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)

 

 

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

 

I feel I can finally exhale

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

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

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

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

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

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

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥

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

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

Do your kids have to fight for power?

INTRO
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?

Where Do I Place My Attention?

I had a unique experience today which I believe will serve me well in my journey to become a more conscious parent.  Actually, I imagine it will help me in ALL my relationships, even the one with myself.  I was looking back over some notes I took at a workshop where the presenter talked about how our entire perspective can shift based on where we choose to place our attention.  You know the drill, do we see the glass as half full or half empty?  Depends on where we place our attention, right? 

Well I decided to do my own experiment as I was sitting in my easy chair in the living room reading through my notes.  I looked around the room and placed my attention on everything I could see that was “wrong” with the room.  All the things that I didn’t like about it.  And here’s what I noticed:  This room is too cluttered.  Look at all the stuff on those shelves!  Look at all the shoes piled in the corner; there must be 36 pairs of shoes in there!  The glass doors to the sunroom are hand smudged; I can see fingerprints from here.  And there’s a hole in the sunroom window screen.  There’s the baskets I bought just sitting on the floor.  I’ve never taken the time to rearrange the shelves and put them on there.  There’s the space on the shelf where the TV used to be; and there’s a hole in the wall where the back of the TV went and it’s patched with posterboard.  Jeez!  The couch slipcover is falling off.  I’ve never gotten around to getting new curtains and decorative pillows since the room was painted.   The new rugs already have dog hairs all over them.   And what kind of centerpiece is that for the mantel?:   a McDonald’s hamburger and french fries?! 
(Sidenote:  The kids and I saw a youtube video where someone saved a McDonald’s Happy Meal for 4 years and it didn’t spoil, rot, or get moldy!  So we bought one too.  Our Happy Meal will celebrate its first birthday next month and although it has gotten hard, it pretty much looks the same as it did about a year ago. It’s aging better than I am and the experiment occupies a place of honor on our fireplace mantel where it’s a real conversation starter… but that’s another story…)

Want to know how I was feeling after taking this visual inventory?  I was bummed!  I wanted to throw everything out and start from scratch.   I felt yucky sitting in my easy chair in that horrible room. 

Okay…Phase 2 of the experiment:  I closed my eyes and took 3 deep breaths.  I still felt yucky.  I took 7 more breaths.  And then I opened my eyes and I placed my attention on everything I liked about the room.  I love those shelves.  There’s plenty of room for books and more books.  And look at all those shoes!  My kids are so blessed to have so many to choose from:  basketball shoes, baseball cleats, tennis shoes, sandals, slip-ons, crocs.  How much of the world goes barefoot?  And here my kids have a shoe for everything they do, including doing nothing!  Those wicker baskets are going to look fabulous when I get those shelves rearranged.  And I bet if I put a basket right there on that shelf, it will hide the hole in the wall  where the TV was.  Isn’t it nice not to have a TV in the living room anymore?  Now when we’re together in the living room, we’re really together.   I love the new light color on the walls.  It has really brightened up the room.  Just look at all that light that comes in from the sunroom windows.  I can see through the wall of windows out into the trees.  It’s so green and alive!  And the new sisal rugs, they’ve really added natural texture to the room.  I actually like how the 16-year-old sofa was transformed by a slipcover when it just wasn’t in the budget to buy a new couch.  Look at that unique centerpiece!  I bet no one else has that on their mantel… if anyone gets hungry, there’s a burger and fries within easy reach!

I had to smile after this new inventory.  I loved my room!  It was bright and cozy and well…lived in.  The shift inside me was amazing.  Absolutely nothing about my external environment had changed, but now I really enjoyed and appreciated my room and all its reminders of family around me.

What if I applied this to my parenting?  What if I chose to place my attention on what I love and appreciate about my children?   What if I actively noticed and what if I expressed it to them?  What if I noticed all the things I love and appreciate about my spouse?  My parents?  My colleagues?  The man who carefully arranges my Subway sub?  The cashier who scans my groceries?  What if I noticed what I love and appreciate about myself?  How might my world change?

That’s my assignment for the coming weeks.  Anyone want to join me?

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!