Guest Post: Gentle Parenting May Have Saved My Children’s Lives By Donia Varnon

I tell the story of both of my kids in regards to running into streets/parking lots to a lot of people because that question comes up so often. I found peaceful parenting when my first was about a year old. We don’t do any punishments or rewards with our kids. I don’t yell at my kids and I don’t use the word “no” very often. It’s not that I let them do what they want (we have some pretty firm limits on certain things), but I had learned that children will begin to tune out the word “no” if they hear it to often so I try to use different ways to tell them when we can’t do something. 

So anyway, when my first was a little over two, we were leaving a building and my hands were full. She was always great about walking with me but this time she took off out the door running towards the car, (which was parked right outside the door) but she was headed to the back of the car because she knew I was putting stuff in the back. It’s a little used parking lot but at that moment someone came tearing into it at a rate of speed not really appropriate for a parking lot and it scared me to death that she would run out from behind our car, the other driver wouldn’t see her, and he would hit her. There was no way I could catch her. I shouted “STOP!!” She immediately stopped, turned back to look at me, and came straight to me.

There was no fear in her eyes, only trust. She knew I wasn’t going to hurt her and she also knew that mom never uses that voice to talk to her so this must be super important. At that moment, I was so thankful that I don’t yell at or spank my kids.

Fast forward a few years and I have another crazy little toddler (also two years old, also being raised without punishments). We had to leave somewhere and she wasn’t happy about it so she was crying and sat down on the curb with her arms crossed because she was angry. I was standing just a few feet from her giving her a little space to calm down. In typical unpredictable fashion, she jumped up from the curb and took off into the street but on the opposite side of a car from where I was. She was angry and there was a car coming down the busy street that I knew had no way to see her in between the parked cars and was going too fast to stop. I was even more frightened because this kid is so hard-headed and persistent but there was no way for me to reach her so I did the same thing. “STOP!!

Exact same reaction as my first daughter. She immediately stopped, turned to look at me and came to me. I don’t know if the result would have been the same had my parenting styles been different. Maybe it would…..but I have my doubts. I think peaceful parenting saved my kids’ lives.  I also think that even if spanking would accomplish the same thing, why use it if a peaceful alternative works just as well or better?

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Training Children To Love Jesus?

I was surprised to discover that some Christians believe that they can “train” their children to love Jesus. Frankly, I find this a bit disturbing because how can one “train” children?  They’re not animals. And when Christians say train, it usually means a great deal of corporal punishment is being used as in the Michael Pearl style.

I don’t want to get to involved in what the Hebrew meaning of “train” is for this post as I believe the Christians claiming that they must “train” their children are using “train” wrongly anyway.

Can you truly train anyone, let alone children, to love?  Does God train us to love Him?

According to the Bible, we are not trained by God to love Him.

“We love Him, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19, KJV).

And how did He show us love?

”But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NASB).

No, God never “trains” us to love Him because that would pretty much be forcing us to love Him. God prefers true love that can only come from deep within our hearts because we have seen and felt God’s love for us. He is gentle and patient while He waits for us to accept His great love for us and reciprocate it back to Him!

Another thing, young children have a special knowledge of Who God is. They already love Him.

“At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants'” (Matthew 11:25, NASB).

“From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength Because of Your adversaries, To make the enemy and the revengeful cease” (Psalm 8:2, NASB).

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We just need to cultivate that knowledge and love for Him through reading His Word to them, including them in prayer and worship without forcing it on them, and, most importantly, showing them God’s amazing love by modeling it to them through treating them and others with compassion, mercy, forgiveness, and grace.

We don’t need to worry about “training” our children to love Jesus nor fighting for their souls. Rather, we need to worry about accurately portraying God’s loving character to them so that true love for God and others will last a lifetime!

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Helping Toddlers Deal With Big Feelings

Toddlerhood is full of intense emotions and transitions over which they have no control. They are discovering their independence, while, at the same time, still requiring much dependence on their parents. Striking a balance between dependence and independence can be difficult for them. Plus, they still lack the vocabulary to tell us how they feel or what they want. On top of all of this, as they can finally walk, climb, and run in order to explore their world more fully, there are limits added that weren’t there before, and sometimes they may not always get what they want.

Yes, toddlerhood is not an easy time for toddlers or for their parents. Developmentally, they cannot control their impulses. They test everything out of curiosity, not maliciousness.

It is up to us to guide them through this tough stage of development. When toddlers get upset, it is important to figure out why and validate their feelings. Usually a full-blown meltdown can be avoided if we are aware of the toddler’s needs and intervene with offers to help them. If they know we hear them and will validate them, they are less likely to completely meltdown. It is also important to tell toddlers what is expected of them. For example, if we are going to the grocery store, we need to tell our toddler what we will and will not be buying at the store. This will help them not be so disappointed when we remind them that candy wasn’t on the list when we are at the store. A well-fed, well-rested, and well-loved toddler is less likely to have a meltdown.

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Providing children with appropriate ways of getting out their anger and aggression like punching as pillow, doing an angry dance, kicking a ball outside can be another way in which we can help prevent full blown meltdowns. Calm me jars also help. Fill a plastic bottle with water. Then pour glitter in. Duct tape the cap on and give it to the child when he/she is upset. He/She can manhandle it. As he/she calms down, he/she can watch the glitter settle. We can then talk to him/her about his/her feelings. It’s always better and more Biblical to help children work through their negative feelings rather than punish the child.

But despite everything that we may do in order to prevent toddlers from having meltdowns, there are always going to be times in which a limit has been set or a “no” has been given to something the toddler really wants and the toddler is going to get very upset and have a meltdown. As upsetting and tiring it is for us, this is a normal stage of child development for young children and is just as upsetting and tiring for them.

As Christians, it is also helpful for us to remember that the child is not being sinful. He/She is trying to communicate with us using their very primitive communication skills.

When meltdowns happen, it is important for us to remain as calm as possible. A toddler in a meltdown cannot control themselves as their brains are in overload. Scolding and punishing them will not help. They need us to gently but firmly help them get through the meltdown. Having them in a safe place where they can’t hurt themselves, others, or property is important. Quietly saying, “You’re showing me your big feelings. You’re so angry. I am here.” is helpful. But, try not to say too much as it could agitate them even more. Some children may find gentle restraining helpful while others just need room to work through the meltdown.

At the end of a meltdown, it is okay to talk to the child about more appropriate ways of dealing with their anger. If they made a mess during the meltdown, have them help you clean it up. This should not be a punishment. Make it fun. Also, right after the meltdown, pray with your toddler to help him or her feel God’s peace within him or her. I also recommend singing a favorite Christian song after the meltdown. Children must learn that God loves them no matter what, and we do too!

Helping children co-regulate their feelings by validating them and providing for their needs allows for children to become emotionally healthy and able to cope with the disappointments of life appropriately. After all, this is what God does with us. He validates our feelings and our hearts.

For example, in Matthew 9:2, Jesus first tells the paralytic to “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven.”

You see, being disabled in New Testament times was quite a hardship emotionally as well as physically because the people treated people with disabilities as beggars. They were outcasts. Some even believed that they were disabled due to sin, which John 9 shows isn’t the case. Jesus is more concerned with our hearts than our physical beings.

Gentle but firm discipline allows children to identify and deal with negative feelings. They learn to express them appropriately. By positively helping children work through their feelings, they learn we will always listen and help them. This will lead them to come to us, and, ultimately, to God when they are in need.

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