Choose Small and Slow Solutions

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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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!

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.

How to Step Into the Darkness

We are blessed to live in Canada, with four seasons.  The season of autumn signals the beginning of turning inward.  A time for dreaming and planning while cozy indoors for the winter months.  But it doesn’t seem so enticing as the days are growing shorter and we are losing the time in daylight to wrap up the loose ends of summer.  Why is it that we are so afraid to head into the darkness?

It is out of the darkest times that the most growth happens.  it is in the darkness that we are at our edge.  People don’t like to be pushed to their edge.  That place within ourselves where we feel if we were to go any further we’d never find our way back.  But if we keep back from our edges, we would be missing out on those places from which the most growth happens.  For it is at the edge where two habitats intermingle and create something beautiful, abundant and new.  It is at the edge of ourselves where old meets new.  It is at this edge where the possibility of freedom exists.  Where the pressures of labels and expectations can be blurred.

Heading into the winter months, I feel resistance.  Although I am craving a slower time and rhythm, if it weren’t for the leaves falling and the looming frosts, I would not concede to more hours indoors, less light, and the abundant heap of clothing that adorns my entryway.  Although I know winter brings with it a beauty unique to the cold darkness, it doesn’t help me stop resisting its presence.  Likewise, it is difficult to make the choice to go into emotional darkness.  It feels unsafe and not to be trusted.  Why do we not trust ourselves enough to know we will come back out into the light?

We trust that spring will come again.  We trust that the sun will rise again tomorrow.  But we do not trust that we will again be happy if we choose to enter into periods of personal darkness.  But like the seasons and the days, it will pass.  Unlike natural cycles, our voyages into and out of darkness come without warning and recede without announcement.  They ease in and out slowly, as to confuse us as to where it came from and when it left.

Perhaps it is because we have not been well equipped with the skills to weather the storm.  We are not taught we can accept the deep and dark emotions.  We are taught instead to keep everything under control.  Our culture likes to pretend that everything is alright. We teach our children not to cry, saying ‘you’re alright’ to cherubim faces streaked with tears.  We have been taught to not trust ourselves by having our forms of personal expression muzzled.  We are schooled to believe that our interests aren’t as important as what the curriculum dictates.  Every time our inner desires were redirected, we were given a the message that what we valued was not worthy, and our inner voice was not to be trusted.  Think of the number of times we have received the message that what we feel doesn’t matter.

What can we do to regain the skills we need to trust ourselves?  How can we learn to trust those times when we need to head into the darkness and towards our edge?  Having had many experiences with sitting in darkness recently, I know that practice helps!  Watching myself fall in and out of dark periods has been building my courage and confidence to accept the darkness when it comes.  Framing my periods of darkness as storms that will blow over gives me the perspective I need sometimes.  It has also shown me that the more I can accept and perhaps even embrace my dark emotions and welcome them in with self-compassion, the easier the storm will be to weather.  When I am calm through the emotional turmoil, letting the waves of emotional burden crash upon a serene shoreline, the clouds blow over much quicker.

Knowing where to look for the light has also been something I use to come back from my edge.  For me, I find light in small things.  A smile on my child’s face, light dancing across the living room floor, the way the leaves flutter to the ground in the breeze, the sound and warmth of a crackling fire.  When I am able to notice moments of natural beauty, it brings me back to the present moment.  Presence brings me back.  Finding my moments of light allows the darkness to fade and the sun to come out again.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” — Haruki Murakami

Hunkering Down

Harvest season has been a long haul this year.  I have had a hard time keeping up with everything, from the influx of fresh food, to the realizations that we need to move on to bigger and better things.  The crux of our business is from the two greenhouses Rob and a friend took on as well as a small acreage at a different site. The reality of trying to balance home life, Rob’s full time job, the vision for our property, the gardening projects offsite and other (numerous) commitments we both have outside the house has been trying at times.  At times it has been overwhelming!  I have never resented abundance before and feel embarrassment over the feeling.  The bushels and bushels…and bushels of food kept appearing, and along with them the commitment of work needed to preserve the food, and as the days ticked by the smell of rot crept in as we failed to keep up with it all…not to mention our impressive crop of fruit flies!

Rob is amazing at getting things done…especially when it comes to processing food.  He is often the one coaxing me out of my reading chair in the evening to process this or that.  As a result of nearly two months of work (salsa, salsa verde, a variety of soups, dried tomatoes, fruit leathers, fermented tomato sauce, fermented beets, stewed tomatoes, watermelon jerky, sauerkraut, fermented hot pepper sauce, dried pears and apples) I believe that tonight will be the last night of this very long haul!  We are left with cucumbers to turn into a fermented relish and a few more watermelons to dry into jerky.  Mind you, our back porch is covered with squash and pumpkins that will need attention, but not for a while yet.  We have some space before we have to deal with them.  I see it as time to recover from the marathon this has been!

I am excited that this day signals the ending of a very difficult chapter in our life.  A chapter where we were required to keep going despite the protests…from our children, our bodies, our minds and our hearts.  It is time for us to pull in our roots.  As a plant prepares for winter, we too shall bring back our extended selves.  It is time for us to recuperate.  It is time to start enjoying the abundance of our harvest.  We have such a high yield!  And we have certainly gained more than just edibles this year.  While reflecting on this past few months, it is hard to miss the fact that it was not the processing of food that was actually causing us stress.  At the edges of the stress, we realized that it was that the food preservation had to be squished in around all the other things.  The stress came when it couldn’t be the focus we needed it to be.

We have learned so much from the past few months.  We set out in the Spring with the goal of figuring out what it is that we wanted to do with ourselves.  Our plan was to have one crazy year to try things out and see what came of it all.  We wanted to gain clarity about what we wanted to do with our lives.  How did we envision our future?  What were our real goals?  We aimed to hone in on our holistic goal.  After a lot of hard lessons, what we want to do is now clear.  We want to be homesteaders living debt-free.  We are not sure just how this will manifest, but more than ever we are eager to find as many ways as possible to integrate all the parts of our lives.  What this year has taught us is the true value of integrating, not segregating.  We want to be farming our own land, producing our own food, and using our energy and creativity for our own goals.  As we wind down the busyness, slowly pulling inward, we have the opportunity to hunker down, turn inside and to each other to begin visioning how we make our dream a reality.

First Year of Blogging

What a year this has been!  I cannot believe that I have been blogging for a year!  On the other hand, I can’t believe that writing has only been part of my landscape for the past year.  Like watching my babies grow, parts of the journey seem like just yesterday, while other parts seem distant memories.  So here I am, a year later, with 138 posts under my belt, feeling like I’m just getting started.  I am so thankful to have stumbled into blogging.

I had wanted to put together a retrospective of my favourite posts from the year, but being as it’s harvest season, and we’re working our way through the piles of perishables, I’m going to hold that post back for a little while longer…I have started sifting through my writing over the course of the year, and it is so fascinating to step back into parts of the journey!

I bought a pie pumpkin at the market last weekend, and look forward to remaking the pumpkin pie fruit leather I posted about last year…it was delicious!  Tonight we plan to start our Salsa Verde.  This coming weekend we have scheduled our annual autumn olive forage for this upcoming weekend.  As we prepare and make plans for Halloween, I am reminded of a beautiful vision I had last year that might just be possible this year.

There is something beautiful about recording the steps along the way, and having people to share that with.  Thank you for joining me on this journey…

We’re Having Fun…Right?

This summer has been a busy one around here.  We’ve been racing from one event to the next, taking weekend trips and day trips – packing as much into our days without coats as possible.  We are tired.  We are all tired.  What seemed like  a good idea at the beginning of the summer, to get lots of small trips and experiences in during the good weather, has left us feeling like we hopped on board a ride we really didn’t want to be on.

Don’t get me wrong, we have had so much fun!  Or at least I think we did.  We got to enjoy so many attractions and things outside of our regular home rhythm…which is what I thought I wanted at the beginning of the summer.  It was what I wanted.  A break from the routine.  A chance to experience things beyond what we normally do.  But now that I’m at the other end of the summer, with all of our wild adventures behind us, I’m ready to settle down into a predictable pattern again.  I am grateful for the solid four days in a row that we have been able to have predictable naps and bedtimes.  I am eager for our days to flow more predictably for a while. I am welcoming the chance to maintain my homestead and embrace the housework with more joy in my heart.  This is something that just doesn’t feel possible when I am not able to create the time and space to enjoy the routine tasks because we have places to go.  The season is changing.  I am ready.

Our counters are piled high with things from harvest, watermelons we plan to dehydrate, cucumbers that will become fermented relish, peaches that will be pureed for fruit leather, and three stock pots full of this year’s frozen tomatoes awaiting stewing and canning.  There is a lot to be done.  But the work is enjoyable, when I am able to create enough space to view it that way.  When I am pulled out of the house so often,  it is impossible for things to get done.  The work piles up, and when I finally do get to it, I begrudge it because I feel like I need a break!

Being on ‘holiday’ with three little kids it turns out, isn’t really a vacation at all, since I spend a full day at either end packing and unpacking.  While away the children are distracted by the new sights and sounds, and do very well, but aren’t really at their best.  We were doing amazing things, like visiting train museums, seeing an aquarium, interacting at a science centre, and visiting with family and friends.  But intertwined in all of these amazing experiences were a lot of tears, long car rides, potty accidents, and general frustration.

The fall out of my children’s lack of sleep and pushing their limits of social interaction usually lasts a week after things return to our regular rhythm.  Our summer has been so packed with ‘fun’ that these periods of regulation have been overlapping!  There hasn’t really been a time to return to our ‘normal’ rhythm until now.  I am really tempted to get out of the house and ‘do something’ since it feels like uncomfortable to sit with all of this unfocused energy, but I’m trying to stay the course.  I want to weather the storms with my children in the safe place of our home so that I can support each of them much as possible.  It seems easier to stay on the band wagon and keep them busy and doing, but I know this isn’t a long term solution, because it certainly isn’t the lifestyle I want to live.

Under the allure of new and exciting experiences, and perhaps a peppering of feeling like we’d be ‘missing out‘ if we didn’t, we did a variety of things this summer.  I have successfully attained a break from home life, but in doing so, I have bought into the overculture of doing.  Our family has forgotten how to just be.  Today is the first day in a long time where I feel that we are successfully making our way back to reclaiming ourselves as human beings.