What’s Your Parenting Style?

A fundamental skill for powerful parenting is your ability to set clear, direct and specific limits. Limits should be easy for your child to follow. But it’s hard to always know what your non-negotiable limits for behavior should be, so wouldn’t you think that parenting with your spouse would make it easier? Not so, according to many of the parents I work with in consultation. While most parents agree that parenting together is important, many say that blending two parenting styles makes setting limits even harder.

The Styles

Let’s divide the parenting styles into three types:

  • Reactive
  • Wavering
  • Proactive

Reactive Style of Parenting

If you have the reactive style of parenting you may feel that you are spending most of your parenting time in conflict with your child. Although you may have clear limits, you tend to react to your child’s misbehavior in angry or frustrated ways. Emotions may run high in your family with no one quite sure how to stop the constant conflict. Peaceful times seem few and far between. Often, behavioral skill building doesn’t take place, but testing of boundaries and limits does.

This style of parenting encourages your child to either avoid or provoke your reactions and teaches your child how to negotiate limits.

Wavering Style of Parenting

If you have the wavering style of parenting, you may have limits but be inconsistent about following through. Do you do a lot of talking and not a lot of acting when it comes to discipline? My guess is that your child may be pushing the limits because of your inconsistency. She may even be taking advantage of your inability to anticipate behavioral troublespots.

If you waver in your limit setting and follow through, your child learns that sometimes you mean what you say but often you don’t. This style of parenting encourages testing of limits because you child must test to know just what you expect of her.

Proactive Style of Parenting

If you have the proactive style of parenting, you have firm, unmistakable limits that are clearly conveyed to your child. This style of parenting fosters age-appropriate, independent decision making by your child.

When misbehavior occurs, words are followed by appropriate action. Your parenting is like having a backyard surrounded by a sturdy fence. Your child can choose to run or swing or slide but the boundaries of his yard are clear. You are teaching your child the skills he needs to become capable, responsible, and to be motivated from within. His ability to accept limits and act in acceptable ways will help him handle life’s ups and downs.

Parenting Strategies

The styles you and your partner have will either facilitate working together or not. Are you both reactive? Is one person reactive while the other parent wavers? Here are some strategies for blending styles that will make it easier for you to be proactive as you parent together:

  • Identify your styles. Talk about this when neither of you is upset about a parenting dilemma.
  • Think about what steps you can take to adopt a more proactive style.
  • Make the time to discuss what each of you will do to blend the best of your styles. Your goal is to present to your child more unity around limit setting.
  • Review what your limits really are. It will be impossible to convey them to your child if you are unclear about what rules are non-negotiable.
  • Decide, in advance and away from your child, how you will handle discipline issues that you don’t agree on. Don’t let your child know that he has the power to start arguments between you.
  • Offer support. Create a signal between you and your partner that conveys you need help when you are in conflict with your child.
  • Take a break. If one parent is in conflict with the child and the other disagrees with what is happening, take time out to discuss the plan. Tell your child you will get back to her when the two of you have decided how to handle the problem.

Respecting each other as you present a united front is the key to parenting together. Take the time to reflect on what brought you together in the first place. Especially when times are tough, remember that the respect you show each other is the respect your child is learning to have for you.

All Your Discipline Questions Answered. No, Seriously.

How to discipline kidsFor many of us, our job as parent is fairly easy until our children begin to be able to voice their wants, needs and opinions with some vigor. At this point we adults are faced with issues we didn’t anticipate, and many of us are sorely unprepared for how we react when our previously lovely children no longer do what we want them to do when we want them to do it!

And this is probably just about when the questions about “how can I discipline my children?” begin.

I remember asking those questions. I remember feeling so frustrated, and so exhausted, and so useless as a parent when my son and daughter would do the exact opposite of what I told them to do, or when they would fight endlessly about nonsense, or when I would end up screaming because I just couldn’t take it anymore. I read every book and asked every expert and tried every technique (some of which worked, many of which didn’t). Ultimately, all of this is why I started this blog – to help those of you who became parents after me short cut to the good stuff.

Today I have some super AMAZING good stuff for you (so good that I am actually writing a post on my blog which lately has been sorely neglected because of other writing projects – I am so sorry and thank you to all of you who are sticking with me and I promise I will be back here soon). And yes, this amazing good stuff has to do with discipline, and your kids, and making parenting easier! And don’t forget to read to the end because I have a little surprise for one lucky reader.

Those of you who’ve been reading my blog for a while – or follow me on social media – know that I am a huge fan of Dr. Dan Siegel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson. Together they wrote one of the most ground-breaking and widely read parenting books of the last couple of years, The Whole-Brain Child (which has been since translated into 18 languages and if you haven’t read it yet, you must). This book introduced parents to the latest information on how their child’s brain develops and responds to the world – therefore showing parents why children behave the way they do.

The fact that this book is being shared around the world with parents, grandparents and teachers is an amazing testament to how many of you out there are hungry for information on how to understand, respond to, and connect with the children in your lives.

No Drama DisciplineI was thrilled when I learned that Dan and Tina had written a new book called No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind. This book not only gives us a deep understanding about what is happening in our child’s developing brain when she is acting out, but it also gives adults a window into understanding the best way to respond in the moment.

Best of all, No-Drama Discipline educates adults in understanding the true meaning of the word “discipline”: To Teach. The book is filled with science-backed explanations for why a connection-based response to children’s behavior gives you the results you’ve been looking for. So, instead of being a book full of gimmicks to get our kids to “behave” (a short term survival goal), this book teaches us how to use those difficult parenting moments to create connections in the brain – and between people – in order to build skills, self-discipline, and health (a long-term goal to strive for)!

Ultimately, I know that what we all want for our children is for them to grow into being resilient, happy, kind and respectful people who make their way successfully in the world. And, as Tina says.“I really believe that if we can reduce violent, harsh, and scary parental responses and increase more conscious, kind, and intentional ones, we can promote insight, empathy, and kindness in the world.” This book gives you the ability to do all of this, while strengthening your relationship with your children.

This video below gives you a much better idea of what this book is all about. You can read more here on the website for No-Drama Discipline which also has reviews and links for purchasing the book.

hope I’ve intrigued you enough to pick up a copy of this book for yourself – and maybe even one for friends (or teachers) who struggle with the idea of how to instill positive behavior in their children without resorting to punishment.

No-Drama Discipline is officially released tomorrow – Tuesday, September 22nd – and I’m thrilled to say that I have been given a signed copy of the book to give away to one reader! All you need to do to enter the giveaway is:

  1. Share this post on social media, tagging both myself and Dr. Tina Bryson (I’ll include those links below).
  2. And leave a comment below telling us why you think this book could be helpful to you and your family! I’ll reply to your comment below, so make sure you check back or better yet, Please be sure to include a way for me to contact you in case you win!

That’s it. I’ll choose a winner at random (thank you, random.com) this Friday, October 3rd at 1pm PST. The lucky winner will be announced on my Facebook page!

So, go forth and share! This book is going to be a game changer!

Fear Is What We Must Unlearn: Mindfulness And Happier Parenting

I went to bed, crying, the other night.

I told my husband it had been a bad day. The children argued often. Our daughter was especially difficult at various moments. I lost my temper too much. No one listened to what I needed. It felt as though everyone, including the dog and cat, wanted something from me every single minute of the day.

I felt disconnected, both from my family and from myself. It was my son’s special night to fall asleep in our bed with me and when the lights went out he was on the far side of a king-sized bed feeling like I didn’t want him there.

So he cried.

And I cried.

This, Too, Shall Pass

Recently, on a Facebook page I moderate for families with neuro-diverse kids, I was having a conversation with some friends about the phrase, “This, too, shall pass.” Parents use it often in jest when talking about tough moments with their children. Sometimes for parents of a neuro-diverse child it does seem like perhaps their kid will always be “that kid” and maybe “this” won’t actually pass. Maybe, you think to yourself, I will always be taking my child to different therapies every day of the week. Maybe my child will never be comfortable making friends. Maybe my child will always struggle with being especially anxious and rigid.

Fear Talking

The fear of “what should be” can take over for some people. This is not just for parents of special needs kids. I know plenty of parents whose kids are typically developing and yet, the parents get themselves tied up in knots, thinking “she is never going to eat vegetables!” or “he is always so shy with other kids, how is he ever going to make friends?” Or “He should be potty trained by now, why is he still in diapers? ”

You may notice, in your more mindful moments, that what happens when we start speaking like this is that most likely there is a little commentary that comes after those worried sentences that you say only to yourself:

“She is never going to eat her vegetables and I am afraid she is going to develop terrible eating habits and get fat and have cavities and feel terrible about herself!

“He is always so aggressive with other kids, how is he ever going to make friends? I am afraid that no one will like him and he will end up being a bully and have no friends and maybe he will blame me and maybe I am a terrible mother because I don’t know how to help him!

“Why is he still in diapers? His brother was potty trained at this age…is there something wrong with him? Maybe he has a terrible delay that I have missed! Maybe it’s my fault! I should be doing more/less/something different than I am doing!

I often refer to this as “Fear Talk”. The insidious thing about it is that we aren’t even consciously aware that we are Fear Talking. Because these are sentences we don’t dare say out loud for fear they will come true or for fear they will make us look crazy. They live somewhere in our subconscious. But Fear Talk can make us lash out at our children or we internalize the emotions this talk creates and we erupt in myriad other ways. We let our fear take over and it has a mind of its own.

But if we did dare, if we did say them out loud, we could really understand the things we fear when our children’s behaviors push our buttons.

The night I cried myself to sleep I think I had gotten caught up in feeling as though my daughter’s difficult behaviors were never going to change. Going through my head were phrases like “she is never going to stop overreacting!”, “she always refuses to take other people’s perspectives!”, “she makes everything so difficult!”, “She’s being mean and obnoxious to her brother!” Additionally, I fall into a habit I like to refer to as SHOULD-ING: “she should be different than she is”, “she should be less obstinate”, “she should do what I ask her to do without throwing a fit”. But where does shoulding-ing on my kids get me?

Pay Attention As The Weather Changes

Obviously, I know in my heart that our daughter doesn’t always do anything. And I know, logically, that focusing on how I think things “should be” doesn’t help and only makes me miserable about what IS. And really, truly, I know she is struggling with a lot of things that cause her difficult behavior. But, in tough parenting moments when her emotional challenges make even the smallest conflict into a cataclysmic event, I sometimes have trouble being logical. I get triggered. and my negative frame of mind can take over in such a way that I get stuck feeling like my life is just a big, black cloud of crap.

And it will continue to be crap.

Forever.

I know many of you struggle with those same sort of thoughts – whether it’s depression, exhaustion, stress, overwhelm, special needs kids, single parenting – whatever it is, it’s not easy to drag yourself out of that pit you keep digging with your Fear Talk and should-ing. “I am afraid I will never be the mother they need”, “I am afraid they will end up on the therapist’s couch talking about how I ruined their lives”, “I am afraid to tell my husband that today was so hard because I don’t want to give him anything else to stress about” “I should be able to handle this without losing my temper” “I should be a better parent/partner”…there are so many variations.

you are the skySo, I do know my life isn’t a big, black cloud of crap.

There are moments I feel like it is, but if I don’t latch on to those moments, they really do pass. It is sort of like watching the weather. We can lay back and notice the sky or the temperature changing and we simply notice it. We don’t give meaning to the weather; we don’t try hold on to a beautiful day because we fear it will never come back. We don’t curse the storm as it happens, because we know it will ultimately pass. There is no should-ing. Weather just is. Hot sun, cool wind, blistering cold, dark nights…they are backdrops to our daily existence.

So are our emotions.

To be mindful of our emotions means, in essence, to notice them as they rise up, to be aware of them as they shift, pass on and new feelings show up. Like the clouds. These emotions do not need to have meaning attached to them. There does not need to be Fear Talk. The process of noticing an experience with my daughter as she is expressing herself in a rigid and anxious manner might go something like this:

When she acts this way, I feel so tense! I feel angry!
I notice my heart beating fast.

When she rolls her eyes and sticks out her tongue I feel like throwing something. My hands are clenched.
My body feels so tight.
I feel the urge to yell.
I feel the urge to change her behavior.
I notice how much I want to do something.

That is curious to me.
Why do I need to do something?
Deep breath.

I need to remember who she is and what my goal is.
Deep breath.
Remember what you love about her.

I notice how small she is.
My body is feeling more calm.
I feel sympathy for how hard this can be for her.
I remember that she struggles with so much.
I feel softness in my face and jaw.
I want to help her.

All of this is in my head and can take many minutes from start to finish. Because it still doesn’t come so naturally to me, I am not always able to accomplish this intention of being so present with my daughter. But because I know what extreme anger some of her behaviors trigger for me, I have to set a real intention to make mindfulness a part of my daily life.

The more I practice, the easier and the more automatic being mindful in such a stressful environment becomes. But mindfulness needs to be practiced for its own sake in stress-free situations, not just when there is an urgent need for it, so that one gets a feel for it. Only then does it becomes a resource.

Mindfulness practice is greatly aided by choosing to set time aside regularly to meditate. There are always other pressures, many responsibilities and lists of things to get done that take precedence over just sitting, or just walking, in a mindful manner. However, that kind of practice provides a base, or anchor, for remaining mindful when habitual tensions or reactions are triggered.

Finding Sunshine Amid The Clouds

The funny thing is, I have been trying to write this post for about a month but kept getting stuck because I didn’t know what point I was trying to make. But today, now that I finally got back to it, coincidences are hitting me over the head about the point I am trying to make.

Rachel Macy Stafford’s blog, “Hands Free Mama” is a favorite of mine. Yesterday she shared a post called “Thank You Not-So Pleasant Moments In Life” in which she wrote about finding a new perspective:

“…discover life’s daily blessings among the distractions and challenges of life. I call this approach “Glimmers of Goodness.” Because having a full and complete day of goodness is hard, maybe even impossible, with life’s daily stresses of children, bills, schedules, deadlines, responsibilities, and pressures. But finding Glimmers of Goodness within a day is possible—even when you are irritated, annoyed, or frustrated. In fact, it is in times of overwhelm that I can find these bright spots most easily. It may sound odd, but I’ve been taking each not-so-pleasant experience or feeling and thanking it. And from that place of gratitude, I find a Glimmer of Goodness.”

hardwiring happinessAnd because I’m sitting in jury duty today (hence the free time to actually write a long-delayed blog post) I am also reading Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence which has been on my “must read” list for a while. Strangely enough, this book is not simply about brain science (one of my geeky loves), but it is also about mindfulness.

In the early pages of the book, the author reminds us that we must not only observe our minds in order to get past worries, stress, anger or sadness, we must actively seek out positive experiences – what he refers to as “growing flowers” in our brains – so we increase our inner strength and ability to handle tough times.

“Merely witnessing stress, worries, irritability or a blue mood will not necessarily uproot any of these. […]the brain evolved to learn all too well from negative experiences, and it stores them in long-lasting neural structures. Nor does being with your mind by itself grow gratitude, enthusiasm, honesty, creativity, or many other inner strengths such as calm and insight that enable you to feel all your feelings and face your inner shadows even when it’s hard” ~ Rick Hanson, PhD

So, focusing on the “shoulds” and the Fear Talk keeps our brains – and thus, ourselves – rooted in the experiences that make us suffer. Instead, noticing the good moments (or thanking the no-so pleasant moments) and being aware of them for more than the fleeting second we usually zoom past them, helps us ultimately cultivate the sort of brain that stays connected, peaceful and dare I say…happy…during times that would have previously sent us flying into tantrums and tears.

Happiness Revealed

This 2011 TedxSF video from Louie Schwartzberg originally planted the seed for this post. As I watched it, I heard these words from Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast:

“Look at the sky. We so rarely look at the sky. We so rarely note how different it is from moment to moment, with clouds coming and going. We just think of the weather, and even with the weather, we don’t think of all the many nuances of weather. We just think of good weather and bad weather. This day, right now, has unique weather, maybe a kind that will never exactly in that form come again. That formation of clouds in the sky will never be the same as it is right now. Open your eyes. Look at that.”

After watching this beautiful video numerous times, I sat with that quote and something in my mind prompted me to replace the word “sky“, with the words, “your child“. I then replaced the word “weather” with “behavior“. And so I began to think about her good weather, her bad weather and her unique weather.

Was I really seeing it?

Or was I simply should-ing it?

The Power That Words Have: Strengthening Your Child’s Inner Voice

“There is no greater pain than feeling you are not enough.
Your child is enough, right now, just the way he is. And so are you.”
~ Vimala McClure, The Tao of Motherhood

Years ago, in a class I was taking, the subject of weakness came up. We were asked to stand in front of another person and hold our dominant arm out to the side of our body, parallel with the floor.

Holding it firm, the other person would push down on it and see if they could make the arm drop. We were all able to hold our arms strong against the physical pressure.

Then we were asked to think about what makes us feel weak.

In recent years we have become familiar with the new view on the childhood rhyme “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”. We know that words can hurt. Words sting. Words have power. Words even kill. But what many don’t acknowledge or realize is that it’s the words we say to ourselves, that hold the most power.

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. Words themselves do not hold power. But when we believe those words, when we repeat them over and over, when we pass them on to others, words can have a devastating effect.

The second part of that classroom lesson involved standing again in front of our class partner while holding that same arm out. This time we were asked to think of what we thought of ourselves deep inside, to concentrate on the words we used to describe ourselves that made us the most ashamed, the phrase we said over and over to ourselves that kept us from achieving the things we most wanted in our lives.

negative self talk“I am too old”
“I am too fat”
“I am not smart enough”
“I don’t have enough qualifications”
“I am too poor”
“I am unloveable”
“I am not enough as I am”

Holding that negative belief in our heads, or saying it out loud if we felt comfortable, our partner once again pushed down on our dominant arm. This time, no matter how hard we resisted, our arm quickly fell to our side. The simple act of holding a negative belief about ourselves made us physically weak.

Restating that belief in its opposite, “I am the right age”, “I am the right weight”, “I have the perfect qualifications”, “I am smart enough”, “I have enough money”, ” I am loved” or just simply, “I am enough”, our arms once again were unable to be pushed down. No exercise, no lengthy training, no therapy, just a change in how we spoke to ourselves about ourselves, made all the difference.

That little voice that says we are not enough has immense power. It can keep you from loving and from being loved. It can stop you from pursuing your dreams. Perhaps even worse, it may stop you from even daring to have a dream to follow. I would guess that many people who carry hatred in their hearts for others hold the belief “I am not enough” deep down in their hearts.

Sit with that statement, “I am not enough”, and notice what it feels like inside to believe that. Imagine that feeling being a part of your every day experience.

inner-voiceWhere do we pick up this sort of thinking? No child is born feeling anything but fully worthy of love and affection. But there are very few adults who don’t have insecurities that make up a tender achilles heel. When I became a mother one of the lessons I learned early on is this Peggy O’Mara quote, “the way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” Tell your daughter that she is a brat or a bully, and that’s how she comes to see herself. Tell your son that he is lazy or stupid and those are the words he will tell himself when he is struggling.

But it goes further than this. Even if you would never think of using words like “stupid” with your kids, pay close attention to your dialogue throughout the day. Overwhelmed and frustrated parents often say things like, “you are always so mean to your brother!”, “you’re so slow, why can’t we ever get out of the house on time?” or “what is wrong with you? Why do I have to tell you this over and over again?”.

When your child is faced with adversity or is in a situation where she doesn’t have you around to remind her to do what is right, what you want is for her to have an inner voice that says to her, “I can do this, I always figure things out!”, “I’m not going to hang out with that group, they don’t make good decisions”, “I’m disappointed that girl doesn’t want to be my friend. But I’m pretty awesome and will make a new friend”.

I am enoughOur children’s inner voices start with the words we say to them. What we say repeatedly to our children makes a difference. It shapes who they become, how they see themselves and what they believe is possible for themselves to achieve.

If the words “I am not enough” can instantly weaken your physical body, imagine what a lifetime of holding a positive self image can do for your child.

“Sometimes, we throw small bits of grace and compassion out into the world and they float away like helium balloons so far that we don’t know what becomes of them…But sometimes, someone hangs on. We don’t know to which moments. We don’t know to which kindnesses. It’s simply our job to keep making more balloons.” ~ Beth Woolsey

41 things to say to your children that can strengthen their inner voice (plus 3 bonus questions to ask):

  1. You are everything you are supposed to be.
  2. I love you exactly the way you are.
  3. You were made for me.
  4. I am so lucky to have a child like you.
  5. There is nothing you could do that would make me not love you.
  6. My heart is so full of love whenever I see you.
  7. I believe in you.
  8. You can do it.
  9. I know you’ll make a good choice.
  10. You are such a kind friend.
  11. I love being with you.
  12. When you hug me I feel wonderful.
  13. You always know how to make me feel better.
  14. Your laugh makes me so happy.
  15. I love spending time with you.
  16. I love the way you think about things.
  17. I learn so much from you.
  18. You’re so much fun.
  19. You really know how to focus yourself.
  20. You know how to make good decisions.
  21. I know you’ll figure it out.
  22. I want to hear your ideas.
  23. Your curiosity is so inspiring!
  24. I love to watch you ________.
  25. I will love you no matter what.
  26. You really know how to be a good teammate.
  27. You really listen to your body and know when you are hungry/full.
  28. I noticed how gentle you were with your baby brother.
  29. You do things that I never even tried when I was your age!
  30. You really noticed every detail. You are so observant!
  31. I noticed that you were scared, but then you _____ anyway. That was really brave.
  32. Thank you for choosing me to be your mom/dad.
  33. My favorite part of the day was when you and I _______.
  34. I noticed how easily you shared with your friend today. You really know how to make other people feel good.
  35. When you were only ____ years old you weren’t able to do that, but now that you’re _____, I notice how easily you can ______!
  36. I want to spend more time with you.
  37. You are more important to me than my work/phone/email.
  38. Wow! You did all of that without me having to ask? You really know how to do so much on your own!
  39. I never thought of it that way. I changed my mind about things because of the way you made your point.
  40. It must have been hard for you when _____. I was so proud of you for sharing your feelings/standing up for yourself/speaking up for your friend.
  41. I noticed what a difference you made by doing that.
  42. {bonus questions} Teach your children that when they are tempted to say something to someone else, to ask themselves first: “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?”. If you can’t answer yes to all three, keep it to yourself or reframe it.

It is not always easy to keep this positive frame of mind, especially if you struggle with your own negative inner voice. But I have always found it easier to compliment others than to compliment myself. So I began there. Changing a bad habit requires being mindful of the fact that you have the habit to begin with. Take the time to notice the way you speak to yourself and your children. Make a pledge to improve it even if it feels awkward at first. I hope this list is a start!

I am starting 2014 with the reminder that I am enough and I look forward to you joining me.

Happy New Year!

Control Your Child! Mindful Parenting and Respectful Language

“From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen.”
~ Cat Stevens

Those of us who practice respectful parenting will, on occasion, get told that our children are misbehaving or being rude because we’re not strict enough. We may even get scolded and told to control our children. This sort of thing happens most often when your child is behaving in a way some other adult deems inappropriate.

A child who is labeled by others as being “out of control” can cause a range of emotions for his parents including embarrassment, anger, shame, defensiveness, aggressiveness, even self righteousness. In our efforts to handle our confused emotions we aren’t always our best selves.

Perhaps you would never tell another parent to control their children. But I wonder – if we were all to be very honest – how many of us have moments when we are actually trying to control our own children.

Don’t do that.
Don’t touch that.
Stop singing so loudly.
Sit still until we’ve all finished our meal!
If you don’t stop bothering your sister you won’t get to go to the park later!
Give Henry that toy, he’s been waiting a long time.

And even though we may use different words, what we’re conveying is, “Control yourself! Or, if you can’t, I will do it for you!” There’s a difference, of course, between controlling a child and setting firm boundaries for him or her – but many adults who practice a more old-school way of parenting don’t always see this. Instead of offering their understanding when a child is having a hard time, they can opt, instead, for loudly admonishing the offending parent to make sure their children behave more appropriately.

sensitive boySome months ago I took my son to a children’s museum while we were on vacation together in San Francisco. After a few, long hours moving from one display to another and a giant tantrum about a dropped lollipop (through which I managed to remain remarkably patient and connected) I told him we would be leaving shortly and he should pick one last area to visit. He decided on an area where the kids could make huge soap bubbles.

He was tired and still grumpy from the lollipop episode. I was worn out from holding space for him during the lollipop episode. I watched as he played just a little too excitedly, splashing others with bubble liquid. I could feel my stress rising. I asked him to be careful. He ignored me. I got a little more stressed. Then I noticed a couple of other kids waiting for him to finish so they could take their turn. Without thinking, I called out to him to remember to share the bubble wand and he totally blew a gasket.

“I JUST STARTED PLAYING!” he screamed at me. I was embarrassed, angry and surprised. In a better moment I would have gone over to talk to him gently. But I was wiped out and fed up with speaking gently so instead I stomped over and grabbed the bubble maker from his hand. Actually, I had to pry it out of his hand (while, I am certain, everyone in the museum watched me parent in this totally disrespectful way).

Fortunately, I realized what I was doing and was able to take a deep breath and step back from the angry feelings. I sat with him and talked about it all. He cried a little, I hugged him, I apologized. So did he. We were OK. If only I had said it was time to go then.

Not the actual Pickle Lady, but a very good likeness.Instead, I let him have another 5 minutes with the bubbles. As I sat watching him from a few feet away, I saw him stand next to some people who had a little girl. He looked over at her and then reached for the bubble maker laying in the soap in front of her and began playing with it. An older woman (who looked as if she had been sucking on a pickle the way her face was so pinched and sour) immediately gave him an irritated look, roughly grabbed the bubble ring out of his hand and gave it to the little girl while directing some sharp words at my son.

Granted, I couldn’t hear her, but I could see her face and body language. I walked over and said to her that I would appreciate it if she would not speak so rudely to my son. She immediately got angry and told me that he should not have taken the ring from the little girl (who I assume was her granddaughter) and that I should Control My Son.

With blood beginning to boil, I managed to calmly say that I don’t control him, as he is a human being. Yeah, that was a good one, right? Score one for me! Except I felt like such a hypocrite as it came out of my mouth because I had done almost exactly what she did just 5 minutes earlier.

She turned her back on me, walked away in a huff while Grandpa gave me a parting shot of “Yeah! Control your kid so everyone else can have a good time!”

WTF???

Well, it didn’t end there. Next, a younger woman (who I think was pickle lady’s daughter) walked over to me and said that she had seen the whole thing and pickle lady did nothing wrong; the little girl was only two and how old was my son after all (all with a look of “really, you should know better”). Then the kicker: “you should model better behavior for your son!”

brain explosionMy brain was starting to malfunction because there was a part of me that couldn’t argue with her. Yes, I should model better behavior, but not in the way she meant. In this moment I was standing up for my son and not letting outsiders attack him. But hadn’t I just tried to control his behavior a few minutes earlier myself? Yes, I had repaired that, but did everyone else know that – had they all seen me acting so aggressively?

What I wish I could have responded to her with was, “well, he’s 5 1/2, how old is your mother? Don’t you think she should model better behavior to both my son and her granddaughter? If it were me, I would have bent down, so I was looking him in the eye, and nicely pointed out to him that this little girl was still using the bubble maker so would he please give it back? I wouldn’t have grabbed it out of his hand and scolded him. He’s as much of a child as the two year old.”

Of course, I was so shocked that these crazy people were attacking me left and right, and calling me a bad parent, that I couldn’t think straight. I just wanted to hide and get out of there. But the other reason I didn’t say all of that was that a part of me felt that doing so would have been totally dishonest because I was simultaneously beating myself up for being a bad parent.

I mean, I think I would have bent down and spoken respectfully had I been in pickle lady’s shoes, but when I was triggered by my son’s yelling at me, I treated him just as disrespectfully as this woman had. I treated him as if it wasn’t OK for him to have those big feelings, that because I was bigger than him I could simply take something away from him and scold him. I tried to control him.

I was so angry, embarrassed and mostly frustrated that I hadn’t made my point. I knew that family had walked away feeling as though they were totally in the right and were probably talking about “that crazy mother from the museum” all the way home. As I bent down to zip up my son’s jacket, tears started coming down my face. He asked what was wrong.

I told him I was upset because those people had been mean and because they told me I should control him. He asked what that meant and I said it means that some adults think children don’t need to be respected as people and that kids should just do what they’re told.

Just do what you’re told.
You don’t have a voice.
You don’t have to be treated as an equal to me because you’re a child.

If pickle lady had connected with him, he would have told her, as he told me, that he thought the little girl was done playing with the bubble maker. Had she talked to him he would have easily given it back and played somewhere else.

Respectful dialogue makes all the difference. Of course we all may all forget from time to time, and we don’t always have perfect control over our own emotions or triggers. Somehow it strikes me that pickle lady and her family never gave a moment’s thought to treating children in a respectful way – their reaction to my son smelled of the sort of response people give who believe children are to be controlled and corrected until they do things the way we adults think they should do it. Never mind what the child may think.

This incident upset me so much that I obsessed about it and cried for more than half the day afterwards. I tried to write this post at the time but it has sat in my computer for nearly a year since. At first I ignored it because I was too angry to have it make any sense, then because I couldn’t quite figure out what I was trying to say about the experience. What was it about the incident that had so bothered me even all these months later?

There’s a part of it that has to do with my nakedness in that moment. I had behaved in a way I was embarrassed about. And in my humiliation it was as if every other moment of connected parenting was erased. I hate being “seen” in moments of weakness or error. There was a part of it that ate away at me because of the sense of not being listened to – by my son at first, then by the crazy family – always a very sore spot for me.

And then it struck me that what I said about my son at the beginning of the altercation with this family is all there is to say: I don’t control my child because he is a human being. Respecting him in his wholeness as a person is all I have ever tried to do. All I can do is to do my best to recognize his triggers, set him up for success by scaffolding for him and then be there to support him if he fails.

And I have to do the same for myself. There are times when I will be far from a perfect parent. But I know I am an aware parent and I am willing to admit my shortcomings and my mistakes. I still need to learn not to be so concerned about what others think of me, but every day I get a bit better at being mindful of it all. And because of this, my son is developing, among other things, a sense of self-control and awareness of his surroundings. And most importantly, he knows he is worthy of respect.

So next time someone speaks unkindly to him he may just be able to respond and stand up for himself with a little less help from me – even if it is a cranky old pickle lady scolding him. And maybe all of this modeling for him will teach me how to stand up for myself as well.

Can You Accept Your Children For Who They Are?

My summer turned out to be more intense than I expected and what was supposed to be a short break from writing turned into a 3 month hiatus. My apologies to those of you who have been wondering where I have been. And for those who didn’t miss me, well, here I am anyway!

One bit of writing I managed to do was to interview the multi award-winning author, Andrew Solomon, who wrote an amazing book called “Far From The Tree: Parents, Children and The Search for Identity” for an article on The Mother Company’s website about accepting your children for who they are. His answers were extremely insightful and compassionate. I’m very excited to share the beginning of the article here (click over to The Mother Company to read the full piece and if you like it, please share it)!

———–

An interview with Andrew Solomon

Accepting your children for who they are can be difficult. In some cases, parents live vicariously through their children’s successes. Others have a vision for the life their child will lead and struggle when s/he can’t or won’t fulfill that fantasy. My own parents weren’t thrilled with my initial desire to become a fashion designer. Instead, their dream was for me to use my talents to be a “real” artist. This difficulty in understanding and accepting me was a painful one and ultimately caused a rift, taking some time to repair. Understanding and accepting who your children are, as opposed to who you want them to be is fundamental to being a connected parent. I asked Andrew Solomon, award-winning author of Far From The Tree: Parents, Children and The Search for Identity to share his thoughts on this subject.

How can parents come to terms with the fact that the vision they have for their children does not match how the children are turning out?

All parenting involves striking a balance between changing your child and accepting your child. Those are two disparate objectives. We change our children in a thousand ways: we educate them; we teach them manners and character; we vaccinate them; we toilet train them and show them how to brush their teeth. We also need to recognize the qualities in them that are immutable: their basic personality and character, their sexuality, their intelligence. Parents are constantly in what I’ve called the Serenity Prayer bind, trying to figure out what aspects of their child to change and what aspects to accept, because it is often impossible to tell the difference. Parents should understand, however, that they need to achieve love and recognition, and that while love comes, ideally, at birth, recognition takes time. Parents whose children are different from them must consider the child’s interests ahead of their own, and do what they can to ensure that their child has a worthy, joyful, impassioned life, even if that life veers away from the parents’ ideals.

Some parents seem to experience their child’s difference as a narcissistic injury—they see it as changing who they, the parents, are. They don’t see it as the child’s experience separate from them. Of course, our identity is dramatically shifted by our children, so there is a level at which it’s true that children are altering our selves, but we need to avoid seeing the change as primarily a change in us, and to see it, instead, as an essential matter for our children.

What are the best ways for parents to connect with their children when their temperament is markedly different from their own?

The first step for such parents is self-education. Parents should learn about the issue involved. If the child has a dramatic difference or a disability, there is much to be learned from both online resources and print ones. It’s often useful to find parent groups dealing with the same challenge; the company of others helps to clarify the situation, and the stories people tell about bridging the gap can be transformative. The most important thing, however, is to assure this different child that he or she is deeply beloved, to describe and acknowledge the variation in temperament, and to make the child a partner in finding a language in which to understand such difference.

What questions should parents ask themselves to know whether they are truly accepting of their child just as he or she is?

I think of the father of a transgender daughter who was in a counseling session. The therapist asked, “Does it make your child happy for you to persist in calling her he?” The father said it did not. The therapist asked, “Would it make your child happy if you called her she?” The father said it would. The therapist said, “What is it that’s more important to you than your child’s happiness?” I think parents have to ask themselves all the time what their child’s interests are and how they as parents can serve those interests. They have to think constantly of how their ego needs differ from their child’s, and to look at whether their behavior will result in their child’s optimal outcome.

5 Ways Sportscasting Helps When Parenting Gets Tough

One of the hardest aspects of parenting for me is remaining in a calm and patient frame of mind so that I can model that way of behavior for my children. I know that being mindful in my parenting is key, as is learning how to take a mommy time out. But a third component is helping our children understand that parents have emotions, parents aren’t perfect and that everything is going to be alright even if mom or dad is upset.

Beware of him that is slow to anger; for when it is long coming, it is the stronger when it comes, and the longer kept. Abused patience turns to fury.
~ Francis Quarles

My father is, perhaps, one of the most patient men I have ever met. And he’s also one of the most sensitive. When I was younger he would experience things I did as hurtful or insulting, but would keep it to himself. Then, after a seemingly insignificant last straw would occur, he would explode. As a child, there was nothing quite so confusing as this. I was unable to connect his anger to a cause that made sense and the intensity of his anger seemed so disproportionate to the offense.

frustrated manThe ability of a parent to be aware of their feelings as they occur, and to let a child in on that process, can be a powerful way not only to connect, but to also reduce the friction with one another. As compassionate parents have turned away from time-outs as a means of stopping children’s negative behaviors, many have realized they need more tools to help themselves cope when things get out of hand.

One of the most powerful ways I have learned to reduce my own stress is by “sportscasting” my feelings. I have often used sportscasting with my children as a way to help them learn how to solve problems for themselves. Janet Lansbury recently wrote an excellent post called Sportscasting Your Child’s Struggles that describes how this is done with young children:

“Sportscasters don’t judge, fix, shame, blame or get emotionally involved. They just keep children safe, observe and state what they see, affording children the open space they need to continue struggling until they either solve the problem or decide to let go and move on to something else” ~ Janet Lansbury

For adults, sportscasting our struggles can be a gateway to mindfulness. As Janet points out, you are simply observing your state of being, and there is no judgment, fix, shame, blame or emotional involvement in your own suffering. But how, exactly, does one go about sportscasting?

1. Pay Attention To Your Body

When you’re with your children, periodically check in with yourself. How do you feel from moment to moment? Are you relaxed? Nervous? Anxious? When you notice you’re moving from relaxed to becoming angry or stressed, give some thought to what is happening in your body. Do your shoulders hunch up toward your ears? Does your jaw become tight? Does your stomach get into a knot? Do you hands form tight fists? Does your face flush? For me, a sure sign that I’m about to pop is that I clench my teeth and feel a sudden rush of heat.

But even before I reach that boiling point I have learned that I often get a sense of being overwhelmed, as if my brain can’t think clearly. I particularly get this way when multiple people are talking to me at once. I also feel my heart beating faster, as if an emergency is happening. Just thinking about this as I type makes my chest tighten and my breathing get shallower.

All of these sensations are fairly subtle and it has taken some time for me to be able to link them to my stress level and to be aware of them instead of letting them flood me. It can be quite difficult to be aware of all of these signals if you are not used to paying attention to your body and especially if you are in the midst of a conflict brewing with your child(ren), but the more awareness you practice, the easier it becomes.

2. Verbalize Your Feelings And Sensations

You’ll likely feel a little silly at first, but give it a try. In a regular tone of voice simply describe what is going on and what you feel. There is no judgment involved, just a statement of facts:

“I feel anxious right now. You are jumping on the couch again and I feel worried that you will fall. I have tension in my tummy and my heart is beating faster.”

“You are throwing your toys on the floor instead of picking them up. I feel pretty frustrated. My jaw feels very tight and my body feels hot.”

“I feel annoyed. You are teasing your sister and making her cry. My chest feels tight and I feel like I want to yell.”

What you will begin to notice as you do this is that you actually start to calm down when you verbalize your feelings. Just like when you sportscast for your child and they feel “felt” and begin to relax, by labeling what you are feeling the part of your brain responsible for telling your body there is danger (the amygdala) is less activated:

“When people see a photograph of an angry or fearful face, they have increased activity in a region of the brain called the amygdala, which serves as an alarm to activate a cascade of biological systems to protect the body in times of danger. Scientists see a robust amygdala response even when they show such emotional photographs subliminally, so fast a person can’t even see them. […] The study showed that while the amygdala was less active when an individual labeled the feeling, another region of the brain was more active: the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex. This region is located behind the forehead and eyes and has been associated with thinking in words about emotional experiences. It has also been implicated in inhibiting behavior and processing emotions…”
~ UCLA Newsroom

By not judging the situation (“I’m so angry because you are jumping on the couch!), you don’t set up a power struggle where your child feels the need to defend himself. You are simply stating facts.

In addition to actually calming yourself down by verbalizing how you feel, you are giving young children language to describe their own emotions and helping them to recognize that there is a connection between the sensations in their bodies and what emotions they have. The more you do this and the more you help them connect the dots, the better the dialogue is when big feelings surface (from you or your child)!

3. Model Self-Regulation (It Helps Your Kids do the Same)

emergencyOne of the very helpful things we have learned in my daughter’s social skills class is the idea of green, red and yellow zone emotions.

The green zone is generally where we want to be and to stay — relaxed, calm, at ease, happy, focused and so forth.

The yellow zone is, as with a traffic light, a warning. This is the most subtle emotional zone and often the hardest for people to recognize. When you’re in the yellow zone you may be experiencing frustration, irritation, anxiety, silliness, nervousness, difficulty concentrating and other similar feelings.

The red zone is where you may feel fury, rage, anger, terror, explosive behavior, and other “out of control” emotions. Often people don’t notice their “yellow zone” feelings until they have slipped all the way into red — these are often people who seem to go from “zero to 60” or “flip” from being calm to being enormously angry without warning.

I often talk with my children using this traffic light analogy:

  • let them know how you feel: “I am starting to notice that my feelings are in the yellow zone now. I feel anxious and annoyed. I would like to get back into the green zone so I am going to take a few deep breaths to help me calm down.”
  • focus on the positive: “I was really in the red zone before and felt SO angry! But you reminded me to do a rewind and now I am really in the green zone and feel so calm and happy again. Thank you!”
  • get them to notice how your mood affects theirs: “I notice that when you and your brother are fighting in the car, I have yellow zone feelings like annoyance and frustration. And when it goes on too long, I go right to the red zone! How do you feel when I am in those zones? What can we do to all get back in to the green zone?”

By talking about your feelings you are letting your children know that, yes, adults feel things too! More importantly, you are showing them that you are aware of your feelings and are taking responsibility for them. Be careful not to blame children for your feelings. the point isn’t to say “When you are doing ______ you make me feel _______.” Rather, you are saying, “When you do _______ I feel ______.” A subtle, but important

4. Remember Being Real is Better Than Being Perfect

When children are young, mom and dad are god-like. We can do everything, we know everything and we never ever make mistakes.

Except we do.

By showing your children that you can get upset about things and sometimes lose control, you are teaching them that they don’t need to be perfect. By showing them that you know how to make repairs when you do get angry, you also show them that the relationship doesn’t need to be perfect, but it does need to be cared for and to continually improve.

Our children need real, relatable role models, not perfection. Let them see you, flaws and all. Feel your feelings. Just as we tell our children that none of their feelings are bad, parents need to know this as well.

Those feelings are yours. The good, the bad and the ugly. Own them.

5. Create Safe Spaces

There are times when our children’s behavior will get to us, no matter how much we try to stay in the moment and no matter how many tools we have for helping ourselves stay regulated. It’s times like that when parents often feel the need to take a time out so we can cool down. Parents always ask me, “how can I take a time out from my child when his meltdown is pushing me over the edge? He will feel abandoned and would run after me.”

When children feel dis-regulated or disconnected from those they care about, they are not capable of thinking logically about how you might need a minute or two to calm down so you won’t flip your lid. No, children in that state need your empathy and connection so they can regulate themselves.

However, by sportscasting your emotions as you begin to notice your frustration levels rising, not only are you able to notice that you need to take a break before you flip out, but you can also notice you need to take a break before your child senses any disconnection from you. Because you have been mindful of your emotions and reactions, it is much easier to tell your child in a relaxed way, “I feel a little anxious right now so I am going to step out and cool down for a minute. I will be right back.” There is no anger, no disconnection, no need for your child to feel abandoned or concerned.

Sportscasting means you are just letting your children know how you feel, that you take care of yourself when you feel that way, that you will physically be with them again shortly and that they are safe and not to blame for any part of what is occurring.

Although I may have rolled my eyes at my father when I was a teenager or complained that he talked to me too often about his feelings, today I am so grateful that he had learned to express those emotions to me. That constant desire on his part to connect gave me a rich and expressive language to describe my own thoughts and feelings and, most importantly, made me feel that our father-daughter relationship was important to him.

Feeling Your Feelings: Bringing Mindfulness To Everyday Parenting

“The only feelings you really need to fear are those you ignore.”
~ Marianne Williamson

For many years, my New Year’s resolution was simply “to have more patience”. In my journey toward learning to be the mother I wanted to be, I felt that this was an area in which I was sorely lacking. I lost my temper too often. I yelled. I rushed through things. I got annoyed when my kids (or my husband) just didn’t “get it”. I was, I was certain, very impatient.

And I suppose I can be impatient. And I suppose I’ve improved in that area. But along the way, I realized that in my attempt to have more patience when things were frustrating or triggering me, I was, in fact, also creating more stress for myself. Could it be that I was actually being too patient?

Wait, before you think I’m nuts, consider this: the more we try to maintain our cool when we are being bombarded by something that is aggravating us, the more we are ignoring how we actually feel. The longer we ignore those feelings, the more they build up, and the more likely we are to explode.

Or, if you are not the exploding type, the more likely those feelings are going to be released in some other inappropriate way: bickering with your partner, telling off a co-worker, overspending, overeating and so forth.

Alternately, feelings that aren’t released or realized are, instead, internalized. This can manifest in a variety of ways, usually in physical complaints or sometimes in odd behaviors all of which seem to have nothing to do with the original source of stress: chronic tension in the body (such as the jaw, neck and shoulders, gut), headaches, digestive problems, poor sleep or nightmares, obsessive behaviors like nail biting and the list goes on and on.

“An emotion swept under the rug is not an emotion that goes away; it’s simply an emotion that is put somewhere other than where it should be put. It becomes inert rather than dynamic energy, stored within you rather than being released. As noted previously, energy cannot be uncreated. And emotions are powerful forms of energy.” ~ Marianne Williamson

It seems to me that realizing and paying attention to our feelings is a much nicer alternative to holding on to all that energy, no? Of course, for many people, feeling their feelings is harder than it sounds, and I recognize that. Even for those who didn’t experience trauma or abuse, some still interpreted childhood experiences in such a way that they came to feel that their feelings shouldn’t be felt, shouldn’t be honored and shouldn’t be expressed.

In order to help our children grow up to be calm, resilient people who know how to regulate their moods, we need to learn how to be that way ourselves. To resist acknowledging that I am frustrated, overwhelmed or annoyed, as I attempt to remain the perfect Stepford Wife picture of a patient mom, serves no one. Least of all my kids.

So, what does that mean? Should I ditch trying to be patient?

Of course not. When you feel patient, be patient. But when you don’t feel patient, be real. If I am pretending to be patient, but in actuality am just gritting my teeth and hoping the annoying situation will disappear before I blow my top, I am not teaching my kids about how to handle things that frustrate them in an appropriate way.

What I want to do is to connect with my children and help them navigate their disagreements in such a way that they eventually learn to be good problem solvers. I want to teach them how to regulate their emotions (notice, I didn’t say control their emotions) so they can be upset with someone or something, but still be able to figure out a solution that works for all involved.

Pie in the sky? Or will that really happen in real life?

Becoming mindful of my feelings is the key to this for me. In being mindful, I release the need to do anything about how I feel. Instead, if I can allow myself to become aware of the feeling — that is, notice it, name it and just experience the feeling — I begin to become more aware that the feelings change and that nothing is constant. My feelings just are.

For example, my children fight (often) in the back of the car. It’s my version of Hell. I am trapped in a small space with nowhere to go. There is chaos and loud noise, unhappiness I can’t fix and lots of messy emotions I can’t attune to the way I would like. Everything feelings like an emergency, my stress level goes through the roof and even pulling over doesn’t work because my daughter has intense anxiety about getting towed and getting parking tickets and it ramps up her crying/screaming (don’t ask…it’s a long story).

As I said, Hell.

My attempts to “be patient” by actively ignoring the fighting so they can solve it themselves only result in me being intensely focused on the fighting which, of course, makes me angrier and results in my yelling. Awesome. So much for patience.

So, what do I do instead?

deep breathingInstead, when I am triggered like that, I first take at least two deep breaths (in through the nose and out through the mouth). This helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system to trigger the body to secrete hormones to decrease blood pressure and heart rate, inducing a relaxation response. Preferably, one should do this for a few minutes, but in the heat of battle, sometimes two breaths are all I can manage.

Then, I recall one or two things about each child that I love: I adore my son’s hilarious giggle. I love the way my daughter cuddles with me in the morning when she’s all warm and snuggly – like freshly baked bread. Alternately, or sometimes additionally, I say things to myself like, “They are only 6. They are still learning”. This helps put my brain back in the present moment so I am no longer in flight or fight mode and helps me focus on what I want to accomplish.

Next, assuming nothing dangerous is happening back there, I bring my focus to what I am feeling: “I am angry. I am frustrated. I am tired” or whatever the feelings may be in the moment. The key to this being helpful is to not judge the feelings. You know what I mean. It’s that little voice that prattles on in your head even when you tell it to shut up: “I am angry. I shouldn’t be angry. They’re just kids. I have to be patient with them or it will mean I’m not a good mom. I will never be as good a mom as I want to be. Why do I even try? Now I’m really angry! I feel like yelling!” Get what I mean? Don’t judge. Just notice. Try to do this instead: “I am angry.” Then sit with that feeling. “I wonder what feeling will arise next? Ah, that’s interesting. There is that particular feeling… and there it goes. Hmmmm. Cool. I wonder what will come next?” This dialogue is from an excellent article on the Mindfulness of Feelings which gives a deeper explanation for anyone who is not used to this way of thinking.

When we can separate our primary thoughts (I am angry) from our secondary thoughts (I will never be as good a mom as I want to be) and simply notice that we feel those things, the feelings pass through us. It is the judgment of those feelings that makes us stressed. When we aren’t mindful of how we feel, we aren’t aware that we are escalating our stress by judging those feelings.

“…worrying about worrying screws us up. Getting mad at ourselves for being mad screws us up. Being depressed about how depressed we are screws us up. All these secondary emotions get us caught up in knots. Without wisdom we use these primary emotions as the rock, and our secondary emotions as the slingshot to shoot us right into a cascade of subsequent, unhelpful emotions.” ~ CriticalStress.com

With practice, those three steps only take a minute or so. By tending to myself first, I am now in a better position to help my children. And I am actually more likely to be the patient mom I want to be. Because some of the triggers are deeply ingrained for me, I often have to repeat these three steps over and over throughout the course of a conflict if it’s one that isn’t solved quickly.

But the more I practice being mindful, the more I replace the habit of yelling with the habit of reflecting and responding calmly so that I remain connected not only to my children, but to myself. And that, really, is all I wanted when I made those resolutions to be more patient. Be mindful. Respond calmly. Remain connected.

“I can only bring peace to my children when I posses it myself”
~ Katrina Kenison

Finding Help For the “Difficult” Child

For those of us parenting a more intense child, a more needy child, a more emotional child, a child who is just….more, there are days that can feel so overwhelming and so unending that perhaps you may want to just crawl into a hole and hide. Or you find yourself yelling, losing your temper, losing the connection with your child.

I know. I’ve been to all those places.

grumpy girl

Our daughter is one of those kids. Of course she’s delicious, kind, innocent and I love her deeply. And she makes me bat shit crazy sometimes. Much of this blog has been dedicated to me being as brutally honest with myself about my own triggers, behaviors and reactions, as well as learning better ways to relate to both of our children in an attempt to create more harmony in our home. And frankly, in order for me to also help our daughter find some peace in her own mind and body.

She was always a little more of everything than her brother was. Her demands got more difficult around the time she was 2 1/2. By the time she was 5, I was pretty much losing my mind as her tantrums had become so long and so intense. Her oppositional behavior, reactivity and anxiety ruled our days so often that I felt depleted, resentful and desperate.

No matter how much I gave her, she wanted more. She was like a vessel full of holes…always empty. She would rail against me and then clutch at me desperately if she succeeded in pushing me away. I could feel she was in pain, but she made it so hard to comfort her. She had built a wall 10-feet thick to protect herself.

Many parents have children who go through difficult phases which make the parents want to tear their hair out. It feels like it goes on forever, but generally it’s a developmental phase and with some support and some knowledge in how to respond effectively, these phases do tend to pass eventually and the sun begins to shine again.

And then there are those of us whose children have sunny days, but the storm clouds seem to take over more frequently or for longer and longer periods. I know there are many families who struggle with conditions and issues far, far worse than what we are dealing with. Yet, I do think that for each family where a child needs some special help, no matter the details, the struggle feels insurmountable until you discover those small miracles that let you find your child again.

This is all very hard to talk about and there is a part of me that wonders if I am sharing too much of what is her story to tell. Yet, like everything I write about, I am working through my own feelings and ideas in an effort to get myself to the other side.

And I imagine there are many of you reading who can relate to the struggles we have. I am still searching for answers, but we have begun to have some real breakthroughs. In the hopes of helping others, I wanted to share our story.

Western Medicine, But Mostly A Shift In Perspective

We have been to numerous psychologists, a developmental pediatrician and a social skills therapist in trying to uncover what would work best for our daughter. Each helped a little and although I’m very happy not to have a diagnosis of something “wrong” with her, it’s was frustrating to know she needed help, but to not have a script or plan to follow.

Although each visit gave me another piece of the puzzle, I felt like I was in a fog. There were answers out there, but I felt blocked and fuzzy-headed. One morning I opened my computer and this quote caught my eye:

“It is true that a highly insecure child can be exhaustingly demanding of time and emotion. The parent may long for respite, not more engagement. The conundrum is that attention given at the request of the child is never satisfactory; it leaves an uncertainty that the parent is only responding to demands, not voluntarily giving of herself to the child. The demands only escalate, without the emotional need underlying them ever being filled. The solution is to seize the moment, to invite contact exactly when the child is not demanding it.”
~ Gordon Neufeld & Gabor Mate

happy brainThe very first words shifted my perspective on our daughter in an instant. “The insecure child”. I hadn’t considered her attachment to me to be insecure. I didn’t understand how it could be because I spend so much time with her. But it all made sense.

In many ways she was unsure of how I felt about her because I had such a hard time remaining connected through her explosive behavior. As a result, she felt unloveable and unworthy of being loved. She expressed this by constantly testing me to if she could push me away and, sad to say, she often succeeded!

I totally understood how Neufeld and Mate’s words would work. I had tried having “special mommy time” with her before and when I did it on a consistent basis I saw what a huge shift it had made in reducing her neediness and clinginess, but I hadn’t linked it to the fact that what I was really doing was offering connection when she wasn’t asking for it!

Hand in Hand Parenting’s methods for Staylistening have been lifesaving in working with our daughter’s oppositional and reactive behaviors. I only wish I had found this approach sooner. Staylistening allows children to express huge emotions and experience the release that comes from having them, while feeling safe and supported because a loving, connected parent is close by.

Understanding that I didn’t have to fix her feelings or stop them, but rather that I could just support her, was a game changer. Additionally, their course No More Hitting, which gives insight into hitting and aggressive behavior children often exhibit, helped me understand so much more clearly what was going on behind the tantrums.

Because I could shift the way I was responding, our daughter became able to express big emotions but the explosions didn’t last as long. There wasn’t the same irritation on my part, and I no longer always have the desire to run away from her when she seemed rigid and unyielding. I began to see things in a different light and that simple shift of perspective of my part shifted behavior on her end. It’s amazing how children are so exquisitely sensitive to our moods and energy.

Eastern Philosophies And A Reconnection

Happy girl collageI began to wonder what else needed a shift. I decided a difference in doctoring might be helpful. We went to see a board-certified family medicine doctor who also practices various types of alternative medicine including energy work, allergy elimination and Oriental medicine.

I read an article in which this doctor was quoted as saying, “Western medicine asks, Why are you sick? Alternative medicine asks, Why are you not healing?” Yes! This is what we needed more of.

We found that both of our children had food intolerances and when the offending foods were removed from her diet, our daughter’s mood swings radically lessened. She still experienced difficult periods, but they were decidedly less awful.

I realized I was going down a path that was working. Traveling this way was slower and had some twists and turns, but I knew in my heart it was the right path.

The next step was reconnecting with the healing work I used to do. I took our daughter to see a man who was one of my teachers way back when I used to practice various types of energy work. I signed our daughter up to receive a polarity therapy session from him and even though I knew what it entailed, I wasn’t sure what to expect for her.

Polarity therapy, very basically, allows for integration of mind, body and spirit. When our thoughts, emotions and physical body are out of alignment, energy imbalances occur. This results in physical, mental or emotional dis-ease and is a signal for us to learn, change and realign our lives.

I was nothing less than floored by her reaction to his work. She liked him instantly and proceeded to lay on his table for almost a full hour without squirming, complaining or even talking. When he was done, she sat up with flushed cheeks and a faraway look in her eyes. Then she jumped off the table, ran to me and gave me a huge hug.

Afterwards she was joyously happy…like, dancing and singing happy. She had a huge emotional release that evening when out of the blue she turned to me saying her throat hurt and just started crying. She cried and cried for no apparent reason and just lay on top of me, receiving comfort during the episode, which was so unlike her usual behavior. For two weeks after that she was more cuddly and more affectionate than she had been in ages.

We’ve since been for 3 more sessions of polarity therapy and each one has has provided her a subtle shift into feeling more integrated. None were as dramatic as the first, but the results were wonderful, nonetheless: more happiness, more peace, less raging behaviors, less flying off the handle for the smallest reasons. It was easier and easier to feel more connected to her. And I have to believe it was easier for her to be with her emotions.

The Last Piece of The Puzzle?

mischievous girlThings were so much better, and I wondered if I would be pushing my luck to try anything else with her. So far she was enjoying visiting all these different people and we were getting along so much better and there was much more peace in our home. I often feel that when things show up in your life, there is a need to pay attention to those things. And that is how we found flower essence therapy.

Basically, flower essences are a form of vibrational therapy, like homeopathy, derived from the flowering part of plants. They generally expand and shift our consciousness to help us see beyond our normal limitations and struggles and offer insight and new perspective on why certain challenges are happening and what we can do about them.

I consulted with a practitioner who integrates Co-Creative parenting with flower essence therapy and based on her observations of both of our personalities, our communication style, and the patterns of emotional resonance as well as frustration in our relationship, she prescribed certain essences for both of us.

Again, I was amazed at the results. I expected them to be so subtle I wouldn’t even notice. And, frankly, the few people to whom I mentioned I was doing this thought I was bananas. But that first week after we started the essences, our daughter was incredibly loving and happy. She must have told me she loved me a hundred times that week, something she doesn’t do nearly that often.

During this third week, she’s remained calmer and seems to be having a much easier time handling change and disappointment. The most amazing part of it though was that, again, she got a terrible sore throat that lasted for 4 days and caused her to almost lose her voice. I assumed she was sick, but she really had no other symptoms. On the 5th day of her constant coughing and croaking, after having written this post, I remembered the sore throat she had after the first polarity session.

I sat with her and held her close and began to talk with her about her 5th chakra which is housed in the area of your throat. This chakra, among many other things, has to do with expression and finding “your voice”. I told her about how I used to have so much trouble with my 5th chakra and held back from talking about my ideas and what I wanted because I was afraid, embarrassed, and ashamed.

I spoke for only about 2 or 3 minutes, but she sat with me, listening quietly. This evening I remarked to my husband that I hadn’t heard her cough all day and that her sore throat was completely gone. It’s as if it needed acknowledgement and it cleared. Who knows?

It’s all a work in progress, but I’m really impressed with what we are experiencing so far.

As for me, I have been having incredibly vivid dreams since starting the flower essences. The most powerful one involved a moment with our daughter in which I felt I was seeing her scrubbed clean and fresh, shining and happy. I leaned in to whisper in her ear how proud I was of who she was. How proud I was that she was unique and just herself…like no one else. She looked up at me, smiling and radiant.

Learning and Healing. Not Just Her, But Me, Too.

The Co-Creative parenting practitioner we saw for the flower essence therapy said something that has stuck with me since:

“Parents have the ability to bring healing to their children with their openness and the soul searching they undertake out of love for their children. Our ability to grow alongside our children, whose growth we nurture so ardently, is a key factor [in this healing process]”.

I don’t know what the future will bring. We’ve just started on this alternate road. But what I can tell you is that after perhaps the most difficult few years of my life, I feel at last as if something has shifted subtly.

I feel at last as if I am able to be the mother she needs. I feel as though I am healed enough (not fully, but enough for now) so that I can see her clearly. My daughter has taught me more about myself than I ever thought I could learn. I have worked incredibly hard in the last 5 1/2 years on understanding myself so I could be a better parent to her and to be able to say I truly am proud of the unique person she is.

I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher than my daughter. I am so grateful to be learning right along with her.

5 Ways To Regain Your Calm, Cool, Connection

If there’s anything I know about, it’s losing it with my kids and feeling awfully guilty about it 2 seconds later. I’ve written about it a few times on this blog and probably have many more scenarios I could share, but I will spare you.

What makes it worse for me is that I really do know better! I have many great tools and yet I still fall back on this old, useless tool of yelling, throwing a grown-up tantrum and making pointless threats.

Why? Because I’m not taking care of myself. Because I’m not always practicing being mindful. Because I have set it up in my mind that a particular moment is going to be hard…and then that moment lives up to those expectations. Because I have expectations that the day will be wonderful and when it’s not, I am disappointed. Because I have unresolved triggers from childhood, my first marriage, or just life in general. Oh, yes, in any given moment there are myriad reasons why I (or you) may not be parenting the way we want to be in any given moment.

But even if we behave awfully, or just lose it for a moment, we can’t wallow in those feelings. We need to make repairs and reset the course of the day. We need to get back to the real us and the real connection with our children. But how?

I think that I’m not alone in feeling these frustrations and wanting to make changes. My posts on keeping calm when you want to explode and triggers, tantrums and mommy time outs are two of the most widely read and shared things I’ve written on this blog.

Even if we are all working on the introspection to untangle triggers, the deep breathing, the stepping away when we feel stressed, there may still be times when we screw up and yell or make a snarky remark or sigh and roll our eyes. We’re human and we make mistakes. But my goal of deeply respecting these two, little people who need me, trust me and love me unconditionally is more important than any frustration I may feel momentarily.

But sometimes it can be hard to let go of the irritation. Sometimes I feel stubborn and want to hold on to my anger. I feel justified in my annoyance in that moment. But I know that not only is it not useful to anyone to stay angry, it’s actually damaging to my relationship with my children.

1. Be Kind. Rewind.

rewindOne of the best things I ever taught my children was the concept of rewinding. This was probably way easier to teach in the days of the VHS tape (where the slogan at the local video store was “Be Kind. Rewind”), but nevertheless, your children will get the point.

At whatever point you manage to catch yourself doing things poorly – whether it’s just that you notice your connection is “off” with your child or if you have already reached the point where you have been yelling and throwing things – you can stop and ask for a rewind.

When my children were little I used this when they would get stuck in a mood or seemed unable to get out of a struggle with each other. As they were too young to really get into a discussion about it, I just modeled the idea: “Oh, you really wanted that toy and he won’t let you play with it. And then you cried and hit him. Now he is crying, too! I think we need a rewind. Let’s do the rewind dance!” and I would do it by myself. Now that they’re older, they are often the ones who ask for the rewind whenever they feel the disconnect or when mommy is especially grumpy. Rewinding is also an awesome tool when you suddenly realize you’re stuck in a power struggle.

Just the act of doing something silly and out of the ordinary will likely alter the mood, but I love connecting it in their minds with starting all over again. Our “rewind dance” is just us being goofy, wiggling our bodies, rolling our arms rather like John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever” (minus the finger pointing in the air) while saying “rewind, rewind, rewind”.

We then stop suddenly, smile brightly and say, “Good Morning!” We continue the goofiness by recounting some of the days happy events as if they are just happening now: “Time to wake up! Would you like eggs for breakfast? Let’s go to the park and play on the swings. Then let’s make sandcastles that are so tall they touch the sky!” and so on.

By the time we’ve “re-lived” the day all the way back to the current moment, the bad feelings have dissipated and we can reconnect and talk about what they were feeling or having trouble with.

2. Recharge Your Patience

Obviously, as parents we each need different things to allow us to feel recharged. However, it’s not always possible to have 10 hours of sleep or a yoga class every day. So, when I am able to notice that I am feeling depleted and on edge, I have to ask for help. Most of the time there is no one to help me but my kids, so we came up with this very simple idea.

When nothing is going as intended (and things have gone “a bit pear shaped” as my British friend, Jackie, likes to say), you may feel frustrated, annoyed, and like you’ve got very little left before you blow. Try to catch yourself before you boil over, describe to your children how you are feeling and tell them that you need help to “recharge your patience”.

Verbalizing your feelings reconnects both hemispheres of your brain and helps calm you down.
It also helps your children understand that parents have feelings as well.
Doing something unexpected often halts whatever unwanted behavior is happening with the kids.
Asking for their help gets them engaged and focused on something other than the behavior that was frustrating you.

Now that you’ve asked for the help, give your index finger (or multiple fingers if there are multiple kids) to your child and ask him to hold it as if his hand were the socket that your finger plugs into. I usually add a few sound effects of buzzing and shake my body as if receiving electric shocks…which never fails to get a laugh (another mood buster).

Moving your body this way is not unlike an animal “shaking it off” after a negative encounter; it releases some of the negative energy stored in your body. Plus, a little goofiness goes a long to way to relieving tension and changing the energy for everyone involved!

3. Go To Alaska.

As I’ve mentioned before, we don’t use time outs in our family. But we do our best to continue to teach the children that at times everyone needs to cool down…even mommy. When the children were little they created a “cool down corner” that they named Alaska (as it’s very cool there. Get it?).

It’s not a punishment to go there; it’s a place to relax, collect yourself, regain composure and chill out until you’re ready to join the group again. Sometimes it’s nice to be there alone, sometimes you want company.

Make yourself your own cool down corner and be sure the space is comfortable and inviting. If you are headed there while home alone with the kids, you will probably not have a long time so have whatever you need there that will help you calm down and able to remember your priorities. It can be anything:

  • A framed photo of your children looking their happiest.
  • A gratitude journal which you can flip through to remember all you’re grateful for.
  • A memory box filled with little trinkets you’ve collected during happy outings with your children.
  • A favorite quote that always brings you back to a more present state of mind.
  • Music that helps you relax.

The earlier you recognize that you need to go to “Alaska”, the better. If you yell in the heat of the moment “I need to get away from you and go cool down!”, you’re just going to have a screaming child clinging to you for dear life. Because, of course, that kind of response from a parent feels life threatening to a child. However, if you start to notice you are tensing up, instead of ignoring the feeling, verbalize it.

You will need way less time to get past your initial tensing jaw than you will need to repair a full blown temper tantrum in which you made yourself and your children all cry. A little time in Alaska, coupled with some deep breathing, and you should be ready to re-connect with your family.

4. Reframe Negativity

reframe negativityHave you ever looked at a room full of scattered toys and thought, “What a mess!” Or listened to your children running through the house, yelping loudly and thought, “Stop making so much noise!” Or sat with your child as she has a tantrum and thought, “She is so difficult. She makes things so hard when she screams and cries.”

Consider that if you could stop and reframe those negative thought patterns you would drastically change not only the way you see your life, but the way you experience it.

That “messy room” could actually be viewed as a sign of fun being had.
The loud children could be looked at as joyful children.
The difficult child could be seen instead as one who has big emotions she needs help understanding.

Try making a list of all the things that make you frustrated, angry, unhappy. Then see how you can re-frame each of them. Some may feel like a stretch, some you may need help with in order to see them as positives, but don’t give up on it.

I catch myself getting irritated (especially with noise) and because I have been working on re-framing for a while, I am now able to more quickly switch my thinking to focusing on my positive version of what’s happening. I can instantly feel my body relax and soften when I do.

This doesn’t mean that I let my kids run wild or that my house is a mess (well, sometimes it is). It just means that by re-framing, I allow myself the opportunity to approach each of those things from a calm state of mind and am able to be the connected parent I know I can be. It felt awkward at first, but with repetition, it has become more natural.

Dr. Laura Markham explains this idea of training your mind in a recent post on her blog:

“Because we can’t switch our minds off, our inner critics are constantly looping through negative thought patterns. Brain research shows that our minds actually follow certain patterns that get etched into our neural pathways with frequent use. So when our child does something we don’t like, it starts a cascade of negative thoughts: ‘Oh, no….He’s doing that again…He never listens when I….There’s no way to get him to…..Why does he always…..I am so sick and tired of this….If I had behaved that way when I was his age….I need to nip this in the bud or he’ll be completely out of control in the teen years…..I must be a terrible parent…’

Sound familiar? The bad news is, many of us walk around in a low level of negativity. It’s so easy for our children to set it off. And the things we say or do from the grip of fear never give us the results we want.

The good news is, you can disarm your inner critic. You can develop the mindfulness to notice when you’re in a bad mood, and take steps to feel better. You can even “re-train” your mind to to make appreciation a habit, which has been proven to make us happier. Not surprisingly, you’ll find that you feel more peaceful inside, which allows you to be a more patient, compassionate parent.”

5. Give Yourself Visual Inspiration

Gina-Vision-boardSometimes we all need reminders. As much as we may know that remaining composed is a better way to parent, we can still get triggered and lose control. If you find you’re doing it often, or doing it often at one particular time (say, during the bedtime routine), then giving yourself a visual reminder of what you are trying to achieve can be very helpful.

  • Make a vision board. Use photos and quotes that sum up your parenting goals and hang it in a place where you see it every day. Or hang it in the place where you need the most help staying grounded and in the right frame of mind.
  • If arts and crafts aren’t your thing, you can simply hang Post-It notes around the house with words on them that will help you. “Nothing Is An Emergency” is one of my favorite reminders!
  • Make a public declaration to your children of your intention to change your behavior. I recently took Dr. Laura Markham’s suggestion of taking a “Vow of Yellibacy”. My kids have created a chart that they put stickers on at the end of the day if they feel I’ve done a good job of speaking respectfully to them that day. Having that visual reminder out in public is a good way for me to keep my tone in check!

The most important ingredient in all of these methods is forgiveness. You need to be able to forgive yourself in those moments when you are far from perfect. Having a few tricks that help bring you back to being the parent you want to be will allow you to have some sense of control in an otherwise very out of control moment! These are just a few of the ones I use to help me. I’d love to know what you think and what you might add! Leave me a comment below – I’m sure you’ve got some great ideas as well!