Don't Spit-Smudge My Face: Respecting Children's Personal Space

Tuesday, March 21, 2017 No comments


My son had food crumbs on his face. Absent-mindedly, I began wiping them off in the presence of others who were just feet away. Apparently, this was quite embarrassing for him. Of course, I didn’t mean to embarrass my child. In fact, I thought it would be more embarrassing for him to walk around school with crumbs on his face, but his look of disdain caused me to take pause and think of my actions. How would I like it if someone started wiping my face in front of my friends? My honest answer was, I wouldn’t.

I think of myself as a respectful parent. I honor my children as valuable human beings and do my best to treat their minds, bodies, and spirits with respect, and yet I realize that there have been many times when I have unintentionally disrespected their personal space. Let’s look at some of the common practices most parents do that we generally don’t think twice about.

Wiping Hands and Faces Without Warning


It would feel bazaar to say to a baby “I’m going to wipe the milk off your chin now” or to a toddler, “Your hands are sticky. I’m going to clean them with this wet wipe.” We usually wipe them clean without permission or often warning, but isn’t this rather rude? When I consider how I would feel if perhaps a waiter came up to me at a restaurant and wiped my face abruptly, I cringe. We wouldn’t dream of disrespecting an adult in such a way, but it is common practice in how we relate to children.

Scooping Them Up and Away


There have been countless times I have swooped in and scooped up my children without so much as a whisper of caution. Come to think it of it now, it probably gave them quite a fright! I can no longer do this because they’re half grown, but when they were little and light, I would scoop them up and away from undesirable objects and predicaments or just casually pick them up for a snuggle, and they never saw it coming.

Smacks, Slaps and Spankings


Still very common practices, many parents smack little hands away from outlets or hot stoves. They slap legs and spank bottoms to deter unwanted behavior, but these common methods disrespect a child’s body and dignity. While many still argue that the occasional smack or spanking is a necessary tool in child-rearing, I believe all humans have the right to protect their own bodies and that we send a dangerous message by violating this right with our young ones.

Tickles, Hugs and Kisses


I believe strongly in showing affection to our children, and I’m not going to assert that we must ask permission every time we want to hug them. What I am suggesting is that we be aware of the cues our children give us and know when to ask and when to back off. One of my children loves hugs but not kisses. Another despises tickling. I think it shows our children respect when we honor their wishes regarding tickling and affection and allow them to have a voice. Relatedly, it is quite common to expect children to hug and kiss family members they may not know well or feel comfortable with, and I think it is good idea to give children the option of a handshake or high-five in those situations.

Honoring Children by Giving Them a Voice
 

We can honor our children and show respect by starting when they are babies. Though it may feel silly at first, voice what you are doing as you change a diaper or wipe them down. I know they will not understand your words early on, but your gentle, respectful demeanor will be communicated nonetheless. As they grow, give warning before you pick them up, and explain why they mustn’t touch the outlet or get so near the stove. Point out the smudges on their faces and hand them a wipe, allowing them to take charge of keeping their bodies clean. Offer hugs and kisses often but never force them, and allow them the opportunity to say “no” to tickling and affection. Give them a voice by teaching them to say “Please don’t do that to me” or “I’d prefer a high-five, Uncle Jim.” Children are valuable, whole human beings from the beginning. Giving them the message “you are worthy of respect” from day one tells them they are safe with us and that we value them as people.

This article was originally published by Boston Parents Paper.

Great Expectations: Holding Children to Higher Standards Than Adults



I once said in a book, “So often, children are punished for being human. They are not allowed to have grumpy moods, bad days, disrespectful tones or bad attitudes. Yet, we adults have them all the time. None of us are perfect. We must stop holding our children to a higher standard of perfection than we can attain ourselves.” This quote has gone viral, being seen by millions around the world, and has received mixed reactions by people who love and understand the meaning of the quote and by those who misunderstand it to mean we should let children by with being disrespectful.

I, of course, believe in teaching children to be kind, considerate and respectful. I believe in coaching them to have positive attitudes, and to be aware of their emotions and how to manage them. I also happen to believe this is best done by providing an example, and if I’m honest, when I listen and look at many of the adults around me, I’m just not seeing it.

We generally expect children to be on their best behavior at all times, yet this is a feat we can’t accomplish ourselves. Who of us has never lost our temper? Who of us doesn’t get grumpy or have a bad attitude from time to time? I’d be a hypocrite if I said I was always perfectly well-behaved, and I dare say most readers would as well. It is not possible, in our human condition, to be perfect, and if I, in all my nearly four decades, haven’t managed to attain perfection yet, why should I demand it of my children who have only be here a very short while?

Consider the way we behave toward children in contrast with the way we expect children to behave toward us. We tell children “hands are not for hitting” but the majority of Americans still spank their kids. We tell them to use “inside voices” but we yell at them when we are frustrated. We tell them to be patient but quickly become irritated at backed up traffic or other daily annoyances. We demand respect but humiliate them on social media. It seems to me that adults aren’t upholding the many values we try to impart on our children, and we aren’t behaving in the excellent manner in which we expect them to behave.

When I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed, I see name-calling and rude behavior. When I watch politics, I see much of the same. When I run errands, I hear cashiers being fussed at and bank tellers being yelled at. I worked in banking for more than a decade and was on the receiving end of many adult tantrums. I am not suggesting we are all bad people. It’s the opposite, in fact. We are mostly good people who, on occasion, behave badly.

As a parent, I’ve lost my temper and yelled at my kids. I’ve ran to my room and slammed the door. I’ve yelled at my spouse, hung up on telemarketers and said negative things under my breath to the person who cut me off in traffic. I’m not a bad person. I’m a human person. Our children aren’t bad kids. They’re human kids. They make mistakes. They get angry. Sometimes they’re rude or grouchy. It’s never OK to treat others badly, and of course they should be taught that, but when we correct them, let’s do so bearing in mind that we, ourselves, are sometimes guilty of the things we are correcting them for.

My opening quote isn’t a suggestion to lower the standard we have set for our children so much as it’s to raise the standard for ourselves. It’s a call to rise up to our own fullest potential as people and parents and behave in a manner suitable to be imitated. And it’s also a call for understanding and compassion because being a kid is hard sometimes. Being a person is hard, sometimes. We all need a soft place to land. As parents, let’s not fail to teach our children all the right things, but just as importantly, let’s not forget to wrap them in arms of grace and say, “I am your safe place. Here you will always be loved.”

*This post was originally published by Boston Parents Paper.

This One Thing Helps Children Behave Better

Friday, March 17, 2017 No comments


“You can’t teach children to behave better by making them feel worse. When children feel better, they behave better.” – Pam Leo

Nearly eight years ago, I found the above words by Pam Leo to be absolutely true, and this truth led me down the path of connection-based parenting for which I am so grateful to have followed. When I used punishments such as time-out and tricks like behavior charts, my son’s behavior became increasingly difficult and we were locked in what I perceived to be constant power struggles. I felt like my son was always struggling to gain the upper hand when really he was only struggling to regain our connection. When I provided his attachment needs, he felt better. He was able to rest in our relationship, and his behavior improved.

Much of today’s parenting advice is based on behavioral theory. Time-out, for example, is a result of B.F. Skinner’s work on operant conditioning. We tend to think in terms of positive and negative reinforcement because Skinner showed us that a hungry rat will quickly learn to push a lever for food (positive reinforcement) or push the lever to avoid being shocked (negative reinforcement). As a result, we spend our days handing out food pellets or shocking children (metaphors for punishments and rewards, of course) to condition them to behave how we want them to behave, but, as Alfie Kohn, author of Unconditional Parenting, explains, “Behaviors are just the outward expression of feelings and thoughts, needs and intentions. In a nutshell, it's the child who engages in a behavior, not just the behavior itself, that matters."

Here are 3 ways we help our child feel better, thereby helping them behave better:
  1. Be the light reflector. While punishment may temporarily stop a certain behavior, it makes children feel bad about themselves, and when children feel bad about who they are, their behavior will reflect that. Rather than being behavior managers, we can become light reflectors (click the link to read more about becoming a light reflector). In this nurturing role, we simply reflect back the light that our children already possess. When they get off track, as humans do, we remind them of their goodness, their kindness, their willingness to help. We hold faith that their intentions are good, even when behavior is bad, and we guide them back to their true (good) selves.
  1. Use positive discipline. Positive discipline looks beyond behavior to the heart of the child. It seeks to determine why a child is behaving in a certain way so that the root cause can be fixed. Punishing or rewarding behavior is like slapping a Band-Aid on an open and bleeding wound. It might cover up the problem, but it doesn’t heal it. Positive discipline has 3 simple steps: Assess the need (find out what is driving the behavior), calm yourself and your child (because until you are both calm, your brains aren’t ready to engage with one another with empathy and the ability to solve the problem), and teach/problem-solve (look for a solution to the problem).
  1. Make unconditional love your top priority. Dr. Gordon Neufeld of The Neufeld Institute says this: “Unconditional parental love is the indespensible nutrient for the child's healthy emotional growth. The first task is to create space in the child's heart for the certainty that she is precisely the person the parents want and love. She does not have to do anything or be any different to earn that love - in fact, she cannot do anything, since that love cannot be won or lost...The child can be ornery, unpleasant, whiny, uncooperative, and plain rude, and the parent still lets her feel loved. Ways have to be found to convey the unacceptability of certain behaviors without making the child herself feel unaccepted. She has to be able to bring her unrest, her least likable characteristics to the parent and still receive the parent's absolutely satisfying, security-inducing unconditional love.” By offering our children our guidance along with unconditional love, we treat them not as rats in a box but as valuable human beings who have so much to contribute to our world.
This post was originally published at Creative Child Magazine.


How 10 Minutes of Joy Can Change Your Life



I’ve been thinking a lot about joy lately. After dealing with a bout of depression in 2016, I decided I wanted to wear joy like a suit of armor. I wanted my children to remember the sound of my laughter. I wanted them to remember my smile. I knew that the prior months didn’t offer much in the way of reaching either goal, and so I made it my mission to find simple strategies that would increase my joy. Did you know that if you carve out just 10 extra minutes a day to focus on joy, you’ll collect more than 60 joyful hours per year? Imagine how that could impact your life!

I got curious about just how an extra 10 minutes per day would impact my own motherhood and my life, so I added up how many joyful minutes I’d add over the next 9 years (until my youngest child reaches 18 and could potentially leave my nest). If I practice joy with my kids for just 10 extra minutes per day, I’ll gain 32,850 joyful minutes.

That might be 10 minutes of reading aloud.
10 minutes of Lego building.
10 minutes of Monopoly (okay, we all know Monopoly takes forever, but stick with me).
10 minutes of stirring the cookie dough and rolling it out.
10 minutes of snuggling.
10 minutes of listening.
Or talking.
10 minutes of undivided attention.

10 minutes a day equals 32,850 more minutes of happiness during their remaining childhoods.

32,850 more smiles my kids see.
32,850 more minutes of feeling loved, cherished, and seen.
32,850 more minutes of feeling connected.
32,850 more minutes of focusing on those that matter most to me.

I’ve been putting everything aside for at least 10 minutes each day to focus on seeing and feeling joy, and I can tell you that it’s making a difference. Slowly, I’m building up my joy armor. I feel happier and more connected to my people. I feel like time slows down just a little bit during that 10 minutes that I’m fully present and experiencing joy. I feel like I’m not missing out on life. 

“This is joy” has become my mantra. I look for it and I say it out loud (or just in my head if there are strangers around who might think I’m super weird). When the boys have a mess of paint and clay all over my table, I say “This is joy.” They’re here. They’re still children. They’re creating. This is joy. When we all climb in bed at night for read aloud time, “This is joy.” When we watch a movie together, “This is joy.” When my son throws him arms around my waist from behind me and says “Love you so much Mommy Girl” I think “This is joy.”

And the joy is spreading! I can see it in other parts of my life and I speak it out often. When I’m folding laundry, “This is joy.” We have clean clothes. When I’m cleaning the house, “This is joy.” I have a home. When I’m walking the dog, “This is joy.” What a beautiful day. That may seem a little Pollyannish to some of you, but in days such as these, I believe we need to clothe ourselves in joy and use it like a shield. May our joy sustain us. May our joy spread across our homes and across our nations. What would 10 extra minutes of joy mean for you?

This article was originally published at Creative Child Magazine.