3 Daily Must-Have Conversations with your Child

‘The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice’ is a powerful quote which has been popping up on my newsfeed a lot lately. It is so powerful (and so popular) because it is, of course, true. I briefly touched on this subject in one of my previous posts on discipline (read it here) when I mentioned what I had been told by an educator during one of the moms and baby classes I had attended. Namely, that children under the age of five cannot form an opinion about themselves and instead internalise their caregivers’ opinions. Once they have the ability to form an opinion of themselves, they use these internalised views as their main reference point.

It is because of this that I have started having three daily conversations with my Bean, based on principles I would like him to internalise. These are values which I believe will help him to face life’s countless challenges, to become successful and to be a good person.

Although our conversations at the moment are fairly one-sided and usually consist of me talking and explaining while Bean throws in the odd word (or the occasional ‘hmmmmm’), I am laying the groundwork for future conversations to come.  Instead of simply telling him, ‘you are thoughtful’, for example, I try and find examples in our everyday lives which showed him acting thoughtful, and I have a conversation about that moment and why it is so important.

  1. You are Intelligent

I have met countless people who act unintelligent when in fact they are not. Whether they do this because they really believe that they are not smart or whether they feel insecure in the presence of other intelligent people, I do not know. I, however, want Bean to be secure in the knowledge that he is intelligent, that he is strong and that he can achieve whatever he sets his mind to. He must be confident in his own ability and not self-sabotage his achievements because of self-doubt.

  1. You are Brave

Whether it is climbing onto a new jungle gym as a child or investing his time and money into a new business venture as an adult, I want him to be brave. Yes, life is risky and life can be scary, but no one gets anywhere without taking a risk or making that difficult decision to change something in one’s life, to explore and grow, to learn a new skill.  I want Bean to know that it is ok to be scared, but that he must trust in his ability and that he must be brave.

  1. You are Kind

The world would be a better place if we were all just a little bit kinder. I want to teach Bean to have an open heart and an open mind, I want him to believe in the goodness of others (without being gullible) and I want him to treat others with compassion.

Life can be hard and sometimes we need to be hard because of it, but this does not mean we have to be mean or judgemental. A little bit of kindness goes a long way. The German word for ‘kindness’ is ‘liebenswürdig’ and directly translated it means ‘worthy of love’. When we are kind, we are giving love and, in turn, are becoming worthy of it.

As parents, we need to take care of our children’s emotional needs as much as their physical needs, and that includes giving them the confidence, together with a sound value-driven reference system,  to face and deal with the difficulties which are inevitably going to cross their paths.

What important conversations are you having with your kids?

Finding my way through the ‘Terrible Twos’

Bean and I are playing outside, blowing bubbles, and he decides that he wants to try to blow his own. He asks me for the container and as he unscrews the lid, he tips the container over, pouring the soap onto the grass. He cries, turns around and runs away, arms in the air. Once he calms down, I ask him for the now empty container back so that I can throw it away and fetch a new one. As I reach out for the container, he throws himself on the ground, crying.

Later, Bean asks me for an ice lolly, or rather shouts ‘Icy, icy, icy!’ at the top of his voice while running to the fridge. I ask him to say ‘please’, so Bean starts crying and runs away, arms flailing. He then calms down and reiterates his severe need for an ice lolly. This time I cave, giving it to him. I, however, forget to place it in his bowl first, so off Bean runs, again, crying and distraught.

I think it is safe to say that the ‘terrible twos’ have officially arrived. And it is not fun. I feel disconnected, like that confused, anxious and scared mom of a newborn baby, unsure of what to do, petrified of somehow damaging my child for life and so drained by the (what feels like) almost constant crying and whining.

I understand that Bean is merely growing up, that he is trying to assess his independence, that he is frustrated by his inability to do so and that everything is exacerbated by that fact that he cannot yet communicate effectively. I get that he is trying to establish his boundaries and I am fully aware that all he needs from me at this stage is patience, love and positive guidance. But, goodness, it is hard –  where has my sweet little boy gone?

As I navigate my way through this new phase of parenthood, I try to ignore the tantrums by simply walking away. In an attempt to teach him how to communicate, I try to talk about every detail of our lives, I explain our actions, reactions and the subsequent consequences, and I ask him ‘why’ when he simply says ‘no’ to everything.

I try not to lose my patience and I try to set a better example for Bean when I get frustrated with something. I try to be more assertive when I set boundaries and I discipline when he tests them.

Above all, I try to find the positive side, the humour, in these difficult situations. Yesterday, for example, Bean found my secret stash of nail polish while I was getting dressed. Excitedly, he decided that he wanted to paint my toenails. ‘Mama, auf (open)’, he said, pushing the nail polish into my hands. Being slightly pre-occupied, I explained that now was not the right time to do this, asking him to pack the nail polish away. His response: silence. ‘Good’, I thought, ‘he listened’.

A few minutes later, as I was distractedly looking for my mascara in the drawer, I felt something wet on my toe. I looked down and there was Bean, crouching over my feet, in deep concentration, painting my nail. The jar of nail polish in his hand was upside down and my beige bathroom carpet now had blotches of pink on it.

Although my first reaction was to shout, upsetting Bean and causing another tantrum, I realised that he was merely trying to do what I do. So, while my little neat freak was trying to ‘meam’ (clean) the carpet with an entire roll of toilet paper, I tidied up the bathroom, grabbed my things, put Bean in the car, and bought a new bathroom mat. We needed one anyway.

This phase, like the ones before, will pass.

Didn’t I tell you not to do that?

A while ago I wrote a post about needing to discipline my Bean. A few months have since passed and I thought I would share my progress, and the lessons I have learned along the way, with all of you. Before I dive right into the various scenarios however, I thought I should first give you some background about certain aspects of my personality:

I am a perfectionist control freak, convinced that I can control every aspect of my life so that everything is always exactly as it should be, exactly as I have planned it. Being this person, I am of course also a neat freak obsessed with cleanliness: everything has its place in the house and if something is even slightly out of place, I go a little bit mad. Although I mostly manage to control this obsession, I do sometimes get into these tunnel-vision-like cleaning modes, when I dart around the house like a meerkat, my hawk-like vision zooming in on messy or dirty spots, and I do not rest until everything is just perfect.

Now, imagine my surprise when Bean arrived with his very own strong-willed personality, meaning that although he does sometimes listen, he often decides that his way is the better way and subsequently simply ignores his mother’s attempts at discipline (something he inherited from me by the way). This of course infuriates and frustrates me and although I do recognise the behaviour in myself, I often lose my patience and then always feel guilty almost immediately after.

You could reason that he simply does not know what the word ‘no’ means but Bean definitely does. Yesterday for example, I was on the toilet and Bean, not wanting me to ever feel alone, graciously decided to be my audience. I realised that there was no toilet paper left and so I asked Bean to fetch a roll from our second bathroom. Let me just add here that he is well aware of what toilet paper is and where it is kept – to my dismay he loves playing with it and it does not matter where I hide this über-desirable toy, he will find it. But back to the story at hand: as I asked my son for help, he looked at me, his eyes starting to crinkle into a smile and responded quite emphatically, ‘No!’, after which he started to giggle gleefully, fully aware of what he had just said.

Bean has recently started the habit of rushing off to our TV room sofa and climbing onto it, whenever I give him a snack. This of course means that he smears whatever snack is in his hand into the suede fabric as he climbs this specific mountain. Once he makes it to the top, he proudly smiles at me and sits down to eat. As this is quite endearing, I have decided to leave him be (against my own rules, but, he does stay off the other sofas and chairs, I persuade myself) and in order to appease my own neat freak tendencies, I usually hover around him, wet cloth in hand, ready to clean up any mess. So, the other day, I gave Bean an ice lolly with a word of warning that this particular snack can only be eaten in the kitchen. As I was preparing dinner, my back turned, I however noticed that my sweet child was slowly edging away from the kitchen into the direction of his much-loved sofa. I admonished him with another word of warning and as he came toward the kitchen, I turned my attention back to cooking dinner, confident that he had listened. About five minutes later, I looked up and glanced over to the sofa, only to stare straight into my son’s big blue eyes, the sofa now a mess of melted orange juice. I was angry. Immediately I stormed over to him, told him, ‘No!’ in my sternest voice, grabbed the remainder of the ice lolly and stormed back into the kitchen. Bean, baffled, stared at me until all of a sudden he climbed off the sofa, ran over to me in the kitchen, grabbed the wet cloth out of my hand, ran back to the sofa and started to clean! My son, broad chested, with a cheeky grin, looked at me proudly and I had to laugh.  I had warned him that I didn’t want a mess on the sofa after all.

First lesson learnt: be a better example. Bean started to eat on ‘his’ sofa, because he sees A and I doing it all the time and he simply cleaned up the mess because I am forever cleaning. (On a side note, he has started to clean everything all the time, which makes me wonder how often I run around the house in meerkat mode with crazy eyes).

A few days after the sofa incident, my husband and I were both sitting at the dining room table, working through our taxes, while Bean was running around the lounge, playing. We interacted with him every now and then but for the most part he was delivering his usual monologue while entertaining himself. Suddenly it became quiet (yes, that peaceful sound everyone yearns for until they have a toddler to contend with) and my husband looked up, his eyes expanding in surprise. I turned around quickly, only to find Bean casually sitting on our coffee table, peacefully pulling apart my plants. Instead of being angry, I laughed – my little boy was now able climb on top of the table! I immediately grabbed a camera and started snapping away, until I realised I should actually be angry. My smile faded and I gently asked him to get down (which he did without a fight).

Second lesson learnt: it’s OK to let kids be kids sometimes. I will of course teach him (consistently) that he should not climb onto tables from now on, but in that moment, he was simply a little boy, learning a new skill. Sometimes we just need to let go.

Being a toddler who struggles to communicate his needs and wants effectively, Bean often gets frustrated, so much so that he started hitting me a while ago. This is, of course, not acceptable, but I soon realised that raising my voice and shouting at him in these situations only seemed to make things worse. So, instead, I started to teach him a positive action (a loving stroke) to replace the hit whenever he raised his hand. I consistently did this (and I still do it to this day) and he has stopped hitting me all together.

Third lesson learnt: be consistent and respond positively to negative actions.

Although I am here to teach my son life skills, he in turn teaches me about life and one of the biggest and most challenging lessons I am now faced with is that everything in life does not have to be perfect. Although there need to be certain boundaries and certain rules in life, it’s OK if things are not always 100% as planned. Kids need to explore and learn and they cannot do this if they are always being controlled and always being placed into moulds.

Let them break the mould every now and again – with our positive guidance they will create their own moulds soon enough.

 

 

When Kids are Mean

The other day we were sitting in the doctor’s waiting room and Bean was busy exploring, when a mother with her two sons walked in. The younger of the two must have been around 3 or 4 and my 16 month old took a liking to him immediately. He promptly grabbed a children’s book (the first thing he could grab), ran up to the boy with the biggest grin on his face, saying “oooh ooh ooooh” and excitedly tried to give him the book. My heart almost exploded with pride – my little Bean was trying to make a friend! The boy, however, did not think this as cute and promptly waved Bean away. Not in a rude way, but rather, in a confused, ‘I did not expect this boy charging up to me as I was peacefully following my mom into this strange room’ kind of way. My heart sank, but instead of interfering, I decided to watch what would happen next. A little confused by the rejection, Bean tried to make contact again and followed the boy around for a good couple of minutes. The boy however simply did not want to play and after a while Bean gave up, walked over to me with his thumb in his mouth and climbed into my lap.

A few days later, we went to friends for lunch. Another couple and their daughter, who is a few months older than Bean, were also there. Although this girl was initially quite sweet to Bean, something made her angry and she became mean, once purposefully pushing him into a wall and another time yanking at his hair, hard.

I interfered both times: the first time, to take Bean out of the situation and to console my hysterical child, and the second time to calmly tell the girl that she must please be gentle with other kids. Her mom of course also got involved and the rest of the afternoon went by rather peacefully, everyone having a good time.

This scenario reminded me of yet another incident, when we were at a playgroup and one of the older kids decided it was a good idea to throw balls at Bean’s head. That day, I kept quiet, not wanting to reprimand someone else’s child. In retrospect, however, I should have said something. Not something mean, or derogatory, but something firm and gentle. Just a simple, ‘balls are not for throwing at other people’s heads, why don’t we kick the ball instead’.

What upset me the most about all the incidents described above was not that the kids were mean or shy or indifferent, but rather, that Bean could not understand why they were acting the way they were. He could not understand that the child in the first incident was probably just a little bit shy, or a bit confused as to why he was being bombarded with a book. He could not understand that the little girl was probably feeling threatened or that the older boy was probably simply seeing what would happen if he threw a ball at someone’s head.

Being a mom, I want to protect my Bean from indifferent and mean people, I want to protect him from heart ache and I wish there was a way in which I could always protect him from the very many negative aspects of this world. But reality is, I can’t.

We as parents set the example for our children and although I do believe that children need to learn to fight their own battles, they learn how to act, react, and how they fight these battles, from us. By saying something, standing up for my son, I want to teach and encourage my child to stand up for himself. Not in a mean way, but in a fair, firm and gentle way. I want to teach my child to have enough self confidence that he will not allow himself to be bullied, I want to teach him enough empathy to stand up for those who are and I want to instill enough discipline in him not to become the bully himself.

As the Dalai Lama so poignantly said, “It is vital that when educating our children’s brains, we do not neglect to educate their hearts by nurturing their compassionate nature”.

 

Help! I need to Discipline my Child!

Picture the scene: we are at my son’s first birthday party and I am holding Bean on my hip while talking to my cousin and his girlfriend, T. T reaches out for a slice of pizza and my son literally launches himself at her trying to grab the pizza out of her hand. In an attempt not to drop him and calm him down, I tell her that he wants the piece, take it from her and give it to Bean. The result: my son is now happily eating ‘his’ slice and T is staring at us with a very quizzical look on her face. Later on in the day,  once the chaos of the party has subsided and I have time to reflect on the day, I realise, that I, in an unguarded moment, indulged my son’s ill-mannered behaviour instead of using that moment to teach him something. I am absolutely mortified and I realise that Bean is no longer a baby who just needs to be fed and loved, he is growing up into a little boy and I now need to start teaching him discipline and manners.

Because, let’s face it, nobody likes an unruly and ill-mannered child.

This realisation has me perplexed – when do I discipline and when do I teach? In the scene pictured above, he was not being naughty, he simply wanted to experiment, learn something new. He wanted to see what T was eating as he had never seen a slice of pizza before. He did however need to learn that it is not ok to simply snatch. So that night, after talking to my mom and husband, we decided to teach him how to ask for things he wants instead of simply snatching.

What if he continues to snatch? Then we would need to enforce discipline right? But it is here where it gets really complicated. There is so much literature available on this and so many different opinions on which are the best ways to discipline and enforce boundaries that it has all become like a white noise in my head. There are those people who believe in physical punishment, those who believe in ‘time-outs’ and then there are those who believe in gentle parenting. A granny I met in one of the classes I take Bean to, mentioned to me that I should simply ignore naughty behaviour.

After reading all these articles and speaking to various moms and grannies about this topic I realised that there are certain core ideas on how to create a stable and peaceful home environment in which the need to enforce discipline is minimised:

Every child needs love, attention and devotion

A lack of attention often leads to negative behaviour in a misguided attempt to get the parents’ attention.

Children are like sponges

They are continuously learning and taking in what is shown and taught to them. You can therefore talk to your child and show them what it is you are trying to teach.

Be an example

To our children, we are the world. We show them in our daily behaviour and interactions how one should act. In the scene described above, I inadvertently showed Bean that it was ok to snatch without first asking. I have also found myself simply taking something I do not want him to play with, out of his hand without asking him for it first. I cannot expect him to ask me for something if I (as his mentor) simply grab things from him.

Children need boundaries

This is something that I come across in parenting blogs and articles as well as books, a lot. Without boundaries children feel lost.

Be consistent

Parents need to set boundaries together and consistently enforce these, together.

Even in a stable home environment filled with love, children will still push their boundaries and they will be naughty, because, well, they are children.Some form of discipline is then needed because there isn’t a point to a boundary if it is not enforced.

I take Bean to Clamber Club classes and in his graduation class last week, the teacher said something which really hit home. Children under five cannot form their own opinions of themselves and they therefore internalise the parents’ opinions during these formative years. Once they turn five, they form their own opinions using what you, as the parent, have taught them as a reference framework. This reminded me of a story my sister once told me: they had gone to a flea market one Saturday morning and there was a family of four walking ahead of them. One of the children, a little boy, was pushing a trolley suitcase in front of him (instead of pulling it) and the suitcase kept getting stuck on the uneven bricks. The mother ignored this for a while and then suddenly smacked the child on the back of his head and shouted, “you need to pull it, stupid!” This, to me, is such a powerful example of what the teacher said, as by the time this child will be able to form an opinion of himself, he will automatically include the description ‘stupid’.

As parents we need to realise that we form these little beings, whether by example, through what we teach, or how we discipline – we give them a reference framework which they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. They will use this framework, which we have instilled within them, to decide on important life choices (whether to go to university or not for example), or when they decide on how to act, which body language to use, how to express themselves when they are faced with a moral dilemma or when they meet new friends, a girlfriend, a boyfriend or even a prospective employer.

This to me is the crux when deciding on how to teach a lesson and on how to enforce discipline. How do I want my children to see themselves?

 

Photo credit:  www.canva.com