Meet Rebecca Sheikh 

Rebecca spent 17 years as a primary school teacher so she has worked with children of all temperaments and abilities. After having her daughter she decided to give it all up to promote Aware Parenting, a new approach to raising children. A way of raising children to encourage them to be understanding, empathic and loving individuals who have the foundation to be a force for good in the world. Rebecca is bringing the Aware Parenting founder Dr Aletha Solter to East London this September for a 2 day workshop. THMs members get 20% off the workshop fees!

What made you decide to give up your 17 year career as a primary school teacher?

Before I had my baby I never dreamed I would do anything other than teach primary aged children! However, having a baby profoundly changed how I viewed everything. I would have probably said it would be ok to leave them crying a little on their own, or that time-out is a good discipline tool as are rewards such as stickers, I might have even (yes I’m very sad and sorry to say!) have said, I was smacked, so a little smack would do no harm. None of this felt right when holding my precious baby. I struggled initially to find my groove as a mum, especially with all the contrary advice as to how to care for my baby. Fortunately someone lent me The Aware Baby by Dr Solter and it felt like coming home. I was so inspired by her work I read all her books and proceeded down the route of becoming an instructor.  Knowing what I do now, I don’t feel I can teach in a system that fundamentally disregards children’s natural development and emotional well- being on so many levels.

How has Aware Parenting helped your family?

We have seen how parenting in this way creates emotional safety for our children. It is really a journey into ourselves to become aware of how and why we parent as we do, and make changes to improve ourselves, which directly impacts on our children. An awareness of how important each of our needs are, and how it is essential to our wellbeing to meet them, has been a strong focus. We have also had to grapple with our own childhoods, as parenting using a more democratic approach can be difficult, if we had permissive and/or authoritarian parents ourselves.

We have learnt to accept the wide range of emotions our children bring to the table and how to better support them with these and how truly to listen to their crying and tantrums. It certainly isn’t an easy journey but I hope one that develops strong attachments that last a life time, giving my children skills such as motivation, determination, and courage to navigate an increasing complex world and in turn, through their caring, make the world a better place.

You can read the 10 Aware Parenting principles here

What are the pitfalls of reward and punishment methods of discipline?

The use of rewards or punishment in fact amount to the same thing: control. They do not support children to intrinsically want to behave in a co-operative, helpful, loving way, in fact they start from a place where a child does not naturally want to be all these things and does not help them move on from it. Through punishment children can feel alienated, it does not alter long-term behaviour, leads to a lower self-image and can create anxiety. Rewards are quite similar to punishments as when the reward is taken away it can feel like a punishment, it can lower self esteem or cause anger. They can be deceptive, lead to competition, they could have the opposite effect of what is desired, it can cause children to lose touch with their original interest and desire to learn. The problem is that the rewards need to keep getting bigger and the punishments harder to work. Dr Solter says. “Our role as parents is not to train our children like circus animals, but to treat them with respect and integrity so that their natural ability to think well and guide themselves will flourish.”

How does attachment play help to improve children’s behaviour?

Attachment play is such a powerful tool in  Aware Parenting. Dr Solter has brought therapeutic play to our homes, giving us the tools to support our children through traumas, separations, help get their needs such as connection and autonomy met and support them to grow into emotionally healthy adults. Children do not use the language part of their brain to talk or share about their emotions or traumas, they release through crying, raging and laughter. Play is a wonderful tool to help release children emotions through laughter. In Dr Solter’s book Attachment Play she shares 9 forms of Attachment Play. Each type of play has it’s own therapeutic value, for example;

Non directive play is when you spend a set time regularly with your child, playing exactly what they want (with some rules of course).  It could be playing with block, play dough, dress-up etc. It helps children feel valued. They will often make use of adult attention to bring up, and work through, traumatic experiences. With their need met to release and to work through these issues you will see a marked difference in their behaviour. When my baby was born my second child, then 3 1/2 chose to play ‘being a baby’ everyday! This was essential for her to work though her feelings of not being my baby anymore. We noticed a marked difference in her behaviour when we did (and didn’t) make time for this type of play.

Power reversal games are excellent for allowing laughter to release anxiety and anger resulting from feelings of powerlessness and from parental anger. They are also good for helping a child who has been aggressive towards others. These are games such as pillow fights or piggy back rides.

It often feels like children want to test our limits, what is the aware parenting approach to helping families cope with the more challenging times?

The key to this is really trying to get our needs met. If we have our own cups full when our children bring their frustrations, problems and little traumas to us, we will be better equipped to help meet those needs and support them. This is why at the end of Dr Solter’s chapters in her books she always has exercises to;

  1. Explore your childhood
  2. Express your feelings about your child and
  3. Nurture yourself.

When we have explored these ideas and we have made sure we are in a space to support them, we can set firm boundaries and support them through the big feelings they bring to us. Dr Solter also suggests using Dr Thomas Gordon’s tools of active listening as and I messages to help children through their problems as well as when you have a problem with your child.

How do you reason with a 3 year old?

I try to use Dr Solter’s 3 reasons why children misbehave to support my child through challenging behaviour.

  1. Does she have a need that needs to be met?
  2. Does she simply lack information?
  3. Does she need to release some pent up emotions through crying, raging and laughter?

If it is the first reason I will try meet that need ie hunger, connection etc. If it is a lack of information usually explaining the why, how, when or what can support her. The last reason often means she needs a loving limit set so that she can have an opportunity to cry or rage to release pent up emotions. This means staying with her while she cries and holding the limit. A lot of the time play is the key as many frustrations from feelings of powerless, feeling disconnected, not having needs met can be dispelled through play. For example when my little one called me (with a loud lion growl) ‘a very silly old mummy.’ I suddenly turned into just that, I bent over and started talking in a granny voice holding a pretend walking stick, saying ‘I am a very old granny.’ She stopped in her tracks and burst our laughing, then said ‘again! again!’

What is the Aware Parenting approach to bedtime resistance?

Play is a very useful tool here too to meet their needs. If perhaps they have a need for connection we would play some games before bed to allow laughter to release the frustrations around not wanting to go to bed and feeling powerless, this could be chasing me around the house like a lion, pushing me (safely) off the bed, if separations we would play separation games when ever possible such as hide and go seek and chase. The key with these game is as long as there is laughter it is working. However, sometimes they simply need a reason to cry and a firm limit is enough to bring all their tears to the surface.

Biting and hitting?

Biting and hitting come from place of fear, and powerlessness. I always set a firm limit and if necessary and will gently, yet firmly hold my child until she is no longer hurting me or someone else. I remind her we can’t bite or hit others but we could hit or bite a pillow or shout really loudly. This could be enough to help her cry, which is what helps release the emotions behind the biting or hitting. To help release these feelings away from the time of conflict we can play lots of power reversal games such as pillow fights, pushing mummy off the bed, horse back rides where they control where you go etc

Find out more about the coming Aware Parenting Workshop