Kids' Birthday and Christmas Gift Guide

Monday, October 31, 2016 No comments
Christmas is only weeks away! And if you're like me, you have birthdays coming up just before Christmas!

Finding the appropriate gift can be time-consuming, and a bit stressful- whether it's coming directly from you or from your child to their pal. I created a gift guide so you can focus on enjoying time with loved ones (and getting on with your day!) rather than hemming and hawing at all of the options. The gifts are organized by age group from toddler to teen, and all of them are under $40. Happy gifting!

For giftees ages 3 to 5

Geometric Building Set tegu Tegu Blocks combine fun colors, geometric shapes, and a magnetic snap to create a playtime experience that's fitting for the living room or the classroom. Parents (and littles!) love this toy because its production has positive environmental and social impact. get-it-now-200x60

   Make a Match Game mama_may_i_make_a_match_dino1_large_9117 This game helps children grow memory skills with adorable dinosaur chips! The beautiful design is a treat for parents and kids alike. Perfect for picnics, play dates, and rainy games, this game is small enough to carry in your pocket and hip enough for the coolest of pre-k birthday parties. get-it-now-200x60  

For giftees ages 6 to 8

Animal Charades Game mama_may_i_mamamayianimalaction5_fd5e Get kids on their feet and brimming with ideas! This high-quality wooden game is a perfect gift for outgoing children and to create an atmosphere of fun and creativity. get-it-now-200x60

   Pirate Adventure Board Game grouchy-dog-llc_box3drm3_c2be This board game is cleverly disguised. Kids will be having so much fun that they won't even know that they were learning math from an award-winning program. get-it-now-200x60

  Squishy Science Experiment ss-worldwide_screen_shot_20160616_at_43240_pm_5e55 The Slimy Squishy Polymer Bucket is the perfect gift for budding scientists who aren't afraid to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty in the name of...scientific learning! But they'll too be busy having fun to realize they're learning the basics of chemistry. get-it-now-200x60

  Garden Flowers Coloring Book garden-flowers-coloring-book-9781632205247-1459709691.3733.3088 One great idea for a gift is coloring books. These garden flower coloring books are perfect for child and parent, and can make a great group activity. get-it-now-200x60

For giftees 9 to 10

Food Fighter 2-Player Game kids-table_fdf_box_top_jan_5daa Food Fighter is a board game that has two children face off in a kitchen-themed battle. Children will have fun while developing higher-order thinking skills, mathematics, literacy, and executive functioning skills. get-it-now-200x60

  Dream Catcher Kit the_happy_trunk_dreamcatcher2_f343 Building dreamcatchers is a classic crafting activity - this colorful kit has everything kids need to make something unique and beautiful! get-it-now-200x60

  Just Add Milk Experiments griddly_games_outofboxjustaddmilk_62e8 I love these experiments - little parental oversight is required, and they're so easy to do right at home! Girls and boys, readers and scientists, alike will love this colorful kit. Not to mention parents! get-it-now-200x60

Gifts for Ages 11 to 13

Pairs in Pears pairs-in-pears-lr1998-1460411317.7972.3088 Whether or not they love this pun as much as some of us, this game gets kids flexing vocabulary muscles while having fun with a little challenge and competition. Players build pairs of connecting words in matching patterns, like Scrabble 2.0. Best of all it's portable - a perfect gift and activity to bring along on sleepovers or for parties. For a little more "pearity," pair with two more pears! get-it-now-200x60   Rainforest Biome rainforest-biome-discovery-kit-lr2993-1460412048.0125.3088 Budding scientists and tweens who like hands-on fun will love this all-in-one Rainforest Biome - they get to start a whole ecosystem right at home! The biome includes cacao beans (a favorite), clay, an apple snail shell, and more to create a full-on biofeedback loop. Super cool! get-it-now-200x60

   Math & Science Mystery Books slack_for_ios_upload-3 Who doesn't love to solve a mystery?! The One Minute Mystery series takes a simple concept and turns it into an awesome book. Kids will read mysteries, then use their powers of deduction and knowledge of math and science to find the solution. Each is as satisfying as the next! get-it-now-200x60

*This post contains affiliate links.

15 Ways to Connect with Your Child in 5 Minutes or Less

Friday, October 7, 2016 No comments


Ask any parent how things are going and you’re likely to hear some version of “we are staying busy.” Whether you think busyness is a disease resulting in families being over-stressed and not spending enough time together or you see the productivity as a good thing that is benefiting your brain, few will dispute that we are, in fact, a busy people. The good news is that it appears that quality time with our kids trumps quantity. While I’ll always advocate for slowing down and savoring those precious miracle moments with our loved ones, I understand that some days are just so packed that there are only a few spare minutes with which to connect with our kids. For those days, here are 15 ways to connect in just five minutes or less.

1. Gather your child in your lap and read a short story. Of course, this is much easier to do with little kids who still fit on your lap, but if your child is older, sit beside him and read a chapter of Percy Jackson out loud. By making this a daily ritual, you’ll spark a love for reading and spend some quality time together every single day.

2. Offer a heart-felt hug and be the last to let go. This article by Marcus Falicetti outlines why we need at least eight hugs per day. Lots of good comes from a hug, and it doesn’t even take five minutes!

3. Give full, undivided attention to your child and start with saying, “These next five minutes are all yours.” Ask them about their day, how they’re feeling, or what they’re interested in most right now. Make eye contact and listen attentively. We do that so little these days because everybody is checking their devices or multitasking and only giving partial attention. Five minutes of full attention will go a long way in strengthening your connection.

4. Meet their strong emotion with empathy. Sometimes this is inconvenient or even downright tough, and our first reaction is often to shut it down quickly. When we can sit with our children through their big feelings, they get the message “I matter” or “I’m understood” and that fosters a deeper connection to us.

5. Play a game of Tic Tac Toe, Hangman, or have a drawing contest. Keep a small notepad in your vehicle or purse for on-the-go fun. Make use of the time you’re waiting in line at the grocery store or at the doctor’s office by playing one of these games together and you just might feel less exasperated by your wait and more connected with your child.

6. Have an impromptu dance party. Inject a little fun and spontaneity into your day by turning on a good dance song and sliding around the kitchen in your socks.

7. Tell each other jokes. Laughter equals connection.

8. Stuck in the car? Play a car game like “I Spy” or “Twenty questions.”

9. Special time before bed is a lovely way to end the day. Lie beside your child or sit at the end of the bed and just spend a few minutes talking or giving a back rub.

10. Roughhouse and wrestle around a bit. Give piggy back rides or horsey rides, swing them around, and chase them.

11. Visit their world. Get involved in something that your kid is interested in, like Minecraft for instance. Ask questions. When we show kids that we care about the things they care about, they feel connected.

12. Do a chore together and make it fun. It has to get done anyway, so you may as well use the time wisely and play while you work!

13. Become journal buddies. Whether you just use a composition notebook or buy a journal like Journal Buddies: A Boy’s Journal for Discovering and Sharing Excellence or Just Between Us: Mother & Daughter: A No-Stress, No Rules Journal, writing back and forth is a great way to connect with your child.

14. Spend those 5 minutes outside playing tag, looking for bugs, or collecting leaves. Play hopscotch, blow bubbles, or jump rope. Hula hoop, toss a ball, or walk the dog. You get the idea!

15. Break out the photo albums. Looking back at old memories and cheeky baby smiles is an instant mood booster and a great way to spend quality time with your loved one.

**This article was originally published at Creative Child Magazine.



A Compassionate Response to Tantrums



Time and again, I see and hear advice to ignore children who are in emotional distress. Those who both give and receive this advice do so with the best of intentions. They love children and believe it is in a child’s best interest to “train them out of tantrums” by ignoring because they believe that anything else will reinforce or fuel this “bad behavior.”

There are several things at play here that we need to address in order to bring compassion to our responses with our children.

1. We have subscribed to the idea that tantrums are bad behavior.

We believe children have tantrums in a calculative manner with the intent to manipulate us to either give them attention or give them something they want. When we understand how the developing brain of a child works, we can quickly debunk this idea that young children (babies and toddlers) are being deliberately manipulative.
Rather, true tantrums occur when the limbic system (the emotional center of the brain) becomes overloaded and alarms trigger the lower brain, sending them into a meltdown. When the lower brain is in charge, children have little control over their actions, and screaming, kicking, and crying are a discharge of the overwhelming feelings.
Many things can overload the limbic system and trigger the lower brain, and to us, those things may seem very insignificant—silly even—and so our initial response is often dismissive. Who really gets that upset over the way a sandwich is cut? This judgment blocks our compassion because when we trivialize the emotional experience of another, we feel validated in not offering our support.

2. Tantrums make us uncomfortable.

There’s another reason we want to ignore a tantrum and that is the emotional response it invokes in our own brains. Because we humans are so interconnected, our mirror neurons are firing when we see our child in distress and it causes us to feel like we are in distress, too.
We don’t want to feel uncomfortable, so we push the cause of our discomfort (the child) away. Ignoring is basically like constructing a mental wall that doesn’t allow their pain to become our pain, and here again, trivializing their experience comes in handy because we use that “logic” (thanks to our fully developed frontal lobes) to ease our own discomfort.

3. We are afraid that compassion will reward the tantrum.

Connection is one of our most basic human needs. We all long to feel heard, validated, loved, accepted and attached, not only when we are our best selves, but also when we are our worst selves. Imagine a spouse, partner, or friend withdrawing their attention and warmth from you because you are crying, upset and in emotional distress.
What would it do for your relationship? How would it affect your emotional state? Now imagine that these people gave you a shoulder to cry on, listened as you communicated your frustration or sadness, and then, even if they couldn’t solve your problem for you, they said “I’m here for you.” Now ask yourself those same two questions.

Compassion is not a reward—it is the heart of relationships.

Psychologist, science writer, and emotional intelligence expert, Daniel Goleman says, “True compassion means not only feeling another’s pain but also being moved to help relieve it.” To extend compassion, we have to be willing to allow ourselves to feel our own discomfort and yet have the emotional stability to not become entangled in their distress but to be the lighthouse that shows them the way through the storm.

Different Kinds of Tantrums:

Thus far, I’ve been talking about the true emotional overwhelm, or what Tina Payne-Bryson calls “downstairs tantrums.” Read Upstairs and Downstairs Tantrums for a complete explanation.
Sometimes, particularly in older children beyond the preschooler years, a child will “pitch a fit” in an attempt to get you to give in. Hey, the frontal lobe is maturing! This isn’t true emotional distress, and parents can tell the difference. Even during this type of tantrum, though, you can still show compassion while standing your ground. When he realizes the fit doesn’t get him what he wants, it won’t be a tool he uses, and when you stay compassionate and calm in the face of it, he’ll learn what it looks like to show maturity.

The Bottom Line:

We don’t have to make a new sandwich and cut it the right way, buy them the toy, or let them stay up an hour later nor do we have to send them to their room or ignore them completely. Neither approach is the best for fostering emotional health.
Instead, I believe in offering compassionate, loving support while holding our boundaries and then, once the storm has passed, actively teaching children about their emotions and how they can respond when they feel upset. This approach strengthens relationships, resilience, and emotional intelligence.
Children must learn that kicking and screaming on the floor is not the way to deal with upsets, but they don’t learn how to handle those emotions by kicking and screaming alone. They learn by watching how we handle our upsets and by what we teach them before and after an emotional meltdown.

So don’t ignore! Help.



**This post was originally published at Creative Child Magazine.





The Lessons My Children Taught Me

Friday, September 16, 2016 No comments


I’ve taught my children many, many things in my decade of parenting, but the lessons they’ve taught me are far greater and more valuable than I ever expected. In a bizarre twist, it turns out that my children have, indeed, been my greatest teachers in life. I knew it was my honor to raise them, but what I didn’t know was just how much they’d raise me (or at least inspire me to rise).

Lesson One: How to Love Unconditionally
I suppose, like them, I was born knowing how to do this, but somewhere along the way, I learned to love with conditions, or more specifically, to show love with conditions. For me, it took having a child to see what real, unconditional love looks like, and that’s the kind of love I’m now striving to give back to them. The pure love they give to me is not based on my performance as a mother, but on the simple, sweet fact that I am their mother. That’s the love I want to return – a love not based on actions, accomplishments, or attitudes, but given purely because of who they are.

Lesson Two: Grudges are Ridiculous
I’ve been known to hold a grudge. There have been some things that people have done to me that have just been hard for me to let go of. It’s hard to see past the hurt. Not for children, though. My kids can be in an argument at 10 am and by 10:04, the whole thing is forgiven and forgotten. I see the freedom in letting go through watching my children, and I’m working toward being more like them.

Lesson Three: The World is Full of Wonder
This is another one of those beautiful lessons long forgotten until I had children. The amazement of a butterfly fluttering about, the joy of blowing bubbles and watching them being carried away by the wind, the beauty of clouds and their many fascinating shapes – the world is a wonderful place with so much to discover, even in our own backyards. Seeing once more through the eyes of a child is one of the greatest gifts of parenthood.

Lesson Four: Slower is Better
Our adult schedules can get ridiculously hectic. Even when our physical responsibilities are done, our minds rarely stop racing. It often seems to me like the world is whirring by my head and I just can’t keep up, but my children have taught me the value of slowing down. Not only do children live at a slower pace, taking their sweet time to get out the door when we needed to be somewhere 5 minutes ago, but just the fact that I see them growing so quickly has made me purposefully slow down and be present. Plus, when you’re blasting off into outer space on a super important mission with a 7-year-old, tomorrow’s to-do list just has to wait.

Lesson Five: There is Always Joy
Every day brings something to be excited about if we choose to look for the joy. My sons see joy in the rain puddles where my adult eyes see the forthcoming pile of wet laundry. They usually see joy where I see messes, so I’m learning to look for the joy in the messes, too. It’s often found in the piles of Lego bricks or the splattering of paint on the kitchen table that missed the paper. It’s found in riding a scooter into the wind or petting the soft fur of an orange kitten. Most recently for me, it was found in waking up on a summer morning with two long, gangly kids in my bed, one asleep with his arm thrown over his brother, and the gratitude washed over me like a warm wave because I realized that this – every single day I get to spend with them, my greatest teachers – is joy.

**Originally published at Creative Child

Beyond "Good Job" - 50 Encouraging Phrases for Kids

Wednesday, August 31, 2016 No comments


Have you ever watched the show Brain Games? My kids love it. In season 3, episode 5, which is titled “Stress Test,” players were given a specific amount of time to complete a task while someone was saying critical remarks to them. They almost always failed. Then, they were given the same amount of time to complete the same task while someone said encouraging words to them. The results were dramatic. With a bit of encouragement, the players were able to complete the task much faster and easier. The bottom line? Encouragement matters.

As parents, we spend much of our time giving directives and correction while the good things our children do often get little to no attention beyond “good job.” I believe if we get more intentional and specific in the encouraging words we say, we can have a positive impact on our children; we’ll see not only better behavior, but higher self-confidence as well. I encourage you to make it a point to say more encouraging words per day than criticisms or correction. Then note the change in atmosphere and behavior. Here are 50 encouraging phrases to get you started.

1. That’s so creative!
2. You really stuck with it and got the job done.
3. That was really helpful of you. Thanks!
4. You make me proud.
5. You can do it!
6. I believe in you.
7. That took perseverance! Well done!
8. You gave it your best, and that’s what matters.
9. You are the light of my life.
10. You’re getting better at this!
11. I trust you.
12. Your hard work really paid off!
13. You are a joy to be with.
14. You are really kind.
15. You should be proud!
16. Look, you did it!
17. You handled that really well.
18. I like your determination.
19. I can tell you put a lot of effort into this.
20. Keep practicing, and you’ll get there!
31. You can accomplish anything you set your mind to.
32. Take your time. There’s no rush.
33. You did it all by yourself!
34. You remembered!
35. There’s still plenty of time to learn this.
36. You don’t have to face it alone.
37. You made a wise choice.
38. You’re a caring friend/brother/sister.
39. We are lucky to have you in our family.
40. You’ve come a long way!
41. I love the detail you put into this.
42. I love watching you play.
43. Look how happy you made your friend/brother/sister.
44. That’s a great attitude!
45. Way to stay positive!
46. You are a great listener.
47. Your feelings matter!
48. Your opinion is important to me.
49. You’ve got what it takes!
50. Nothing will ever change my love for you.

This post was originally published for Creative Child Magazine.


Why I'm Willing to Listen When My Child Cries or Tantrums by Patty Wipfler

Tuesday, August 23, 2016 No comments
Why I’m Willing to Listen When My Child Cries or Tantrums


By Patty Wipfler, Hand in Hand Parenting

Listen: Five Simple Tools to MeetYour Everyday Parenting Challenges.  Copyright © Hand in Hand Parenting, 2016

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We humans are social animals.  We all need connection with others.  And sometimes, when we are overwhelmed with feelings, relating “properly” gets hard to do, especially for young children.  But opening your heart and your arms to the feelings that are overwhelming your child allows her to clear her mind, lets her to think and learn unhindered by emotional baggage, and builds an essential level of trust and closeness in the relationship between you.

I know from personal experience, and I bet that you do to, that the gift of caring attention has helped me let out feelings that were interfering with my ability to relate well to someone I cared about. Being thoughtfully listened to leaves me feeling connected and understood, especially after I have acted cranky or unkind. It’s a gift that strengthens relationships.

It saddens me to think about the many, many upset or hurt or frightened children who have been sent off to the solitary confinement of their rooms until they can behave “properly.”  I know parents love their children, and they probably didn’t have any other way modeled for them growing up, but what a lost opportunity to nurture and support a precious child.  That would be like my husband or my best friend telling me, “I have no intention of loving all of you.  I only want to see the parts that work for me. Go away until you can be easy for me to deal with.”

Here’s how this change of perspective worked for a mother in one of my classes,

Now, whenever there is a tantrum, I tell myself that, “I am thankful for the tantrum. Because my son/daughter is trying to communicate with me and I will be there for him/her.” I started really stopping and listening to their tantrums after the first class. However, the tantrums got worse! I wasn’t sure if this method really worked. But later on, I realized that it was because my son feels safer to express his feelings and tension to me. The second week, I did listened when they had a tantrum and we did Special Time. Amazingly, the occurrence of tantrums significantly decreased! Not only that but, both my husband and I enjoy the special time with our kids.

One day my son was upset that I didn’t give him something during breakfast. He started crying and screaming. I thought he was being unreasonable. In the past, I would say, “Eat your breakfast now and don’t be unreasonable.” But I stayed by him and listened to his cry. After about 10 minutes, he said, “I don’t want dad to go to work.” I am amazed that as I listened to his cry, his real issue surfaced – he misses his dad.

This new way of looking at tantrums has completely changed our parenting approach. Being able to connect to our children becomes the first priority in our relationship with them. It transformed us and helps us to be more confident parents.



Patty Wipfler and Tosha Schore are the co-authors of
Listen: Five Simple Tools to Meet YourEveryday Parenting Challenges.

To learn more about this unique approach to relationships in the family and get your own copy of Listen, click here.


Disconnected: The Trap of Conventional Parenting

Wednesday, August 3, 2016 No comments



He was in the time-out chair again. He was in and out of it all day long as we struggled back and forth for what I assumed was control. After all, that’s what they tell us about kids, isn’t it? They’ll try to run the show. They’ll attempt to overthrow your authority and run you right over if you let them. Oh, and if you let them by with anything, even once, you’re done for. I just figured his “terrible two” stage had hit. I’d been warned about this stage, so I knew it was coming, and I was determined to get control before he got so out of hand, I’d never be able to manage him…



Let’s rewind for a moment to a day just a year prior. A day when we were playing peek-a-boo, and I laughed as he threw the cover off his head again and giggled uncontrollably. A day when we watched the silly tiger video for the third time and danced around the living room to the music. He used to fall asleep every night with his hand up my shirt sleeve. I was his security blanket. And he was mine, because nothing felt more secure than loving and being loved like this.



Let’s rewind a bit farther to the time I cheered him on as he took his first steps. Standing in front of him, arms outstretched, as he wobbled toward me, he was completely trusting that I would catch him if he fell. How about we go back to the moment they placed him in my arms? This little boy wrapped in a blue blanket, with his perfect little lips, was the miracle I’d wanted for so long. He is a gift. My little love.



Fast forward to the time-out scene again, now. He’s sitting there, not looking at me, tears streaming down his cheeks. I’m feeding his baby brother, tears streaming down mine, too. How did we get to this? Is this really going to be how our story goes? It had started out so beautifully, but this – this felt very wrong. This felt heartbreaking. We were disconnected. The trust was falling away.



If that sounds a bit dramatic for a time-out, understand that this is my super sensitive child. The one who cries at commercials about homeless animals. He’s the same one who wanted to open a waffle stand at the age of 8 so he could sponsor a child with Compassion International. The same sensitive soul that asks us to catch bugs that enter the house and put them outside unharmed. He feels deeply. It’s his gift, and it also became my gift because it led me to find a different way to parent him – a way that didn’t break his heart. Conventional discipline was too harsh for my super-feeling boy, and so I turned to positive parenting. I sought a way to teach and guide him that strengthened our bond rather than destroy it. I found a way to honor his tender spirit while also being the positive leader he needed.



We’re so accustomed to parenting being a struggle. We expect it. We deal with it. We fight back and forth for “control.” The warnings never end. “Just wait until she hits the terrible twos.” “Ha! Threes are way worse!” “That’s nothing. Wait until you have a teenager!” We are already poised and ready for battle by the second birthday. But we don’t have to be. We can say, “This is not how my story will go. I choose love.”



The trap of conventional parenting is that the techniques we use to force compliance are often the ones that cause the disconnection that leads to us needing to force compliance. Connection is the key because it’s where our genuine authority lies. When I shifted from authoritarian to light reflector, I was able to rebuild our connection and reclaim my joy in parenting.



Here are my tips for transitioning from conventional parenting to positive parenting:

1.       Reframe parenting goals and roles. When my goal shifted from controlling behavior to leading my child to his fullest potential, the way I approached everything changed. I took on the role of encourager, mentor, and guide, dropping the role of judge and jury of behavior. I also took a look at the messages I believed about children and parenting and challenged them with information on child development.

2.       Reframe discipline. Rather than seeing discipline as something I did to my child, I started viewing it as something I was trying to instill in him. I realized if I wanted him to learn how to manage frustration or to be responsible or to get along with his brother, he wasn’t going to learn it with his nose in a corner. I had to teach him how to do those things rather than just punish him for not knowing.

3.       Learn how to decode behavior. Understanding what is driving a child’s behavior is key in coaching her to improving it. We tend to want to punish immature or childish behavior that we find inconvenient, but is punishment necessary in those instances? While blatant disrespect for people or property should not be tolerated, most “misbehavior” needs worked through, not punished.

4.       Become a problem-solver. When transitioning away from punishments, it’s good to have a goal to stick to. Otherwise, you might lean toward permissiveness or fall back into punitive parenting. Discipline is not the same as punishment, nor is it the absence of punishment. Discipline is teaching a child how to have self-discipline, i.e., teaching him how to manage his own emotions and behaviors. For example, if a 6 year old girl gets angry with her sister and knocks over her block tower, the problem is that she doesn’t know how to appropriately manage her anger. What’s the solution? Six minutes in her room or time spent working on anger management tools and practice using them?

Find a supportive community, like my Facebook community, and stand strong in your decision to reconnect and reclaim joy!



Connection is why we're here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.” – Brene Brown


******************************************************************************

In my new book, Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, I share my hard-won insights on giving up the conventional parenting paradigm to reconnect heart to heart with my children. I believe parenting is about so much more than discipline, so I discuss important topics less spoken about making this a unique book about building lasting family bonds and reclaiming joy in parenting. 



15 Ways to Turn a Bad Day Around

Sunday, July 31, 2016 No comments
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Are you having a rough day with the kids? If you feel like you’re in a funk and just can’t seem to shake the negative energy swirling in your home, try these quick positive parenting ideas and tips to turn your day around and your frowns upside down.

1. Listen to Music
Music is known to affect mood, so put on something upbeat and play it loud. Dance party! Or if you’re day is already too loud and chaotic, put in some earbuds (at least one!) and listen to something soothing.

2. Listen for Inspiration
While you have that one earbud in (because you have to have a free ear to listen to/for the kids), listen to a podcast. Try a parenting podcast for inspiration or a guided meditation or positivity podcast.

3. Dress yourself up.
My days home with the kids usually mean comfortable pajamas and no make-up, and that’s great sometimes. On other days, it makes me feel better to put on a real outfit, a bit of make-up, fix my hair, and throw on a few inspirational bracelets. If you don’t want to do a full-on dress-up, just wash your face, lather some delicious-smelling lotion on your body, and swipe just a bit of gloss on your lips.

4. Take a time-out.
Busy the kids with a coloring book, puzzle, or even a cartoon for 10-15 minutes and do something you enjoy. These little breaks can go a long way in keeping your tank from running on empty.

5. Write down 5 things you’re grateful for.
Say them out loud. Gratitude combats negativity and lifts your mood.

6. Get outside.
Being in nature is shown to boost your spirits, and you could use the vitamin D. If you can’t get out into nature, look at photos of nature. Research has shown that even a plant in your room can reduce stress and anxiety.

7. Tackle that thing you’re dreading doing early.
If you have a full inbox or a mountain of laundry, tackle it first thing in the morning so that it doesn’t loom over you all day.

8. Love your exercise.
We’re not all runners. I prefer kickboxing. You might prefer CrossFit or Zumba. When you love your exercise, you’re obviously more likely to do it regularly. Regular exercise boosts your overall mood and well-being. Even 10 minutes of moving your body has benefits.

9. Look for the miracles around you.
See the blessing in your chaos. Seek out the beauty in the ordinary. Consciously shift your perspective. Dr. Wayne Dyer said, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

10. Change up the routine.
Do something different – something unexpected. Whether it’s a special waffles topped with ice cream for breakfast, a trip to a new park, or building a fort in the back yard, a changeup might be just the thing you need to shift your attitude.

11. Do something silly.
Laughter is the best medicine, right? Look up some kids’ jokes and read them aloud. Put on silly outfits and have a photo shoot. Have a goofy face contest.

12. Accept that you feel crummy today and nurture yourself.
We all have bad moods sometimes, and maybe your body is trying to tell you that you need to take it easy for a bit. Snuggle up under the covers and read books together or watch a movie in bed with the kids.

13. Seek out a friend.
Having someone to talk to and to share your heart can make a big difference. Rather than texting, try calling, or if you can meet up for coffee or a play date, all the better.

14. Be affectionate.
By giving and receiving affection, you get a boost of oxytocin which can make you feel more connected and energetic.

15. Engage your senses.
Take a few mindful moments to see, hear, feel, smell, and taste.


*This post was originally published at CreativeChild.com

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Connecting with the Child In Front of You, Even When It’s Hard to Do

Sunday, July 17, 2016 No comments
Connecting with the Child In Front of You, Even When It’s Hard to Do

Guest post by Casey O'Roarty of Joyful Courage




All they want is you.
I talk, read, write a lot about this.  Parenting all comes back to relationship. I know what you're thinking, "Yeah but, Casey, this doesn't solve our bedtime challenge, or the sibling conflict, or the back talk, or..." and I am going to say, YES IT DOES.

Human beings are hard wired for connection.  HARD WIRED PEOPLE!!  We are MADE to CONNECT.  And when we feel disconnected, something literally feels off, feels wrong, feels out-of-sorts...  And when humans feel out-of-sorts they find creative and unusual ways (read: annoying and inconvenient) of getting what they need.

I love this quote from Brene Brown about connection:

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

This connection piece is HUGE!  And sometimes, well meaning, loving parents forget about this and we find ourselves pulling out our hair, wondering why our children are making our lives so difficult.

Well my friends, I would like to invite you to take a deeper, more intentional look at your child(ren)'s sense of connection.

When you consider your current challenges with a child (toddlers to teens), I would like for you to consider taking a "balcony seat" and observe the situation with a bit of perspective. Imagine that you are looking down on the experience.

From this vantage point, ask yourself these questions:
  • Am I taking into consideration the experience/perspective of my child?
It's true, your child sees the world out of a different set of eyes, and they are having a different experience than you are having.  How can you honor/respect/acknowledge that in this moment?
  • Is my response bringing us closer together or farther apart?
As Jane Nelsen says, "Children do better when they feel better" - is the way you are responding/reacting to your child in this moment encouraging them to do better, or are they feeling more discouraged?
  • When was the last time I had one on one time with this child?
Special time is a powerful tool and has a surprisingly big effect on behavior.  When kids feel connected to us, they show up better - and WE SHOW UP BETTER FOR THEM!  Sometimes, a behavior that has been making you crazy for weeks comes to a halt when we focus on spending more individual time with our child.
  • Does this child feel felt/understood?
Whenever we respond with empathy, our children "feel felt" and they are much more likely to move towards cooperation and contribution.  Empathy shows up when we are in relationship with our kids...  It is a powerful tool for connecting and really being in the present moment.
  • How can I release the feeling of urgency so that I can connect with the human in front of me?
You know what I'm talking about right?  The urgency?  The physical sensation of anxiety/fear/overwhelm that so often shows up on the parenting journey?  It's not helpful.  In fact, I would argue that this sensation, and the emotions and thoughts that accompany it, are what railroad us the MOST on the path to being the parent we want to be.  Take a breath. Practice being mindful of the here and now, and be in the present moment.

These questions, and the practice of finding perspective during intense moments, are what help me on my quest for being the best I can be.

The practice is the key, right?

Because when we are worked up in the moment, we don’t remember to “take a balcony seat” or “respond with empathy.”  Instead, it is our emotional selves that show up, often creating disconnection.

This is why I am so excited to share a gift with you…

It’s called #JoyfulCourage10 – a FREE 10 day program that will guide and support you in your practice of choosing connection.

"The joyful courage 10 challenge was thought provoking and helpful. Each message was like receiving a warm hug of wisdom on how to not only be focused, but to really enjoy every part of parenting. " - Carly H, mama of two

#JoyfulCourage10 is 10 days of exploring and practicing the parent you want to be through daily support and inspiration. You will receive text messages to encourage and inspire you around the daily theme, as well as deeper conversations and live support in the Joyful Courage Facebook group. Best of all? YOU decide your level of engagement.

We start August 24th - I would love to have you join us!

Peace, love and parenting - Casey




Casey O'Roarty, Med, is a wife, mama, Positive Discipline Trainer and Coach, doing her best to walk her talk on the daily with her own two kids.  For more information on offers, her blog, or to check out the podcast, head over to www.joyfulcourage.com.

Sensible Alternatives to Traditional Discipline Techniques

Friday, July 15, 2016 No comments


Common discipline tricks include time-out, spanking, removal of privileges, and grounding. Many parents are even getting quite creative with their tricks, using humiliation, public shaming, and hot sauce. Unfortunately, while these tricks may work in the short term, they erode the trust and connection that are so vital to our true parental authority.

Which leaves many asking “well what do we do?” Giving specific discipline advice is my least favorite thing to do as a parenting author and educator because all situations, children, and family dynamics are unique. I believe we parent at our best when we evaluate each circumstance, reading our children as best we can in that moment, and meeting them where they are to teach them what they need to know depending upon what the problem reveals to us. I believe we need to let go of fanciful ideas of one-size-fits-all discipline, promising programs, and quick fixes and look to our own intuition and knowledge of our children and circumstances.

However, with that said, I understand that parents like to have alternatives when getting away from traditional discipline practices while they get their “positive parenting legs” underneath them. Below are several sensible alternatives that keep trust and connection intact while providing children the guidance they need through childhood.

Alternatives to Time-Out:
Spanking and time-outs are the most popular forms of toddler discipline in traditional parenting.

Try these instead:

Time-in is a great alternative to time-out because rather than isolating a little one, which can feel scary and threatening causing further agitation and misbehavior, time-in brings the child closer, often onto our laps or sitting next to us. I know this may seem counter-intuitive at first because we’ve been so conditioned to believe that we must push children away in order to make them behave, but many parents have shared testimonies of success with time-in.

What does it look like: If you away from home, let’s say at a park, and your child pushes another child down in frustration, you’d go to her, say “Uh-oh, you pushed her down and that hurt her. Come sit with me and I’ll keep everyone safe.” You bring her to your lap, arms gently wrapped around her, and judge what state she is in.

If she is angry, she may need your help to calm her brain. Perhaps rocking back and forth, humming a familiar song, or telling her a story will soothe her. She needs to sit with you until she has calmed down and is able to tell you that pushing others down is not okay.

Depending upon development and maturity, you might ask her how she made the other child feel and what she can do to fix it. Keep your sentences short and simple. “I’ll keep everyone safe.” “Are you feeling better?” “If you push again, we will go home.” Then, of course, follow through by going home if she continues such behavior.

If she is frantic and will not sit on your lap or next to you, it’s probably time to go home and give her some food and/or a nap. If leaving isn’t an option, consider keeping a calm down travel bag in your purse. I’ve used them in stores while grocery shopping.

Calm-Down Area – This is basically a time-in while you are in the comfort of your own home and can transition to a place your child can go independently to calm down with time and practice. I’ve given detailed instructions on setting up a great calm-down area in this post.

Cool-Off – For older children, taking a period of time to cool-off may be just what they need. This works well with arguing siblings, too. Ask them to go to their separate rooms or separate areas of the home until they can be peaceful together. There is a difference in using a harsh attitude to force a child into his room for 30 minutes and suggesting that a child take some time to read a book or get some space from his frustration. Delivery is important.

Alternatives to Removing Privileges and Grounding:
Taking Something Away…Logically – Taking away a child’s iPad for a week because he rolled his eyes at you is retribution. Taking away his iPad because he’s gone past his screen-time limit and is becoming a zombie is a logical action to take. I’ve taken away toys because they were thrown and Kindles because they were used in a way that violated the electronic rules.
It’s my opinion that anytime something is taken away from a child, it should because that particular item is being misused in a way that is unhealthy or violating family rules, not just to make them miserable or suffer.

Hold Them Accountable – Rather than dishing out a punishment or grounding them, holding children accountable by putting it in their hands to fix actually helps them learn true accountability. Being grounded only makes them resentful. So, if a child breaks something, he may need to work it off. If she is rude to someone, she needs to repair the relationship. These things are done with parental support and encouragement but it should be made clear that it is up the child to make amends and right her wrongs.

Stopping Sibling Disputes:
Pull Over – If a spat breaks out in the car, pull to the side of the road and tell them it is difficult to drive safely when they are arguing. Then sit and silence. When they stop arguing, resume your trip. This isn’t always a feasible option, but when it is, it really gets the point across quite quickly.

The Peace Table – A way to teach children to solve their disputes peacefully is by taking them to a peace table. Each child gets a chance to state their case and the parent walks them through to a peaceful resolution and then sees that it is carried through. After a few practices, mine were able to work through their own disagreements without my assistance.

Repair - When children fight with one another, they should learn the value of repairing relationships. Teach them the value of an apology and ask what they can do to reconnect with their sibling. My children usually choose to write a note or card or just give a hug. It doesn’t have to be a verbal apology but just a reaching out to make amends.

This post was originally written for and published at Creative Child Magazine.


4 Habits of Happy Parents

Thursday, July 7, 2016 No comments
Photo Credit: CREATIVE CHILD MAGAZINE


“In our happiest of childhood memories, our parents were happy, too.” – Robert Brault

I’ve been thinking about happiness a lot lately. As parents, we often think about how to raise children who are happy and thriving, and I think about that plenty, too, but in the past several months, I’ve been thinking about how our own happiness affects our children.

This led me to ask my 7 year old this question – “If you had to choose, would you rather have all the toys on your wish list or happy parents?” He didn’t miss a beat before he answered, “Happy parents. I mean, it’d be nice to have all the toys, but it’s more important that you and dad are happy.”
I was floored. This little boy of mine would choose my happiness over all the toys. My curiosity piqued, I went on to ask, “Does it affect you when you think one of us might be unhappy? What does it feel like?”

“Yeah,” he said. “It makes me feel kind of…” and he made a yucky face. Apparently, feeling that their parents might be unhappy makes kids feel yucky. Or at least, it makes my kid feel yucky. I’m willing to bet, however, that most children would have the same response because I think their parents’ happiness matters to them a lot more than we think it does.

I couldn’t find much in my research on the topic, but there is information about how depression affects children. Still, I didn’t need a peer-reviewed paper to tell me that it matters. I have a 7 year old who told me.

Since my conversation with my son, I’ve been reading a lot about happiness. Most of them say the same things: Eat healthy, exercise, manage stress, and limit screen time. Those are all solid suggestions for sure, but I wanted something more, so I kept reading and taking notes. As a result, here are 4 habits I’m convinced will make us happier parents.

4. Challenging negative thought patterns.

If you’ve read my new book, you know this is a challenge I’ve tackled before. I even list the steps to become a more positive thinker in the book.
  • notice your thought patterns
  • write down your most recurring negative thoughts
  • challenge them by asking if they are true and coming up with a more positive counter thought
  • then stopping those negative thoughts in their tracks and replacing them with the counter thoughts
It takes a lot of willpower at first, but it gets easier with time.

3. Connect with those around you.

I mean really connect, not just occupy the same space. You see, they tell us to get off our screens, and we should, but if we sign off and still don’t make an effort to communicate and connect with those we love, what’s the point?

I think often times parents think that because we do so much for our children, surely they feel connected to us. This isn’t necessarily true. It isn’t about the quantity of things we do for them but the quality of the time we spend with them. Read this article for 10 Ways to Connect with Your Child.

2. Live with integrity.

Sometimes we get out of step with who we want to be. We may let others influence us negatively, allow them to make decisions for us, or take away our personal power. I think this is becoming an increasing problem with the constant influences of social media.

Well-meaning friends, family, strangers on the internet, and even professionals may talk us into doing things that feel counterintuitive. We also may overstretch ourselves to please others even when it means sacrificing the personal values we believe in. We may allow our priorities to become askew and get off track for a period of time.

I believe living outside our values and beliefs is a cause for much unhappiness.

The Executive Happiness Coach, Jim Smith, says, “You can experience pleasure, yes.  But true happiness, as it is related to meaning and engagement with life, is difficult to achieve and impossible to hold when one is out of integrity.” I like this definition of integrity: “The state of being whole and undivided.” Decide what values you hold dear, what beliefs you stand firm in, and don’t let others cause you to become divided.

Continue to #1 at CREATIVE CHILD MAGAZINE

Making Sense of Aggression: What's Really Going On and How to Help by Bridgett Miller

Wednesday, July 6, 2016 1 comment
Making Sense of Aggression: 
What’s Really Going On and How to Help


            
                                                                                  
There are few things that concern parents quite as much as seeing aggressive behavior in their little ones does.  I believe this is most likely because as caring parents we are heavily invested in wanting to raise children who are socially and emotionally responsible. When we see them acting out in ways that rub up against our hopes and expectations, we naturally become concerned.

One of the most important things to remember about behavior is that it gives us information about our child’s emotional development. It gives us clues as to where our support is needed. When we see disconcerting behavior and automatically label it as anger being directed towards something or someone, we are being distracted by the symptoms and lose sight of the root cause driving the action. What we are really observing is evidence of frustration in the system. Something is not working for whoever it is displaying the aggressive behavior. When this happens to anyone, our children or to us, we get stuck in what Dr Gordon Neufeld refers to as ‘The Frustration Roundabout.' 

When a child encounters an incident they find frustrating, the first thing that occurs to their brain to do is to try and change the situation. For example, we might have said ‘No’ to giving them another cookie. The child who really wants another cookie may feel compelled to move in to get us to change our mind. They know what they want and are driven to pursue it. This shouldn’t surprise us but all too often it does! Our child’s brain has locked onto the idea of getting another cookie and anything, or anyone, getting in their way will further fuel their frustration. The outward expression of  this frustration will likely come across as untempered and volatile behavior, particularly in an immature child.



When we hold our ground, as being a responsible parent regularly requires us to do, and we continue to convey the message, ‘No, no more cookies today’ it will begin to occur to the child’s brain that they cannot get mommy or daddy to change their answer.  Some children move more quickly than others to feeling their futility and relinquishing what they so desperately want. Young children tend to burst into tears of upset, or if they are older, they may instead let out a big sigh and shrug their shoulders as the disappointment of not getting their way sinks in. It’s in these moments that we might well struggle with our own feelings of discomfort as we have led our children to where they feel their passing sorrow. That’s not an easy place for most parents to be in.

If you have more than one child you’ve probably noticed that when confronted with limits and  restrictions, not all children react in the same way. Some children move to tears quite quickly whereas others seem to resist feeling their sadness and their frustration erupts in volatile behaviors such as hitting, kicking, biting, spitting, screaming, harsh words or perhaps something else. While there are many forms of aggression, each one of them serves as an expressive reminder that our child is experiencing frustration because they couldn’t change the situation (by getting another cookie) or wasn’t changed by it (by feeling their sadness about not get a cookie).
 

More often than we maybe realize, we inadvertently move our children to aggression by not making it easy for them to have their tears. One of the most common reasons we try and shut down their tears is because of how they make us feel. We may feel saddened, guilty or perhaps even frustrated by their tears and so we try to make them stop as quickly as we can, either with distraction or by admonishing them for crying.  Each time we do this we block the child from feeling their sadness and in so doing, we rob them of the opportunity to feel their sadness about that which they cannot change.

As parents we need to know and value the purpose of tears. Few people realize that tears of sadness signal the process of adaption taking place in the brain. The child who is able to feel their sadness around that which cannot be changed, is being changed by their experience. Therein lies the recipe for growing children into resilient adults. With each opportunity to feel their sadness, at the same time as being comforted in their upset, another layer of resilience is formed. As their parents we can help them to do this, but we need to understand what is happening for our child and how we can support them through the process.

The way through with a child who is displaying aggression is relatively simple, but not always easy! Aggressive behavior is a response to being frustrated and the child is being driven to act out on how they feel. They are responding to what isn’t working for them. Young children, or the immature, lack what’s called ‘brain integration’ which means they are not yet developed enough to feel their big feelings and simultaneously consider their actions. That’s why young children say what they think, and behave how they are feeling. They don’t yet have the capacity to think twice, or to consider the consequences of their behavior in order to reign themselves in at that very moment. They often know better than they do, which is true for anyone immature, regardless of their age.




So, how do we help our children when they are being aggressive? Firstly, we should acknowledge their upset as frustration. They are not rude, mean, or inconsiderate, they are feeling FRUSTRATED. “I can see you’re feeling really frustrated with your little brother right because he took away your toy.” “I’m sure you’re feeling really frustrated with me for saying no to one more cookie.” Acknowledging their frustration isn’t giving them permission to act out, it’s helping them to take up a relationship with how they are feeling…and that is a really crucial ability to develop when we are growing up. So many adults still don’t know what they are feeling, they just act out. 

As Freud so wisely stated, ‘What we do not express we depress and then we get sick.’ Frustration is an emotion that needs to be expressed. We have to provide the support and structure for children to be able to express their frustration in ways that let it out but don’t hurt or damage anyone or anything in the process.

In order to lead your child, you must first learn to read your child.  Watch them closely. How do they respond when they are starting to feel frustrated? What happens when they are driven to express their frustration? Be careful not to be distracted or derailed by their outward behavior, it is providing you with insightful clues as to where they need your help with their inner struggle to adapt. Expression is key to healthy development. As children grow up their outward expression of frustration becomes more controlled, not because we teach them self control, but because their brain has integrated. As human beings mature, we become capable of having our tears on the inside in the form of feelings of disappointment or futility and we no longer have to physically act out, or openly weep in response to every frustration in order move through it. Many adults are still ‘a work in progress’ in this developmental area.

As you now know, a significant part of our parental focus needs to be on understanding and providing a safe outlet for aggression, BUT another important piece to be aware of is the energy we bring to the interaction. Whilst it is natural and understandable that our own level of frustration rises as we witness our children’s struggle with their frustration, it’s up to us to keep ourselves in check. Understanding what’s going on for us emotionally is the just the beginning. Reminding ourselves in the incident that unleashing our own frustration will further alarm and frustrate our children will help us to temper our own reactions. It’s not always easy to act like an adult, but in our parent-child relationships it is essential that we dig deep and then rise to the occasion when our children need us most.

Trying to teach a lesson in the moment is never very productive because we are feeling emotionally rattled and so are our children. No one takes in much information when they are in this alarmed state, least of all children. Our desperate attempt to wedge in a lesson on acceptable behavior during the incident is wasted on them. It might make us feel like we are at least doing something, but you can be sure that very little is sinking in for the child. Our work is best done after the incident when our nerves and their upset has subsided and we have restored the heart connection between us. That’s when they will be ready to hear our words and take in our values and expectations.


So, what does this all mean for the parent who gets frustrated by their very frustrated child? Well, it may help to know that our emotional system functions in the same way as our children’s does. We also get frustrated when things are not working for us and we have to either change what’s not working, and if that’s not possible, we need to be changed by it…or else our frustration will be expressed as aggression. That being said, our children shouldn’t be on the receiving end of our day to day frustration or lack of integration, this is something we have to take responsibility for and work at managing. We need to be aware that we typically lose ‘our mix’ when we are tired, hungry, stressed, or under the influence. Given that any one of these conditions, or a combination thereof, describes the state of a typical parent, we have a lot we could focus our attention on. Simply by becoming more conscious of how we are feeling has the potential to shift how we respond to our children’s frustration almost instantaneously.

Parenting brings with it countless delights and challenges, often way beyond what we could ever have imagined. We expect to raise our children but along the way we find ourselves presented with many unanticipated opportunities for our own growth and development. From the moment we become parents and little eyes look to us for guidance and support, we begin to discover more about ourselves as we strive to become the parents we yearn to be for them. It’s in our open-hearted efforts that we find ourselves faced with a choice, to either seek to understand what’s driving behavior or to get stuck in fear trying to control it. Once we shift our focus from the distracting external behavior to instead supporting our children with their emotional development, we find our way though with them and often without expecting it, back to ourselves.



Bridgett Miller has a background in Education, Special Education and Psychology. She is an Authorized Facilitator of the Neufeld Institute and has over a decade of experience teaching preschool and kindergarten children. Bridgett is passionate about helping parents and educators make developmental sense of the children in their lives.  She is the creator of  https://www.facebook.com/look.with.love.bridgett and has a parent/educator consultation practice www.truegrowthconsulting.ca in Vancouver, Canada where she lives with her husband, children and two longhaired dachshunds.

For more information on the relational developmental approach of Dr Gordon Neufeld and full course details on Making Sense of Aggression please visit www.neufeldinstitute.org. or www.truegrowthconsulting.ca