CREATING PEACEFUL FAMILY EATING HABITS



mumsnet

A doctorate in child development and years of working with children and families did not prepare me for the sheer frustration and stress of feeding my own family.

Three different children with three different preferences and three different eating patterns and bodily rhythms = headache on a grand scale.

And as much as I sometimes longed to be one of those like-it-or-lump-it Mamas who rigidly adhere to their own timetable, only cook one thing and forbid the eating of anything else, I couldn’t do it.

Memories of my own miserable mealtime experiences and later battle with an eating disorder also made me reluctant to force feed, or to battle with my own kids over food.

Embracing a peaceful, respectful, conscious approach to parenting changed all aspects of my parenting experience so much for the better.

But applying this to eating?  This I found so much harder.  I spent a long time trying to make sense of the huge amount of information out there, much of it contradictory.

I will spare you the examples for now, but suffice it to say that initially I found it all mega confusing.

So what changed?  How did I finally get to a place of clarity and peace?

I’ll tell you; it was a simple process of working backwards. 

And by this I mean, thinking about what I wanted for my children in the long term.  Working out what I didn’t want my children to associate with food in the future. 

For example, I imagine that like me you don’t want your children to associate eating with feeling loved and ‘good’ and comforted, right?  And you don’t want them to eat by the clock even if they’re not at all hungry?  And you don’t want them to associate eating cake or ice cream with being a naughty treat that they only deserve if they are ‘good’ and already full from main course, right?

And yet, with a traditional approach to eating and mealtimes these are all messages our children are hearing.  Particularly when…

  • We have rigid rules about when they can and can’t eat
  • We insist they eat everything on their plate
  • We forbid pudding until they eat their ‘healthy’ main course
  • We use all manner of techniques to coerce and distract them to ‘get’ them to eat
  • We talk in their earshot about our own diets or being ‘naughty’ having that cake

None of these things normalise the process of eating or teach children to eat purely for nourishment and enjoyment.

None of these approaches convey trust in our child to utilise their incredible innate capacity to know what their own body needs and to choose accordingly.

And surely we owe it to our children to get out of their way and give them the freedom to do this.   We owe it to them to find a way to stop the growing problem in the western world with compulsive eating, with obesity, with eating disorders.   And we owe it to ourselves to find a way to make things less stressful, and find a simpler way that we can feel calm and confident about.

So I urge you to consider whether the path you are on at present is the one you truly want to continue with, and whether you are giving your children the messages that you really want them to hear.  I urge you to consider whether winning the short-term eat your greens battle is truly worth it at the expense of a healthy life-long relationship with food.

Let me clarify again; the easiest way you can make mealtimes less stressful and make the biggest impact on your ‘fussy’ eaters is to re-visit your whole approach to mealtimes and think of it only in terms of what habits you want to develop and teach for the long term.

Here’s a few things it might help to think about more specifically:

  • Get realistic about how much your child actually needs to eat.  We tend to vastly overestimate our children’s appetites.  Very roughly, their tummies are the size of their fists, but sometimes even smaller.  Vegetables, in particular, are very bulky.  If they say they’ve had enough and are full, they probably are.
  • Children eat more when they are growing and not in order to grow.  So their eating patterns and requirements will vary greatly according to the particular stage of development they are in.  Babies up until the age of one, for example, eat a ton more in proportion to their size than they will again until they are teenagers.  So when at this age they appear to become ‘fussy’, very often it’s merely because they no longer need to eat so much.
  • Examine who your current food schedule suits and what the rationale is behind three square meals a day.  As stated above, children have varied but generally significantly smaller tummies than we always remember.  Eating little and often may well be what suits their appetite and metabolism the best.
  • If you are happy for your children to eat sweet things and puddings, consider what the logic is behind having it after the main course, and the message you are sending if you are requiring a clear main course plate first.  What do you fear would happen if they have their fruit or yoghurt or fruit lolly presented at the same time as the main course?
  • What are you (and any other adults in the household) modelling to your children about eating and mealtimes?  Do they see you enjoying a varied diet, respecting your body, and enjoying both sweet and savoury food equally?  If not, what messages are your eating habits (and your partner’s) sending to your children?
HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR

HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR

I'm a mama of 3 and a parenting coach specialising in picky eating and mealtime stress.

I'm passionate about inspiring parents to enjoy mealtimes & help their children develop a healthy long-term relationship with food.

See here for the services I offer or email me for more info.  You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram.

CREATING PEACEFUL FAMILY EATING HABITS

A doctorate in child development and years of working with children and families did not prepare me for the sheer frustration and stress of feeding my own family. Three different children with three different preferences and three different eating patterns and bodily...
Read More

ARE YOU CONSTANTLY FEELING UNDER THE WEATHER? THIS COULD BE WHY…

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HOW I STOPPED BEING AN ANGRY PARENT (most of the time…)

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DO PEACEFUL PARENTS LET THEIR KIDS DO AS THEY PLEASE?

I have found that as soon as you acknowledge the way you parent in terms such as ‘peaceful’, ‘positive’, ‘freedom’ or ‘respectful’, you are opening a rather large can of worms for a rather large number of misconceptions. And one of the biggest tends to be that...
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IS YOUR PARENTING UP-TO-DATE? (WITH THE LATEST BRAIN SCIENCE)

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HOW TO PREVENT TOYS FROM TAKING OVER YOUR HOUSE…AND YOUR SANITY

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ARE YOU A CURIOUS PARENT? How To Ask Questions To Deepen Connection With Your Child

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EMERGENCY PARENTING: The One Word That Can Save The Day

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REMEMBERING TO REMEMBER HOW HARD PARENTING CAN BE

[shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="26095147"] “I’ve ruled out any sort of medical problem, which means the bed-wetting must be psychological or behavioural", said the Doctor.  "She probably just needs more attention” she added glibly, glancing with a crushing mix of...
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DO YOU HAVE A FUSSY EATER? ARE YOU FED UP WITH MEALTIMES?

 

 

Click here to apply

 to join my
6 week, one-to-one, Fuss-Free Eating for Life coaching programme

 

 

APPLY NOW

ARE YOU CONSTANTLY FEELING UNDER THE WEATHER? THIS COULD BE WHY…

When my first two children were around 3 and 1 years old, I distinctly remember that having a cold, sniffles or slight headache became my new normal, particularly during the colder months.  I think I mainly put it down to not paying careful enough attention to my diet, and constant close-up exposure to snot-drenched little ones.

But interesting new research suggests there could be another reason.

It has been found that the more empathetic parents were towards their children, the more likely they were to have a lowered immune system.  Yep, you read that right; the findings suggest that being consistently kind and understanding to your children has great benefits for your sense of self-esteem and purposefulness, BUT puts you at increased risk of systemic inflammation.   (If, like me, you have a touch of the research geek in you, check out the full study and links to other related ones here).

So, you know that non-stop giving of yourself that you do?  That non-stop suppression of your own feelings for the sake of helping your children deal with theirs?  Well, that not only depletes you psychologically and emotionally (which you definitely already knew) but also at a physiological level.

Wow, incredible, doesn’t that explain such a lot!

And so now it’s extremely obvious what you need to do isn’t it?  Just stop being so damn nice and understanding to your children.  A little more shouting, a little less kindness and a LOT more f-ing and blinding and you’ll be right as rain again.  How great is that, the permission you’ve been longing for 🙂

Or not.

Unfortunately, the benefits of empathetic parenting for children are huge and very well-established; strengthened immune system, protection against depression and aggression, better developed brain integration and a higher level of emotional intelligence.  And these are only some of them.

So I’m afraid, actually, what you more likely need to do is what I’m sure you already know you need to do, because just about every single piece of parenting advice advises you to do so!  Yep, you know what I’m talking about; make your needs a priority and look after you to the same degree you look after your children.

These research findings tell us that this is not just important for providing emotional and psychological relief, but is ESSENTIAL in keeping you physically well and healthy. 

So why is it that this intuitive and now science-based piece of advice is so hard for so many of us parents to action?  And, in fact, can sometimes feel almost irritating and unhelpful to even hear?

I’ve realised that, for myself at least, it’s because it’s asking of me yet another thing to DO.  And however much we work on self-love and prioritising our needs, there is nothing much helpful about adding extra things to our to-do-lists.

You don’t need me to tell you that parenting is all-consuming and time disappears overnight when you have a baby.  Then add back to work, and or another baby, and or any pre-baby hobbies or interests and you might just be holding your head above water.  But asking to re-jig this delicate balance by adding more things in, well, it’s hardly surprising that it will rarely consistently happen.

Which is why my advice is to do the very opposite of thisSelf-care for parents, to my mind, is all about doing less, not more.  Culling and paring down on things that are not a priority, that you don’t love, and that drain your energy.

And this looks different for everyone.

For me, it was things like learning to say ‘no’ to invites that don’t energise me, and ‘no’ to extending invites only out of politeness and social nicety.  I also had to seriously examine my motivation for feeling that I should have the house looking spotless, home baked goods on offer, and make every single meal from scratch.  And giving myself grief when I (usually) didn’t.  Pointless, unsustainable and plain exhausting!

So are you interested in exploring this more?  What could you cut down on to free some space for your real priorities?

Please do contact me here for more help with this and see here for some more culling ideas.

HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR

HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR

I'm a mama of 3 and a parenting coach specialising in picky eating and mealtime stress.

I'm passionate about inspiring parents to enjoy mealtimes & help their children develop a healthy long-term relationship with food.

See here for the services I offer or email me for more info.  You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram.

CREATING PEACEFUL FAMILY EATING HABITS

A doctorate in child development and years of working with children and families did not prepare me for the sheer frustration and stress of feeding my own family. Three different children with three different preferences and three different eating patterns and bodily...
Read More

ARE YOU CONSTANTLY FEELING UNDER THE WEATHER? THIS COULD BE WHY…

When my first two children were around 3 and 1 years old, I distinctly remember that having a cold, sniffles or slight headache became my new normal, particularly during the colder months. I think I mainly put it down to not paying careful enough attention to my diet, and constant close-up exposure to snot-drenched little ones.

Read More

HOW I STOPPED BEING AN ANGRY PARENT (most of the time…)

I never assumed parenting was going to be a walk in the park. But one thing in particular that I was not at all prepared for was quite how angry I would find myself becoming at times. And the very worst of those times were apparently all because of a two-year-old?? Yep, who knew that a…

Read More

DO PEACEFUL PARENTS LET THEIR KIDS DO AS THEY PLEASE?

I have found that as soon as you acknowledge the way you parent in terms such as ‘peaceful’, ‘positive’, ‘freedom’ or ‘respectful’, you are opening a rather large can of worms for a rather large number of misconceptions. And one of the biggest tends to be that...
Read More

HOW TO SET LIMITS THE KIND WAY

Choosing a gentle approach to parenting that doesn’t rely on coercion and punishment is very often the easy bit.  The tricky bit begins as your innocent baby turns into a curious toddler.  All of a sudden, you realise you need to find peaceful ways to keep them safe...
Read More

IS YOUR PARENTING UP-TO-DATE? (WITH THE LATEST BRAIN SCIENCE)

It is probably true to say that most of us were brought up by parents who expected and enforced a pretty high degree of obedience and conformity to rules, and they did so by liberal use or threat of punishments and/or consequences. There is no judgement or blame…

Read More

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I suspect that one of the problems for the old woman who lived in a shoe (and perhaps one of many reasons why her children were so unhappy and unruly), was that once she’d found a couple of approaches that worked with the first few of her children, she assumed it...
Read More

ARE YOU A CURIOUS PARENT? How To Ask Questions To Deepen Connection With Your Child

The other day my 7-year-old was engrossed in ‘den’ making and called for me to come and help tie a rope. I was mid making pancakes and knew that’d I’d be liable to char the lot if I allowed myself to be distracted. So I said, “Yes I will, in a minute, I’ve nearly finished”. He puffed in exasperation…

Read More

EMERGENCY PARENTING: The One Word That Can Save The Day

Sibling world war 23756 breaks out just as I’m trying to get tea. I’m tired and frazzled from a long day and too many thoughts going on in my head and too long a gap since I last stopped to clear them. The cries and screams get louder and l can feel my heart rate increase and little bubbles of irritation start to expand in…

Read More

SUPPORTING YOUR SENSITIVE CHILD: 5 PRACTICAL TIPS

My three-year-old is very sensitive. I wouldn’t go as far as highly sensitive, a bit too early to conclude that yet for him I think. But he’s definitely very sensitive. He is astonishingly aware and has been since he was a baby. He has an intuitive understanding of feelings, both his own and other people’s, and he processes the vibe or atmosphere in a room almost immediately…

Read More

REMEMBERING TO REMEMBER HOW HARD PARENTING CAN BE

[shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="26095147"] “I’ve ruled out any sort of medical problem, which means the bed-wetting must be psychological or behavioural", said the Doctor.  "She probably just needs more attention” she added glibly, glancing with a crushing mix of...
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THE ONLY WAY TO AVOID WEEKDAY MORNING STRESS (for me, anyway)

The absolute game changer for me is getting up before the kids. A good amount of time before the kids. If I don’t, sometimes the morning goes okay, sometimes it doesn’t. But if I DO get up early, I can pretty much guarantee that it will. Why? Because whatever state the kids are in, it doesn’t matter…

Read More

DO YOU HAVE A FUSSY EATER? ARE YOU FED UP WITH MEALTIMES?

 

 

Click here to apply

 to join my
6 week, one-to-one, Fuss-Free Eating for Life coaching programme

 

 

APPLY NOW

HOW I STOPPED BEING AN ANGRY PARENT (most of the time…)

I never assumed parenting was going to be a walk in the park.  But one thing in particular that I was not at all prepared for was quite how angry I would find myself becoming at times.  And the very worst of those times were apparently all because of a two-year-old??

Yep, who knew that a two-year old could unearth such an extraordinary amount of pain?  Pain that had laid unexpressed and buried since my childhood. 

But here’s the thing; the realisation of this and the gradual unpacking and coming to terms with it has been transforming.  It has ultimately led to strengthened and more connected relationships with all of my children and a generally happier parenting experience.   

It’s not the easiest of topics to delve into and be open about.  But I feel strongly about being authentic about all aspects of parenthood; being real about the nitty-gritty of the whole process, not just the end result or pretty bits. 

So here goes…


Our first child was pretty compliant and easy going from the start.  Partly down to his temperament, I expect, but he also had that huge advantage of doting first-time-parent attention – no doubt further intensified by the huge gratitude I felt for being present with him at all after coming close to not surviving his birth.

So, when he reached the age when daily routine things had to be done – teeth brushing, for example – it was no big deal.   He would generally comply, or at least, be easily encouraged through silly games or songs or giggles.

Our second child, not so much.  A bright, independent, happy little girl, until aged around 18 months she learnt the joy of saying ‘no’ and identified many things she’d rather not do, brushing teeth included.  She would gleefully, point-blank refuse to co-operate.

It was a bit of a shock, and I guess the truth is, it seriously threatened our ‘good’ parenting status. 

On a good day, I would be mildly irritated, but on a bad day, particularly in the evenings when I was low on energy and resources, there were times I would completely see red.  It made me livid!  How dare she not comply!  How dare she disobey and disrespect me!  I surely could not let her ‘get away’ with such disrespectful behaviour!

The more we tried to clamp down and coerce her into ‘behaving’, the worse it seemed to get. 

The power struggles increased, and I noticed that we started talking about her somewhat negatively and throwing around comments about her being ‘feisty’, ‘stubborn’, having a ‘difficult’ side.

But I knew at the back of my mind something wasn’t quite right.  I would reflect sometimes on the degree of anger she seemed to be able to elicit from me and I would feel quite shaken.  I knew, deep down, that the strength of my feeling was irrationally disproportionate to anything this beautiful, tiny, innocent girl could have ‘done’ to have caused this.

Things came to a head one day during a crazy, and looking back now, quite embarrassing stand-off we were having in the bathroom – over yes, teeth brushing.   We had done with the yelling match and were sat silently side-by-side, both refusing to ‘give-in’.   I was ruminating on a traumatic week of endless power struggles – and school runs, where in order to get my eldest to school, I’d had to carry this poor girl kicking and screaming under one arm, whilst pushing our new-born in the buggy with the other.

But this time, instead of feeling enraged that she was ‘making’ me feel so angry by her stubborn behaviour, I felt only deep helplessness, despair and sadness.  Helplessness and despair that despite all my knowledge and training I was still a rubbish parent and couldn’t ‘control’ my children.  Sadness that we’d somehow got to this point, and though I loved her deeply nothing about the way I was behaving was showing her this.

And that was when it dawned on me.  This was not about her at all. 

It was about me and the tangled mess of buried emotions that were being triggered.

You see anger is just the surface emotion.  It is a less vulnerable and bizarrely more ‘acceptable’ emotion than fear, sadness, worry, hurt, disappointment, rejection and so on.   Underneath the anger are all the feelings we learnt as children were not allowed to be expressed, or felt too painful to be expressed, or caused our own parents’ distress or discomfort.

We learn to bury them, until along comes our own child, who’s behaviour evokes exactly those painful memories and feelings we’d been trying so hard to ignore.

My parents were not intentionally unkind but they were strict and I was scared of them.  So, every time my daughter refused to cooperate, one of the things it triggered was my unexpressed childhood pain of all the times I was too scared to do the same.  I wasn’t allowed to behave like that, so how dare she?!

I know now that my reaction deeply disturbed her.  And often when children are scared, they will keep repeating the same behaviours to test for a better response; they desperately need our calm control, our calm knowing and reassurance that we will keep them safe however they are feeling.  Repeatedly pushing a limit is the only way they know to attempt to establish something that feels safer and somewhere they can feel properly heard.

Very often, our reactions to our children are so automatic that we convince ourselves that we have no control over them.  We blame our child’s difficult nature that ‘makes’ us feel and respond a certain way, or simply believe that it’s just part of our personality and there’s little we can do about it.   And this is where I was; I had barely even considered that I had a choice.

But we always have a choice about how we respond and behave.  It doesn’t always feel like it, and it’s definitely not easy, but we do have a choice. 

Our children, on the other hand, absolutely do not.  They will eventually learn to find ways to deal with their emotions from experience and modelling us, but in the meantime, they are predominantly dinosaur-brain driven.  It is our job then, to bring the logic and rational thinking to the table, and to act as this part of their brain for them during the times that they lose it and cannot control themselves.

Which unfortunately means it’s also our job to be responsible for our emotions and learn to handle them.  Sometimes increased self-care and restoring depleted resources can help a lot with this – that is, more rest, sleep, help, support etc.  And learning ways to stay calm such as breathing, dissociation and mindfulness exercises can also be very beneficial.

But if you have the sense that the degree of anger you feel is beyond the realm of everyday annoyances and frustrations, it could well be that you need to look deeper and start to explore your triggers.

These are extremely personal and can take all sorts of forms, so keeping a note of when and what first sparks your anger can be a useful first exercise.   See if you begin to notice any patterns, and if you can identify the underlying feeling that you are protecting yourself from by going straight to ‘fight’ mode (anger).  Uncovering, naming and getting those feelings out, sitting with them, acknowledging and accepting them are the starting points for healing.  As you take steps to do this, you will gradually find that the triggering situation loses its power to bother you in the same way.

For help with this, do contact me here, and to keep up-to-date with my latest posts and offers, please sign up to my list below.

 

HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR

HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR

I'm a mama of 3 and a parenting coach specialising in picky eating and mealtime stress.

I'm passionate about inspiring parents to enjoy mealtimes & help their children develop a healthy long-term relationship with food.

See here for the services I offer or email me for more info.  You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram.

CREATING PEACEFUL FAMILY EATING HABITS

A doctorate in child development and years of working with children and families did not prepare me for the sheer frustration and stress of feeding my own family. Three different children with three different preferences and three different eating patterns and bodily...
Read More

ARE YOU CONSTANTLY FEELING UNDER THE WEATHER? THIS COULD BE WHY…

When my first two children were around 3 and 1 years old, I distinctly remember that having a cold, sniffles or slight headache became my new normal, particularly during the colder months. I think I mainly put it down to not paying careful enough attention to my diet, and constant close-up exposure to snot-drenched little ones.

Read More

HOW I STOPPED BEING AN ANGRY PARENT (most of the time…)

I never assumed parenting was going to be a walk in the park. But one thing in particular that I was not at all prepared for was quite how angry I would find myself becoming at times. And the very worst of those times were apparently all because of a two-year-old?? Yep, who knew that a…

Read More

DO PEACEFUL PARENTS LET THEIR KIDS DO AS THEY PLEASE?

I have found that as soon as you acknowledge the way you parent in terms such as ‘peaceful’, ‘positive’, ‘freedom’ or ‘respectful’, you are opening a rather large can of worms for a rather large number of misconceptions. And one of the biggest tends to be that...
Read More

HOW TO SET LIMITS THE KIND WAY

Choosing a gentle approach to parenting that doesn’t rely on coercion and punishment is very often the easy bit.  The tricky bit begins as your innocent baby turns into a curious toddler.  All of a sudden, you realise you need to find peaceful ways to keep them safe...
Read More

IS YOUR PARENTING UP-TO-DATE? (WITH THE LATEST BRAIN SCIENCE)

It is probably true to say that most of us were brought up by parents who expected and enforced a pretty high degree of obedience and conformity to rules, and they did so by liberal use or threat of punishments and/or consequences. There is no judgement or blame…

Read More

HOW TO PREVENT TOYS FROM TAKING OVER YOUR HOUSE…AND YOUR SANITY

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the number of toys in your house? Do you struggle to find places to put them and to get your kids to help keep them tidy? Someone asked me the other day what my thoughts were on managing and tidying toys…

Read More

HOW NOT TO POTTY TRAIN

I suspect that one of the problems for the old woman who lived in a shoe (and perhaps one of many reasons why her children were so unhappy and unruly), was that once she’d found a couple of approaches that worked with the first few of her children, she assumed it...
Read More

ARE YOU A CURIOUS PARENT? How To Ask Questions To Deepen Connection With Your Child

The other day my 7-year-old was engrossed in ‘den’ making and called for me to come and help tie a rope. I was mid making pancakes and knew that’d I’d be liable to char the lot if I allowed myself to be distracted. So I said, “Yes I will, in a minute, I’ve nearly finished”. He puffed in exasperation…

Read More

EMERGENCY PARENTING: The One Word That Can Save The Day

Sibling world war 23756 breaks out just as I’m trying to get tea. I’m tired and frazzled from a long day and too many thoughts going on in my head and too long a gap since I last stopped to clear them. The cries and screams get louder and l can feel my heart rate increase and little bubbles of irritation start to expand in…

Read More

SUPPORTING YOUR SENSITIVE CHILD: 5 PRACTICAL TIPS

My three-year-old is very sensitive. I wouldn’t go as far as highly sensitive, a bit too early to conclude that yet for him I think. But he’s definitely very sensitive. He is astonishingly aware and has been since he was a baby. He has an intuitive understanding of feelings, both his own and other people’s, and he processes the vibe or atmosphere in a room almost immediately…

Read More

REMEMBERING TO REMEMBER HOW HARD PARENTING CAN BE

[shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="26095147"] “I’ve ruled out any sort of medical problem, which means the bed-wetting must be psychological or behavioural", said the Doctor.  "She probably just needs more attention” she added glibly, glancing with a crushing mix of...
Read More

THE ONLY WAY TO AVOID WEEKDAY MORNING STRESS (for me, anyway)

The absolute game changer for me is getting up before the kids. A good amount of time before the kids. If I don’t, sometimes the morning goes okay, sometimes it doesn’t. But if I DO get up early, I can pretty much guarantee that it will. Why? Because whatever state the kids are in, it doesn’t matter…

Read More

DO YOU HAVE A FUSSY EATER? ARE YOU FED UP WITH MEALTIMES?

 

 

Click here to apply

 to join my
6 week, one-to-one, Fuss-Free Eating for Life coaching programme

 

 

APPLY NOW

DO PEACEFUL PARENTS LET THEIR KIDS DO AS THEY PLEASE?

I have found that as soon as you acknowledge the way you parent in terms such as ‘peaceful’, ‘positive’, ‘freedom’ or ‘respectful’, you are opening a rather large can of worms for a rather large number of misconceptions.

And one of the biggest tends to be that advocates of this type of parenting do not set any limits or boundaries; they are too ‘nice’ to their kids even when they’re ‘naughty’, and their kids rule the roost and do as they please.

So, is this indeed the case? 

Well, yes and no, but mainly NO! 

Why?  Because setting limits and boundaries is absolutely considered important.  It’s just that the aim is to do so in as peaceful and gentle manner as can be mustered.

But I get it, it’s confusing.  In fact, it was properly getting to grips with this that helped me make the biggest leap in terms of my own parenting confidence.  So let me explain.

As much as you may not want to label yourself as a certain type of parent (me definitely included!), the nature of your day-to-day actions and behaviour with your kids inevitably means that your parenting does fall under some category or other.   Psychologists have spent many, many thousands of hours researching and categorising and describing parenting types (again, me included) and over the years a brain-numbing array of variations have been proposed.

And one of the most long-standing and commonly known ways of examining differences is to assess the degree of control and degree of warmth parents demonstrate toward their offspring.

So, if we imagine a line representing a continuum of these traits, right at one end there is the ‘authoritarian’ style of parenting:

As it sounds, authoritarian parents enforce strict rules, punishments and consequences, and the kids behave because they wouldn’t dare not to and are pretty scared of their parents.  Authoritarian parenting by no means just refers to physical punishment – it also includes using threats of any kind and generally any method that subdues and scares the child into conforming and ‘behaving’.  This is still common practice and pretty much how the majority of us were raised.

But it’s at the other end of the scale where the confusion comes; the opposite of this type of parenting, is not peaceful or positive parenting, but passive parenting.

This is extremely different; passive parents are identified as high in warmth but low in control.  They don’t believe in punishment or scaring their child, and they don’t want their children to be sad or distressed and so they find it hard to set limits.  They want to be friends with them and will do anything to keep the peace.

At the beginning of my parenting journey, I would probably have said I was trying to be somewhere in the middle; in ‘control’ and enforcing boundaries but also warm and responsive.  In reality, what tended to happen was that I’d lurch from one end to the other depending on my mood, energy and what the kids were doing. 

Despite my background and research experience in this very area, I look back now and realise I was extremely confused about what all this meant practically, and exactly how to apply it to real-life, fuzzy-headed, sleep-deprived day-to-day parenting.

All I knew was that I felt uncomfortable and out of alignment with any kind of ‘authoritarian’ way of parenting.  I kept noticing how much I disliked myself when I yelled or lost it, none of the countless strategies I tried made me feel good, and they didn’t even seem to be working or teaching anything.

And then it slowly started to dawn on me that parenting does not have to be about any degree of control at all; there are other ways to parent that don’t fit in with or belong anywhere on this continuum, approaches that focus on teaching, leadership and mutual respect.

And the ultimate light-bulb moment for me was the realisation that I actually had entirely faulty thinking about limit setting.  Somewhere along the line I had absorbed the belief that raising your voice and being cross and authoritative was the only way to set boundaries, and a necessity to manage the potentially out of control tearaways that are our children.

Truly ‘getting’ that this is not the case, totally turned my parenting around.

And then to dig deeper and to find that all the latest research coming from extensive brain studies is totally in line with this way of parenting – and in fact can guide us in exactly how to help bring up our children – was, and still is, immensely exciting.  How lucky are we to live in a time where we know how to best help our children’s developing brains rather than just muddling along and winging it? (See here.)

But to go back to the original point, a minor downside of an approach that strives to maintain respect, nurturing and emotional attunement throughout all interactions is that it can all to easily be misinterpreted as passive.

But as I said, a peaceful style of parenting is very different and cannot logically be placed anywhere on this spectrum at all:

Peaceful parenting differs from all approaches on this continuum because the underlying belief is that every child is born good and wanting to please, and therefore parenting is not about control but about developing an authentic, loving connection.  Children are viewed as doing the best they can and deserve to be respected as unique individuals with the same rights as adults.  As Dr. Seuss said, “A person is a person, no matter how small”.

And peaceful parenting differs specifically from passive parenting because proactive efforts to set limits and boundaries are definitely considered important.  In particular ones that allow you to teach your child safety and respect for other people.  For example, ‘No, it’s not okay to hit your brother.  It’s okay to feel cross with him and feel like you hate him, but it’s not okay to hurt.’

But unlike authoritarian parenting, the aim is always to set limits warmly and calmly.  Respecting a child as a whole person means avoiding coercing them into obedience, but instead gently leading them towards cultivating empathy, genuine values and an internal moral compass.

It is also important to mention that intrinsic to a peaceful parenting approach is a well-developed understanding and acceptance of emotions, both positive and negative.  A passive parent will do anything possible to avoid tantrums or tears, and go out of their way to appease their child to avoid these big emotions.

Peaceful approaches to parenting, on the other hand, welcome these emotions as healthy and healing, and often go as far as setting limits for the child to push against in order to help release tension and tears in a healthy and supported way (see here).

This was the missing piece of the parenting puzzle for me and took a considerably long time for me to fully ‘get’.  If you are interested in exploring this further, I highly recommend Kate Orson’s book, “Tears Heal” and “Born to Thrive” by Harvey Merriam.

And if you are feeling a little bamboozled and over-whelmed by all this focus on theory, please do contact me here to arrange a FREE 15- minute call to help you make sense of where you are right now with your parenting and simple steps you can take to make things easier.  And please do also sign up below to keep up-to-date with my latest posts and offers.

 

HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR

HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR

I'm a mama of 3 and a parenting coach specialising in picky eating and mealtime stress.

I'm passionate about inspiring parents to enjoy mealtimes & help their children develop a healthy long-term relationship with food.

See here for the services I offer or email me for more info.  You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram.

CREATING PEACEFUL FAMILY EATING HABITS

A doctorate in child development and years of working with children and families did not prepare me for the sheer frustration and stress of feeding my own family. Three different children with three different preferences and three different eating patterns and bodily...
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ARE YOU CONSTANTLY FEELING UNDER THE WEATHER? THIS COULD BE WHY…

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HOW I STOPPED BEING AN ANGRY PARENT (most of the time…)

I never assumed parenting was going to be a walk in the park. But one thing in particular that I was not at all prepared for was quite how angry I would find myself becoming at times. And the very worst of those times were apparently all because of a two-year-old?? Yep, who knew that a…

Read More

DO PEACEFUL PARENTS LET THEIR KIDS DO AS THEY PLEASE?

I have found that as soon as you acknowledge the way you parent in terms such as ‘peaceful’, ‘positive’, ‘freedom’ or ‘respectful’, you are opening a rather large can of worms for a rather large number of misconceptions. And one of the biggest tends to be that...
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DO YOU HAVE A FUSSY EATER? ARE YOU FED UP WITH MEALTIMES?

 

 

Click here to apply

 to join my
6 week, one-to-one, Fuss-Free Eating for Life coaching programme

 

 

APPLY NOW

HOW TO SET LIMITS THE KIND WAY

Choosing a gentle approach to parenting that doesn’t rely on coercion and punishment is very often the easy bit.  The tricky bit begins as your innocent baby turns into a curious toddler.  All of a sudden, you realise you need to find peaceful ways to keep them safe and guide an internal sense of respect for their environment and community, as well as themselves and other people.

I am increasingly convinced that the less control and the more freedom we can give our children the better.  But as much as children need a calm, kind leader who respects their rights to independence of thought, feeling and action, they also need to know that they are safe and cared for.

If we do not help them manage their emotions and set some basic behavioural limits, they will end up feeling insecure and uncomfortable.   Limits around respect and safety are also vital in order for our own needs as parents to be met.

 

THINGS TO BEAR IN MIND BEFORE SETTING A LIMIT:

 

1. Make thoughtful decisions about which limits you will enforce. 

 

Try and ‘pick your battles’.  If you can, consider freeing them from as many arbitrary rules and restrictions as possibleOverly controlling and managing our children tends to be counter-productive and a better aim is to focus on helping them learn to be independent and trust themselves.

Will it teach or help them with something rather than being a random rule that you want them to follow because ‘you say so’?

Do you feel they ‘need’ this boundary for safety reasons?  For health reasons?  To show respect for the boundaries of others?  To help them feel your calm leadership and release emotional tension or big feelings?

Here’s two examples:

1.

For safety reasons (potential glass and sharp objects) I do not let my kids go out of the house without shoes where we currently live.  But I’m much more relaxed about coats; I trust that they will know if they are cold and will put it on when they are. 

2.

If my three-year-old demands a different cup to the one I’ve given, some days I’ll comply and other days I won’t.  If I’m not in a rush and neither of us are overly tired or hungry and I sense there is something he is holding onto and needs to release, I will maintain a gentle limit; ‘You’d really like your red cup, but I’m giving you the Thomas cup today’. 

Doing so will allow him to cry and let go of whatever emotional tension he’s holding onto and needs to get out (see below).  His request for a different cup is not about manipulation or stubbornness; it is the only way he knows at that moment to tell me he has big feelings about something (from earlier in the day or built up over time) that he needs to express in order to heal.  But if I sense it’s not a good time or I don’t have the energy to listen and support the emotional fall-out, it doesn’t matter.  Kids know how to heal themselves, and you can guarantee that he will find another opportunity to do so very soon (see here).

 

 

2. Do not worry about being religiously consistent

 

In-the-moment confidence and rational explanations are much more important than always feeling you need to enforce the same rules and limits (as in the cup scenario above).  Things change, moods change, everyone is different – and this is okay and a good thing, in fact, for our kids to learn.

Here’s an example:

Some days you might be up for supervising high energy bouncing games across the sofas and feel confident you can join in and keep everyone safe.  On another day, not so much, so just say it how it is; ‘sorry guys, no kangaroo games today, I’m feeling too tired to join in and keep you all safe.  How about you play on the trampoline or we play a board game instead?’

You may also choose not to set and enforce limits if you have guests or you are out in public, to avoid (as much as possible) making your child feel embarrassed or disrespected.  I’m not saying you should let them run wild, but if there is another way or another time, why not take that option.

I would advocate behaving this way even with very young children as they are absorbing much more from your daily interaction than is sometimes obvious.  Behave just as you would with a partner or friend; for example, out of respect, most of us would wait until we got home to point out or discuss something we didn’t like or felt was inappropriate rather than publicly shame them.

 

 

3. Is it a behaviour that could be re-directed rather than quashed?

 

Consider if you could avoid saying ‘no’ or setting a limit by re-directing the impulse.  A child who is throwing things around may simply need space to practise their lob.  This is particularly the case with younger children as their impulse control is so very immature and underdeveloped.

Rather than yelling and point blank shutting the behaviour down, could you try something like, “No I can’t let you throw that ball in here as there are breakable things.  Shall we go outside and throw balls in the hoop instead?” 

 

 

4. Can you use playfulness to turn things around?

 

If you have asked your child to do something you consider you ‘need’ them to do (e.g. put on their shoes) and they are ignoring you, could you try being playful or humorous before getting firm with a limit?

Be as creative as you can; use silly voices, pretend you don’t know how to put them on and keep doing it wrong, make it into a race, be a shoe monster who eats any shoes that are not on feet – you get the idea.   It’s surprising how much more fun the whole process becomes for you too, and your kids will feed off your relaxed playfulness and respond accordingly.

I try to only do this with things we ‘have’ to do, that are perhaps a bit tedious or dull – daily routine stuff like brushing teeth or tidying something away, for example.   It is usually not appropriate if your child is already cross or frustrated.  Trying to chivvy them out of a feeling is akin to trampling on that feeling and the opposite of being heard.  It would be similar to telling your friend how sad you are that your dog has died, and for them to respond with a ‘knock, knock’ joke to ‘cheer you up’!

 

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT WHILST YOU ARE SETTING A LIMIT:

 

 

1. State your limit warmly but decisively

 

You want to aim for a ‘calm and kind, but firm’ stance – think unruffled or picture someone you know who represents this state.  It can take a bit of practice to hard-wire, particularly if you’ve previously only set limits when you are already annoyed or triggered or exhausted from the repetitiveness of a testing behaviour.

Imagining it is somebody else’s child can also help (because they don’t tend to emotionally trigger you in the same way).  Or try viewing your child as if they are in physical pain (from a deep cut or something) as this helps distance yourself from irritation or thoughts that they are purposely being annoying or difficult.

 

 

2. Try not to shout, ‘act’ cross, get worked up or irritated  

 

You can still set and hold a limit just as effectively without doing these things.   In fact, if you are feeling frustrated and have lost access to your own rational brain, then addressing this first (if safe to do so) is a priority.  You will not be thinking clearly and will be unlikely to hold a limit with any degree of warmth.

We now know that shouting and yelling at a young brain doesn’t ‘work’ anyway; it activates their primitive fight-or-flight response  causing them to become further enraged and disconnected from their thinking brain (see here),

Bear in mind that even if you are not yelling or puffing smoke, a strangled huffy tone or a despairing, fed-up one will also send clear signals that you are not calm and centred.  As will towering over them, glaring, with hands on your hips!  Sorry, I know it does seem like it requires an impossibly unrealistic level of zen.   But this is only what you are aspiring to, it won’t happen all the time and neither does it matter.  It will gradually get easier and more automatic the more you practise.

 

 

3. Show that you understand their perspective

 

Not always possible I know, but if there is time and you can, showing empathy helps remind your child that you are not the enemy and you are on their side.  It is a natural response of all humans to resist being controlled, but knowing that we are understood helps a great deal to soften the blow.

Here are some examples:

I know you are having a lovely time, and now we have to leave 

I can see that you are cross, and I can’t let you hit your brother

I know you would really love an ice-cream, and we are not having ice-creams today.

 

 

4. If necessary, physically hold them

 

If you’ve clearly stated a limit as above and they continue to do something you deem unsafe or that you cannot allow (e.g. hurt someone, run away), you may have to physically step in.

As Harvey Merriam says, “Controlling our children should not be the first choice for intervening in their lives, but, if we do have to control them against their will, direct physical control is the way to go.” 

If they are trying to hit you (or others), block and hold their hands to gently restrain them.  Face them away from you on your lap if possible.  Let go as soon as they are no longer hitting, even if they are still angry.  You are only there to ensure safety, not to teach them a lesson or punish.  They are not hooligans or being ‘naughty’, they are in pain and not in control of themselves.

Speak minimally, if at all.  Gently murmuring that they are safe is the most you need to say (they won’t be able to absorb anything anyway) as your calmness and body language will do the rest of the talking.

 

5. Expect and welcome tears

Be prepared for your limit to unleash big feelings (or more big feelings).  This is not only okay but a normal part of the emotional healing process (see here for more on this).  Kids are allowed to have and express feelings in the same way as adults; they will undoubtedly be upset if we say they can’t have an ice cream, and that’s fair enough!  If their feelings are not allowed they gradually learn that there is a ‘bad’ part of them that is not acceptable which they learn to suppress.  These buried, unacknowledged feelings can be carried for many years and are often at the root of any number of later mental health issues.

So your job is just to listen with kindness and empathy to all these feelings.  Without, if possible, interrupting the flow by distracting, fixing, diverting, leaving, ignoring, soothing or shushing.  Sounds pretty easy?  It’s not!  At first, anyway – it’s amazing how habitual trying to eradicate or avoid tears becomes.   Again, just keep being aware and practising and it will gradually become your new normal.

 

 

 

HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR

HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR

I'm a mama of 3 and a parenting coach specialising in picky eating and mealtime stress.

I'm passionate about inspiring parents to enjoy mealtimes & help their children develop a healthy long-term relationship with food.

See here for the services I offer or email me for more info.  You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram.

CREATING PEACEFUL FAMILY EATING HABITS

A doctorate in child development and years of working with children and families did not prepare me for the sheer frustration and stress of feeding my own family. Three different children with three different preferences and three different eating patterns and bodily...
Read More

ARE YOU CONSTANTLY FEELING UNDER THE WEATHER? THIS COULD BE WHY…

When my first two children were around 3 and 1 years old, I distinctly remember that having a cold, sniffles or slight headache became my new normal, particularly during the colder months. I think I mainly put it down to not paying careful enough attention to my diet, and constant close-up exposure to snot-drenched little ones.

Read More

HOW I STOPPED BEING AN ANGRY PARENT (most of the time…)

I never assumed parenting was going to be a walk in the park. But one thing in particular that I was not at all prepared for was quite how angry I would find myself becoming at times. And the very worst of those times were apparently all because of a two-year-old?? Yep, who knew that a…

Read More

DO PEACEFUL PARENTS LET THEIR KIDS DO AS THEY PLEASE?

I have found that as soon as you acknowledge the way you parent in terms such as ‘peaceful’, ‘positive’, ‘freedom’ or ‘respectful’, you are opening a rather large can of worms for a rather large number of misconceptions. And one of the biggest tends to be that...
Read More

HOW TO SET LIMITS THE KIND WAY

Choosing a gentle approach to parenting that doesn’t rely on coercion and punishment is very often the easy bit.  The tricky bit begins as your innocent baby turns into a curious toddler.  All of a sudden, you realise you need to find peaceful ways to keep them safe...
Read More

IS YOUR PARENTING UP-TO-DATE? (WITH THE LATEST BRAIN SCIENCE)

It is probably true to say that most of us were brought up by parents who expected and enforced a pretty high degree of obedience and conformity to rules, and they did so by liberal use or threat of punishments and/or consequences. There is no judgement or blame…

Read More

HOW TO PREVENT TOYS FROM TAKING OVER YOUR HOUSE…AND YOUR SANITY

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the number of toys in your house? Do you struggle to find places to put them and to get your kids to help keep them tidy? Someone asked me the other day what my thoughts were on managing and tidying toys…

Read More

HOW NOT TO POTTY TRAIN

I suspect that one of the problems for the old woman who lived in a shoe (and perhaps one of many reasons why her children were so unhappy and unruly), was that once she’d found a couple of approaches that worked with the first few of her children, she assumed it...
Read More

ARE YOU A CURIOUS PARENT? How To Ask Questions To Deepen Connection With Your Child

The other day my 7-year-old was engrossed in ‘den’ making and called for me to come and help tie a rope. I was mid making pancakes and knew that’d I’d be liable to char the lot if I allowed myself to be distracted. So I said, “Yes I will, in a minute, I’ve nearly finished”. He puffed in exasperation…

Read More

EMERGENCY PARENTING: The One Word That Can Save The Day

Sibling world war 23756 breaks out just as I’m trying to get tea. I’m tired and frazzled from a long day and too many thoughts going on in my head and too long a gap since I last stopped to clear them. The cries and screams get louder and l can feel my heart rate increase and little bubbles of irritation start to expand in…

Read More

SUPPORTING YOUR SENSITIVE CHILD: 5 PRACTICAL TIPS

My three-year-old is very sensitive. I wouldn’t go as far as highly sensitive, a bit too early to conclude that yet for him I think. But he’s definitely very sensitive. He is astonishingly aware and has been since he was a baby. He has an intuitive understanding of feelings, both his own and other people’s, and he processes the vibe or atmosphere in a room almost immediately…

Read More

REMEMBERING TO REMEMBER HOW HARD PARENTING CAN BE

[shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="26095147"] “I’ve ruled out any sort of medical problem, which means the bed-wetting must be psychological or behavioural", said the Doctor.  "She probably just needs more attention” she added glibly, glancing with a crushing mix of...
Read More

THE ONLY WAY TO AVOID WEEKDAY MORNING STRESS (for me, anyway)

The absolute game changer for me is getting up before the kids. A good amount of time before the kids. If I don’t, sometimes the morning goes okay, sometimes it doesn’t. But if I DO get up early, I can pretty much guarantee that it will. Why? Because whatever state the kids are in, it doesn’t matter…

Read More

DO YOU HAVE A FUSSY EATER? ARE YOU FED UP WITH MEALTIMES?

 

 

Click here to apply

 to join my
6 week, one-to-one, Fuss-Free Eating for Life coaching programme

 

 

APPLY NOW