I started my parenting journey with a copy of The Contented Baby book by Gina Ford. My 1st born son was an unusual baby, he slept in predictable patterns and seemed to follow all of the text books with little parental influence or interference. I transitioned from reading Gina Ford to following Super-Nanny and I thought she really knew her stuff, I intended to incorporate a time out or naughty step into our lives. I also thought reward charts were a great idea to motivate potty training and general behaviour management. As far as I was concerned it was better than shouting and losing my temper which I did more than I wanted to (and hated myself afterwards when I did!).
Like many, before becoming a parent I had clear beliefs about parenting and the importance of discipline and boundaries. So once my son entered Toddlerhood, not once did I question whether our son was learning through the parenting methods I had chosen. My son continued with his reasonably easy going nature, I can remember him having one mega tantrum in his entire toddlerhood. His worst offence, in my mind, was ‘not listening’ to me, and repeatedly doing things that I asked him not to do. So going to time-out or the naughty mat as I called it, became a regular occurrence – despite the fact I knew he wasn’t reflecting about the offence whilst in time out (he would often be messing around with the shoes on the shoe rack or the mud on the doormat!). He would usually cry when placed in time-out (further contributing to my belief that it must be working if he was upset) – he never tried to move away from time-out and I would go back and tell him why I had been angry and we would hug and make up but he would continue to commit the same *offences*. I am embarrassed that I didn’t consider that perhaps it wasn’t working. Rather thought it was something I just needed to persevere with. One of the repeated ‘offences’ was to chase our poor, elderly, old lady cat! Time and time again this was the game of choice (often it would be when I was distracted on the telephone!) The need to chase the cat became greater when our 2nd little boy arrived! I wish I had recognised that my toddler was just experimenting, probably delighted by the cause and effect. Plus it really seemed to make him laugh when the cat ran away suddenly. It really was just a game in his toddler eyes and maybe a call to me that he needed something more from me at that particular moment. Of course he didn’t have the verbal skills to explain to me that he was bored, or lonely or just wanted some of my time.
Still I consoled myself that when using time-out at least I wasn’t automatically shouting or losing my temper, both things I wanted to avoid, and that eventually he would learn. The tears were surely a sign of remorse?! I also asked his father to be involved in using the naughty step and the reward charts, although looking back I don’t think he was convinced. His Dad also struggled with his temper and actually I think we all at least knew where we stood when using a tool like a time-out/naughty step. I much preferred him to use those methods than to lose his temper with our little boy.
I had no understanding of how incapable our child was of doing what I expected of him aged 3, that he was working from an instinctive brain that didn’t allow him to think things through or empathise (and nor was he likely to have the ability to do those things until around aged 7 without the help and guidance of an adult!), or that his behaviour was actually a clue that he possibly needed something from me. Nor did I ever consider that maybe my temper was something that I needed to get a hold of, despite the terrible feelings of guilt I felt if I did ever lose it.
As our son got older we gradually started using time out and reward charts less and less and started to notice the detrimental effects of using them. We noticed that the reward chart theme continued into school and actually had stopped really motivating our little boy at all. I remember having a chat with him after pre-school one day as lots of his friends came out of class with a sticker on, and asked why he didn’t have one. He said it was because he didn’t help to tidy up. When I asked why, he simply replied: because I didn’t want to! I remember feeling slightly disappointed and then every morning before school would say, ‘will you come out with a sticker today for helping with the tidying up?’ and each day he would come out without one. He also didn’t seem much bothered with the house-point cards, once full you would get to visit the headteacher for a certificate. He got a few but some of his friends were on certificate no. 8 by the end of the Reception year! George had 2! It is so hard not to get caught up in the comparing of your children. I started to lose sight of all of the things I was proud of because I spent so much time worrying that he wasn’t bothered by stickers and rewards. I’m actually quite glad now that he wasn’t motivated by stickers and rewards. Like much of what I have learned in recent years, It all makes so much sense. Children don’t need to be motivated by stickers and rewards. If there is an internal or intrinsic motivation to do something, they will do it and they will feel proud of themselves without the help of a sticker. It is also worth considering how high the stakes will have to climb when you are trying to motivate someone older than a toddler? When stickers no longer cut the mustard! You could end up with a child that refuses to help do anything without the external or extrinsic motivation of something!! Also worth considering in years to come – who is happier, the person that does their job because it fills them with pride and other fulfilling feelings or the person in their job because of the pay cheque at the end of the month?? Although debatable in these hard times, I think most of us would rather have a job we love!
When I started to really think about my child differently, also started to notice that when our son was angry or upset, and now we we were not using time-out, he would not come to me for comfort. He would take himself away and scream at me to go away if I ever tried to help. It would take him a very long time to calm down enough to let me help him. I found this incredibly difficult. There are still times when our boy clearly needs me but he doesn’t want me. His upset will sometimes go on for up to 20-30 minutes and during this time he will be telling me to leave him alone. It makes me feel so helpless. I want to hug him and to help him understand that I am there for him to help him and support him, but he doesn’t want me, or at least doesn’t feel like he wants me. We work to improve this every time a situation like this occurs. He does eventually accept my hugs and support and lets me hold him. I am quite confident to say that this is likely a result of us using time-out and sending him to be on his own when dealing with over-whelming feelings (although am really happy to be proved wrong on this one!)
When our 2nd son started tantrumming at 10 months I really felt over-whelmed. This was quite full-on tantrumming and far earlier than I ever expected it. The tantrums would often be head-banging, throwing himself dangerously around on the floor. It was just so hard to know what to do. This quickly progressed into scratching my face and pulling my hair. The way I reacted depended on where I was, but I mostly wasn’t dealing with it well at all. My adrenalin would start pumping, I would be in fight or flight mode, and more often than not I was struggling to hold my emotions and was losing my temper (which actually just made for an even more difficult situation, escalated tantrumming never mind my older son witnessing it all and finding it all really difficult to deal with too)
My dear friend started to notice I was upset and not coping well and when I confided in her she happened to ask if I had ever heard of a facebook page called ToddlerCalm? I quite quickly followed this up. I read some interesting links via their page and gradually started to feel a little better equipped to deal with the tantrums and this turned out to be the beginning of an amazing journey for me and our family, although a very bumpy one (and one that continues to be bumpy at times!)
I do remember early on after finding ToddlerCalm that I happened to stumble across an article on the page suggesting that time-out and reward charts weren’t useful tools to use and I felt really annoyed! I felt Judged! What the hell did they know??!!! How dare they suggest my parenting methods were not helpful??!! It was the first time I had felt truly challenged about my parenting methods (and at that time I felt those methods were *working* – they stopped the behaviour in the moment and mostly stopped me from losing my temper) I hadn’t ever really considered there may be negatives associated with these parenting tools. Still the more I read the more my beliefs were challenged and the more I learned. It is hard having your methods of parenting challenged. It is easy to dismiss new information and to even feel annoyed or judged. ToddlerCalm and all of the information they share is all based on sound scientific evidence. The knowledge of this, alongside that deep rooted feeling that the way I was handling things wasn’t feeling good or actually improving things, it really started to make perfect sense.
I felt cheated that I hadn’t had access to this information with my 1st child, I had unrealistic expectations of infant sleep (therefore hadn’t realised quite how lucky I was 1st time round) and was totally unprepared to support my child through his tantrums. When we have babies there is such a wonderful selection of classes to attend, baby massage, baby sign, baby sensory, post-natal groups the list goes on. Then the support all stops and for some they are entering the most challenging parenting times. To learn information to support realistic expectations, to be given practical tools and techniques to use to support me and my child was so empowering. For the first time since my 2nd son was born I actually started to enjoy him and my relationship with him. After attending a ToddlerCalm 4 week course (which I loved) I then went on to undertake my own teacher training.
My mission; is to help others find out about this information and to learn tools and techniques to really connect with their children and to have positive relationships. The more I put into action with my children the more I could see this stuff actually worka. I haven’t looked back. I want this information to be accessible to everyone.
I now look at my children and thank them both for giving me these widely contrasting experiences. Both have taught me so much about what is means to be a mummy. I feel terrible mummy guilt at times, particularly when I think of my eldest son, like most people’s eldest children, a little bit of an experiment because you are going through everything with them for the first time. I also feel terrible guilt that it took me so long to bond with and enjoy my 2nd son. It has taken me 6 years of parenting to truly feel able to trust my own instincts as a parent, and it isn’t easy. Often I am going against so many others expectations and it can cause many disagreements and arguments with family and friends to make different parenting choices. Everyone has an opinion on parenting.
Becoming a parent is over-whelming, it is exciting, it is emotional. We get so much information and advice offered to us, whether we want it or not. We often get great nuggets of information that have worked for others, but 1 size definitely doesn’t fit all, and it is incredibly common that much of our conflicting advice (that isn’t evidence based) still unfortunately comes from our medical professionals and health visitors (the people that many believe must know best)
Following much studying, I am very knowledgeable about facts and evidence based information and have finally been able to tune into what feels right when it comes to parenting. I read and absorb as much evidence based parenting information as I can, but in real life I still get things wrong. I am by no means perfect nor do I claim to be.
Everything I teach at ToddlerCalm comes with a large dose of *real mum*. I didn’t start my parenting journey with this knowledge and insight and it has made me reflect a lot. I am now the least judgemental person you will ever meet. I have made many parenting mistakes, and will no doubt continue to. I don’t think there is a right or wrong way, but I think there are better ways and I think it is important that as parents, we all know the facts so we can truly make informed choices and decisions about the way we parent.
I can say hand on heart that I parent with love, passion and as much patience as I can possibly muster but time-outs no longer feature (some days the patience is unfortunately lacking!). We opt for time-ins instead , naming emotions and talking about feelings and as my son has got older I find that I can talk to him and reason with him and he is better able to tell me how he feels. It has taken a period of adjustment for sure. My partner is on board most of the time. He works hard at getting things right too.
All I want is for our children to be happy adults that live an honest, untroubled and fulfilling life (hopefully free of depression, massive anxieties and low self-esteem) I don’t want them to be afraid of their emotions or to feel bad for having off days – I want them to be able to talk about their feelings and ideally I would like them to enjoy spending time with me occasionally when they are grown up!! Isn’t that most parents long-term goal?? It shouldn’t be too much to ask, but in the world we live in, it feels like a big ask……I feel like I stand a slightly better chance of achieving this now, than I perhaps did a few years ago.
I plan to blog about how I support the children emotionally now, but in the meantime I really love this articel:-