Are You Talking About My Child?!

Kindergarten teacher reading to children in library

Have you ever gone to a parent-teacher conference and thought the teacher had you mixed up with some other parent?

Are you talking about Tommy Wilson, you ask? “Yes I am,” the teacher replies, “He’s very helpful in class, always finishes tasks early and then goes around helping others. He’s a go-getter, a real delight to have in the classroom.”  How can it be that the Tommy Wilson who’s a go-getter in the classroom is the same child that can’t start, let alone finish, tasks at home?

Anthony Wolf, in his book The Secret of Parenting (2002), explains the conundrum this way, “It’s an example of a phenomenon that is true of all children, all adults, everybody.  Each of us has two separate and distinct modes of operating–in essence two separate selves.”

He goes on to describe these two separate selves–one is an at-home self he calls the “baby self” and the other exists mainly in the world outside the home, called the “mature self.” If you think about it, you’ll realize that you operate in these two modes throughout your day, switching between them as the situation requires.

After a stressful day at work holding it all together in a professional, mature, responsible way, you walk through the door at home, and collapse on the couch. You don’t want to talk, you don’t want to listen, you just want some time to yourself. This is your baby self crying out to be fed. The baby self feeds itself by indulging, relaxing, unwinding, and soaking up the good stuff.  As we grow and age, the mature self gradually takes over more of our day-to-day functioning, but the baby self is still there too and like any living part of us, needs to be fed once in a while.

The problem is (and it’s a good problem) if we have created a safe sanctuary for our children at home, then our child’s baby self wants to hang out there and be fed. The baby self can be sweet and cuddly, but the baby self gets stressed when it has to do something it doesn’t want to do. Taking out the trash or setting the table while in the middle of lounging, watching TV or playing a game is major stress to the baby self. And when stressed, the baby self gets cranky and defiant.

It’s helpful, as parents, to see the “good side” of the baby self.  It is only in the baby self mode that our children receive deep nurturing.  It’s when they get replenished and fill their cups so that they can venture out into the world again to be their mature selves.  Wolf says, “With children, this deep nurturing feeds the core of the personality and it is upon this deep nurturing that all else is built. It is the base that allows them to grow and mature and ultimately go out and deal with the world.”

I can vividly recall a conversation I had with my older son when he was in third grade. He was having meltdown after meltdown at home and yet his teachers raved about his model behavior at school. Exasperated I asked, “How can you keep it together so well at school and then act like this when you get home?”  With tears in his eyes, he screamed, “I have to be good all day at school!  I can’t do it all day at home too!”  And thankfully…I got it!  I said, “I am so grateful you hold it together at school. I’m going to cut you some slack at home, buddy.”  And I did. I lowered my expectations of perfect behavior at home and started allowing his baby self some space to be nourished.

Our young children need this replenishing . And it’s a “fact of human psychology that the mere physical presence of a parent brings out the baby self in a child.” When a child feels safe and comfortable, the baby self comes out.  So that’s why Tommy Wilson can stay attentive and mature at school and then completely fall apart at home.  At school, he is a guest on good behavior and that kind of behavior can only be sustained for so long.

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥ 

The next time your child falls apart at home or wants to lounge around and feed the baby self, be aware that he is receiving deep nurturing that will allow him to go back into the ring with his mature self.  As his mature self grows it will gradually take over more of the day-to-day functioning. But the baby self never fully goes away.  Find a way to honor and feed it so that your child gets the deep nurturing that he needs.

 

How to say “I love you” without saying “I love you”

Studies have shown that our children learn more from what we model for them than from what we try to teach them with our words.  Think about it for a moment, does your child learn more when you lecture him about how to treat the family dog, or when he sees you gently stroking the dog’s head?  Does she learn more when you admonish her to say I’m sorry, or when she hears you expressing regret?  Like it or not, your child pays more attention to what you do than to what you say.

So even though it feels good to hear the words, “I love you,” it feels even better when someone consistently acts in a way that conveys love and caring.

Here are 7 ways that you can say “I love you” through your actions:

  1. Be present with your child.  Be fully aware and attentive to her being.  Lay aside all distractions (email, cell phone, to-do list) and just BE with your child, letting her guide all action (or inaction).  (Do this at least 10 minutes every day and see what a difference it makes in your child’s behavior).
  2. Listen with your whole being when he speaks to you. Get down to his level (whether that’s kneeling down or sitting beside him), look into his eyes, and listen with your ears and your heart.  This may not be possible every time he speaks, but do it consistently enough that he feels that his voice matters to you.
  3. Make your child feel special by letting him know what you notice and appreciate about him.  I used to play a game with my kids called “What I like best about you is …..”  and I would fill in the blank with something I noticed, liked, or enjoyed about them.  They could never get enough of this game and when the neighbors’ kids heard us playing this, they also started coming to me and asking, “What do you like best about me?”
  4. Ask them what you can do to make their lives more wonderful (that doesn’t involve spending money).  And then do more of those things.
  5. Get out the baby books and go through their birth and newborn pictures with them.  Children love to hear their birth stories and it will renew your feelings of that deep awesome wonderlove as you remember the first time you met.
  6. Let your children “accidentally overhear” you saying nice things about them to someone else.  Kids come to expect that we will say nice things about them to their face simply because we’re their parents.  So when they “overhear” you talking about them to someone else, it feels more objective and boosts their self-image and self-esteem.
  7. Stay loving and affectionate even when your child is acting out and losing it.  Let him know you’re on his side even as you hold loving limits and accept his intense feelings about those limits.  When your kid is the most unlovable…is when he needs love the most.  

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥ 

For the next week, act on the list above–try a different one each day.  At the end of the week, ask your child, “What makes you feel loved?”  Her answer can help you refine and keep adding to your list.

And also….keep saying “I love you.”  

School can be a place of “light, connection, and transformation”

Kindergarten teacher reading to children in library(Written by Jill Davis, Kindergarten teacher, based on her experience in the “How to Build Collaborative Teams” course)

Once upon a time, there was a teacher that loved to teach. She loved children and she loved helping them learn and laugh. She enjoyed her days in her classroom, but she had found that there were two different worlds at school.

One world was in the classroom, where people talked and touched and shared what made them excited and sad. They explored words in books, pictures, and movies. They laughed and cried together. They learned how to handle conflict honestly. They learned how to lift one another up to be the best they could be. They learned to celebrate one another’s gifts and celebrate each other’s song. This world was full of life and love and learning.

But, then, there was another world. It was cold and dark and long. Minutes felt like hours. It was a place where teachers were made to go. The walls were made of ugly, cold cement blocks. The floor was made of monotonous brown squares. The teachers were made to sit for long periods of time. Sometimes, the lights were turned off and the teachers had to stare at a white square that was filled with lots and lots of numbers. Sometimes the leaders would smile and say the numbers were good, and sometimes the leaders would shake their heads and complain that the numbers were bad.

There was no talk of true learning and growth. There was no enthusiasm for the students that lived by day in the classroom. There was no connection to the teachers. There was just blah, blah, blah that would come back each week after school. As the teacher looked around, she saw no one smiling or happy. The teachers’ faces looked sad and overwhelmed. It was not a happy place.

Then, one evening the teacher walked into a room at another school for a new course she had signed up to take. Here she saw teachers facing one another around a large rectangular table. There was a beautiful chime that seemed to drift her mind up and out. There were deep breaths that seemed to shut out the outside world and connect the teachers together. There were inspirational words shared. There was reflection and life and uplifting activities. People were allowed to see each other’s humanity – to see each other’s vulnerability and move forward into trust and empathy. Real-life conflict was discussed and teachers problem-solved and brainstormed together. There was hope and love and a celebration of life and learning.

This teacher was so touched by this classroom and textbook and TED talks. She was inspired to share what she had learned with the teachers at her own school. She was grateful that teachers could once again connect and collaborate on a human level. She felt hope again that the dark place at school could become a place of light, connection, and transformation. She was excited that the whole teacher could discuss and share emotions–she was excited to finally learn how to grow and manage her own emotions. She was excited that she could be honest and discuss ideas that would make her team and her students learn even more…school could become a real place–not a cold and sterile place. She could be a leader that helped others bring their best and true selves forward.

…And they all lived happily ever after. The end.

What were you thinking?: a peek inside the teenage brain

boy-shrugging-cropped-paidIf you’re raising a teenager, no doubt your mantra is “What were you thinking?” Teens aren’t known for making the best decisions. Or planning ahead. Or considering consequences. The list of patience-trying teen behaviors goes on and on … here’s the good news. They’ll get over it. Here’s the startling news. When they say, “But, Mom, it isn’t my fault!” they may be partially right.

It’s their brains.
In terms of human development, the brain undergoes two periods of enormous growth: from birth to about age four, and then again from about ages 10 to 14. Dr. Jay Giedd, of the National Institute of Mental Health, says of the adolescent and teen years, “In many ways, it’s the most tumultuous time of brain development since coming out of the womb.”
Whereas an infant’s and toddler’s brain is literally growing, a teenager’s brain is remodeling itself, mostly by making and pruning connections. Instead of having a screw loose, as the old saying goes about someone who makes lousy decisions, teens-metaphorically speaking-have wires loose.
Up to this point, adolescents and teens have mostly been acting from their emotions (think limbic system) and pleasure-and-reward systems (think amygdala), which explains a lot about their behavior. Now, as they approach and go through puberty, they are preparing to become adults, and their brains know it. It’s time for the brain to rewire itself, adding millions of new connections between those emotional-impulsive behavioral centers and the frontal lobes, especially the prefrontal cortex.
This is the “executive” center of the brain, the area that is active when we rationally assess situations, consider the consequences of our and others’ actions, set priorities-generally all those things we expect our teens to know how to do but that their brains are not yet fully wired to do. The prefrontal cortex is the last area of the brain to be developed, and the rewiring will go on well into their 20s.
At the same time that all these new connections are forming, your teen’s brain is strengthening already existing connections and pruning less used ones. Whatever your teen is focusing on-sports, study, friendships or, conversely, zoning out in front of the TV or endlessly playing video games-gets reinforced by the brain. Those connective pathways that are not continually activated get pared away.
What’s crucial about this rewiring is that it influences the skills teens take with them into adulthood. To some extent the old adage “use it or lose it” holds true.
To be fair, this spurt of brain remodeling is not an excuse for a teen’s sometimes exasperating behavior. But it does provide parents insight into why teens think something is a great idea when you don’t, why they can’t seem to plan or organize when you think doing so is a no-brainer, why they act without considering consequences that you think are incredibly obvious. Simply put, at this point in their development, teen brains have problems separating what’s important from what’s not so important.
So how can you use this knowledge to your advantage?
Experts suggest strategies that include being clear in your instructions and guiding your teen with advice, but doing so with a soft touch. Your teen needs to “practice” being an adult without being punished for not yet being one. Cultivate the patience to allow them to make mistakes with their growing independence. They are learning to curb their impulses and mediate their emotions. They are learning reasoning, logic and analysis. Whether they show it or not, they will look to the adults in their lives–meaning you–as examples.
This is a trying time for many parents, for while teens might seem to be pushing you away as they “practice” being independent, they also will be secretly watching and learning from you since you are the most important adult in their life.
              
Author’s content used under license, © Claire Communications
♥♥♥LOVE IN ACTION♥♥♥
When living with a teenager is testing your own sanity, remember Erma Bombeck’s quote: Kids need love the most when they’re acting most unlovable. 

a hurt is a hurt is a hurt

Scene from Kramer vs. Kramer

Scene from Kramer vs. Kramer

Nothing brings us running faster to our child’s side than when they get hurt.  Not just a little scratch on the knee kind of hurt, but a howling writhing pain. Especially if there is blood. There’s something in our primitive brain that kicks in, gets the adrenaline going, and gets us moving toward our child to offer support.

Remember the scene in the movie Kramer vs. Kramer where Dustin Hoffman’s character, Ted Kramer, sprints across town in a panic clutching his injured son? (Of course you don’t, that was before your time…but rent it sometime…it’s worth a watch). If you are a parent, there’s no way you can watch that scene and not have your heart in your throat because this is one of our deepest fears….that something will happen to our child.

But what happens when our child experiences a different kind of hurt?  An emotional hurt?  Where, instead of blood, there are lots of tears, or screaming, or angry outbursts.  Most of us aren’t so quick to move toward our child to soothe these kinds of hurts.  Instead we move in the opposite direction, or send our child away, to “get it under control.”

Why do we move toward physical pain….and move away from emotional pain?  It’s a question worth pondering, don’t you think?

Consider the research of psychologists Geoff MacDonald and Mark Leary who have found that the brain regions involved in experiencing physical pain are the same areas involved in experiencing emotional pain. (In their research the emotional pain is in the form of social rejection.) This means that the same area of your child’s brain that lights up with activity when he takes a spill on his bike also lights up when he gets in a heated fight with his sister.

There’s a theory that as we evolved into more emotional social beings, evolution “borrowed” the physical pain neural circuitry already present to also detect and send emotional distress signals to the brain.  Why create a whole new neural system when one’s already in place, right?

So if the same brain region fires whether the pain is physical or emotional, perhaps we should reconsider our attitude toward the emotional kind of pain. Our child’s brain doesn’t seem to know the difference between the two. To the brain, a hurt is a hurt is a hurt.  Maybe it’s too much to send our child into isolation to deal with intense emotions…just like we wouldn’t send him to his room to deal with a broken arm. Maybe we should attempt to soothe emotional pain with the same gusto we attempt to soothe physical pain.

♥♥♥LOVE IN ACTION♥♥♥

The next time your child has a meltdown, try this. Remain calm yourself. Then move toward your child and be the container for those big emotions. Soothe the emotional hurt with empathy and understanding

For when the fireworks are too close for comfort!

fireworksFor some of us, fireworks don’t just happen at the park on the 4th of July. You parents of young children know what I’m talking about! I’m talking about the fireworks that happen when our children have their meltdowns, tantrums, upsets, you-name-it….especially in a public place! When it seems like the screaming and flailing about is just as loud and spectacular as any fireworks show you’ve seen.

These are the times that test our fortitude as parents and test our ability to dance in the gap of (1) our vision of how we want to parent and (2) how we actually do it during the daily grind. Hopefully, these 3 tips will help you bridge that gap in the midst of the familial pyrotechnics:

1. Stay calm
THE MOST HELPFUL thing you can do when your child is losing it is to stay calm yourself. If you lose it too and start yelling then all hope is lost. Your child needs you to guide her through the emotional storm. That’s hard to do if you’re lost in the storm yourself. So breathe and repeat a mantra to yourself that will help you stay calm…such as “I can do this in a calm loving way” or “This too shall pass.”
(You may have to come back to this mantra over and over again).

2. Get down close to your writhing child*
Yes, you read that correctly. Squat down, or even sit or lie down on the floor with your child (depending on where you are). Perhaps you just wouldn’t be comfortable lying in the grocery store aisle; but if you’re at home or the home of a friend, go for it!

Instead of isolating your child or letting the emotional tempest keep you at bay… go in, get close. As we say in the conflict resolution field: lean into the conflict. This will get easier the more you do it, and your calm close presence is likely to have a calming influence on your child when he starts to trust that you can be a safe container for his big emotions. With repetition, you may find this strategy alone lessens the intensity and decreases the time of a tantrum.

3. Offer understanding and empathy to your child
Your child is too young developmentally to be able to reason out of her intense emotions. That’s why all the perfect reasoning and logic in the world won’t help in those moments. Plus, we tend to use way too many words when our child is upset. (To be honest, when you are having intense emotions, do you want someone to give you reasons why you shouldn’t be feeling that way? Or do you want someone to hear you and to understand the pain you’re in?)

Instead, offer your child two precious gifts: understanding and empathy.

Here are some phrases to try:

  • I know it’s hard when you really really want that cookie right now.
  • It’s hard to want something really bad and not be able to have it.
  • I know…sometimes I want things too that I just can’t have.
  • It’s okay to cry. I know it hurts. I’m here with you.
  • You want to sit on my lap?
  • You want me to hold you while you cry?

Comments such as these give your child the message: “I know. I understand. There’s nothing wrong with you for feeling this way. I’m here to help you through it.

Understanding and empathy are not permissive parenting. You can set boundaries and limits and still be loving and supportive when they trigger intense emotions in your child. Just as you support your child with physical hurts, it’s just as important to support the emotional hurts.

Your capacity to stay loving and supportive during an upset helps your child to build resiliency and capacity to behave better in the future. Studies have shown that emotional responsiveness strengthens the integrative connections in the brain, helping to bring the prefrontal cortex (the thinking brain) back on-line quicker. As the brain integrates more and more over time, this allows your child to make better choices and to better control her body and emotions.

So there you have it. 3 tips to help you and your child get through the “other” kind of fireworks show. I invite you to start seeing every tantrum as an opportunity to instill this message in your child:

You are loved even when you’re at your worst.
(Don’t we all want that?!)
We’re a team and I’ve got your back!

*Special Note: Some children will not let you get near them when they are upset. (My son is this way; he really needs his space when he’s upset.) You can sit further away or in the doorway and keep letting him know you are there for him, at a distance, until he is ready to be comforted or to re-engage.

Choosing which conversation to have

28154944 - driver making phone call after traffic accident

About a year ago, my younger son had his very first driving accident.  I say “first” because we live in Atlanta and here people joke that it’s not a matter of “if” you have an accident, it’s just a matter of “when.”  Accidents are almost inevitable with all this traffic.

My son had driven to visit a friend in Savannah over Labor Day weekend and I warned him about the holiday traffic on the road.  How it is stop and go.  How you have to pay even more attention at all times.  You can’t be distracted by music or heaven forbid, a glance at your phone.  Eyes on the road at all times, keep proper distance from other cars, and stay within the speed limit…that’s what I told him.

We got the call from him on Monday afternoon.  He had been involved in an accident on I-75 about 30 miles away from home. Traffic had stopped suddenly, he had rear-ended the car in front of him, his car was leaking fluid, he was okay and everyone in the other car was okay, but could we come get him?

On the drive to rescue him, my husband and I mulled over the various ways we could approach our conversation with him.  I admit there was a part of me that wanted to greet him with, “Didn’t I tell you there would be stop and go traffic during the holidays? This is the exact situation I explicitly warned you about. You weren’t really paying attention were you?”

But thankfully here’s the conversation we had…Dad opened his arms and gave him a big hug upon seeing him and asked “Are you okay buddy?” We looked at the smashed grill and the crumpled hood and said “Bummer.”  Then I said, “You know what?  We can replace the car, but we can’t replace you.  I’m so glad you’re okay.  There will be people who lose their lives today on the road; it happens every holiday.  And I’m so happy you’re okay.” (big smile and hug and I truly meant it from my grateful heart)
At breakfast the next morning he said to me, “Mom I think I’m one of those people who has to learn things through experiencing them.”

I said “Honey, that’s probably most of us.”

He continued, “I know you told me to pay attention and I was paying attention, I wasn’t goofing around, but I bet I can guarantee that that won’t happen again.”

“Oh yeah? What would you do differently?”

“I would get in the slow lane and stay there.”

“And maybe leave more space?”

“Well I had plenty of space until she slammed on her brakes!”

“And if you had had even more space maybe you could have stopped in time too, right?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Well that sounds like a good plan when there’s lots of traffic like that…just chill in the slow lane.”

He shared openly how he could avoid the same situation in the future and how he planned to pay for the repairs and the ticket.  I didn’t have to say “I told you so” or “I’m disappointed in you.”

He learned the lesson from the inside out and that’s the best way.  Life is a very effective teacher.

♥♥♥LOVE IN ACTION♥♥♥

Does your child have the freedom to make mistakes?  Do you ever say “I told you so?”
The next time your child makes a mistake, see if you can take a step back and let life be the teacher.  Better yet, come alongside him and support him as he deals with the natural consequences.  That way you’re his ally as you face life’s dilemmas together.
Oh, and do the same for yourself.  You’re allowed to make mistakes too! (in case no one ever told you).

Listening Practices: Tips and Traps

attentive father--PAIDHave you ever noticed how GOOD it feels to be really listened to? It’s impactful, validating and gives us a sense that we’re significant, we matter. There’s an art to listening and, like any art, it takes practice.

According to statistics by Dr. Albert Mehrabian, known for his pioneering work in nonverbal communication, only 7% of communication happens through your actual words (38% comes across through tone and 55% through body language). That’s why it’s important to hone our skills to listen at deeper levels. To listen not only with our ears, but also with our heart. When we can listen to our children at these deeper levels we ingrain in them a sense of significance and self-worth.

A good place to start is by understanding the three listening levels described in the book Co-Active Coaching, by Laura Whitworth, Henry Kimsey-House and Phil Sandahl.

Listening Levels

Level 1—Internal: We hear the other person’s words, but our focus is on what it means to us—our thoughts, feelings, judgments and conclusions.  I dare say most of our day-to-day listening is at this level.

Level 2—Laser-Focused: Our attention is focused like a laser beam on the other person, with little awareness of anything else. With such strong focus, we are curious, open and have little time to pay attention to our own feelings or worry about how we are being received. Our own mind chatter disappears with such a sharp focus on the other person.

Level 3—Global: Our attention is spread out like an antenna with a 360-degree range. It allows us to pick up emotions, energy, body language and the environment itself. Intuition heightens as we tune into the deeper layers of what is going on.

All three levels are necessary. However, when we spend too much time in self-focused Level 1 listening, our communication with our child can seriously suffer. Engaging in Levels 2 and 3 can improve how we listen—and highly impact the connection and the relationship with our child.

Listening Blocks

It’s also important to be aware of these traps we can fall into even when we have set an intention to deeply listen.  These come from Richard Anstruther at HighGain, Inc who trains business people in listening skills…but I think they’re just as relevant for parents who are intent on listening to their children in a more deeply satisfying way.

  • Tune Out—Listeners are not paying attention to the speaker due to disinterest in the speaker or subject, thinking about other things or multitasking.
  • Detach—Listeners are emotionally detached from the speaker, concerned with content only, not the feelings behind it. They may be only half listening, not really interacting, and miss the message’s underlying meaning.
  • Rehearse—Listeners are concentrating on what to say or do next, rather than focusing on the speaker’s message.
  • Judge—Listeners have a different opinion that causes them to block out new ideas and information or lose track of the conversation. They analyze and interpret the speaker’s delivery or message, missing the point. They criticize, give advice and make assumptions.
  • Control—Listeners don’t allow the speaker to talk at his or her own pace. They constantly interrupt with comments or questions, and don’t allow the speaker to finish a point.

The first step to developing artful listening is to choose to truly listen. As you continue to develop your listening skills, your communication and your relationship with your child are likely to become increasingly satisfying and rich!

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥

  1. Experiment with Levels 1, 2 and 3 listening, one at a time, to fully understand the dynamics at each level. This was eye-opening for me! I learned that the level at which I listen is a moment-by-moment choice.
  1. Spend some time noticing how often you fall into tuning out, detaching, rehearsing, judging or controlling. What can you do to keep from falling into these common listening traps?

Author’s content used under license, © 2008 Claire Communications

Setting Limits: No, not for your child….for you!

no--PAIDRead any magazine article or book about parenting and the author will advise the necessity of setting limits for children. “Set limits and stick to them,” parents are counseled. Limits create the structure and discipline that every child needs for healthy upbringing.  Or as I like to phrase it, “Give your child the freedom of a clearly defined limit.”

But for adults—especially those who tend to view other people’s needs and wants as more important than their own—setting limits is more than an exercise in discipline; it’s a vital component for healthy self-care.

Consider Evelyn. Her calendar is filled with one family event after another. A niece’s graduation followed by a great-uncle’s 75th birthday party followed by a tea her mother planned for an old family friend. Much as she loves her family, enough is enough. After a day at work and meeting her immediate family’s needs, she has hardly any time left for herself.

Or Ted whose boss scarcely gives him time to complete one project before he lays on another. Then another. Work is so backlogged Ted stays at the office almost every night till past seven and goes in on weekends as well.

By not setting limits, Evelyn and Ted are letting the needs and wants of others come before their own well-being…and the well-being of their families.  When we are stretched so thinly, our children end up receiving the worn-out grumpy impatient versions of Mom or Dad.

Sometimes it’s difficult to learn to care for ourselves as much as we care for others. Especially if we feel uncomfortable or guilty saying “no.” We may fear losing someone or something if we set limits on how much time we can give or work we can handle. But always giving in to the requests or demands of others is plowing a field where resentments take seed. And failing to assert our needs and wants or to stand up for ourselves is disregarding our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

Far from being selfish and mean, setting limits is a healthy act of self-respect.  

It’s helpful, before you give a “no,” to get clear on what you’re saying “yes” to instead.  A “no” to a party invitation may be a “yes” to some down time spent with a latte and a book.  A “no” to another school committee may be a “yes” to having the time to take that painting class you’ve been wanting to take.

Taking a firm stand might be difficult at first. But by being calm, clear and direct—and without intentionally stepping on anybody’s toes—you can learn how to set limits and create the kind of balance in your life that honors your own needs and wants.

For Evelyn, it meant coming up with compromises—she’d attend the great-uncle’s birthday party but drew the line at the niece’s graduation and her mother’s tea. Ted had to explain to his boss that it was impossible to do the kind of job the boss expected if he wasn’t allowed ample time to complete a project.

In each of these scenarios, far from losing something or someone they valued, by setting limits Evelyn and Ted got what they wanted or needed, took good care of themselves and in the process gained a healthy amount of self-respect.  And their children gained a Mom or a Dad who was less stressed and more energetic and happy to be with them.

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥

In what areas are you overextending yourself?  Where can you say “no” to an activity/event that saps your energy and “yes” to something that brings you joy and vitality?

I invite you to practice saying “no” this week.  Identify something you are doing that doesn’t bring you joy and may even be breeding resentment.  In a loving way, just say “no”.  Free yourself up a bit to do what nurtures you and gives you energy.

Don’t your kids deserve more than the worn-out bits and pieces of you?  When you set limits that allow you to fill your own love cup, it will naturally overflow onto those around you.

How well are you listening to your children?

attentive father--PAIDWhen our children come to us with a problem, we usually want to help them. So we console, interpret, advise, distract or praise. Other times, we feel we must teach our children, and so we interrogate, lecture, moralize or order. And probably more often than we’d like, we respond angrily–blaming, criticizing, ridiculing, shaming or withdrawing.

However, all of these responses are problematic–whether with our children, or with the adults in our lives. They often serve to stop the communication of real feelings and arrest the development of problem-solving skills. I always say it’s up to us as adults to keep the door of communication open with our children. Oftentimes that means we need to talk less and listen more in order to keep our foot in the door.

Take the quiz below, adapted from the classic Parent Effectiveness Training, by Dr. Thomas Gordon, to assess your listening skills.

  1. I let my children feel their difficult feelings, knowing that comments such as “Everyone goes through this” deny the strength of their feelings.
  1. I try to listen for the need beneath the words and respond to that.
  1. I make it a point to check in to see if I’ve understood something in the way my child intended it. When I do, I try to keep my own feelings, opinions and guidance out of it.
  1. When my child tells me something, I try to respond with either noncommittal phrases (such as “I see” or “Is that so”) or with an invitation to say more (such as “Tell me more” or “Go ahead, I’m listening”).
  1. I notice that when I listen to my children’s problems, rather than make suggestions or give advice, my children often come up with their own excellent solutions.
  1. When I hear my child out fully, my child is often much more willing to listen to my thoughts and ideas.
  1. When I let my children express their feelings openly and completely, the feelings often seem to disappear quickly.
  1. I really want to hear what my child has to say; if I don’t have the time to listen right at that moment, I say so and make time for it later.
  1. I’ve learned to trust that my children can find perfectly good solutions to their problems on their own.
  1. I understand that my children are separate, unique individuals, and that their feelings and perceptions are not necessarily the same as mine.
  1. When I stay away from moralizing, interpreting, ordering and advising, I find that I learn a lot more about my children. Sometimes, I even learn from my children.
  1. I know that just listening doesn’t always bring about immediate change and that it’s sometimes OK to leave things on an inconclusive or incomplete note.
  1. I understand that listening to children express their feelings can help them accept a situation they know they cannot change.

Authentic communication with our children has rewards more valuable than a pot of gold. Real listening may be the rainbow bridge we need to get there. If you scored fewer “true” answers than false, you could probably benefit from improving your listening skills. I’d love to support you in building your communication skills and improving your family relationships.

I invite you to email me to set up a complimentary 20-minute consult to see if my services could benefit your situation.

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥

The way we interact and communicate with our children often determines whether or not the door to communication stays open.  Begin to notice those moments when you sense your child has “shut the door” on communication and try to remember what you said or did immediately prior to that.  Often our tone of voice or our choice of words comes across as criticizing, judging, or blaming. These are sure-fire ways to bring up defensiveness and cause the door to shut. If we want to keep the door to communication open, it’s up to us as parents to communicate in ways that invite openness, nonjudgment, acceptance, and collaboration.

 

Author’s content used under license, © 2008 Claire Communications

 

Growing Yourself as a Parent

mom and girl PAIDGrown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.”   -Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

Imagine a baby shower where the guests bring a special kind of gift for the new parents.
Not baby clothes. Not strollers or cribs. Not even a single book on child-rearing.
The gifts for the new parents? Self-awareness, self-love and self-growth as a person, as well as a parent.
The best parenting requires that we not only work to nurture and care for our children but that we nurture and care for ourselves.
Parenting is one of the–if not the–most challenging jobs on the planet. There is the awesome responsibility of raising and guiding another human being, of course. But it’s the daily interactions between children and parents that can require almost super-human amounts of flexibility, patience and awareness. All the experts and all the books aren’t there when it’s your toddler who won’t nap, your child who grabbed the toy out of his friend’s hand, your depressed teen who is desperately searching for answers, your adult child who can’t hold down a job.
Successful–even joyful–parenting is about listening to ourselves as well as listening to our children. It’s a self-awareness approach that brings the focus back to what we are feeling and needing, so that we don’t unthinkingly rain anger and fear down upon our children. Being aware of ourselves helps us develop a strong “inner authority” or an intuitive sense of knowing what is best for us and our children in any moment. (As well as accepting that sometimes we really don’t know yet!)
“We guide (our children) not because they have basically shabby motives, but because they lack the one strength most of us have: awareness of the world,” write authors Hugh and Gayle Prather in their book, Spiritual Parenting: A Guide to Understanding and Nurturing the Heart in Your Child.
Their book calls parenting a spiritual path that helps us grow as people while we are helping our children grow into adults. Our children challenge us and if we can truly listen, we can grow.
One of the first challenges is to understand that old patterns–often formed in our own childhoods–can often rule our behavior as parents right now. For example, if our own parents tried to fix everything that went wrong, we may try to do the same with our children. But our children may need us just to listen to their fears and not jump in with our own fears and try to “fix” it all.
In the process, we allow our kids to make mistakes, and that means we can, too. And if we can forgive our kids and accept them in all their flawed glory, it can’t be too big a jump to do this for ourselves.
As author Joyce Maynard writes, “It’s not only children who grow. Parents do, too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it myself.”
♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥
Spend time reflecting on your own childhood and how you were raised as a child.  Make two lists: what you want to do the same way as your parents
did it…and what you want to do differently.  Pick one of the things you want to do differently, and over the next week, make a conscious effort to pause…and choose your new way.
Author’s content used under license, © 2008 Claire Communications

I feel I can finally exhale

(Original post: 8/14/13)
Earlier this week I watched as my two boys got in the car (my older one driving) and headed to their first day of high school together. This year my older son is a junior (hard to believe!) and my younger son is a freshman. The first day of school is still a reflective time for me. I stood on the porch waving and wondering that old cliché, “where did the time go?” My heart was full of pride for the awesome young men they are becoming.  I also got in touch with the gratitude and pride I feel for myself that I’ve done the work (and it was damn hard at times!) to nurture and grow relationships with them built on mutual respect and trust.

When you have an especially challenging child (like my older son), it can take an incredibly long time to see the results. Often, parents lose faith that anything is working. There have been so many times I wanted to throw in the towel because I lost my confidence that I was doing the right thing. There have been times over the years when it was just a hopeless mess. Yet, I was committed to grow my consciousness and skills in order to lovingly parent my challenging child.  I knew in my heart I wanted to parent in a way that honored and accepted him just the way he is.

He is almost 17 now and I feel I can finally exhale. The relationship is intact. We’re talking. He’s sharing. He’s even listening sometimes. We often enjoy each other. Everything is going to be okay. (Deep breath)  I feel confident I did the right thing by shifting the way I was parenting him, even though it felt like swimming upstream the whole way (because our culture isn’t very good at supporting conscious parenting). I am starting to see the fruits of my labor and I am so glad I didn’t shrink back and didn’t throw in the towel.

Can You Relate?
If you have a challenging child you’re raising, hang in there! When you’re in the midst of the day in and day out struggles, it may seem that there is no end in sight. You may tell yourself many times a day, “Parenting shouldn’t be this hard!”

But know, please know, that you are doing holy work.

You are supporting and nurturing a child who needs that extra love and acceptance. Who will stretch you so far outside your growing edges that you can never shrink back to your earlier dimensions. Stay committed to practice being a calm loving presence for your child and one day, I promise you, you’ll find you’re on the other side. You’ve made it through. Everything is going to be okay. Bring a bushel and start picking the sweet fruits of your labor.

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥

The way we interact and communicate with our children often determines whether or not the door to communication stays open.  Begin to notice those moments when you sense your child has “shut the door” on communication and try to remember what you said or did immediately prior to that.  Often our tone of voice or our choice of words comes across as criticizing, judging, or blaming. These are sure-fire ways to bring up defensiveness and cause the door to shut.  If we want to keep the door to communication open, it’s up to us as parents to communicate in ways that invite openness, nonjudgment, acceptance, and collaboration.