Why Mindfulness Matters

Thursday, May 30, 2013 No comments

Mindfulness is being conscientious, caring, and intentional in your parenting. - Dr. Dan Siegel

Mindful parenting is a topic that has been written about my many great authors and is gaining more and more attention in the mainstream. It is a broad topic which encompasses many separate categories.

One aspect of mindfulness is being present moment to moment. This is challenging in today's fast-paced society. It is about slowing down, observing what is really going on around you and taking that in. It is a great way to get more joy out of every aspect of your life, not the least of which is parenting. Being present with our children instead of merely occupying the same space is a wonderful gift to both us and them. We all are know how quickly childhood passes, so when we are mindful, when we are present and attuned, we are keenly aware of our actions, thoughts, decisions, and time. It makes us more effective not only at parenting but at everything we do. The present is the only thing we can control anyway, so why not remain in it?

Another aspect, as Dr. Siegel states, is that of being conscientious, caring, and intentional in our parenting. Being really aware of how we are raising our children and why we are raising them the way we are is a part of this mindfulness. It's having a conscious plan or vision for what we are striving for as parents. Caring, compassion, and empathy are part of mindful parenting, not only as it pertains to our children, but to ourselves and those around us.

Caring, compassion, and empathy do not make us weak parents but rather requires great strength and composure. Being mindful also means we must learn to control our emotional reactivity, and mindful parents teach emotional balance to our children. This means we strive to control our anger and frustration in the moment and not react (lash out). We find ways to calm our brains when we get into those states, and we pass those tools and knowledge onto our children so that they learn now to control themselves when high emotions arise. It's also about balance; finding sources of happiness, joy, peace, and contentment. The more we can remain in a state of joy and peace, the better the atmosphere we provide and the more we are able to model and teach our children.

Dr. Siegel describes "mindsight" as being able to see your mind and the mind of others; looking behind the behavior of a child and into the mind to discover what is really going on. This takes practice, but when we are able to do this, we can address the real issue and help the child to grow and develop and learn rather than just punish for misbehavior, which doesn't solve the core problem.

There are a lot of very helpful short videos by Dr. Dan Siegel on YouTube. I'll post one of his videos of mindfulness below, which will lead you to the rest on YouTube. I highly recommend taking some time to view them and also to pick up his books if you're interested in learning more about his teachings.

Of course, Dr. Siegel is just one of many to discuss mindfulness, but he is the one that I'm most familiar with.

In summary, mindful parenting is a lifelong practice. It's about becoming aware of how life is unfolding around you, both your life and your children's lives. It's openhearted, wholehearted living. It's about seeing children as the are, not how we want them to be, and valuing them just as they are. It's about training our own minds to empathy, compassion, peace, joy, balance, and teaching that to our children. It affects the emotional and relational development of our children, and they grow up to be grounded and functional in dealing with emotionally charged situations. It's really about relationships, really seeing each other, being attuned and connected, learning to respond instead of react. It's a way of relating to one another on a deeper level.
Practice sharing the fullness of your being, your best self, your enthusiasm, your vitality, your spirit, your trust, your openness, above all, your presence. Share it with yourself, with your family, with the world.”
― Jon Kabat-Zinn

Handling "I Want My Way" Tantrums

Yesterday we talked about tantrums being emotional distress and how to handle those types of tantrums - with empathy!

But there is another kind of tantrum. This kind:

Sometimes children tantrum not because they are necessarily emotionally overwhelmed, but because they want something, either attention or an object of some kind.

The popular advice would be to ignore the child. While I admit that ignoring a child who is throwing this type of fit isn't likely to cause any damage, I simply don't think it's nice to ignore people. It's the golden rule, so unless you want your child to ignore you, I wouldn't do it to him.

It appears to me that the child in this video just wants some attention. As Gordon Neufeld states in the video below, if your child wants attention, why not give it to him? You might think, "Well if I give my child attention after acting like this, he'll learn this is an acceptable way to behave in order to get attention." Well, then a good way to avoid that is by giving the child a lot of positive attention before he gets needy of it. Sometimes we don't realize how busy we are and how little quality interactive time we're spending with our children. Make a point to keep your child's cup full, and "attention tantrums" will stop.

I was shopping recently and a little girl who looked to be about 4 was being pulled by one arm through the store. She was intermittently crying and throwing her legs out from under her because she wanted to go back to the toy aisle. The mother was being very patient, which was refreshing, and trying to distract her with looking for a grandparent. Distraction is sometimes a very good tool for getting your child's mind off a particular object. Also, stopping where you are, getting down to eye level, and saying something like "I understand you really want that toy today. I can't get it today, but I will put it on your wish list."

When faced with an "I want my way" tantrum, here is what I would suggest you NOT do:

1. Don't ignore the child. Ignoring the tantrum may work if you're sure it's not from emotional distress, which would look something like "I see you're upset, but you can't have _______ (only say this once). Would you like to play __________?" If she continues to whine and fuss for the object, just ignore *that* but not her. Try to engage her in something else if you can, but if you don't give in and give her the object, this game will grow old soon.

2. Don't give in. Sometimes rules can be broken and sometimes it's okay to bend, and you'll know what you're willing to negotiate and what you're not, but generally if you've said no, you mean no, and he needs to know that you mean what you say. Consistency is important in leadership.

3. Don't have a tantrum of your own. You know what I mean. We've probably all had our own adult hissy fits. Try not to blow your top so you can model what control looks like.

4. Don't punish for wanting attention or even things. We all want attention. We all want things. That's not bad behavior. Some coaching is definitely necessary to teach them an appropriate way to express their wants, though.

Here's what I suggest you DO:

1. Discover the need behind the tantrum. Discern whether it's true emotional distress or not.

2. Ignore the whining, not the child. It's good to acknowledge and empathize, even if it's just an "I want my way" fit, but if it's been dragging on for 20 minutes, then continuing to talk about the object or problem may just be making it worse.

3. Offer plenty of choices to your child throughout the day so that he feels he has some control.

4. Fill up your child's attention cup before it runs out. Spend quality time playing with, reading to, and interacting with her.

Help for Handling Tantrums

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 No comments

If you've had a toddler, chances are you've experienced a tantrum. I've been blessed in that neither of my children have ever been big on tantrums, but we've seen a few. In fact, just 2 nights ago, my 2-year-old threw himself on the floor of the grocery store and stiffened up so that he was hard to lift up. I love the looks people gave me. The teenagers smirked and giggled. The younger moms nodded. The elderly smiled. One mom stopped to tell me, "Enjoy it, even now, honey. It's harder when they're bigger." It's bound to happen to you sooner or later, so how do you handle these scenarios the Positive Parenting way?

Let's walk through some scenarios.

Scenario #1
Your 18-month-old is happily stacking blocks. Suddenly, the blocks fall over, and he begins to wail and flail. What? He was happy 4 seconds ago.

Behind the behavior: Frustration. Most likely, a lot of little frustrations throughout the day have been building, and the blocks falling was the last straw. Look for what could be causing unnecessary frustration throughout the day. Does he hear "no" 500 times? Is he still mostly non-verbal? Imagine how annoying it must be to not be able to communicate what you're needing or feeling. Is he getting enough rest? Lots of things can cause frustration to build. Look for the causes and address them.

ACTION: All he needs from you at this point is understanding. He's got big emotions, and he needs to release them. Depending on your child, hold him, rock him, or just stay near. You might say "You're so frustrated! It's okay. I'm right here." Wait with him until it passes. If it's a minor upset, you may be able to improve his mood with humor, but if it's major, he needs to get it out. Just love him through it. It will pass, and not only this tantrum, but this entire stage, and pass quickly.

Scenario #2
Your 3-year-old wants ice cream for dinner. (Sounds yummy to me, too!) You, however, have dinner on the stove, and you know ice cream doesn't exactly cover the 4 food groups. *You might be able to side-step the tantrum with a "Yes! You can have ice cream after dinner" instead of just "No" but, then again, maybe not.* Realizing she is not getting ice cream right now, she has a meltdown of her own.

Behind the behavior: This is getting trickier :) At 3, she may want a little more control, and deciding what she wants for dinner seems perfectly reasonable to her. If she has been grappling for independence recently, you can give her control over all the areas you don't need control over. Let her decide her snacks. Let her pick out which plate. Let her match (or mismatch) her own outfits. This will help fill her need for autonomy, and she'll be more likely to cooperate when you need the control.

Or, this could just be another case of frustration. Being 3 isn't always a walk in the park. Look for ways to ease her frustration levels through the day. Do you have too many unnecessary limits? Is she constantly spatting with a sibling? Is there tension in the home? Address the reason behind the frustration, and she won't be melting down so much.

ACTION: Empathy will always be your first step in addressing tantrums. She doesn't need the ice cream, but she does need to know that you "get her." If you send her away for tantruming, it will just build more bad feelings on top of what she already has. It's okay to be upset that you can't get what you want. Be present for her. You might say, "Wow, you're upset. You really want ice cream right now!" Truly empathizing with her upset is likely to reduce tantrum time, but remain present and calm (just breathe!) until she lets it all out. Explaining why she can't have the ice cream mid-tantrum is futile. She's in flight or fight mode (throwing in some brain science here) and it's best to save the lesson for when she's regulated (calm). Later, you can explain why ice cream isn't a good dinner choice, but during the tantrum, she just needs your presence and empathy.
*Note* If she has aggressive tantrums (i.e. kicks or hits) or tells you to go away, keep at a safe distance, but don't leave. Let her know you accept her, big emotions and all.

Scenario #3
You've taken your 2-year-old with you shopping. You've been out for a few hours now, and the crankiness has been increasing over the past hour. She grabs her sippy, but it's empty, so she hurls it to the floor and begins to cry. Hard. You're already noticing "the looks" from the other shoppers.

Behind the behavior: Hunger? Tiredness? Over-stimulation? Boredom? Could it have been prevented? Fill the need, whether it be food or a nap or a break, once the tantrum has passed, and chalk it up to a learning experience for the next trip.

ACTION: What's the word of the day? EMPATHY! Who cares if everyone is staring and judging? Focus on your baby and maybe they'll learn something. "I know you're so tired! I'm sorry, sweetie. I've kept us out too long today, and you've missed your nap. It'll be okay." By now, I bet you've got this down pat. Stay with her through the tantrum, empathize with her upset, remain calm.

Scenario #4
Your 7-year-old asks you for a new scooter like his friend has. You tell him you can't afford it right now. He yells back at you that he never gets anything he wants, his friend's parents buy him everything, and then he goes into full-on fit mode, stomping, slamming doors, throwing things.

Behind the behavior: At 7, he should probably be past the tantrums, so you might need to do a little detective work. Perhaps there is peer pressure of some kind, or maybe even bullying that you're not aware of. His desire to fit in may be why he wants the scooter, and may be driving the tantrums. Or perhaps he just hasn't learned how handle his emotions very well yet. It's time to teach him how. How do you teach him? You guessed it!! EMPATHY.

ACTION: It doesn't matter if your child is 1, 7, 15, or 35, when he is upset, he needs understanding and empathy. The lessons can come later, but during the time of extreme upset, he needs you to be the rock.
Brain development requires little ones to be soothed by someone else, and from that they develop the neural network to soothe themselves. If they don't develop this neural network in infancy, whether because they are left to cry or for some other reason, they will need your help to develop it during childhood. -Dr. Laura Markham
The drill is the same. Let him know that you see that he is upset and that you're there for him. However, this doesn't mean allowing him to speak disrespectfully to you or letting him throw things. Try to connect with him, tell him you understand how he feels, and also let him you won't be disrespected or yelled at. If he continues to be disrespectful and it's getting to you, it's logical to walk away until he's gained composure. Younger children need our presence to teach them through these emotional storms, but a child of 7 should be capable of controlling his emotional reactivity if he's been taught how.

For more on tantrums in older children, read this post by Dr. Laura Markham, which explains in depth how to handle this issue.

Once the storm has passed and your child is calm, address the behaviors of kicking, hitting, slamming doors, or throwing things. Explain that the feelings are acceptable but these actions are not because they could cause injury. Talk about better ways of handling anger and frustration with your child; counting to 10, going outside to throw a ball, or for younger children, clapping releases that energy, or perhaps an optional cool down spot filled with books or soothing music. Punishing him for kicking won't teach him a more appropriate way to handle his frustration, but only add to his bad feelings. Until we give children better tools to deal with tough emotions, we can't expect them to do better.

Also, read Managing Your Toddler: TANTRUMS! for more great tips.

Permissive parents give in to tantrums by giving the child ice cream or buying the scooter, authoritarian parents may punish the child for having a tantrum, but positive parents stay within their set boundaries while empathizing and helping the child deal with her emotions.

It is also important to realize that being loving and present through a tantrum doesn't teach your child it's okay to have tantrums. Tantrums are a result of built up emotions that need released. Think of a time when you've been extremely upset. Perhaps your spouse or a friend was there with you while you cried or ranted, holding you, squeezing your hand, listening. It didn't send the message to you that it's good to be upset and rant, and it didn't cause you to rant more frequently. When someone is present and comforting through our upsets, it helps us recover faster and makes us feel connected and loved.

We want to show our children that we accept them all the time, when the waters are calm AND through the raging storms. This is unconditional love.

Consequences That Teach

Tuesday, May 28, 2013 No comments

There is a disturbing new parenting trend for "creative consequences." Surely you've heard of the dad who shot his daughter's laptop, or the "Ohio Mom" who posted an X on her daughter’s face and shamed her on Facebook, or most recently the step-mom who made her daughter wear embarrassing clothing to school so that she would be bullied. 

What is truly shocking is the number of people supporting public humiliation by parents as a punishment or discipline tactic! 

But is shaming children really the way to go? Is it effective?

Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW has spent the last 12 years researching shame, guilt, and vulnerability. She states:
"Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows."

and very importantly
 “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”

Giving consequences with the intention of shaming, hurting, or humiliating your child is damaging.  Sure, they may "work," but at what cost?

The purposes of consequences, however, should not be to make us famous or earn us a pat on the back from other parents, but to teach the child in a constructive way.

Shame and humiliation create fear, and research indicates that the brain operates differently under fear. Under this threat, the brain reacts with increased blood flow to the survival centers of the brain and decreased blood flow to the higher thought centers. When the brain goes into this "survival mode," it becomes less capable of planning, receiving information, classifying data, and problem solving.

Becky Bailey wrote this in her book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline:
"Children under threat make choices that are biologically driven. Over time, this approach creates impulsive children who resist change and lack the ability to solve problems constructively."

1. Give consequences with the intention of teaching, not the intention of punishing or making the child feel bad.  Intention is important because the intention you have in your mind will influence the language and tone you use when you deliver the consequence. Be sure to be empathetic when delivering the consequence. Empathy calms the brain, removes the threat, and allows a person to take responsibility for this own behavior.

2. Let natural consequences happen where appropriate. Often we try to either rescue our child from the natural consequences of their actions OR we compound it by adding additional punishments on top of it. Let's say your child left her toy in the driveway and it got ran over. Rescuing would be buying her a new toy immediately. Adding additional punishment would be grounding her for leaving it outside. The natural consequence, however, is simply that now her toy is broken. If she wants to replace it, she can earn the money to do so by doing extra chores.

3. Imposed consequences should be related to the offense. If your child hits his brother, then taking away his iPad for a period of time doesn't teach what he should do when he hurts his brother. A related (or logical) consequence would be to have him problem solve a way to repair the relationship with his brother (write him a note, make him a card, etc) and to talk about ways of handling his frustration or anger so that he has tools besides hitting (deep breaths, walking away, clapping, hitting a pillow).

4. Problem-solving is a great way to teach children how to be accountable and responsible. The more involved they are in the process, the more they learn. Most times, problem-solving is the best way to go. Teach your child the process of righting wrongs and repairing rifts in relationships. These skills will serve your child all of his life.

5. Don't bring it up. After the consequence has been given or the problem has been solved, it's over. Don't rehash the incident, but get on with a pleasant day.

6. Connect. Make sure your child knows it was her behavior you didn't approve of, not HER. Find ways to reconnect. This models for your child what you were just teaching; how to repair relationships.

For more on consequences, visit What's the Deal With Consequences.

Ultimately, our goal is to raise responsible children. Teaching through natural or logical consequences or problem solving isn't going to get you any media coverage, but it will get you a responsible child who doesn't resent you for years to come.

How to Respect Your Child Through Challenging Behavior (Without Becoming a Pushover)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013 1 comment

Respecting our children is the heart of positive parenting, but how do you maintain that respect through challenging behavior? 

I received an email from a sweet mom asking how to deal with her child's sudden upset at baths. Her toddler developed a sudden aversion to bath time and would cry and fight to not get in the bath. Her husband wanted to force baths anyway, and it ended up being a huge power struggle in her home. 

Some might agree with the dad in this situation, saying that "giving in" would just let the child feel she was in charge. On the contrary, empathizing with your child's upset, however strange it may seem to you, shows her that she is important and that her feelings are acceptable and understood. It's respectful to her and important for your relationship that you truly look at baths from her point of view and understand that she has big feelings about it. However, she needs to be cleaned. I would suggest trying a few options. Perhaps she'd prefer a shower, or just being wiped off while standing in the tub, or even beside the tub. As long as she gets clean, mission accomplished. I assure you it won't give her the impression that she rules the roost, nor will it mean she will never bath again. Maybe she's afraid she'll go down the drain. Maybe she got water in her eyes last time and it stung. Try to understand her fear, find out where it came from, and help her work through that.  Eventually, this will pass. In the meantime, she'll know that her feelings are important.

Our culture is so caught up in control. Parents have to be in control! We're in charge! We're so afraid of raising the kind of child that our culture so openly disdains. Spoiled. Bratty. Disrespectful. Frankly, we're more worried about our own shame we'd face than about what our kids are feeling. We are a culture terrified of permissiveness. Alfie Kohn says, "The problem is not permissiveness, but our fear of permissiveness." I agree with Alfie. I certainly don't see much "permissiveness" where I live. Quite the contrary, in fact. However, when ditching the old paradigm of control and fear, it can be easy to fall into permissiveness, but don't be mistaken. Positive parenting is not about a lack of limits. It's not about not disciplining children. It's not about respecting them to the extreme degree that we never tell them "no." That isn't healthy for the child either.

Alfie also says this -  "The most popular false dichotomy in parenting runs as follows: "We need to take a hard line with kids and stop letting them do anything they feel like." In effect, traditional discipline is contrasted with permissiveness. Either I punish my child or else I let her "get away with" whatever she did. Either I take a hard line or I draw no line at all."

How often do I hear this?! If we don't draw a hard line, people think we draw no lines at all, and that is simply not true. If there is one thing that I wish people would understand about positive parenting is that, as a whole, we are not permissive parents! Sure, there are a few in the bunch, but they don't represent what we stand for as a whole.

But I digress. Back to the original question here. How do you respect your child without being a pushover? You empathize and stick to your limits. Dr. Laura Markham has written a host of fabulous articles on this subject. Respecting your child doesn't mean she always gets her way. That would, at times, be disrespectful to her if what she wants is dangerous or unhealthy! Rather, it means you take her feelings, her personhood, into regard when you interact with her. When you have to say no, you don't have to draw a hard line. You don't have to shout her down in order to assert yourself. Respect, by definition, means this: A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements. Even when you have to set your foot down, remember your deep admiration for her. When you have to say "no" to more candy or "can I stay up later pleeeease," or to that party he was invited to, remember your deep admiration; remember your love, and then come to him with your assertion, with your "no" from that place of love. "I understand that you really want more candy, but too much is not healthy. Would you like an apple instead?"

"I realize all your friends will be at that party. You must feel very disappointed that you cannot go."

Will they automatically accept your limit because you were nice about it? Maybe or maybe not. They may very well still be very upset with you, and that's okay. Be respectful in your interactions, even if they're not. They're watching your example.

The message I want to convey is that parenting has so little to do with punishments and so much to do with relationships. How well we attach and bond, how well we set boundaries, how well we listen, how well we love, that is what shapes us! For generations, parents have shaped "fine" but deeply restless human beings. We may know "how to act" but we're losing sight of how to love, how to bond, how to have healthy relationships. This is evident in our broken homes, the rise in depression and mental illness, suicide rates, and so forth. We have to teach them more than just "how to act." We have to teach them how to love, how to bond, how to deal with their emotions, how to have healthy relationships, and how to get out of relationships that aren't healthy. Our relationship with them is the one they will come to base all relationships on, so let's not base it on control and fear.
 "People grow close not through monitoring one another's behavior but by working together, talking together, celebrating together, weeping together. Relationships develop when people are there for each other - and that's as true for parents and children as it is for anyone else."- Sally Clarkson, The Mission of Motherhood
"Rules rarely keep us in line. Love does a much better job of keeping us moral." - Dr. Henry Cloud

10 Outdoor Summer Fun Play Ideas

Friday, May 17, 2013 No comments

1.  Bubble pools! Throw some bubble bath in the pool while you fill it up. To make our "bubble paint," I just mixed water and food coloring in a squirt bottle.

2. Outdoor painting! Take your little artists outside for fresh inspiration (and let the rain clean up the mess)!

3.  Sand painting! We just used food coloring. Expect a mess, but it washes off easily in the bath. :)

4. Obstacle course! I set up a mini obstacle course with walking beams, tires to crawl through, a shaving cream slip -n- slide, and the kiddie pool. Off to the side we had water blaster games with toy targets set up. 

5. Ice play is always great on a hot day! Get creative!
Colored blocks, frozen alphabet, salt and ice experiments, colored water. Lots going on here!

Colored blocks

Ice cupcakes. With sprinkles!!

Bust out the toys!

Ice sculptures! This is a superhero castle. 

The beginning of the superhero castle. Stick 2 ice balls together with salt (frozen water balloons for the ice balls) and add food coloring.

6. Shaving cream slide! Sensitive shaving cream on a pool slide makes it super slippery! And makes the water a yucky mess. :)

7. Sidewalk chalk paint made up of cornstarch, water, and food coloring. I also added a bit of baking soda and vinegar to make ours "fizzy chalk."

8. Sidewalk chalk word jump. We were throwing in a little sight word practice. The word jump was complete with "lava" and "alligators!" Careful where you step!!

9.  Bubble snakes are fun. Cut the end off a water bottle. Cover with a sock and tape it securely. Mix dish liquid and water, add food coloring. Dip the bottle in the bubble solution and blow into the bottle!

10. Mud pie station! Messy but fun!

Have a safe, fun, and playful summer!