Oct 28, 2009

Parenting: A Study of Frustration

The parenting study group, like parenting itself, was frustrating. We listened to an excellent Kim John Payne CD about how the parenting technique many of us use - behavior modification - is wrong. Every time we say "Good job", with the best affirming and confidence-building intentions, we are actually moving our child away from intrinsic to extrinsic motivation.

So now we've heard about the problem, but what about the solution. The CD was turned off just as Payne was about to outline a different model. Ugh! I want to know the "Right Way", and I want it now!

But frustration - or more generally, identifying the problem - is the first step, and that's all we were trying to do. We now have 3 weeks to watch our parenting patterns, see what works and what doesn't, recognize our own triggers, revisit ourselves and our children through a new lens. By the time we come together to hear Kim John Payne's ideas, we'll be listening with a keener ear and open heart, and with thousands of little insights arising out of the frustration. We'll probably have stumbled across some new ideas to share even before the "expert" CD clicks on.

Frustration aside, it was a lovely gathering, with two powerful moments for me. The first was reflecting on how Ruth so effectively manages the KG classroom with expectation rather than questioning language ("We'll be cleaning the table now"), but when some parents use the same phrasing it still comes out as a question and is shrugged off the same way by the children. The difference is in the confidence and genuine expectation of the adult, regardless of the words used. When we are strong in ourselves, not bluffing or hoping or pleading, the children listen and respond (more often, at least).

"If you ask for their compliance now, you'll be pleading for it later." - Kim John Payne

A minute after this lightbulb went off for me, one mother shared her beautiful story that affirmed the whole lesson.

"Yesterday we had a wonderful morning, got out to the car on time with no complaints. Then the dog was too tired from the weekend hiking to get in the car, and my daughter had a meltdown. She wasn't going to school, wasn't getting in the car, she hated me. I told her we were going now and started the car. She got in, but still hated me and wasn't going to get out at the parking lot.

When we arrived I got out and calmly said that I was going to the classroom. She stayed until I was about to turn the corner of the building, then ran to catch up. But she wasn't going to go into the classroom. I said goodbye at the line-up, then turned and walked back toward the car. I had a friend walk with me and look back for me, to see that she was greeting the teacher and heading inside.

At the end of the day she told me she'd had an awful day. But not because of being forced to go to school. Because she didn't get her hug and kiss goodbye. I'd set a strong boundary and she was thankful for it."


  1. Hi Ricky - this is a really timely post. Here on Kitchener Street we're dealing with these issues so many times throughout the day and your thoughts/reflections are useful to get me really looking at the core values that I want to hold as I parent. Thanks and look forward to more on this... xoxo

  2. Hello Ricky and Har-yuens,

    I am really with you on the behaviour modification issue. I have the advantage of having been responsible for other people's children before having my own which gave me opportunity to reflect for years on what values would be important to me as a parent.

    We started early on with the idea of communicating our intentions and expectations. Saying, "We will do this now" or "you may do this " insteasd of "will you please?" or "could you just". When my intentions and expectations are clear to me, they are to the children, and the day goes more smoothly.

    Yes, we still have non-compliance. However, I see that difficulties that arise *usually* result, not from any defiant nature of my children, but from my lack of rest or clear headedness, or even my own insecurities (perhaps I have spent a couple nights away from the children and am feeling guilty), resulting in a blurring of my own intentions and expectations.

    We find that ritual and routine helps reinforce our intentions, expectations and our children's will to meet us there. Even when I am not in top form, if the routine is in place, the expectation can be carried, to a certain extent, by the routine. We find that giving the children a task as part of the routine helps E.g. Watching me mix oils in a seashell and then being responsible for pouring the oils into the bathwater is the task that calls the children from play to their bath. It has never once failed me in over a year.

    We struggle heavily with our own judgement of behaviours that are less than desirable - e.g lack of tolerance and loving kindness between siblings - how to observe and guide without judging. I am very interested in hearing about your own experiences in this area.

    Warmest wishes,