Category: Parenting

Supernatural Childbirth

We’re officially in our third trimester of pregnancy now, and it’s amazing to finally be here. Every time I see my reflection in the mirror, I’m thrilled to see my big baby belly—being pregnant is something I’ve imagined and hoped for over a long period time, and it’s surreal to actually be that person now. I used to smile whenever I noticed a pregnant lady walking by me, and now I’ve started to notice that I’m on the other end of the equation—strangers are now noticing my belly and I’ve caught a few knowing smiles out in public. It’s such a special time in my life, and I’m really enjoying the process of bringing new life into the world.

Cody’s birth is getting closer and closer, and soon we’ll be full-fledged parents. As usual, we’re having a lot of fun planning, discussing, researching, and preparing for every aspect of this new adventure we can think of. We’re both so eager to start our new careers as a mom and dad to our precious son. Before we can start though, we have to make it through one heck of an interview process—childbirth!

Before we were married, I went through a phase of thinking that I would never want to have children. At first, this was mostly due to fears about the birth process, and how horrible and scary and painful it would be. I didn’t want to have to face that, so I thought that instead we would just have to adopt. Later, I found another reason to never have children at all, even through adoption. There’s a saying that becoming a parent is like choosing to have your heart walk around outside of your body. It’s incredibly risky! You love this other person so much that it’s beyond words, and the idea of them ever getting hurt or making a bad decision is terrifying to you. You have everything invested in your children, and yet very little control over what happens to them. That idea scared the living daylights out of me, and so I thought that I would never want to put myself into such a vulnerable position.

Later, of course, I changed my mind back because I just knew that I was meant to be a mother. It’s a calling on my life that I can’t deny, no matter what pain or risks I have to face. It was only after that discovery that I was able to be taught some very important truths from God. I learned both of them after experiencing the loss of our first baby, Sam, only six weeks into our pregnancy. I was in a place of anger, utter heartbreak, loss of trust, and loss of hope for the future. Other people’s words of comfort often felt like a slap in the face to me. They told me that I should hold on to God, as if I wanted to hold on to a God who decided to take my baby from the world before he or she even had a chance to live. They told me to keep trusting him because it was all in his plan—as if I could trust a God who planned something like that to happen. Most of all, I despised it when people told me that I could try again. The thought of trying again, of putting myself at risk for heartbreak again, was a terrible thought. I felt that it wasn’t worth the risk, and that Cory and I should not try again, not ever.

It was from this place of darkness that God showed us the light. Through the guidance of some godly people in our lives, he showed us the simple truth that he is good. We learned that our miscarriage was not God’s doing or his plan for us, but an attack from the enemy. We also learned that God is bigger and stronger than our enemy, and that we have the choice to fight with him on our side. When we fight with the spiritual weapons that he gave us, we will experience victory!

The lessons that God taught us through that painful experience are lessons that we desperately needed for our future as parents. If we’d become parents without learning about God’s protection and strength, and about spiritual warfare and our role in it, we wouldn’t have been able to handle the fear of “what might happen.” We would have lived in fear of our children being hurt or worse, and that fear would have given the enemy a foothold in our lives. Instead, we now know and firmly believe that God has his hand over our family. I don’t have to worry about what might happen to Cody because I know that God’s got him. He’s in good hands. In fact, he’s in the best possible hands!

We also learned a mind-blowing (yes, mind-blowing!) truth about childbirth that completely obliterated any worries I once had about the process of bringing a baby into the world. We were given a book called Supernatural Childbirth by our pastor at the time, and through it we learned about the power of confession, or speaking God’s word over our lives, and about the promises and freedom that are available through Jesus. I’d never before been exposed to the idea that we can have victory over every area of pain in our lives through the victory of Jesus on the cross. What I learned by reading this book and the Bible verses within is that I don’t have to experience an agonizing, life-threatening, or traumatizing birth. I can bring Cody into the world in comfort, peace, and safety. And I will!

Supernatural childbirth is using God’s word (the promises he makes in the Bible) to overcome challenges related to childbearing. The Bible supports every woman’s ability to conceive, gestate without sickness, pain, or fear, and give birth in safety and without pain (or drugs)—all within the plan of God and the power of Jesus. As with any area of life, God will back up his promises, to the level of your faith. He will meet you where your faith is! I had trouble believing that I could have a healthy pregnancy without nausea, morning sickness, and fatigue in the first trimester. I chose to listen to what people around me said—that if I felt sick, it meant the baby was healthy! If I didn’t feel sick, well… you can guess what that inferred. And so, I felt sick and icky for the entire first trimester. I did believe firmly that Cody and I would be healthy, however, and so it was. That was the level of my faith, met by the goodness of God. As I approach the end of my pregnancy now, I’m believing for more. I’m believing for a supernatural, pain-free birth, and I trust God’s promise to meet me where my faith is.

Now, I want to address two common “arguments” against this concept of supernatural childbirth. The first is that the Bible says in Genesis that women will suffer in childbirth. This is true—the verse is Genesis 3:16 and it says “To the woman, he said ‘I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’” This is part of several verses in this section that represent what is known as “the curse,” or the consequences of humankind’s fall from God’s plan. Humans chose to disobey God, and as a result, lost the benefits of the paradise they’d been living in and forever altered their relationship with God. From that point on, humans had to work hard to obey a very strict and detailed set of laws in order to stay in right standing with God (and even then, it wasn’t quite enough to be accepted by God without a hefty dose of his grace). God didn’t intend for it to stay that way forever, though. Throughout the Old Testament, hints of a coming savior abound. In the New Testament, that savior finally appeared—Jesus Christ, the son of God, sent to earth to teach us and save the lost. He came, lived as an example, healed and performed miracles, and finally, died an undeserved death on the cross and rose again. He did this for our salvation, so that we could return to the relationship God originally intended for us to have with him. Jesus paid the price for us to be redeemed. Galatians 3:13 says that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’” Isaiah 53:4-5 says “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Because of Jesus, anyone who believes in him is no longer under the curse. I am not fallen, but redeemed, through the grace of God! Therefore, my childbearing experience is not the experience of a cursed woman, but the experience of a woman living in God’s abundance and delivered from pain and suffering through the love of Jesus.

The second common argument against supernatural childbirth is something along the lines of “everybody knows that childbirth is painful.” Almost any woman who has given birth will testify to the horrible pain that she experienced in labor and birth. I’d even venture to say that most Christian women are in that group. So why would I be any different than the rest of the world, let alone than so many of my sisters in Christ, who are also redeemed? The difference lies within my mind and my faith. As I said before, God will meet you where your faith is. In Matthew 9:29, Jesus healed a group of blind men by saying “According to your faith let it be done to you.” A person can be redeemed through Christ, and yet not believe that they have healing, abundance, or the ability to have children and have them in joy and comfort. According to their faith, it will be done to them. The conclusion of Supernatural Childbirth says this: “People often fight for the right to suffer… The Word says you can do things God’s way. You can do things other ways as well. You can be sick, and God will still love you. You can be poor, and God will still love you. You can be barren, and God will still love you. You can live in pain, and God will still love you. But God says there is a better way. Jesus has paid for salvation, healing, prosperity, deliverance and blessing.” It is up to each individual to decide in their mind and heart whether to believe God for what he has promised. Romans 12:2 says “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” I can choose to conform to the ways of the world, and give birth in the way that the world says I will; or, I can choose to renew my mind according to God’s Word, and transform my birth into a peaceful, joyful, and comfortable experience, which I believe is God’s perfect will for me. I do not believe that God wants me to experience pain (what loving parent would want their child to experience pain?), and I want to see his good, pleasing and perfect will in every area of my life. That’s why I believe in supernatural childbirth, and why I have no fear when it comes to my pregnancy or birth. God is good, and he has everything under control!  

And so to childbirth, I say bring it on. 🙂

It’s Minimalism, Baby!

A couple of weeks ago, I read a book about minimalism and how it can be applied to having a baby. A minimalist lifestyle is essentially one that focuses less on stuff. Minimalists tend to focus less on what things they want and more on enjoying and using what they have. It helps save money, creates a lifestyle that requires less money, and thus allows people to live more freely. Spending time with family and friends and enjoying experiences together are emphasized over acquiring and spending money on material possessions.

When it comes to having a baby, the world tells us that we need a lot of stuff. It is absolutely essential that we have mountains of adorable baby clothes, fancy swings and bassinets, special pillows and seats and wearable blankets, the perfect stroller and baby carrier… the list goes on! Not to mention a perfectly coordinated nursery with matching furniture, bedding sets, and beautiful decorations. And those are just the essentials, they tell us. If we want to be really prepared, then we also need all of the newest, latest, and greatest gear and gadgets that promise to add convenience to our baby care routines. Planning to have a baby? Well then you’d better get ready to spend a small fortune on all of the stuff that you’ll surely need. That’s what the world tells us, at least.

Well, minimalists see things differently. The book I read gave this list of items that are actual essentials when it comes to bringing a new baby home: 12 newborn onesies or sleepers, 1 newborn hat, 6 receiving blankets, 2 bottles (if not breastfeeding), diapers, and a car seat (if you have a car). Personally, I would alter this list by removing the newborn hat, because babies really don’t need them once they leave the hospital or birthing center. I would also note that if you are not breastfeeding then you also need formula, and baby wipes should be added to the list as well. Finally, I would add some onesies or sleepers in sizes other than newborn, since some babies are too big for newborn sized clothes and nearly all babies will quickly grow out of them. But the point is, this list is pretty shocking when you compare it to the list of “necessities” that you’d find anywhere else. When it comes right down to it, most of what we consider necessities are actually just conveniences at best, and a waste of resources and space at worst.

Babies have several basic needs, of course, but meeting those needs really doesn’t require all of the complicated gear we think it does. They eat, they sleep, they cry, they poop and pee. A parent’s job is to take care of these needs and provide the essential ingredient of love. For a family who breastfeeds, co-sleeps, baby-wears, and uses cloth diapers and wipes, or even natural infant hygiene, the list of stuff that is necessary to accomplish this job is quite small. A safe place to sleep can be provided with some adjustments to the bed you already have, or if desired, a side-car sleeping arrangement can be created. Swings, bouncers, and other infant-soothing devices can often be replaced by a sling worn by mom or dad, since babies frequently find a parent’s embrace to be the most soothing place of all. Cloth diapers and wipes can be reused, eliminating the need to purchase seemingly unending supplies of disposables. Natural infant hygiene is even more frugal, since no diapers or wipes are required at all! Though this method will undoubtedly lead to many messes, in the end it results in a baby who doesn’t need diapers and later, a child who never needs to go through potty training. (I’ll write a post about what natural infant hygiene is later, but the point is that technically speaking, diapers and wipes aren’t even necessary). For a family that does all of what I just described, all that’s left to buy is clothing, a sling, and possibly a car seat. If this family also follows the minimalist approach to clothing, then they will only need plain white onesies, about 12 in each size. That adds up to only about $150 in clothes for the first year, or even less if they buy clothes at thrift stores. Add another $50 for a well-made sling, and $100 for a car seat, and the total cost for gear in a baby’s first year could be only $300. Compare that to the thousands (or tens of thousands) that most new parents spend on a baby in the first year, and the savings is incredible.

Now, what I just described is probably the most minimalistic approach possible, at least that I can think of. And while that may be an optimal approach for some parents, Cory and I simply aren’t that frugal. Sorry, we just aren’t. We believe in spending our money wisely and saving on things that we buy anyway, but we also enjoy our material blessings. Nice stuff is nice to have, and I don’t think that’s wrong. That being said, there is a balance to be found, and for us, the balance is somewhere between complete minimalism and complete excess.

Reading this book on minimalism inspired me to cut some unnecessary items out of our baby budget. Cory and I spent some time re-thinking our needs and wants for life with a baby. In the end, we were able to trim over $1,000 from our baby budget, and we’ve used some of that to make changes to our home that we feel will make it more fit for our envisioned family lifestyle. One of the major things that we cut from the budget was a nursery. We’d already been planning to co-sleep, so the room that we’d designated as Cody’s future nursery was going to get very little use. We decided to turn the room into a TV room and guest room, which has opened up our living room to be more welcoming and family-oriented. There is now plenty of space for kids to play and for people to relax and converse when we have guests over. An added benefit is that the television is no longer the centerpiece of our home. Child development experts recommend that children under age 2 not watch TV at all, and this arrangement will make it much easier to follow through with our no-TV policy. Finally, we used some of that extra money to spoil ourselves with new bedding and other refreshing changes to our bedroom. Since that is where Cory, Cody, and I will all be sleeping, we wanted that room to be a relaxing and pleasant space. In essence, we cut some things from the baby budget that would have brought our family very little benefit, and replaced them with a few purchases that have improved our home for everyone while still saving money.

Our recent baby gear re-evaluation also gave us the benefit of shrinking the list of what we still need to buy. As of right now, Cory and I are glad to know that we have most what we need for the baby. We could easily spend just a hundred bucks or so to buy the clothes that we need and then we’d be good to go. It’s refreshing to see it that way, after being told for so long that affording a baby is impossible! This new outlook is due mostly to changing the way we see what we need versus what we want.

That’s not to say that there aren’t still plenty of things that we want for the baby. A fancy swing would be nice, we’d certainly enjoy a comfy glider to rock Cody to sleep in, and an ergo carrier has definitely caught my eye. Some ridiculously cute baby outfits would not be the worst thing to have either! But hey, that’s what a baby registry is for, right? Cory and I enjoyed filling ours with fun things that it would be nice to have. And honestly, knowing that any gifts we receive at our baby shower or otherwise are purely for our delight and enjoyment makes it all that much sweeter. We don’t need them, they’re simply blessings to be thankful for and to add to the fun of having a baby.

Taking a minimalist view of preparing for baby has given us peace. We know that years down the road, Cody won’t remember or care that he didn’t have a nursery or that awesome new baby gadget. He’ll just remember that he was loved and cared for. He most likely won’t even think to ask for his own room until he’s past age 3 or 4, he’ll just be happy to go to bed every night safe and sound next to the parents who love him. And when we look back at his baby years, I don’t think we’ll be regretting that we didn’t spend as much money on baby stuff as we could have; instead, we’ll look back and treasure the memories of holding, snuggling, feeding, and playing with our little baby, whether or not he was wearing designer jeans and clutching a trendy giraffe teething toy.

Stuff comes and goes, but love will last forever; that’s what kids need the most. Minimalism in all of its levels is just one way to remind ourselves about what really matters. Not stuff, but love.

 

“Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13:13 (NLT)

Parenting with Intention

There are many decisions to make when becoming a parent. Cory and I are looking forward to that day, and thinking ahead about what kind of parents and family we want to be. Our parenting vision is something that we’ve spent a lot of time writing and refining, and in my last two posts I shared about two of the key elements in our parenting strategy. The first one is keeping God at the center, and the second one is using attachment parenting principles. In this post, I want to share about the third key element in our plan, which is choosing an intentional lifestyle.

At first, this may sound like a very vague ambition. What does it mean to choose an intentional lifestyle? The way that Cory and I understand it is something like this; we want to make choices in life that are thoughtful, wise, and purposeful, not based on what is the normal standard for the rest of the world, but instead based on what makes sense for us and our family, and what will reflect best on our God. At times, this means that we do things in ways that are unusual or possibly frowned upon by others.

Choosing to get married at 19 brought a lot of judgment and lack of support from people around us, but we did it anyway because we knew that it made sense for us and that we only had to please God, not others. (We were also lucky to have good support from some of our closest friends and family). Choosing to leave school before finishing was another choice we made that society as a whole doesn’t tend to support. Yet for us, it made sense to reconsider the use of our time and money, and we believe it has allowed God to move in more powerful ways; Cory was able to find an awesome job that supports us comfortably, thanks to God. We’re firm believers that college isn’t for everyone, and we don’t buy into the social pressure that says we can’t succeed without a degree. My point with all of this is that we like to question and think about different ways of doing things, to find what truly works for us as individuals. Sometimes, that means we take the road less traveled.

As parents, we want to have the same attitude. There are many aspects of parenting that are considered “normal” which we do not wish to emulate. I want to be clear that I am not judging anybody, or saying that a certain way of doing things is wrong. I am simply outlining some of the decisions that Cory and I have made for our own family, which we think will work best for us.

For example, many parents allow their children to use technology for entertainment, or as a way to get a break from the chaos. For our family, though, we don’t plan to allow our children to use “screens” of any kind, including the television, computer, tablets, or cell phones, until they are two years old. At that point, screen time will be limited and monitored. Instead of using technology as a primary form of entertainment, we will encourage our children to play creatively, both outdoors and indoors, and develop other hobbies and interests.

We’ve also decided to home school our children, so that we can foster a more genuine passion for learning than is typically found in children who attend public school. We want school to be about growing, gaining knowledge and understanding, and encouraging curiosity, rather than superficially memorizing information to earn a high grade. Social development is also important to us, so we plan to ensure that our children are involved in several different activities with their peers on a regular basis. The children’s program at our church provides one convenient arena for social development. We will also have our children participate in activities outside of the house such as sports, art, or music classes, and take advantage of home school groups in our area.

We believe it is important to raise children who are competent and responsible. One way we plan to do this is by teaching our kids life skills from an early age. I’ll always remember this simple rule that I learned in one of my child development classes: never do for a child something that he/she can do for him/herself. For example, when our child is able to bring his/her plate to the sink, then he/she will be asked to do so. When new skills are being learned, the tasks may not always be completed well, but the point is that the child starts learning how to do it. We will expect our kids to clean up after themselves, and contribute to the family’s well-being by helping with communal chores, as age permits. We will teach our kids how to cook, clean, manage money, communicate effectively, resolve conflict, and other important life skills. So many children grow up these days without even knowing how to do their laundry or cook a meal, and they end up struggling to live in the real world without the slightest idea of how to survive on their own. That is not what we want for our children; we want them to be competent in taking care of themselves.

Discouraging materialism is also of concern to us. Few things are more annoying, in my opinion, than children who are ungrateful and whine about stuff that they want. Kids will be kids, of course. But Cory and I believe that stuff should not be the “gods” of our lives. When collecting money and material possessions becomes our major concern in life, there is something wrong. Our objective in life should be to pursue God and the things of God, such as love, joy, peace, compassion, and wisdom. Enjoying the things that God blesses us with is a good thing! Yet this should be tempered with a thankful heart, concern for others, generosity, wisdom in how we use our money, and a focus on more eternal things. One way we hope to instill this attitude in our kids is by modeling it; we try to be thrifty and thoughtful when making purchases, and we help others with our financial blessings when possible. We also plan to limit the number of toys in our home; toys that aren’t played with should be donated, and before new toys come into the home our kids must choose some of their current toys to give away (we have some more specific rules in mind to clarify this, but I won’t bore you with them).

One final area of concern for us is health. We strive to find a balance between the over-zealous style of modern medicine and the opposite end of the spectrum, which is rejecting most or all standard medical care, often in favor of alternative medicine. Neither extreme feels comfortable for us. We believe that medical decisions should be well-informed and made carefully and prayerfully. God is our healer, and we will seek his healing power first; we also believe God gifts and empowers people to heal through medicine. We want to eliminate unnecessary interventions in our children’s healthcare, which means that for us, we will not be following the standard vaccination schedule, which we feel is excessive. Instead, we’ll follow our own well-researched, limited vaccination schedule. We also think it’s important to listen to our bodies; treating causes rather than covering up symptoms is something we try to do whenever possible. For example, headaches can often be treated with a glass of water, rest, and relaxation rather than a pill. As another example, praying for healing, using a humidifier at night, and drinking plenty of water has eliminated my allergy symptoms, and thus my need for daily allergy medicine. And of course, prevention is the best medicine of all. A healthy diet and exercise regime go a long way towards preventing illness! We will keep these concepts in mind as managers of our children’s health. Using “green” products in our home and on our bodies is also important to us for health and safety.

As you can see, choosing an intentional lifestyle covers many areas for us in our parenting vision. The overall goal here is to use careful consideration, research, discussion, wisdom, and of course prayer when we make decisions about how to live. Being intentional means that we do things the way that we do them for a reason. We want to live and parent on purpose—good parenting is not an accident.

In the next and final post about our parenting vision, I will share our thoughts on teaching safety and wisdom to our kids.

Thank you for reading, and feel free to comment below to share your thoughts!

Attachment Parenting

In my last post, I shared with you how important Cory and I feel it is to discuss and think about our future as parents. As this exciting time draws near, we’ve decided to write out a plan, or vision, for parenting. The first focus of our parenting vision is to keep God at the center by viewing our role as parents as a gift and ministry. Another aspect of raising our children that is very important to us is forming strong, trusting relationships with them and encouraging them to be compassionate and independent individuals. Attachment parenting is a philosophy that fits well with these goals, as it tends to produce children who are securely attached, independent, and compassionate.

Some of my readers may not be familiar with the term attachment parenting. According to the non-profit organization Attachment Parenting International, “The essence of Attachment Parenting is about forming and nurturing strong connections between parents and their children.” That is, of course, a simplified definition. Yet this idea of strong connections is at the core of attachment parenting. Specifically, there are 8 parenting practices that Attachment Parenting International (referred to as API from here on out) recommends. They are:

  1. Prepare for pregnancy, birth, and parenting
  2. Feed with love and respect
  3. Respond with sensitivity
  4. Use nurturing touch
  5. Ensure safe sleep, physically and emotionally
  6. Provide consistent and loving care
  7. Practice positive discipline
  8. Strive for balance in your personal and family life

Each of these principles provides a framework upon which parents are encouraged to build. API provides more details about the concepts, and tips for how they may be implemented, but it doesn’t tell parents what to do. There are a few areas in which API makes strong suggestions, such as breastfeeding and positive discipline without the use of physical punishment. For the most part, though, attachment parenting principles are flexible guidelines that focus on the goal of fostering a securely attached relationship between a child and his or her parents. There are no attachment parenting police who will enforce these principles; it’s simply a way to help parents form their parenting methods with attachment in mind.

We plan to implement these principles in our own specific ways. The first area, preparing for pregnancy, birth, and parenting, is obviously important to us; we like to think and educate ourselves about these things ahead of time! Writing our parenting vision is one way we reflect this. We’ve also done a lot of research and given consideration to our options for pregnancy care and birth. As a result, we’ve decided to prenatally care for and bring our babies into the world gently and naturally, with a midwife in a birth center. The documentary The Business of Being Born is a great resource for insight in this area (though I don’t recommend it if seeing women give birth bothers you).

The second area, feeding with love and respect, refers to a commitment to meeting your child’s nutritional needs and following his or her cues for feeding. Because of the many benefits of breastfeeding, we plan to breastfeed our babies, on demand, for at least the first year of life, and possibly for part of the second year as well. As they grow older, we will strive to balance respect for food preferences and our children’s cues as to when they are hungry and when they aren’t, with the importance of good nutrition.

The third principle, responding with sensitivity, means that we will respond to our babies’ cries and our older children’s voices. We will provide comfort and responsive care, and we won’t let our babies cry by themselves. The “cry it out” method, and sleep training in general, is not something we’ll be using. We won’t ignore our children or brush them off when they’re “annoying” to us—at least, it is our goal not to do so!

In the fourth area, using nurturing touch, we will remember to show plenty of affection through kisses, hugs, and cuddles. Babywearing, or keeping our baby in close contact with us using a sling, will also be an important part of our daily routine. We plan to use infant massage to promote bonding and relaxation.

The fifth API principle is ensuring safe sleep, physically and emotionally. Co-sleeping is one area that is most commonly associated with attachment parenting. Although the practice has become controversial, especially in the U.S., it is widely practiced around the world and it can be done safely. There are many benefits to co-sleeping, as long as the parents are willing to adapt to a new sleep arrangement. One option is to use a separate, but attached, sleeping area for the baby, such as a side-car bed or a twin mattress on the side of your bed. Cory and I plan to co-sleep, using this type of arrangement, as a way to make nighttime parenting more convenient; breastfeeding mothers tend to get more sleep when they co-sleep, since they can feed their babies without fully waking up. In our case, we have decided to co-sleep with our babies until they are ready to move to their own beds. Many attachment parenting families have a “family bed” in which children are welcome for as long as they wish. We plan to allow our children the freedom to sleep with us if they prefer, though we may start suggesting/preparing them to move to their own bedrooms around age five, if they’re still in our bed at that point. We believe co-sleeping will help our children develop a stronger connection with us and a healthy relationship with sleep, since it usually eliminates bedtime fears and battles.

Principle number six, providing consistent and loving care, means that we will spend as much time with our children as we can, while still providing balance for ourselves. We are fortunate in that I will be able to stay home with our children full-time—and that I have the desire to do so! It will be a priority for Cory to reconnect with our babies when he gets home from work every day, and to spend lots of quality time together as a family on the weekends. For the first years of their lives, we plan to keep separations from our children to a minimum. The only times we’ll both be away from them will be for short separations for things like date nights, and we will leave them with a trusted caregiver, most likely the baby’s grandparents.

The seventh area, practicing positive discipline, is one concept that I’ve learned a lot about in my studies of child development. It is very important to us that we discipline our children and teach them to be obedient, kind, and wise. Studies have shown that positive discipline, which focuses on gentle and respectful guidance, is a very effective way to help children develop into thoughtful, independent, and sincerely pro-social individuals. We will avoid the use of shaming, fear, or physical punishment to discipline our children. Some of the tools we will use instead include prevention, natural consequences, effective communication, and a lot of patience and understanding.

The eighth and final principle, keeping a balance in life, is one area that parents, especially highly devoted parents, may overlook. It seems that it can be all too easy to give everything you have to your child, not realizing that you have your own needs that must be met if you are to provide the best possible care. Cory and I want to remember to stay balanced in our lives as parents by taking care of our needs: eating well, getting exercise and sleep, using a support network of family and friends, taking time for ourselves to recharge, and spending time together as a couple. As co-sleepers, we will especially need to adapt to be more creative and spontaneous in intimacy; it’s important to us to keep the fire burning, even after we have kids! It is also particularly important for us to have time with God on a regular basis. God is our source of everything we need as a parent; we never want to cut him out of the equation because we “don’t have time.”

In order to keep this balance, we must be able to say “no” to our children at times. That doesn’t make us bad parents; it makes us parents who are balanced, and ultimately, that will benefit our children. On the other side of the coin, we will remember that parenting is an investment in our children, and when it’s so, so, so tiring and hard, we will remind ourselves that it gets easier. They will grow up and need us a lot less someday! If we want that future to be a bright one, we’re wise to invest in them in the early years.

In my next post, I’ll share the third facet of our parenting vision, which is choosing an intentional lifestyle.

What do you think about attachment parenting? If you’re a parent, have you used any of these principles? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts!

 

Resources:

Attachment Parenting International – http://www.attachmentparenting.org/

The Business of Being Born – Directed by Abby Epstein and produced by Ricki Lake
Available on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video

 

Our God-Vision for Parenting

As Cory and I wait and prepare for the next phase of our lives, we’re spending a lot of time discussing our ideal plan for parenting. While we know that we cannot fully prepare ourselves for the job, and that some things won’t be determined until we’re actually parents, we feel it’s important to think about these things ahead of time. We enjoy reading, researching, discussing, and analyzing various aspects of parenting, and deciding how we would like to do things. Throughout our discussions, we’ve started to discover a parenting vision for ourselves.

We have faith that our journey into parenthood is drawing closer now, so we decided to sit down and write a detailed “parenting vision” as a way to guide our choices and clarify our values in terms of how we’d like to raise our children. This blueprint gives us a way to organize our thoughts and begin truly preparing ourselves for the wonderful and demanding task ahead of us. At the same time, we realize that different aspects of our plan may need to be adjusted, amended, or even abandoned as we journey through parenthood. Our plan is something that will likely always be evolving and in need of further refinement. Writing down our parenting vision gives us a foundation to build on as we begin our parenting careers.

One sentence to describe our parenting ideal could be this: We want to raise our children in a way that is centered on God and guided by love, faith, respect, and wisdom. We have also found that the principles of attachment parenting mesh well with our ideals, and integrated them into our vision. Based on this, we created our plan for parenting with four different key areas in mind: putting God at the center, using attachment parenting principles, choosing an intentional lifestyle, and teaching safety and wisdom. Our parenting vision document is lengthy, but I wanted to share a summarized version of the aspects most important to us. In this post, I will focus on the first key area, putting God at the center.

Putting God at the center means that we view our parenting as a ministry, first. We believe that as parents, we will have the opportunity to raise up new members of God’s Kingdom. Our children have the potential to make huge differences in the world for God; they may grow up to be church leaders, people who help the needy, missionaries, healers, founders of world-bettering organizations, influential speakers or writers, or artists who bring more beauty into the world. They may grow up to be husbands and wives and parents to another generation; they will be friends, lovers, employees, employers, thinkers, decision-makers, and citizens. We have a huge role to play in how they turn out. Our job as parents will be to do our best to raise our children into adults who use their lives for God.

Not only is parenting a ministry, it’s a gift and a responsibility. We are entrusted with the care of impressionable, unique, and immensely valued individuals; precious children of God. When he gives us a child, it will be an amazing blessing. It will mean that he believes we have the ability to be parents worthy of the honor of caring for one of his children. What an incredible responsibility and opportunity to serve our Lord! As such, we want to do it for our God by keeping him front and center. Our parenting careers, and our children, will be dedicated to God.

There are many practical ways that we can keep our focus on God. We plan to pray for and with our children daily. We will read and teach them the Bible, and provide resources for each child’s individual spiritual growth. We will be a family involved and connected at church. Spiritual matters will be a topic we discuss openly in our daily conversations; we will answer questions, encourage curiosity, and help our children come to know God in a genuine, personal relationship through Jesus Christ. Overall, we will raise our children in an environment of love, grace, faith, and truth. We will also rely on God as our first and best source of help and success at the monumental task of raising members of the next generation. His supernatural intervention is what we ultimately rely on for the protection, provision, health, behavior, and success of our children. We can’t do it alone and we wouldn’t want to!

In my next post, I’ll share the basics of attachment parenting, and how we plan to use it in our parenting philosophy.

Parental Guidance Suggested – Part 5

This is the fifth and final post in my Parental Guidance Suggested series. I’ve been writing not from the perspective of a parent, but from the perspective of somebody who has studied child development (and is continuing to study it) and has had some experience working with children. That being said, I do not want to pretend that I know how to parent a child, because I’ve never done it! I have tremendous respect for all of the parents out there, and I hope that my posts have been informative and helpful. When I do become a parent, I plan to post a lot about my real-life experiences and how I apply what I’ve learned in my studies. I want to be the best parent that I can be, and this series has been a way for me to record all of the methods that I want to use when the time comes.

In this post, I want to discuss proactive guidance through establishing rules, as well as defining misbehavior. Discipline is important and necessary for every child, and the first step in disciplining is to decide what behavior you expect from a child. I think that one of the most important things to remember is to keep reasonable expectations. A long time ago, a friend gave me this simple piece of parenting advice: “save your no’s!” If you say “no” to every little thing that your child does or wants to do, the word becomes meaningless. It is so important for us to think carefully and critically about what kinds of behavior are truly unacceptable.

One of the books that I’ve been reading, Positive Child Guidance by Darla Ferris Miller, offers these guidelines when it comes to deciding when and how to intervene in a child’s behavior: ignore mildly annoying behavior that is not against the ground rules, immediately interrupt behavior that is harmful or unfair, assertively shape positive behavior (by teaching the rules and encouraging good choices), and adapt situations to remove possible causes of problem behavior. Let’s look at each of these concepts in more detail.

First, we need to decide what behaviors need to be stopped. A behavior that is annoying, but otherwise harmless, can usually be ignored. Remember, we want the word “no” to be reserved for things that are truly important! There are three general rules, called the three ground rules, that can be used to determine whether a specific rule is necessary.  The three ground rules are be safe, be respectful, and be responsible.

The rule be safe prohibits children from 1) intentionally harming themselves or others, and 2) taking risks that are unnecessary and/or can lead to serious injury. It is important to realize that literally everything a person can do has some risk. Driving a car, eating, and even walking all present risks because we live in a dangerous world; car accidents, choking, food poisoning, tripping and falling are all risks that we take on a daily basis, because we have to. The same idea can be applied to children. Kids need to be allowed to run, play, climb, and explore. Sometimes, they will fall. Sometimes, they will even bleed. This is a normal part of being a human. The rule be safe means that children cannot do things that are too risky, or risky unnecessarily. Hanging off the outside rail on a tall playground would be too risky for a 3 year old, and throwing sand would be unnecessarily risky for anyone (because sand hurts when it gets in peoples’ eyes, and there’s no good reason to throw sand anyway!). This, of course, still leaves plenty of room for parental discretion. The idea is to give children the least restrictive environment that is reasonably safe.

The rule be respectful is also sometimes phrased as be kind. The idea is that we need to respect the rights of others. Children should be taught to respect others’ rights to be safe, avoid unnecessary discomfort, have their possessions, be given privacy when possible, and be treated fairly. A child who pushes another child is breaking this rule (and the first rule) because they are denying the other child’s right to be safe and avoid unnecessary discomfort. Yelling in somebody’s ear, taking somebody else’s toy, and bullying are all behaviors that should not be allowed, based on this rule.

Sharing is of special concern. Many people have strange ideas about children and sharing; they seem to believe that sharing means you must immediately give up anything that you are using if somebody else wants it. Yet in the real world, when somebody is using something (whether it’s something that he or she owns or a communal object) it would be rude and unacceptable for another person to grab it away. We should teach children to be generous and altruistic because they want to, not because they have no choice. When a child is using a toy, crayon, swing, or any other communal object, he has the right to continue using it until he is finished. The rule be respectful is both a protection and a boundary.

The final rule, be responsible, means that a behavior is not allowed if it unreasonably harms the environment, animals, or objects. Leaving messes without cleaning up after oneself, purposefully hurting animals for fun, and intentionally breaking community belongings are all examples of behavior that should not be allowed.

As you can see, these rules are simple and easy to remember, and they can logically support many other necessary and important rules. It is easier for a child (and a caregiver) to remember the three ground rules than it is to remember a thousand little rules like “no throwing sand,” “no pushing,” and “no throwing trash on the ground.” When a child breaks one of the ground rules, a caregiver can simply say “Be safe! Don’t push others, because that can hurt them,” or “Be responsible! Clean up your spilled water.” This way, children understand clearly why the rules are in place, and they are more likely to follow them.

Another useful concept is related to objects, and how children should be allowed to use them. Misusing objects often means breaking one or more ground rule, so children can be helped to remember to be safe, be respectful, and be responsible by thinking about objects in three categories: toys, tools, and weapons. Some objects fit into only one category, and should only be used in one way. A toy baby bottle should be used to play with, but not as a tool to drink from or put in the mouth, or as a weapon to throw at somebody. A metal fork should be used as a tool to eat, but not as a toy or weapon. A weapon certainly should not be used as a toy or a tool— in fact, children should be taught to recognize the danger of weapons such as guns and knives and tell a trusted adult immediately if they see one, but that’s a topic for another day.

Some objects can fit into multiple categories. A stick can be a toy if it is used as a pretend magic wand, or as a tool if it is used to reach something, or even as a weapon if it is used to hit or jab somebody. Children may be allowed to use a stick as a toy or a tool, but never as a weapon. In fact, children should not be allowed to use any object as a weapon except for appropriate self-defense. Helping children identify correct uses for objects can teach them critical thinking and help them remember to be respectful.

When a child breaks a ground rule or misuses an object, it is the caregiver’s responsibility to intervene. Caregivers can stop problem behaviors by intervening “as firmly as necessary but as gently as possible” (from Positive Child Guidance). A child who is biting another child must be physically removed from the situation, but it can still be done with gentleness.

That being said, it is important to recognize that sometimes what we perceive as misbehaving is actually the result of an accident or misunderstanding. Food and drinks are spilled, pages are ripped, and lamps are broken, often purely by accident. Messes are made when children misunderstand instructions. Children should not be scolded or punished for accidents or misunderstandings, though, because they are not intentionally misbehaving. They can, however, be encouraged to make reparations by helping to clean up messes, tape pages back together, etc.

Even when children do misbehave, there are often reasons that we need to consider and address. Children commonly misbehave out of boredom, discomfort, lack of self-control, peer pressure, frustration, the need for attention, and rebellion from being pushed too hard or treated unfairly. Although children will eventually need to learn to control themselves even in these difficult situations, we can and should have empathy for children when they are still struggling to learn self-control. It would be silly to expect a two-year old to sit still and be quiet when he’s bored, hungry, and frustrated! We should always consider the circumstances of misbehavior before we correct a child. Of course, that doesn’t mean that we can’t correct a behavior and improve the circumstance at the same time. It all depends on the specifics of the situation.

The goal of positive child guidance is to help children to grow, learn self-control, and reach their full potential with minimal need for punishment. Setting clear and logical expectations for behavior and enforcing the rules in a positive way through appropriate discipline are probably the two most useful concepts that I’ve learned. That, and the fact that babies are babies and should be treated as such. Personally, I’m look forward to putting these principles into practice with my own children in the future.

What about you? What experiences have you had with parenting and trying out different approaches? What has worked for you, and what hasn’t? I’d love to hear about it in the comments, below!

Parental Guidance Suggested – Part 4

Well hi there! It’s been a while since I’ve been able to post— life has been busy lately. But I’m back now, and ready to continue my series on positive parenting. This week I’m writing about the special needs of infants and toddlers.

According to child development experts, infants are children under age two. That may be surprising to some people! I know that it surprised me when I first learned it. By age two, most children know how to walk, run, talk (with a limited vocabulary), and yes, get into “trouble” and throw tantrums. Yet children under two years of age are still considered babies! The significance of this is that parenting needs to be different for babies than it is for older children. Most importantly, infants cannot be expected to behave according to adult standards. Not only do they not understand the world the way we do, but they lack the ability to control themselves.

In other words, children under age two are essentially incapable of truly misbehaving. They don’t intentionally do things that we consider “naughty.” Instead, they act based on what they think and feel. They are actually incapable of understanding that we have a different point of view than them. In their minds, we and every other person and thing that they see exists only for their sake. The world quite literally revolves around them!

When I was a nanny, I did not always see things this way. Many times I felt positive that the little 11 month old boy that I was caring for did things intentionally to bother me. When he threw his bottle, it was because he wanted to upset me. When he didn’t want to go down for a nap, it was because he didn’t want me to be able to rest. And as silly as these thoughts may sound now, they seemed logical then! Why? Because even as babies, human beings are intelligent. I saw his natural intelligence and let it convince me that he was just a miniature person. But the truth is, while babies are people, they are not fully developed people. While they are intelligent, they are not capable of the same complex kinds of thoughts that we are. And babies don’t misbehave intentionally, because they don’t understand what misbehaving even is.

The point is, there is no place for discipline of any kind when it comes to caring for babies. Infants need responsive care and a safe environment to explore. Discipline can (and definitely should) come later, when the child is capable of understanding it.

So what is responsive care, and why is it so important? According to a famous developmental psychologist, Erik Erikson, children go through two stages of psychosocial development in the first two years of life. The first stage is called “trust versus mistrust,” and it is experienced during approximately the first year of life. In this stage, babies must learn to trust in their caregivers and the world around them. They must develop a sense of security in this first year of life if they are to grow up with the best possible outcomes.

The second stage, experienced in the second year of life, is called “independence versus doubt and shame.” In this stage, young toddlers must develop a sense of independence in certain areas, such as learning how to care for themselves to some degree. Learning to use the potty, put on clothing, feed oneself, and explore independently from their parents are some of these important skills. If toddlers are allowed and encouraged to try to do some things for themselves, they will develop a sense of independence. If they are overprotected, discouraged, or shamed, them they will likely develop a sense of guilt and a lack of confidence.

Using these concepts, we can understand that the most important thing for parents to give young babies is consistent and responsive care. This means that babies should be picked up promptly when they cry, and their needs taken care of. Sometimes, babies cry even when they aren’t hungry, in need of a diaper change, or uncomfortable. This doesn’t mean that they need attention any less. In a way, it can be said that babies sometimes cry to test their caregivers. This is not intentional testing, of course, but it is the way in which babies develop that sense of security that I explained earlier. They learn that if they cry, and then receive attention, then they can trust their caregivers.

There is a method known as “cry it out” that some caregivers use, and I myself have used in the past before I began studying child development. When a baby is crying, the caregiver ensures that he is not hungry, has a clean diaper, and is not otherwise uncomfortable. After the baby’s physical needs are met, and the caregiver cannot find a way to make him stop crying, the caregiver will put him in a secure place such as a crib, and then leave him to cry. This is especially used when trying to get young infants and toddlers to nap. Unfortunately, this method ignores the psychological needs of the infant, including the need to develop a sense of security! As harmless as it may sound, I would not recommend using “cry it out” when caring for an infant. Although all of a baby’s physical needs may be met, she still has emotional and psychological needs that are important. Even if a baby continues to cry as you hold her and try to comfort her, the fact that you are trying is what’s important. Through the process of soothing the infant, you can show her that you will always be there to comfort her.

As babies grow older and become toddlers (still infants, technically speaking!) they need care that changes to match their needs. Toddlers need to develop a sense of independence, which happens best in a safe environment for them to explore. Since toddlers learn rapidly, they need a variety of interesting things to play with and space to freely explore. Since they are also innocent to the dangers of the world, they also need very close supervision and a caregiver who will ensure that the playthings and spaces the baby has access to are safe. Toddlers should never be scolded or put in time out, and especially not for getting into things that are “off limits.” It is the caregiver’s job to ensure that the baby doesn’t have access to such things. If a toddler does manage to get into things that are “off limits,” as a result of his natural and healthy curiosity, the caregiver should simply redirect him to something more appropriate.

As an infant approaches his or her second birthday, and then continues on through childhood, there is a period of transition in which caregivers must learn to gradually introduce positive discipline. Obviously, a child doesn’t instantly become mature enough to understand rules and discipline overnight on her second birthday. Instead, she slowly but surely becomes ready to accept guidance and learn self-control. Caregivers must patiently adapt to a child’s needs and growing abilities, introducing discipline when the child is ready.

In my next post I will write more about this transition period, including how to introduce proactive guidance techniques and begin to establish rules.

What do you think is important in infant care? What kinds of things have you learned from experience? Post a comment below to share your thoughts!

Parental Guidance Suggested – Part 3

In my last post, I wrote about alternatives to punishment and the benefits of positive discipline. Today I want to address some of my thoughts on related topics, including time-outs, tantrums, and considerations regarding the age, temperament, and ability of a child.

Time-out has such a friendly ring to it. It’s the “gentle way” to punish children, and many people use it as a way to enforce good behavior. But does time-out actually work? And is it really as positive as it sounds?

As I explained in my last post, punishment is different than discipline and I believe that the latter is much preferred. When we punish children, we pay them back for misbehavior and teach them to behave based on external motivation. When we positively guide and discipline children, we teach them to make better decisions based on internal motivation— they learn to do good because they want to, or at the very least because they know that it’s the right thing to do. Positive discipline supports a child’s need for a sense of security by teaching them right from wrong, and seeks to promote good behavior. Punishment aims to improve children’s behavior as well, but it can often lead to rebellion and resentment. I believe that positive discipline is the way to go when it comes to guiding children.

As innocent as it may seem, time-out is almost always used as a form of punishment. Children talk back to their parents, hit others, refuse to listen, or throw their toys, and adults retaliate by telling them to sit in time-out. “You sit here for five minutes and think about what you did.” Does that usually end with the child apologizing willingly and then changing the bad behavior? Not in my experience. Whenever I’ve resorted to time-out it has only made the child behave worse or throw a tantrum. Or it’s a battle to actually get the kid to stay in the “time-out chair” for any period of time. So what’s going on? Isn’t time-out supposed to be better than spanking or other physical punishment?

Well, yes and no. If you ask me, time-out is absolutely preferable to physical punishment, which can be harmful in more than one way. But time-out is still punishment, and I believe that punishment is not the best way to discipline children. It is negative and it has negative results. Instead, I would suggest using positive discipline strategies such as those I mentioned in my last post.

However, there are situations in which time-outs can be used positively, instead of as a punishment. Having a “cool-down” area in the home or classroom gives children a space in which to calm down when they become overly upset or out of control. This is particularly useful to combat tantrums. Children are emotionally immature and they have trouble controlling themselves when they feel strong emotions. Even as adults, we have trouble controlling ourselves when we become emotional! The result in children (and some adults :P) is usually a tantrum. We can deal with tantrums with the help of a time-out corner. However, it may be preferable to call it “cool-down” or “time-away” instead of time-out, since we do not want children to associate it with punishment.

When a toddler or a young child has a tantrum, an adult can gently but firmly move the child to the cool-down area. There, the adult can allow the child to cry, express frustration, sit quietly and think, or do whatever else that he or she needs to do to calm down. Some children may want the comfort of a caregiver’s physical touch, while others may want privacy. The important thing is that the child is able to calm down and regain control of his or her behavior. A cool-down area can also be available for any child to go to any time he or she feels the need. Sometimes, cool-down time may be more helpful for the caregiver than the child! In any case, this is obviously very different from the punishment known as time-out.

While we are on the topic of tantrums, I want to bring up the very important consideration of a child’s age. As I’ve said before, children want and need guidance in their lives, and discipline is important when caring for a child. That being said, there is an age limit for when discipline is appropriate! It is not appropriate (or useful) to try to teach an infant to behave. Before children reach age 2 or 3, they are not developed enough cognitively or emotionally to control their behavior, follow rules, or understand punishment. While I believe that punishment is never the best way to discipline, it is especially important to never punish a baby. They don’t understand, and it can be very harmful to their developing sense of trust in the world and in people.

For infants and young toddlers, the best method is to redirect inappropriate behavior. It’s not okay to stand by and let a toddler bang another kid on the head, so we should intervene to stop the behavior as gently as possible and redirect them towards another activity. As children grow older, it becomes appropriate to explain the rules at a level that they can understand, and gradually start to discipline them as they become ready to learn self-control.

Temperament is another important aspect to consider. Every child is different, and children do not always respond the same way to the same circumstances. A parent knows his or her child best, and can best determine which techniques are the most effective for positively disciplining that particular child. Some children may be motivated to change a behavior simply by an adult saying “It would be helpful if you did/didn’t do _____.” Other children may have to experience the natural consequences of their behavior— sometimes many times— before becoming motivated to change. Within one family or classroom, caregivers will need to learn to respond in the best way for each individual child.

Finally, it is necessary to consider a child’s abilities when disciplining him or her. Children who have disabilities or ability differences require special techniques in their discipline. Since each kind of disability is different, it is important for caregivers in these situations to learn about each child’s particular disability and needs. In general, though, it is important to recognize when a child’s behavior is due to his or her disability, versus when he or she is truly misbehaving and needs to be disciplined. We should never expect a child to behave in a way that is beyond his or her ability, but we also must strive to have as high of expectations as are reasonably possible for each child. As difficult a job as it is, we must adapt to the child’s needs, not the other way around.

Those are my thoughts on time-outs, tantrums, and special considerations. What do you think about these issues? Leave me a comment and share your thoughts!

In my next post, I will write about the special needs of infants and young toddlers in positive parenting. I hope you come back to read it! And if you like my blog, please subscribe to get updates by email. 🙂

Parental Guidance Suggested – Part 2

In my last post, I wrote about different parenting styles. I also mentioned the downfalls of physical punishment, and explained why according to child development experts today, it is not an acceptable method of discipline.

Discipline is still important, however. Permissive parents typically avoid disciplining their children because they believe that children should figure things out for themselves. This is not the best approach to parenting, however. The simple truth is that children need guidance to learn right from wrong. If we expect children to grow up to be functioning members of our society, then we need to socialize them appropriately. Children raised without discipline are not happier than other children, because children crave security. They look to adults to be in control, and it can be quite frightening and confusing to them when they are expected to figure everything out by themselves. Giving children discipline simply means providing guidance, necessary rules, and enforcement of those rules. This is different from punishment, which involves “paying children back” for misbehavior.

It is true that in our society, breaking the rules usually does lead to punishment of some kind. It might make sense, then, to teach children that misbehaving leads to punishment. After all, it is important for us to raise children to prepare them for life in our society. But on the other hand, as individual adults interacting with individual children, we have an opportunity to do better. Our society is big, and in order to maintain some semblance of control we resort to extrinsic motivation. We punish and reward citizens to encourage appropriate behavior. When we are working with children, though, we have an opportunity to guide them towards intrinsic control— self-control based on an inner desire to do right. We can nurture this desire in children by using positive guidance techniques instead of negative punishment.

The school of thought known as positive child guidance asserts that punishment is not the best way to guide children. Again, children do need discipline, but punishment may not be the best way to provide it. Discipline means giving correction and guidance with the goal of helping the child to make better decisions in the future, whereas punishment is usually more about “giving the child what he or she deserves” for a bad decision. Punishment may or may not actually improve the child’s behavior in the future, but it does often lead to resentment and rebellion. So how can we enforce our rules without punishment? Positive disciplinary methods are an option.

The book How to Talk So Kids Can Learn: At Home and in School by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish is one of the books that we used in my Child Guidance class. It is full of very useful tools to help parents and teachers to be more effective. One of the chapters is about alternatives to punishment. In this chapter, the author explains that the intent of punishment is usually to hurt, deprive, or get back at a child in order to teach them a lesson. On the other hand, the intent of positive guidance is to help the child learn self-discipline. A child who learns self-discipline is more prepared for a productive, positive life as an adult than a child who learns to behave to avoid punishment.

The book offers six alternatives to punishment. The first is to point out a way to be helpful. For example, if a child is upset and starts to yell at his/her parent, the parent can say “I understand that you are frustrated right now. It would be helpful if you could express yourself without yelling.” The second alternative is to express your strong disapproval without attacking the child’s character. In this same example, the parent could say “I feel very upset when people yell at me.” A third alternative is to state your expectations; “I expect you to express yourself without yelling at me.” A fourth alternative is to show the child how to make amends for the inappropriate behavior. A parent could say “I would like you to come up with a list of some other ways for you to express your feelings without yelling at me.”

If the child still does not cooperate, the parent can offer a choice. For example, “You can scream into or punch your pillow, or you can take a few deep breaths and calm down.” Finally, the sixth alternative is to let the child experience the natural consequences of his or her actions. It is important that the consequences are not punishments, but instead logical repercussions of what he or she has done. The parent can say “When you yell at me, I feel too upset to talk to you anymore and I cannot help you with your problem.” Then, the parent should follow through by walking away and letting the child experience the natural consequence— that nobody wants to be around somebody who takes out their anger on others by yelling at them.

The point in all of these alternatives to punishment is that a negative behavior is not ignored. If a child does something that breaks a family rule, he or she should be confronted about it. Depending on the specific misdeed, certain techniques may be more appropriate than others. For example, if one child hits another then it would not be enough to simply say “I expect you to use your words to express yourself instead of hitting.” That would be a great start, but it is also important to show the child that she needs to make amends or else suffer the consequences. We can suggest that she apologize, but only if she feels sincerely sorry. We can also suggest other ways for her to make amends, such as inviting the other child to play or offering a hug. The point is that the child is encouraged, but not forced to make up for what she did. If a child is not sorry for doing something bad, or refuses to make amends, then allowing her to experience the natural consequences may be the best option. A child who hits another and then refuses to apologize will probably be left out at playtime. We can then talk to the child about why she is being left out and once again encourage her to make amends.

Now I know that all of this may sound naive. I personally have a hard time believing that this could really work at times. But then I realize that these methods really do work for many people. The stories are out there! And I think about the difference that I felt as a child when I received a punishment versus when somebody simply told me they were disappointed in me. When I was punished, I felt angry, sad, resentful, or victimized. When I was told that I had disappointed somebody, I felt disappointed in myself and then I felt motivated to improve.

Imagine that you are a child and you have just said a bad word in a moment of anger. Think about which of the following you would rather hear: “If I ever hear you say that word again, I’ll wash your mouth out with soap!” or “That word really upsets me. I’d like to see a list of other words that you can use to express your anger.” The first option might make you feel rebellious, but the second option seems more likely to make you feel appropriately convicted of what you did, and then encouraged to do better. You might even feel empowered to control your tongue by the list of alternative words that you come up with. And in the end, you learn not to use curse words out of courtesy for others instead of to avoid punishment. For me, it seems pretty clear that positive guidance is a much more attractive, and in the end a more effective, way to discipline.

In my next post, I will address time-outs, tantrums, and age/temperament/ability considerations related to discipline. There is so much to write about on this topic, and I’m very excited to share my thoughts with you!

Parental Guidance Suggested – Part 1

I recently finished a child development class called Child Guidance, and I want to share some of the great things that I learned through it, and through all of the child development classes that I’ve taken over the last year or so. Even though I’m not a parent yet, I will be someday and I plan to use many of the things that I’ve learned to be the best parent that I can be. Personally, I think that every parent (and future parent) and every person who works with children or plans to should take a few classes in child development. Understanding the principles of how children develop and the best ways to guide them could seriously improve the lives of so many families, teachers, child-care workers, and children!

One of the first and most prevalent things that I have learned through these classes is the concept of parenting styles. Child development experts generally identify three to four types of parenting styles. They are called authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and neglectful. Neglectful parenting style is sometimes lumped in with permissive, but many experts believe that they are two very different things, and I would have to agree. In neglectful parenting, the parents don’t care about the child’s well-being and do not put in effort to support, discipline, or in any way raise the child. This, of course, is a form of child abuse and should never be seen as a valid choice for parents; children whose parents are neglectful need help, and the parents need help too, to correct the problem.

In permissive parenting, the parents care about the child and put in effort to keep the child healthy and happy; however, they do not believe in discipline and they allow their child to do whatever he or she wants. Permissive parents believe that the child will find his or her own path in life, and they try to interfere as little as possible. At the other end of the spectrum is authoritarian parenting. Authoritarian parents want their children to respect their authority to the point of instant and blind obedience. They expect children to do as they are told and not voice their thoughts or opinions. They often use corporal (physical) punishment, such as spanking, to punish their children for misbehavior. It is important for me to clarify that most permissive and authoritarian parents love their children very much, and they choose their parenting style (usually without making a conscious decision) because they believe that it is what is best for their child. These parents are not bad parents; they are simply misguided and have likely never been told (or have not believed) that there is a better way.

The research is pretty clear, though, that there is a better way. The authoritative parenting style is sort of like a middle ground between permissive and authoritarian styles. In authoritative parenting, the parents establish reasonable guidelines for behavior and expect the child to follow them. They are more democratic than authoritarian parents, as they allow the child to voice opinions and they often work with the child to think through and establish rules. They are willing to reason with the child, but they also consistently and firmly enforce the rules. Whereas the authoritarian parent might say “Do as I say, because I said so,” and the permissive parent might say “Do whatever you think is right,” the authoritative parent is more likely to say “You must do this because __________.” Authoritative parents have reasons for their rules, and they explain these reasons (sometimes over and over again) to help the child understand why they are important.

While the topic of physical punishment is a touchy one, it is important to address it. There is a wealth of evidence to support the argument that physical punishment is not effective as a means of guiding children. Simply put, we do not want to teach our children that hitting or hurting people is the right way to solve problems. We want to raise our children to be productive members of our society, and in our society, using physical force against others to “teach them a lesson” is not appropriate. Besides, most child development experts agree that corporal punishment is less effective and can have many more negative repercussions than other types of discipline. There are many alternatives out there, and I will share a few of them that I have learned about in my next post.

Combining an authoritative parenting style with appropriate discipline techniques is a great way to aspire to raising children. Although no parent (or teacher/child care worker/relative/etc.) will ever be perfect, we can and should try our best to treat children as the valued individuals that they are. If we do, the result will likely be a generation of strong, self-controlled, productive, and happy kids.