In peaceful parenting, we talk about ‘Choose love.’ When we are afraid of what other people will think or we are afraid that our children will never learn how to behave, we act from a place of fear. Fear sends us into a fight-flight-or-freeze reaction, and we can’t respond to our children as our best selves. This is when we do or say things we might regret.  

In a challenging situation, what would you do if you were to respond from a place of love, rather than fear? This can be really hard to grasp. I think you will totally get it after you read my client Melanie’s story:

We had made it to church with a few minutes to spare before mass started, but not without the usual chaos and stress along with ugly yelling from me and my husband. I was kneeling, attempting to pray but my 5 year old son was whining while standing on the pew behind me with his arms around my neck being rough and unintentionally choking me. My 2 year old daughter had gathered all the contribution envelopes from our row, as usual, but today had ripped them into little pieces and now she threw them up in the air and loudly said “Snow!” as they rained down onto the floor. I hung my head further and thought “Please help me!”

Thoughts flashed through my mind of all the peaceful parenting ideas that I had been trying so hard, and failing so miserably, to live by. Choose Love. Of course I loved my kids, what did that even mean? Connection, coaching, no threats, no punishments- right I know that. But now? How could I possibly get from this chaos to that kind of peace with these kids? How could I not worry about what others around us were thinking?

All these tumbling thoughts took only a minute and suddenly it came to me almost as if I had heard a voice – Choose Radical Love. I was so surprised by the thought that I raised my head. What would radical love look like right now?

I reached up and gently took my sons arms that were still around my neck and re-positioned them from a choke hold to a hug and began to sway. His little body relaxed into my back. I shifted from kneeling to sitting while pulling him around onto my lap. Quietly I whispered into his ear, “I love you with all my heart and soul.” He rested against me silently, all his tension gone.

My daughter was still sitting on the floor picking up and dropping her contribution envelope confetti. I put my hand softly on her shoulder and when she looked at me I smiled and gestured for her to come up. She snuggled into my side and I put my arm around her, whispering “I love you with all my heart and soul” into her ear as well. My son remained relaxed instead of trying to push her away from me like he normally would. 

We sat in this dreamy state for a few minutes until my daughter reached up and pulled on the scarf I was wearing which normally annoys me because the scarves are delicate and expensive. She was clearly looking to see what my reaction would be. I slipped the scarf from around my neck and as I did, my son slid from my lap and snuggled into my other side opposite his sister. I turned to her and wrapped the scarf around her shoulders. Her eyes went from guarded to surprised to delighted. She crawled into my lap and burrowed into my chest. My son didn’t move or even tense up.

We made it through the rest of the mass silent and happy. This was a turning point for us. It hasn’t been perfect since then, by any means, but it has been better. I finally understand that it all starts with me. When I choose aggravation and yelling my children respond with whining and defiance.

When I choose love, my children respond with love. Radical love. I took the leap, grew my heart, and gave our family hope.

The next time your child acts out, recognize that your first reaction might be from a place of fear. “What will people think?” “Won’t they ever learn?” Take a breath. It doesn’t matter what people think. Yes, they will learn. What can you do to respond with love instead of react from fear? 

This post is one of the lessons from my Peaceful Parenting Mantras colouring book. Colour your own reminder to choose radical love. You can learn more about it here.

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Sarah Rosensweet is a peaceful parenting coach and parenting advice columnist for Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper. She lives in Toronto with her husband and three big kids (ages 12, 15, and 18). Sarah teaches parents a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy. Enjoy your kids again! Find her at sarahrosensweet.com