Sunday, September 27, 2009

A lesson in Attachment Parenting and Gentle Discipline

This blog was inspired by a first time play date of my daughter Dahlia and my friend Noortje and her daughter Zoe

We were invited over for a play date of sorts. So excitedly we went, Dahlia and I. It was Zoe, Dahlia, Noortje and myself on the front porch watching the girls play with a play stove Zoe has. Everything was going well. Noortje's husband cut up some fresh watermelon and avocado for us and the girls ,and all ate and played happily. Then... Dahlia got interested in a bike (she loves "big girl" bikes) So, she went on it..much to Zoe's displeasure. And so it began. Dahlia and Zoe going mad.. Both were at one point screaming, then..after Noortje insisted that it is Dahlia's turn to ride the bike, Zoe lost it. Completely.. What I found so interesting wasn't the temper tantrum Zoe was throwing.. rather, it was the way Noortje was handling it..She sat there, cradling and holding Zoe tight in her arms while rocking her and shushing her softly. She empathized with Zoe and continued rocking her. I was so amazed and pleasantly surprised, because never in my life had I seen or heard of (on Aruba) a mother responding so lovingly to a screaming child. All I was accustomed of seeing was mothers yelling back and striking their children for such behavior, which in turn just perpetuated the tantrum even longer. I've seen the common method of leaving the child there to scream after being verbally punished. All of this is common to our island, but never have I beheld Noortje's method beyond my reading material.

I sat and spoke to Noortje about temper tantrums and she and I both expressed the same views about how to handle it. With love. patience. calmness. We were both so relieved to find acceptance and validation for our parenting methods. I had done some reading on the subject and am trying my best to implement it into our daily lives. Is it working? I'll find out soon enough. Is it worth it? Absolutely

What is this method I keep ranting on and on about? It's attachment parenting and gentle discipline. La Leche League International had a great article in their magazine entitled "Temper Tantrums"
In it Donna Bruschi explained that a child's tantrums is a cry for help. Further research into gentle parenting on websites such as Attachment shows that reacting to a temper tantrum with aggression and anger actually perpetuates and exacerbates the child's plea for help. Why does a child then, fall to the ground, kicking and screaming, and sapatia like we say here in aruba, and not just come to the mom and tell her what's wrong? Simple.. a child or baby, can't. What can they do then? Well, it's simple again, cry, LOUD. How we as parents respond to such behaviors has a big impact on the child's mental, emotional and physical well being and development must be wondering.. what AM I supposed to do then when my baby/child throws a temper tantrum. I'll put an excerpt from Donna Bruschi's article.

Stay calm, detached, and nearby, offering support as needed (as well as protection from sharp edges, traffic, and other hazards). The parent may have to restrain or physically remove the child to prevent him from hurting himself and others. If the parent finds herself getting upset, it is better to make sure the child is safe, leave the room, and calm down. If this is not possible, she should stop talking and breathe deeply. If this is not possible, she should try again with the next tantrum. She will handle tantrums better with each attempt.

The parent can reassure the child that she really wants to understand what is wrong. Help him to calm down. Only when he is reasonably calm should the parent continue. If the child gets upset again, return to calming techniques.

Ask the child what happened, and listen. Listen for the facts (the situation) and listen for the feeling (the emotion).

If he can't verbalize it, make suggestions and watch his body language for cues that you are on the right track. It may help for the parent to imagine herself in the child's place. Once the parent has identified the trigger, she can help the child to understand it. Common triggers are the inability to do a task or the loss of a favorite toy. Other triggers are fears, punishment, and separation from the parent. Aggravating factors can be exhaustion, hunger, and loud public places

Since reading this, I've tried it with my 19-month-old daughter too. My husband and I stopped responding with physical discipline and focused more on our daughter's emotions and feelings at that very moment. When she starts flinging and flailing her hands at me with the intention of hitting me, I grab her hands lovingly, tell her to look me in the eyes, and I calmly acknowledge her anger, her frustration and disappointment. I get down to her eye level and I verbalize her feelings and tell her that I understand how she feels and that it's normal to feel a certain way but that hitting is not an acceptable way to express those emotions. With what result? Well, our daughter has stopped hitting significantly, also, she does seem to respond more to us when we try to correct her. We hope and feel secure that she will one day (hopefully in the nearby future) learn to control her strong emotions better and that she will grow up to be an empathetic and loving human being.


  1. One super like!!!

    I think it greatly resembles the principles of "Conscious discipline"; There is a local psychologist; Helen Guda, who gives parents courses and coaching in this area; discipline. And the basis for it is teaching the parent to have self-control and approach the behavior of the child in like manner that he/she learns that self-control as well. She give training for all Educators as well as parent groups!

  2. Hi Wendy,
    Wat een verrassing om zo'm mooi stuk te lezen over opvoeding en Zoe's en Dahlia's eerste playdate! Ik kijk er echt naar uit om meer te praten over opvoedng en je stukjes op deze blog en op facebook stimuleren me om meer te lezen over baby's, kindjes en opvoeding. Ik ben blij dat ik al zo snel een moeder heb ontmoet doe hetzelfde denkt over (liefdevolle) opvoeding! Ik kijk uit naar de volgende playdate!
    Had ik al gezegd hoe mooi ik je blog vind en dat je goed (en enthousiast) kunt schrijven?
    Tot gauw, Noortje