My kids have a favorite song from church that includes the line “Lead me, guide me, walk beside me. Help me find the way!” I love the imagery that this conveys. As parents, it is our job to walk beside our children and show them, by example, what we want them to become.
Peaceful parenting should be our ultimate goal.
It is very easy to get into bad habits of authoritarian demands, bribes, punishments, and “do as I say not as I do” parenting.
Our world seems to celebrate this type of parenting. Public shaming has become something to praise. Taking away a 3-year-old’s ice cream and dumping it in the trash is the proper response for them forgetting to say thank you.
I see these stories posted on social media with comments praising them, and I wonder: When did we go so wrong? When did we decide that children needed to be perfect little compliant robots that behave better than most of the adults caring for them? When did we decide it was perfectly acceptable for us to throw an adult temper tantrum as we rant at our kids, yet it is completely unacceptable for them to voice a single whine or complaint?
What if instead of punishing, threatening, yelling, and shaming we set the example and really walked beside them to show them the way?
There is a different method of parenting that I prefer. It is a method is full of contention; a more peaceful style of leading and supporting our children.
“Lead Me, Guide Me” Peaceful Parenting
“Lead me, guide me” parenting doesn’t mean that there are no expectations, limits or consequences. It simply means that we set the proper example and enforce boundaries. But instead of threats, shaming, and punishment, we use love, compassion, and education.
We show our children the way we want them to treat others by treating our children with respect and kindness. We teach them compassion by serving them and involving them when we serve others. We teach them gratitude when we thank them for the good things they do or the help they provide. We teach them to work by working together as a family and letting them see our hard work.
When misbehavior occurs we take the time to talk to them, understand their feelings, and help them work out a better way to handle the situation. When simple manners are forgotten we take the initiative to say thank you and then prompt our children to voice their gratitude as well if they don’t follow our lead.
So What Does “Lead Me, Guide Me” Parenting Look Like?
Here are a few scenarios that demonstrate this method:
Situation 1: A child is required to read for 10 minutes per day
Do as I say solution: If you read for 10 minutes, you will earn your piece of candy. If you do not read, then you must stand in the corner until you are ready to do your reading.
Lead me, guide me solution: The parent sits down and reads with the child. They may read aloud, have the child read aloud, or simply each read their own book next to each other.
Situation 2: A child is throwing a fit in public because they were told no
Do as I say solution: Loudly inform the child that they are naughty, embarrassing, and in trouble. Angrily remove them from the situation. Dole out punishment for being “bad”.
Lead me, guide me solution: Take the child in your arms. Say to him or her, “I know it is disappointing when we don’t get what we want. Let’s take a deep breath together and calm down.” Offer to sing a song, snuggle, or connect to the child in a way that is relaxing to them. If the child can not or will not be calmed, remove them from the situation quietly and calmly.
Situation 3: A child forgets to say thank you after being given a treat
Do as I say solution: Take the treat away and inform the child that they don’t deserve it
Lead me, guide me solution: Model gratefulness by thanking the person yourself. If the child does not follow suit then gently remind them, “Did you forget to say something?” or “Did you remember to thank Sue for the treat?”
Situation 4: The house is a mess and needs to be cleaned up for visitors
Do as I say solution: Parents argue with the children for being so messy and not keeping up with their chores. Each child is assigned a chore; parents threaten, bribe, and talk (and talk, and talk) at the kids to keep moving and get the work completed.
Lead me, guide me solution: View the situation as a team-building exercise. The entire family takes one section of the house at a time and works together to get it clean. Parents are pitching in as well and take the opportunity to play, sing, or simply talk with their children as they work.
Peaceful Parenting Takes Time
You probably noticed that most of the “lead me, guide me” solutions take more time. Honestly, that is my biggest struggle with using this method! With eight kiddos running around here, it sometimes feels as if my entire life revolves around solving their problems.
But I definitely notice a difference when I do take the time. Believe it or not, it actually ends up saving me time in the long run!
When I put the time and effort into leading by example, our family has far fewer problems as a whole. There is less fighting, more helping, and an overall sense of peace that you can’t get in any other way. When I get stuck in a “do as I say” rut, it is noticeable. There is more arguing; less helping; and a whole lot of whining, crying, and anxiety.
None of Us is Perfect
I am nowhere near perfect at remembering to use these approaches. I raise my voice way more often than I should. I have punished when I should have taught. I have forgotten to say thank you or gone days without reading anything other than Facebook.
It’s ok. Just as my children are a work in progress, so am I.
As I forgive myself and give myself permission to be imperfect, it is much easier to do the same for my children. The key is to remember that just as I fall short in meeting my own expectations of myself, my children will also fall short in meeting my expectations. I need to give them the same grace, patience, and love that I want others to give to me.
If you are ready to get started with effective “lead me, guide me” parenting, here are some resources that have really helped me over the last few years:
Love and Logic– A wonderful book that talks about how to use both love and logic to establish control in your home without threats, nagging, fighting, etc. They also post great stuff on their Facebook page. There are also versions of the book specifically for young children, teens, and classrooms.
The Dirty Little Secret About Children and Chores– A wonderful blog post about chores vs. family work by Donna Goff.
When Anger Hurts– A book about how controlling those around you with anger can damage both them and yourself.
Parenting Isn’t for Cowards– This one focuses on logical steps you can take to bring more peace and joy into the parent/child relationship.
Parenting the Ephraim’s Child– Did you know that the tribe of Ephraim was the most rebellious and difficult of the 12 tribes of Israel? This book focuses on taking those traits which are considered weaknesses and seeing them as “strength in need of refinement.” It is written from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but I find the principles discussed still apply universally.
The Five Love Languages for Children– Everyone gives and receives love in different ways. Understanding whether your child needs words of affirmation, physical touch or another love language will help you fill their needs as well as identify how they are constantly showing their love for you.