Positive parenting: Er, how do you do it (asking for a friend)?
Updated: Jun 1
Since Rex was born I’ve been in a constant state of confusion (not even my list of newborn baby must-haves helped). Breastfeed, bottlefeed, nappy brand, bottle brand, baby-led weaning or spoon fed etc, the list of things to be confused about as a parent is fucking endless. But probably the thing that I’m most confused about – and, of course, it’s the most important – is my style of parenting.
I recently got told at nursery that Rex had been overheard telling some children they were being ‘really naughty’. His keyworker said, and I quote, ‘it’s not a big problem, but we don’t use the word naughty at nursery. It’s a negative word, and we don’t use negative words’. She went on to say she’d also explained this to Rex.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure how to respond. My first thought was to respond in defence, insisting that actually he’s almost certainly picked the word up from hearing me saying how naughty the dog is going into our nextdoor neighbours garden all the bastard time. However, no matter how true, it seemed like a thin thread so I refrained, I would also be lying if I said I hadn’t, on occasion, asked Rex to ‘stop being naughty’ in the past.
My second response was to lose my fucking mind and explain how confused Rex must be now being told one thing at nursery and hearing another at home. I didn’t do either. Instead I ignored the fiery 20-yr-old that still very much resides in me and decided, very maturely, I might add, not to respond when emotional. I simply nodded, took Rex by the hand and left.
Naughty, no more
As I drove home, my mind was consumed by the conversation and how it had made me feel a few things. Shit was the first one. Parenting is hard enough at the best of times and so to be pulled aside by someone you barely know and effectively told how to parent your child was definitely not a high point for me. But most upsetting of all was it made me feel so useless as a parent and like the fact that I had referred to Rex’s behaviour as naughty on a couple of occasions has now somehow caused him some irreparable psychological damage.
One of my biggest fears as Rex’s mum is doing something (or not doing something) that has some detrimental effect on his mental health. When shit happens, I do everything I possibly can to shield him from it, just incase that one thing is the thing that stays with him. The one thing he remembers and carries with him forever.
I’ve thought about that conversation at nursery for days now, going through various stages of emotion about it. At first I was angry. Angry at the thought I was being judged, angry that I might be hurting my little boy in some way and angry that, actually, the conversation about him not using that word is something they should have had with me first before telling him he was in the wrong. Anger moved to upset and sense of failure. And from that I’m now into trying to figure out what I can do to be better. Not for the nursery staff, but for Rex.
I feel like I spend a lot of my time trying to understand and learn from Rex’s behaviour. A lot of my frustration, I think, comes from the fact that I forget Rex is two, and his brain is still barely developed. Fun fact – did you know at birth, a baby’s head is a mere 25% of its ultimate adult size? Just because Rex can have a conversation with me now, fill up his own cup, use his own fork and spoon, sit on the potty etc, doesn’t mean he can deal with the range of emotions involved in his development.
However, if you’re not recognising your kid’s behaviour as sometimes being negative, using time outs to deal with meltdowns etc, how do you deal with it? How do you practise positive reinforcement without it becoming a case of you never saying no and your child quickly learning they can manipulate every situation? And if someone can tell me how you stay patient and compassionate with a toddler who spends the day pressing your buttons, I am all ears.
My conclusion to this whole situation is I know I have work to do when it comes to dealing with Rex and how he manages his emotions. Fuck, I have work to do when it comes to managing my own emotions. This learning is something that will continue throughout both of our lives and I am inevitably going to get it wrong sometimes.
As frustrated as I was by the conversation at nursery, I get the logic, the thought, the process, and it has actually made me think about how I sometimes need to take a step back, breathe and try to figure out the best way to handle whatever emotion Rex is experiencing. So my overall takeaway from this is largely positive, especially when I think, with parents like Eamo and I, the nursery staff should be thankful he wasn’t saying much, much worse.