Do you know what I mean when I say, “flip-flop parenting?”
You know, when we start out as parents, we want to be nice. We want to keep peace in the family and have happy experiences so we do a lot for our kids, we give them some latitude, and put our own needs last until . . . we can’t stand the kids.
Then we compensate by becoming firm: “That’s it, there are going to be some rules around this place! We need some order here and you’ve got to have some discipline!” And we parent from this place until . . . we can’t stand ourselves.
And so we then flip-flop back into a style of parenting that is kind and permissive: “I’m sorry I yelled at you like that. Yes, you can have an ice cream tonight . . . OK fine, you can have two scoops . . . “
“What? Two scoops are not enough? You want another scoop of ice cream are you kidding me? NO WAY! That’s it! No more ice cream for a week!”
And there we go, we’ve flip-flopped back into the “firm” style of parenting to compensate for that indulgent child that we created by giving too much kindness.
It’s a flip-flopping phenomenon that’s so very common among parents and me, too.
The trick is to find that sweet spot: that place of parenting that is both kind and firm at the same time. That’s what Positive Discipline (by Jane Nelsen) is all about.
It’s not about balancing kind moments with firm moments. It’s the blend, not the balance that makes all the difference.
So here’s my story of when I feel like I got the blend right.
My daughter, Jessie, was very thin, in the 3rd percentile for weight, and had been dangerously skinny as a baby. For a time her doctor even prescribed a milkshake/day to fatten her up.
Now nearly 5, she was out of the “danger zone,” but still not a great eater and quite thin. So that history made it harder for us to be “firm” when she began to get hungry at bedtime.
Jessie had had a clear bedtime routine for years. She takes a bath, gets dressed, brushes teeth, goes potty, then 2 stories and 3 lullabies before lights out and good night.
This particular night, after we had gone through the whole routine, and I am kissing her good night, she says she is hungry. I tell her she cannot eat now because it is bedtime.
She begins to well up with tears and protests that her tummy is grumbling and she won’t be able to sleep so I say, “OK, I’ll get you a banana, but you have to remember to eat more at dinner because we do not eat at bedtime.”
The next night, it happens again. This time, I’m irritated. “Jessie, we talked about this, and I told you that you can’t eat at bedtime!” At this point she starts to well up again and since I have now flip-flopped into the “Firm” style of parenting, I say to her, “Oh no you don’t. Don’t start crying now. No food. That’s it.” I walk out and she is WAILING and doesn’t calm for quite some time.
At this point I’m feeling pretty lousy. When I turn out my own lights for sleep, I finally remember my Positive Discipline tools and decide to try something different.
In the morning, Jessie and I have a friendly discussion about bedtime. I empathize with her hungry tummy. We agree that the time between dinner and tuck in is a long time and her tummy is small. And I also remind her that bedtime is sleeping time, not eating time. We brainstormed (I brainstormed) solutions. One of them was to take a snack with her up to the tub. She liked that one, and it was OK with me, too.
So that night, we tried it. Guess what happened?
When I tucked her into bed and said good night, she said, “I’m hungry.” But this time, rather than blow up, I empathized, “Oh dear, you’re still hungry.” She started to well up with tears.
I hugged her and said, “I’m sorry you’re hungry. And it’s bedtime. I love you.” (Check it out: I was kind and firm at the same time.)
At this point she began to cry. (Yes, there she goes!) But I didn’t flip-flop back to permissiveness and get her food.
Instead, I lay down with her in her bed, kissed her, rubbed her back and held her hand while she cried.
When she calmed down, I kissed her and said good night.
And that was the last time she was hungry at bedtime . . . for at least 6 months ( ;
I think this is a terrific example of being kind and firm at the same time.
Where kindness = respect for my child: her thoughts, feelings, and developmental stage. I showed her respect by involving her in finding a win/win solution. I respected the fact that her tummy was very small and couldn’t hold her over for so many hours. I respected her ability to keep an agreement.
And firmness = respect for the situation and myself. I respected our agreement to bring a snack at bath time but not after. I respected my own need to get on with my life after her bedtime.
I was happy with my blend on the third try. What do you think? I love to hear your comments and questions so please leave them below.
As for me, I think the secret is in just tolerating my child’s upset when kind and firm limits have been established and then held. When I know that I’ve been respectful in establishing the limits, it’s a whole lot easier to hold them, even when my child is not happy about it.
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