to try! – is the way to go if we want to raise empathic, cooperative children.
For more guidance on teaching sharing and navigating snatching this post is full of ideas. It is also worth remembering that our children learn from watching us; it is no use complaining that our children snatch if we ourselves snatch or take things from our children. Even when they are holding something potentially dangerous, there is always a respectful way to remove the object from their grasp.
“My daughter will not play independently. She follows me around all day, and if I try to do anything that doesn’t involve her she whines and asks me to play with her. I’m exhausted!”
One of the questions I am most asked is how to encourage independent play in pre-school children. If this is you, try not to be disheartened. It can feel like everyone else’s child is playing independently but yours, but if my inbox is anything to go by then you are definitely not alone. Although there are things that you can do to encourage your child to play alone (here are five simple ways to encourage independent play) all children will begin to play independently at different ages, so don’t be disheartened if you have a young child who does not do so despite your best efforts.
If you are having consistently having connected quality time with your child, you have shown them you respect their play, and they have unstructured time for play built into their daily rhythm (and open-ended, carefully chosen toys to play with during this time) then you are doing your job. Although it is deeply frustrating at times, as parents our job is not to seek to control or change our children’s behaviour; it is to provide them with a nurturing environment in which to thrive and become the person they are meant to be. The only person whose behaviour we can (and should) seek to change is ourselves, so rather than trying to convince your child to play alone – and running the risk of pushing them away, causing them to cling to you even closer – instead look at how you can take care of yourself and meet your own needs.
If you are with your child all day, ensure you are able to get some time alone in the evenings or at weekends. Take time for small acts of self care throughout the day – hot tea, nutritious food, a hot shower, a short journalling session, a 15 minute run. Seek out a friend you can text when you feel frustrated and overwhelmed, or swap childcare with. Hire a babysitter who is aligned with your values to come for a couple of hours each week. Make a list of Sites of Mutual Fulfilment (things which fill your cup and your child’s cup at the same time) and strive to do these as often as you can. Model being quietly busy with your own work when your child is around, even if at the beginning it is hard work holding that boundary. Chances are, they will play independently soon enough, but until then, take good care of yourself and watch to ensure your cup does not run dry.
THE PEACEFUL HOME
Being a peaceful parent is not just about reading the right books and getting advice to deal with specific issues (although these things certainly help!); it’s about fundamentally changing our mindset as parents, challenging the way we were raised and the traditional models of parentings which surround us and working on ourselves to be able to show up in the way our children deserve.
This is important work but it can be hard at times, and it is even harder without support. We are not meant to do it alone. That is why I have created The Peaceful Home, a private membership group where you will be supported by me and other like-minded parents every step of the way of your peaceful parenting journey.
Each month you will have access to:
- A video workshop on a different topic related to peaceful parenting, mindset and inner work, and gentle discipline
- A PDF workbook to accompany each topic filled with information, practical ideas, questions for you to work through alone or with a partner, and journalling and reflection prompts
- A curated ‘reading’ list of blogs, books, research, articles and podcast episodes
- A live Q&A video
- Weekly guided group discussions
- Bonus interviews and content
- A whole lot of support and guidance from me and other like-minded parents to work through any bumps that come up in your journey
Group membership opens on the 30th September for 48 hours, so be sure to make a note if you want to join a group of like-minded peaceful parents who will walk beside you every step of your journey..
This article is part of a mini-series called “The Peaceful Home” where I will be sharing tips help you to increase the ease and joy with which you parent, and reduce the conflict in your home. We’ve already had posts on stepping away from using “no” so much, creating “Yes Spaces” in your home, reducing stress around food and mealtimes , coping with tantrums, why we don’t use punishments, the power of play, keeping calm and why it might feel like gentle parenting isn’t helping. Next time I’ll be writing about shame, so check back soon.
If you want support from other like-minded parents, why not join A Beautiful Childhood? It’s a free Facebook community – a space for us to discuss raising our children and forging for them a childhood that is gentle, slow, and beautiful. Come and join us!