Slow and Steady Wins the Race when it comes to overcoming anxieties and phobias. Too often it is hard for us to slow down and be empathetic with our children and their fears. And sometimes we are so afraid of upsetting them that we do everything we can to avoid the situation that triggers the fear. As with so many things, that answer lies in the middle. Help your child take baby steps towards mastering his fears. That way he will feel supported and seen and heard ; and at the same time you help him develop the skills and persistence he will need so much in life.Read More
Joyful Musings--a weekly blog
Joyful Parenting Coaching is focused on clarity, consistency, connection, being an effective parent, finding balance as a parent, and above all being a confident and joyous parent. Topics include communication, having difficult conversations, having constructive conversations, chores, routines, family meetings, I teach parent education and parenting classes because parenting is a skill—not something we are born knowing. Get the parenting skills you need today!
Filtering by Tag: empathy
Are you a compassionate friend? Do you urge your friends to put their mistakes into perspective and to not be so hard on themselves? How about when it comes to yourself? What makes it hard for you to practice self-compasion?Read More
In Part I of Should You Make Your Kid Apologize, I looked at what it means as adults when we apologize. I took the time for that discussion to help parents realize the implications of when and why we apologize. Yes, I do think it is important that we teach children to apologize, but we have to go beyond a hollow apology by supporting our kids’ emotional growth.Read More
Should You Make Your Kid Apologize?
That’s a tricky question! There is no doubt that our children need to understand the idea of an apology but given that there are different kinds of apologies for different situations, teaching our children to offer an apology is not a straight forward task. It certainly won’t be taught with a simple rule. Or with a single iteration. Let’s consider the nature of apologies and where our own practice lines up with our expectations of our children.Read More
I was happy to contribute to this article on bad habits parents should drop. I had cell phones on my mind--and getting them under control is absolutely important--but I love the points the other 5 contributors make, as well. Probably one will resonate more than the others as being especially hard for you. Focus on that one and consider what kind of plan you can come up for yourself.
Click HERE to see which of the 6 Bad Habits Parents Should Drop you fall prey to.Read More
You've Got the ABC's Covered and the 123's Down. But Increasingly, research shows the importance of Emotional Intelligence--and you are the person best suited to teaching it.
Emotional intelligence is being able to recognize a wide range of nuanced emotions, and recognizing them, being able to regulate them and put them in perspective in a way that helps the individual move through life more easily.
In my long experience in working with children, emotional intelligence can absolutely be developed. The most important way in which it is developed is through interactions with thoughtful adults who are modeling and guiding kids in dealing with their feelings.
This blog shares some common behaviors of parents whose kids display emotional intelligence.
AND IF YOU ARE CURIOUS ABOUT HOW TO BOOST YOUR OWN EQ, CHECK OUT THIS BLOG ON "How can we use NLP to build Emotional Intelligence?"Read More
A client called frustrated because she had offered her 7th grader a bribe to do something she really wanted him to do that he was digging his heels in on, and now he was demanding that she give him something every time she asked him to do anything at all. That's a problem!Read More
Even many adults don't learn the skill of having difficult conversations effectively. Most people just want everyone else to be happy. Certainly, no one modeled for me how to stay present even when conversations got uncomfortable. It was so much easier to just give up or give in. Now, of course, there are times when going with the flow is the name of the game, but if you want your kids to learn the balance between keeping the peace and learning to advocate for themselves in a constructive way, they are going to learn that much sooner if you teach it to them explicitly.Read More
Separation anxiety is a normal stage for kids to go through. It starts around 6 months and usually tapers off around 2 years old. During these months a baby is first gaining the cognitive recognition that you still exist when you are not there, which means baby can now miss you when you are not there. The problem often intensifies because at the same time baby realizes that her primary source of food and comfort can leave her, she is also testing the ways in which she is an individual. That's scary! A lot of separation anxiety is about finding that fine line between growing more independent and at some level still knowing she is fully dependent on you for survival.Read More
Tantrums are a natural stage in every child's development. While some parents with easy going children may have fewer of them to deal with, no parent avoids tantrums altogether. However, there are steps we can take to avoid and/or mitigate tantrums.Read More
So far, everything you have done to build your consistency muscle has focused on the positive--you have modeled correct behavior, praised correct behavior and trained for correct behavior. But still your child is using disrespectful behavior! Now is when it get's real, when you are going to set an expectation and then hold the limit. This will probably mean that you need to have a consequence ready--one that you can absolutely follow through on.Read More
Parents are often baffled by their children’s misbehavior. Worse, they are often hurt by their children’s behavior. I believe the hurt comes from reacting to the behavior as if the child were an adult and not keeping in mind that most children do not have the emotional maturity to get their needs met through effective communication. Not being able to use language to communicate their needs, they use their behavior.
Fortunately, if you can interpret the misbehavior correctly, you have a good chance of meeting the child’s need. According to the work of researchers and educators like Linda Albert, Don Dinkkmeyer (Sr. and Jr. and Rudolf Dreikurs, misbehavior often comes from one of these four needs: Attention, Power, Revenge and Avoidance of Failure. Let’s take a look at each.
When a child is doing something to get attention, the adult often feels irritated or annoyed. Quite likely the adult is busy or trying to get through something and resents being interrupted from his current task.
Let’s say that you are making cookie dough, so your kids can decorate cookies. You are busy measuring and mixing and paying attention to the recipe. The more absorbed you become with your recipe, the more disconnected from you your child feels. Because you are your child’s source of security, feeling disconnected from you is scarier than any other reaction you are likely to give.
To get your attention, so he feels connected again, your child begins play with the flour in the jar, running it through his hands. Seeing it, you scold him in an annoyed voice and remind him of his promise to be good. He stops for a moment, but soon his need for connection grows bigger than his fear of your reaction, so he starts banging the wooden mixing spoon on the tabletop. This time you bark at him a little more strongly until he stops.
By the time the dough is ready, you are feeling resentful that he hasn’t let you get on in peace and really don’t even want to make cookies with the kids. He feels tense and even more disconnected.
What can you do?
Ideally, when you get that annoyed or irritated feeling, you will see it as a sign of your child’s lack of connection and will strive to find a way to connect even as you continue with your task. Perhaps you will just look at him and lovingly acknowledge that it is hard to wait. Perhaps you will be willing to sacrifice a cup of flour and give him two small bowls so he can practice measuring a teaspoon from one bowl and dumping it in another. If he is old enough to read, perhaps you will put him in charge of reading the ingredients to you.
It is natural for children to want to feel that they are in control of their own lives. We all want to feel we have choice and can affect the outcome of things; children are not different. Power can come out in the form of bossiness as in, “You have to let me measure the flour!” Or can come in the form of refusal as in, “No, I’m not going to measure the flour and you can’t make me!” In both cases, the child just doesn’t want to be told what to do. The passive child will simply ignore your requests (but make no mistake, the goal of the behavior is still a bid for power).
To be thwarted threatens our own sense of control and—I am not sure why—being thwarted by our own children affects us more than when being controlled by almost anyone else. We react either by being more combative back (“Don’t you dare talk to me that way! There won’t be any cookies if I don’t get an apology”) or by giving in to whatever the child wants. The latter might help the child feel better in the short run; in the long run, however, giving in to our kids all the time makes them feel insecure (because while they want some control, total control is way too much responsibility and is scary).
What can you do?
Allow a child’s combative or resistant behavior to be a clue that she is feeling powerless. Start looking for ways to give her some power. One of the best ways to do this is to offer her some choice as in “Are you going to measure the flour using the half-cup measure or the full-cup measure?” Using an option like this, you neatly sidestep the rude tone and redirect your child into some new thinking. If you must hold the limit, can you offer something else instead as in “I cannot risk flour all over the kitchen, but would you like to grate the orange or count out 20 walnuts for chopping?” By giving her a choice, you reestablish your child’s sense of self.
When we realize or suspect that a child’s misbehavior has been done in the spirit of revenge, we are often not only angry, we are also hurt. We know that whatever we did to get the child mad, we did not do it to deliberately make him angry. If we allow our hurt to get the better of us, we might even try to get revenge back. Perhaps your child deliberately dropped the bag of flour. You know it was deliberate and now you feel like wringing his neck. Here you are taking your precious time to make cookies—and he repays you by being a jerk! Perhaps you retaliate by calling him clumsy or by punishing him with total responsibility for kitchen clean up later.
What can you do?
Unfortunately, you do have to be the responsible one!! Yes, I know it is hard not to get your own revenge back. But revenge is a sign of a child’s anger and defensiveness. It is behavior that says, “I am only okay if the score is even and I get my fair share.” This is a child who is living with a belief of scarcity. She is afraid that if she does not assure that she get her due by means fair or foul that she lacks importance or has less value. Instead of punishing her, it is your job to assure her of your love. You might say something like, “I know you wouldn’t have dropped the flour on purpose unless you had lots of angry feelings inside. I am really sorry you are feeling that way. What can I do to help you feel better?” I know this might feel counter intuitive to you as a parent and like you are condoning taking revenge, but it is too easy for revenge to get in a vicious cycle. You have to back off and meet anger with love. Love and forgiveness are the most effective tool for disarming the downward spiral of revenge. (Once the connection has been reestablished, then you can look at the flour and say briskly, "Now, what needs to happen here?" If the child truly feels connected again, she will move to help clean up the flour.
Avoidance of Failure
A frequent source of misbehavior is avoidance of failure. In some ways these misbehaviors seem the least aggressive but frequently because of the lack of action they can draw on, the adult himself feels helpless and depressed by the child’s reaction. These behaviors might have you banging your head against the wall.
Let’s say that you ask your child to cream the butter and sugar. Because the butter is a little cold still, the child finds herself struggling. Afraid she is not going to succeed to your liking, your child puts her head on the table and says, “I can’t do it. It’s too hard.” At first you encourage her brightly, “Sure you can! You can do it,” but she still maintains that she can’t and instead of lifting her head, sighs gustily. She is waiting for you to come in and rescue her. “Here,” you say as you pick up the spoon, “It’s not so hard. You do it like this.” And before you know it, you have done the whole task.
This kind of learned helplessness drains energy from both of you.
What can you do?
Avoidance of failure comes from a fear of disappointing one’s parents and of damaging one’s sense of being capable. There is a lot you can do to combat it. The primary action you can take is to help your child develop a growth mindset. Make mistakes okay by modeling making mistakes yourself and learning from them. Reassure your child that while getting the task “right” might affect the outcome of the cookies, it will not affect your love for her. Assure her that there will be other chances to make cookies and to get it right; Not everything has to be learned today. Finally, You can also help her problem solve about how to work around obstacles. Even a two year old might know that if the butter is too cold to blend right now, waiting 10 minutes might make all the difference. A three year old might suggest her parent get the task started by cutting the cube of butter into small chunks first. Given the chance for critical thinking, most kids can find a way of getting to a working solution that can allow them to be successful.
It is my firm belief that children are not inherently mean. Every child wants to feel loved, connected and like he is a good, worthwhile person. As he is growing and learning, however, his sense of self is vulnerable and easily hurt. When that happens, he feels alone, cast out in the world. At that point, a pleasing child will go overboard to win your approval. Most children, however, will work through their angry, hurt, scared feelings through some kind of misbehavior. Our job as parents is to be detectives and to try to understand the feeling and the source behind the behavior. That way we are most able to get the child’s needs met so that he can be his best self again.
If you are struggling
It really can be hard not to take our children's behavior personally. We are doing our best to provide them what they need, often bending over backwards to give them a nice time or to create magical birthdays or holidays, and when they reward us with hostility, anger, whining, or arguing, strong feelings surge up in us. It does not feel fair. It feels like a slap in the face after all our efforts.
If you are swamped with resentment, frustration or hopelessness, let's talk. Working through those feelings and learning concrete steps you can take is exactly what coaching addresses. CONTACT ME today for a complimentary Harmony at Home Assessment session.
I get lots of questions from parents about their kids--parents who don't know how they got where they are and don't know where to go from here. The older your child gets, the more out of control you can feel as a parent.
QUESTION: My 12 year old got so mad at being told (repeatedly) to go to bed that when he slammed the door, it shattered. I am at my wits’ end.
ANSWER: Oh, wow. That must have been so upsetting for you.
Although your instinct might have you wanting to come down hard on him, he needs your love and understanding just as much as a four year old does. I get that that might be really hard for you. A broken door is a big deal and having a kid that wound up feels completely out of control. But here’s the truth: When you get into a physical power struggle with a teenager, chances are he is going to win—which means you lose, which means everyone loses. Even if he is not physically bigger than you are right now, he is smart and can think of a lot of ways to get around you or to infuriate you.
Besides, you don’t want to “win” over your child. You want your child to be happy and expending his energies in positive ways.
The older a child gets, the harder it is for us to be patient and empathetic (He ought to know better, we think). And yet a twelve year old is still a child—a child with hormones racing around inside until he feels he has to explode to feel normal again.
So start with empathy: “I am so sorry you are feeling so upset. It is really scary to feel so out of control. I am guessing that you wouldn’t have reacted so strongly if you felt that your needs were getting met. When you are feeling calmer, we need to brainstorm some solutions that might make everyone happier.”
When everyone is calm, consider having a family meeting. Be ready to do a lot—a lot—of listening. (Click HERE for access to my free ebook on The Family Meeting.) Children who really feel seen and heard calm down enough emotionally to access their prefrontal cortex (where their most creative thinking goes on). Be prepared to make some compromises. Remember, your child is not behaving badly to spite you. He does not want to feel disconnected from you. If he could get what he needs peacefully, he would. It is not too late to work on nonviolent communication. Keep at it, and eventually he will be able to tell you what is so important to him. In the meanwhile, based on my many years of working with middle school kids, here are some things you might guess he needs:
•more responsibility outside of school (chores, being trusted with some money, making decisions about things like where/how to hang the Christmas lights)
•reassurance that you believe in him
•reassurance that you will love him no matter what (even if he breaks the door)
•reassurance that adolescence is a phase; it will get easier and he won’t always feel like this
•recognition that he is a work in progress; you don’t expect him to be perfect
•help reframing his so-called weaknesses into strengths
•understanding that messing up is a chance for learning next time
•lots of praise for what he does well
•appreciation for his contributions outside of his school performance
Use family meetings to engage his critical thinking skills. Present issues as problems that you would like him to help solve. For example, you might say, “Doctors recommend that 12 year olds get 9 to 11 hours of sleep. How are you going to arrange your schedule so that you get enough sleep?” By having him come up with a plan, he is more likely to follow it. If getting to bed on time is an issue, offer a lot of empathy and press for more ideas: “I can see how tempting it is to read one more chapter of your book, and at the same time, a teenager with two hours less sleep than he needs is functioning at the same level as someone who has had two beers. I worry that the rest of your day tomorrow is just going to be that much harder and I want you to have lots of energy. How could we rearrange your day so you have enough time to enjoy reading your book?"
Once your child is calm, brainstorm ways for him to calm down before he gets that out of control (deep breathing, stepping outside for a moment, excusing himself to the bathroom for a few minutes).
It is also time to brainstorm ways to make sure the door gets fixed. Does he have the money to pay for it? If not, how can he earn it? Does he get an allowance? Can it come out of that? When things fall apart and so much damage is done, it is going to take a while to make things right. Through it all, offering your child empathy and your steadfast belief that he has learned from the experience is what will allow him to forgive himself and move on.
Let's go back to how to avoid having a broken door in the first place. When kids get that out of control, chances are something has been building up for some time. I love the family meeting as a structure, because it guarantees that on a weekly basis each family member gets to share three good things. This keeps everyone focusing on the positive. If your child is struggling to find three good things, it is a red flag that that child probably has issues that are overwhelming him. The agenda portion of the family meeting allows each family member to bring up concerns and to brainstorm them together. In this case, Mom might have backed off in the short run, knowing that she could talk about bed time and listening at the family meeting.
My FREE ebook, THE FAMILY MEETING: GET 4 POWERFUL STEPS TO HARMONY AND CALM IN YOUR HOUSE, will guide you through how to optimize the meeting not only for logistics, but more importantly as a tool that helps you honor each child as an individual, giving them time and space to feel seen and heard.
Parenting is a confidence game. The question is, how do we as parents put aside our own doubts and embrace our role as parent? How do we quiet the many voices around us telling us how to parent? Nothing sucks the joy out of parenting like anxiety, and nothing grows anxiety like trying to sort out people’s opinions on parenting.
So, let’s do a little exercise. I want you to think a color you associate with a brilliant parenting moment---one where you were confident, loving and joyous. Really take the time to sort through your memories and find one that just makes you smile. Got it? Now, what color comes to mind when you remember that parenting moment?
That’s it! That’s your top-notch parenting color! I don’t mean your favorite color, or even the one you like to dress your child in. Your parenting color is that one you thought of, that one you associate with parenting at your best. Let’s look at how to use that color to trigger that joyful, confident feeling in your parenting.
Color can be a great mood changer. It can make us feel a certain way. Do you want to know my top-notch parenting color? It’s gold. Harvest moon gold. Why? Because the full harvest moon was there on one of my lowest parenting nights. Uh? How could my top-notch parenting moment come out of one of my lowest nights? Well, sometimes we have to feel the lows to fully appreciate our shining moments.
One night, when my daughter was around four months old, she was teething and just miserable. All afternoon she had been fussy, she hadn’t napped well, and by bedtime she had worked herself into quite a frenzy. It’s not like she had been an easy baby up until now—she was colicky well into her third month—but that day was just a doozy. I had called my mother for advice; she swore by a wet washcloth put in the freezer for some time. Didn’t work. My friend Alice recommended letting her suck on a cold binky, but my daughter was born without a suck reflex and had never learned to take pacifier. My other friend extolled the virtues of a little rum rubbed along her gums. No, thank you. Not only did I really not like the idea of giving alcohol to a baby, I’m not a drinker. I didn’t even have wine in the house much less hard liqueur.
With each passing moment, I was feeling more and more desperate, more and more incompetent. A good mother would know what to do! A good mother would find a way to comfort her baby! The baby was bawling streams of tears down her hot, tense face. I was crying, too, as I tried to mop up the snot out of her mouth and nose so she could breath. My first tears fell, and I couldn’t stop. I felt so alone. It didn’t feel like anyone would have the advice I needed for my baby. I was ready to stick her in her crib and run away. This mothering thing was not all it was cracked up to be!
Hot and sticky from having a sweating baby pressed up against me, I finally walked outside into the night’s air. Though almost November, it was warm for a fall night, but blessedly cool after the closed air of the house. The moment I walked outside, I felt myself begin to calm down. But it was the full harvest moon that really did the trick. High in the sky with that sort of textured gold that looks like velvet rubbed the wrong way, the moon seemed to blaze with a light of its own.
I was mesmerized. And so was the baby! She stopped crying and just stared. My heart stopped beating so fast. Her heart stopped beating so fast. As we gazed at the moon, our collective blood pressure dropped breath by breath.
We lay in the hammock and let that golden light wash over us like it had some kind of magical force. I felt one with my baby and one with the world. I was powerful and strong and whole. I was Mother. I was my baby’s rock, her center. I had figured out the secret code.
That’s not a feeling you forget. That’s something you carry with you. And harvest moon gold is a color I carry with me, in my mind and in my heart. It is my secret parenting weapon.
The next time some grandmother on the street tsk-tsked me for not having enough clothes on my baby, at first I saw red and then I pictured that harvest moon in my mind’s eye. “Thank you,” I said and smiled and pushed blithely on. You don’t know my baby, I thought, but I do!
When we hit the toddler stage I remember a mother in my daughter’s gym class warning me that I better get her under control and nip her stubbornness in the bud. Such a deflating comment! For a moment I was as limp and gray as Eyore’s broken balloon. Visions of my wild child growing up ever wilder swamped me. I looked at that woman trying to think of something to say. Ah ha! She was wearing a ribbed, gold turtleneck that at once reminded me of my old friend the full moon. I felt a surge of energy rush through me. “Do you think so?” I asked as calmly as if she had commented on the need for an umbrella. Victory again.
Bit by bit, harvest moon gold infused me. I was Mother! This was my child. I knew her best and I knew what was best for her. Hooking into the image of gold gave me the courage of my conviction. I couldn’t rely on what other parents were doing with their babies. I had to trust my own instincts.
What is your parenting color? How do you remain confident as a parent? What gives you strength?
I'd love to hear. Come over to the Joyful Parenting Coaching Facebook page and share your story.
Joyful Parenting Coaching
by Elisabeth Stitt
1. What does it mean to empower parents?
Well, parenting is a confidence game, so to me, empowering parents has a lot to do with developing their confidence.
2. How do you empower parents in your work?
To me, a lot of confidence comes from knowing that you have a plan. Getting clear is about focusing on your values and prioritizing them. The advantage of clarifying your values is that it helps you know where you’re going, both in the short run and in the long run. In fact because it is so important, I start most of my workshops asking parents to list out and prioritize their values. This allows parents to focus on what is important to them and not worry too much about the rest of it. Let me give you an example. Let’s say that one of your values is being safe. Then let’s say that your kids are running around the courtyard making a ton noise screeching like banshees. You might feel like it’s a bit much, but you see that you are disturbing anyone else and you ask yourself, Is it safe? Since the answer is yes, you decide to let them keep running. Now, if you have a value of kids being calm and controlled, you would probably ask them to settle down. Running around and screaming would be a clear point to take action.
3. What are some skills you know that parents need to feel smart and empowered in their parenting role?
Well, I’m not sure I would call it a skill—more of a quality that I’d like parents to cultivate—and that is EMPATHY. Being empathetic is one of best tools in your tool belt. We used to give kids time outs to send the message that if you cannot behave nicely, you cannot be part of the group. Neuro science has helped us understand in the last 10-15 years that children actually learn more about self-regulation when we are empathetic. At the end of the day we want children to be able to feel negative emotions and then process them themselves—either by using their words with us and others or through their own self talk. By offering empathy when they are upset, our calm helps their nervous systems calm down. When kids feel safe and supported, they are better able to access their prefrontal cortex which is where their clear thinking and reasoning goes on. I know to some parents it might feel like you are babying your child. After all, he starts to cry and whine, your instinct might be to put him away from you and ignore him. Current research actually invites us as parents to get close and offer empathy, “I know son. It is hard having to pick your toys up and go to bed.” This doesn’t mean of course that you should require your child to pick up his toys when you ask. Being empathetic does NOT mean not being firm and following through. It does mean not yelling or nagging. This might mean that you put your hands on his toys so he cannot use them, while at the same time looking in his eye, empathizing that it is hard, but then repeating firmly. It is time to pick up your toys.”
4. What do you think is the most common parenting issue that you come across? Why?
Well, with little kids it is very clearly tantrums and out of control behavior, and that is totally developmentally appropriate. Think how you feel when you are on a steep learning curve—maybe you have a new job—everything is different and the company culture is totally different than your lastone, so strategies and approaches you used there aren’t working, and you feel at best like a fish out of water and at worse like an incompetent failure. That’s pretty much what little kids are encountering all the time—new skills, new concepts, new situations, new expectations. AND they have to rely on us to make sure they have had had enough rest, sleep and food. That’s a lot to regulate. It’s no wonder that they lose it. That’s why empathy is so important. When you start from the point of recognizing that your child does not want to be out of control, it is much easier to put your arms around him, give him a big hug and see if that will push the restart button.
5. Can parents bring other aspects of themselves into their parenting role to help them manage their families more effectively?
Of course! My husband is an engineer. That means he is logical, linear thinker. It also means that he gets less upset about what has happened (the vase broke, the bike got stolen) and is more concerned about how to solve the problem. This is a wonderful example for our kids because it tells them that though stuff will happen, what is important is how you move forward from there.
6. Share one of your favorite ways to work with parents and families.
Well, one of my favorite programs that I offer is my Six Week Group Coaching Program that offers a combination of group webinars on specific topics and one-one individual coaching to modify what we have learned to the needs of each individual family. Lots of time a parent will read an article with a tip or technique and it will seem to make sense to them, but when they go to put it in action, it just doesn’t work. That’s where the individual coaching makes such a difference.
7. Why do you think our society has such a difficult time supporting parents?
Wow. That’s a complex one because it has so many pieces. When people say that parenting used to be easier, I think one of the main reasons was that families lived closer together. Families were more connected. They visited each other all the time. My sister lives five miles from me, and we practically have to put a date on the calendar to see each other—much less gather our husbands and children. By the time I have driven one child to a soccer game here and another one to a birthday party there—and she has gotten her children to where they need to be—the chance of there being time to just hang out goes way down. Running around like a chicken with my head cut off means that I don’t have time to sit at the kitchen table and compare notes with another family with kids my age. We’re always so rushed, we tend to keep things superficial with our friends and colleagues. We share the highlights on Facebook, but we never get the advice and reassurance that used to support parents.
8. Do you have any thing else that you want to share with us? Oh, thank you for asking. I would love to tell listeners about my new book, Parenting as a Second Language: A Guidbook for Joyfully Navigating the Trials, Triumphs and Tribulations of Parenthood. The premise is that parenting is not something we are born knowing how to do. We are social creatures living in social groups. Historically, children were always near at hand, so parenting was spoken and modeled all around you. Nowadays, lots of parents—even moms—come to parenting having done no babysitting, no childcare. They haven’t spent time any around kids since they were kids themselves. That means they do not know how to speak parenting, so arriving home with a new infant is like being in a foreign country and not knowing the words and phrases you need. No wonder parents are so anxious! Well, that’s where my book comes in. It is a combination of stories—some of my most embarrassing ones!—to illustratepoints and concrete exercises parents can do to help them become more confident, effective parents. Parenting is a skill. It can be learned and practiced, just like learning a foreign language. Parenting as a Second Language helps you do that. I would be thrilled for your audience to go to Amazon, buy the book, read it and then come over to my Facebook Author's page and join the discussion. We still need the parenting village. Now we are finding it with people like you, Mercedes, who are providing a chance to hear the language of parenting through interviews like this one.
I wish I could show you a picture of my girl. I'd say, Isn't she beautiful?
And she's pretty fantastic, if a mom may brag.
And as a toddler she was fantastic, too--fantastically strong-willed, fantastically persistent, and fantastically hard.
Seriously. On her first birthday, I woke up and burst into tears. Everyone had told me that if I made it through the first year, I would be just fine. Well, I knew that with this kid, year two was going to be twice as hard and boy, oh boy, was I right.
When she was a baby, I could distract Julie from something she wanted or could charm her through things she didn't want to do. Then it was a like a switch went off. She used to look at me like, uh, Mom, you know I'm not really that stupid. I was going for that electrical outlet and even taking me into the other room isn't going to make me forget that. She had very clear ideas about what she wanted--and it felt like 90% of the day, it was the exact opposite of what I wanted. Other children you could distract or redirect. Other children would sit quietly on your lap--at least for a little bit. Other children did not have to discover everything for themselves (Is it really hot, Mom? Maybe it is not as hot as you think. I better touch it and find out for myself!).
Julie was a late talker. For a long time she used muh, duh and bah to communicate most of her needs. Her one articulate phrase early on was I do!
Well, there wasn't enough time in the day to let her do everything on her own. The result was what felt like around 18 months of nonstop crying, whining, kicking, and running away from me.
I thought it was going to do me in. But I guess my daughter comes by her personality naturally because when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
In a moment of clarity--after the end of an especially horrific day--I realized that one of us was going to have to be the adult--and I guessed it was going to have to be me.
So, what did I do? Well, for one, I continued to love her to pieces and to give her a ton of empathy that it is hard when you want to do things by yourself, your way, and that just is not going to work for everyone else. Then I set firm limits, breathed deeply through her crying jags, and waited her out. Slowly, the combination of knowing she could trust me not to budge if she had a fit and the increase in her own physical competence meant she was able to do a lot more on her own and when she couldn't, it wasn't a need for tears.
That time seemed like it went on for ever, but as I look back, really as she approached three, she was a quite reasonably civil human being most of the time.
And now? Wow. Words cannot describe how proud I am of her.
Let’s face it. Kids can control sleeping, eating and pottying, right? There’s nothing you can do to make a child go to sleep—you can’t force it. With eating you can threaten or cajole, but at the end of the day, the child can clench his teeth, spit the food out or choke on it. And as for pottying, nowhere else does the child have more control, for even if nature takes over and the child ends up pooping, it will be left to you to clean it up. Clearly, in these three areas, there will be many fewer battles if the parents really sit back and take their child’s lead. I know. I KNOW!! Do I really mean just sit back and let them take complete control?
Having a regular routine helps.
Not really. Of course there are steps you can take to encourage sleeping, eating and using the potty. Having regular routines around all these activities will help set a natural rhythm, and the child’s body will have the expectation of the routine even if the child himself is feeling obstinate. True, you might have a child who will give up naptime early. I did, but I kept to the routine; I just called it quiet rest time, instead, and my daughter would play in her crib for an hour. Often she would fall asleep, but lots of time she didn’t. That was okay. It was enough that she learned to play by herself in a safe place. It wasn’t a fight because I wasn’t “making” her go to sleep.
Provide healthy food at regular intervals and don't worry about the rest.
With eating, I also followed her lead. I provided healthy food regularly at regular times, but I didn’t fuss if she didn’t eat anything. Her natural rhythm was to eat a big meal around every third day and then eat what felt to me like next to nothing the other meals. Personally, I didn’t tie desert to finishing her meal. I just offered something sweet as part of it. To my amazement, she would usually take a few bites of cookie and then offer it back to me!)
Don't worry. You're child won't go to college in diapers!
My now-grown daughter likes to brag that she potty trained herself. We did the usual reading of potty books. We had a potty in the bathroom and explained how to use it many times without asking her to. Eventually, when I had to pee, she began peeing in her pot with some success. After we had had dry pull-ups for a while, I asked her if she would like to use underwear. She tried it for a few days, had some accidents, and asked to go back to pull-ups. Okay, I said. A month later she asked to try her underwear. And that was it. She wore it regularly. If she had accidents, I don’t remember them. Bottom line. She was in control. She dictated when it was going to happen.
In each of these areas, it behooves a parent to be exceedingly nonchalant. Food is here. If you want it, great. If you aren’t hungry, no problem. You can wait until the next meal to eat. Of course, it does require the parents to truly let go of their worry that their child will starve. He won’t. And he’ll potty train eventually. In the meantime, it might help to remember that developmentally children are learning physical regulation--the ability to learn the physical signs of hunger, having to potty and sleep. These are important qualities for our kids to learn, and they can't learn them if we don't follow their lead.
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I have been having such fun interviewing so many wonderful people for the Purposeful Parenting: Expert Advice on Creating Your Family Plan summit. Although they are talking about different aspects of parenting and coming from different disciplines and perspectives, the message I have been hearing over and over again is that it is all about relationship. Maybe I should put that in all caps: IT IS ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIP. It's all about knowing your individual kid and meeting him right where he is. When expert after expert talks about using connection as the foundation for all parenting, it is time to listen.
At the end of the day, you want a close, warm relationship with your child. You want him to feel that you will always be there for him; that you are his biggest champion. As someone said (I forget who), every child ought to have someone who is simply crazy about her. And who better than the parent to play that role? Or as Aristotle said, educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all. Pedagogically, we call this lowering the affective filter. Education theory states that a child will not learn until he feels safe and connected to his teacher.
You are your child's first teacher. Your child wants to learn and wants to please you. From nearly the moment she is born, your child is watching you, tracking you, gaging your emotions and reactions. As long as she feels safe and secure, she will look to you for the lessons of the world--both social emotional and "academic."
What does your child need to feel close, connected, safe and secure? She needs your love, your warmth, your approval. She needs to hear things like:
That's okay. Those things happen sometimes.
I can see that you are really upset. Don't worry. It won't always feel bad.
Honey, we all make mistakes. That's how we learn.
I know you can figure that out, and I am here if you need me.
If you don't figure it out today, come back tomorrow and see if it looks different.
I'm so proud of you; you really tried your best on that.
No matter what, I will always love you. Now, what can we do to fix this?
I know that you're really angry/disappointed/sad/frustrated right now, and when you are ready to talk about it, I am here.
I can see the bad feelings zinging around inside of you, and I would love to hear what is going on for you when you are ready to talk and not yell.
These are the kinds of messages that allow children to feel loved even when they are misbehaving, even when they are failing, even when they doubt themselves. Does responding with these "kinder and gentler" words mean that you are a softy? A complete pushover? A bad disciplinarian? Not at all. I still expect you to hold your limit with your child, but do it calmly and with empathy.