Being a parent has taught me to see children through a new set of eyes. Rather, through being a connected-parent-who-is-focused-on-child-development-and-nonviolent-communication, I have come to see children’s behavior through a new set of eyes. Behavior can be a bit misleading, especially when it tugs on my emotional triggers, and I tend to react with strong emotion. When I first started seeing “triggering” behavior in my youngest child’s toddlerhood, I looked at it with a blind eye.
Where there was hitting, I saw violence.
Where there was whining and pestering, I saw an annoyance.
Where there was “not listening,” or not following directions, I saw disobedience.
But I wasn’t seeing the behavior. Not really. I would feel outraged that a child (my child!) could be so selfish, mean, or insensitive, and all I wanted to do was put a stop to this unacceptable behavior. But when that was all that I allowed myself to perceive of the situation, I wasn’t able to see what was really going on. Because the behavior was coming from somewhere. My child was not being a problem, she was having a problem. And just treating the behavior without addressing the underlying problem, I was only trying to solve my own problem, all the while masking hers.
During those early years, as I searched for “what to do” about my young child’s behavior, I came to realize two things:
1. The answers–our answers–weren’t in books. No one else had the answer for what do to in response to my child’s behavior. I came to understand that I already had the answers. They were in my heart and in our strength of connection, and I needed to trust what those answers were for us.
2. These answers weren’t in response to the problems I thought they were. As my daughter grew, and as my son grew, I began to see their behavior–the depths of it–and to really understand where the right response should begin.
The problem is not a child’s aggression, it’s the child’s overwhelming and misplaced emotions. The solution becomes about empathy and acceptance and creating a sense of belonging–misplaced emotions and all.
The problem is not the annoyance, it’s the child’s feeling of distance and insignificance. The solution is not further pushing away of the child, but increased involvement and emotional connection.
The problem is not the disobedience, it’s the lack of opportunity for autonomy and initiative. The solution, then, is not about issuing harsher threats to gain compliance, but about creating more opportunities for personal power for the child and communicating trust in using those opportunities.
So, when we ask ourselves, What is an appropriate response to hitting? What should I do when my child whines about everything? How do I get my child to listen to my directions?, know that the answers aren’t found in books, but are already within us. The key to finding them is to see the behavior in its entirety, leaving nothing masked. Don’t look on the surface but go deeper. Look past the trigger point and into the inner workings, for there is the source of the problem, and there is where the solution will begin. Don’t just look at behavior, see it, and you’ll find what to do.