When No Doesn't Mean No - Guest Post by Kelly Bartlett

Tuesday, August 7, 2012 3 comments
Guest Post by Kelly Bartlett from Parenting From Scratch.

The word "No" can make a terrible first impression.
Sometimes it just doesn't convey everything it intends. Especially if it comes from a young child: it's not quite as literal as it seems.
Upon first impression, "No!" sounds like:
  • I refuse.
  • I won't listen.
  • I'm defying you.
  • I don't respect you.
Those are usually our first thoughts upon being told No by our children. It's a feeling, an impression that rubs us the wrong way. We bristle at the blatant defiance.
Except you know how laughter doesn't mean a child is laughing at you (unless you're my goofy and highly entertaining husband), but is more of an expression of immense enjoyment and agreeability? It's a manifestation of all the happiness they're feeling in that moment.
A shouted No is like the opposite of that. It's the unpleasant feelings and unmet needs surfacing verbally in the easiest language available. No.
If we can take a minute to translate the No into what's behind it, where it's coming from, what it really means...
  • I don't like this.
  • I'm angry.
  • I disagree.
  • I'm sad.
  • I don't want to.
  • I'm frustrated.
  • I don't need help.
  • I'm disappointed.
  • I would really rather be doing something else.
  • I'm autonomous and need to make my own choices.
...we get an expression of a valid feeling or a valid need. Yet we often find a reaction of our child's No unacceptable. Children are quite capable of strong feelings and quite incapable of articulating them. "Using their words" is hard...except for the one that suffices when they don't know what else to say. No. It's a simple and powerful way to express complicated feelings.
Keep in mind that No is less about defiance and more of an expression of dislike (especially for the under-7 crowd). And since we want to teach our kids that all of their feelings and needs are always OK, we can start by finding their Nos acceptable. This means searching for that translation behind it; articulating and validating it for them.
  • I know you don't like this, and it needs to get done anyway.
  • You'd rather not; you'd rather keep playing. I understand.
  • It's a hard job, and I'm here to help you.
  • You're angry. It's OK to be mad.
  • You have your own ideas. What would help you get this done?
When it comes to a child's No, take a step back to consider what's behind it. Distance yourself from the defiance. Listen for the translation and give No a second chance.

Kelly Bartlett is a Certified Positive Discipline Educator and a freelance parenting writer with a focus on child development, family relationships and discipline. She is the author of Parenting From Scratch, where she blogs about her family's endeavors in unconditional parenting. (www.parentingfromscratch.wordpress.com)

Anger Control Stoplight for Kids

Saturday, July 21, 2012 3 comments

My 2 boys have very opposite personalities. My first has always been very easy-going, compassionate, somewhat cautious/anxious, and not an aggressive bone in his body. My second is more independent, strong-willed, and fiery. Those are not bad attributes at all; quite the contrary, actually. Both boys' personalities are wonderful in their own ways. They also require different things.

My fiery one is more aggressive and is coming out of a hitting phase. Starting right before he turned 3, for a good 4 or 5 months, that boy hit someone 10 times an hour, usually his older brother, who always shied away from confrontation.  I tried what felt like 50 different "techniques" to get him to not hit, and I don't think any of them "worked" so much as he just outgrew that phase. He's 3-1/2 now and he doesn't hit nearly as often as he used to, but his temper is still quick.

I happened across this free printable online for my kids to color one day. We talked about it, and I hung it on the refrigerator as a reminder. I hadn't planned on this becoming a "thing" at our house, but it has evolved into a very helpful tool for all of us.

Red - Stop
Yellow - Calm Down
Green - Go

For the first few weeks this was hanging on the refrigerator, I would only occasionally refer to it when someone got angry. "What should we do first? What does the red light mean?" One would chime in, "It means stop!!"

They totally got this little stoplight, so, I ran with it. We have talked extensively about each step on this stoplight. I've given them tools to use at each step.

Red light! I say this when I see one of the kids (or both) getting hot under the collar. I've given them several options to do during red light, including walk away, sit down, and take deep breaths. If someone is very angry and I see that he will need help red lighting, I step in and offer my assistance. "Let's take a walk together" or "Put up your moose antlers and let's take 3 deep breaths."

Yellow light!  Next is calm down time. Again, I've taught them several different ways they can calm down. Draw a picture, look through a book, pop balloons, shake the calm down jar, etc.This is not a go-sit-in-a-chair-for-x-amount-of-time-and-calm-yourself-down kinda thing at all.  And again, if someone needs help, I offer it. "Would you like to draw me a picture?" or "Would a hug help you?"

Green light! Go! I usually don't even have to say this one as once the child is calmed down and we've discussed the issue if it needed discussed, then he merrily goes about his way.

This is a really good tool to use in conjunction with teaching emotional intelligence. Used on its own and without offering the child assistance in the steps or teaching alternatives, it may not be very useful, and certainly this could be spun into something punitive, but that is not how we roll here. When I give these verbal cues, it is a loving reminder to take a breather and collect yourself, and its not just for the kids. I've told them to feel free to say, "Red light, Mom!" if I start to lose my cool. We can all use the reminder sometimes.

Ignoring Their Cries

Friday, July 20, 2012 19 comments
Would you ignore her cries?



What about hers?

Mormor  Of course not?

Then why on Earth would you ignore hers?

Big Tears Are OK

I am, at times, taken aback by the practices we, culturally, will accept and perform without question.

A friend recently asked for advice on her Facebook page because she said her child's (a preschooler) reaction to anything was to cry.  As I set there reading her friends' recommendations, my heart sank. Most all of them told her to ignore him when he cries. Some said to punish him or send him away, and my thought was my goodness, where is the empathy?

Empathy is lacking in American culture all over the board, but a severe lack of empathy in dealing with children's emotions is disturbingly prevalent.  We are given the advice to ignore them almost as soon as they come out of the womb in a sad and misguided attempt to "train" them, from allowing them to helplessly cry in their crib so that they learn to "self-soothe" to ignoring the screams of a distressed toddler so she doesn't "continue throwing fits for attention" to ignoring the cries of preschoolers and older children so as not to spoil them, and, for boys, feminize them. (Yes, sadly that is still a problem).

Our friends tells us they do it. The internet tells us it is okay. Some parenting experts advise it. Perhaps even your pediatrician may recommend it. However, the fact that everyone else is doing it doesn't make it right, neither does the fact that it is socially acceptable. I could bore you with study after study of the negative effects on children's brains and emotional development when they are ignored, left to cry alone without the comfort a parent's loving arms, but for goodness' sake, I shouldn't have to. Where is our moral compass?

How did we come to accept and believe it is okay to ignore our children when they are upset? Is it the lack of empathy shown to us when we were children that makes it so easy for us to be apathetic to it?
What a child doesn't receive, he can seldom later give. - P.D. James
It seems we have come to the conclusion that there are only 2 options. Give in to their cries, thereby spoiling them and turning them into dreadful brats, or ignoring them to keep that from happening.

But there is a wonderful third option! One that doesn't give in to the child, nor isolate the child.

EMPATHY.  It doesn't come easily to many of us, especially if we were deprived of it as children ourselves, but it can, and should be, learned and passed down generation to generation. I will not, for the sake of post length, get into allowing infants to cry-it-out as I will certainly go off on a tangent, but for toddlers, preschoolers, and the older child, it looks something like this.

Your toddler is tired and cranky.  The slightest thing sends him over the edge into a huge crying fit. I can tell you with certainty that he is not breaking down for his benefit. He is not manipulating you or trying to make your life difficult. He is overwhelmed, and giving him comfort will no more make him want to have more meltdowns than your friend giving you a shoulder to lean on will make you want to have to lean on her more. Don't withhold affection or attention during his time of distress. He needs you.


If your preschooler wants a cookie for breakfast, and you deny her the cookie causing her to cry, there is no need to ignore her OR give her the cookie. The third option allows you to say "I see that you are upset over the cookie. You really want it, but that isn't a healthy breakfast and I want you to be healthy." Understand her view. Validate her feelings. She is a human being.

If your older child pouts or cries because you won't buy him a new video game, sending him to his room isn't going to resolve his feelings, but only cause more negative feelings to build. You know what it is like to want things and not be able to get them. You probably experience that feeling every payday! I do! Empathize. "You're upset about the video game. I know what that feels like. I'm sorry you're feeling this way. I just cannot get it right now." Sure, it may require a whole lot more patience from you than sending him away or blocking him out, but remember...
You're not managing an inconvenience, you're raising a human being. - Kittie Frantz


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Positive Parenting Tools: Calm Down Travel Bag

Tuesday, June 5, 2012 5 comments

We have our calm down box at home, but sometimes (okay, fairly often) my kids get upset when we're out. So, today I made a trip to the dollar store and bought a small jar, balloons, and Play Doh.

I made a small I Spy jar, which is the travel version of our calm down jar. I figure if they focus their minds on looking for things in the jar, it's the same as focusing on the swirling glitter. I just added some colored rice and a few little items to spy.

Then, I just had to make the cute little stress ball balloons I saw here. Just fill balloons with Play Doh and draw faces on them.  I made 2 for our calm down box at home, and 2 for the travel bag.

I put the small I spy jar, a stress balloon ball, and a small paper tablet inside a Ziploc bag and tossed the bag in my purse. Now I have tools to help my kids calm down no matter where we are.

Positive Parenting Tools: Calm Down Corner

I saw this great idea on Here We Are Together and knew it would be perfect for our home. I don't do the traditional time-outs with my kids because they push away rather than bring closer, and connection and relationship are at the heart of this family.

But kids are kids, and sometimes they act up or get too angry and need to be removed from the situation. I know that my children's frontal lobes, where sequential thinking, logic, and self-regulation take place, are grossly underdeveloped until at least age 6, and the maturity of this region takes a long time. You can read more on that here, if you're interested. I also know that until the brain is regulated (calm), lessons I'm trying to teach my child go in one ear and out the other. So my goal is to help them get regulated (and the more I help them, the quicker they'll learn to regulate themselves!) so that I can then teach them the lesson I want them to learn.

You may have seen the "calm down corner" that America's Supernanny does. It is anything but calming! This, however, is our version of the calm down corner.

Here is the set-up. A comfy Pillow Pet to sit on and a calm down box to engage the brain out of that "fight or flight" mode and back to calm and reason.

Inside the calm down box is our calm down jar made with water, glitter glue, food coloring, and glitter. The idea is to shake the jar, and as you watch the glitter twirl around, it brings your attention onto the motion in the jar and instantly the brain begins to calm. It works for me too, and the boys love it.

Also inside the calm down box are a few books, a drawing pad and markers/pencils, and a container of rice. I made some colorful rice by adding 2 tablespoons of rubbing alcohol and a few drops of food coloring to a plastic baggie of rice and let set overnight.

Once dry, I put the rice into a container, added a few drops of lavender oil for that calming smell, and added a couple of pretty gems and spoons for digging around in.

The final result is a soothing place to go, engage the mind, and get regulated.

I know you may thinking, "What? A fun place to go when they're in trouble?" This is not a punishment, but a place to calm the mind. When my kids are regulated, I sit down with them and we talk about what happened and ways to improve or handle things better the next time. After all, the goal is to teach them better so they know what the right thing to do is, and they are much more receptive to my teachings when their brains are calm and regulated.

Of course, they're welcome to go to the box anytime to play, read, and draw. In fact, the more practice they get with it, the better it is for everybody. I'm sure I'll be sitting on that penguin shaking the life out of the jar myself at least once a day. ;-)

Positive Parenting Tools: Charts

Charts can be a very useful positive parenting tool if they are used correctly. I have used many charts through the years, some yielded good results and some bad results because they were used incorrectly. I'll share with you what has worked, and what has not.

First off, charts do not have to be tied to any kind of reward or consequence. Often, these charts are just visual reminders for my kids (whose names and faces have been blurred out for privacy), but I will occasionally attach a reward, especially when I'm trying to get them in a new habit, i.e., potty learning or straightening out bedtime problems.

Here are a couple of charts that went right.

This first one was a routine chart I used to help get both my boys settled into a daily routine. I have to admit I was never much on routines, but after reading some articles on the benefits of them, like this one, I decided to give it a go. With each task or period completed, they got to put their little smiley face Velcro sticky onto the chart.

The Benefits: This chart was a good visual for the kids on what they needed to do and what was coming next. It brought some consistency and calmed some of the chaos. They enjoyed the smiley faces and liked putting them on, feeling a sense of accomplishment and pride.

The Downfalls: You have to be consistent with it. Who's not Mrs. Consistent? Me, unfortunately.  I soon slipped back into my willy-nilly ways.

This responsibility chart was also a winner. This one was for my then 4 year old. The visual reminder was a plus for him, and he enjoyed putting his finished chore in the slip. (The role model one was added to cut down on sibling rivalry. It did help.)

The Benefits: The chart reminded him of what his responsibilities were so I didn't have to keep asking.  It was placed in the playroom where he could see it all day. My younger had one as well, with different responsibilities, and both enjoyed these charts.

The Downfalls: None.

Another winner was this potty chart I did back in 2009 for my 2 year old who was potty learning. I know this one is kind of amusing.  As I said, I do occasionally attach rewards to things, and this was one of those times. There was a giant toy Hummer at Toys R Us he wanted, and I told him I'd get it for him if he used the potty. This was pre-PPTB, so I hadn't read ANY parenting articles about rewards/punishments and how I should/shouldn't do things. I just did what I felt was right, and that is often the right thing to do! This worked like a charm. He was so easy to potty train! It took ONE day, and he never looked back. And guess what? He didn't even ask for the toy. He just enjoyed getting the stars. And of course he didn't continue to ask for stars each time he went to the potty once it had become a habit.

The Benefits: Earning a star toward his goal was encouraging and exciting for him. He could see just how far he'd come and how well he was doing. It gave him a sense of pride and accomplishment.

The Downfalls: None.

This bedtime chart has been a recent lifesaver! It was part of my "bedtime boot camp" because we were having major bedtime issues around here. The kids got a kick out of the term "boot camp" which is why I call it that. It's not much like boot camp at all. :-)  This was another time I added a reward because I needed to entice them to stick with the routine, so for each happy face they get (we'll get to that in a minute), they earn a quarter on their allowance. They get an extra buck 75 and I get a week of peace. Win/Win.

The Benefits: Expectations were clear and both could easily follow the steps.  This is on the back of their bedroom door where they can easily see it as we go through our routine.

The Downfalls: None. 

Charts gone wrong.

I have a tried a couple that went totally wrong. This first one is actually attached to the bedtime chart above, and is currently in use, although I've modified it now since seeing what the problem was (which I would have known if I had looked back on prior charts gone wrong). 

The idea was they got a smiley face for each night they followed the bedtime routine and rules and a sad face when they did not. Here's the problem with this chart. The sad faces were discouraging and of absolutely no help to my 3 year old. This also caused some sibling rivalry as he wanted to give his brother some sad faces, too. This obviously made him feel "less than" his brother. So, I don't do the sad faces anymore. They will get a happy face for following the rules (encouragement) and it will just be left blank if they don't, although we haven't had any problems since day 2 of this chart. 

The Benefits: The smiley faces indicate success and an extra quarter, so they do find those encouraging. They always smile ear to ear when I put the smiley face up. 

The Downfalls: The sad faces are discouraging and caused sibling jealousy and feelings of inadequacy. Big no-nos! 

Here's another one that went wrong. This idea came from Elizabeth Pantley's book, The No-Cry Discipline Solution. Here's how it worked. I wrote down what we were having issues with at the time. We started the day with 3 happy faces (sad faces were drawn on the flip side). If one these rules were broken, the happy face got flipped over to the sad face side and put on the other side of the chart. If they got 3 sad faces, they went to time in. 

The Benefits: None, except maybe calling attention to the expectations.

The Downfalls: There are so many things wrong with this chart. First, all the "no" statements were discouraging. The sad faces were discouraging. The behaviors were NOT at all improved by this, and it caused sibling rivalry if one got a sad face and other didn't.  This chart lasted 2 or 3 days and went in the garbage.

What have I learned? To always ask myself this question before I make a new chart.

30 Play Ideas for June

Wednesday, May 30, 2012 1 comment

Here are 30 fun, connecting activities to do with your kids! Have a wonderful June!

1.  Make slime! Here is how.

2.  Have fun with this free picnic play printable.

3.  Play bubble pool!

4.  Run in sprinklers.

5.  Go on an outdoor scavenger hunt.

6.  Go to your local library for story time.

7.  Put coloring in a bucket of water and stretch paper across a fence - fill water guns with this colored water and then let them spray paint!

8.  Take a nature walk, and let the kids take pictures of things they find interesting. Create a nature book with the photos.

9.  Check your local movie theater. Often they have free kids' movie days!

10.  Fly a kite.

11.  Hide all the army men, mini animals, etc. in the sand box - have an excavation.

12.  Go fishing.

13.  Camp in your back yard.

14.  Sculpt with homemade salt clay.

15.  Visit your local fire department.

16.  Act out their favorite bedtime story.

17.  Make homemade Popsicles.

18.  Go fishing!

19.  Choose one of these summer crafts to do.

20.  Make a craft for dad!

21.  Have a water balloon fight!

22.  Draw a hot wheels track on the sidewalk and race!

23.  Take them to a FREE workshop or craft event. Home Depot, Lowe's & Michael's have great workshops that allow kids to build and create cool projects.

24.  Have breakfast outside in your pj's.

25.  Make bath time special. Here are some ideas!

26.  Make mini volcanoes.

27.  Grab your nets and go Creature Catching.

28.  Make Dino fossils out of play dough and toy dinosaurs. Imprint and then let it dry.

29.  Play flash light tag at night.

30.  Find a new park to visit.

I'll Give You an Example

Wednesday, May 16, 2012 1 comment

"Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another, it is the only means.” - Albert Einstein

“A good example has twice the value of good advice." - Anonymous

"He that gives good advice, builds with one hand; he that gives good counsel and example, builds with both; but he that gives good admonition and bad example, builds with one hand and pulls down with the other.” - Francis Bacon

“Every father should remember that one day his son will follow his example instead of his advice.” - Anonymous

“Juvenile delinquency would disappear if kids followed their parent's advice instead of their example.” - Anonymous

“Nothing is so contagious as example; and we never do any great good or evil which does not produce its like.” - Francois de la Rochefoucauld

“Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other.” - Edmund Burke

"Your children will become what you are; so be what you want them to be." - David Bly

"Your children will see what you're all about by what you live rather than what you say." - Wayne Dyer

"Children are natural mimics who act like their parents despite every effort to teach them good manners." - Anonymous


An obvious truth: Children follow our example.

The reason so many parents struggle with "problem behaviors" has little to do with "discipline" and a whole lot to do with their example.

We say to them, "Talk respectfully to me!" but then we yell at them. We say, "Hitting is not nice!" but then we spank them. We say, "Clean up your room!" but our garage is a wreck. We say, "Don't snatch!" but we take away their toys when they do something we don't like. We say, "Watch your temper!" but we slam doors.

We teach them the unwanted behavior through our example, and then we have to try and clean it up with our "discipline."

Here's the thing. The reason so many wonderful positive parenting sites focus on teaching parents how to manage their own behavior, how to calm down in a storm, how to show compassion rather than anger, how to respond rather than react, is because they know that the example WE set is going to go farther in teaching our children proper behavior than any discipline technique, tool, or program we will ever learn.

But here's the other thing. It's HARD. Simple, but HARD. Because most of us weren't taught good emotional intelligence when we were kids. Our brains are wired to react, to yell, to lash out, and to turn this around so that we can truly BE who we want our kids to BE, that means we have rewire our own brains. How? By consistently taking those deep breaths to calm yourself before you speak, consistently walking away when you're too angry, consistently responding with sensitivity and compassion. Consistently. Time after time after time until the new pathway is made and it becomes our automatic response.

If we can consistently set the example of regulating our emotions, of calming before we speak, of speaking with kindness and consideration, of responding with compassion, we can bypass that whole "correcting in them our bad example" mess.

But wait. Am I saying we have to be perfect? Surely we are allowed to get upset from time to time. It's human, right? Right. I'm not saying we have to perfect at all. To err is human. We don't have to be perfect, but neither do they. Let's not hold them up to a higher standard than we can attain ourselves. Let's not be so quick to reprimand them when they yell or stomp away. Let's allow them to be human, too.

Let's focus more on our connection and on the example we're setting, and the need for correction will lessen.  I wish you all a connected, playful day. <3

Self-Compassion Through the Rough Patches

Thursday, May 10, 2012 2 comments
Helper - B4

Positive Parenting isn't about perfection. Thank goodness for that! I, for one, have been far from perfect lately. I've yelled. I've slammed doors. I've had tantrums. There have been times when my child has needed my compassion and my empathy, and I didn't have it to give. Not to him. Not to myself. I wallowed around in my guilt for a while. Berating myself for failing. Shaming myself for not being able to self-regulate.  "I'm the author of a positive parenting website! I should be better than this!" "I know better!" "I suck." "My kids deserve better." Blah blah blah.

Enough already.

I'm human. I mess up sometimes. Just like my children, I'm still learning how to be in this world.

I found this post from Hippie Housewife so inspirational. So real. She says:
I'm so tired and everyone needs me and I just want to be taken care of instead. Meals cooked, house cleaned, someone tucking me into bed and sitting beside me until I've drifted off to much-needed sleep. And most days I get by. I nap when I can and I gratefully eat food cooked by a kind husband. I try to keep a quiet schedule. I let some things go. Even so, some days get the better of me and I bumble my way through them, so very human in my weakness.
But those days don't define me. They don't define my children's childhood, either.
Then I read this post, and it slapped me upside my head. In a good way. I'm pretty terrible at self-regulating. One of the gifts I didn't receive in childhood, apparently. I'm more determined than ever to teach my kids how to do this so they don't have these same struggles when they're 30-something.

I've attacked the problem in my typical fashion. Research. Jot down ideas. Form a plan. Make a schedule. I'm nothing if not meticulous. Pardon me while I rewire my brain. I should have that put on a T-shirt.

There is a lesson to be learned in the rough patches, and if we learn it, internalize it, and put it to use, then we didn't really fail. We grew. And growth is good. Dr. Laura Markham says, "You can't simultaneously feel bad about what you've done and feel good enough to do better." My first step was to stop feeling bad about what I've done, to wrap my arms around myself and whisper, "It's okay. You're a good mama. You're good enough."

"Understanding alone cannot prevent disrupted connections from occurring. Some will inevitably happen. The challenge we all share is to embrace our humanity with humor and patience so that we can in turn relate to our children with openness and kindness. To continually chastise ourselves for our "errors" with our children keeps us involved in our own emotional issues and out of relationship with our children.." --Daniel J. Siegel

Once I stopped chastising myself, I sat in meditation for a while, letting the compassion flow in like it was coming from a fountain. I apologized to my children, who said "That's okay, Mom." Children are golden. Bless them. 

If you find yourself off path, struggling, and in the midst of a rough patch, know that you are not alone. You are not a failure. You just need a little self-love. As important as it is to be loving and empathetic with our children, we owe as much to ourselves. We're all learning as we grow. 

Try these techniques and meditations to bring yourself back to peace.

31 Days of Play: May

Saturday, April 28, 2012 No comments
Two kids in a tub!

Happy May! Pick one of the activities below to do each day for some awesome quality time spent with your child.

1.  Get creative with bubble blowing....and popping!

2.  Play in a sprinkler or pool.

3.  Have a sack race, indoors or outdoors.

4.  Family game night! Kids pick the game!

5.  Make a Mother's Day craft. Click here for ideas.

6.  Bake something together.

7.  Put "I love you" notes in all the places you know your child will be. Bathroom mirror, pillow, refrigerator, toy bin...

8.  Fill some balloons with water and food coloring and let them pop them in the bath. See this post.

9.  Start the bedtime routine 15 minutes earlier and read a couple extra books.

10.  Play a pretend game, such as doctor. See this post.

11.  Make a bird feeder. Take an empty toilet paper tube and spread peanut butter all round the outside edge of the tube. Roll the peanut butter tube in bird seed. Cut a piece of yarn that is about 12 inches long. Attach it to each end of the tube to make a way to hang the tube onto a tree. Watch for the birds to come!

12.  Go on a picnic at the park. 

13.  Have a backyard toy car wash!

14.  Stay in your pajamas all day, watch movies, pop some popcorn, and cuddle.

15.  Fill some balloons with helium and put them in your child's room while he's sleeping. He'll wake to a nice surprise!

16.  Turn up the music and dance!

17.  Have an ice cream taste test. Yum!

18.  Make mudpies. 

19.  Camp out in the back yard, under the stars, at least for a little while. 

20.  Play traditional birthday party games...without the birthday party, like pin the tail on the donkey.

21. Play dress up. Take pictures!

22.  Work on a scrapbook together.

23.  Check out this awesome slip -n- slide! Make this, or your own version, and have some slippery fun!

25.  Want to paint without the mess? Check out this no-mess marble painting!

26.  Build a fort and have lunch in it.

27.  Visit a pond or lake. Catch frogs. Go fishing. Ride the paddle boats. Have fun!

28.  Go on a nature hike or walk.

29.  Don't step on the lava! Make a path of pillows and cushions and have the kids jump from one to the other, being careful not to step on the floor (lava).

30.  Make big cars out of a cardboard boxes. Have the kids sit inside the boxes, cut holes for their legs and let them use their feet as wheels to move around.

31.  Play red-light, green-light. Play this with #30. It is so fun!

The "Positive" in Positive Parenting

Monday, April 23, 2012 1 comment
Baby Jackson Portrait
"Give me other mothers and I will give you another world." - St. Augustine

Each baby is afforded one childhood. One. That's it. There is tremendous pressure on  parents to get it right. We don't get do-overs. As Jackie Kennedy said, "If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do matters very much."

I know that if you are reading this right now, you understand the value of childhood. You understand the impact of your words on little hearts. You know that every interaction is shaping your child's brain, quite literally.

The responsibility of this can feel so huge as to weigh us down and make us feel as though we can never measure up, as though we are doomed to screw them up despite our best efforts.

Or, it can set us free.

Free to love them. Free to enjoy them. Free to fully cherish this fleeting time.

Positive parenting, on the surface, looks to be about gentle discipline, finding alternatives to spanking or punishment, and learning a more positive way to interact with our kids. In fact, I'd bet that more than 90% of those who Google "positive parenting" have discipline in mind, probably searching, just as I was, for a kinder way to control their kids. Their intentions are good, hearts are in the right place, but still, their minds are muddled with the current trends on "how to properly raise a child." It takes work and time to clear away the muddle, and many don't attempt to. They comfortably stay in that "first phase" of positive parenting. They've traded spanking for the time out chair, yelling for consistency and firmness, and they begin to notice and praise their kids for doing good, getting in that all-important "positive reinforcement" that so many positive parenting sites talk about. I'm not complaining about them. In fact, I salute them. That's a big step in the right direction, and it's not always easy to make.

But when they stop there, they're missing out on the freedom. They're still bound by the notion that they have to train them, control them, correct their every misbehavior, and on the flip side of the coin, bound by the notion that they must be perfect, never yell, never falter.

How can one feel positive and peaceful when there's so much pressure?

When you dig deeper down into positive parenting, you get to the "positive" part of the equation. This is the place where you can exhale and know that:
  • I don't have to perfect.
  • My child doesn't have to be perfect.
  • When we falter, we forgive.
  • We are free to love without conditions.
  • My child's behavior today doesn't define who he will be tomorrow. Neither does mine define who I will be tomorrow.
The coolest thing about giving up conventional parenting and just resting in the relationship you cultivate with your child is that, through this relationship comes real influence, through your example comes discipline, and suddenly you find that parenting is joyful again, without all the hard work. We've been conditioned to believe that parenting is so hard and that we are so self-sacrificing, but when we learn to put connection above all else, our hearts find peace.

Am I painting a flawless picture of forever harmony here? Not at all. There will be conflict, raised voices, bad days or maybe even weeks. There will be disconnects and high emotions and low emotions. There will be struggles and misbehaviors and loss of direction at times.

But that's okay. It's okay. Because we're human, and those things happen in the context of human relationships. Yes, our interactions are shaping their little brains, but this doesn't mean that every negative interaction will damage them for life. In fact, when we come back and reconnect, when we forgive and hug and say, "Do you know how much I love you?" we are creating pathways for healthy relationships, for learning how to come back to peace after a rift, and that's valuable real-world stuff they're learning.  

Have faith in yourself. Know that you are good enough. Believe in your ability to raise your child right. He or she was given to YOU for a reason. Set a positive example. Yes, guide them and teach them, and above all,  know that your relationship is what will make it all stick, not your "discipline." Not the time out chair. Not the taking away of privileges. Your relationship. 

Have faith in your child. Know that he is good enough. Believe in his desire and his ability to do right. Know that a single misbehavior, or even a string of them, does not define him. Know that unconditional love has the power to pull any child (and parent) back into the light.
"If you want your children to follow along a certain path, you must lead the way as the ocean leads a river home by remaining below it. If you manipulate, coerce and bully your children, you will have no power at all. If you lead with humility, gentleness, and by example, you will need no power at all." - William Martin

Alternatives to Spanking

Tuesday, April 17, 2012 6 comments

In light of all the latest research which has proven over and over and over again that spanking is ineffective at long-term discipline at best and harmful enough to cause brain damage and lower IQs at worst, it is time we move forward socially, adjusting our attitudes and behaviors surrounding corporal punishment.

I am not going to take lots of time citing all the studies and listing reasons why you shouldn't spank. The purpose of this post is to give you alternatives, but here is a concisely written article by Dr. Laura Markham titled Should You Spank Your Child? 

So, if you don't spank, what can you do? Here are some disciplining tools that will teach your child while maintaining your relationship.

1. A calm down area.  Some key information that you must understand is that, neurobiologically speaking, children are much better able to internalize what you are teaching when their brains are calm and regulated than when they are in a state of stress, which kicks the alarm in their brain and sends them into lower brain functions of flight or fight. It is for this reason that we want our children to calm down before we teach them the lesson we want them to learn. I have created a space in my home which includes a calm down box filled with several tools for my child to assist him in getting out of fight or flight mode and back into reason and understanding.

Inside the calm down box is our calm down jar made with water, glitter glue, food coloring, and glitter. The idea is to shake the jar, and as you watch the glitter twirl around, it brings your attention onto the motion in the jar and instantly the brain begins to calm.

Also inside the calm down box are a few books, a drawing pad and markers/pencils, and a container of rice.      
The final result is a soothing place to go, engage the mind, and get regulated.

This is not a punishment. You may go with your child to the calm down area or your child may go alone, whichever she prefers. The point is to get her calm. The lesson comes afterwards.

I know this may seem like a very soft or possibly even almost permissive way to deal with misbehavior when you are used to spanking, but the goal of discipline is to teach our child to do better, and there are many routes to that end. Just because this is a kinder and gentler route doesn't mean it is permissive. Permissive parents fail to set and enforce limits and don't discipline (teach) their children at all. 

Here, we are allowing our child the space to calm the mind, and once he is calm, he will better internalize the lesson that is to follow, whereby you teach your child what is acceptable and appropriate and give him alternatives to his behavior. For example, if he hit his sister, then once he is calm, you will restate your limit that hitting is not acceptable and you will give him alternatives to hitting. He has anger and frustration, normal human emotions, he just needs to know what to do with them. Allow him to squeeze a stress ball. Let him rip up paper, clap his hands, or pop a balloon. These sensory activities are often a release for kids. 

You haven't let him by with his misbehavior. Rather, you've waited until he can comprehend your lesson, then instead of punishing him for doing wrong, which doesn't show him how to do right, you've stuck to your limit and given him tools he can use so he can avoid hitting the next time, and his dignity is intact, as is yours. Win-win. 
“Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse? Think of the last time you felt humiliated or treated unfairly. Did you feel like cooperating or doing better?” ― Jane Nelson
2.  Problem-solving. It is tempting to hit kids with arbitrary consequences. "You've just lost your Xbox for 3 days!" "You're grounded!" "Go to your room!" Herein again lies the problem that these methods do not teach your child any how to's for better behavior. Do you know that irritated, empty feeling you get when you've read an article or book that tells you everything you're doing wrong but doesn't leave you with any alternatives? That's exactly how your child feels when you spank him, send him to time out, or give an arbitrary consequence. He now knows what he shouldn't do, but he doesn't know what he can do instead. And if he doesn't know what he can do instead, he is likely, just like you are, to fall back to doing just what it is that got him in trouble in the first place because it's the only thing he knows to do.

Having your child involved in the problem-solving process will not only teach him valuable lessons and instill self-discipline, but it will leave his dignity intact, and he'll feel good about himself and his relationship with you.

Let me give you an example of problem-solving instead of imposing consequences.

Note: Because problem-solving is a cortex (pre-frontal) function, the child probably won't be ready to be involved in the problem-solving process until at least age 4. However, you can certainly let your younger-than-4 children hear you problem-solve. Talk it through with them. "You wanted Emma's doll, so you took it from her, but now Emma is crying. You both want the doll. Hmm. How can we solve this problem? How about you and Emma take turns with the doll?"

Your 5 year old son gets upset at Grandma's house and yells "I don't like you!" to her. Grandma tells you about when you pick him up. Instead of telling him he was rude and taking away his TV for 2 days, involve him in making it better.

Ask him what happened at Grandma's. Hear him out. You might say "I understand you got upset. Everyone gets upset sometimes, but we have to be careful with words because they can hurt. Do you think those words hurt Grandma's feelings?" Ask him "How can we make Grandma feel better? Can you think of something?" He may decide to pick her some flowers or make her a card or write her an apology note. If he doesn't come up with anything on his own, offer him a few suggestions like I just listed and let him choose. When he chooses, help him carry out his solution by taking him outside to pick the flowers or giving him supplies to make a card and tell him how much better he will make Grandma feel. Let him surprise her with it! He'll probably be smiling ear-to-ear.

In the above scenario, you have still taught your son the lesson that it isn't acceptable to say rude things to people when you're upset, but rather than him feeling like a loser and leaving it at that, you've empowered him to regain his positive self-concept that he is good and capable, taught him an excellent life lesson in righting wrongs and the value of relationships, and, again, you've not compromised your relationship, which you will come to learn, if you don't already know, is where your influence on your child truly lies.

Obviously every scenario can go a hundred different ways, but the idea is to involve your child in the process. Let your child come up with as much of the solution with as little prompting from you as possible, but do offer coaching if he's young or having a difficult time problem-solving himself. There should be no shaming, blaming, or anger in the problem-solving process. If you're child is upset, or if you are upset, wait until everyone is calm to begin the process.

3.  Time-in.  For toddlers and preschoolers, time-in is an excellent alternative to time-out. To understand why we don't recommend time outs, read this. A time-in is much the same as the calm down area, just without the sensory tools. During a time-in, you remove your child from the situation, sit her on your lap or in a chair beside you, and stay with her. Empathize with her upset and help her to know she is safe. Wait with her until she is calm and regulated, and then move forward with your teaching.
Dr. Gordon Neufeld says this: "All growth emanates from a place of rest. Children must never work for our love, they must rest in it.  We have gone to a practice of parenting that makes them work for the contact and closeness. 'Off to your room! I withdraw the invitation to exist in my presence until you come into line' and we make them work at keeping us close. We might get more compliance, but we get a deeply restless child."

Gordon Neufeld on why kids need rest and how to provide it.

4.   Natural and occasionally logical consequences. Life itself is a pretty good teacher.  It is fine to allow your child to experience the natural consequences of his actions, but take care here not to "cause" the natural consequence to occur. If your child refuses to do his homework, facing his teacher without it or getting a lower grade is a natural consequence. If your child breaks his toy by being too rough with it, he has a broken toy that gets thrown away. That is the natural consequence. If you child gets home from a friend's house past the time you set and doesn't get any dinner, that is not a natural consequence, that is a punishment. Having to warm up his dinner or make himself a sandwich is the natural consequence. You should also exercise discretion, obviously, in which natural consequences you allow to occur. If your child refuses a coat in the winter, let him go without it, but bring it along for when he realizes that wasn't such a good idea. Making him suffer through the cold might teach him not to leave his coat again, but it isn't very compassionate.

Sometimes, for children who are too young to problem-solve, a logical consequence can be a good teacher. The key to effective consequences to deliver them with empathy and come from a place of teaching, not from making the child pay. For example, if your 2 year old throws a toy at your head, it is perfectly reasonable to take that toy and put it away. However, this isn't done by shaming the child and saying "That's it! I said no throwing toys! I'm taking that away!!" but rather with an "Uh-oh. Throwing is dangerous. That almost hit me. Let's put the toy away until you're ready to play with it without throwing. Would you like to color?" Your tone and body language is not threatening. You want to convey to your child that you are on her side and that you will do what is necessary to keep everyone safe, not that she is naughty for throwing the toy. She's 2, throwing is fun. She can't control her impulses quite yet. That doesn't mean we allow it though. For children over the age of 5 or 6, problem-solving will take the place of any logical consequence you impose.

Alfie Kohn on punishment.

The argument is often made that parents need to spank or smack hands in order to deter their child from a more painful outcome, such as getting hit by a car or getting burned on the stove.  But after spanking them for going near the road or smacking his hand so he doesn't touch the stove, would you then leave them alone near the road or the stove, having complete confidence that the swat or slap taught the lesson? Of course you wouldn't. So what is the value in the smack? Believe me, if I thought that smacking my kid was the ONLY way to keep him safe, I'd be doing it. But I've found that a serious tone and repetitive teaching (which you have to do whether you smack or not) is effective. 
How tempting it is to slap those daring little hands! Many parents do it without thinking, but consider the consequences. Maria Montessori, one of the earliest opponents of slapping children's hands, believed that children's hands are tools for exploring, an extension of the child's natural curiosity. Slapping them sends a powerful negative message. Sensitive parents we have interviewed all agree that the hands should be off-limits for physical punishment. Research supports this idea. Psychologists studied a group of sixteen fourteen-month-olds playing with their mothers. When one group of toddlers tried to grab a forbidden object, they received a slap on the hand; the other group of toddlers did not receive physical punishment. In follow-up studies of these children seven months later, the punished babies were found to be less skilled at exploring their environment. Better to separate the child from the object or supervise his exploration and leave little hands unhurt. - Dr. William Sears (source)

More reading:
10 Reasons Not to Hit Your Child 
The Debate on Spanking is Dead
I Was Spanked and I'm Fine
Plain Talk About Spanking

Some videos to watch:

The false distinction between spanking and hitting.

Long-Term Harmful Effects of Spanking Part 1

Long-Term Harmful Effects of Spanking Part 2

"I was spanked, and I'm okay."

Recommended Reading: Parenting Books We Love

Monday, April 16, 2012 1 comment
Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline: The 7 Basic Skills for Turning Conflict into Cooperation

Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Becky Bailey, Ph.D. 
In an era when most parenting books focus on the child, this book supports parents in dealing more positively with themselves as well as their toddler–to–school–age children, offering specific tools to stop policing and pleading with kids and start being the parents we want to be.
 Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason

Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn.
More than just another book about discipline, though, Unconditional Parenting addresses the ways parents think about, feel about, and act with their children. It invites them to question their most basic assumptions about raising kids while offering a wealth of practical strategies for shifting from "doing to" to "working with" parenting -- including how to replace praise with the unconditional support that children need to grow into healthy, caring, responsible people. This is an eye-opening, paradigm-shattering book that will reconnect readers to their own best instincts and inspire them to become better parents.

 How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Malish. This book features loads of practical advice on how to effectively communicate with your kids. Excellent read.

Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers

Hold On To Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate.
Hold On to Your Kids will restore parenting to its natural intuitive basis and the parent-child relationship to its rightful preeminence. The concepts, principles and practical advice contained in Hold On to Your Kids will empower parents to satisfy their children’s inborn need to find direction by turning towards a source of authority, contact and warmth.
 Connection Parenting: Parenting Through Connection Instead of Coercion, Through Love Instead of Fear, 2nd Edition

Connection Parenting by Pam Leo.
CONNECTION PARENTING is based on the parenting series Pam Leo has taught for nearly 20 years. Pam’s premise is that every child’s greatest emotional need is to have a strong emotional bond with at least one adult. When we have a bond with a child we have influence with a child. Pam teaches us that when we strengthen our parent-child bond we meet the child’s need for connection and our need for influence.
Raising Your Spirited Child Rev Ed: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic

Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka.

The spirited child—often called "difficult" or "strong-willed"—possesses traits we value in adults yet find challenging in children. Research shows that spirited kids are wired to be "more"—by temperament, they are more intense, sensitive, perceptive, persistent, and uncomfortable with change than the average child. In this revised edition of the award-winning classic, voted one of the top twenty books for parents, Kurcinka provides vivid examples and a refreshingly positive viewpoint. Raising Your Spirited Child will help you:
  • understand your child's­—and your own—temperamental traits
  • discover the power of positive—rather than negative—labels
  • cope with the tantrums and power struggles when they do occur
  • plan for success with a simple four-step program
  • develop strategies for handling mealtimes, sibling rivalry, bedtimes, holidays, and school, among other situations 
 Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers

Parenting for Peace by Marcy Axness, Ph.D.

If we really want to change the world, let's raise a generation "built for peace"... from the very beginning. Parenting for Peace is a user-friendly scientific roadmap for how to do exactly that... while bringing more joy into family life!
Parenting for Peace details a unique seven-step, seven-principle matrix for hardwiring our babies and children with the brain circuitry for such essential peacemaker capacities as self-regulation, empathy, intelligence, trust and imagination. The win-win is that a child wired in this vibrantly healthy way is a joy to parent, and as an adult has the heart to embrace and exemplify peace, the mind to innovate solutions to social and ecological challenges, and the will to enact them. To be successful in a changing world.
Parenting for Peace offers readers a user-friendly shortcut around today's information overload, because it gives them the most important research from dozens of leading experts woven together with its own empowering perspectives on bringing more joy into family life.

Positive Parenting in Action by Rebecca Eanes and Laura Ling.

Parenthood is a beautiful journey. We don't have to become adversaries with our children; doing so is very unnatural to our humanity. We are all wired for connection, for closeness, and for love. Positive parenting frees us to move from the traditional parenting roles which create friction and rebellion and allows us instead to move into a more natural role which creates cooperation and peace. The inevitable conflicts that arise in a relationship no longer define the relationship, but serve as stepping stones to greater understanding and connection.

There is an abundance of resources available which tell parents why traditional parenting practices are not optimal, but few help parents learn what to do in place of traditional practices. In this book, we'll discuss the principles of positive parenting, and then we will go through more than 40 scenarios to show you what it looks like when these principles are put into action.

The Newbie's Guide to Positive Parenting by Rebecca Eanes

Do you want to create a more positive and peaceful home? Are you tired of parenting formulas and techniques that just don't work and leave you feeling at odds with your child? Learn the 5 principles of positive parenting and discover how to bring connection and peace back into your relationship with your child. You'll learn a new way in which to relate to your child, one which fosters connection rather than disconnection, respect rather than rebellion, and cultivates a healthy relationship which you can enjoy throughout the years.

For lots more great parenting books, visit the Positive-Parents.org Shop.

5 Ways to Build a Happier Family

Tuesday, April 10, 2012 2 comments
Family Playtime

1. Abandon comparisons. Comparing people is never helpful, whether it is comparing your child to her sibling or one child to another child or your spouse to your friend's spouse or yourself to the PTO leader.  Even favored comparisons (you're a much better singer than your sister!) are harmful. Each person in your family should know that (s)he is adored for being just who (s)he is. Be mindful of your language and thought patterns throughout the day and take a mental note if you find yourself making comparisons, then try to eliminate it altogether. When everyone knows they are loved wholly for who they are at this moment, they will flourish!

Enjoying Each Child as an Individual
Valuing Your Spouse: 3 Tremendous Ways to Do So
"See the light in others, and treat them as if that is all you see." - Dr. Wayne Dyer
2.  Unplug and tune in. We love our smartphones, iPads, and social networking sites, but it can be easy to tune out your family when you're plugged in all the time. If you want a happier, closer family, commit to some "unplugged time" daily. Put away all the gadgets, shut down the computer, and connect with your spouse and your kids for some time each day with no distractions.
Sherry Turkle, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Initiative on Technology and Self, has been studying how parental use of technology affects children and young adults. After five years and 300 interviews, she has found that feelings of hurt, jealousy and competition are widespread. Her findings will be published in “Alone Together” early next year by Basic Books.
In her studies, Dr. Turkle said, “Over and over, kids raised the same three examples of feeling hurt and not wanting to show it when their mom or dad would be on their devices instead of paying attention to them: at meals, during pickup after either school or an extracurricular activity, and during sports events.”  
The Long-Term Effects of Technology on Family Time
The Risks of Parenting While Plugged In
'Your children are the greatest gift God will give to you, and their souls the heaviest responsibility He will place in your hands. Take time with them, love them close up and teach them to have faith in God. Be a person in whom they can have faith. When you are old, nothing else you've accomplished, invented, authored or inspired will have mattered as much'. ~ Wingate
3.  Create family traditions/rituals.  Traditions and rituals unique to your family gives everyone the feeling of being part of something special and create a wonderful sense of belonging.  Many treasured memories lie in family rituals. Rituals help us identify who we are both as an individual and as a family; they provide something constant, stable, and secure in a confusing world. These traditions and rituals don't have to be complex or expensive, just a little something that says "home."

The Importance of Family Traditions and How to Create Them
The Importance of Family Rituals

Family traditions counter alienation and confusion. They help us define who we are; they provide something steady, reliable and safe in a confusing world. - Susan Lieberman

4.  Home is a safe haven.  Home should be a place of comfort and joy for all family members. Naturally the occasional conflict will arise, but if there is constant bickering in your home between children, parents, or parent and child, it's time to put a stop to it. No one can find rest in a place with such negative energy, and it is stressful to be in constant conflict. If the battles are between your children, set clear limits on what is acceptable and what is not. Do not allow bullying, taunting, or name-calling. Each child has a right to feel safe in his/her own home. See the article below, Solutions for Siblings, for more on this.

Your relationship with your spouse is a model for your children. The way you two interact sets the stage for your child's future relationships. Model respectful communication even through disagreements, and your children are more likely to do the same. If you and your spouse are in constant conflict, seek help.
Chronic parental conflict creates a climate of tension, chaos, disruption and unpredictability in the family environment that is meant to be safe and secure and comfortable to grow up in. Children feel anxious, frightened, and helpless. They may worry about their own safety and their parents’ safety even if there has been no actual or threatened violence.
If you are in constant conflict with your child, there are several steps you can take. The first is to reconnect with your child and re-establish the bond that has been lost.  Second, clean the lens through which you see your child. What does your child look like?  Third, reset the overall tone by remaining respectful when conflicts arise and avoid yelling. If you need to take a time out to manage yourself, there's nothing wrong with doing so. In fact, this teaches your child the valuable skill of learning to handle his own emotions. Work toward problem-solving instead of doling out punishments or consequences.

Solutions for Siblings
Chronic Parental Conflict: How It Can Be Harmful for Children
Connecting With Your Child
Negotiating Parent-Child Conflicts
It Only Takes 3 Minutes to Stop Yelling at Your Child

My home is the home of peace.My home is the home of joy and delight.My home is the home of laughter and exultation.Whosoever enters through the portalsof this home, must go out witha gladsome heart. This is the home of light; whosoever enters here must become illumined. ~Abdu'l Baha~

5.  Family Meetings.  It may sound like a corny idea at first, but family meetings are a great way to show appreciation, plan things, and tackle problems. During a family meeting, children know that their opinions matter, and family meetings further solidify their place in the family unit. 

How to Use Family Meetings to Build a Closer Family
Family Meetings

Importance of Family Meetings Podcast
"The family meeting is a place where all of our families are defined.  It's a place for us to practice being our best as parents and allowing our children to become their best. It's a place for children to practice using their voice in a productive, positive, and respectful way.  It's a place to show appreciation for each other on a regular basis." - Vicki Hoefle