At work a while back, I was busy training a newbie in the kids section when I witnessed a horrible, thought provoking incident. A preschooler was beginning to misbehave, and the mother with her told her to stop, not looking at her child as she continued to browse. The misbehavior continued, and the mother did the same thing, not giving the child any attention, only words, while she shopped. Things continued like this, the child's misbehavior a reflection of the mother's lack of contact with the child.
And then an eruption--on behalf of the child.
We've all been in a situation similar to this, right? Public tantrums are a part of both child- and parenthood.
But in this case, the mother soon to follow. The girl threw herself down. It was very dramatic. She carried on for several minutes. All the time, the mother grabbed the girl, and kept asking [stupid] questions, like, "What's wrong with you?" "Why are you making a scene?" and trying to get her to stop.
The situation made me think of my take on parenting and my thoughts on tantrums. When Eva was a youngster and tantrums were plentiful, everyone constantly told me to "Ignore the tantrums. She only wants attention." But I wanted her to know I was there for her. A lot of times, I just could not figure out what to do. I did find on my own that if I let her get her tantrum over with on her own, she would deal with things, then move on much faster than if I tried to interfere. If we were out someplace, I would lead us to cover before the storm broke through. I still did not know what the best approach was.
The situation reminded me of this article, which I recommend for all parents to read: Cry for Connection: A Fresh Approach to Tantrums (written by Patty Wipfler, Mothering Magazine, Issue 115 - November/December 2002).
With both of my girls, I practiced attachment parenting from birth. When Evelyn was new, I honestly did not know much about attachment parenting—but I followed my instincts with breastfeeding and bedsharing and babywearing. And after time and experience, I have realized that attachment parenting flows into respectful parenting. I have had some dark moments that I regret, moments where I have lost myself alongside Eva. I do not regret these moments, but I have learned from them.
Parenting begins at birth, and a standard is immediately set for the parent-child relationship. I consider attachment parenting and respectful parenting to be a normal part of life for me and my family—and, more often than not, it seems to be an alternative from our culture's "norm." Attachment parenting and respectful parenting both take a gentle and nonviolent approach, which sets an example for how I want my children to live, as their behavior tends to directly model mine.
Here is an example. So today, Eva makes a mistake. She runs in the house and slips on the floor and almost knocks into me when I am pouring hot water to make tea. If I am having a bad day and yell at Eva, my behavior is directly reflected in her behavior—she will yell right back at me. I can yell back again (which I have done, many times, I must sadly admit), and the cycle will continue for several minutes until I send Eva into the other room or banish her from playing with the dogs (which is why she was running in the house, of course). Or I can take a deep breath (or two, or ten) and apologize to her for my poor choice in yelling at her. I can ask her what she did that she was not supposed to do (run in the house), and what could have happened (flew into me and spilled hot water all over me and her, burning us), and what the best solution is (to remember to walk in the house).
A child is her own person, after all, and she deserves to have her own needs and desires, just as she deserves to have respect, like any other person. Mistakes are a part of life, and a very important learning experience. It is much easier and much more helpful to discuss alternatives with Eva when she faces a problem or makes a mistake, to think things through together and decide together on the best route to take. It is, for sure, a much better option than to have a scream fest in the middle of the kitchen. Who feels good after screaming at their mother/daughter? Who comes away feeling good about the situation? I know I feel degraded and shameful. I can only imagine how a child feels.
By listening to a child—really listening, getting down on her level and looking into her eyes as she speaks—you are showing her that you respect her. You are teaching her what is involved in respect. By redirecting the mistake into a learning experience, and talking things out together to find the best answer, a child walks away with good self-esteem. She feels secure and valued and respected. She is learning how to think through her problems and is learning how to solve her own problems. She also walks away with good self-esteem.