Friday, December 11, 2009

Connect with Respect

That's the phrase you'll read over and over and over in The Happiest Toddler on the Block. And it's not written in an idealistic and unattainable manner. Dr. Karp has done something wonderful. He has taken great ideals that I strive for in my parenting and laid them out in practical tools for parents.

As much as I write about discipline, I'm sure those that read know by now that I'm a huge fan of having many tools in the parenting toolbox. So many parents set out to not yell, shame, spank, be overbearing, and many other things that our society has come to see are ineffective and possibly damaging to children. But without replacing methods that were used on us as children, it's like trying to climb out of quicksand. You know you don't want to sink, but without tools there's nothing to grab hold of. The way I see it, the more tools that I have, the more I have to hold onto, and the more likely that I will not sink in my parenting. We all have setbacks and momentarily slipping up, or sinking a bit into the sand, is not the same thing as sinking completely and indefinitely. I am convinced that our overall tone and attempts at respectful, empathic, loving parenting matter much more. So the time that I lost it in the car when we were trying to get somewhere in a hurry is not going to "ruin" my child. Yay - huge sigh of relief. Just as we continually extend grace to our children as they develop and stumble a ton along the way, we must extend that same grace to ourselves. We're not going to do ourselves any good as parents if we beat ourselves up over our mistakes!

Anyways, I guess I kind of digressed a bit as I really wanted to write about Dr. Karp's methods, but it's an important point as I think many parents, including myself, struggle with the fact that they cannot be perfect or good enough as a parent.

So on to Dr. Karp. His book is AMAZING. If you read one parenting book in the next year, choose this one. I honestly believe what I'm saying. He's got a bit of everything in there. He talks about encouraging those behaviors that are working well, discouraging the annoying behaviors, and stopping the absolutely unacceptable behaviors. He talks a lot about time-ins and feeding the meter. He likens our childrens' need for love to a parking meter. It must fed all day long or you will have a problem. With the car it's a ticket. With a child, it's bad behavior. Children who feel loved and respected will behave better. This is common sense and something I truly believe, but he gives us practical ways to show our children that love and respect.

Over and over he talks about connecting with respect. When children are upset we've been taught to immediately distract, ignore, reason, and many other things that do not address the upset. He says we're all missing a step. We need to first acknowledge the child's feelings, however ridiculous or selfish or what not. Then move on to distract, reason, redirect, or whatever technique is appropriate for the situation. He gives a practical way of getting on a child's level and showing them that you get what they're wanting, feeling, and/or trying to say. I have seen would-be tantrums nipped right in the bud with this technique. Dr. Karp says that the reason children get louder when asking for what they want is often because they do not feel understood. You know the scenario. "cookie...cookie...(now the knees start to go up and down, the voice goes up a bit)...cOOkie...Cookie...COOOKIEEEEEE... No amount of "No honey", "not right now", "not until after dinner" seems to do the trick. Why? According to Dr. Karp's research and methods, the child thinks you don't "get' him. I will tell you that I have tried his methods in just such a situation and the loudness/intensity of my child immediately drops as he realizes he's been heard.

I could go on and on. But the reality is that I will not be able to fully describe his theories and techniques. Please, if you have a toddler, and you feel the need for some tools in your parenting toolbox, pick up this book! I wish I had gotten this book when Boo first moved into toddlerhood. It would've been immensely useful even way back then. Try it - I would bet just about anyone could take away at least one useful element and probably a lot more!

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