Respectful Parenting: Have I Made a Mistake?

Respectful Parenting - Have I Made a Mistake? ~Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

Sibling rivalry seems to go hand in hand with, well, having multiple children. Now I know there are some siblings out there that live harmoniously day in and day out, causing no concerns for their parents in that regard, but surely these are the minority!? Certainly in our household sibling rivalry became tangible the moment we arrived home from the hospital with a new baby sister for our then 13 month old, Lucy! Almost instantly Lucy’s sleeps went into disarray, she became much more clingy and whingey and her general demeanour changed.

As the girls grew, so too did their rivalry. Unfortunately we knew nothing of RIE or respectful parenting in these early days and so our harsh reactions to small altercations did more to fuel the squabbles than to build a healthy sibling relationship. As Lucy was set in time out, shouted at and occasionally spanked for her escalating behaviour, she became more and more extreme and disgruntled.

Luckily within six months of the arrival of the new baby we were introduced to RIE parenting and set ourselves on an immediate course to connect more with both our children and show them the respect they deserve for the people they are. This worked well for us for several months as we sportscast through sharing issues and blocked acts of aggression towards the younger sibling, Penny; all the while offering understanding and empathy to both children for the individual hardships they were facing.

Gradually, we began to feel more at ease with the blossoming relationship between our two daughters and were happy to give them their due space, allowing them to come to their own natural conclusions for their squabbles. There were times early on when our calmness waned and we reverted to a punitive discipline style but it never lasted long and always made me more resolute in my pursuit of respectful parenting.

In those early days Lucy displayed a lot of aggression towards Penny. Mainly pushing and hitting but occasionally biting also. This, of course, was upsetting for Penny and luckily we were able to shadow them when they were in the same vicinity, picking up on cues that we needed to stay close and blocking many of the aggressive acts before they occurred, reminding Lucy that we would not let her hit or push Penny. In the times we were not quite fast enough and Penny was pushed etc, she would cry loudly and we would offer her comfort for as long as she needed it (which was not usually long). Often Lucy would run to her room crying as well and would come out cuddling her security bunny. I would sit with them both and talk about what each may have been feeling and usually they would both run off and play within minutes of the beginning of the initial altercation.

Fast forward a year and recent dynamics in our household have taken a turn for the worse. Lucy (now 33 months) is aggressive towards Penny (now 20 months) less often but has developed an intense desire to control every aspect of Penny’s life from what she wears, to how she sits, where she plays, with what she plays, for how long and in what way.  She reacts strongly towards Penny if her demands are not met and although physical acts of aggression are much more rare these days, they still occasionally occur and often take us by surprise, meaning we are not there to prevent them as we would like to be.

This overwhelming need Lucy has to boss and manipulate her sister combined with a number of physical tussles between the two, has caused a significant change in the reactions of Penny. It is this change and our desire to keep our children safe that has had us running for the textbooks, sifting through the forums and praying for a quick end to the disarray we have all been thrown back into.

Penny’s sensitivity to Lucy’s outbursts has grown and it has become increasingly more difficult to offer the girls the comfort and connection they need during these altercations. If Lucy takes a toy from Penny or interferes with her physically in some way, no longer does she whinge slightly or cry out in annoyance before moving on, she cries a loud, sobbing, angry cry that lasts upwards of an hour and includes jamming herself into a far-reaching corner, away from me, Lucy and anyone else who dares try to offer her comfort. Her arms will swipe across her body as if to say ‘go away, I don’t want you or your comfort.’ She will even hit herself in the face at times.

Of course this is completely distressing for us as parents to witness. We can see this as a child crying out for help, wanting us to do something to stop the barrage of Lucy’s incessant need to dominate and yet not wanting us to be there to even offer a cuddle in those meltdown moments. A final straw for us came when Penny’s physical safety was severely compromised after she was pushed out of a trampoline enclosure onto the ground below.

We had been so trusting of RIE parenting to this point but we knew something needed to change and didn’t think respectful, peaceful parenting could help us through it. It was time to start defending the emotional and physical welfare of our youngest child even if it meant breaking some of the connective bonds we have been so carefully tying to our eldest.

So, my husband and I made the decision to deviate from respectful parenting and pave our own parenting pathway to get over this bump. We both agreed that spanking was not an option so in our limited knowledge we decided we really had only shouting, shaming and isolation left to use – all commonly practiced discipline methods in conventional parenting. Every ounce of my being was begging me not to go down this route, after all we had come so far, but we were so desperate that I was convinced to give this a go for just two weeks and if things hadn’t changed we could always go back.

So the day came where my Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids slogan was to be laid to rest for the ‘benefit’ of our children and this household. As the early morning sun filled our house with light, it didn’t take long before both children were charging out of their rooms, excitedly ready to embrace the day ahead. My plan for the day was to speak harshly when Lucy acted aggressively in any way against Penny eg taking toys, pushing etc. She was also to be isolated from Penny in a ‘time out’ type manner. I was then careful to let the children know of this change in approach so they would both be prepared.

The first opportunity I had to use the new method came not long after breakfast. Penny was pushing a pram towards the playroom when Lucy made beeline for her, screaming that she had the pram first, grabbing it strongly and sending Penny flying in the act. I moved in quickly with “Lucy!! You did NOT have the pram first, Penny did! You have hurt Penny so I am now taking you to your room!” With that I picked up Lucy (who was screaming loudly at this point that she did not want to go to her room) and took her to her bedroom, shutting the door behind her as her screams went up a notch. I then went back to check on Penny, feeling less than ok and quite rattled.

A few minutes later, Lucy came out and sheepishly poked her head around the corner. I went to her and gave her a cuddle, explaining why I had taken her to her room and telling her that she is not to push Penny or snatch her things. Round one was over and we had all survived, although there was an indescribable shift in the mood and temperament in the house.

After a short while, there was another scuffle. This time, Penny was riding the toy motorbike and Lucy wanted a turn. It started perfectly, Lucy asking nicely if she could please have a turn, Penny. Penny, either not hearing her or ignoring her, continued riding away. I let Penny know that Lucy had asked for a turn of the bike but she was unwilling to give it up. Lucy, getting increasingly agitated, ran after Penny wailing “it’s my turn, Penny!” I raced after her and shouted angrily before she got there “LUCY! Do not touch, Penny!” Ignoring me she pulled Penny off the bike and onto the floor before trying to climb on to the bike. I helped a screaming Penny up before pulling Lucy off the bike and marching her to her room, telling her she was to stay in there for hurting her sister.

Shortly after, she came out, and the girl’s resumed their playing with Lucy going to get the other identical motorbike to ride next to Penny. All seemed like it was going well, on the surface but I could sense that the children were unnerved and I could feel myself giving in to my impatient nature. As the day went on and more altercations ensued, I found myself reacting more abruptly and with less and less patience. The children walked around on tenterhooks. They became clingy and whingey and the aggression Lucy was showing to her sister became more frequent and extreme.

It got to the point in the day when Lucy came out of her room following her 7th or 8th timeout and Penny was still crying in my crouched arms. Lucy tried to get close to me for a cuddle too. As Penny’s screams escalated so too did Lucy’s determination to reach me. I found I was losing control. They were both screaming, lashing out at each other and at me. I felt like I had reached the bottom of a hell fire pit and had no idea what to do. I had let my emotions take over my conscious thought and I ended up standing up, shouting “I’ve had enough of both of you!” before walking away from them and shutting myself in my room as they banged ferociously on the door for me.

As I sat with my back against the door, taking some deep breaths, I used that small amount of alone time to regather myself and make myself snap out of it. NEVER had I felt this low before but the children were feeling the effects far more – they needed me. I was able to shake myself out of it and go to them to give them the comfort they needed but that was all I could do. I was lost from there on out. I had expended all my parenting energy for the day and I still had 40 minutes until my husband returned from work. All I could do was put the television on and sit quietly with the girls as they watched it until their father walked in the door. As he took over, I quietly took myself to my room and sobbed into my pillow for what had been a disastrous day.

Now, I don’t write this for the criticism I am bound to receive from those who feel they need to explain everything I did wrong that day! Believe me I know where I went wrong! I don’t even write to harbour support from like-minded parents who want to let me know it’s ok, we all have bad days. I write this to help those of you who are questioning your decision to choose a respectful parenting path. I am well aware how hard life can be waiting for your children to turn that elusive corner and suddenly become the well-mannered, empathetic, kind child we are hoping they will one day become, but my advice is to stop waiting for it. Look at your children for who they are now and not who you want them to be. They don’t have the same future visions and goals as us and are content just taking life one day at a time. We need to meet them where they are and be there (with them) to guide them on their journey. It then comes down to faith and trust that with our gentle guidance their journeys will, one day, become in sync with ours.

To do this it is important to find ways to support each and every family member, child and adult alike in your quest for a respectful, connected household. Make it work for the uniqueness of your family. Find a level of peace in that what you are doing is the best you can. For only when you can truly do this will reach an equilibrium that will be able to sustain your commitment to respectful parenting.

Since that horrendous day we have made some significant changes here. When Lucy shows signs of aggression towards Penny I remind her (calmly) that it is not ok to hurt Penny and that if she is having a hard time playing in the same space as Penny she will need to play in her room. This is usually enough to trigger her to take herself to her room anyway but if she continues to act aggressively I help her to her room and let her know she is welcome to come back and play with us when she is ready to. Usually, after only a few minutes in there she comes out announcing, “I’m ready to play now!” This has calmed the household significantly.

We are also doing more to provide opportunity for separate play spaces either within our house or through the use of friends and family with more play dates and babysitting requests. My husband and I are also trying to look after ourselves and our own needs more with time away from the children to recharge and relax. A VERY important strategy for ensuring we are being the best we can be but so often forgotten about in the midst of being the “parent”.

There are not too many things I allow myself to regret in life because I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. This is no different. Because of this event, I now know for sure that I have chosen the best parenting pathway for not only my children but for myself also. I have a few bridges to mend of course but I am already working on these with extra ‘wants nothing’ time for each child but I believe I am somewhat back on track. I have made a point to speak to each of the girls about that day and apologise for shouting and acting roughly, acknowledging how it must have made them feel. I am grateful as ever to Magda Gerber via Janet Lansbury for showing me that there is a better way for me to teach my children to be respectful people and at the same time connecting with them deeply as their parent and guide.

If you would like some further reading on this topic, you may find these articles relevant:

Biting, Hitting, Kicking and Other Challenging Toddler Behaviour ~ Janet Lansbury

Toddler Discipline That Works (It’s About Our Attitude) ~ Janet Lansbury

Helping Toddlers Resolve Conflicts (Rules of Engagement) ~ Janet Lansbury

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About Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

Hi, my name is Kate. I have been a Physical Education/ Maths teacher for 12 years and am currently taking some time out to be a Mum. I have two beautiful girls aged 2 and 1 (13 month age gap). I have learned that there is so much more to parenting than 'going with your instincts' and treasure all the rewards my children present to me everyday. I have a passion for sports and have recently discovered an addiction to sewing. Thank you for taking some time out to read my ramblings :)
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32 Responses to Respectful Parenting: Have I Made a Mistake?

  1. Thank you for tagging my post. 🙂 I’ll share this list in my page when I get back to blogging on Monday. I love your posts. 🙂

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  2. Cindy says:

    I just want to thank you for sharing so openly about your parenting journey. I have two girls myself (age 3 and 1) and am also trying to parent respectfully. I have learned so much from your reflections and stories. Thank you again.

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  3. Thank you for sharing and being honest I have two girls (3 and 8 months) finding sibling rivalry challenging my respectful parenting ways

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  4. Laura says:

    Thank you for this. I have 2 that are 11.5 months apart (16 months and 5 months currently) and this is a challenge in our household as well. It is a nice reminder to “stay the course” and treat our children as we would want to be treated, with dignity, respect, and meeting them where they are, not where we want them to be.

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  5. Azalia says:

    Thank you for your blog!! I am just learning about peaceful parenting, but I have been attempting to find it for a long time. I am working to eliminate spanking, shouting and shaming in all it’s forms. *My personal pet peave – a parent seeing a child running around naked and telling the child “Cover that up! No one wants to see that thing”*

    In that light, I would like to share what works for me, in case my insights may help others. Or in case others have more ideas. I have 2 children 14 months apart, currently age 8 and 9, and sibling rivalry can be very challenging. The best tools so far for me to use – discipline both children, then comfort each child and explain the discipline. After all, one child is usually the instigator – at least in my family.

    Also, I have recently included them in anything I do for the other sibling. For example, when I buy birthday presents, I make a point of giving the non-birthday child a set amount of money and taking them to the store to pick out a present. This gives them special mommy time while getting them into the excitement of gift-giving. Same with Christmas time. Any activity that requires special planning for one child involves a planning period with the other child. Also, if they start fighting over me – for cuddles, hugs, mommy time, comfort, etc – I give 2 warnings and then they both get sent to there room – not as punishment, but as a calm-down period, and when they are calm they can come back and try again. (I also use this technique by saying “I am very frustrated and angry. I need a time-out to calm down.)

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    • Thank you for the insight, Azalia. It is always nice to hear from people at the next stage in the parenting gig who can offer the gift of hindsight and see what really works in the long term. Can I ask what you do for discipline when you need to do this for your children?
      I like the idea of each child being responsible for choosing a gift for the other. I will definitely be adopting that one as they get older.
      Kate

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  6. Snow Mom says:

    What a lovely blog post. Your children remind me of my two girls. That is exactly how things go in our house. I also toyed around with time outs in an attempt to protect my youngest. Looking back sometimes I laugh at how desperate I felt when the kids were just acting like, well, kids their age! I’ve read that the average set of siblings has a conflict every ten minutes. That’s about right for our house, although sometimes it’s more or less. I try to remember that they are practicing how to act in the world, and home is a training ground. Like you, I’m also thankful for positive parenting (I follow Laura Markham as I’m not very familiar with the others). We do the same as you, focus on kids needing their space sometimes. I also say outloud what the victim is feeling, “Addie is feeling so sad because she just wanted to play that game with you. Her lips are turned down because she is sad. I don’t think she was trying to take that toy from you, but just trying to play with you because it looked like so much fun.” My eldest will usually stop and take a new look at her sister. Relief will spread over her face (sometimes) and she’ll ask her sister to play. She just needs me to help her out of defense mode so she can see what’s going on. Lastly, big sister, for whatever reason (first born syndrome?) needs extra time with mom and dad. Probably more than the other kids. Recently I started taking more time with her while the other kids are napping. The first day I did it I did not tell my husband. At the end of the day he said, “Wow, she was just a DELIGHT all afternoon, wasn’t she? I wonder what prompted that?” When I told him he was amazed. Things have been much better (of course not perfect!!!) on the days that I do that. Lest I sound perfect I’ll note that sometimes I yell, sometimes I go in the bathroom to calm down (on my good days I make it to the bathroom before expressing anger), and sometimes I just give up for a moment. Oh, and daily, I wonder if I’m doing the right thing!

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    • Wow! thank you for sharing that, Snow Mom! Sportscasting the ‘victim’s’ feelings is a great way to help in sibling rivalry and has helped us here on numerous occasions. It allows the pre verbal children to have their thoughts read out loud for their siblings and begins that line of communication for developing empathy and connection. Your dialogue sounds great.
      Giving our kids that quality time is also a great suggestion. They really need that ‘wants nothing’ attention daily (in differing amounts as you say).
      And as for being perfect, it is refreshing to hear from Mom’s like you who are happy to admit their shortcomings (especially publically). I think a lot of why we beat ourselves up over our parenting is down to feeling we are not as good as those around us who seem to be so on top of everything! Thank you again!
      Kate

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  7. Alison T says:

    How could anyone judge you for what you have been going through. It sounds so incredibly hard! I am about to have my 2nd baby girl who will be 11.5 months younger than my first…..and I am terrified.

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    • Oh, wow, Alison! 11.5 months is close but I hope it won’t be terrifying for you! I remember when I found out I was pregnant the second time and I guess terrified would probably come close to how I felt. It has been a hard slog, but I really believe if I had followed RIE from the beginning and helped the transition for me eldest from single child to sibling, it would not have been so tough.
      All the best with your new arrival. I hope everything goes well 🙂
      Kate

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  8. Tfk says:

    I have 3 boys we have never had any rivalry ever. Now they’re late teens and 20s and support each other in everything whilst being 3 very different people. What I observe here not criticise is a lack of knowledge of child development which makes parenting so much easier. No child shares no child cares about another till at least 3. Some basic education in cognitive and emotional development would help many many parents to parent.

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  9. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Such an honest and realistic parenting experience. I too float between the two parenting methods, also. I was feeling guilty about, so am grateful it’s not just me. Now my youngest 2 1/2 yr old has started saying stupid ALL the time. Mostly said when frustrated, but also said in normal conversation. How should I handle is? It’s constant!

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    • Thank you, Navigating Life and you should rest very well assured that it most definitely is NOT just you who feels/ acts this way!
      What is your usual reaction to your child saying ‘stupid’? I am thinking that at that age much of his use of it would be because it has been made ‘interesting’ by other people’s reaction to it. When my daughter uses a word I don’t like I simply state. “I don’t like that word could you find a different word to use, please”. I make zero fuss about it and if she continues to try it out, I ignore it.
      At 2.5 years, it is unlikely that your child even knows the true meaning and therefore will only keep using it out of interests sake. Offer alternative adjectives to use but do so in a matter of fact way. “I hear you saying stupid, I don’t like it when you use that word. Try using tricky? or tough? instead” If directed at you, ie you’re stupid. say “I hear you calling me stupid. I don’t like being called that. Are you feeling frustrated with me? You seem upset about x”. Always keep it calm and matter o fact!
      I hope that helps
      Kate

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  10. Thank you for this enlightening post. I am encouraged because you show how RIE works in some of the most difficult times of young kids. This post gave me a worded example of how to help my kids who have difficult moments from time to time. As they have grown, they have diminished in number the intensity has grown when they do happen. I appreciate your blog! Thank you for your openness and honesty! It did further my efforts to continue on my RIE parenting journey.

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  11. You know how much this means to me. I feel like we are sharing the same stories. It is so hard. I think we are travelling along ok and then one has blood dripping from their hair because they have been whacked in the head with a wooden car. I flip between peaceful and punitive parenting and feel dreadfully guilty. I know that this inconsistency must be confusing for them; what mood is mama in today? I know peaceful parenting is the way forward, I know it, but it is just so hard. And so I read through books and prepare myself for the next day.

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    • Yes, Kate! That’s just how I feel! My mood, though Is normally the direct result of their mood. I try to start each day afresh, upbeat with positivity and joy but it can all turn so quickly when said car gets whacked into said head! It is in those instances that I really have to rein in all my peacefulness and show them I am not rattled! So tough! I read your latest post and I feel your pain! I wish there was more advice I can give you but I know you are already doing everything you possibly can. I guess shadowing and separation is your key to survival right now. Sending you all the love and strength and peacefulness and I can spare!!
      Kate xx

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  13. Have you had a chance to read Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish? I am only just starting it, but so far it is very good.

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  16. Claire H says:

    Hi Kate,
    I just wanted to let you know that you are my model, and i really mean that. Changing path is a hard decision to make, being aware of everything not to react automatically is an harder decision to make. not only YOU changed, but also YOU changed you children path, behavior, self-confident, social skills (and whatever other positive feelings, you name them!).
    I am having a hard time thinking that not being emotionally present for my daughter for 2 years had a huge impact, and i find it hard to let go, hoping that now, i am building the connection that we both need… i find myself doubting all the time, “am i setting limits” because it looks like i don’t – i am working on finding the right balance.
    I am a lot with her after day care, embracing the wants nothing time that we had together after daycare, she doesn’t play when i’m with her, she’s not alone – she wants me. and i’m ok with that.
    when i found RIE 5 month ago, i tried to hard not to loose time so now i’m adjusting, being confident that she knows what she needs and try to support that.
    Thank you for sharing, I too believe that everything happens for a reason. my husband often says to me that our children choose us, and that we “get” what we can handle… they need us more than anything. THANK YOU for doing such a great job and THANK YOU for sharing it

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