My husband and I attended my mother-in-law's recent parenting conference titled Uplift Families. There were some incredible speakers there, and I was writing furiously on my program as they spoke about ways to show mutual respect; making sure children feel needed and valued, not just loved; how to overcome my own parenting fears; teaching children to govern themselves; and dealing with anxious or highly sensitive children.
But one thing speaker Dan Clark said really made an impact on me. "Humiliation immobilizes our behavior," he said. "Children think, 'We don't care how much you know until we know how much you care.'" He explained how we can only promote change when it comes from a place of love.
A few days later I was sitting on the couch helping my 4-year-old read. He has been progressing well at school with his little books, but this week he had "sentences" (two or three words put together) and he was struggling. "Aaaaaa-Nnnnn-D. A-N-D. Nad!" He'd say proudly, mixing up the first two letters. After about 20 minutes of this, stuck on the same page with the same word I was ready to pull my hair out. Reading with preschoolers is a special kind of torture.
"Briggs," I said and blew out my breath in frustration. "Why do you keep putting an 'n' in front of the word 'and'? It's not 'nad'!"
His whole body tensed and he curled his fingers into fists. I looked down at my little boy, sitting there in nothing but his underwear: teeth bared, a low growl emanating from his throat, eyes wild with anger, hair covering every inch of his legs, arms, shoulders and back — and thought he looked a little like a werewolf.
I took a deep breath and in a split second, attempted to turn my "humiliation" method that I had so easily reverted back to into encouragement and love.
"OK, what letter is this?"
It took several more tries, but as soon as he got it, I whooped with delight. "Yes!" I exclaimed, "That's right!" His eyes brightened and a huge grin spread across his face. He finally finished the book and I cheered, "You did it!" He lunged forward and hugged me tightly, squealing with excitement.
There are so many times I want to take the short cut in parenting. I'm too tired, so I throw together an easy meal that is seriously lacking in nutrition. I nod my head robotically and say, "Uh-huh, wow, cool," as they tell me a story that seems to take a hundred years to finish. I cut the bedtime routine short. I ignore war cries coming from the basement when there's an argument over something ridiculous like whose birthday comes first and wait for the losing child to come upstairs and show me their wounds instead of intervening sooner. I don't do a lot of things the way I should.
But what's great about kids is their beautiful ability to forgive. They love us, even in our less than perfect moments. "It's a good thing to feel like we want to be better," one of my siblings said. "That means we're doing something right."
I could probably write a book on all the great TIPS, which stands for Teaching Important Parenting Skills, I learned at the Uplift Families conference. The little things really make a big difference in the long run. Taking time to be present and deliberate now pays off big time down the road — at least that's what my parents keep telling me every time I call them in tears about my 2-year-old throwing another tantrum because I wouldn't let him watch "Mulan" naked in the car by himself.
See UpliftFamilies.org or visit their YouTube channel for inspirational guidance. The skills I've learned attending these conferences really have changed the way I parent — for the better.
"Don't think about how you're going to do everything right now," presenter Matt Townsend said. "Do one thing, and then you'll see clearly what to do next."