Parenting can be SO CONFUSING these days!
And I can say this with some authority, considering I had a baby 19 years ago, then another just three years ago, and another a mere three months ago.
The difference in parenting styles and techniques, when comparing almost two decades ago to today, is profound!
I raised my first baby during a time when we did not have internet in our home. There was no tiny computer with access to the Google universe at my fingertips. If I wanted a resource on parenting, I had to journey to my college library and use an actual card catalog!
The parenting trends those days were slowly gravitating away from the adage that if you “spare the rod you spoil the child,” though most parents still spanked their kids when situations were severe.
The mainstream child development theories revolved around a baby’s ability to manipulate parents, and that every baby needed to learn how to self-soothe.
Cry-it-out was the household norm, as mothers everywhere would sit outside their baby’s bedroom door with an egg-timer, checking on them at the 5, 7 and 15-minute windows.
Today, our newsfeed is filled with crunchy granola mom blogs, how to co-sleep safely, strategies for getting your toddler to learn sign language, and the idea that you can never spoil a baby too much. Attachment parenting, extended breastfeeding, and potty-trained infants are household concepts.
The mainstream parenting theories of today have changed so much, even within the past two years, let alone two decades ago!
It's confusing. How do we know which method to follow?
How do we know we are employing the correct strategy when parenting our tantrum-throwing toddler?
Should we put them in time-out, or will the two-minute period of isolation forever damage their ability to trust?
Sometimes, more information is not a good thing.
I, for one, felt paralyzed as a parent in my 30’s because there was just SO. MUCH. ADVICE. As an 18-year-old parent, I just did what my pediatrician and my mom told me what to do. Enough said.
But here is what I’ve come to realize.
No one knows what goes on inside the head of a four-year-old.
No one understands why the infant cries when the dog barks but laughs when big sister screams.
And when the toddler throws the wild, drama-filled tantrum at consistent intervals throughout the day? We don’t know why they do that either.
I mean, there are theories, and many people, much smarter than I, will tell you what is happening in the neurological pathways of the growing infant…but really. No one knows, for a fact, why our children behave the way they do; Except them perhaps.
But unfortunately, when they are young, they are unable to clue us in on the rollercoaster of emotions taking place in their universe.
So then, what do we, the loving and diligent parents, do?
Especially when our toddlers lean toward the drama-tantrum-little-bit-crazy side of the emotional spectrum?
The only thing we can do. We manage our minds.
I mean really, that’s what all those child psychologists are helping you do anyways. They come up with developmental theories to explain our Children's behavior, and these theories help inform our thoughts about our children’s behavior.
How you THINK about your child’s behavior, will inform how you feel when they act that way. And how you feel, will determine your actions at that moment, producing a particular result.
Case in point: If you believe the thought “children should be seen and not heard” you will most likely feel agitated when your toddler has loud outbursts in the grocery store. That feeling of agitation will inform your actions and results, and you would be more likely to respond with authoritarian manner (i.e., stern reprimands, inflexible demands, even spanking).
If you’re struggling to direct your child’s behavior; if it seems as if they are always screaming, throwing tantrums, or acting overly-dramatic, then the most important thing you can do as a parent, is deciding what you want to THINK about your child.
If you think your child is overly-dramatic and a problematic toddler, your brain will look for evidence to confirm this bias (the confirmation bias). Even when the kiddo is being appropriate, you will see the negative. This is just how our human brain works. It wants to confirm our thoughts to be true.
So if you’re struggling with your child’s behaviors (no matter how old they are), the most important thing to do is decide HOW you want to think about their actions.
You can choose to see your daughter’s outburst as overly-dramatic (which would elicit a response in you that supports this theory), or you could decide to see your daughter’s behavior as her immature yet emotionally sensitive way of communicating her needs.
Can you see how your response to her behavior would be so different if you were to subscribe to the second line of thinking?
I like the thought that we are all just flight attendants, managing our children as they ride the emotionally turbulent journey of emotional development. And like the flight attendant, if they are calm and controlled during a particularly bumpy flight, we will also be calm. Likewise, if the flight attendant were to lose their cool during a turbulent flight, we would respond with panic (ever seen the movie Airplane? Passengers, get into crash position!). Our children look to us for that cue to be calm when they are experiencing turbulence.
If we are not managing our thoughts while our kids are struggling, then we add to the internal chaos they are already experiencing.
In my journey with my daughter, I would imagine myself as that flight attendant, calmly reading a book while my toddler stormed about in an emotional rage.
By managing how we think about our children's behaviors, we can direct our actions to produce a result in that situation that is far more desirable.
In short, yes all those books on child development can help us work with and modify our children’s behaviors. But you can cut right to the chase by just deciding what you want to think about their behavior.
Choose a thought that will help you feel in control, loving, and peaceful. And let your instincts guide your actions. When coming from a place of love and internal peace, your super-mom powers will shine through.
How do you want to think about your child’s behavior?
How do you want to feel?
When you direct your thoughts in a way that produces a positive emotion about your child’s behavior, you can’t go wrong.
Trust your gut wise momma.
You know what to do.