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Setting Limits with Children Effectively

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When I read about respectful parenting or mindful parenting I was always confused about setting limits.  There are very few examples in the literature, which makes it hard to figure it out.  Once we did away with punishments, I found myself at a loss for what to do.  When I was no longer relying on punishments, I couldn’t quite figure out and effective way to help keep my children safe.  We spent some time trying to figure it out – which didn’t make any of us particularly happy, but has served us well in the long run.  But then, isn’t that how all change happens?  I thought I would share a bit about what I use to help set and maintain limits for my children, not because I am an authority on the issue, but because if I could help someone else through their parenting transformation, it would be a worthwhile thing to do!

When setting limits, the most important thing to do is to ensure all children are safe.  If the situation is something like a fist fight between children or they are engaged in an unsafe activity like playing with the stove for example, I stop the activity immediately.  Sometimes I can use words, sometimes a gentle hand to restrain a child, sometimes I have to put my body in the middle of it, and sometimes I have to move a child to a safe space by picking them up or guiding them there.  I try to communicate as clearly and calmly as possible through the whole thing what it is that I’m doing and why.  The key to success here is how I follow through on this.  Once I know everyone is safe, then I can take a moment to regain my composure if needed.

Most importantly, when setting limits, I need to keep my emotions under control.  If my children see me react in a big way, they know they’re hitting on something that is an emotional catch for me and will turn it into a power struggle in an instant.  This is the most important element for me, and the most difficult!  It is something that I still don’t do consistently, because, well…I’m human!  Before responding to any situation (unless it is a safety issue – as addressed in the previous paragraph), I try to take a moment for myself.  A deep breath often works well for me.  The point here is to gain some self-awareness about my own inner landscape and how it may be contributing to the situation.

When I started with limit setting over punishment, I began to notice my emotional reactions only after a blow-up – I would reflect on how I could have done things differently in hopes of making a different choice in the moment the next time around.  Then I began to intermittently notice in the moment that I was spinning my own emotional story about the event, which led to engaging with my own past hurts, judgements, etc.  This was/is a particularly difficult phase to be in.  It is painful to watch yourself do things you don’t intend…especially when they are hurtful to those around you!  Here is where I remind myself that no one is perfect.  Not only that, but it is in my imperfection that I am the most effective teacher for my children.  What my children see me do to ‘make things right’ after I have made a bad choice is the best kind of teaching – modelling!

Once I have myself as under control as possible I will relocate myself so that I’m close to the disruption, if I’m not there already!  Proximity can often solve an issue in an of itself.  When children know you’re nearby and will step in to help them if things go off the rails, they are far more willing to try solving the problem themselves because they feel supported in the process.  This comes with time, as it is related to building trust in each other.  I remind myself to trust that the children can sort it out themselves, and my presence reminds them that their safety is my top concern.

If the dispute is between my children, I will interject with sportscasting, narrating what I see happening – just the facts.  Often I will also use non-violent communication techniques to relay back to my children the information they’re telling me about their emotional state.  The key to both of these strategies is to avoid judgment.  Deep empathizing with their situation helps to reconnect us and it allows me to keep my perspective on their needs.  To do this, I listen to each of them, repeating the problem back in my own words if necessary to reassure them; showing that I understand.  I will often ask questions about their emotions.  Something like, “Did it make you feel angry that he took your marker?” or “Are you frustrated because you can’t get your shoes on yourself?”  I will ask if they need help to fix the problem, or if they know how to fix it themselves.  Often being heard is enough to help my children through a problem and I can stop here. Sometimes what they want me to know, understand or do is not appropriate.  So following the clarification of the issue, I will set and maintain a limit.  This sounds something like, “I know you are really excited to play at the park.  Right now, we need to go home for lunch.  I’m going to put you in the car now.”

If things continue, I offer my children a choice.  This allows them a way to gracefully exit the situation, saving face and avoiding a power struggle.  A situation like refusing to go to bed might have me offering a choice like, “You can go up to bed on your own, or I can take you, which would you prefer?”  If the child doesn’t answer in 20-30 seconds, I will take action on the choice that best suits me…so in this case, I will pick them up to go upstairs to bed.  I make sure to only offer the choice once and follow through with reasonable swiftness.  This ensures that my children listen to my words and trust that I will do what I have said.  Usually following through on a choice does not end in a grand display of refusal, since after a few times through this, children come to expect that you will take action.  In the event that they don’t respond well, I return to non-violent communication methods to understand their emotions, asking questions while I continue to follow through with the choice, reminding them they can make a different choice next time.

It sounds so easy in writing, but offering choices is difficult sometimes.  There are many instances where there is not a clear choice.  An example that comes up for us a lot is poor behavior once the lights are out for bed.  Knowing that unfavourable behaviours are rooted in unmet needs alerts me to take note and pay attention to what my children are saying so that perhaps the next day I can do something differently prevent this situation.  But noting that there is a need is not so helpful in the moment, especially when the kids are in an out of the bathroom slamming doors and yelling for us to come up for another hug and kiss…waking up the neighbourhood as they do!  The tricky part of this situation is getting them to calm down enough to communicate.  I try to use a non-verbal form of non-violent communication – empathizing with how difficult it must be for them to go to bed when really they still want to be near us and play.  If they can hear that I understand and answer a few questions, we can open the conversation.  Then a choice like, “Do you want to go back to bed yourself, or shall I take you there?” can be received.

The following are some paraphrased guidelines I use on offering choices from the book Parenting with Love and Logic:

  1. Choices shouldn’t include limitless options. Two clear options are all a child can really deal with in order to make a choice. Don’t add another choice because your child suggests it. Tell him: “That was a good suggestion. These are the choices I’m offering now. We’ll try your suggestion next time.”
  2. Use parent-approved choices only. Offer choices that guide your child toward the outcome you’re seeking. Make sure both options offered are 100% okay with you. If you offer two choices hoping your child will choose “a” instead of “b”, your hesitancy about “b” will act like a magnet and cause your child to choose “b” instead of “a” every time.
  3. Take action when a child doesn’t choose. If a child won’t choose between the apple or the cranberry juice you need to choose for her. Follow through and choose so your child comes to understand that when you offer her a choice and she doesn’t choose, the ability to choose goes away. You can say, “I know you’re upset that I had to choose the juice for you. I have another choice for you to try now. Would you like to drink what I chose for you now or not have juice right now?”

Examples of what I do are hard to come up with out of the moment.  The framework of how I progress with my children through a problem varies from situation to situation – like permaculture is site specific.  Setting and maintaining limits actually helps to build connection and trust.  As difficult as it is to see in the moment, situations where I need to set limits are the very things I need to pay attention to for growth.  They are the weeds in our garden.  They are the indications that there is a deeper unmet need.  Setting limits is really an art form.  Like with permaculture, a set of systems can be applied, but you have to just try them out, fine tune them, learn as you go…and get messy in the process!  This is why permaculture style parenting really needs mindful presence and to be treated as a process.  For this reason, when a situation is resolved and I consider that the storm has blown over, I take a moment to reflect on our interactions.  How did I do with regulating my emotions?  How did my children do with the limit?  Was it a necessary limit?  Do I need to revise the limit?  What could I do differently the next time to make it a better experience?

To sum it up, here are the strategies I use for effective limit setting:

  1. Ensure children are safe.
  2. Regulate your own emotions.
  3. Get close to the action.
  4. Sportscast or use non-violent communication to demonstrate you understand the problem, allowing children to solve it themselves.
  5. Offer a choice once and follow through immediately.
  6. Reflect on the situation – make changes if necessary.
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Open House

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I can understand why people find it so stressful to move.  My inner perfectionist has been awakened by the need to have the house looking spotless for prospective buyers.  We have decided to list our house ourselves for a short time to try and sell it to someone who is like minded.  As a result, we hosted an open house this past weekend.  Getting ready for it made me realize just how comfortable I am now with a bit of mess.  Feeling the need to ‘impress’ other people gets my dander up every time.  My poor children had to suffer through my demands to keep toys put away, keep their hands off the freshly painted walls, and not dig holes in the back yard (which I think was the hardest for them, since we’re experiencing an unseasonably early Spring).

I can also see how my attempts to control the state of our space has pushed my children away.  The effects of attempting to micro-manage them can be seen so clearly in this time when we push up against a new (unhealthy) way of being.  Actually, it’s more like returning to an old way of being, one I hadn’t realized just how glad I was to let go of!  My inner landscape isn’t as calm, and neither is my children’s.  The work, the chores, and the state of the house has taken priority over our relationships.  This doesn’t feel good.  What has been lost is our connection, which I am now having to work hard to recover.  The process is difficult because my inner resources are depleted due to my own emotional processing over leaving this home.  We have been working hard to ready ourselves for this transition.  Now that we’re living at the edge of public and private life, I want this process to be over quickly so that we can move on with our lives in the way that is meaningful to us…to be with each other again.

Creating illusions is not what we’re about.  We have had to put our values on hold for a while to meet the values of the world at large.  In fact, I feel like I’m a hypocrite for creating the consumer driven illusion of  perfection.  This has not been an easy task, since I take my decisions and my integrity very seriously.  Life doesn’t stop just so that you can sell your house, but the expectation is that it should, since a home needs to appear as though it is easy to always maintain unsustainable levels of cleanliness and order.  In effect we are commodifying our lifestyle in an effort to sell this home.

The people who came through our home didn’t see us scrambling to wash the windows on Saturday morning, or compromising our integrity by throwing out the paint rollers to save time over washing them thoroughly for reuse.  They also couldn’t see me feel the void of not having the volume of my children fill the space or the starkness at seeing all of their books neatly lining the shelves rather than the surface of our sofa.  Homes are meant for living in.  Selling a home is a prime example of how our culture thrives on the outward appearance of perfection as an attainable and desirable goal.  But what this experience has made so very clear for me is that there is always an expense.

2015 in Review

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A lot has happened in the past year.  In retrospect, many things have shifted for us where at the time it felt like change was slow.  It was wonderful to sit and reminisce about where we have been this year, and get excited for where it is we’re headed!

According to my WordPress annual report, the top five posts I published this year are:

First Steps – A post that brought me to tears upon re-reading, since the sentiments are so very true for where we’re at in our journey right now…we have been preparing to move for a very long time.  I have worked at adjusting my mental and physical spaces, making room for change.  Now…all of a sudden, it’s time!

Truth and Grace – This post was written about my struggle to meet the world with integrity.  When I re-read it nearly a year later, there were many things that still felt current.  I think the search for balance between truth and grace is one I shall pursue for the rest of my days.

Top 10 Permaculture Parenting Tips – This was my first ‘top 10’ style post, and I was really proud of it!  Since writing it, we have been able to phase out of ‘time outs’ even, which is lovely.  Sometimes the children are requested to ‘take a break’ from the situation in a location of their choice, but it was nice to see progress in my own parenting methods since posting!  I would like to delve further into this topic, and plan to over the next year…perhaps in ebook form?  We’ll see!

Should Children Do Chores? – We tried having a set tidy up time before dinner and had a great groove going for a while!  Then something interfered with our schedule for a few days (illness?  trip?  I can’t remember) and we lost our rhythm.  Once it was thrown off kilter, it has been hard to regain balance, but we keep trying.  There have been a lot of external factors inhibiting our success in this realm.  Rather than stress about it, we tidy before dinner on days when it’s possible.  Other days, we live with the mess!  In the meantime we are also drastically reducing and simplifying the inside of our home so that tidying up is far less overwhelming no matter when it happens.

Offensively Defensive – I still catch myself on rare occasions making apologies for something that hasn’t been identified as a problem.  As I have been able to release my defensiveness  and assume that people are not passing judgments, I have begun to notice just how much passive aggressive communication happens in our culture.  Upon reflection, it is likely the passive aggressive culture that led to my offensive defensiveness, since people are passing judgments all the time!  I feel blessed to now be able to witness these judgmental statements as a reflection of the speaker, not myself.  I have realized I don’t have to participate in this part of culture, I can just watch it all happen, and the anxiety and fear that goes along with it…from a distance!

Apart from what WordPress had to say, I reviewed many of my posts from the past year, and thought I would share a few more…

My most meaningful post was Facing the Ugliness of Parenting.  It was difficult to write and even harder to release to the world.  Admitting a lack of perfection is frowned upon in our society,  which is exactly why it needs to be normalized!  Parenting should not be done in solitude…

A post that was great for me to reread was The Sound of Crying.  I am happy to have reminded myself of how important crying is to the landscape of a child.  I still struggle with this at time, wanting to stop the sobs for my own purposes.  But reading this post again has reminded me of my purpose and dedication to releasing this within myself.

My favourite post from this year was The Rocky Road to Simple Living.  I feel like it captures many sentiments and learning that I continually press into.  I think ‘simple living’ is actually about continually redefining what it means for myself.  To some it might be tending chickens, to others it might mean living with minimal possessions.  Ultimately, it means something completely different to each one of us.  So it is by very definition a grey area.  In the process of defining a ‘simple life’ I am also able to determine that which does not serve me.  Simple living is about creating space for what matters, and letting the rest fall away.  It is the pursuit of simple living that is difficult because journeys of self-reflection are not easy.

Thank you for reading!  Your presence with my words is very much appreciated.  Blessings for a wonderful 2016!

Pushed out of the Nest

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Before…

There are times in life where it becomes clear that you need to move on.  I have been imagining lately how difficult and frightening it must be for baby birds to be pushed out of the nest by their mothers.  But if it weren’t for the mother’s gentle nudge, would the baby bird ever have fledged?

So it is with us.  I have been elusively writing about ‘dark times’ and feeling stretched.  It is now time to come clean about what’s been going on around here.  I finally feel ready to share this difficult journey, as I know we’re not the only ones.  It has been an emotional roller coaster for us, but one that needs to be talked about and examined for what it is…

In August, a letter arrived from our municipality announcing we needed to ‘clear our land of weeds longer than 6 inches by Friday.’  We had a week to mow down our forest gardens.  Our lawnmower grunted in anguish as it attempted to mulch the scythed remnants of our former orchard meadow.  The trees still remain, but many of the shrubs are out.  Apart from the plants Rob saved in pots, all of the herbaceous and ground cover layers are also gone.  Years of work to regenerate and re-wild the plot…mowed down in a few days.  Once a bylaw infraction has been made on your property, you are required to come into compliance for the full property, regardless of the nature of the complaint.

It is a week I will remember forever.  My heart was broken.  Our gardens were gone.  I had been betrayed.  Better still, I didn’t know who reported us (and still don’t) other than it was a neighbour.  During the process of removing the vegetation, I overheard comments from two separate neighbours, celebrating the destruction.  It felt like the world was against us.  I have never felt so powerless.  I have never been so angry.  I wanted to post nasty signs on my lawn.  I wanted to return the wagon my children inherited from the couple next door.  I also wanted to shrivel up and die.  I wanted to be invisible as I mowed.  Unseen as I cried while murdering our plants.  Unnoticed as I hurled unripe squash across my yard after they were snapped too early from their vines in an effort to clear the neighbouring plants that qualified as infractions to the bylaw.  My mind was concerned with who was watching us and when.  I felt scrutinized.  I worried and still think about what other aspects of our lives are the concern of others.  For the most part, I have been able to move through the darkness, finding my way to the other side.  We are blessed to have a very strong community of like minded permaculture types to call our friends.  It has been so helpful to be held and so deeply understood through this process.  We also had the unwavering support of my mother-in-law, who watched the children, offered tender words and hugs, and was out in the garden with a sickle, while I cried.

The reality is that we live in a neighbourhood.  Over the 7 years we’ve lived here we’ve engaged in numerous conversations about what it is that we’re doing, and why.  Usually we were answering a question inquiring about our property, but sometimes conversations were started in defence of our yard’s appearance. But you can only go so far with a conversation that is one sided without sounding like you’re trying to convert people, or like you’re nuts!  We have neighbours and a municipality which values mowed lawns and manicured gardens.  We have since learned that the bylaw in our area even applies to rural agricultural properties!  So if you are reported, you must come into compliance, pay a fine or hire a lawyer.  We could have fought it.  We could have spent our income on a lawyer to make our case for forest gardening and provide bountiful uses for the plants we were growing which reside on the ‘noxious weeds’ list.  But it was immediately clear to me that I was not prepared to take on a fight for a property we no longer wanted.  Feeling unwanted in your own home is not something I am willing to fight for.  We don’t belong here.  We have chosen instead to find joy!

We have been pondering for a while how to make the jump to a farm.  There were many pull factors, things that made us want something different, but nothing that was pushing us from our current home.  Well, now we have had our own nudge out of the nest.  We’re not fully clear about what we’re jumping to just yet, but we’ve got some interesting ideas and are more motivated than ever!  It is now time for us to spread our wings and fly!

Clothing Swap!

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A week ago, I hosted a clothing swap!  The intent was to subversively reject Black Friday, which has turned out to be today.  Those who attended my swap were too polite to speak up about my error!  Just goes to show how in touch I really am with consumerism.  In any case, I wanted to write about the experience because we had a lovely evening.

The idea of a clothing swap is to trade clothes you no longer want with other people.  The number of items you bring does not have to equal the number of items you take home.  The clothes are piled in the centre of the room, and you take what you like.  Anything that does not find a new home is donated to charity.

For our swap, I invited many people, but only a few were able to make it.  It was nice to have a small gathering.  Since there were just four of us, we could really help each other through the process of selecting clothing that looked nice on us.

When people arrived, we enjoyed some of the (ridiculously numerous) snacks that I had prepared and drank wine and homemade hard cider.  When we determined that everyone had arrived, we dumped the clothes into one large pile on my rug.  It was like a treasure hunt searching through the clothes mountain.  I tried on a lot of things, and kept several.  We each started our own ‘stash’ where we put the things that we wanted to keep.  I found some really neat things, some that I would have picked up in a shop and many things that I likely wouldn’t have even tried on otherwise!

It was a wonderful evening filled with conversations and laughter with lovely people that I’m glad to call my friends.  It was nice to choose clothes I liked without having to worry about the price tag or the environmental impact of my purchase.  For all of us, what we brought to the swap were bags of clothing we were planning to get rid of anyway.   I got rid of far more than I kept.  And what I did end up keeping were things that freshened up my wardrobe in unexpected ways!  We all enjoyed ourselves so much that we plan on having another gathering in the springtime!

How to host your own clothing swap:

  1. Set the date – if you’re trying to coordinate it with a special event day, be sure to check your calendar!
  2. Invite your friends!  I invited lots of people, but the party ended up being small.  I would say, smaller is better.  Although I’ve not hosted a large clothing swap, it might get ugly if people were fighting over the same items!
  3. Find a full length mirror to set in the shared space, near where the pile of clothes will be
  4. Create a ‘change room’ (We used my bathroom), but most people just changed in the common space.  I wore a tight tank top and just changed in front of my friends.
  5. Prepare some snacks
  6. Gather.  Explain the process.  If there are disputes over who should get what item, have a vote – the person who is voted to look the best in the item of clothing takes the prize!
  7. Have fun!!!
  8. Take remaining items to your local thrift store, so they can find a new home.

 

 

Modelling Grace

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Parenting consciously is just plain hard work!  The journey is as much about the children as the parent.  I have grown and learned so much about myself as I have ventured down this path of gentle parenting.  But as difficult as it is to look at the ways I could be more gentle with my children, it is even more challenging to find ways to be gentle with myself.

As I continue pushing my edges and expanding myself and trying to improve, I often feel like I’m failing.  Change is not easy.  And this path of mindful parenting is a long journey towards real and sustainable change.  Self-compassion is what is needed in the face of it all.  Just as I want my children to feel understood and held in their moments of regret, I also need to be gentle with myself when I mess up. There are ways to own our mistakes, realizing them for what they are, doing what we can to rectify them, and releasing them.

Modelling for my children what to do when I do mess up is showing them how to be in the world.  In reality, I’m providing my children with the best possible teaching about what to do when we mess up; we do our best to make it right and try for change again tomorrow.  What more could I hope to teach my children?  No one is perfect…let’s stop pretending it’s possible.

Weed Whacking

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How may things are needlessly judged as weeds?  What makes some things less worthy to be considered as the indicators of a need?  Isn’t it the weeds that show us where we need to plant more of what we do desire?  But our culture is expert at sussing out ‘weeds.’   The trouble is that sometimes problems deemed ‘undesirable’ have been inappropriately condemned.  Goldenrod is a wonderful medicinal plant, but is frequently confused with ragweed for causing allergic reactions.  Consulting Google Images for photos of ‘ragweed’ turns up numerous pictures of Goldenrod.

‘Weeds’ we embrace in our home include: crying, anger, mess, mistakes, sadness, defiance…and there are many more!  These behaviours are generally not well accepted in society, for children or adults.  Our culture tries to fix them and keep them under control in an effort to create a visage of perfection.  But it is in fact these darker emotions and undesirable things that are the indicators of need.  Crying can be a release of pent up emotion.  Anger an indicator that things are out of balance.  Mess is evidence of creativity.  Mistakes are the best way to grow and learn.  Sadness is a cry for connection.  Defiance demonstrates a need for control.  Although I have simplified these greatly, there is always an underlying cause for difficult ‘unwanted’ behaviours. But it takes courage to have presence with difficult situations.  Apart from fear of being judged for not keeping in line with the general populous, sitting with uncomfortable feelings and situations reveals how little control we actually have and indicates the depth of real work that needs to be done to resolve the issue.

If you want to grow fewer ‘weeds,’ consider planting more of what you do want.  For example, if a child is often defiant, what are ways to give them more opportunities for control in appropriate ways?  Could they be choosing their own clothes?  What to have for lunch?  What about engaging in play that is directed by the child and allows them to ‘boss’ around the adult?  Or an extra curricular interest that allows them to control the full outcome of a long term project?

What I see happening is the removal of weeds at first sight of them.  Our culture rips them out, squashes them and stifles them before they have time to be fully expressed.  Many plants are considered ‘weeds’ are in fact the most useful and potent plants we can grow!  In our effort to judge and keep things under control we hack down that which has potential.  What opportunities are missed because we lack acceptance?