My mom’s version of resolved conflict with her stubborn little girl would not fly nowadays. I was shut down and hit, then sent to my room. I am not especially unique in this. As I aged, I realized that technique wasn’t healthy, but it was still a pretty common way to parent. When I was in training to be a foster parent, I was introduced to the concept of TBRI (trust-based relational intervention) and other non-aggressive conflict resolution styles.
As one might guess, there was a great deal of frustration from some of the other foster parent trainees in the group. They couldn’t fathom not punishing a kid for talking back or misbehaving. They couldn’t imagine not spanking or slapping their kid if they did something really bad. Very quickly, those people realized they either had to learn a new way of doing things or not become foster/adoptive parents. Some of the class left and didn’t come back.
I won’t lie and tell you it is easier to parent a kid gently when you’ve been raised by old-school parents. It could be all too easy to slip into what I was taught versus what I’ve learned. Because my kids have come to me from a traumatic situation it is important to not further traumatize them. It would be important even if they hadn’t come from a traumatic situation. Hitting kids to make them obey doesn’t work. What it does do is make them scared of adults who should be helping them. So, it is important that we try to parent as gently as we can.
So what does it look like when a child misbehaves in our home? What happens when a child refuses to put a coat on to go outside? Ideally, the argument doesn’t happen because I’ve learned they know their body temperature better than me. Sure they’ll get cold later, but they don’t want to put on a jacket at the moment when they are warm already. I just make sure to have a jacket or hoodie available if they might want it later.
What about a different issue?
“Maddie, you need to change your dress. You can pick whichever other one fits you, but that one does not fit you.”
(This is a forever problem with my baby, giraffe-legged girl. Nothing is long enough today that was long enough last week.)
“I don’t want to. It’s a pretty dress. It’s not too small. You’re stupid” *balls little hands into fists and growls*
“Hey, I don’t like the way you responded. Could you do a redo and then ask me for a compromise?”
“Fine. I don’t want to change my dress. Could we compromise?”
“Sure, what’s your compromise?”
“I’ll wear leggings under it instead of shorts.”
“Good idea. No one needs to see your underwear.”
It’s a rare situation it goes that smoothly—especially if I’m feeling frustrated or anxious about other things. Unfortunately, my kids pick up on my bad moods and somehow manage to hit every button I have in their behavior. Let’s say the same thing happened as above, but my daughter escalated the situation and refused to do a redo. Enter the “time in.” We go sit together in her room until she’s feeling calmer. The point is to not send her away because I”m feeling angry. She’ll begin to associate anger with people leaving her and that could be problematic.
We have to parent differently because our children are different. It’s not that they can get away with anything they want, it’s that I make it my job to make sure they understand what they’ve done wrong and make them work to fix it. We also make it a point to talk about consequences versus punishments. We don’t punish our kids. This means we don’t hit, do time-out, or any type of corporal punishment.
One of my personal goals longer term is to not yell when I’m angry or frustrated. It is a particularly difficult thing. So, the other thing we do that was completely revolutionary to my mind was apologizing. I lived in a world where the adults were always right and the kids were always wrong. It was just assumed. I often need to have my own few minutes to myself if it seems like I’m going to blow my top.
Brain gym is something else entirely, but is very important. Google “brain gym” and I promise you’ll get a bunch of videos and explanations. The biggest component is getting the body moving across the centerline of their body. For some reason, trauma makes the act of crossing from one side of the body to the other more difficult. I don’t know what that reason is.
Regardless, one way to help your child become calmer and more stable overall: work on brain gym. You can start by sitting on a chair and crossing arms and legs over one another slowly. You can have them hug themselves and pat themselves on their shoulders with arms crossed. Crossing the midline is what’s important.
One of the brain gym-type things we love doing is yoga. The kids are all excited and it helps us all wind down. We usually watch a kid’s youtube video as the last thing before bedtime. The little ones love it and it makes the moves seem so easy and effortless. Body movement, in general, is good for kids but my kids need something physical to do every day if I want everyone in the family to remain sane.
I wish I could tell you these things made life easier. They do, but it will get harder first (usually from people outside of your family). For some reason, strangers think it is their job to correct a struggling mama. Ignore them and know you’re doing the right thing for your babies.
Christina Gochnauer is a foster and adoptive mom of 5. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Letourneau University. She currently resides in Texas with her husband of 16 years, her children ages 3, 3.5, 4.5, 11, and 12, and her three dogs. She is passionate about using her voice to speak out for children from “hard places” in her church and community.