Creating an Environment for Children to Thrive

Monday, June 30, 2014 1 comment

Children have been compared to flowers often as the similarities are evident - they are beautiful, they are unique, they require tender, loving care, they bloom in their own time. Often we focus on changing our child rather than changing their environment, but changing the environment has a big impact on how our children grow. If we consciously tend to our gardens, our flowers will blossom.

The Physical Environment

1. It's hard with small children, but try to keep the clutter to a minimum. Simple, neat spaces are more pleasing and soothing than cluttered and crowded spaces.

2. Subtle décor can have a big impact. Fresh flowers on the table, light-hearted wall hangings or beautiful art all add to the feeling of your home.

3. Pleasant scents lift moods. Did you know that the human sense of smell can identify thousands of aromas and is 10,000 times more precise than our sense of taste? Find what scents energize your children and what scents soothe them.

4. Provide toys and activities that children can reach/do independently without the help of an adult. Put as much on their level as you are comfortable with, including healthy snacks, books, puzzles and games, cups/plates/utensils, etc. Provide a mirror at your child's level. Have stools available at sinks.

5. Let the sunshine in! Open shades and windows. Research has proven that natural lighting helps people be more productive, happier, healthier and calmer.


The Mental Environment

1. Protect your children as best as you can from things which are not age appropriate. This means mature television shows, video games, or movies with themes their young minds may not be ready for.

2. Be a role model! As much as you can show them how to live joyfully, laugh loudly, bounce back, show compassion, be optimistic, positive, and happy is as much as they will be able to do the same.

3. Ensure your child gets the proper nutrition, sleep, and exercise as these affect mental health.

4. Love, security and acceptance should be at the heart of your family life.  Children need to know that your love does not depend on his or her accomplishments.Confidence grows in a home that is full of unconditional love and affection.

5. Nurture your child's confidence and self-esteem. Encourage them, Be their cheerleader. Give healthy praise. Set realistic goals. Avoid sarcastic remarks.

6. Let them play! Free play, messy play, exploring, and unstructured play time are great for children. Most of it comes off in the shower!

7.  Ensure a positive, safe school environment. Work closely with your child's teachers. Always advocate for your child when necessary. Keep lines of communication flowing so that your child feels he or she can discuss problems with you.

8. Build competencies. Children need to know that they can overcome challenges and accomplish goals through their actions. Achieving academic success and developing individual talents and interests helps children feel competent and more able to deal positively with the stresses of life. Social competency is also important. Having friends and staying connected to friends and loved ones can enhance mental well-being.

9. Create a sense of belonging. Children need to feel connected and welcomed, and this is vital to their developing sense of self and their trust in themselves and others. Greet your child warmly every morning and after school. Include your child in on family meetings. Creating warm and memorable family traditions will build a sense of tradition and closeness in the family unit. Help your child develop positive relationships with outside family members, teachers, clergy, coaches, and peers.

10. Teach your child healthy mental boundaries. Explain that they have a choice in choosing peers who bring out the best in them and in staying away from people who don't. Show them how to set and enforce limits with others and be assertive. Role play how to handle multiple situations in which their values and limits may be tested so that they feel empowered in dealing with this when it arises.


The Emotional Environment

1. Ensure each child feels safe to express his/her feelings.

2. Keep family drama away from the kids. It's okay for the children to see parents argue as long as no one is verbally abusive and it ends peacefully as this can model positive skills, but if you can't keep from shouting and insulting, keep it away from the kids.

3. Sibling squabbles are to be expected, but make sure it doesn't get out of hand. If a sibling is feeling bullied or being hurt physically or mentally, you need to step in.

4. Avoid comparing your children to each other and to other children.

5. Respect your children. Listen to them and take them seriously. Make them feel like a valued member of the family unit.

6. Accept all feelings and teach children how to manage their emotions.

7. Create and respect healthy boundaries. Verbal and physical abuse obviously violates their boundaries. Additionally, children’s property, space, and privacy should be respected.

8. Allow children age appropriate decisions, responsibilities, and independence.

9. Be fair and reasonable in your discipline. Do not give consequences when you are emotionally charged.

10. Allow them to be who they are and nurture and love the child you have.

The Garden - A Parenting Parable Review

Tuesday, June 24, 2014 No comments




Living and parenting in an age of chronic stress, anxiety and distraction, what does it take to raise children to thrive, not just survive? Through the metaphor of flowers as children, the story of The Garden is a powerful and poignant parable about the essential process of tending, trusting and growing strong roots. A story told with resplendent illustrations, The Garden shows us how to reclaim and cultivate the transformative power of relationship, and reminds us to enjoy the process, through exploring our own stories, fears and expectations, and marvel at our children's growth as we learn to hold, let go, and respect each child's unique nature.
Lu's writing always touches tender places in my heart, and The Garden is no exception. This is a short, easy read but leaves a beautiful impression. Interwoven in this lovely parable, the author eases our fears as a parent, tells us in the most gentlest way possible to not look to other families and compare ourselves to them, our children to their children, because each is unique and needs it's own special blend of love and care to thrive. She warns us of getting trapped in the loop of noticing imperfections or wishing our child was different somehow. Then she asks the question we all ask in our parenting journeys - How can I get my flowers to bloom more quickly and stay open longer? Acknowledging that there is no magic formula, not for gardens or for children, Lu shows us how to relax and enjoy the process as we tend to our own families, and that even though we may not be perfect at it, our flowers will bloom if we lovingly tend to them every day. "The miracle grows where the eye can't see...in the strong roots underground that reach deep into the black earth with long tributaries of trust, anchoring the garden above to grow with the changing seasons, trampling of sneakers, silent snowfalls and spring thaws."

Beautifully illustrated and written, The Garden is a lovely reminder to have on your bedside table. There is something ever so soothing and grounding about this little book. I hope you'll pick it up and enjoy it as much as I did.


Lu is an award-winning writer, author, educator, speaker, television host, brain science geek, creativity crusader, and most grateful mama of two boys. She is the author of the acclaimed book "Let the Baby Drive: Navigating the Road of New Motherhood," former NBC anchor and Discover Health Channel host of Make Room for Baby. For five years, she hosted The Science Show, syndicated in 11 countries. She currently co-hosts a dynamic educational television program for youth in New York called Liberty Treehouse.

Lu's essays and articles have been published in The New York Times, Mothering, Parenting, Fit Pregnancy and Redbook.  Lu and the amazing Tanya Leonello collaborated on a previous book, "Picnic on a Cloud," a children's story about what happens when connection and imagination join forces. Lu is founder of WYSH Wear Your Spirit for Humanity, her socially conscious initiative and newly minted studio awarded "Best of South Jersey." She lives in New Jersey with her husband and two boys. You can find Lu on Facebook on her page Parent2ParentU.

Do Consequences Have a Place in Redemption?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014 No comments
In yesterday's post, When I Resorted to Punishments, I discussed redemption versus retribution. 

Redemption: The act of redeeming or the condition of having been redeemed.
Redeemed: To restore the honor, worth, or reputation of:
Retribution: Punishment for doing something wrong 
Do I want to seek to restore his honor, worth, and reputation, or do I want to punish him? 
The world says children need punishment. I think children need redemption. 

They will grow and mature and come to naturally understand how the world works. They will come to understand laws and consequences without being "primed" for them with smaller punishments now. We think if we punish them for little things, they'll want to avoid punishment for the big things later, but that's not really how it works. Punishment highlights their faults. Punishment eats away at their self-concepts. Punishment is retaliation, not teaching.
Redemption restores honor and worth. How do you redeem a wayward child? By highlighting their strengths, not their weaknesses. By shining a spotlight on their rights, not their wrongs. By believing in their goodness and making sure they believe in their goodness. By ensuring that "kind," "helpful," "compassionate," "responsible," and "good" are part of their self-concepts because humans behave according to what they believe of themselves, and children believe of themselves what their parents believe of them.  
Correction is necessary, but shining that big light on their mistakes only makes them grow. Correct gently, shining the light always on their decency, listening to the communication of the behavior, and seeking always to redeem them. 
It's been a popular post, and I'm thankful that the philosophy of positive parenting is reaching so far. There have been some comments after that post about the need for consequences, which I'd like to address today.

I've discussed consequences several times on this site.
What's the Deal with Consequences?
Consequences that Teach
Alternatives to Spanking
Biggies and Smallies
What's the Deal with Consequences When They're Older?

As I stated in "What's the Deal with Consequences When They're Older?"
First, I think it's important to define punishment and consequences.
pun·ish·ment noun \ˈpə-nish-mənt\: suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution
Punishment is making your child suffer, experience pain, or experience loss in order to serve as retribution. So, obviously spanking (causing pain), grounding (causing suffering or loss), or taking away toys or privileges (causing loss) are all about one thing, you intend to make the child suffer because of her behavior. The thing about punishment is that "serving as retribution" doesn't last. That's why the majority of offenders who get out of jail repeat an offense. Retribution doesn't really teach us anything valuable. In most cases, it serves to just make us angry and vengeful.
con·se·quence noun \ˈkän(t)-sə-ˌkwen(t)s: something that happens as a result of a particular action or set of conditions
That sounds more helpful, except we have an uncanny knack for turning these into punishments, too. This is where the line gets blurry. I fought with myself over the semantics of consequences and punishments for quite a while, and I came to the conclusion that intent is really what separates the two. There are 2 keys in turning from retribution to teaching: INTENT and EMPATHY.

So to answer the question of "Do consequences have a place in redemption" the answer is "yes." Sometimes consequences can help redeem the child by righting their wrongs. An example that comes to mind is when my son once wasted a can of compressed air at the bank while I chatted with friends. We problem-solved and he decided to do chores to earn the money to pay for the can. He did the chores and took the money back to the bank. This consequence was something we agreed on mutually as a result of the problem-solving process and didn't harm his self-concept but actually improved it as he felt a sense of responsibility. It taught him that he has the ability to make things right again, and that he is the kind of person who fixes his mistakes. Redeemed.

Another example was given in "What's the Deal With Consequences When They're Older" of a young lady who broke a window with a ball. It was decided that she'd earn the money to pay for the window. Again intent and empathy are keys. A consequence delivered with a harsh or demeaning tone and enforced with grit is going to feel like a punishment, which will focus the child more on his or her feelings of anger or irritation at the parent than on righting his or her's wrongdoing. However, when delivered with empathy, working with the child to fix his or her mistake and maintaining and conveying belief in the child's goodness and ability to make things right, the consequence can aid in redeeming the child.

It's important though to not go straight for the consequence every time your child makes a mistake. It can be easy to get stuck in that rut as it seems to "fix the problem" quickly, but we need to remind ourselves of what I was unable to see in the problem I discussed in yesterday's post, that behavior is communication. Rather than a consequence, the child may need taught a skill or helped with a problem they're dealing with.

Finally, whether a consequence is needed or not, it is invaluable to our children to convey to them our belief in their goodness, in their value, and in their ability to overcome whatever they are dealing with and shine. Our consistent belief in them is how they build a consistent belief in themselves, and that will benefit them for a lifetime.





When I Resorted to Punishments...

Monday, June 9, 2014 14 comments
Our waters have been troubled lately. My 5 year old has taken to teasing his highly sensitive brother. There have been daily, seemingly constant hurtful words hurled at my oldest son. Why would he do that? Hadn't I taught him to be kind? To respect others? Was I raising a bully?

Doubts began to creep in my mind. Fear took over. My mother said he needed punished. I began to wonder if maybe she was right. After all, I couldn't let it go on. It was affecting my oldest. I'd talked to him about it. I'd asked him to empathize with his brother. I'd called him out on it every time I heard a put-down and told him it was inappropriate.

Effectively, what I'd done is shone a great big light on it, and it fed off that light. The problem grew.

I began to think maybe he did need punished. I had to protect my oldest son. I had to let my youngest know that he could not hurt people. I was angry and could no longer see this problem through my usual lens, but all I could see was this ugliness rising up in him that needed to be stopped immediately.

Knowing the "natural consequence" of hurting his relationship with his brother apparently didn't mean anything to him, I began taking away the only thing I knew that did. His allowance. Every time he did something "wrong", I told him he lost a dollar off his allowance. I kept a record of it.

-1 for teasing.
-1 for pinching.
-1 for a put-down.

They kept adding up. He was very upset that he was losing money, but it didn't stop the problem. Now he was teasing his brother and really mad at me both. I felt defeated, and I didn't know what else to do. Everyone in the house was now feeling the negative effects of this issue, and the atmosphere here was suffocating.

Then, one morning, I was scrolling my newsfeed and I saw this:

When our kids say hurtful things, they're hurting.
When our kids lash out, they're hurting.
When our kids resist and rehash, they're hurting.
When our kids get rigid, they're hurting.
When our kids are chaotic, they're hurting
When our kids ignore, pretend, defend and act out, they're hurting.
What if we *started* with the hurting instead of bypassing the hurt in favor of behavior and how to quash it?
How would we see our kids' intention and motivation differently?
How would we treat them differently?
How would they respond differently?
What would we have to change in our own hearts in order to embark on this process?
When the hurt is accessed, the heart heals, the behavior is understood as the symptom, not the cause. -  Lu Hanessian Parent2ParentU

The anger I felt toward my 5 year old dissipated and I was able to see him as a hurting child who needed my help. I'm normally able to do this, but in this particular situation where he was hurting another child of mine, my judgment had become clouded, but suddenly it was clear to me again.

Why? Why was he hurting? When did it start? What caused his feelings? What was he trying to communicate?

I looked at his allowance deduction list. I saw a record of wrongs.

Love keeps no record of wrongs....

I crumpled it up and tossed it in the trash.

REDEMPTION NOT RETRIBUTION

Redemption: The act of redeeming or the condition of having been redeemed. 
Redeemed: To restore the honor, worth, or reputation of:
Retribution: Punishment for doing something wrong

Do I want to seek to restore his honor, worth, and reputation, or do I want to punish him?

The world says children need punishment. I think children need redemption. 

They will grow and mature and come to naturally understand how the world works. They will come to understand laws and consequences without being "primed" for them with smaller punishments now. We think if we punish them for little things, they'll want to avoid punishment for the big things later, but that's not really how it works. Punishment highlights their faults. Punishment eats away at their self-concepts. Punishment is retaliation, not teaching. 

Redemption restores honor and worth. How do you redeem a wayward child? By highlighting their strengths, not their weaknesses. By shining a spotlight on their rights, not their wrongs. By believing in their goodness and making sure they believe in their goodness. By ensuring that "kind," "helpful," "compassionate," "responsible," and "good" are part of their self-concepts because humans behave according to what they believe of themselves, and children believe of themselves what their parents believe of them. 

Correction is necessary, but shining that big light on their mistakes only makes them grow. Correct gently, shining the light always on their decency, listening to the communication of the behavior, and seeking always to redeem them. 

I realized my 5 year old was feeling rejected by his brother because he didn't play with him much anymore. We called a family meeting. Both children were heard. A solution was agreed upon. I am now working on repairing our relationship and restoring his honor, worth, and reputation.

Don't wade through troubled waters. Build a bridge. Redemption is the bridge. 

Redemption not retribution. Love never fails.