Monday, 17 November 2014

My Parenting Style

There's a lot of talk these days about parenting styles - I'm not sure if this is a recent thing but it's not something I recall hearing much about until recent years.

It seems that there are new terms and buzz words flying about every other day - different parenting techniques fade in and out of vogue, and the question seems to constantly be there - Are you a helicopter parent? A tiger mother? Are you authoritarian? Permissive? What is your parenting style?

This is something I've been mulling over lately, as I feel that it's at this toddler stage that the need for a parent to decide on their approach really matters.

Lately Tyne has started to experience his first temper tantrums - he becomes frustrated easily when something isn't working how he would like it to or when he doesn't understand how to do something.

He is expressing his frustration by screaming and waving his arms around initially, and then he collapses into sobs....of course this isn't nice to see and it's seeing these tantrums occur more and more frequently that has made me start to think about our parenting approach.

I feel that it's important to be consistent in how we handle these displays of emotion and frustration - although he is probably too young to really understand what we're saying to him at this point, I do think that our responses now will teach him the sort of reactions he can expect from us in the future and that this will help to create a trusting and healthy relationship.

I'm never all that keen to label myself or try to fit something as personal and important as parenting style into a neat "One size fits all" box - there are always going to be things that I believe and practice that don't fit in to a particular style - but if I had to label it, I would say the style that most closely fits my approach and beliefs is that of Gentle Parenting.

Gentle Parenting is very similar to Attachment Parenting but doesn't so strictly follow all of the principles that Attachment Parenting does.

To my mind, gentle parenting means:

* Listening to and respecting your child as their own person with their own feelings, thoughts & needs which may not necessarily be the same as our own.

*Being child-led (which is different than being child-ruled!)

*Using positive encouragement and language, demonstrating calmness and showing empathy

Pretty simple, right?!

Of course there are always going to be times when it's difficult not to lose patience and I don't for one minute doubt that is going to happen to me! I'm no saint.

But I hope that with practice I will be able to keep those occasions to a minimum, and parent in the style that I feel is most appropriate and makes the most sense for us as a family.

I suppose I have followed this approach from day one without really being conscious of it, for example:

*We have never set a routine - we found it far less stressful to be adaptable as Tyne moved throughout different stages and just go with the flow. We have always allowed him to nap when and if he chose to, this suited us perfectly as we found it to be far less restrictive with regards to plans - Tyne would nap out and about if he wanted to, he has never needed to be in a certain place or with any certain items to settle himself off to sleep. He napped usually once or twice a day at varying times until the age of 1, and has not napped in the day since then unless on a long car journey.

*We never tried to sleep-train - we agreed that part of having a baby is night-waking, and that this is a stage that will not last forever. It made sense to us to just ride it out, take it in turns to get up with him and soothe him back to sleep, and not try to force him into a sleep pattern that suited us. This worked well for us and Tyne actually slept through the night from around 6 months old, we didn't find sleeping to be much of an issue at all.

*We practiced safe co-sleeping and still allow Tyne into our bed when he wants to be there - we found that Tyne was soothed very easily by being close to us at night time and didn't seem to like being in his moses basket at all. As neither of us drink or smoke, and we invested in specific co-sleeping aids we felt comfortable to do this. As Tyne got older he spent less and less time in our bed, and now only comes in first thing in the morning at around 8 am for a cuddle for half an hour or so. However if he wanted to come into our bed during the night, we would allow him to as I feel it to be an acceptable thing for a young child to want to be close to his parents if he feels he needs comforting.

It should also be pointed out however that there ARE things we chose to do that would NOT generally be considered the norm when adopting the Gentle Parenting approach, for example:

*I did not breastfeed - This is probably the main thing that I differ on from most parents who adopt this parenting style. I realise that many people are incapable of understanding this, but the idea of breast feeding simply does not sit comfortably with me. This is something I have spoken about before so I won't go into the details again, please feel free to read my explanation of this HERE.
I do not feel that my decision not to breast feed had any impact whatsoever on my bond with Tyne, though I am sure many people will shoot me down in flames for suggesting so!

*I did not follow the Baby-Led approach to weaning - this was something I struggled with when it came to making a decision on how and when to wean, but in the end I did what I believe all parents should do in every situation - which was to follow my gut instinct.
I felt that, at 17 weeks, Tyne was ready for solid foods and so I chose to start him with baby rice and move on to blended and spoon-fed solids.
I have an extreme fear of choking and this was a real issue for me to overcome even when spoon-feeding mush, and so I was acutely aware that trying to force myself down the baby-led weaning path would only be harmful for Tyne as I knew I would be incapable of not showing fear when weaning him.

And so I suppose that leads us to where we are now - Tyne is 19 months old, and the current issues that we are facing are the temper tantrums that I mentioned above and his sudden clinginess to us.

So how are we dealing with these issues?

Tantrums - The approach I am taking is to address the tantrum and show empathy and understanding, rather than ignore or berate him. I feel that he is throwing a tantrum because he doesn't yet have the vocabulary to express his frustrations - he is not doing it to be "naughty" or difficult. 
I respond by getting down to his level to speak to him, asking him what is the matter (He can communicate in 1 or 2 words, and point to things), holding his hand or rubbing his back while I speak to him, using a calm tone to speak and trying to help him to find a way to resolve the problem.

For example, today he threw a tantrum because he couldn't get his toy trains to ride over the track like he wanted them to - he didn't understand that the train he was using was too wide for the track, and so I helped to show him what trains would fit on the track and how he could make them ride over it. This appeased him straight away. 

Clinginess - I am very aware that a lot of people will be of the opinion that gentle parenting can lead to clinginess, but I personally believe that most children will go through a phase of separation anxiety and that it is incredibly important to deal with it in a manner that builds trust.
At this age, Tyne does not understand that when you leave a room you will come back - he panics when he sees one of us leave, and becomes quite hysterical until we return.

This can be very challenging to deal with as, of course, we can't be with him 24/7 and it wouldn't be healthy to let him think we can - it's a fact of life that there are times that he will have to be away from us, and its important that he learns that we will come back.

I do not believe at all in the approach of sneaking out and not saying goodbye as I don't feel that is conducive to a trusting relationship. I think it is important to explain and reassure that we are going away for a short time and will be back. 

Yesterday at a soft play centre, Tyne wanted to go off and play with the toys but was nervous to leave us - he asked Jon to go with him and held out his hand to him. I do not believe it would have been a healthy lesson to refuse his request for support and send him off to play alone - instead I encouraged Jon to go with him like he had asked and to let him see that we are there if he wants us. After a few minutes of Jon accompanying him, Tyne became more comfortable and happily went off to play alone.

In the future there will be many more issues to tackle, and I hope that we will continue to approach them with consideration and respect. 

Of course I am aware that as Tyne gets older, situations may become more difficult to deal with - my main goals as a mother are to be compassionate, not to use negative words such as "stupid" or negative phrasing such as "You are naughty/bad" (To me this is you telling a child that they ARE already naughty, so what's the point? You've already given them the label. I have no issue with certain behaviour being labelled as naughty, but not the child itself.), and to be respectful.

I firmly believe that in order to raise a child to respect you, you must first respect them. Children are not little robots who must meet our expectations and demands, but little people whose feelings and needs are just as important as those of an adult.

As we are now expecting baby number 2, I have asked myself "Is there anything we would change next time around?" - would we do anything differently? 

I can honestly say that we would not. We are happy as parents, and it is very rare that situations become too stressful or overwhelming - Tyne is a happy child. I believe that our flexible approach to parenting has helped with this greatly and that is why we will continue on the gentle parenting path.

Of course I completely understand and respect that every person has different parenting ideals and goals, and many will undoubtedly differ to mine. 

I respect completely every parents right to raise their child as they see fit, and I do not mean to judge anybody for it - to each their own!

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