Are You Asking Me or Telling Me

Gentle Discipline April Mini-Series, Part 1: Request or Demand? A point of distinction
You can also read Part 2: Flipping off Your Kids

A mother holds up her child.

Image via Wikipedia

I’m at the library escaping my love-filled, but very noisy home full of boys. Aside from the noise of fellow library patrons’ laptop startup/shutdown tones, vibrating cell phones (just as loud as a ring tone!), occasional person who actually thinks it’s okay to have a conversation on said cell phone (!) it’s a peaceful break for me to concentrate.[1]

A mom with 2 small boys looks down at them  and asks, “Do you want to leave the library now? It’s time to go to soccer practice.” Of course, the answer she gets from both boys is, “No! I don’t wanna go to soccer!” The mom says, “It’s time to go now. I told you it’s time for soccer.” The boys protest further, “I don’t want to go! I don’t like you, mama!” One bolts for the audiobooks and begins knocking them to the floor. From there, the situation further degenerates into the mom making threats to not take them to soccer, the boys loudly melting down, until she angrily scoops them both up and carries them out the door.

It’s a scene that you see all the time. But I do find it remarkable how quickly a question asked from a place of disconnection can escalate into an all-out anger and pain tug-o-war.

Ironically, as I watched this family, I’m at the library to write a post about gentle discipline [2] and how if we do not connect with ourselves as parents first, we can not hope to connect with our children.

I make the claim that connection is what it really is all about.

Hybrid Rasta Mama wrote a great post about how often kids are told, “No!” And, of course, since I’m in the middle of writing this post, my comment is lifted directly from what I was writing:

As my kids get older, one of the things I try to do in addition to many of the insights you [Hybrid Rasta Mama] list is to remember the mantra “connect before you correct.” This refers to 3 connections:

  1. What is my need here? (safety, quiet, peace, etc)
  2. What is my child’s need here? (Exploration, hunger, affection, etc)
  3. How can I honor both our needs here and now? Once I’ve identified these (the hard part), I can find the yes in the no (the easy part)

Point 1 is vitally important and one we, as parents, most often overlook. Once you have connected with your own need, you can decide whether you are asking your child for something or demanding something. To put myself in the place of the library mother, I might find that I would like to get to soccer practice at the appointed time. My need is for punctuality. Point 2, what are my children’s needs here? They need fun. Point 3, How can I meet both of our needs and find the yes in the no?

I am not going to ask them if they “would like” to go because what do I do if they say no? If I am going to ask them something, it will be something that meets my need for punctuality and their need for fun. I may ask something like, “I see you are enjoying the library and want to have fun. I need to ensure we get to soccer practice at xx o’clock. Soccer practice begins in xx minutes. How would you like to run around on the grass out front?” This moves us toward the door, reminds them of soccer, and allows them to play. Hopefully, then I can continue this gentle moving toward the soccer appointment from there.

But, what if I check in with my needs and find that a “No, I don’t want to play on the grass” is not an acceptable answer to me?  I need to find out if I am really making a request or if I need to tell them something. If I am making a demand, then I need to state that clearly (nothing wrong with stating what you need, right?) Like that library mom, she was not actually asking a question, she was making a demand but was hedging about it. She was moving from a place of disconnect into further disconnection with her children. [3]

If it’s not acceptable to receive an answer you don’t want, then don’t ask the question.

Gently, tell what you need and explain what will happen. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. As many times as necessary and then some more. The trick to maintaining your patience with this, is that you are moving from connecting with your own needs (you are meeting your needs.) As long as you can continuously check in with your needs as you are making your statements, you can do so from a place of abundance instead of a place of deficiency, and children really do feel this from their parents and they do respond.

If you haven’t been practicing connected parenting in this way, it may take quite a lot of patient repetition on your part to maintain this constant checking and rechecking in for connection, but it will come together eventually.

Part 2 of this series continues with Flipping Off: Another trick to connecting while correcting

[1] Okay, maybe I’m holding a little resentment from the noise. Breathing through it now…

[2] Now, a series. Yikes!

[3] I know I am not taking into account what happened before or after the portion of their interaction that I witnessed. So, this is a simplistic example. There are times when melt downs happen both for parents and for children. Then, maintaining connection, while scooping up a melting down child includes, explaining what you are doing, stating your feelings without referencing the child (i.e.: I am feeling sad that we have an appointment when I see you want to continue playing. Not, I feel annoyed that you don’t come when I say, for example) I’ll explore this topic further in a later post

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12 thoughts on “Are You Asking Me or Telling Me

  1. Pingback: Six Steps to Stop Screaming and Start Parenting Mindfully | TouchstoneZ

  2. Oh this is a wonderful post. I need to direct my partner here because he needs a LOT of help directing the toddler& then I end up refereeing. It often involves leaving the house together: he says “wait by the door.” she goes to the door, unbolted it& runs out into the neighborhood. Meanwhile he gets distracted& is cleaning up a cabinet somewhere, totally forgotten that he was going somewhere& oblivious tht the kid has disappeared.

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  5. I like your focus on repetition and being gentle with ourselves if this path is new to us.

    I remember Marshall Rosenberg saying (I can’t remember if it was in Nonviolent Communication or in one of his talks I saw on DVD) that his teenaged son was frustrated with how long it was taking Rosenberg to practice this new compassionate way of communicating. Rosenberg said something like, “I’m trying something new and it’s going to take me a while. I can do it this way or I can yell at you and ground you like I usually do.”

    I think it’s useful to be clear about what the alternatives are (even if our kids are too young to understand and it’s just for ourselves).

    • Thank you, CJ. That is a great quote from Rosenberg. I feel like I’m feeling my way in the dark with this parenting stuff. Whenever I move from connection, it works. And I agree with you-right from birth we speak with our kids as understanding of what is going on. I think we can find connection with our kids pretty easily. Their emotions are huge and uncontained. So they’re easy to identify. It’s our own that are subverted or buried that are so hard to truly get in touch with.

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  7. Zoie I loved reading this!

    Honestly the whole idea of discipline kind of scares me sometimes…I had such terrible examples of it when I was a child, and all I know is that I don’t want to repeat those mistakes (or give in to that anger).

    I think it’s been keeping me from looking into it more (avoid it and it’ll go away, right? 😉 )…I know mine isn’t old enough yet, but it’s not like she’s not gonna get there all too soon…

    Anyway, I could totally get what you were saying…it definitely resonates. I really needed this post, I think…so truly thank you. Looking forward to part 2!

    • Thank you for your comment, Kelly. I avoided it when my oldest was little, too. I think you’ll start reading up on it when you need it. Enjoy where you are and don’t worry about later. We can all cry together when we reach the teenage years.

I love comments and try to reply to each one. I look forward to connecting with you. Namaste

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