As teachers, we are constantly aiming to build and nurture trusting and honest relationships with parents and children. Together as invested stakeholders in children’s development and learning journey we are able to unpack respectful parenting techniques and strategies that support both parents and children with transparency and honesty. In a time where mindfulness is trending in education, we are often engaged in meaningful dialogue with parents who eagerly search for mindful and respectful parenting strategies that truly support challenging home routines and difficult emotional encounters that happen as a normal part of life. As we navigate the complexities of the ‘new normal’ with covid-19 in our lives, this topic has become a daily dialogue between teachers and parents.
As the Wellbeing Team Ambassadors at EtonHouse Sentosa, we often use 3 main focus points for Respectful Parenting with suggested tools and techniques that we hope improve our ability to adjust, explore and find what works best for each unique family. In the first article, we covered the power of our words. In this article, we will be covering the next two focus points.
The power of our emotions with our important role as parents
Parenting is considered by some to be the ultimate journey into the deep inner self. Being plunged into a world of unconditional love, we are shown how far we’ve come on the path of inner work and how far we still have to go. We believe that children are whole human beings, discovering the world through every touch, smell, sight, sound and taste. As adults, we guide and support them through their innate curiosities and discoveries with respect, trust and connection. To help children feel confident and safe to engage in challenges of the day, we tend to this need by consistently providing a safe space for them to experience themselves in their raw and authentic form as they discover who they are.
How can you do this as a parent? It all starts and ends with us! As adults, we often wonder how we can engage so children can express their authentic selves. A bigger question on top of this would be – How am I showing up today? What is my emotional state and how can I make sure that I am the most centred and open version of myself? While this inner work is not always easy, making the effort will not only support your child’s growth but will also bring you face-to-face with areas that you might like to sprinkle with some tender love and compassion. This journey of self-exploration begins when we are children, and one of the most powerful learning tools for them is observing the models in our immediate environment. A big question we can ask ourselves when it comes to guiding children is, “How am I showing up in the world?” Here are a few starter tips!
1. Practice following through
Are your words matching your actions? Are you holding yourself to the same standards you ask of them? Do you follow through with the things you say you’re going to do? What are your reactions when challenges present themselves? How do you communicate with other adults and children? Even when your child is demonstrating undesirable communication with you or another child – can you take active steps to stay consistent with your tone, energy and speech? This action of following through can create a deeper sense of reciprocal trust between you both.
2. Demonstrate true empathy with your child
The times when children consistently act out we may end up feeling triggered and react in undesirable ways. If you find yourself stuck in a pattern of dysregulation with your child at home, you can take a step back. FEEL into your child in the moment. What might be happening for them in their life? What is their environment like? What is happening within the family unit? What is their world like? And really GO THERE. You might like to write down your experience from the point of view of your child. This exercise can be a powerful perspective shift, point of reconnection and offer deeper understanding.
3. Make Space for Emotions and Acknowledge Feelings
As adults, we can have BIG emotions. Children’s emotions can seem even bigger since they are learning to regulate themselves by allowing the full process of expression and release. While we might do all we can to stop children from ‘feeling bad’ or ‘throwing a tantrum’ because we want them to feel good again, or behave – we are in fact denying them the opportunity to regulate themselves. This reminds us and them that all things pass, which can be incredibly helpful and healing. Letting emotions run their course for us and our child is one of the kindest things we can do. They learn to trust you to support them through the difficult times and feel validated and acknowledged as whole and worthy human beings.
“One of the most ironically counterintuitive twists of parenting is this: the more we welcome our children’s displeasure, the happier everyone in our household will be, there is no greater gift to our children and ourselves than complete acceptance of their negative feelings. (Notice I did not say ‘behaviours’.)” - Janet Lansbury
The more we make space for our inner child to express itself, be seen and held, the more we build our capacity to model this behaviour for our children. Treating ourselves with kindness, unconditional love and compassion directly support children as they develop better self-understanding and emotional awareness. Taking these small steps towards doing our own inner work creates more integrated, confident, and self-aware global citizens.
Positive behaviour guidance
Very often when our children behave in ways that upset us, we try to change their behaviour by telling them that what they are doing is wrong. It is a natural reaction we have as adults, but we often end up missing out on why the child behaved the way they did and how we can help them with their emotional needs. Positive behaviour guidance is something that can help us understand our children’s behaviour and find out why they behave the way they did. This helps guide their behaviour with understanding and compassion.
What does positive behaviour guidance look like? Positive behaviour guidance can have a whole array of strategies, but essentially it is about calmly analysing children’s behaviour by pausing, reflecting and then choosing how we respond. When our children react in a way that we find undesirable or challenging, it is important to ask ourselves “why did my child behave this way?”
Children are often unaware of how to deal with certain situations due to a lack of life experience. ‘Kelso’s choices’ is a great tool to help children understand what choices they have in different social situations and is a great way to encourage them to be independent problem solvers. It is used in many schools and home settings throughout the world and helps educators and families with positively guiding their children’s behaviour in challenging situations.
Fig 1. Kelso's choices by Diane (Hipp) Lee and Barbara Clark
Sometimes children are not entirely sure what they are feeling and how to talk about them. ‘Zones of regulation’ is another good tool to help children develop useful strategies in communicating their emotions. This can also go hand in hand with Kelso’s choices, where children can think about what zone they are in, and what they can do to move from that zone back to the green zone.
Fig 2. Zones of regulation By Leah M. Kuypers
It is important to note that positive behaviour guidance strategies need consistency and modelling from adults. We want to make sure that our strategies are consistent to avoid confusion and misunderstanding. Modelling is important because children imitate behaviours not only by listening but also by watching adults. This is sometimes referred to as “observational learning” and is an important aspect of children’s learning.
By guiding our children with different positive behaviour strategies, understanding the “why” behind their behaviour through respectful parenting and by providing them with choices, we help our children feel understood and in control of their lives.
As a Wellbeing Team, we urge parents to always remember that Respectful Parenting is a journey. Respectful parenting takes time and requires parents to first and foremost, be kind to themselves, take care of themselves and find ways to honour their own pathway because you are human too. It is okay to have a hard day and it is okay for your child to see/feel/hear these challenges as this will offer an incredibly powerful dialogue between parent and child. Self-reflecting with honesty, trust and compassion as we all aim to be respected while navigating the complexities of life one day at a time.
Useful Articles/Tools for Parents
- Respectful Parenting: Welcoming the Waves of Emotions Online Course
- Articles and resources by Janet Lansberry
- Managing Problem Behavior at Home by Child Mind Institute
- Dealing with big feelings and helping your child self regulate
- Tips for Helping Kids Handle Their Emotions
- Observational learning: Monkey see, monkey do - Model behaviour in early childhood
The importance of parent-child interactions and connections
Molly Wright, a student from Queensland, Australia, is a passionate advocate for early childhood development. At just seven years old, she's one of the youngest people ever to give a TED Talk.
Recommended Books for Parents
- Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Dr Laura Markham
- Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn
- Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen
Written by EtonHouse International School
Wellbeing Committee Teachers:
Stephanie Hill, Daria Ignatova, Tracy Dawson
Endorsed by EtonHouse Executive Director: Ng Yi-Xian