Let’s Get Rid of Trick or Treat!

trickortreatPAIDThe last twenty years or so have given us many new insights into child development and what is required for optimal brain wiring.  Neuroscience and social research are showing us that a secure attachment and the quality of the parent-child relationship are what influence our child’s behavior the most.

Armed with research findings that favor relationship-building over behavior modification, many parents are veering away from using “tricks” (punishments) and “treats” (rewards) to discipline children.  After all, discipline means to teach—not to coerce with punishment or to convince with rewards.

In fact, “tricks” or “treats” override children’s natural willingness to do what’s right based on intrinsic learning and instead, motivate them to “behave” based on extrinsic motivations–to avoid punishment or to receive a reward.  While it may “work” in the short term to get you the desired behavior, it will not teach your child to go inside and decide for himself what is right or wrong.  Disciplining our children in a way that nurtures their self-discipline will pay off in the long run when they are teenagers and we’re not around to put them in time-out or present them with a sticker for their sticker chart!

But how is it possible to discipline without punishment or reward?  Won’t kids run wild and play with matches and kill each other?  I’m not saying children don’t need limits.  They do.  But setting loving limits and letting your child feel the feelings that come when they bump up against them is not the same thing as punishment.

Punishment is time-out (sending into isolation), or taking away privileges, or spanking.  Discipline is setting limits, holding those limits, and letting natural consequences teach the child. It’s viewing behavior as communication and using dialogue to dig for what’s under the behavior.  What is your child communicating?  What does she need?  It’s talking it through, putting the issue on the agenda for the weekly family meeting, and collaboratively problem-solving together.  It is teaching, which is mostly with words and always through modeling.

With our gentle guidance, we can help our children develop their own moral compass and regulate their impulses and behavior.  It takes time.  After all, they’re just kids.  They’re learning. When we give up the tricks and treats and use discipline to teach our kids, we invest in building a relationship based on trust and mutual respect.  As they grow older and our influence pales in comparison to the influence of their peers, this relationship becomes uber important. When we honor the natural growth in our children as their conscience develops from the inside out, they are able to make better choices, even when no one is looking.

(For a deeper understanding of how to discipline without punishment or reward with lots of concrete examples, I recommend No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind and/or The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind…both by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson.)

The Best Gift to Give Your Kids

mom and daughter playing PAIDWhen you were little and the teacher asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, you surely didn’t answer “overwhelmed,” or “frustrated,” or “miserable!”  But these are the words that come up in my parenting classes when parents talk about their daily lives.

Of course, there are happy connecting moments as well, but the day-to-day grind of parenting can create a negative mood in the family that becomes habitual. If you have started to dread, more than you enjoy, your interactions with your children, then I invite you to consider this idea:  you have more choice between feeling miserable or feeling happy than you think…and it starts with your brain.

Emerging research shows that the brain is not as hard-wired as previously thought. We can learn to be happier. In fact, one of the most popular classes at Harvard University (taught by Dr. Ben-Shahar, author of Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment) is a Positive Psychology course in which students learn to train their brains to cultivate more happiness.  The underlying premise of positive psychology is that you can learn to be happier just as you can learn to solve math problems or to be proficient at a sport.

Your happiness is one of the best gifts you can give your children.
When parents are asked, “What do you want for your children?” one of the most common replies is, “I want my child to be happy.”  Well, where do you think they learn to be happy?  From watching you!  That’s why in her book Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, Christine Carter’s Step #1 is…Get Happy Yourself.  She even cites studies that indicate how happy you are dramatically affects how happy and successful your kids are.

It’s worth the effort to raise your happiness quotient because it will impact your entire family.  If you’d like to train your brain for happiness, consider these ideas:

Decide that you want to be happier. When you make that decision, you start to notice choices for happiness that you may have missed before. Those choices may be small, such as lying down for 10 minutes when you’re tired rather than powering through a task, but you start to create an awareness and habit of seeking happiness that grows.

Acknowledge your feelings. When you feel overwhelmed or distressed, don’t make it worse by beating yourself up for being upset.  When you invite those feelings into your awareness and give them respect and attention, they usually begin to shift on their own, and you start to feel better.

Fake it till you make it.
 Ask yourself, how would a happy person act?  How would they walk? What would they say in this instance?  What would their face look like?  And then act, walk, talk and look like that.  Your mind takes cues from your body.  It’s hard to be upset when you’re walking with a spring in your step, whistling, with a smile on your face!  When you “act like a happy person” you’re laying down new neural connections that make it easier to tap into genuine happiness.

Celebrate success. Whether it’s the achievement of getting out the door on time this morning or a weekend when your children got along, take in the accomplishment, and give yourself and your children a pat on the back.

Seek meaning.
Happiness comes from doing something that gives us pleasure and meaning. If you’re short on pleasure and meaning in your life, find something to fill those needs. It could be a hobby, volunteering, taking a course, or allowing time to read a book or cook something tasty.

Express gratitude. Notice and be grateful for everything that makes your day better, from your child’s quick hug to your morning latte.  (I admit I get carried away with gratitude.  I’ve been known to express gratitude to my washer, dryer, dishwasher and other kitchen appliances.  But I am so grateful for the ease these items bring to my life!)

As you practice happiness and make it a habit, you’ll find yourself in a lovely upward spiral that will support you through challenging times. As Dr. Ben-Shahar writes in his book, “Happiness is not an end state, but rather something you work towards your whole life.  Thus, you can be happier each day.  Happiness is a journey, not a destination.”

Let my love give you roots…and help you find your wings

son flying PAIDWell, it’s official.  I’m an “empty-nester” now.  There have been a few tears, there have been a few lonely mornings drinking my smoothie alone, and there is now a spotless breakfast nook without books, backpacks, homework papers, lunchboxes, and random socks lying around!

It seems surreal to think back to when my boys were little and running around like wild monkey weasels (my husband’s term for them) and the only way I could steal 10 minutes of me-time was to take my time in the bathroom.  Now the minutes d-r-a-g by even as I enjoy my newfound freedom to focus on what I enjoy doing the most–helping families to thrive.   This……my friends……is going to take some time getting used to.

So I’ve been listening to sappy songs, and looking at old photos, and cherishing the memories of witnessing two little boys grow into two fine young men.  My hope is that my love has given them roots and now they will find their wings.

Here’s one of the sappy songs, if you want to get teary-eyed too thinking about when your babies will fly away…….

Find Your Wings
(by Mark Harris)

It’s only for a moment you are mine to hold
The plans that heaven has for you
Will all too soon unfold
So many different prayers I’ll pray
For all that you might do
But most of all I’ll want to know
You’re walking in the truth
And If I never told you
I want you to know
As I watch you grow

I pray that God would fill your heart with dreams
And that faith gives you the courage
To dare to do great things
I’m here for you whatever this life brings
So let my love give you roots
And help you find your wings

May passion be the wind
That leads you through your days
And may conviction keep you strong
Guide you on your way
May there be many moments
That make your life so sweet
Oh, but more than memories

I pray that God would fill your heart with dreams
And that faith gives you the courage
To dare to do great things
I’m here for you whatever this life brings
So let my love give you roots
And help you find your wings

It’s not living if you don’t reach for the sky
I’ll have tears as you take off
But I’ll cheer as you fly

 

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥

Stop right now for a few moments and think about how you are providing roots for your child.  What specifically do you do to make them feel “firmly planted?”  To feel secure and trusting enough to rest in your love?
[The developmental psychologist Gordon Neufeld says “the provision must be greater than the pursuit.”  In other words, you need to give your kids more love than they are seeking in order for them to be able to relax and rest in that love.]

 

Are you asking the right questions?

question markSometimes in order to get the most meaningful answers, you need to ask the right questions.

You know how you usually have an annual review at work and basically your boss gives you feedback about what’s working and what’s not working regarding your performance?  In the right frame of mind you can use this feedback to modify how you’re doing things so that your performance is more in line with what’s expected and needed on the job.

You can use this same approach to gather feedback about how you’re doing as a parent.  And who better to ask than…your kids?  They are the ones who are living day in and day out with your expectations, your triggers, your reactions, your nurturing, and your ways of giving and receiving love.

Over the years I’ve found some questions that have been helpful to me as a parent to glean what it is exactly that I do to help my children thrive and feel loved and what it is I do to make them feel less than that. Their answers over the years have been useful information to help shape my parenting style. And just asking the questions lets them know that they matter. That their input is a part of the relationship equation and that I want to learn and grow in my role as their mother.

Some of these questions came from reading Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life and Pam Leo’s Connection Parenting and some are my own as I delved deeper into what was working and what needed improvement in building my relationship with my sons.

Questions for the Kids:

1.  How did I make your life more wonderful today?
2.  How did I make your life less than wonderful today?
3.  What made you feel loved today?
4.  What do you like most about me?
5.  What do you like most about yourself?
6.  What do you like most about your brother? (asked in the presence of each other)
7.  What is your growing edge? (What do you need to work on yourself?)
8.  What do you see as my growing edge? (What do you think I need to work on?)

The secret is to be completely open to whatever answer your child gives. There are no right or wrong answers….just good useful information. This is not a time to get defensive or convey a lesson. Ask with a curious mind and an open heart. Then use the information to celebrate the little things that lead to closeness between you and your child and to repair any ruptures in the relationship.  Ask often and savor the precious moments of connection.

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥

Ask your child one or two of these questions every night this week and be open to receive the answers. Thank your child for sharing his or her thoughts with you, then use the information you hear to make adjustments in how you interact with your child.

Listen earnestly to anything [your children] want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.” (Catherine M. Wallace, author)

 

 

10% is Enough

mom pulling hairWhen I first started teaching parenting classes back in 2005 I once told my class about an incident that had just happened where I yelled at my child.  I remember several people gasped and they all exchanged looks. Then one person asked, “You mean you yell?”  Another added, “At your child?”

I was equally bewildered by their bewilderment.  And then it hit me…they think I’m on the “other side” of this parenting stuff … somehow they’ve gotten the impression that I’ve graduated…that I’ve arrived…that I’ve reached perfect parenting nirvana and bliss. This was a disconcerting thought because, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth!

Oh!  Wow!,” I exclaimed, “I hope I haven’t misled you into thinking that I don’t do all these things that we’ve been talking about…the things you are trying to change and improve.  I’m right there with you!  I’m teaching this because I need to learn it myself.”

Then, as I watched those words sink in for them, for a moment it entered my mind that this was the beginning of the end of parenting classes for me. I had just let the cat out of the bag and now the word would get out that I yelled at my own children, and no one would want to come to my parenting classes.  What could I possibly teach anyone about parenting when I didn’t have my own parenting act together?

Thankfully, after I was knocked clean off that perfect parenting pedestal (thank God!), the parents expressed relief. I went from being the “parenting expert” to a “mom” who was struggling with the same issues that they were struggling with…and who was able to apply what I was teaching to my own parenting around 10% of the time (yeah, I got a little crazy with my confessions).  My willingness to be vulnerable and “let it all hang out” put us on equal ground and created emotional safety where we could openly share what was really going on in our families, the guilt (and sometimes shame) we felt around our parenting, and the hope that we still had time to get it right…or at least to get it good enough.

Fast forward 12 years and I’ll tell you 10 things I’ve learned about the parenting paradigm I teach–even if you can only apply the concepts 10% of the time:

  • 10% of conscious intentional parenting is better than 90% of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants parenting.
  • 10% of focused attention on your relationship with your child is better than 90% of focused attention on “behavior issues.”
  • 10% of striving to connect and understand is better than 90% of attempting to correct, convince, cajole or coerce.
  • 10% of parent “time-ins” is better than 90% of child “time-outs.”
  • 10% of quality engaging time with your child is better than 90% of stressed-out distracted time with your child.
  • 10% of listening is better than 90% of lecturing.
  • 10% of setting loving limits is better than 90% of issuing threats, punishments or bribes.
  • 10% of changing ourselves is better than 90% of trying to change our children.
  • 10% of unconditional love is better than 90% of love with conditions.
  • 10% of honest imperfect parenting is better than 90% of false unattainable perfect parenting.

It’s been quite a journey since that parenting class when I confessed to my own imperfect parenting. After over a decade of studying, practicing and teaching conscious forms of parenting, I may be up to applying it 25% of the time in the heat of the moment….and that’s on a good day.

But now I know that’s more than enough!

I’ll leave you with these words from Brené Brown, about imperfect parenting as a gift:

        “The practice of framing mothers and fathers as good or bad is both rampant and corrosive.  It turns parenting into a shame minefield.  The real questions for parents should be, “Are you engaged?  Are you paying attention?”  If so, plan to make lots of mistakes and bad decisions.
         Imperfect parenting moments turn into gifts as our children watch us try to figure out what went wrong and how we can do better next time.  The mandate is not ‘be perfect and raise happy children.’  Perfection doesn’t exist and I found that what makes children happy doesn’t always prepare them to be courageous, engaged adults.”
        — Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥

Invite yourself to a nice cup of tea and sit down and ask yourself these questions:

  • In what areas do I try to edit the version of my family that I present to the world?
  • In what ways am I afraid of being judged by other parents?
  • Do I ever judge other parents based on how their children act, look, or sound?
  • Do I put pressure on my kids to be, act, look, and sound perfect so that I look good as a parent?
  • What part of my authentic self am I afraid to show to others?
  • What would be the worst thing that could happen if I revealed this part of me?

Based on your reflections, decide if there’s room to practice more authenticity and vulnerability in your life.

Growing Yourself as a Parent

mom and girl PAID“Grown-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.

Do you have a “NO” default?

mom thumbs downOne of the best pieces of advice I received when my kids were very young, was to be aware of how many times I said “no” and consider if I could say “yes” instead. This is actually sound advice given that the average child in America hears “no” 80 times for every 1 “yes.” Can you imagine if the bigger, more powerful people at your workplace or in your life said “no” to your requests and your actions that much in a day?! Would you be able to thrive in that environment?

When I became conscious of my extreme overuse of the word “no” I did an about face and became very good at opening up to “yes” instead. I believe it made a tremendous impact on my relationship with my children. Not only because my kids developed a deep sense that they mattered; but also because I felt better as a mom when I went through my days saying more of “yes, of course” to their requests…that is, unless I had a good reason to say “no.”

I don’t think we intentionally seek to thwart our kids’ wishes and wants, but somehow “no” becomes our default answer.

No you can’t go out and play; it’s wet. No, don’t touch that! No, you can’t bring that bug in the house. No we can’t go to the park right now. No you can’t have a cookie before dinner. No it’s not a good time to have your friend over.

What if we became aware of this “no” default and instead considered and weighed each request on its own merit? Could we change some of those no’s into heartfelt yes’s?

Yes, what a great idea! Let’s go outside with our boots and splash in puddles. Yes, you can pick an item from my basket to play with, but that item is fragile and might break; here do you want to play with this cool thingie instead? Yes, let me get a jar and you can show that bug to your friend when she comes over.

Could we invite in more positive “yes” energy, even if we felt the need to attach conditions to it?

Yes, of course we can go to the park–right after we finish cleaning up the toys. Yes, of course you can have a cookie–just as soon as we eat our yummy dinner. Yes, of course you can have a friend over–after homework is done.

Imagine the energy shift in your home…from negative to positive…if you shift to a new default of “yes, of course…”  Not that you won’t ever say “no,” but you just become more discerning and purposeful with it.

Instead of defaulting to “no” unless you have a reason to say “yes,” switch to defaulting to “yes” unless you have a reason to say “no.”

You and your kids will feel more expansive, connected, and alive…because “no” shuts us down and “yes” opens us up.

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥

Want to give it a try and shift the energy in your home from negative to positive?  Start with these simple steps:

  1. Become aware of how often you say “no” to your child.  Keep a count in your head and record it in a journal every night before you go to bed. As your awareness increases, does the number decrease?
  2. Set the intention every morning to say “yes” to your child at least 5 times during the day.
  3. Think of one thing this week that you’ve been putting off for yourself.  Perhaps you’ve told yourself you don’t have the money, or the time, or the energy.  Say “yes” to one thing for yourself and get the positive energy flowing in you.

“I imagine that yes is the only living thing.” – e. e. cummings

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.”  

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

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

 

Do your kids have to fight for power?

kids tug of warINTRO
In my parenting classes we often have lively discussions when we start to consider the partnership parenting approach that I teach.  What does it mean to share power in your family?  Can kids really handle more choice and power?  Isn’t it our job to make most decisions for them while they are very young and limit their choice-making to wearing either the blue or the red socks? In my experience, children can handle way more power than we, as the adults in their lives, are willing to give them.  In fact, I believe we unconsciously foster, to a great extent, powerlessness in our children.  And when children feel powerless, what options do they have but to submit or rebel? Submission turns them into nice dead people and rebellion turns them into very challenging children to raise.  If you see submission or rebellion in your kids, put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself honestly, “Do I feel power-full?  or do I feel power-less?”
In my own family, I know that my life would be so much easier if my kids would submit to my power and just do what I tell them to do.  But I’m not interested in just getting compliance if it’s going to come at a cost, if it harms the relationship in the long-term.  Plus, I want my children to realize they are powerful beings and to recognize and be in touch with their own needs–even if it means disagreeing with me and what I think is best for them.  After all, it is their life and their journey.  I don’t want to stand in the way of what they are here to learn.

Do your kids have to fight for power?

The shift to a power-sharing parenting paradigm can be mind-boggling and a lot of inside resistance can come up.  it usually goes like this, “If I open that can of worms, if I let my child have some power in making decisions that affect him, then all hell will break loose and I’ll never get back any control.”

So you start white-knuckling it, trying to keep control at all costs.  And, eventually, it does come at a cost.  They don’t stay young and pliable forever.  And that’s if you’re lucky enough to start out with a compliant child.  I didn’t start with a compliant child so my learning came early and quick!  Within the first year I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that control was just an illusion.  Once I loosened my grip on that illusion, things started to shift for the better.

There are sometimes very good reasons not to share power.  But I believe that are more good reasons to share power with our kids, starting when they are young.  Allowing them to have choice and leadership in their lives (within safe limits) in ever larger doses as they age, instills in them confidence that they can manage their lives, make decisions–even bad ones–and bounce back when they make mistakes.  It instills in them a knowing that what they think and need matters in this world.  This inner trust in themselves (or the lack of it) will be their guide into adulthood and will impact every relationship they have, especially the one with themselves.

There are too many grown-ups walking around today with this harsh voice inside that says things like, “You’re not worthy.  You’re not enough.  You’re not loveable because you are flawed.  You don’t really matter.”  Wouldn’t it be nice if our kids grow up to hear a different voice inside, a nurturing one that says things like, “I’m not perfect but I’m still worthy and loveable.  I am enough; I don’t have to be something I’m not.  I matter.  I have the power to create the life I want.”

How do they learn this power and how to manage it if we never give it to them?  Or if they have to fight so hard for it that they never learn the give and take of sharing power with others?  I don’t have the “right” answer, but I sure do love the questions!  We encourage our children to share with others.  Are we modeling the same when it comes to power?

What to do when your child says “no!”

child saying noI don’t believe there is a parent on the planet who hasn’t heard the word “no” coming from their child’s lips.  It seems that almost as soon as they learn to speak, this word becomes a mainstay for kids.  Particularly during those early years, when they are discovering they have their own preferences and testing the limits with how far they can go in making their own choices.

Often, our impulse is to get them to change their minds.  We try to get them to say yes to our requests through convincing, cajoling, or coercing.  We persuade, we try to reason and when all else fails, we either use power over them or we give up, we submit.  Power struggles are very common when our child says “no!”What if there was a better way to respond when you hear a “no”?   A response that discharges the power struggles and leads to connection with your child instead?  Well, guess what?  There is and it’s simple.  You just have to hear the “yes” behind the “no.”  Would you like to give it a try?

Here’s how it works. The next time your child says “no” to a request you have made,  listen for what she is saying “yes” to instead.  For example, if you ask your child to pick up the toys and put them in the toy chest, and she says “no,” perhaps she is saying “yes” to playing longer.  Or “yes” to deciding for herself when she will pick up the toys.  Or “yes” to ease and efficiency.  Make a guess and see if it’s right.

“When I hear you say ‘no,’ I wonder if you want to play a little longer?”  If  you guess wrong, she’s likely to let you know and give you more information, such as, “I’m just going to get them out again in the morning.”  Go with the new information and guess again, “So you want it to be easy in the morning and have your toys right here on the floor ready to play?”  “Yes!”  Surely you can relate to that “yes”; aren’t there times when you want ease and efficiency in your life?

Now that you know what she’s saying yes to, validate her yes.  “That would be so easy, wouldn’t it?  To walk in here in the morning and everything is right here, ready to play!”  With this new understanding maybe leaving the toys on the floor will work for you.  Or maybe it still won’t.  Maybe you have a need for order so you can relax at bedtime.  Maybe you’re concerned that someone will trip on the toys and get hurt.

Then you can share with her what you are saying “yes” to.  “I understand that would make it easier for you when you come in to play in the morning, not having to get the toys out again.  And I will be up later than you tonight and would like the room to look nice.  When things are in their place, it helps me to relax.  I’d like to be able to walk through the room without tripping.”

When you share the “yes” behind your request, you allow your child to consider if she wants to contribute to making life more wonderful for you.  You are planting a seed in her, which, if watered gently over time, will blossom into consideration and regard for others. She will learn not to do something just because she is told to do it, but because she is in touch with her natural capacity to contribute to others.

Perhaps she will choose to pick up the toys because she knows it will help you relax.  Or perhaps she will still insist on leaving them out.  Don’t worry; your child’s capacity to care for others grows over time with lots of practice.  If the latter is the case, you can still water that seed of consideration in her by modeling it for her.  You lay all the “yeses” out on the table to be considered and together you brainstorm how to make it work for both of you.  “I hear you want it to be easy to start playing right away in the morning and I want the room to look nice and not have to worry about tripping over toys.  What can we do?”

First let her explore ideas and then offer your ideas if needed.  This will help her develop the skill of collaborative problem-solving.  You just might be surprised at the creative ideas that bubble up from both of you.  “How about I put my toys on this blanket and slide it over in this corner?”

“Thanks for trying that.  Hmmmm, it still doesn’t look tidy enough for me.  I really enjoy looking at an uncluttered room.  How about we bundle the toys up in the blanket and put it inside the toy chest?  That way, it will be easy to pull it out in the morning and lay it back on the floor.  Will you try that?”  Thus begins the dialogue, the connection, the consideration of everyone’s input.

It can become a game, guessing at the “yes” behind the “no.”  The more you can develop your curiosity and the less you take the “no” as a rejection of your request, the more joyful your interactions with your child will be around that dreaded word.

Amazing fireworks inside the house!

fireworksFor some of us, fireworks don’t just happen 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.
[BTW…I saw a spectacular fireworks show last night featuring my 17-year-old and a broken cellphone!]
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 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.

It’s about PRESENCE…not presents

gingerbread houseAt this time of year it’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of the season and the frenzy of shopping sprees.  Is there any home with a little girl that doesn’t have a Frozen themed Elsa doll wrapped and ready to go?  Or a home with a little boy that doesn’t have a Lego building kit under the tree?  (I’m sure there are, but the toy companies would have us think otherwise).

Every year I say I’m going to opt out of the madness and make room for relaxing evenings, slow dinners, and hours of listening to the Elvis Christmas Album.  I envision me and the boys sitting around the den surrounded by twinkling lights, sipping our hot chocolate, laughing and sharing memories of seasons past.

Yet, as the holiday season rolls around, there are school dinners and concerts, sports banquets, plays, party invitations, and shopping for the kids and loved ones.  Not to mention, end of semester final exams, basketball tournaments, and end of year personal and business financial reporting.

What happens is I wind up surviving the holidays, rather than enjoying the holidays.  I regret to say that for many years I’ve let out a huge sigh (that I’ve been holding from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day) and thought, “I’m glad that’s over!”

 Can you relate?  Are you rushing around to get everything ready for the holidaysand missing the holy days in your life right now?  Are you sprinting from store to store buying presents for your loved ones and missing the opportunity to snuggle up at home and gift them with your presence?

What do you think your kids will remember twenty years from now?  The doll or the time you spent together making a gingerbread house?  The Lego kit or the time you spent together baking cookies, or stringing popcorn, or eating the popcorn and watching A Charlie Brown Christmas?

I recently read an article where the author was a long-time teacher and over the years she had asked the children in her classrooms what their parents did that made them feel loved or happy.  On the Top 10 List she compiled, not one thing required money.  They all required time and presence.  Examples: tuck me in and sing me a song, give me hugs and kisses, cuddle under a blanket and watch TV, tell me stories about when you were little.

So this year, I finally made some progress.  I got the tree up and the home decorated early so we had more time to enjoy the twinkling lights. I got the Elvis Christmas Album (cd) out and popped it in the player.  I made hot chocolate with little marshmallows.  We’ve sat down to a leisurely dinner (with fresh baked cookies) several times this week.  We’ve been connecting and spending time together and I’ve been saying “no” to other distractions. THIS feels like thrivingduring the holidays, rather than surviving the holidays!  I invite you to give it a try!

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥

Carve out a little time each day to spend with each child (one-on-one if possible). This is especially needed during hectic holiday time.  Stress is contagious….but so is calm presence.

Click here for my gift to you…a cute collection of “tickets” that your child can use for more time and connection with you.  Just print the sheet, cut out the tickets and staple them together to make your own Ticket Booklet.  Stuff it in a stocking or wrap it up and give the gift that your child will cherish all year (not just play with for a few days and toss in a corner).

I was hit with a “switch” as a child and I turned out okay

adrian-peterson-child-abuse-4Or did I?

The media is abuzz with the recent off field violence of NFL players Ray Rice and now Adrian Peterson.  As horrific as the events may be (Rice punching his wife unconscious and Peterson hitting his child with a “switch”), I’m hopeful that they will raise our consciousness around these issues that are still lingering in the shadows–the issues of domestic violence and child abuse.

When someone uses physical punishment to manage their child’s behavior (like spanking, switching, slapping, whipping) it is often rationalized or even glorified with statements like, “Harsh discipline made me the man I am today,” or “I was spanked as a child and I turned out okay.”

Except…when I look around me, I’m not sure we have turned out okay.  There seems to be a LOT of violence in the world.  There’s seems to be a LOT of people who believe that the way to solve problems is to control someone, terrify someone, or punish someone.

So I’m not at all convinced that any of us have turned out okay.  To be okay, we sure have made a mess of this civilization thing.  Collectively, we seem to treat each other with less than respect, especially when we don’t agree with someone or hold the same opinions or beliefs as they do.

Largely, the way we treat others is directly related to how we were treated as a child because that’s what got hardwired into our brains.  So when 61% – 80% (depending on the survey) of U.S. parents report using physical punishment on their children, it creates a cycle of violence that’s never-ending until someone sticks their stake in the ground and proclaims, This cycle stops with me!

But I also know how hard it is to stop these generational patterns.  I was hit with a “switch” when I was little.  Growing up in the south, my parents disciplined in thespare the rod, spoil the child fashion without realizing that the rod in the bible is a tool that shepherds used to guide their sheep, not hit them! Remember, the psalms? “Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.”

I was not comforted by my mom’s version of the rod.  “Switching” was how my mom disciplined me in the most severe cases of when I defied her rules, or when she was just tired and exhausted and didn’t know what else to do.  And to add insult to injury I had to go out back and cut my own “switch” off the tree.  I would spend a considerable amount of time trying to select the branch that looked like it would do the least harm to my legs. Do I leave the leaves on or take them off?  Do I cut it short or cut it long?

I can remember the stings, the raw welts that rose up, the heat that emanated from the wounds for several hours afterward.  But mostly I remember the anger in my mother’s voice and in her hands.  It didn’t sound or feel anything like love to me.

But I turned out okay, right?

While I’m “okay” by many standards, I wonder….  If I had been treated with moreunderstanding and compassion as a child when I “misbehaved,” might I have been spared the many years of emotional and verbal abuse I endured in a past relationship?  Might I not have spent more than a decade recovering from co-dependency?  Might I have known, deep in my core, that I didn’t deserve to be mistreated and would not allow it?  Might I have loved myself and taken care of myself more?

As for men who were “whipped” or “switched” when they were boys.  If they had been shown more understanding and compassion as a child, might they be more respectful and gentle to women?  Might they use their strength to model, for their own kids, self-control, understanding, and problem-solving that doesn’t include violence?  Wouldn’t these be great life skills to pass along to the next generation?

One day as she watched her grandkids play, my mother said, “I can’t imagine hitting either one of these boys.  I don’t know how in the world I did it to you when you were young.  That’s just what people did back then and I didn’t know any different.  I’m sorry I hit you.  I could never hit a child now.”  Those words were like healing balm for the scars on my soul.

I know my mom loved me and I’m glad she eventually became aware of how hitting hurts children–their souls even more than their bodies.  I’m also glad I learned alternate ways to discipline my children and mostly broke this generational pattern for my family.  Even though I swore not to spank my children, it happened a few times.  So I know the huge effort it takes to break these generational patterns, these reactions that are hardwired in our brains from early childhood.  If we were hit as a child, it’s very difficult NOT to pass this treatment on to our children. So I committed to do the hard work, to put my stake in the ground, and declare that this generational pattern ends here!

Ultimately, what I long for is a world where we don’t just turn out “okay.”  I want children to thrive, to flourish, to know their own worth and to feel loved, wholly loved, mistakes and all.  I want parents to be gentle guides with their children by setting loving limits, and modeling how to handle frustration and anger that arises.  Not with physical violence, but by saying, “Hey buddy, I can’t let you hit your brother or push him.  In our family, everyone is safe.  So come over here and sit by me and tell me what’s going on with you?  Why did you push him away from that video game?  How could you handle that differently next time?”  That’s how I wish my mom had responded when I “misbehaved”…with curiosity and a sense that she had my back even if she didn’t like my behavior.  That’s what I try to model for my kids.  Because I want them passing on these important peace-building and problem-solving skills to my grandchildren someday.

Research on Physical Punishment

In 2008, the “Report on Physical Punishment in the United States: What Research Tells Us About Its Effects on Children” by Elizabeth T. Gershoff, Ph.D. was published. This report was endorsed by over seventy U.S. organizations including the Academy on Violence and Abuse, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, and American Medical Association. The report synthesizes one hundred years of social science research and hundreds of published studies on physical punishment conducted by professionals in the fields of psychology, medicine, education, social work, and sociology.

The research supports several conclusions:

  • There is little research evidence that physical punishment improves children’s behavior in the long term.
  • There is substantial research evidence that physical punishment makes it more, not less, likely that children will be defiant and aggressive in the future.
  • There is clear research evidence that physical punishment puts children at risk for negative outcomes, including increased mental health problems.
  • There is consistent evidence that children who are physically punished are at greater risk of serious injury and physical abuse.

In recent years, scientists have found that even spanking–the most widely accepted and allegedly humane form of corporal punishment–has alarmingly negative consequences for childhood development. Spanking can increase a child’s risk of aggressionantisocial behavior, andmental health disorders later in life. It slows cognitive development and decreases language skills. Spanking may not leave outward signs of injury, but the mental scars it inflicts can last a lifetime.

You can give them your love but not your thoughts

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ti0rzHq_0xU]

Before you read another word, click the link above and enjoy listening to Sweet Honey in the Rock sing Your Children Are Not Your Children, based on the poem On Children by Kahlil Gibran.  Also, here’s the full version of Gibran’s beautiful poem:

on children poem

I love this poem; it resonates deeply in my soul.  Especially the line, “You can give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts.”

I see this all the time in my parenting work and I know it’s also more true for me than I’d like to admit:  we can get caught up in coaching our children to be little mini-me’s, holding the same opinions and beliefs as we do.  Oh, the early years are simple enough; our kids generally do mimic our way of seeing the world.  But as they mature and start to think thoughts of their own, it can be discomforting and downright unraveling to hear ideas and opinions so different from our own coming from the lips of our babes.

Especially difficult are those ideas and opinions that run contrary to our deepest held values.  We often spend a lot of intention and effort in an attempt to pass down our family values through modeling and teaching.  This guidance serves our children well in early life; our shared values become a compass to navigate life.  And yet, there must come a time when our children decide for themselves what their own values are, what they believe in, and what matters most to them in life.  We hope the nut doesn’t fall too far from the tree…but sometimes it does.   Will the tree still recognize the nut as one of its own?  And can the tree still love and accept the nut and give it a sense of belonging?

As challenging as it is for me, I want my sons to find their voice and to speak it openly—even if it’s different from my own.  I want them to question ideas and beliefs that have been handed down to them (even by me!) and make sure they ring true inside.  I want them consciously seeking the values that will guide their lives because I know they have their own unique journey ahead of them, their own sorrows and joys to experience, and their own lessons to learn.

My joy is to be the steadfast tree, grounded in my own truth, with overarching branches spread wide enough to love, accept, and cherish the uniqueness of even that nut that may have fallen and sprouted a long ways off.

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥

  1. Notice what happens in your body when your child says or acts in a way that is contrary to a value you hold?  Do you label it “wrong”?
  2. When you engage with him, is it an energy of trying to convince him to your way of seeing things…or is it an open exploration guiding him through self-inquiry? (i.e., asking “What do you think?” “Why do you think that’s true?” “Why is that important to you?”)
  3. Reflect on your willingness to accept (dare I say “encourage”?) your maturing child to think for herself.
  4. What needs would be met by allowing and accepting your child’s differences? What needs would not be met?

Mommy! Deidra won’t share with me!

Deidra, who is four, and her sister, Kim, who is three, are playing with their pony pals.  Everything is going fine until Kim asks to take a turn with Deidra’s special glitter pony and Deidra refuses to share. Kim starts to get upset and so you go in to see what’s causing the fuss. Kim is crying and asks you to please “make Deidre share with me.”  Deidra says no, this is her special pony and she doesn’t want anyone else to play with him.  Kim is in full meltdown by now and is trying to pry the glitter pony from Deidra’s hands.  What’s a mom to do?

First and foremost….take a deep breath and pause.  Notice that instant flash of heat in your belly and your thinking which has probably gone haywire with thoughts such as:  “Why can’t I ever get five minutes of peace so I can do the things I need to do around here?”  or “That’s just like Deidra, selfish and uncaring” or “They will never grow up and learn to get along with each other…this is the story of my life!”

When our buttons are pushed, the thinking part of our brain shuts down and we are hijacked into a fight or flight reaction where our thinking becomes exaggerated and fatalistic.  If we act when we are in this mode, chances are it’s going to be ugly and no true learning will take place. 

That’s why the pause is so important.  It allows us to calm that fire in our belly and shift back into our thinking brain where we can respond from a place of choice. So now that you’re back to calm, what do you choose to do?

Here are some options (and my guess as to the path each option will take us down):

1.  You take the pony out of Deidre’s hand and give it to Kim.  It’s important that Deidre learns to share whether she wants to or not.  It’s the polite thing to do.
The Path: Deidre will have a sense of powerlessness.  She will learn that if you’re bigger, you can exert power over smaller people.  She will start to resent her sister and take her frustrations out on her every chance she gets. Kim will learn that in order to get what she wants, she just needs to throw a fit and you will come running.

2.  You try to distract Kim with other pretty ponies and tell her, “That glitter pony is old anyway.  No one wants to play with him.”
The Path: If the ploy “works” and you succeed in distracting Kim away from wanting the pony, it’s not likely to be for long.  In a few minutes, the fighting will ensue over some new toy.  That’s because the issue of sharing has not been resolved and no learning has taken place.  Plus, Deidre may feel hurt that you spoke about her special pony in such a way.

3.  You tell the kids that if they can’t work this out on their own then they’ll each be sent to their room  to play alone.
The Path: If it’s gotten to this point, it’s unlikely that they will be able to work this out on their own without your support. They are both also hijacked by their limbic system into a fight or flight mode.  If you follow through and send them each to their room they will learn that when life gets messy, no one around here knows how to straighten it out. The message they internalize will be, “When the going gets tough, I’m on my own.” 

4.  You go deeper than the behavior and search for what is driving it…what is each child needing in the moment?  You show understanding for what’s happening with each child.
You might say something like, “Deidre, are you wanting to be able to choose for yourself when you’re willing to share your toys–or not?”  You show  that you understand what Kim is feeling by saying, “Kim, you really want to play with that glitter pony.  You really want your sister to let you play with him.”  Then, you might invite them to help you problem-solve: “It looks like we have a dilemma. What can we do?”  Chances are they can’t hear you…yet. Kim may try to grab, Deidre may clutch tighter to the pony.  But if you remain calm and confident that together as a “team” you can find a solution, then the odds are greater that you will. 

Respect Deidre’s need to make choices about her possessions and be there for Kim as she goes through her intense feelings of not getting what she wants.  When the commotion dies down, together you may come up with some guidelines around sharing: (1) if an item (such as the glitter pony) is not for sharing, then it will be left out of sight when the sisters play together, (2) if both sisters want to play with the same toy at the same time, then they will play “rock, paper, scissors” to see who gets it first, (3) if there’s a squabble over a toy, then the toy gets to take a break in another room for 10 minutes.

The Path: The bottom line is…we can’t teach our children to share by forcing them because true sharing comes from the heart. By respecting each child’s boundaries and willingness (or not) to share, we send the message that  “Your voice matters.  You can say no if you don’t want to share.”  Now of course we also want to encourage empathy and seeing the needs and wishes of others…but that’s hard to do if we don’t sense that anyone sees our needs and wishes first.  In the teen years, we will be glad that we instilled in our child that her voice matters, that she can set boundaries and say no.

And for the child who so wanted to play with that toy and was denied, we send the message “I know it’s hard. It’s okay to have your feelings.”  And you know what?  She survives and she builds up resilience to life’s many frustrations and disappointments.

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥

Be proactive when teaching values to your children.  Don’t wait for a conflict over a toy to try to teach sharing.  Set your kids up for success by planning strategies to “practice” sharing when everyone is in a good mood.  Encourage them to come up with their own solutions, such as:  taking turns choosing a toy to play with, setting a timer then switching toys with each other, etc.

You can also model sharing by having your own toy box of toys which you joyfully share with them.  Share your toys with their friends when they come over too.