We are living in very exciting times with regard to childrearing. For the first time in history we now have ways to study children’s behaviour and understand how they think and what they feel. We are learning how much they are able to understand at various stages in their development, and how we can communicate with them in ways they will understand us. We are also learning how to “decode” what they are trying to tell us about their needs, before they are able to adequately express their feelings in words – something that normally doesn’t happen until they are well past toddlerhood.
Babies are conscious long before they are born, and they are already learning about their mother and the world they are coming into when they are still in the uterus. We are discovering increasingly more about what they experience before birth, how they feel during birth, and what kind of birth and babyhood empowers them to become winners in life. Most importantly, we are learning that children are inherently good, and grow up wanting to please us and that it is only if they are traumatised or the loving connection between us is broken that things go wrong. The good news is that when things don’t go the way we would like them to, there are ways we can help babies and children heal from trauma and to restore the loving connection between parent and child.
Parenting Through the Ages
In his book, Parenting for a Peaceful World, Robin Grille outlines the various parenting “modes” that we have gone through as human beings. We have left far behind the times when children were sacrificed to the gods, sold into slavery, sent to the workhouse, or expected to behave like miniature adults. At the moment much of childrearing in the developed world falls into what is called the “Socialising Mode”, though increasingly, as we come to understand more about what helps children reach their full potential, we are moving beyond that into what is known as the “Helping Mode”.
In the Socialising Mode, which began during the last century, it was finally understood that children don’t think and feel like adults and that they need our help and understanding in the early years. But the emphasis in this mode is to teach them and prepare them for life by shaping them so that they will “fit in”. Children are punished for “bad” behaviour and praised for “desired” behaviour. Techniques used include rewards, punishments, threats, bribes, manipulation, etc. and the idea is to control children and mould them into what we want them to be. Spanking is now questioned, but “time-outs”, “consequences” and other punitive methods are still used to get the desired behaviour. Attempts to understand the underlying feelings and unmet needs that drive behaviour are not yet understood in the Socialising Mode.
“It is not our job to shape children, but to nurture who they already are.” ~ Naomi Aldort
The Parenting of the Future
In the Helping Mode we go one step further. We come to understand that from birth, babies will tell us what they need if we are listening. As they grow, rather than pushing them to achieve, we can place children in an enriched environment and allow them to engage in creative play, which greatly enhances their intelligence. We play with them, but only if invited to, and when things need to get done, we offer choices, and help to make it fun. While firm boundaries are needed to help children feel secure, we come to understand that children are innately good, so when they misbehave, it doesn’t mean that they are bad or in need of correction, but that they don’t understand what we want from them, or have been hurt or upset by something and don’t know how to tell us. Of course unacceptable behaviour is not allowed, but if we say, “No”, and set a loving limit, we help the child by listening to their feelings (including crying and tantrumming) about their disappointment that they can’t do what they want to, and empathetically reflect back to them that we have heard them and understand how they feel.
So instead of giving them a “talking to”, when they are upset we make a safe place for them to get their feelings out (through tantrums, crying or expressing anger and hurt feelings) and we “listen”. Children are greatly relieved to find that we are interested not just in their behaviour, but in the underlying hurt feelings, frustrations or unmet needs that they are trying to express through their behaviour. It keeps the parent-child connection strong and healthy, and children raised this way are usually well-behaved and eager to please their parents.
Because they are not controlled by rewards and punishments, children raised in the Helping Mode are more likely to follow their instincts and discover where their real interests and talents lie. This leads to happy, self-actualised people who feel fulfilled and can express their individuality when they grow up, offering their unique contribution to the world and making it a better place for everyone.
So this site will be about some of the practical ways that we can move ahead into Helping Mode and raise happy, confident children who will also be respectful and compassionate towards others, because they themselves have received respect and compassion from their parents. Here is a link to a short video of Robin Grille talking about moving away from authoritarian parenting (socialising mode) to authoratitive parenting (helping mode) Robin Grille talks about parenting.
The articles I am posting here were mostly published in a South African parenting magazine in the past few years, so they also reflect my own growth and understanding as it developed through reliving my own childhood hurts in psychotherapy and was refined as I was exposed to the pioneers in this field like Aletha Solter, Pam Leo, Naomi Aldort, Robin Grille, Patty Wipfler, Laura Markham, Alfie Kohn, Thomas Gordon, Faber and Mazlish and others. I hope you will enjoy them. ~ Pat
Written by Pat Törngren © 2012