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.)

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.]

 

Summer Family Vacations — what to do with all that togetherness!

vacation PAIDSummer vacations with the family can be the best of times or the worst of times. Confining airplanes or exhausting hours together in the car, boring hotel rooms or funky cabins on muddy lakes and six straight days of rain – family vacations can make you wish you had chosen a “staycation” instead!

On the other hand, exploring new places together, sharing leisurely time and goofing-off for days at a stretch, meeting new people or reuniting with loving relatives – family vacations can be the best thing since summers were invented.

If you’d like to have more of the best of times and less of the worst, here’s 5 tips to increase your odds:

  1. First of all, watch out for great expectations. Your own and the kids’. Enjoy the surprise of the vacation as it unfolds. This doesn’t mean don’t make plans. By all means, do make plans. And include everyone in the planning. Maps, brochures, photographs, share them all beforehand so that everyone knows what’s possible. Make check-lists, too, with responsibilities for everyone. And then hold those plans lightly so that unexpected adventures and spontaneous fun can be part of the mix too.
  1. Allow plenty of time, don’t jam-pack days or crowd too much into the trip. If you’re traveling with young children or toddlers, take short jumps instead of long leaps. If you’re driving, stop often, get out and stretch, move around. Consider picnics instead of restaurant meals.
  1. Keep it simple. Don’t schedule so many activities that there’s no time for just hanging out. Build in rest-time, too. Tempers have a tendency to flare when everyone’s packed together day and night for long stretches of time. Create alone time, for you and the children. Everyone needs recharging. Remember, both boredom and over-stimulation can result in acting out–so strive for balance.
  1. Keep a log or scrapbook to record your family vacations and take it along with you on each trip.  You can spend a few minutes at the end of each day recapping that day’s adventures and toss in any momentos, like ticket stubs, photos, tic-tac-toe games and pressed flowers.  Believe me, the few minutes you take to record your impressions while they are fresh will gift you with cherished (and detailed) memories when your kids are grown.
  2. Be sure and allow a day or two for re-entry before you go back to work and the children return to their summer routine. Coming home can be as stressful as leaving. Plan some space for a relaxing re-entry and make homecoming part of the vacation, too.
Author’s content used under license, © Claire Communications

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.

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.

 

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.

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?

Are you and your partner on the same page?

couple fighting PAIDWhen it comes to something as important and intentional as raising children, it’s no wonder that there is often conflict between parents about the best way to go about it.
While it’s not necessary for both parents to have the exact same parenting style; it is better when you can work together in a way that complements each other, rather than  conflicts with each other.  So how do you work through your differences in order to share a common vision, appreciate each other’s strengths, and work together as a team?
To start with, it helps to reframe how you view conflict around parenting and any other areas of your relationship.  Conflict is inevitable, but all those extra layers of suffering we pile on it are not — the name-calling, the aggression, the anger, the shutting-down, the withdrawing.  These are all tragic expressions of unmet needs that we don’t have a clue about how to get met and so we unskillfully add salt to the wound.
Conflicts are actually wonderful opportunities to model for your children how to problem-solve and resolve differences with respect, honesty, and authenticity. These will be life-skills that your children will carry into their own relationships.
The only problem is…this is hard to model for your kids if you didn’t have it modeled for you.  And it’s not like the school system we were educated in taught these skills either.  These kinds of communication and problem-solving skills often have to be learned in adulthood.  But hey, better late than never, right?
Fortunately, I’ve found a way to help couples learn, practice, and hone these skills through a process that I call the Couples Communication Game (CCGame). There are 3 phases to the CCGame:   Phase 1 uses a unique deck of cards which supports each person getting clear on what’s important to them about the situation.  Phase 2 is a process which supports each person feeling fully heard and understood.  In Phase 3,  we problem-solve and learn how to make concrete, doable, positive requests to help each person get closer to what they identified was important in Phase 1.
I’m actually giddy with the results I’ve seen so far and the potential for this Game to be a real “game-changer” in families.
If you would like to explore if this process could help you and your partner “get on the same page,” email me at sherri (at) parentingheart (dot) com.   I’d be happy to tell you more and answer your questions.

Hear what other couples are saying about the CCGame:

“We have attended two different kinds of counseling during the last couple of years but we still continued to have some of the same stresses in our relationship.  The Couples Communication Game was a different approach.  It seemed to get to the core of the matter more easily.  Using the cards, we both felt we were being heard and it gave us a tool to express a need that we maybe would have had difficulty expressing without the cards.  After just 3 sessions with Sherri and the CCGame, we are pleased that on a few occasions we have been successful at a beginner’s level with using the strategies of the Game outside of the sessions.  We would recommend the CCGame to anyone who has a relationship that is important to them.”   — Sarah Keeling and Bob Hayes

“My husband and I did three sessions of the Couples Communication Game with Sherri.  It was a very good experience for us.  We found that working with Sherri as a coach, and using the form of the Couples Communication Game really helped us to jump start working through our differences in a more focused way.  The visual of having the game board and the cards, and having Sherri there as a coach made a huge difference for us.  We didn’t get stuck or stalled by differences of opinion.  We had a neutral, non-judging voice to help us through rough spots.  We had the cards and game to help us when we were stuck about identifying our feelings and needs.  I felt that the structure of this game helped us to zero in on where our conflicts were, and not go off track and get distracted.  Now we can do the game on our own, knowing that we have Sherri as a resource if we get stuck on something.  Thank you, Sherri!”  –Audrey , Decatur, Georgia

“A heartfelt Thank You to an amazing person, friend and coach.  We are so glad that Sherri was there for us during this difficult time and was equipped with just the right professional skills and tools. The Couples Communication Game we worked through with Sherri has made a tremendous difference in our lives. We have been married for only 4 years, but have faced many difficult situations already and were at a point of feeling stuck.  The CCG got us thinking clearer and deeper, listening better to each other’s needs and refreshing and renewing meaningful and deep communication about what truly matters.  Sherri effectively got to the root of things, that we could not have gotten to ourselves.  She guided us through issues and we were able to set realistic, clear and specific resolutions.  We are thankful to know about this great tool which we can use over and over again. We highly recommend this tool not only to people looking for support with communication, but also to anyone looking to refresh relationships and investing in what truly matters.  We could not have asked for a better coach to guide us through this process and can highly recommend Sherri.”  –Jacqueline & Andrew, Atlanta, GA

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?

What I would ask Nancy Lanza

Memorial for Sandy Hook victims

Even as the New Year dawns and I’m teased with new beginnings and bright possibilities, I’m also still mourning how the Old Year concluded with the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  I find that I keep vacillating between tears and numbness; I can only hold so much sorrow and despair before I have to shut down for a while and not feel. Then slowly, the sadness and grief return.

What has touched me most in this ordeal is reading about Adam’s mom, Nancy, and how it appears she was so isolated while dealing with her son’s increasingly extreme social withdrawal. Aside from a few conversations with casual friends, it appears that she faced her uncertainties, worries, and hard choices alone.  Her acquaintances are quick to describe her as happy and cheerful, but I imagine a different Nancy Lanza living behind the closed doors of her big beautiful home in Newtown.  I imagine a mom who desperately wanted her son to “fit in” and who was sick with worry about how to reach him as he slipped away, receding further and further into his own world.

This breaks my heart because it hits close to home for me. When my son was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder and we were dealing with some pretty severe behaviors day in and day out and I, too, felt he was slipping away, there were times when I thought I would lose my mind.  If I hadn’t had a couple good friends around me to hear my painful stories, to witness my struggles and to just be there to love me through it, I don’t know how it would have turned out. (Thank you Faye and Donna!) What I learned from that experience is it’s easy to become isolated when you have a “problem” child.  It’s hard to find sitters and play dates and friends who will go the distance with you.

I see this isolation often as I work with parents who have children with challenging behaviors, whether it’s violent outbursts or extreme social withdrawal.  It’s easy to wag a finger at the parent and find fault with their parenting.  It’s easy to give well-meaning advice of just do this, and that should solve the problem.  But unless you’ve ever lived with a child who doesn’t respond the same way as a “normal” child to “traditional” parenting techniques, then I’m here to tell you, “You don’t have a clue!”  What these parents need is not finger-wagging and advice, but compassion and acceptance, so that they feel like part of the human family again.

We can second-guess Nancy and think, “if only she had done this, that, or the other,” and we can blame her for taking Adam to shooting ranges and teaching him to fire a gun—just like we can judge the actions or inactions of other parents who have “weird” or “unruly” or “bully” kids.   But I don’t think fault-finding helps anyone.  I think it fuels the shame and fear of judgment that parents of children who are “different” often feel.  And shame and fear is what keeps these parents and families isolated.  What I would like to see is for us to love and support the Nancy Lanzas in our communities–the parents who are struggling with family life, often very much alone.

If only I could get in a time machine and reach out to Nancy before this awful tragedy, I would ask her, “You seem worried.  What’s going on?  How can I help?  What do you need?”  I would listen with my whole heart and I would hold a safe non-judgmental space for her to share her struggles, and to begin to heal.  Because I know when parents heal their own pain, they can help their children to heal too.  When parents receive compassion and acceptance themselves, they can extend the same to their children…and there’s a lot of children out there starving for compassion and acceptance.

As a parenting educator/coach, I’ve seen the power of a group of parents who come together to support each other.  A foundation of my classes is developing empathic listening, so parents are paired up and spend time outside of class just listening to each other.  Not giving advice, not trying to fix or console, but just listening. The parents are always astounded at how much this simple practice supports them.  As one mom recently said, “My friends and I talk all the time about parenting stuff, but this is a different quality of listening.  The word that comes to mind is transformative.”

Who knows what kind of ripple effect a supportive listening ear would have made for Nancy and possibly many other lives?  Would it have been enough to change the trajectory of what was to come?  It’s too late to know the answer in regards to Nancy Lanza, but there are many struggling, exhausted parents out there right now who need our support—perhaps it’s your neighbor, perhaps it’s your sister-in-law, perhaps it’s you.

My vision is a world where we create emotionally-safe, judgment-free communities where parents can come together,  share their struggles, be accepted no matter what is happening or how they are handling it, and be supported and nurtured by each other.  If this sounds like the kind of community you would like to be a part of, I invite you to join me in this quest and reach out to a parent who is struggling in your community today.
Rest in peace…Nancy, Allison, Ana Grace, Anne Marie, Avielle, Benjamin, Caroline, Catherine, Charlotte, Chase, Daniel, Dawn, Dylan, Emilie, Grace, Jack, James, Jesse, Jessica, Josephine, Lauren, Madeleine, Mary, Noah, Olivia Rose, Rachel, Victoria, and Adam.

What to do when your child says “no!”

I 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.  🙂

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!

Welcome To My ParentingHeart Blog!

I’m excited to share with you my new blogsite on parenting.  My intention is to provide a forum where we can explore together and support each other in our parenting adventures.  I’ve been a parent educator/workshop facilitator since 2005 and in March, 2011 was certified as a parenting coach. 

I hope you find the blogs useful, helpful and inspiring and I look forward to hearing from you.

From my parentingheart to yours,
Sherri