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Next to sleep deprivation and the never-ending needs of babies and toddlers, the biggest parenting challenge for me personally has been disciplining my kids. Hands down.
Honestly, I didn’t realize just how hard it would be. Once upon a time, I thought that if I simply showered my kids with love and modeled good behavior, I’d raise compliant kids. (LOL! The joke was clearly on me.)
Turns out, nothing could be further from the truth. Kids are going to act out. They are going to challenge you. They are going to push every last one of your buttons — and push them again.
It has nothing to do with how good of a parent you are. That’s just part of them growing up and seeking independence.
But how on Earth do you rein it all in, and teach them to act like normal (quiet) human beings who are kind and respectful? It’s a challenge, for sure, and like many parents, I’m constantly trying to find the balance between making sure there are clear, firm rules in my house and being as kind and empathetic to my kids as possible. Often, it feels like I’m either “Nice Mommy,” who also happens be a pushover, or “Mean Mommy,” who can get her kids to behave, but only if she turns herself into a fire-breathing tyrant.
Parenting is SO MUCH FUN, right guys?!
According to Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright, authors of the new book Now Say This: The Right Words To Solve Every Parenting Dilemma, it doesn’t have to be one or the other when it comes to discipline. In fact, the answer to some of our most common discipline problems isn’t just what we’re saying — but how we’re saying it.
Turgeon and Wright’s new book offers practical, no-nonsense solutions to disciplining children, and they claim that it is totally possible to be both warm and nurturing while setting clear and appropriate limits for your kids. (Imagine that!)
I must say, I was extremely intrigued when I first picked up the book. Combining warmth with limits is definitely my goal as I discipline my kids, though it’s something I fail at more often than I’d like to admit. But I have to tell you that the method outlined in Turgeon and Wright’s book is actually simpler than I expected it to be — and totally practical as well, which is always key when it comes to parenting.
The crux of the method is a three-step plan called ALP. Each letter stands for a step you take when your child is acting out or misbehaving, and you practice the method pretty much all at once, in the order outlined.
“A” stands for “Attune,” which means that when your child begins acting out, you start by getting down on their level and addressing your child’s behavior from a place of empathy. This step is supposed to be as non-judgmental and kind as possible. In the book, the authors have some awesome suggestions for what to say in different circumstances, and how to stay it.
“L” stands for “Limit set,” which is the part where you state the rule or limit that you need to lay out. You say this as neutrally, but seriously, as possible. Turgeon and Wright recommend that your limit be clear and also brief (i.e., don’t go on a 9-page rant on why your kid can’t eat sand; it will mean little to them and they will only get distracted).
Finally, the “P” stands for “Problem solve,” which means that you try whenever possible to offer your child choices (oh, how kids LOVE choices!), as well as suggestions for how your child can solve whatever problem they are having. You want this part to be creative, fun, and to give your child as much control as possible in the process.
For example, if it’s time to leave the park, but your toddler is protesting (i.e., screaming their head off!), after you empathize and set your limit, you can say, “Do you want to hop to the car like a kangaroo, or leap to the car like a tiger?”
In addition to these tips, the authors have individual chapters that deal with specific discipline scenarios like tantrums, hitting, biting, sibling fights, screen time, and bed time. Those are all worth a read, and each offer some quality advice, but it was ALP itself that I’ve found most helpful in my home. Like life-changing helpful.
It’s been about one week since I picked up the book, and I’ve had many occasions to practice ALP (thanks, kids!). So far, I can tell you firsthand that it works: when I practice the method in its entirety, my kids generally calm down, listen, and follow my instructions (though not always in that order!).
I’m realizing that I’m really good at either the “attuning” part or the “limit” part, but it’s been hard to remember to do them together (starting with attuning at first). And I almost always forget the “problem solve” part — probably because I can barely make it through the other steps of dealing with my kids’ behavior.
Having a “cheat sheet” like this has been really helpful. It makes me more mindful of my parenting, and it helps me to keep the goals of good discipline in mind. Kids truly do need empathy, clear boundaries, and help solving their problems, and it turns out it’s possible to do all three at once — especially with practice.
That’s no surprise to the authors, who have both employed these techniques at home with their own kids.
“It helps to have some tools to practice in moments when you’re flooded with frustration,” Turgeon shares with Babble. “When you feel really emotional, it’s hard to choose what to say (rather than react automatically). Pausing and literally just counting to 10 helps, as does using an image in your mind, like seeing your child’s feelings like a wave rolling under you, rather than hitting you straight on.”
I’m a sucker for a good mental image, and I’m definitely going to use that one the next time my 5-year-old asks me for yet another lollipop and I consider locking myself in the bathroom.
In all seriousness, though, the book is chock full of amazing mindfulness tips like this one. My next step is to get my husband on board, and while I think he’ll like it once he tries it, it can be difficult to get our spouses to get on board with new methods of doing things. Turgeon has some helpful advice for that scenario, too.
“It helps to remind each other that the 3-step model of communication (Attune, Limit Set, Problem Solve) really does encompass BOTH empathy and effective limit setting,” she explains. “It’s not a soft, permissive approach, it assumes high expectations for kids.”
This is absolutely true. Now Say This assumes that our kids really can listen to us and follow orders — if delivered in ways that are appropriate for them. But the amazing thing about the method in this book, in my opinion, is that you’ll feel as though you’re loving your kids 100%, while at the very same time making it super clear that rules are rules, and there’s no way around them.
And at the end of the day, that’s really our main goal, right?