Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Parenting

I have just read a book that has helped me so much as a parent. It is called Parenting the Ephraim's Child: Characteristics, capabilities, and challenges of children who are intensely MORE by Deborah Talmadge and Jaime Theler. It is written from an LDS perspective.

I love my children and I am so grateful for them. I have one child, however, who is so sensitive and who still regularly has meltdowns despite the fact that she is long past the terrible twos. I have tried many things with some success but haven't felt like anything has worked especially well. I often get frustrated and even angry with her and with myself. After all, I'm a teacher and have worked with many, many children and yet have found myself being fairly unsuccessful with her...and have felt that it often hurt our relationship.

I don't know that this child would really be considered an Ephraim's child. They talk about the tribe of Ephraim and how many of us in the latter-days are descended from this tribe. Ephraim's children have 4 characteristics (persistence, difficulty with adaptability, awareness and sensitivity) and may have high activity levels, high intelligence, a great desire for control, and a strong desire for independence. I don't know that my daughter has all of these characteristics, but she is certainly aware and has high sensitivity.

Here are a few of the things that have helped me. First, they explain that each of these characteristics have both positive and negative parts. They talk about viewing and labeling these things as strengths rather than as challenges...even though they do present challenges. But each of these characteristics can be used to become a stronger person, a more faithful member of the church, a contributor to society. In addition, how we think about things strongly influences how we feel and act...if we think of our child's qualities as being bad, we are going to have more negative reactions than if we view them as strengths. So instead of thinking of and calling my child sensitive (or touchy or emotional), refer to her as tender-hearted or sympathetic. And view this sensitivity as a way to help her become more charitable. A child who is in tune with his or her emotions as well as the emotions of everyone around them is more likely to be empathetic, to recognize others' needs and be able to serve others, especially if they are taught to channel their emotions for good. (Note: This chapter was about both physical and emotional sensitivity and at first, I thought my child only displayed emotional sensitivity...but as I read, suddenly a multitude of memories popped in my head of certain clothes she won't wear because they are scratchy/itchy/uncomfortable and other sensory inputs that bother her that don't bother my other two. I never connected the two or recognized that she probably really is more bothered and tuned in to both physical and emotional sensory input.)

The chapter on sensitivity also provided some suggestions on helping prevent emotional meltdowns and on dealing with them. It especially says to watch to see what the triggers are and try to prevent them. For example, my child is much more likely to become overly emotional when she is tired (as am I). So it's important to make sure she has a bedtime routine and gets enough sleep. Also, she is very tuned in to my emotions, so when I'm upset or frazzled or frustrated, she is much more likely to become upset... right when I'm least emotionally prepared to deal with it. So I need to do my best to calm myself before interacting with her. They also caution to make sure you are dealing with the root of the problem and not just the outward behavior. So when she gets upset, find out why. That's not always possible if she becomes overly upset and melts down...until later. I'm slowly learning that with her, I need to calmly stay next to her and talk softly while gently rubbing her back or singing to her quietly. Then as she begins to calm down, I have her take some deep breaths and then I talk her through visualizing something happy. Then when she is calm we can talk about why she got upset and how to better deal with it. I've tried time outs and they just make her more upset. I've yelled at her and tried to pick her up and move her. I've grounded her. I've ignored her outbursts. I've tried most of the other discipline techniques out there. None of them have been successful. And they've made me so frustrated. I don't think this is going to be like a magic pill and her melt downs will stop...but it has equipped me with the strategies to deal with them. It's also helped me feel much more positive about my child and about myself as her parent. I love her so much, but I have worried about her strong emotions. That worry hasn't completely gone away, but I'm focussing now on how her emotions help her to be a kind, more Christlike person. She really is very kind to others and feels so sad when anyone gets hurt or is sad. I can use that to help her develop charity.

The book has lots of ideas that I already use... giving choices about small things so that your child has some feelings of control (do you want your pink pajamas or your yellow nightgown, do you want to eat an apple or plum for lunch), giving warnings about transitions (we have to leave in 5 minutes), establishing a routine for the day and a routine for bedtime, only giving 1 or 2 directions at a time (put your shoes on and grab your backpack), and letting my children do things for themselves when they are able. I also liked that they pointed out that the root of discipline is disciple...we are trying to help our children become disciples of Christ and our discipline should come from love and the desire to help them become more righteous. Punishment often comes from anger and is not often meant to teach.

Amazingly, in addition to helping me understand my daughter better, there were also parts of this book that helped me understand myself better...as a parent and a child.

I am not perfect at this but it's helping. This is probably a book I should reread every couple of years. It is helping me become a better, more Christlike parent and to see my child more like Heavenly Father sees her. And while I read this to benefit one child, in particular, it gave me insights into my other two children as well.