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)

 

 

Keeping the Focus on Relationship

This post was orginally published on August 5, 2011

Next week my kids go off to school and as always, the bittersweet nostalgia sets in.  I so enjoy the summer months and spending more time with my kids.  I so look forward to school starting again so I can regain some focus on work, some peace and quiet, and some “normalcy” to our days and schedules.

This year my older son goes to high school and I am humbled by my relative lack of influence on his choices.  Gone are the days when I could share my values with him while he sat intently listening, asking questions, and formulating his own ideas and opinions—which pretty much mimicked my own.  Now I worry that our values seem so far apart.  Our priorities so different.  Our attempts at resolving conflicts messy and requiring lots of effort and self-empathy.

At 14, he is just entering those murky waters of the teen years.  Already we’ve wrestled with some big issues that could easily shake even a sturdy foundation.  I’m often gripped by fear when I observe behavior I label “risky,” “dangerous,” “self-destructive.”  I constantly walk a fine line between honoring his needs for autonomy, expression, and freedom and my needs for trust, safety and his wellbeing.  I seem to constantly be in the mode of relationship repair.  Conscious parenting is not for the faint-hearted.

And still there is comfort in knowing that we can repair the relationship when the connection breaks.  We do know a way back and have found it many times.  I’ve worked with families where the chasm in their connection is so wide that it can seem quite hopeless to build a bridge across.  And yet I know that certain conscious parenting processes, like Parenting From Your Heart and Connection Parenting, can support families in establishing, repairing, and maintaining trust and connection.  Even in those difficult teen years.

Compared to other processes, conscious parenting may take more time and effort.  It’s often easier to use power-over, especially when the kids are young, to get the behavior and “cooperation” we want.  But just try “counting to three” with a teenager or forcing a teenager to sit in “timeout.”  I think you’ll find those behavior modification techniques are short-lived and buy you a little extra time at best. At worst, they tend to be disconnecting and alienating, the antithesis of relationship-building.

The work of conscious parenting, of building a relationship with your child based on mutual respect and trust, is harder and takes more time.  You often don’t see results right away.  It may take weeks or months or even years to build the trust.  Why would you want to put that much time and effort into it?  Because keeping the focus on relationship rather than behavior allows the process to grow as you and your child grow (not just in age, but also in consciousness and skills).  Behavior modification techniques come and go according to the latest trend or parenting guru.  A connecting relationship between you and your child transcends all ages, developmental stages, trends and “experts.”   Keeping the door open to communication and connection serves the relationship when your child is a toddler and carries over into when your child grows into an adult.  A solid relationship built of mutual respect and trust provides a strong sturdy foundation that lasts a lifetime!  I mean, way past the teen years.  Isn’t that worth the extra effort?

Know Thyself: Part 1

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Imagine if you will, you’re on a bus getting ready to go on a long journey.  There’s a seemingly endless winding road before you and, even though the destination is not exactly clear, you’re in good spirits and feeling an exciting sense of adventure as the bus pulls out onto the highway.

At the beginning of the journey, all is well.  The wheels hum along, there’s lots of beautiful scenery, and the bus driver seems skilled and competent as she steers the bus around the curves in the road.

But then the rain begins, and the road narrows and starts to climb a steep mountain pass.  You feel the wheels slip on the curves and when you peer over the edge, the dizzying view of the valley far below sends a shiver up your spine.  But the real horror begins when you look at the bus driver and realize she’s been replaced by a little child!  A child whose feet barely touch the pedals and she’s straining to see above the steering wheel!  Her knuckles are white as she grips the wheel fighting to keep the bus from careening into the perilously close abyss.

Not a comforting image is it?  But this is similar to what’s going on in our brains when we are in reaction mode.  I’m talking about when our buttons get pushed.  I’m talking about when we are triggered by our kid’s behavior.  These are the moments when our “adult mind” abandons the driver’s seat and the frightened “little child within” grabs the wheel in her best effort to help us survive.

When we react to our child’s behavior in a way that creates disconnection in the relationship, i.e. yelling, shaming, blaming, hitting, punishing…(you get the picture), then you can bet that our “little child within” is driving the bus.  What happens is that our rational thinking brain, the prefrontal cortex, is abandoned [our “adult” self] … and the survival part of our brain, the fight/flight/freeze zone, is activated [our “little child” self].

In Part 2 of this series, I’ll talk about the neuroscience behind our reaction mode, but for this article, I want to discuss the crucial initial steps that are necessary to coax the adult self back into the driver’s seat…so that you can at least collaborate adult-to-adult about how to proceed safely up the mountain.

Step 1.  Be aware of who is driving the bus
The first step is to recognize when the rational thinking part of your brain has been abandoned and the amygdala (the fight/flight/freeze zone) has been activated.  Often we’re not even aware that this has happened.  If you hear yourself giving outlandish consequences (“We will never go to the park again young man!”  Or “No screen time for the next two months!“), your amygdala has been hijacked.  Same thing if you are reacting like I listed above:  yelling, shaming, blaming, hitting, or punishing.  Start to grow your awareness by getting into the habit of asking yourself, “Who is driving the bus in this moment?

Step 2. Put on the brakes
Hit the pause button.  Regroup.  Get to calm.

In order to get the prefrontal cortex back online, you first have to do something to calm the nervous system.  Do whatever it is you do to calm yourself down:  remove yourself from the situation, take a walk, breathe ten deep breaths, take a bubble bath, meditate, do yoga, go for a run, or pet the dog.
Hint:  When you discover what it is that helps you  get to calm, start to do it for at least 10 minutes every day.  When you’ve built up a daily calm practice, it will help you get to calm much faster during those trigger moments.

Step 3.  Get out your broom and dustpan
Go back and clean up the mess you made before you remembered to do Steps 1 and 2.
In Connection Parenting classes, we call these the 3 R’s:  Rewind, Repair, and Replay.

It can sound like this, “I regret that I yelled at you a little while ago.  You didn’t deserve that and that’s not how I wish to speak to you.  Even though I was really upset, I wish I had expressed myself like this….” and then you replay how you would have responded if the skillful, competent adult had stayed in the driver’s seat.
Warning:  You may be tempted to skip this step after everyone has calmed down.  Why bring the subject back up and risk emotions getting high again?  But sweeping these events under the rug erodes the relationship over time.  When you get out your broom and dustpan, go for the deep clean and restore the connection.  These repairs to the relationship can make it even stronger than before!

Stay tuned for Know Thyself: Part 2

I Will Make Time Because You Matter To Me

During my parenting classes I hand out slips of paper to each parent for them to fill in.  On the piece of paper it reads:

“Dear _____, I want to support you in building healthy self-worth.  For you are loveable and you are valuable.  One thing I will do every day this week to spend quality engaging time with you is: ________________.  I will make time for this because you matter to me.” 

This is an attempt to get the parents to think concretely about things they can do with their children to build connection and nurture the relationship.  It’s easy enough to think, “Oh, I will pay more attention to my children this week.”  But–unless you can concretely visualize doing that in your mind and you set a strong intention–daily living, responsibilities and distractions tend to get in the way.  I encourage parents to fill in the slips of paper (one for each child) and put them on the refrigerator or the bathroom mirror or somewhere where they are daily reminded of their intention to connect and nurture.

One mom reported at the next meeting that initially she was a little confused when I gave her one for her new baby.   She had no trouble envisioning activities she could do with her 4 year old (like reading a book together, creating dinner together, going to the park with their bikes) but what can I do with a baby? she wondered.  

After some thought, she decided to give it try.  She wrote “Dear Samuel, I want to support you in building healthy self-worth.  For you are loveable and you are valuable.  One thing I will do every day this week to spend quality engaging time with you is: to look into your eyes while you are nursing.  I will make time for this because you matter to me.” 

She reported that when she started doing this, looking into her baby’s eyes instead of doing other tasks (like checking emails) while he nursed, that she felt a sweet connection with her baby who also gazed up into his mother’s eyes.  She also noticed what a difference it made in her, as her body relaxed, as her mind enjoyed a peaceful moment, and as she let the responsibilities of the day fade into the background.  The moment became  just about mother and baby, connecting and bonding. The shift helped her to connect with herself and with her baby and she came to enjoy these precious nursing breaks in her day, instead of seeing them as a necessity that got in the way of doing other things.

Haven’t most of us been there before?  Overwhelmed as parents and multi-tasking to get things done? I can clearly remember standing at the stove stirring a pot with one hand, holding a nursing baby with the other, while talking on the phone which was wedged between my neck and ear.  Really?  How much would it have cost me in time if I had put the pot on simmer, told my friend that I would call her back, and sat down in the comfy chair with my baby and gazed into his eyes as he nursed?  Did I really save that much time by doing it all at once?  And more importantly, did I lose something with that choice….like a moment of sweet connection and bonding and a message with my eyes that said, “I will make time for this because you matter to me.”

I invite you to look at the choices you are making today.  What messages do they send to your child?

What is Parenting Coaching?

Parenting coaching, first and foremost, is a relationship.   The coach/client relationship enhances your ability to learn, make changes, and achieve desired goals. The coaching process leads you through a systematic framework that helps you to clarify your objectives, explore new options, make decisions and become accountable to act on your choices.

Often, coaching begins with choosing what areas you want to focus on in your family.  Are you experiencing challenges with “temper tantrums,”  sibling squabbling, defiant teenagers?  Are you wanting more connection and fun with your kids, more ease in your daily interactions, or more respect?  Focusing on your areas of concern, you use the coaching framework to set goals, create action items, and make commitments to change.  Together with your coach, you brainstorm strategies, analyze what worked and what didn’t, celebrate successes and receive encouragement and support to move forward toward your goals.

Your parenting coach holds your vision for your family and keeps you connected to it, even when the going gets tough.  Often your coach, as an outsider looking in, can provide an honest assessment and will challenge you to bring out the best in you.  With your parenting coach at your side, you will have the support you need to reach your parenting potential and create the family life you desire.

New Parenting ebook coming out

Yippeee!  I just finished writing my chapter for the forthcoming ebook anthologized by Academy for Coaching Parents International.  It took way longer than I had expected and I hope this writing thing gets easier and quicker as I do more and more of it.   I’d like to share an excerpt with you and would love to hear your thoughts.  What is the foundation for your relationship with your child(ren)?

Nurturing Connecting Through Setting Your Intentions excerpt:

               When it comes to building a strong connection, there are no shortcuts. Connection is the foundation of your relationship.   It requires awareness, intention, practice, and commitment—and all of this rests with you.  Connection doesn’t require your child to behave a certain way and it doesn’t require you to be a perfect parent.  It does, however, require you to be aware of how you habitually react to your child’s behavior and to have an understanding of how to effectively respond.

                When  you’re experiencing turbulence in your relationship or you’re feeling disconnected, notice what’s going on inside of you:

  • Are you trying to understand what is going on for your child? 
  • Are you offering compassion? 
  • Is your motive to correct, coerce, or punish? 

                Understanding and compassion lead to connection. Correction, coercion and punishment can lead to disconnection and discord.  Through coercive tactics you may be able to temporarily modify behavior, but in the long run, coercion erodes the parent-child bond and teaches your child to behave a certain way out of fear, guilt or shame.  Understanding and compassion, on the other hand, nurtures the parent-child bond and your child’s natural willingness to cooperate and contribute.

                So how do you nurture connection with your child during tense moments?  The most important thing you can do is to pause and  focus on your intention before you speak or react.

                When you pause, take the opportunity to remember how it feels when you are in close relationship with those you love.  For example, consider the kind of connection you feel when a friend really listens to you, not just gives you a nod of the head, but listens deeply, asking questions to be sure she understands what you’re saying.  It’s that warm feeling you get when your partner genuinely wants your input in a decision that will affect you both.  It’s the  tenderness you feel when you’ve made a regrettable mistake and instead of saying, “I told you so,” your friend empathizes with how embarrassed you feel.

                When real connection occurs,  deep needs are being met. Whether it is the need to be heard, the need to be considered or the need for empathy and understanding, connection meets needs.  And acting and speaking with the intention of meeting  needs is how you nurture connection and nourish relationship.  When you focus on your intention to connect, you are seeing the big picture of your relationship. 

                Connection doesn’t happen overnight and isn’t even always present from the moment of birth. Connection builds over time as trust is established and openness is embraced.  Once the foundation of your relationship has been laid and you’ve established a quality connection with your child, the ups and downs of daily living become more manageable and less stressful.  When this happens, teaching and modeling the behavior you desire is better received by your child.  

Watch for the ebook coming soon to my blogsite!