"Not only are we not helping, we are going about doing things in ways that make things worse. Then what you have to show for it is a whole lot of alienated, hopeless, sometimes aggressive, sometimes violent kids."
Dr. Ross Greene has some strong thoughts for the way teachers and parents typically handle challenging children, and they aren't necessarily easy to swallow. Who wants to hear they have been doing everything wrong up until this point? Who wants to entertain the idea that they may have been making their child's behavior worse?
The cornerstone of Greene's approach is positive interaction with challenging children as a way to help them learn the skills to behave and respond in appropriate ways. Backed by science, he asserts that the brains of children are incredibly malleable and he encourages teachers and parents to look past the behavior to focus on the emotions behind the behavior.
In fact, in his model, correcting the immediate behavior is not important. He encourages the adult to avoid publicly correcting the child, instead they are to pull them aside for a meaningful connection or conversation, and to model a better way to respond.
This approach to discipline goes against everything I've been raised to believe about child rearing. Seriously.
Greene's way of doing things doesn't garnish immediate results—and that is frustrating.
When I first became a mom, I thought my opinions on discipline and child-rearing were typical. What I really mean is, I didn't really have opinions. I assumed we would follow what was modeled to us by our parents and the parents around us. When your child misbehaves, you put her in time out; you use a stern voice or even a loud voice; you smack her on the thigh.
The idea that there might be a different way of doing things didn't cross my mind, but I knew my husband and I felt a significant amount of unease with this approach. A combination of negative experiences with corporal punishment mixed with this gut-level feeling of discomfort led us on a search for a better way of doing things.
That is how we found gentle parenting practices. What does Dr. Greene's approach mean for me, a mom of two toddlers who can't really be labeled as challenging? (Beyond being toddlers, of course.) Removing my toddler from the situation that created the explosion and helping her to seek out a better solution sounds like the perfect way to handle a tantrum. And honestly, things have been fairly easy up until this point. Redirection and positive feedback work like a charm for babies and very young toddlers.
But then, we hit late toddlerhood. I feel completely out of my element, and most days I am clueless if my approach is even working. My default response is what was modeled to me: punishment. So, trying to practice Greene's methods literally feels like speaking a foreign language.
Who is really learning the most about self control?
Switching my lenses to see my toddler is afraid or hurt instead of manipulative really feels awkward sometimes, and it can be hard to believe she wants to make good decisions when I am the referee in the same sibling fight for the fifth time that day. At times, it even feels offensive to give her the benefit of the doubt, like I am giving up my power or authority in her life.
And, confession time? Greene's way of doing things doesn't garnish immediate results—and that is frustrating. While I know my job is to teach my children the long-term skills they need to make good decisions and process their emotions in a healthy manner, sometimes I just want them to not be an inconvenience.
So giving up on behavior modification in favor of focusing on the root of challenging behavior is not an easy thing to do. I fail daily to remain patient and careful with how I respond to outbursts or fights.
But despite my constant failure, it's clearly making a difference in our home. Even at such a young age, I have witnessed my 3-year-old begin to process what her emotions mean and talk about them naturally.
Everyday I am faced with the same choice over and over again: I can respond in the most convenient way. I can respond in anger and harshness. Or I can respond with more patience. I can model self-control and emotionally healthy behavior.
Everyday I am struck with the irony of the way Greene's methods play out in my life. Who is really learning the most about self control: my 3-year-old or her mama?