Why I'm Not Toughening Up My Children

Wednesday, April 29, 2015 1 comment

A common theme I've noticed in the parenting community in my 5 years of running a popular Facebook parenting page and blog is that many parents are very concerned about “preparing children for the real world.” I get that. We are living in a harsh and oftentimes cruel world that does not revolve around my child or yours. So, it seems to some that the best way to prepare them for the harsh realities of the world is to let them face harshness in childhood. This will toughen them up and make them ready. It sounds like a reasonable plan, but don't count me in.

The truth is, I don't have a one-size-fits-all plan. I can't make blanket statements like, “I will never bring my child his forgotten lunch” or “I won't save him from disappointments in life.” My children are unique individuals at developmentally different stages, and I think that's the missing equation in most parenting “formulas” or “methods.” All of our children are unique individuals, and we have to treat them according to their needs, personality, and stage of development, not by hasty generalizations about what makes children prepared for adulthood.

Let's look at how development and personality come into play:
Because I understand that executive functions are not fully developed in a young child, I would certainly take a forgotten lunch to school for my 8-year-old, if I was able to do so, and not fear that he would need me to bring him lunches forever. My frontal lobe is fully developed, and yet I forget things sometimes. I hope that my family is courteous enough to be there for me when I need them, and so I will be there for them. Allowing him to go hungry or be forced to eat food he dislikes might make him remember his lunch, but he's going to also remember the lack of courtesy and kindness shown to him.

If it's the fourth time this week my 8 year old forgot his lunch, then we need to assess what the problem is and find a solution. I don't allow problems to go unsolved, but the solution doesn't have to leave anyone feeling helpless, alone, unheard, or unloved.

Because I understand that one of my sons is highly sensitive, I will not let rude words said to him go unchecked, and I will not let him go undefended. Words hurt him more than they hurt the average child. He soaks them in, deep down into his being, and sitting idly by while another child on the playground says hurtful words isn't going to teach him to “deal with it.” I will practice with him over and over again how to deal with playground bullies and even rude adults who show no respect to children, and if a situation arises where I see he is having trouble, he can count on me to come to his aid. I would hope someone would come to mine.

Will I always come to the rescue?

Raising Happy Siblings - A Q&A with Dr. Laura Markham

Thursday, April 23, 2015 2 comments

It is my privilege and honor to welcome Dr. Laura Markham to positive-parents.org today. Dr. Markham's page, Ahaparenting, was the resource that turned my life around several years ago.  She has been a continual source of inspiration and wisdom to me on my own parenting journey. Her book, Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, stays by my bed for reference, and her new book, Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings, is sure to join it there.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked my Facebook page readers to submit questions about siblings to Dr. Markham, and I randomly chose 9 of those to submit to her. Today, she has answered those questions for you, and I'm happy to share with you her gentle wisdom.

1. My oldest daughter (6) and second daughter (3) often fight as siblings do. My concern is that the older can throw a huge tantrum and the younger will just give in to whatever the older is wanting. How do I encourage the younger to have a voice and the oldest to calm herself and be more thoughtful, or at least willing to work towards a collaborative solution? - Kari S.

This is a very common dilemma. When they get into a spat, you can restore safety and validate both positions, by saying "Wow! I hear loud voices....It sounds like you two are having a hard time....Can you calm down and tell me about it?  Let's work together to work this out."

Then, your oldest will explain why she is right, and you can acknowledge her view: "So you think you should play the game this way."

When your youngest "gives in" you can coach her to stand up for herself: "A few minutes ago, it sounded like you really wanted to play the game a different way....It's okay to disagree....Everyone is allowed to have their own opinion...We can work it out....Can you tell your sister what you want?"

With you there, the older sister will listen to the younger along with you. Then you acknowledge her view, just as you did her sister's: "So you think you should play the game that way."

Then, you define the problem: "So we have two girls who want to play together -- that's great! But you have two different ideas of how to play the game. What can we do to solve this?"

Then, you take them through the problem-solving approach that is outlined in Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings. The short version is that you help them brainstorm and agree on something that works for both of them.

Of course, to make this work, you have to stay calm yourself, and resist acting like your older daughter is wrong!

2. Our second child is due in July, and our first daughter will only be 17 months, still a baby herself. How can we ensure that she does not feel abandoned or replaced, that we continue to meet all of her needs, and that our bond with her stays as strong as ever, while also ensuring that she creates a strong bond with her new sibling? - Nancy S.

The first step is remembering what you know now -- she is still a baby herself. She will look very big compared to the new infant, but she really will still be a baby, and deserves your nurturance. 

The second step, before the baby comes, is to be sure that your little girl is comfortable with both parents. There will be times when you can't put her to bed, for instance, because you have to be with your infant. It's also a good idea before the baby comes to prepare a stash of special sensory bags and boxes for her, that you can pull out when you sit down to feed the baby. Most new mothers say that feeding time is when their older child becomes unmanageable, so its worth it to have plenty of simple distractions ready, so you can rotate through them.

Once the baby is born, try to make sure that your daughter gets time with both parents. So feed the infant and hand him to another adult, if you can, and spend some time connecting with your oldest. If you wear your baby, you will still have two hands free for your oldest. And of course, you can also wear your 17 month old, when she just needs some connection time, and you need two hands to change the baby, for instance. 

(There is so much more to say about this topic; it takes up three chapters of my book, Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings.)

3. I am a mom of 4 (ages 2, 4, 6, 8). I'd love any tips on gentle parenting in the moments when all 4 have big feelings happening. Or when one is having a "big" problem that requires immediate attention (bleeding, sick, etc) and another is demanding attention for a "little" problem (can't get a marker open, can't find the purple sock, etc). - Lindsay F.

You have my total admiration. I can't imagine having four children that close in age. I think the only way to prevent constant situations like you're describing is to do preventive maintenance. That means that every day you schedule in some one-on-one time with each child, so they have more internal resources to cope when things are tough. 

But when you do find yourself in the situation you're describing, the most important thing is to stay calm yourself. Often, we get so anxious and overwhelmed that we start snapping at the kids: "Can't you see Henry's leg is bleeding? Be patient!" That makes them worry. Does Mom love Henry more than she loves me?"  

If, instead, we can bite our tongue, take a deep breath, and smile at all the kids, they will all feel loved, even when we can't meet all their needs at once. We can also think better, so we can prioritize. I would speak out loud: "I hear you, Jason, you need your purple sock.....And Lucy wants the top off her marker....First, I am helping Henry, because his nose is bleeding....then I will help you, Lucy, and you, Jason."  Looking at them and meeting their eyes is important, too. Think of the model of the master preschool teacher, who has her arm around one child, is meeting the eyes of another with a smile, and shifts her glance to the third, to acknowledge him. 

And here is a whole article about how to cope when they all have "big feelings" at once:

4. What are the best things I can do to help my girls (4 & 1.5) bond? - Jennifer N.

The most important thing you can do is hold the expectation that they will value each other. Of course they will get angry at each other -- conflict is part of every human relationship -- but they will always work things out, because families are forever, and they will be friends for life. Ask questions, like "What is the best thing you have learned from your sister so far?"

Talk to the little one, in front of the older one, about how lucky she is to have such a wonderful, loving big sister. Talk to the older one about how much the little one admires her. When one gets hurt, invite the other one to help comfort her. Be sure that every day begins and ends with a snuggle time for both of them, with you. When they disagree, help them work it out so they're both happy. 

Finally, create positive interactions between them. The research shows that those positive interactions are the most important predictor of how close children will be. So play with the two of them at once so that they laugh and enjoy each other. Laughter releases oxytocin, the bonding hormone, so if they're laughing together, they're bonding. Notice things they like to do together and encourage those activities, and try not to interrupt them when they're playing happily.

5.  How do I help my 3.5 yr son to learn/feel empathy? He rough plays with his 2 yr sister and often laughs when she cries.frown emoticon In part I think he does that out of fear to accept he did something wrong. - Salome F.

Kids learn empathy when we empathize with them. You can also facilitate that process by talking with him about emotions in general. When he plays rough with his sister, you can step in and ask "Is everyone having fun here?...Look, Honey, your sister's face looks a little scared...I think maybe this is a bit too rough for her....Let's find another game for now."  

I think you're right that your son's laughter when his sister gets hurt is because he feels guilty and wants to act like he did nothing wrong. You can help him with that. When your daughter does get hurt, resist the urge to yell at your son. Instead, go right to your daughter to comfort her. Involve your son so that he can "make up" to her, for instance by sending him for an ice pack for her bump and by having him kiss her owie. That helps him feel "forgiven" so that he can begin to take responsibility for what he did and avoid it in the future. 

6. I am a mother of stepson (6 years) and daughter (2.8 years old). They fight constantly over almost everything. Despite that, I have trouble connecting to my son, talking and working with him. How can I handle my feelings for him and work things for both my children and my family? - Joanna S.

It sounds like you need to strengthen and sweeten your relationship with your stepson. That's important if you want him to cooperate with you, and also if you want him to have a good relationship with your daughter. So I would put a lot of effort into preventive maintenance with him, so that he has more inner resources to be patient with his sister and is not as jealous of her. 

Then, when they fight, step in, but -- and this is the most important thing -- without taking sides. Instead, even if you are sure he is wrong, say "It sounds like you two have a problem....let's work this out."

Listen to both of them:  "So you want to use this toy....And YOU want to use this toy!..You both want to use the same toy."

Restate house rules: "Our house rule is that the person who has the toy can use it until they are done. Jamie has the toy....Megan, can you ask Jamie when he will be done with the toy?"

or "Our house rule is that we treat each other kindly. Jamie, that means no name calling. You can tell Megan what you're mad about without calling her names."

Or, if no house rules apply, help them hammer out a win/win solution.

This is a lot of work. But if you do it every day for a few months, your kids will learn to do it themselves, and the fighting will dramatically diminish.

7. How do you make it work in blended families where siblings are parented differently by their resident parents? My husband and I are gentle parents and we have one son who lives with us but my stepsons live with their mother mon-fri and she is the complete opposite. I'm worried about their development having two very different homes and also seeing their brother being raised ap/gp. - Ellie B.

Such a tough situation! Your stepsons will figure out that the rules are different, and they will enjoy their relationships with you and your husband much more. They will also feel safer with you, so you will see some meltdowns and other acting out at your house, that has actually been stimulated by the feelings they're having at their mother's house. All you can really do is love them and be compassionate when they struggle. At least with you they are getting a lifeline that may get them through the teen years with a lot less drama.

8. How do you know when to intervene and when to let them work it out on their own? In our house it so quickly erupts into hitting and hurting so I tend to intervene all the time to avoid someone getting hurt. - Becky H.

I would ALWAYS intervene. The fact that things are erupting so quickly is a sign that your kids don't yet know how to work things out themselves. The more you coach them to express their needs without attacking each other, and to work things out respectfully, the more they will gain the skills to work it out on their own. (Expect it to take three to six months depending on their ages.)

9. My son is turning four this April (April 8th) and his baby sister will be arriving by the end of April.. He has been showing serious signs of distress when it comes to having a little sister such as, I don't want her to cuddle with us, I don't love her, and sometimes even trying to harm my belly.. Some days he is very sweet and gives my belly kisses but not very often. I am worried that maybe I have spoiled him to much and he is now going to have a really hard time adjusting to having to share his time with someone who is going to need so much of my time and energy.. He has two older sisters from his fathers previous relationship but doesn't get to see them very often unfortunately due to court issues and stuff.. He gets along great with the older children though (8 years and 9years old) my son can be VERY demanding and aggressive at times and we love him with all of our heart but are very concerned he will have a lot of resentment towards his new baby sister.. - Samantha R.

It is natural for a four year old to have a hard time sharing his parents with his new baby sister. That does not mean you have spoiled him. It means it is hard to share your parents. You can expect him to have a hard time. Just keep acknowledging his feelings and try not to feel guilty or to blame him. "You're saying you don't want us to have the baby? I hear you. It can be hard to share your parents." Over time, as long as you continue to meet his needs and he feels like he is still valued and significant, he will accept his sister. 

Be sure to head over to my Facebook page to enter the giveaway on 4/24/2015 (and don't forget to check back on Monday, 4/27/15, to see if you've won)! 

Replace the Time Out Chair for a Calm Down Area

Monday, April 13, 2015 8 comments

Time-out is a popular technique for dealing with undesirable toddler behavior, but is it really best for the child? In Time Outs Are Hurting Your Child, doctors Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D., and Daniel Siegel, M.D. tell us that the latest research suggests sitting alone in that chair is doing more harm than good.

When I learned that time-outs didn't work for my highly sensitive boy almost 6 years ago, I was led to look for an alternative for correcting his behavior. I found that a calm down area was much more effective for my sensitive son, and it worked just as well with my non-HSC (highly sensitive child) too.

What is a calm down area for?
This is a place for a child to go either with the parent or willingly alone. It is not a punishment but a place to learn emotional intelligence followed by learning better behavior. What I've learned about children in my years of research is that their brains do not take information in when they are dysregulated (or very upset). During times of emotional upset, children are functioning from their lower brain (which controls the fight, flight, or freeze response) and need to calm down before they can access their higher brain (responsible for logical thought and reasoning). Therefore, the calm down area should be a soothing place for the child to engage their higher brains so they can then best learn the lesson we want to teach.

Wait, isn't that a reward for misbehavior?
Think of it like this. When you get angry and are about to blow up at your child or spouse, do you take a few minutes to calm yourself first? You should. That ensures you are able to respond thoughtfully rather than react irresponsibly. When you take that time to breathe or repeat a mantra or go to the bathroom, you're essentially going to your own calm down area, even if just in your mind. Is that a reward for your anger? No. Does taking that little break in the bathroom make you want to get angry more often? Of course not. No one likes feeling out of control. We all need to learn how to take time to calm our brains down so we don't react, and it's best to start learning that as young as possible.

What's the difference? Don't they learn to take that break in the time-out chair?
The difference is that the parent acts as an emotional coach in the calm down area. We talk through the emotions that the child is feeling and discuss ways to calm down and regulate our brains. A toddler isn't able to process all of that alone in a chair. Furthermore, sitting with a nose in a corner doesn't help most children calm down and often fuels the negative emotions. They may even feel rejected or isolated. Certainly, they aren't thinking about what they will do better next time, and even if they can repeat why they just had to sit there for 4 minutes, did they really learn what triggered their strong emotions or how to handle them better? Knowing what not to do is not equal to knowing what to do.

What goes in the calm down area?
What you put in your calm down area is unique to your child. Find items that will suit them best. One of my children liked to draw or be read to and the other liked to pop balloons to calm down. I kept a box with several books, a glitter and water jar to shake, pencils and paper, rice for sensory play and balloons in our calm down area, along with a comfortable pillow to sit on.

How do you use the calm down area?

5 Strategies For Being a Patient Parent

1. Lessen your screen time. I don't know about you, but too much screen time makes my brain feel zapped, and I get very irritable. I've taken off all unnecessary apps, and I'm reaching for my phone less and less these days. Computer time is limited as well. I've found a lot regarding kids and screen time, but I haven't seen much in regard to how it changes adult brains. I can definitely tell a difference, though. For whatever reason, I just feel more calm and collected with much less screen time. See if it works for you as well.

Internist Kogan, on the other hand, believes the physical damages of increased technology use could be severe. She says that prolonged use can overstimulate the nervous system and increase production of cortisol, the so-called stress hormone.
“It’s the fight-or-flight response,” explains Kogan. “When you’re using these technologies, your cortisol will be pumping through the roof. And you don’t want higher levels of cortisol,” which increases your risk of experiencing anxiety, depression, insomnia, high blood pressure and diabetes. 

2. Get outside. There are so many benefits. Vitamin D. Exercise. Connection to nature and to your kids as you build forts or ride bikes. Spending time outdoors calms my nerves and makes me feel so much more relaxed, and that makes me more patient! Thank goodness spring has arrived here!

Wide open spaces mean more opportunities to boost your health. For one thing, getting outside forces you to get a little exercise, and exercise is the best natural mood booster there is. For another, being out and about makes you more likely to encounter neighbors and friends, and social contact is another no-fail way to cut stress, says Thompson. And five minutes outside is all it takes get the mood-boosting effect, according to a 2010 study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. Researchers found that people experienced the largest boosts to their mood and self-esteem after just spending five minutes outside doing some form of light exercise, like walking.

3. Slow the heck down. Busyness is a disease, but we have a cure! Drop some stuff! Say no to some things. Pare down your schedule. Leave some blank squares on your calendar. Be present in the moment. Feel your hands in the suds when you wash dishes. Listen to the sound of laughter from your kids' room. See your partner and notice his/her facial expression. Smell your meal or the lotion you just rubbed on. Savor the taste of your morning coffee. Count your blessings and do some yoga or something. The world will keep on turning.

4. Find your jam. Seriously, find music that relaxes you and play it during the most stressful times of your day. Music reduces stress, aids in relaxation, reduces negative emotions, and improves your mood. If the morning rush frazzles your nerves, try turning up your favorite tunes!

"Music is known to tap into various parts of the brain, that is why it is utilized by many experts in treating depressed or anxious patients. The meter, timber, rhythm and pitch of music are managed in areas of the brain that deal with emotions and mood. These key areas are the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex and the parietal lobe. 
The hippocampus, a structure of the limbic system, is responsible for spatial orientation, navigation and the consolidation of new memories. It also brings about emotional responses. The prefrontal cortex, on the other hand, manages extreme impulses and emotions. Known as the “seat of good judgment,” it enables one to make good and acceptable calls so that inappropriate behaviors are prevented. 
As for the parietal lobe, it is in charge of spatial orientation, information processing and cognition, affects many others. 
Because of its ability to alter the different parts of the brain, music has been utilized in a number of therapies. For example, it has been applied to stroke victims to teach them how to talk once again. At the same time, it is recommended to stutterers so that they can dictate words clearly once again. Since it reaches the emotion-related barriers too, music is now being utilized as a mood-altering therapy for depressed and anxious individuals." Resource

5. Get up before your kids. I hated this one at first. I kept reading how much it would help me, but I am not a morning person. Finally, I gave in and gave it a try. Seriously, what a difference it makes when I get my morning jog over with and sit with a nice cup of coffee before the kids even get up. I have to admit it, the days I roll out of bed extra early are the days when I have the most patience.

Effects of music: http://www.emedexpert.com/tips/music.shtml
Effects of screens: http://www.forbes.com/2010/06/29/technology-computers-health-stress-forbes-woman-well-being-screen-time.html
Spending time outdoors reduces stress: http://www.prevention.com/mind-body/emotional-health/spending-time-outside-relieves-stress

More tips for parenting with patience:




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