If you’re anything like me, when I’m stressed, I feel like the whole day of interactions with my children can consist of “don't do that” ,”no you can't”, “stop it”, and other language that generally feels like the tone has taken the express train to negative town. This is often followed by the dreaded and defeated “because I said so” and feeling the utmost defiance at having to explain myself. We all do it!
I'm not about to sit here and declare that these phrases aren't empowering for kids or don't help them in their understanding - because we’re all just trying to do the best we can, none of us are perfect and like anything, there is balance. Oh and did I mention some days, the fact that they’re alive is my job done - signed sealed and delivered.
Children need structure, they need rules, I'd even go so far to say that they crave boundaries. Boundaries are what make them feel loved, cared for and important. It's also necessary for children to know, understand and see frustration in the flesh; to witness this from mum and dad - to see where the boundaries lie and when enough is enough.
But while there is one end of the spectrum, I think it's great (when I have energy) to explore the side that leans toward keeping myself in check and recognising when and why I do things, so that I can improve on my tone and behaviour etc. It also makes me feel like I've got some sense of parental control and mindfulness. I need to feel like my kids understand and respect me, but most importantly I want my kids to feel understood, considered, heard, respected, encouraged and loved.
I read a fantastic article a couple of years ago and it has stuck with me ever since. The premise was that for one whole day eliminate all instructions and commands to your children. No it's not a means to an end, it's an exercise to get you to think about your interactions and the necessity of tone and in return respect and compliance.
I remember in primary school I had this horrible witch of a woman as my very first teacher. She had a booming voice like a cross between a fog horn and an ogre, she would forcefully grab us around the wrists, pinching them tightly and frustratedly, to show us what we “should” be doing. She yelled and screamed the house down at all things and anyone - all I remember is being absolutely petrified of her and doing things/complying out of utter fear, I always remember being confused at what she was asking but too darn scared to ask any questions. I only ever acted out of fear, never out of respect and understanding.
Once I hit high school I had a similarly horrible teacher (minus the wrist grabbing). By this stage, that horrible teacher no longer produced those same fear reactions. In fact the extent of my interactions with her consisted of calling her a “horrible old bat” under my breath and rolling my eyes. I had little attention for her, past the monotonous “blah blah blah” filling my head and ears. She didn't respect me, I didn't respect her, and I sure as heck didn't listen to a word that came out of her mouth!!
I know we’ve all had teachers like the above - but I’d also like to point out that I had some lovely teachers. I had one in particular that was so warm, friendly and caring. When I look back she strikes me as incredibly motherly! I always felt like I could ask questions and explore ideas without her being frustrated and harsh, but instead she was interested and encouraging. I learned more with her in one year than I would have in 10 with the “old bats”. She respected me. I respected her. I learned a whole lot too!
In order to be reflective on my behaviour and my interactions, adopting a day of no commands or instructions has helped “still” my parenting for a day and recognise which bits I do and don't need in my interactions. Which bits of my behaviour are and aren't helpful, and have helped me to recognise the way I want my children to view and respect me. In doing this exercise I am also recognising and showing my respect for them.
I've done this exercise a couple times when I've felt my parenting behaviour needs a check, now I challenge you to do the same! No commands or instructions for one whole day! (Unless of course they're about to walk in front of a bus). Think you're up to the challenge? Let me know how you went in the comments! Like I said, it's not a means to an end, rather a day for reflection.