How Doing Less Could Make You A Better Parent

Last week I had the great pleasure of observing one of Janet Lansbury’s RIE classes here in Los Angeles. I have known of RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) since my kids were very little, but never really delved into it or understood what drew people to it until I met Janet and another colleague of hers, Lisa Sunbury, last year. Both Janet and Lisa studied with the founder of RIE, Magda Gerber, and are passionate advocates for children. I have learned a great deal about respectful interactions with children by paying close attention to what these two remarkable women share on their blogs and elsewhere.

As I sat in Janet’s bright, spacious classroom I noticed a sign on the wall which read:

The goal of RIE is to raise authentic infants who are:

Competent — Confident
Focused — Aware
Peaceful — Secure
Inner-Directed — Attentive
Involved — Curious
Cheerful — Exploring
Cooperative — Interested
Resourceful — Initiating

Well, who wouldn’t want that for their child? This sounded pretty great! So I settled in and watched, notebook ready to write down all the ways in which one accomplished these goals! You know me, I love being able to put things into practice after a good class. After a few minutes I realized this class was going to be different. On the outside it seemed as though nothing was happening. The adults simply sat along the wall and watched the babies crawl about the thoughtfully laid out toys. Occasionally, Janet would quietly comment when a baby showed her something they had found, now and then she would extend a hand to protect a child who looked as though he might topple off something he had crawled on to. But there was very little “action” from adults, just a whole lot of observation.

As I watched the children moving about the room, I was struck by how much I noticed their emerging “people-ness” (if that’s even a word). That is, without parents’ over-involvement, or need to intervene, it was quite clear that these 14 – 18 month old babies were less “baby” and more “person”. I could see how all of those words on that list on the wall applied to each of the 6 kids in the room.

I loved how no one encouraged the child who was hanging back to move out into the room before she was ready. No one stopped any of the children from picking up, mouthing, banging or piling up any of the toys. No one told the child with the plastic basket on her head that it wasn’t for wearing, she was just allowed to figure it out for herself how she wanted to use it. Each child was doing his or her own thing and by simply observing I could see the curiosity, silliness, inventiveness, and ability to discover that each child has.

The other aspect of RIE that struck me was this idea that our children are so much more capable than we give them credit for. There is less need than we think to jump in to fix things, less need to “help” our kids, less need to teach. Janet recently wrote a terrific post on her blog called The Parenting Magic Word (10 Ways To Use It). What was that word, you ask? Wait. Yes, wait. And I watched as Janet did this, time and again, in this class.

Two children toddled out on to an outside deck and began to remark that it was “hot” on the floor. So many parents would have rushed to put on the child’s shoes, or remove the child from the area, but Janet and the parents in the class listened and watched as one girl went back and forth from the cool floor of the indoor classroom to the warm wood of the outdoor deck, discovering the difference for herself. Later, another girl discovered a large circular hole in one of the play cubes and managed to wedge herself into it in a half sitting, half falling position. Her reaction was not one of panic or fear, but rather that she was noticing the fact that she was stuck and, perhaps, uncomfortable. As Janet sat next to her, ready to assist, the girl figured out over the course of a minute or two, how to get herself out of the predicament she had found herself in. It would have been so easy for an adult to misread the child’s cues if they had not been quietly observing. And had a grownup simply reached in and gotten the girl out, nothing would have been learned. But by waiting, this child developed a sense of confidence that she was quite capable of helping herself.

For 90 minutes I watched 6 children who were never bored, had no need to be “entertained” by adults, enjoyed the few open ended toys in completely novel ways and never once cried. At the end of the class I wrote a note to myself: “Why rush through things? Have no agenda – it’s all part of play and learning”. How much that attitude would help when it comes to power struggles and tantrums!

If you would like to learn more about RIE, I highly suggest checking out Janet Lansbury’s blog, Elevating Childcare or the official RIE website.

I wish I had understood RIE better when my kids were really little. I followed it, loosely, without knowing it, in certain ways. But I wish I had understood that I could build my children’s confidence and resourcefulness by doing less and observing more! What about you? Do you follow RIE? Does the idea of it resonate for you? I’d love to know your thoughts.

A Special Discount For My Readers Only

Just about every mother I know has some sort of charm necklace with her children’s names or initials engraved on them. Grandmothers love them, aunts and big sisters wear them, even I have a set my husband gave me.

Today I came across a lovely jewelry line called Jordann Jewelry who offers, among other things, really unique engraved charms.The designer has graciously offered readers of The Twin Coach a 15% discount on any purchase made between July 28th and August 3rd, 2011. Read on to find out how!

Jordann Jewelry is a collection inspired by the Magnolia flower, a symbol of dignity and perseverance. The collection offers a full range of pieces that include earrings, necklaces, rings, bangles and personalized charms. The jewelry is glamorous and elegant while still being fun, flirty and whimsical. Each piece can be worn alone or layered with other pieces. The pieces are made in the USA and are available in Sterling Silver, and/or 14k Yellow Gold Vermeil.

The collection, which launched in 2009 in Palm Beach, Florida, has been a favorite of the New York to Palm Beach jetset crowd, tastemakers and Hollywood celebrities.

The designer, Jordann Weingartner is a young mom who understands the importance of wearing something that symbolizes your love and devotion to your family, which is why she created the monogrammed charms.

Celebrity moms also love the monogrammed Magnolia charms. Kourtney Kardashian wears an “M” medium sized Magnolia gold pendent necklace. She also ordered the Magnolia monogrammed ring with her son’s initials. Katherine Heigl wears the gold magnolia pendent necklace engraved with an “N” for her daughter and Ashlee Simpson Wentz has the necklace with a “B” for her son.

Just this year, Jordann Jewelry introduced the engraved enamel charm, available in a variety of colors. She is one of the first designers to engrave on enamel, offering a personalized necklace, with a pop of color.

On the charitable side, Jordann Jewelry designs the official necklace and bracelet for Locks of Love. This is the “official” jewelry of the organization, giving 25% of each sale directly to them to support the funding of providing hairpieces to under-privileged children who are suffering from Cancer or Alopecia

Prices range from $24 to $350. For more information, and to place an order, visit www.jordannjewelry.com. Use the word TWINS at checkout for your 15% discount! This offer is only good for one week (July 28th through August 3, 2011).

I hope you can use this to get yourself, or someone you love, a little something special. And please, share this with everyone you know…don’t you love being the one who passes on a good deal to your friends? I know I do!

Feeling Gratitude. Really, Truly, Deeply

“I don’t want to teach my kids to say ‘thank you’ to someone just because it’s polite and kind. I want them to say it because they feel gratitude. From a place deep inside. A place they are very aware of.”
~ Annie Burnside

I read this quote in a great post today by Jim Higley on The Good Men Project. In it, he spoke about wanting to help his children feel really and truly grateful.

I think we all want our children to have gratitude for what we provide for them, for what we do for them, for the things they have. We remind our children a hundred times a day, “say thank you”. But do we ever stop to think that there is so much more to giving thanks than just saying the words?

I’ve written before about trying to instill a sense of gratitude in my children, but after reading Jim’s post I began to wonder if I was focusing merely on my children’s sense of entitlement. In reading his list of things he wanted his children to be grateful for, I realized there was so much more and that I was missing a big part of what helps children really feel grateful.

with grandpaIt’s very simple and with all my focus on emotional intelligence I can’t believe I didn’t think about it before: we need to help them connect to how they feel in the moment.

In a way, it’s fairly easy to do when receiving something like a gift or a home cooked meal. For example, to start the process ask, “how did it make you feel when your friend got you that toy you’ve been wanting for so long? It must make you feel good that someone knows you so well that they knew exactly what you wanted for your birthday!” Or, if they received something which isn’t quite so exciting, one can say “Mom spent a lot of time making that meal for you, how do you feel when she does something like that?” Continue down that road and ask them how saying “thank you” to that person might make them feel and contemplate on how making others feel good in turn makes us feel good, ourselves. Using the word “grateful” often with your children will help connect the feelings and the acts in a more concrete way.

But how to help them understand gratitude in the larger sense? How do I teach them that there are things to be thankful for that have nothing to do with receiving something tangible? How do I help them understand these things in a deep, internal way?

I realize that there is so much each day that I am grateful for that I don’t express out loud to them. Perhaps I don’t even take the time to acknowledge it to myself and just let those moments flicker past without fully being aware. If I don’t do it, how can I expect my kids to know how to do it? I may point out a beautiful flower to them, but do I express how it makes me feel peaceful, happy and connected to nature when I am in a garden? Do I tell them how the smell of fresh berries reminds me of happy days at my grandmother’s house watching her make mulberry jam? Do I connect that happy memory to a feeling of gratitude that I had my grandparents in my life for so many years? No, not consciously. But what if I did? Wouldn’t I feel more alive, more happy, more grateful? And wouldn’t this trickle down in so many ways to my children?

bougainvilleaAnd what if I were to point out all the marvelous, but ordinary, things that I am so grateful for each day? My son’s giggle as he listens to something silly on the radio, my daughter’s excited whisper as she describes her latest drawing, the way my husband’s foot always touches mine when he sleeps, the explosion of pink and orange bougainvillea in our backyard…why let all of that loveliness just happen without acknowledgement?

I’m going to try this idea and see what happens. I’m going to express my own gratitude for the little things, connect it to the way I feel, share it with my kids and see if they can begin to do it, too. Why not? It can’t hurt! What about you? Do you feel like your kids are grateful for what’s around them? Do you acknowledge your own gratitude? I’d love to know how you handle gratitude in your family.

Want To Talk About Siblings?

Some of you may already know that I have been talking about working on a book about sibling relationships. By “working” I mean trying really, really hard to find time in between everything else I have going on in my life to formulate a coherent thought or two and write it somewhere that is not my blog, Twitter, Facebook or Google+.  

That being said, I have made the giant leap forward to say, out loud, that I am working on this book. I even have a writing partner with lots of degrees and credentials to work with me on it. So now I guess I actually have to do it. And if I have to do it, I need your help. But your part is easy. All I really need from you at this point is to take a few minutes to answer a survey I’ve put together.

If you have siblings of your own and/or are raising more than one child, I’d love if you have 10 minutes or so to answer a few questions about the sibling relationships in your life. It would really help with our research.

And if you could pass on this post about the survey to your friends, your parenting groups, post on your Facebook pages etc., I would greatly appreciate it. Oh, and as a way to say thanks, two people will be chosen at random to win a $25 Amazon gift card. 

Need Ideas For When You’re Stuck At Home With The Kids?

This weekend in Los Angeles one of our major freeways is shut down for about 55 hours. That’s right. For a little over 2 days no one will be able to drive along the 405 freeway for the stretch between the 10 freeway and the 101 freeway. For those of you not in LA, I’m sure you’re thinking, “so what?”.

People are freaking out about it here. I’m originally from New York where driving is a definite luxury and most people take public transportation regardless of how much you earn or where you live. Here in LA just about everyone drives. Even if you’re just going a few blocks to the post office…you drive. People are so freaked out about the closure that they’ve coined a name for it: Carmageddon. There’s even a website dedicated to it: Car-Mageddon.com where you can get paraphernalia and watch a time clock tick down the seconds until…until what? Until you might have to stay at home for 2 days and enjoy some down time with your family?

That’s what we’re planning to do. We’ll be home together enjoying a couple of days where we’re not rushing here and there to activities. So, I’ve been trying to collect as many fun ideas for indoor or backyard activities as I can so I don’t end up using the TV to save me from crazy, cooped up kids! I thought I would share some of my favorite craft and activity resources (and of course, I would love your additions, too)!

  1. The very fabulous Childhood 101 has a great section on their blog called Playopedia which is a comprehensive list of creative play ideas from around the web all linked back to the original blogs (so it’s also a great place to find new blogs to read). It is truly a fantastic resource.
  2. Another blog I love that has great kid activities is Frugal Family Fun Blog. True to the blog’s name, it is full of activities that cost little, but provide tons of entertainment. I bought a bunch of water balloons for the weekend and sure enough Valerie, the author of Frugal Family Finds, had a cool idea to make water balloon yo-yos!
  3. craftTinker Lab is written by a super creative mama whose site is chock full of ideas. One thing I love is that she offers a drop-down menu for projects with subcategories for ages (from tiny babies to school-age) and type of play (visual art, science, everyday materials etc.). There really no end to the stuff you can find on her site! Her science section is one of my favorites mostly because I am so not science minded, but it is something I really want to introduce to my kids. One of the projects the blog’s author, Rachelle, suggests is Deconstructing A Computer Monitor. My son, especially, who is really into his tools and being a construction worker/handyman would go bananas for this. But I think my daughter would be equally intrigued.
  4. In our house, cardboard boxes are an endless source of fun. We make airplanes, houses, ice cream shops and more. The kids conceive the idea, decorate the boxes to suit their needs and play inside them until the boxes are falling apart. The Imagination Tree is a new site I found recently and I’m really digging it! One of my favorite ideas I found recently is Small World Play where the blog’s author created a little town inside a large box for her baby girl. But seriously, this is just one of the fabulous things you can find on this blog. One thing that’s special about The Imagination Tree is that Anna, the author, is also a teacher specializing in in early childhood education and art. So, many of her posts include the developmental reasons the particular projects are so great for our kids.
  5. I definitely do not have a craft blog, but I wrote a post last year called Sometimes The Day Is LONG! in which I listed a few of our ideas for stay-at-home play. One of my favorites that I talked about, is doing treasure hunts with our kids. Given that my son is super into pirates these days, I plan on making some pirate treasure maps to keep us entertained this weekend. I might even try making some of my pirate maps this time with “invisible ink”!
  6. For the kids’ fourth birthday this year they were given a really terrific gift of blank cards and envelopes along with Melissa and Doug stickers and stamps. Throw in some markers and crayons and my kids spent weeks decorating and dictating letters to everyone they knew. We also got the kids little mailboxes for their bedside tables which allowed them to receive mail and write to each other. I love doing this with them because it inspires the love of reading, writing and being artistic.
  7. Pink And Green Mama is another creative blog I really enjoy. She’s got fun ideas for creating Rainbow Rice to play with, Life Size Body Maps And these very simple (but clever) Summer Boredom Buster Jars! Marylea, the author, also offers a big collection of themed e-books for sale with collections of her great ideas.
  8. pirate dollsMy friend, Jackie, writes a blog called My Submarine To The Future and, among other things, she has some really clever activities she comes up with to entertain her son. One of our favorites is Making Paper Houses. Jackie is way craftier than I ever could be and even made these awesome Pirate Dolls made from apples! She’s had some health issues and hasn’t written lately, but I love her blog because she always keeps me wanting to find creativity and inspiration in everything I do with my kids.

These are just a few of the blogs and ideas we use to entertain us when we’re spending time at home. What about you? What are your favorite ideas for at home or in the back yard? Do you have favorite blogs for inspiration? I’d love to hear your ideas.

I Must Be Big Time

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know that I love going to parenting workshops and sharing what I learn with all of you. I take notes, I do extra research, I add my own thoughts and ideas and hopefully provide some useful information for those who, like me, are working on being better parents. Really, helping people find ways to improve their parenting (which leads to happier, emotionally healthier children) is the reason I write this blog. Not because I make millions writing about this stuff. Actually, I make nothing.

A few months ago I attended a workshop here in LA that was given by nationally-known early childhood consultant and speaker Jan Parish. Afterwards, I wrote two posts. One about encouraging a love of reading and the other about inspiring a love of writing. In both I gave obvious credit to Jan, plus links to her site. A lot of people wrote to me telling me how inspired they were by her work and I, myself, wrote that after attending Jan’s workshop I noticed great changes in how I approached reading and writing with my kids.

Today I received the following email from Jan Parish:

Gina,

You attended my trainings on February 19 & 20, 2011, at The Center for Early Education. On February 22 & 26, 2011, you published my material in two separate articles on your blogspot.
http://thetwincoach.com/2011/02/inspiring-love-of-reading.html
http://thetwincoach.com/2011/02/encouraging-love-of-writing.html

The material you published was not common domain. It was my life work, my words, my ideas, my power points, my handouts, and my image. All of which is copyrighted.
This is illegal.

I require that you cease and desist from reproducing, in any adaptation, my workshop content, power points, handout material, and all likenesses. I require that you and the blog host take these blogs down immediately. Notify me by email that you have complied.

My material cannot be reproduced.

If you do not do this immediately, a copyright lawsuit will be filed against you and the blog host.

Jan Parish

Jan proceeded to CC her attorneys as well. I don’t know about you, but to me there didn’t seem to be any need to write such an aggressive letter. Furthermore, I honestly don’t see what got her so worked up. When I recently wrote about Dr. Dan Siegel’s lecture, he proudly posted it on his Facebook page. When I wrote about Tina Payne Bryson’s workshop, she tweeted the link. People who read these summaries told me how great the workshops sounded and how they would love to hear those people speak.

I told Jan I was sorry to have given her all the free publicity and I would be sure to let my readers know why the posts that potentially could help so many parents now are no longer available. Maybe I should take it as a compliment? If no one was reading my blog, no one would care what I write.

Oh, in case you were wondering, I have CC’d my lawyer. He also happens to be my husband.

How Much Of Parenting Is As You Expected?

I’ve been thinking a lot about those days just before my children were born. I realize now how little I knew of what to expect once they arrived. I really didn’t have anyone who told me what being a parent would mean. I had read all the books and taken classes, but there was something missing. In retrospect, I think it was the emotional component. There is a part of me that thinks that, perhaps, it’s impossible to tell someone else what things will be like because we all bring different stories, perceptions, strengths and weaknesses to the table.

I recently wrote a post for one of my sisters-in-law who was about to become a mom of twins. I concentrated on a lot of practical things – getting help, getting rest, not needing two of everything and so on. I touched less on the emotional aspect of things. Perhaps that’s because I was not sure there was anything new I could add to what has been written about the enormity of becoming a parent. But now another sister-in-law is about to have her first baby and I can’t help thinking about this time in my own life and what I wish I had heard someone say to me. So maybe this is for my sister-in-law, and maybe it is also for me. It is definitely for you, if you needed to hear this, too.

Dear soon-to-be mama (or papa),

BGI am so excited for you. This is such an amazing time; in just a few days your life will be totally different. You will be more tired than you ever have, you will feel more love than you can ever possibly imagine, you will feel totally incompetent one minute and on top of the world the next. It is a crazy, beautiful time. Be kind to your partner; it’s especially hard for new dads as we moms get quite territorial about the new love in our life. We think we know it all and know it best and can be impatient and bossy.

Remember that much of what you are feeling after birth is hormonal and it will normalize soon. If you feel depressed, tell people. If you need help, speak up. If you want to complain and even if you want to say you are miserable, tell someone. And when you want to brag about your beautiful baby and talk about how much you adore her and show picture after picture, I hope you have a person who will listen for as long as you want to talk.

You will learn more about yourself through becoming a parent than from any form of therapy you have ever tried. You will be pushed to the brink, you will think you have failed, you will cry and second guess yourself. Yet, you will succeed brilliantly, you will figure it out, you will be the one your child turns to in times of trouble. You will cry at commercials, and world news will never look the same to you. You will suddenly have a new found understanding of why recycling and reducing your carbon footprint are so important. You will learn every line to every Raffi song ever written. You will hear yourself saying things your parents said and you will also do so much that is different. You will find your own way. You will heal old wounds. You will uncover ones you didn’t know you had.

BG-1You will have days when you question how you could ever think you had the stuff it takes to be a good mom. You will have days when you can’t believe the gloriousness of your life compared to what it was before. Your marriage will change. Your body will change. Hopefully you will learn how to accept both in their new form.

You will be a brilliant mom. Trust your gut, don’t let people push you into doing things that don’t feel right to you. There are a million “experts” out there, but you are the only expert on your child. Listen to what people suggest, throw away what doesn’t resonate for you and keep the rest. Do what works for you.

I believe our babies choose us and it is through those wise little souls trusting their lives to us that we all have the opportunity to become who we are meant to be. So remember, you are exactly the parent your baby needs.

I’m Guest Blogging At Rookie Moms!

twinsweek-smallMany of you may already know the terrific site, Rookie Moms. If you don’t, it’s a great resource for parents with young children. This week Rookie Moms is running a full week of posts dedicated to multiple moms. I am very honored to be one of the first bloggers to be featured for Rookie Moms’ Twin Week.

Parents sometimes find themselves feeling more of a bond to one child than the other. It’s not something most people feel comfortable talking about, but it happens. Here’s the post I wrote about figuring out how to overcome the disconnection I felt from my daughter in the early days.

My post was originally titled One On One: The Cure For Disconnection, but Rookie Moms simplified it and just titled it Bonding With Each Child and it begins like this:

One of the fantasies that I had about being a mom of twins is how I would instantly love both my babies in exactly the same way. What surprised me the most when our twins were born is how very common it is for parents of multiples to feel more of a connection to one than the other. It is so rarely talked about that it causes a great deal of shame for those of us who experience it. This is not postpartum depression but rather an imbalance between how easily you connect to one twin over the other. This bond imbalance can fluctuate, shift from one child to the other and generally does not last – especially if the parent is proactive about it. This is an issue that I believe exists solely for those of us with multiples; a singleton mother may feel disconnected from her child at times, but she doesn’t have the side-by-side comparison staring her in the face which adds to the already enormous guilt…

What Is The Golden Rule In Parenting?

Reframing The Golden Rule in Parenthood: Treat your children as if they are *you* at the same age.
By parenting them as you wish to have been parented yourself, you are healing your own
(still wounded) inner child while preserving the authenticity of the little one right in front of you. Win-win.
~ Lu Hanessian

The Golden Rule. I remember exactly where I was when my father first told me “do unto others as you would have done unto you”. I remember learning later in life that I should remember to treat my children as I would treat a friend – you would never yell at a friend that they should “sit down now!”, would you? In therapy we are often told that triggers stem from unresolved issues we had as children. When triggered, our brain looks for a “match” for how we are feeling in the moment and we are instantly transported back to feeling like our 4-year old self. A couple of days ago, Katie from Practical Parenting left a comment on my blog and said that when she has a tough time dealing with her children’s behavior she steps away, takes 5 deep breaths and puts a positive image of her child in her mind. Something started clicking for me. Yesterday I read the above quote by Lu Hanessian on Parent2ParentU’s Facebook page and it all came together.

I’ve written before about our daughter, so like me in so many ways, who triggers my anger so often. But why? I love her so deeply, I am constantly impressed by the complex things she already understands, She’s incredibly creative, wonderfully generous and kind, she’s confident and holds firm in her opinions which I tell myself will serve her well later in life and yet, she makes me completely batty sometimes.

Last night she lost it at the dinner table and kept playing with her food and taunting her brother and not listening, not listening, not listening. I kept calm for what felt like ages and suddenly I couldn’t hold it together anymore. In that moment I forgot that she is only 4, I forgot that she was over tired, I forgot that she may have had a day where she was told what to do all day long…more importantly, I seemed to be forgetting the person behind the behavior.

I got past my own tantrum after a minute or two, apologized, explained, helped her calm down. She forgave me as her wise, little self always does. But later I was still thinking about it. I mulled over Lu’s powerful words – if she were me, was that how I would want to be treated? This morning I read in Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting the following paragraph:

“In some sense our children have to feel us holding on to them, no matter what repugnant (to our mind) spells come over them no matter what dark disguises they try on. This mindful holding on comes not out of a desire to control them, or to hold them back, or to cling to them out of our own neediness, but out of a commitment to be appropriately present for them no matter what, to let them know that they are not alone, that we have not lost sight of who they are or what they mean to us.”

These times when I get so frustrated and feel actual anger toward my children are moments when clearly I am not mindful. These are moments when I lose sight of the golden rule, I lose sight of who I am talking to and what they mean to me. I know this because as soon as I “snap out of it” and come to my senses I feel so horrible and so remorseful. Even now, as I think about last night I wonder how I can get so angry.

I am still searching for the answer to this. It’s like a switch that flips. I am able to stay calm, present and understanding for a certain amount of time and then I lose it and I become like a furious five-year old. I know that a strong reaction to behavior in others is often really just a rejection of that same behavior in yourself. Is it possible that my little girl, feisty and strong-willed, has behaviors that I am not comfortable with in myself? Is it possible that when she exhibits her moodiness I shut down because I see that as unloveable in myself? That feels real to me. And that feels so terribly sad.

“And isn’t it true for all of us that when we are feeling lost, sad, and often quite toadlike, it helps enormously to feel that the people closest to us are still our allies, are still able to see and love our essential self?” ~ Everyday Blessings

To not accept this part of my daughter, to not accept it in myself, is to say that it is not OK to be moody, temperamental or crabby. To not be allowed the full range of one’s emotions feels like dying a little inside. And so I continue to work on my practice of remaining mindful, forgiving myself just as I forgive my children. Do unto others as I would have them do unto me.

20 Tips To Keep Your Children Safe

Growing up, many of us probably put ourselves (or were put) into situations where something bad could have happened to us. Hopefully you came out unscathed. Unfortunately, many people were not so lucky. No matter how loving a parent, or how smart you may think you are, there are times when we don’t listen to our instincts. How do we teach our children to protect themselves while still giving them a sense of autonomy and freedom?

A couple of weeks ago I went to hear a presentation by Pattie Fitzgerald of Safely Ever After. Pattie is a mother and widely recognized and respected children’s advocate. She has made it her mission to empower families through her innovative and non-fearful safety programs for parents and children.

A False Sense Of Security

Pattie began by lecture by reminding us that what was going to protect our family is not where we live, but what we know.

  • 90% of childhood sexual abuse occurs by someone the child knows – not by a stranger.
  • Childhood sexual abuse occurs among all socioeconomic and educational levels, and across all racial and cultural groups.
  • More than 80% of sexual abuse happens in a one adult/one child situation. Think carefully before leaving your child alone with one adult, especially with coaches, counselors, etc. Drop in unexpectedly on occasion.
  • Sex offenders look for opportunities to groom a child with manipulative ploys of attention, flattery, gifts etc. A parent’s job is to watch for signs of “grooming” and to stop it before abuse occurs. 89% of offenders gain access through “grooming techniques”.
  • The most vulnerable age is between 9 and 12. This is an age when children become more secretive and parents tend to back off to give the child some autonomy. Children at this age also start a different reasoning process where they think they’ll be blamed for the abuse.

Predator Myths And Realities

  • scared childMyth: Only strangers or registered sex offenders abuse children
  • Myth: It’s never the older brother next door, the babysitter’s son, the older cousin.
  • Myth: Predators are “weird/scary” looking

In reality, when predators are caught, they are often the people about whom people say, “We trusted him. He was a great guy. He was so nice to everyone”. Predators target people who want to fit in. But the possibility of getting caught is the number one deterrent. If your child communicates with you, if you are paying attention, if your child is the type who would say “you shouldn’t touch me like that” – your child is less likely to be victimized.

Fundamentals

  1. Trust your instincts, let your kids trust their instincts
  2. BELIEVE YOUR CHILD. If you discount their “uh oh” feelings you are essentially telling your child “I don’t have your back”.Only 1 – 4% of reported cases are fabricated and there are 39 million reported survivors of abuse in the United States alone.
  3. Build self-confidence
  4. Don’t teach “stranger-danger”. Use the phrase “tricky people”. These are people who try to trick you into breaking the rules. As we already learned, 90% of abusers are not strangers!
  5. It’s not what people look like, it’s what they say or want to do that you need to be wary of
  6. Teach children to recognize “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” people and situations. This is terminology they understand and it covers people you know, don’t know and know just a little.
  7. Know how kids communicate: they may tell parts of what happened or mention it in a roundabout way that they don’t want to be around a certain adult. Pay attention to their cues. Sometimes a child will pretend it happened to someone else to test your reaction.
  8. If your child does disclose, respond in a gentle fashion. Tell them how brave they are that you’re glad they’re telling.
  9. Talk to your kids about their daily activities. Encourage them to share the “ups and downs” of their day.
  10. Be very clear about who is allowed to bathe and dress your child. Just because your nanny is allowed to do it doesn’t mean her husband should, too.
  11. Open, honest communication is the best sexual abuse prevention tip. Start early discussing personal body issues with clear language and continue the dialogue as they grow up.

What Kids Should Know At Every Age (from Safely Ever After)

I am The Boss Of My Body!

Mom and dad are the boss when it comes to staying healthy and clean, but in all other circumstances, your child is the boss. Children as young as age 3 – 5 should know the correct names for body parts, the difference between “safe” and “unsafe” touches and understand the concept of “No-Go-Tell”. For children age 6 – 10 you can tell them that they they have the right to say NO to any uncomfortable touches, no matter who it is, even to an adult or older kid. Also, they need to know it is not their fault if someone tries to touch a private part of their body and they have the right to express or receive physical affection on their terms (By the way, parents, this means you need to stop forcing your kids to hug Grandma Betty if they don’t want to. More on that later). Children ages 11 and older can be told that it is OK to say STOP to anyone’s touches anywhere on their body. And affection between adults and children does not include touching or kissing private parts, undressing together or sharing bodies in a “yucky” or uncomfortable manner.

The “Helping” Rule.

Children age 3 -5 need to know that they should not help anyone who asks them to find a lost pet, give them direction, or carry packages to their home or car without mom/dad/caretaker present. Also, safe grownups don’t ask kids for help when you’re by yourself – they’re supposed to ask OTHER grownups. Children age 6 – 10 must also know that before assisting anyone, check first with the adult in charge of your safety. If you can’t check first, the answer is NO. Children this age also need to understand the difference between helping with chores in the home vs. helping someone out in the world when you’re on your own. Additionally, they should not enter someone’s home to help them unless their parents say it’s OK. Tell your children age 11 and older that they must be wary of people who ask you for help when you’re alone or with your friends in public places. Employ the “check first rule” whenever possible. And remind them not to be tricked by offers of money or gifts in exchange for assistance.

Candy, Gifts, Treats.

Teach your children age 3 – 5 to say no to anyone who wants to give them candy, gifts or treats unless their parent is with them and says it’s OK first. Children age 6 – 10 can be told that it is not OK for someone to offer them a treat in exchange for keeping a secret. By age 11 and older can be told that they should tell their parents about anyone who wants to give them an expensive gift or treat without their knowledge. They should also understand that bribing a child with the promise of a gift or treat is wrong, and may even be illegal. Remind them it’s not their fault and it’s important to tell right away.

Trusting Your Instinct/your inner voice/”the uh-oh feeling”.

Children by age 3 – 5 can be told to listen to their inner voice or that feeling you get in your tummy when something feels wrong or “yucky”. They should know to tell mom or dad about any “uh oh” feelings they have, no matter when it happens. With children age 6 – 10 you can tell them to get away quickly from anyone who makes them feel weird, yucky or uncomfortable. And remind them that they don’t have to be polite to anyone who gives them that “uh oh” feeling. Children age 11 and older should be told to pay attention to their feelings, especially if someone tries to get them to do something they know is wrong or makes them feel badly. Remind them that their own inner alarm is their best safety system.

Secrets.

With children age 3 – 5 tell them that there are no secrets from mom or dad. Remind them that safe grownups don’t tell kids to keep secrets from their parents and that there is a difference between a “secret” and a “surprise”. Tell children age 6 – 10 that they won’t get in trouble for telling their parents about any kind of secret that an adult has told them to keep. Remind them to tell mom and dad right away and not to hold on to “yucky” secrets, especially ones about their body. Tell them that safe adults don’t tell kids to keep secrets from their parents.

Out And About.

For children age 3 – 5 tell them that if they are lost, Freeze and Yell or ask a Mom with Kids for help. Remind them to never go outside to the parking lot to look for their parents and teach them your address and a parent’s cell phone number. Children age 6 – 10 should ask a mom with kids, or the cash register person for help. Remind them not to wander around or leave the area to search for their parents. Tell them not to enter restrooms alone or with someone they don’t know and not to use shortcuts through alleys or play in unfamiliar areas. For kids age 11 and older you can tell them not to be tricked into getting into a car with someone you don’t know because they seem nice or because they offer you something enticing like payment for doing work. Also, if they want to change their plans, go somewhere else, or enter a car even with an adult they know, they have to call and check in first with their parents to let them know. If they can’t check first, the answer is NO.

Check First.

Children age 3 – 5 need to be told that they should always ask mom, dad or caretaker before they go anywhere or take anything even from someone they know, Also, if they’re finished playing in one ares and want to do something else, check first. Age 6 – 10 you must have permission before getting into a car or entering someone’s home. Check first, even f it’s a neighbor or someone that you know. If you don’t have permission first, don’t do it. For kids 9 years old and up – use a family code word. For children age 11 and older teach them to always let their parents know where they’re going and when they’ll be back. Additionally, they should know that if they are changing plans, to let their parents know first.

Tricky People.

For kids age 3 – 5 replace stranger-danger concept with “tricky people”. Remind them that it’s not what someone looks like, it’s what they want you to do. Teach them that “tricky people” may ask kids to do “thumbs down” things. For kids age 6 -10 you can teach them that a tricky person may be someone they know, don’t know, or know just a little. They should learn that they can recognize a tricky person by their behaviors and actions – by what they say and do. For children age 11 and older remind them that they don’t have to be polite to anyone who tries to trick you into doing something feels bad and to be alert for tricks that sound “too good to be true”.

Getting Help.

For children age 3 – 5 teach them that they should always tell mom or dad if they feel scared, uncomfortable or have an “uh oh” feeling about someone. And if they are afraid to tell their parents, they should tell a teacher. Teach children age 6 – 10 to tell their parents about anyone who’s made them feel yucky or touched them in an uncomfortable way. Remind them that if they can’t tell their parents, then tell a teacher and if that doesn’t work, keep telling a grownup until you get help. For children age 11 and older you can tell them to tell a parent, a teacher, a guidance counselor or other trusted adult if they need help. If they’re not comfortable talking to a parent, consider other safe grownups who will help you, like a friend’s mom. Above all, keep telling until you get help.

Give Grandma Betty a Hug!

6004_GrandmaHugsI wanted to emphasize that first point about being the boss of their bodies. We should never force children to be affectionate to everyone. By doing so, we are telling them that they’re not really the boss of their own bodies. There are may reasons a child may not want a kiss or hug from a relative. My grandfather used to lick his lips before he gave kisses. It wasn’t inappropriate, it was just gross! Instead of telling your child what to do, simply ask him or her, “Do you want to give Grandma Betty a hug?” If the child still feels uncomfortable, show them that you have their back. If the person in question is pressuring you, or doesn’t agree with letting children make this decision, try saying, “We’ve been working really hard with the kids teaching them the ‘I’m the boss of my own own body’ rules. Can you help me with this?” This way you are bringing the other adult into the fold, the child doesn’t sense any aggravation between you which could lead him or her to decide not to say no next time.

Safely Ever After

There was so much more information that Pattie gave us including details on boundaries, red flags and common lures, but I feel as though this post has gotten really long. If there is interest, I will do a follow up post with more information, but I highly, highly recommend contacting Pattie at Safely Ever After to have her speak at your school, your group, even your home. As street smart as I am, I came away from Pattie’s lecture realizing how much I really didn’t know and how much I really hadn’t spoken to my children about!

How about you? Do you already speak to your kids about keeping themselves safe? Do you have any tips to share? Was any of this particularly eye opening to you? I love your comment, let me know your thoughts!