It’s long been my goal to convince parents to stop fighting their children’s behavior. I document the age-related developmental milestones that children go through: the notorious “stages” that they have. For each developmental milestone, at first they become much more demanding. Depending on the situation you are in, these times may be seen as more difficult. But after this time of disarray, they become relatively more peaceful and have new skills. You can visit my work at www.TheObservantMom.com.
I want this work to stand on its own like an unmovable rock that says, “This is natural behavior. It is normal. We cannot change it. We have to work around it.” Deep down I want the work itself to just act as this. And, certainly, it has–to some degree. I’ve received notes from all over the world about how people think to themselves, “Misbehavior is Growth!” as they deal with their child. They simply surrender when their child, say, runs off to go investigate something which was not part of their original plan. One Mom wrote to me that she at first dreaded these milestones but learned to embrace them as the growth opportunities they are. This warms me over like no other.
But I still felt like I lacked the words or perhaps the paradigm to explain to people how to stop fighting their child’s behavior when they clearly are stuck in a battle with their child.
Here is an example. I’ve worded this myself to avoid directly quoting (shaming) anyone but the sentiment is similar to what I see from parents a lot:
“I’m feeling defeated. I no longer enjoy my child. All day, I am giving in, negotiating, being assaulted, demanded of. It never ends. I’m exhausted. I cannot take anymore. I am ashamed of myself. I am not the parent I want to be.”
Or perhaps, “My child isn’t LISTENING! I am going nuts!” Or, “My daughter keeps attacking me. I need to work. What can I do!?“
And I see this and I want so bad to say, “Surrender to it! Stop fighting the behavior!” It is for instance ok to “give in.” But I am torn because I don’t want to tell the Mom she is “bad.” And while I am stumbling to find the words, someone comes in with this,
“You are in a battle of wills with the child, and you must win decisively each time! Read The Strong Willed Child by James Dobson. Otherwise the child will continue to test your authority.“
And I just die inside. This advice that you are in a “battle” with your child and you “need to win” is so incredibly opposite of anything I stand for as a parent or as a researcher.
The Power of Now
I believe I have found the right paradigm to explain to people this idea of not fighting children’s behavior. I thought of it after reading Eckhart Tolle‘s book The Power of Now. Tolle’s book is about the present moment. You can’t change the past and the future is not guaranteed. What you have is now. Right now. What reason is there that right now can’t be good? One of the questions he asks you to ask routinely is “Do I have any unease right now?” If so, is there reason to feel this unease? Is the problem weighing on you happening right now? Not tomorrow. Not 10 minutes from now. Now. If there is no need to worry, then just say “no” to that unease. Joy is a matter of removing unnecessary unease. This concept, in which the removal of bad things is enough to attain good things, was powerful for me.
He describes how all life has a “Being” to it. It’s already there. The joy we have in ourselves is there and cannot be added to. If we could step back and look around us, life already has enormous beauty. We don’t need to try to control it. Tolle describes how a flower is not in distress. It trusts that the sun will be there. If I may: Is a mother duck in distress over if her duckling will hatch? No, there is trust there. You surrender to life, and its natural ways. He writes,
“All negativity is resistance. In this context, the two words are almost synonymous. Negativity ranges from irritation or impatience to fierce anger, from a depressed mood or sullen resentment to suicidal despair.”
And so I thought of this idea of nonresistant parenting. It means we surrender completely to childhood behavior.
In the past, whenever I’ve tried to describe my style of parenting, I’ve always come up short on what it exactly is. I don’t really like “positive parenting.” This word “positive” can be seriously abused. Positive parenting is still authoritarianism; people are still trying to transform a child–it’s just done “positively.” I also don’t like “gentle parenting.” I support being non-punitive and emotionally validating, but, given the work I do, documenting childhood “misbehavior,” I’ll be the first to tell you that parenting is not always “gentle.” Children can hit, growl, attack, etc. While I advocate we deal with it non-punitively, I hardly call the situation or our reaction to it “gentle.” I support “attachment parenting” in that it focuses on the relationship, but even their literature is filled with being the “alpha parent.” I am much more radical than this in how much I lean into, flow with, and even mine child behavior. I kept coming back to “nonpunitive parenting.” It’s the best that could describe what I do. It is the absence of punishment. But I didn’t like it because it’s not a proactive thing I do–it’s a negative; it’s what I don’t do. And yet it really was the best way I could describe it.
Since finding this idea from Tolle that joy is in fact the removal of negative influence, I am much more settled about describing proper parenting in terms of what I don’t do. My spidey senses were right! A lot of good parenting is in what we don’t do. Except in reading Tolle, I can take it one step further: from nonpunitive to nonresistant parenting. And that was the issue the whole time: it’s an entire attitude of how to approach parenting, not just the removal of punishment. It’s how we speak and act and how we are when with our children. Pushing it from nonpunitive to nonresistant takes it to that level.
I want to stress that the idea of nonresistant parenting rests on a similar if not the same concept as Tolle’s idea of The Power of Now: what is amazing in our children, just like what is amazing in us, is already there. That’s the thing about this work. It’s not just a documentation of when children get out of hand, although that’s part of it. There is also amazing growth. As I study child development, I can say with full sincerity that the potential inside children, ultimately the deepest nature of who we are as humans, is so much more awe-inspiring than any conceived man-made ideal that we could ever “instill” in them. This should relieve us of many burdens and worry. We can rest in the knowledge that our children are destined for greatness–even if they are temporarily blocking us from going up the stairs, not putting down their iPad, not doing as asked, etc. They have a forward moving growth that is simply there. We should sit back in awe of it; try to understand it; and surf it as best as possible. We do not create anything in our children. We but guide it wisely. So nonresistant parenting has two components 1) a trust that the growth is already there 2) a full surrender to the process.
More Thorough Surrender
I believe my work has acted to help parents surrender to their child’s behavior. Countless have told me that my work has brought them patience. I document when the demanding (“irritable”) portion of the milestone starts–and ends. When a parent hits one, they can think, “Oh my. This is really hard. My child wants me ALL day. But I know that it is a milestone. The hardest part will be over in a few days.”
Personally, I found even I had to make a huge mental adjustment for some of the milestones. I document them, and still it often took me about a half of a day to finally relent that my child’s demanding behavior was my new reality. I otherwise would get irritated and upset for that 1/2 day. And this irritation is exactly what Tolle calls “resistance” which he describes as “negativity.” This is the irritation anyone feels when they won’t surrender to the reality of what their child is demanding, whatever it is.
After reading Tolle’s book, I was willing to surrender more quickly and on a more moment-by-moment basis. The best way I can describe it is what happened when a light bug landed on me once. At first, I was annoyed by it. And then I asked the question, “Do I have any unnecessary unease?” Within microseconds, I let go of the irritation of the bug being on my arm. And then the bug felt good! It was a soft, fluttering sensation. I welcomed the sensation more readily. Maybe this is the way children’s continuous demands to be near us was meant to be received?
Since reading Tolle’s book, every single day I wake up with this sense of, “Oh, hello, today. You’re beautiful.” I expect the day to be a joy. Why wouldn’t it be a joy? The default is joy, ease, comfort, strength. Anything that takes me from this is temporary. I have the power, the mental capacity, to just say “no” to all sorts of things: needless worry, social anxiety, the dread of having so many chores to do. If the problem isn’t in my now, it’s not a problem. It’s insanely powerful.
With my children, the surrender is much quicker now. If they come up to me super demanding or whiny, it can indeed be bothersome. But I let it leave me as soon as I can. Yeah they may have been whining for a drink. But that was 3 seconds ago. This is now. I can very often even find the joy in whatever it is, and I can do it much quicker than before. Maybe getting a drink is a lesson on how to pour liquid into a cup–or a chance to play a silly game–or whatever it is. I want to stress that I am not “reframing it to be positive.” I am just letting unnecessary irritation leave me. It is surrender.
Being to Being
Since employing this, my children get the biggest kick out of me. The default is joy. I am more proactive and enthusiastic about life, but also more grounded. These things have a funny way of reinforcing each other in a healthy way: being more grounded and being more willing to fly. When my kids come up to me to play tag, I have this radiant joy that undeniably emanates. They run away in delight as I come alive to chase after them, in a way that capture the “now” moment. They certainly feel it. The whole house is different. They seem a million times more likely to put down their iPads to play, more cooperative, and more trusting. How I see them certainly affects their behavior.
Before my motto with children was “assume success is likely.” This is how I got through trying situations with children. It kept me calm and moving forward. But this idea of “resist nothing” took it to the next level. This again seemed weird because it’s something I’m not doing, but it’s undeniably powerful. I have many issues with modern parenting advice, which can still safely be described as “soft authoritarianism.” This, again, has been my biggest issue: how do I explain the radical acceptance of children that I advocate without coming across as irresponsible or “not in charge”? These ideas that children need us to “contain” them or “do what’s best” for them by, say, making them wear a coat, or that children “need” boundaries are all forms of authoritarianism–and they are all forms of resistance. They put barriers between adult and child. I never make my children wear coats. I have them on hand, but I trust their own internal cues know best. I don’t think children “need” boundaries”; I think they need safety and love. When we prevent them from running into a road, it’s not because they “need” a boundary; it’s that we love them enough to keep them safe. They don’t “need” it. If we lived in the open country, they could run wherever without this boundary and grow in a perfectly healthy way. This idea of nonresistant parenting helps me to explain all this better. I’m not irresponsible. I’m leaning in fully–much more radically than most are used to. I am in a conscious, responsible position, but not one that overrides any part of child development.
It is the anthem of most modern parenting advice that children need, above all, an attached relationship with an adult. The research from nearly every front is clear: a supportive relationship in one’s early years is what is necessary so a human can thrive. This idea of nonresistant parenting takes that attachment to the next level. It removes all barriers and puts the loving adult in touch with the child without any unnecessary resistance. Tolle describes that we transform people through our Being–through our presence. This is exactly what I advocate in Misbehavior is Growth. I advocate that these times of age-related turmoil are a call from children to come to them to help them during a developmentally critical time. We do not push them away to “not reward bad behavior.” They are asking for connection; not selfishly “looking for attention.” They need our mentorship. We do educate them and connect with them and engage them–but with full love and joy, not “discipline.” Children are not “seen but not heard.” They are fully seen and fully heard. They are held in our authentic presence, in the now. It pushes connection to the deepest level possible: Being to Being.
What About Discipline?
There are still issues to deal with in daily life with children, of course. I have many ideas, that I share on this website, on my Observant Mom Facebook page, on my theobservantmom Instagram account, and in my book series, Misbehavior is Growth, to deal with everyday life issues. I try to give ideas, examples, and stories at every milestone.
But I want to stress first that the foundation of this, of healthy child development and even of gaining cooperation for these very everyday life situations, is to let the child just be as much as possible.
Look around at life and look at how pleasant and delightful it is to just be–totally in touch with one’s own nature. Does a mother dog spank her pups to train them? Does a mother elephant turn her back on her calf by putting it in timeout to teach it a lesson? Flowers do nothing for their progeny–they just release them and trust the rest. The only times animals turn their back on their young is if they are truly ill–or they are trapped by humans, who inflict their trauma onto the creature. Can you see that the way children run, jump, throw, hit, sometimes lie, sometimes provoke, etc., is the more natural human state–and that it’s adorable and there’s nothing wrong with it?
I am so strong in my advocacy that we respect the natural unfolding of child development that I no longer call it “discipline.” I call it “conflict resolution.” The issue isn’t that a child is being “bad.” We do not need to teach a child a “lesson,” not if it’s punitive or shame-based. The main issue is that a young child is not wired to deal with an industrialized world. They are meant to be free and play in creeks, not be buckled in car seats. If we can at least reframe it that we are dealing with an unnatural situation, we can surrender to it easier. This really should reduce the amount of strain and effort we put into parenting. Modern living, with its schedules and busyness, when it comes to child raising, is truly psychotic. Is it really the case that humans evolved such that parents find their children’s behavior eternally annoying? Or is the way we live engendering this response? Maybe children’s demanding behavior was meant to be feel-good baby snuggles this whole time? The pressing, practical goal for any conflict with our children is to deal with it while never ever trying to change the core of a child. The deepest goal, however, is to find joy in all of it.
There are many things we can do to deal with these conflicts. We can design the environment–maybe put away items we don’t want destroyed. We can spell out very clear steps for children, so they understand what will happen to them. We can sing to them or play a fun game while strapping them into a car seat they didn’t want to get into. We can raise their awareness, perhaps of how much their cell phone data usage costs. We can invite them into the problem solving process. We can guarantee them that their needs will at least always be listened to. The details vary widely, and I can’t cover them all here.
But above all, if you adopt it, I think you will find the Being to Being presence the most important factor of all. Children need to feel, “Of course my parents love me. Of course I can safely cooperate. My needs, health, and safety are being so undeniably met. I have no reason to rebel–no reason to resist. I will happily do what Mommy and Daddy ask of me because they so clearly have my interest in mind.”
I have had more than one adult come up to me shocked at how calm my children are, even when I step away for a minute. My children are not well disciplined–they are securely attached.
The Future of Humanity
I fundamentally believe this is where the battle is: child development. I fundamentally see humanity as diseased. We are addicted to shame, unease, pain, anxiety, envy, etc. We see it as normal and “real.” We have not felt that full love and acceptance that we could have and should have felt, leading to true thriving. If you find a parent struggling, as they are almost bound to in our very resistant, not-now world, consider sending this blog post. It’s a tricky issue, but this is the boat that needs turned around more than anything else. Resistant to Nonresistant Parenting.
Human nature is truly awe inspiring. Truly what we may simply need to learn is to get out of its way.