It’s 10:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, two hours after our children are usually nestled into bunk beds.
We’re with friends, their living room turned dance floor packed with the bendy bodies of children and their parents. There are toddlers spinning and stomping, preschoolers believing the spotlight belongs solely to them and the 7- to 10-year-old crowd, all leggy grace and giggles.
Brothers, Lee and Danny, spin tunes from the inner machinations of their smartphones, noting to the children like professors of the class, Decades in Music Appreciation: The 80s, “This song was huge when I was your age.” Out blasts Michael Jackson, Madonna, REM and, regrettably, Vanilla Ice. In the blurred factions of children and adults, it’s hard to say who’s having more fun.
Though the passing into a new calendar year is an arbitrary transition, and as all great spiritual teachers (and most toddlers) remind us, each moment is brand new, I like taking this opportunity to assess where greater degrees of effort or acceptance are warranted in my life.
I seek to carry out this parenting gig consciously, with continual intention toward connection and peace. Creating peace and connection in our family never comes from simply wishing and waiting. Rather, it comes from gentle and pointed effort, active forgiveness and a willingness to regard my children as deserving the same respect and kindness I expect.
There are myriad parenting books, coaches and classes. There are websites, support groups and inspirational Facebook quotes. Truly listening to your individual child is probably the best program there is, but I will share a perspective that has increased the peace and connection in our household.
Dr. Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, explains that our children’s bad behavior comes from unmet needs. “Troublesome behavior signals big feelings or unmet needs. If you don’t address the feelings and needs, they’ll just burst out later, causing other problem behavior.” This is good news. If all our efforts toward initiating complicated reward charts and tiered systems of punishments is put toward determining our children’s unmet needs, the road to peace becomes shorter. Your child will benefit more from the lasting power of being understood than the short term faux-fix of a time out.
Often, the need is as simple as wanting to be heard and acknowledged. How many times do we breeze through our agendas, sweeping our children along without letting them know we understand their point of view? Maybe they’re sick of accompanying us on errands, or they’re involved in a book and don’t want to come to dinner. We might not be able to change the circumstances (Dinner is ready; errands must be done), but we can empathize with their position, share how much we, too, hate to be interrupted when engrossed in a book and perhaps brainstorm after dinner with our child on how to ease the transition next time. As we begin to identify our children’s needs, they will often learn they can bypass the “bad” behavior and simply state their needs, trusting they will be heard and efforts will be made toward true solutions.
It’s after 11 p.m. when we finally arrive home, full of New Year’s cheer. How grateful I am to be in the position of celebrating New Year’s Eve with my children, rather than nervously awaiting their return home from teenage festivities, as will someday be the case. At 7 and 9, the kids can’t imagine anything different. Col explains how the night went to his dad who couldn’t be there: “We jumped on the bed, we ate and we rocked out.”
May your family peace and connection increase in this new year.
Reach Rachel Turiel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her blog, 6512 and growing, on raising children, chickens and other messy, rewarding endeavors at 6,512 feet.