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Parenting Peacefully

Encouragement for parents wanting to live more peacefully with their children.

This page was called "Peaceful Parenting," but someone has trademarked that phrase and threatened me with legal action. Not very peaceful. Still... I changed it.



We make choices ALL the time. Learning to make better ones in small little ways, immediate ways, makes life bigger and better. Choosing to be gentle with a child, and patient with ourselves, and generous in ways we think might not even show makes our children more gentle, patient and generous.—Sandra Dodd

Ren Allen wrote:

Something that helped me many years ago, was from another Mom. She said that a child's wails, or screaming was her "cue" to turn on her very best Mom skills. There are many ways to re-train your responses in that area, but that helped me.

When my child starts screaming at me, it's my cue. That's the little "ok, I need my calmest, kindest, best responses now" start-up. It helps me detach emotionally and have the ability to respond calmly. I feel more like an observer almost, and the screams or words just flow over me rather than causing an emotional response of anger.

“Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.” ~Rumi
http://www.learninginfreedom.com
http://radicalunschooling.blogspot.com/

LINKS

Mindful Parenting: writing to accompany a talk given by Ren Allen and Sandra Dodd in 2005

Phrases to Hear and Avoid

Helping untangle fighting siblings

Mothering during a Melt-Down

How to Raise a Respected Child

Do you worry about "spoiled" children ?

Pam Sorooshian and others on Saying Yes to children.

How children taught the mom a thing or two about peace.

"Stirring up Peace"—Unschooling articles with a spiritual angle

Dealing with Humor that Demeans Children


MANY parenting topics, about food, sleep, TV, spanking, sibling disputes, video games, honesty, teens, how to discuss sex...

It Only Takes a Second to do better

From the UnschoolingDiscussion list

Sandra Dodd:

Some mom reading here might look up and smile at her child, or touch his head softly, or turn off the computer and go watch him build with Lego, or go with him to the park to throw a frisbee for the dog. Maybe without this list she would've told him to just go do something else because she had to fix dinner.
AmyLS:
I'd just like to say that the cumulative effect of reading this message board has been much like Sandra said. Saying 'sure!' when my youngest one asked if we could get the Chocolate Lucky Charms, getting up when my kids say 'Hey Mum, look at this...' (instead of...'hold on, I'm doing something'). The insights and vignettes on this board have been very valuable to my family... good writing!
Spilled Milk

I've mentioned my old attitude and how I'm working on things.  I had an awesome moment about half an hour ago that made me feel really good.  My youngest son told me matter of factly that he had spilled his milk.  I got up, found something close to begin cleaning and asked him to get another towel that was farther away, but was big enough to finish the job.  We cleaned the milk up together and got him into some new clothes.  This probably sounds really simple, and basically, the actions were the same ones I would have followed just a few months ago.  The spill was cleaned and the clothes changed.  The difference this time was that no one yelled, screamed, sighed, huffed, growled, stomped and no one else cried, screamed or got scared of his father. It also took a fraction of the time to just smile and wipe.

In the middle of all that I had a moment where I realized how much nicer it was to just deal with the situation.  It wasn't a moment to teach him not to spill his milk.  It wasn't a moment to deride or correct.  It was just spilled milk and a little boy with a cold strip down the front of his clothes.  And that's all they ever are, just spilled milk and soggy britches.

Sam, on AlwaysLearning, January 2006

Switching Off the Fury

Is there a pattern to the difficult days? Are you busier and more likely to forget to eat, are you more tired? Can you feel the tension building? If you can are there things you can do to alleviate it? Watch a movie, go through a drive in and get some food, do something slower for a bit. I started out spanking. I spanked until Simon was 5 and Linnaea was 2. Spanking was all about my way and my frustration and my inability to seek out a different way. It was amazing when I stopped. It was hard not to turn to the quick solution that never solved anything and left everyone upset, me included, me, maybe the most. But it was amazing to have to expand into the vacuum left by not having that blunt tool in my toolbox. Both Simon and Linnaea grew to trust me. It took less time than I expected. They didn't want to think of me as a bad mom, it was easier to rewrite myself as a no-longer-hitting mom than I expected.

Two days ago I got irritated at David. And I raged at him for about 1/2 second and I stopped. I breathed and I apologized and it was gone. There is no way that I could have done that when Simon and Linnaea were little, not because of them, but because I hadn't taken the small steps to get from where I was to where I am. It took recognizing that what I wanted from them and what they gave didn't have to be different things. It took more and more seeing how much I enjoyed them and being with them and all that they did. As a side note, when I feel myself getting annoyed I find it helps a lot to just hang out more with them and appreciate them all over again. It took seeing that I didn't need to get to the end of a tirade to apologize for it. I could stop midstream. It took using Ronnie Maier's rewind and do-over requests and having two children who had the generosity to give me those momentary reprieves. It took doing better each time. It took looking at the toll not doing better took. Simon would ball up and get smaller and smaller. Linnaea would rage back and scream and defend. Nobody heard what I was saying anyhow. My raging, my approach to problems didn't help anything.

I can remember talking about it, thinking about it, it was like a switch I could feel turning. I went from calm and in control to *switch* furious in no time at all. And I couldn't figure out how to not turn the switch on, to make the switch a thoughtful process. When it flipped the other day I felt it go and I stepped away and I turned it off. Most days I stop long before the switch goes. The thoughtful process was recognizing the grumpiness earlier in the day. Feeling a shortness that isn't normally there and doing things to respond to that like going for a quick breath outside or having a chocolate milk or a chai latte or something else that just ups my energy budget a bit. Taking five minutes to close my eyes and be still helps, too. Whatever works for you to buffer yourself is good. Come up with lots of little things.With an almost-four-year-old, little things and little moments are what you are most likely going to get.

It helps a lot to try for better moments not days. Don't judge a day by one upset, judge it as a bad moment and move forward. A little bit better each moment. A little bit more aware.

Schuyler, on Always Learning, October 2009

Mindfulness

A mom wanting to become more mindful wrote:
An idea just hit me—
      maybe part of the problem is not trusting MYSELF.

Ren Allen responded:
That is huge. I believe that is a huge part of the healing, and something Sandra and I talk about in that article mentioned...the focus was about the healing aspects of unschooling.

Unschooling, in a very real sense, IS a mindfulness practice.:) Being in the moment with our children, trusting the flow of life, seeing our connections to them and to all of the universe etc...

I think my greatest breakthrough moment (or paradigm shift) was about acceptance. In Zen practice, the idea is to simply notice things, without all the judgement and preferences attached to the noticing. Sort of like a reflecting pool.

If you can see the mess around you, feel some angst welling up and instead of reacting to those initial feelings, you just notice the angst. You notice your anger, your emotions. Kind of like a visitor standing off to the side and watching.

If you stay with the feeling, just noticing that you are having these strong emotions, pretty soon you'll find that the emotion subside quite a bit and you're able to think more clearly about what action would make sense in the moment.

I'm using chaotic mess as an example, because that's a trigger for me sometimes..... what I've found is that whatever I'm reacting to, is not really what I'm reacting to. Clear as mud?

Mess is not what makes me angry, it's feelings of being ignored, undervalued etc...when I really examine it (how can they just trash the kitchen when I just cleaned it up? Don't they care?)

There's always some underlying thing that is the trigger for the emotion when I examine it more carefully. So letting the emotion arise (don't fight it, don't tell yourself you shouldn't feel it, that's trying to hard to control again), noticing it and just staying with the feeling for a while.

I think in previous times, I was always fighting myself to try and change. That doesn't work so well. Mindfulness does change what you react to, but it happens so quietly and naturally you hardly realize it. A moment happens that is so drastically different than how you would have reacted in the past and it's almost like a slap (a good slap) and you're thinking "WOW".

So accepting your emotions, feeling them, and staying with them until some clarity swirls up is much better than trying to stop yourself from feeling anger (or whatever emotion wells up).

I will always remember something Richard Prystowsky said about being a peaceful parent on the tape from his and Sandra's talk a few years back; something about the way to become a peaceful parent was to be peaceful. There was no path, you just had to BE peaceful.

It's really that simple. Slow down and make room for peace amongst all the mess and fun and tasks and STUFF. All of that daily stuff is your practice, so make it peaceful and happy and there ya go!

Ren Allen


Possibilities and Joy

Willa was worried about intellectualizing too much, and not being fully present with her young child.

Sandra:

Nobody's still and at kid-speed all the time. But if you can figure out how to do it sometimes, then you can choose to do it, or choose to go faster, but to bring him along in a happy way.

Instead of saying "Come on, let's go!" maybe you could have picked him up and twirled him around and said something sweet and by the time he knows it he's fifty yards from there, but happy to be with his happy mom.

Willa:
I see—possibilities and joy rather than mental processing. I think I did end up doing something similar, but I probably could save myself some mental wear and tear by doing it more spontaneously.
Su Penn:
You will! I find myself now doing things without thinking about it sometimes, and realize I've created new reflexive reactions to certain situations with my kids. It's great! And it just comes from forming the intention and then practice, practice, practice.

Here's an example: the other day, the kids (5 and 2) and I were shopping at Sam's Club. When we got to the checkout, the kids spotted a playhouse on display nearby, and ran over to it. It was near us, they went inside and were playing happily, but not too loudly. I did notice that while I was checking out, nearby mothers were looking at me, looking at the playhouse, looking at me, looking at the playhouse. I thought at first I was being paranoid but it was pretty obvious. I think they were waiting for me to say, "Get out of the playhouse, you guys," or else were worrying that their kids would also want to go get in the playhouse.

Anyway, both kids were wearing firefighter helmets. So when I finished checking out, I pushed the cart over by the playhouse and called, "Firefighters! Emergency! Load up! We have to go fight a fire!" The kids came swarming out, calling, "Fire! Fire! Hurry! Emergency!" and piled onto the cart. Then they made siren noises all the way to the car.

We were out the door before I thought, "Wow, that could have played out really differently." I might have done it differently a year or two ago. I might have gone over there all authority-figure (if I'd even let them be in the playhouse to begin with), and we'd have gone out the door crying. I had to practice, practice, practice. But on that day, it just came naturally to me.




It's Going to be Good

Someone had written:

I tend to "hide" from the kids when I'm overwhelmed and of course it's just a vicious cycle.
Ren responded:
Being sensitive to stimulation makes it difficult as a parent....I think being very proactive in a situation like that really helps.  Don't wait for the "overwhelmed" thing to happen, take steps when you're feeling calm and centered.

Having many tools in your toolbelt helps...like the stash of toys, Pam's chopsticks, new games etc..., taking time to sit quietly with a cup of tea or a bath when everyone is sleeping, whatever feeds your spirit so you can connect with your children from a loving center.

I have found that when things get tense, a short "meditation walk" will really help re-focus my energy...or if the kids come along, we all see new things, and find our joy again by being in a new setting.

Just a quick shift into a different place, or different situation can really change the energy in the house.  Going for a drive can do the same thing. I have a big enough van to keep the children that are having issues, FAR away from each other.:)

Being present isn't always easy, heck, I forget to listen to my own advice at times!! We're human, we get cranky, we have hormones and life issues and frustrations. Luckily, we also have an incredible web of support (thanks to technology) and a chance to do better every day. 

I wake up sometimes and really think about how I will respond THIS day. Just today I'm going to be utterly present for my children, I'm going to be in their world (not just doing my own thing while they do theirs), I'm going to really hear them, I'm going to prepare myself to be present starting right now. I drink my tea, breathe deeply of the new day, think about preparing some yummy food they will love to help start their day off on a positive note. 

All this helps me really BE there when they awake and come out for hugs. Those are the days that things really flow, that I'm not getting as frustrated (even when challenges arise), because I've made a CHOICE.  Every day isn't going to be smooth...that's just life. But when we choose mindfulness, choose to be present in each moment, choose to prepare ourselves for the most important role in our lives...it's going to be good.  

Ren


"...like it was the most normal thing in the world."

Janet wrote at UnschoolingDiscussion in late April, 2006:

For a lot of you, this is probably normal. But for me I’m still amazed at myself when I do it right. I’ve always been around very conservative, rigid homeschoolers, so I felt I was doing so good. It was easy for me to be the mom that said yes the most. But when I found this group, it was the other way around. I realized how much I was still saying no. I never saw that before. Anyway, today:

I’m outside reading – we’ve been having beautiful weather, and my daughter is outside also. She gets up, goes in and a little while later comes out with the TV. Instantly, in my brain I hear TV’s don’t belong outside, it’ll get damage, etc. I keep quiet. She goes back in and returns with the DVD player. It’s on the tip of my tongue, but I keep it there. She sets it all up on a table, gets a big umbrella, her little sisters, and they are all happily watch The Matrix Reloaded, and I’m smiling. So you know the old saying, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” Best thing to do. I’ve never in 45 years watched a movie outside. How nice. And one other thing. Six years ago or so she wouldn’t have even thought of – no she might have thought it – but she never would have asked let alone just do it. Today, she just did it like it was the most normal thing in the world. I’m still smiling. Nice day. Thanks for letting me share.            [Janet's Blog]


There is no substitute for being authentically "there" for them...

Someone wrote to Pam Sorooshian on the side:

I just forwarded a post of yours to a friend and thought I'd like to tell you thanks for writing it. It has made a huge difference in our lives. I've copied it below. That idea of just focusing on that one interaction just really clicked for me in a way that all these years of reading unschooling lists hasn't. I read it right at the end of an overwhelming and sad few months (people dying, moving, having major surgery) where I got really disconnected from my kids. Your words really helped me find my way back. All of us are happier people. And I talked to someone . . . who was similarly affected. Thank you!
Here is the post to which she referred:
Stop thinking about changing "for good and not just for days or moments." That is just another thing to overwhelm you and you don't need that!

Just change the next interaction you have with the kids.

Stop reading email right now and do something "preventative"— something that helps build your relationship with them. Fix them a little tray of cheese and crackers and take it to them, wherever they are, unasked. Sit down on the floor and play with them. If nothing else, just go and give each of them a little hug and a kiss and say, "I was just thinking about how much I love you."

Okay—so that is one good, positive interaction.

Again—just change the next interaction you have with the kids. Focus on making the next interaction another one that builds up your relationship. If the next one is because the kids are fighting, STILL keep in mind that you want this interaction to do something positive for your relationship with the kids and stretch your thinking as to how you can make that happen. In other words, you kind of think from their point of view about yourself. Consider what thoughts you want going through their head. Do you want them thinking: "She never takes time to even find out what the problem is?" Or "She always blames me?" Or "She's such a hypocrite, doesn't want to hear us yelling, but then she yells at us." "She hates me." And so on. What do you want them to be thinking—what words (articulated or not) do want tumbling around inside their head? Maybe "She understands how I feel." Or "She really cares about helping us solve our problems." Or "She is trying hard to be fair." Or "She's calm even when I'm not." Or "Mom is the best listener in the world." "Mom loves me even when I'm causing problems."

And, eventually, you want them to think like this:
"Mom will help us find a solution."
"I can stay calm like mommy does even when I'm mad."
"I can listen carefully like mommy does when there is a conflict."
"I can recognize feelings, like mommy."
"I can come up with new ideas, like mommy does when we have trouble."

There is no substitute for being authentically "there" for them—for genuinely trying to help them resolve problems. For putting your relationship with them at the forefront of every interaction, whether it is playing together or working together.

None of us are perfect; we'll all have some regrets. But with my kids 19, 16, and 13, I can now say that I will never say anything like, "I wish I'd let them fight it out more," or "I wish I'd punished them more," or "I wish I'd yelled at them more." I will only ever say that I wish I'd been more patient, more attentive, more calm and accepting of the normal stresses of having young children.

One interaction at a time. Just make the next interaction a relationship-building one. Don't worry about the one AFTER that, until IT becomes "the next one."

-pam

About the tape of the Richard Prystowsky/Sandra Dodd talk—

Diana Jenner wrote:

Here's my testimonial:
This tape was the best money I ever invested in my parenting experience!  There is so much wisdom on that one little cassette tape.  I listened to it on the way home from the live & learn conference in '04 - which was amazing and definitely a great annual investment - just to have that tape with me when I need it; not just to play in a stereo, but now to play from my head!  Sandra's voice, even when calling upon you to do the *hard* stuff, is a wonderful addition to the chorus already there.  While the other ones are screeching justification for horrible mothering, there's Sandra, "Wait for the second, better option" and I do, and the other voices get quieter and quieter.  Oh they're still there but at least they now have competition! I've read most of the books that Richard recommends, and gained great insight into peaceful diana = peaceful family.

The conference recordings were available, too, you can check liveandlearnconference.com and listen to the wisdom of many unschoolers, talking about many topics; any of their voices will give yours a run for their money!

I had a healing  massage last week and I visualized my load of straw being brushed off, so I was far, far away from *the last straw* in my life.  Small investment = HUGE return.

Thanks Sandra :)
:) diana

And now it's here, free, so the only investment is time and thought.

I listened to Sandra's wonderful talk that she suggested to me and it really hit home. I love how she says that when you feel about to get mad, pull the child close to you, smell their hair and that this will connect you to who this little person is... I had tears in my eyes in many moments while listening to this talk. I highly recommend it to other moms. —catherinemforest, April 2012
Thanks to Lee and Lauren Stranahan, to whom I am grateful for time and know-how, the tape has been converted so that you can hear it here.

This recording has part one (44 minutes) and part two (30 minutes). The forward and reverse buttons toggle between the two "sides" (sides of the original cassette tape).

The audio files are stored on the Internet Archive in several formats here: http://www.archive.org/details/PeacefulParentingTalkdoddprystowsky, and you can listen there or download it for free

Here is a readable version of my favorite part (about making choices). It's better spoken than written, but for those with emergency need for that part, Marta Pires transcribed a section:

“Peaceful Parenting”
A Richard Prystowsky/Sandra Dodd talk at the HSC Conference in August 2002
Minute 33:13 to minute 37:23, transcribed by Marta Pires in April 2012

Sandra Dodd:

I have a story about my sister. My poor sister, you know that’s what she gets for being my sister. She used to call me almost every day and she would just call and kind of complain. Her oldest kid was older than mine so she should’ve known more, but she’s younger so she thought it was my job to hear her problems for the rest of my life, and I still do my duty.

But she would call and she would say “I was so angry about..." this or that little stupid thing, and I’d say “Ok, well you could do this or that or the other."

“Ok, thanks, good idea”.

And the next day, she would call and go “That’s just it! I can’t take it any more ‘cause I was so angry..." and they were stupid things.

And I said “You know what? Everything is the last straw for you.”

And she said “What do you mean?”

I said “It’s like you have this big load of straw and you take one straw off and then you feel better and you go along until one more little thing happens and it’s the last straw.” And I said “You need to spend some time unloading half of that straw.” Because, you know, she was like that all the time and she was 30 and she didn’t have a good excuse. So, if you don’t have any peace in yourself, how are you going to allow your kids to have some? Because if you don’t have any peace and you’re angry and you’re not sure why and you’re just waiting to see what made you angry, then your kids are not safe, they won’t have peace.

So, the first thing you do, if there’s a loss of cabin pressure, is put the oxygen mask over your own face and then help your child. There’s no sense shoving oxygen over his mouth and yelling “Breathe, I said breathe!” when you’re the one who needs to be doing the breathing! So, every time you have a choice…

Richard Prystowsky:
A common example. It’s a common example. [Because he had used the oxygen-mask example in a talk earlier in the conference, but I hadn't known. :-) ]
Sandra Dodd:
Every time you have a choice… You know, when you have little kids, and you don’t say “What of all of the clothing that we own or that I could possibly buy at Walmart would you like to wear today?” That’s too big! But you say “Do you want this red shirt or this blue shirt?” and the kid feels like he made a choice and he makes that choice and you gave him a choice and he's starting to practice making choices because then he could also say “Neither, I want to wear that green shirt.”

Do that with yourself too. You’re pretty angry and your adrenaline’s upon you and you have about a half a second to decide what you’re going to do and the first two choices that come to your…
Don’t ever decide from one choice, you know, wait until you get two and make the better choice. And if you think “Ok, I’m either going to whack him or I’m going to yell at him,” yell at him—that was the best choice you had at that moment. And the next time, start with “yell at him."

“Ok, I'm either going to do what I did the last time or something better. I'm going to yell at him or I’m going to go in the other room for a second." Go in the other room.

And the next time, maybe your choice could be either “go in the other room” or “I’m going to take a deep breath and make a joke about it.” Make a joke.

And gradually and incrementally you come closer to the place where you want to be. Beause I don’t think anybody can just jump from a lifetime of responses and expectations and behaviors and just pick some other person and just become that person. You can’t do that.

But it also does help to have other people around to model. Think... Either hang around, really hang around with a family that you respect, and see how they are with their kids and try to be more like that. Or even in your imagination, you know, if you want to envision, depending how old you are going to be, Ozzy and Harriet if you're really old and, you know, or whatever nice tv family or literary family you want to be like. And pick one that you don't want to be like, that's a legitimate-as- all-get-out use for literature is to have some good role models and some cartoons to be avoided. You do not want to treat your kid like he's Oliver Twist. So Oliver Twist is your extreme at one end; that's not right. So get in your head some models and let that be your guide to be more like.

Another way is to get witnesses. That's one reason people join support groups and confess to their friends what they're doing, because you've told somebody what your intention is. You've told them what your problem is and what your intention is and now you have witnesses and for some people that helps. Sometimes it needs to be an imaginary witness, sometimes it needs to be a real witness. But maybe, if it will help you, imagine that the friend that you most want to impress is there and would you do it if they were there.



Many related links are near the top of this page.

notes on the threat about the page name