How Low Demand Parenting is DifferentFeb 15, 2023
Time outs, punishments, and reward charts destroyed the relationship I wanted to have with my kids. Clear, kind boundaries and developing emotional vocabulary enraged and alienated them. Picture schedules, consistent routines, and enforced sensory breaks all fell flat.
Nothing worked. And at every turn, it was my fault. I felt like a failure.
Discovering Ross Greene's work changed my path. The release of adult controlled plans and embrace of true collaboration felt like freedom. When I gave up on what Dr. Greene calls "Plan A" or adult-controlled outcomes and plans, I wept for days. I told my kids, "I am not going to force you to do things anymore. If you don't truly consent, we don't do it." We didn't even know what that kind of life would look like. It was like stepping off a cliff.
Yet still, Dr. Greene's method puts the focus on collaborative problem solving, and this was still entirely out of reach for us. My children's trust in me and in themselves was low. The new scripts and questions were triggering. I could tell that we were going to spend a long time just letting things go and building trust.
So together, we developed low demand parenting. And here is what we learned:
Children's trust is earned, day after day.
We live in a world that disrespects children and routinely violates their boundaries. They are regularly controlled and manipulated by adults. Low demand parenting restores genuine trust by fostering children's inner voice, listening to their boundaries, and respecting their needs.
Parents meet their own needs, while honoring their children's boundaries.
In traditional parenting, parents meet their needs by controlling their kids. ("I need my mother-in-law to think I'm a good mom, so you will behave at her house.") In low demand parenting, adults learn to identify the deep need motivating their tendency toward demands, and to honor this need while dropping what's too hard for the child.
Parents heal their relationship to themselves.
What if you had been trusted and listened to as a child? What if the people in your life honored your boundaries and found creative ways for you to flourish, just as you were? As we parent our unique children, we give ourselves permission to grieve our pain and to heal old wounds.
Meltdowns are a sign of trust, and a communication that something was too hard.
In other parenting schemas, meltdowns say that something is wrong. In low demand parenting, meltdowns are just more information that the child trusts us enough to share their big feelings and that something came in that was too hard. The adult becomes a demand detective, discerning what to drop.
It works for easy kids and tough ones.
Easy kids are often hiding their discomfort under a veneer of helpfulness and people-pleasing. They are too scared of what would happen if they spoke up and named their needs. They can be jealous of more reactive siblings' ability to self-advocate. Low demand parenting pays close attention to subtle forms of communication and proactively lowers demands to find children's true zone of tolerance.
It is proactive and reflective.
If you find yourself regularly dropping a demand in the moment ("no popsicles before dinner..." "Okay! Okay! You can have it!"), this is a sign that you need to shift into the proactive element of this method. Proactively dropped demands are communicated to children to enrich the relationship and empower their self-advocacy. It is also reflective--when things come up, we intentionally pause and look back to learn for next time.
It's a path to freedom and joy.
Without control tactics or manipulation, without external standards for behavior, without punishments and battles, we are free to embrace a radically respectful relationship with our children! We are free to listen to our intuition rather than follow a script. We are free to customize our parenting to our unique child rather than following a formula that is supposed to work. Freedom and joy. That's the magic.
We can all be our true selves.
Ableism (combined with capitalism) says there is a right and best way to be a human, and that human is productive, independent, and generating wealth to support themselves and to buy goods. This is oppressive to everyone. The real gifts of life lie in interdependence and connection, laughter, love, and presence. In this method, we can be our true selves, needy, struggling, beautiful.
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