21 Ways to Reach a Child's Heart

Monday, January 30, 2017 No comments

“We were never meant to take care of children whose hearts we did not have, and that includes our teenagers. When they are not in right relationship with us, their instincts are to resist us, to oppose us, to shy away from us.” – Dr. Gordon Neufeld

Dr. Neufeld’s work in attachment theory has been instrumental in the way I now view children, childhood, and my role as a parent. Specifically, my understanding that children are not meant to follow those to whom they are not attached was a pivotal point in my journey as a mom. What does it mean to have your child’s heart? Let’s clear up the misconceptions first. 

First, being in right relationship, or securely attached, does not mean that you must always do what makes your child happy. There will be times when your parental decisions do not please your children, yet you know your decision is in their best interest. They are not yet mature enough to understand this, but you are, and this is why they are entrusted to you. Attached parenting is not about walking on eggshells so as not to upset your kid, but rather it’s about standing confident in the truth that you are your child’s best bet, the one who knows what they need and how to take care of them, and you do so with a quiet strength and assured gentleness.

Secondly, having your child’s heart does not mean you are peers or are on level playing field. It does not require you to give up your authority as a parent, and in fact enables you to have true, genuine authority rather than forced authority. When you have your child’s heart, they trust you. They look up to you. They follow your lead intuitively and this is how parenting was meant to work. Unfortunately many of today’s parenting practices sabotage this in favor of a false or forced authority. We threaten to take away the things that mean the most to them or we withdraw the invitation for them to be around us until they do what we want them to do, and this power play gets results but breaks the heart ties.

Lastly, having your child’s heart does not mean that there is never any conflict. Even a parent and child who is connected at the heart will have moments of disconnection. Troubles will still arise from time to time because such is the case when two or more imperfect humans are in relationship with one another. However, having your child’s heart does greatly improve cooperation and peace.

Below are 21 ways to reach a child’s heart.
  1. Listen with the intent to understand their point of view and feelings.
  2. Speak to them respectfully, even when you issue requests or correct them.
  3. Believe in their goodness and tell them that you believe.
  4. Put away your devices and distractions and spend time focused on them.
  5. Read to them.
  6. Hug them often.
  7. Ask “How can I help?”
  8. Correct without criticism.
  9. Speak life-giving, encouraging, affirming words to them daily.
  10. Play what they want to play.
  11. Show them that their opinions are valuable.
  12. Thank them for their contributions to the family.
  13. Let them hear you speak kindly of them to others.
  14. Empathize with their emotions, even the tough ones.
  15. Be silly with them. Laugh a lot. Let them remember your smile.
  16. Greet them warmly.
  17. Allow room for mistakes.
  18. Call them by a special nickname.
  19. Be generous with your “yes” and confident with your “no.”
  20. Tell them stories from your youth so they’ll know you better.
  21. Show interest in the things they care about.
This post was originally published at Creative Child Magazine.

A Word of Encouragement for When You're Tired

Friday, January 27, 2017 No comments

My children are now 10 and 8. The baby days are long gone. I can no longer pick them up. I'll never carry them on my hip again. I miss it. But this season is beautiful, too. They’re amazing to watch as they transform into young men a little more each day.

I know many of you reading this have babies, toddlers and preschoolers. You don’t get a full night of sleep, ever. You’re bone tired, but it doesn’t matter because they still need you constantly.
I have to confess, I co-slept with my kids until they were 7 and 5. That’s when they said they were ready for me to go. I slept in their room. Neither of my kids slept through the night until they were 3. THREE. That’s a lot of interrupted sleep. I’d get the toddler back to sleep around the same time the baby woke up. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Even when they did finally start sleeping through most nights, they still couldn’t fall asleep without me.

I chose to do it my way even though the doctor said “get him out of your bed” and others warned how I’d ruin them. I questioned my decisions constantly. Would they ever sleep all night? Would they need me to move into their dorm room one day to rub their backs and tell them a story? I didn’t know. I just kept following my heart and putting my faith in love.

Now don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying this is what anyone SHOULD do. No, no. You do it your way. You follow your heart. There is no one right way to do this, mamas and daddies.

I just wanted to offer this up to those of you who have chosen to co-sleep or who still have kids that wander into your bed at night or wake several times. For those of you who still lay by your child until they fall asleep. I remember the exhaustion. I remember wishing that they would just please, please go to sleep and stay asleep for once. I remember feeling it would never end.

I remember the tired, but even more so, what really sticks out in my mind as I look back on those days are the giggles, the stories, the laughter, the scent of baby shampoo, the love. The LOVE.
I remember taking pretend adventures to outer space or gathering gems from the cave of a dragon. I remember sneaking my arm out from under his head and catching a glimpse of his sleeping face in the moonlight and tears welling up in my eyes because, oh my gosh, how lucky am I?

And even now, once a weekend I say, “Come in here, let’s have a sleepover in my room.” We watch movies and fall asleep in a tangled heap of long limbs, and I try to fit in the 4 inches of space that’s left because I know if babyhood was just yesterday, then, well, tomorrow they’ll be grown and gone. Then I’ll have an empty space awaiting grandchildren to come and fill it.

So, snuggle them up. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re doing something wrong, or not being tough enough. Don’t let them scare you into thinking you’re ruining your kids or bully you into making a decision that doesn’t feel right to you. You just snuggle them and hold on tight and know that this long, trying and exhausting day will be your beautiful, sweet and cherished memory tomorrow.

That’s the power of love.

When You Feel Less Than, Remember This

Thursday, January 26, 2017 No comments

I've been feeling off-center for the last few days. There is an uneasy feeling lying heavy on my chest, and through my journaling this morning, I figured out what it was.

It's the feeling of being less than.

Less than the mom whose kid has $120 shoes and packs his ultra healthy lunch in an organized box that matches his rolling bookbag. My son took his less than stellar lunch in a paper sack this morning because he left his lunch box at school yesterday. He was wearing his designer Walmart shoes.

Less than the mom who is travelling around the world speaking to thousands while still building loving relationships at home. The thought of speaking to crowds gives me hives, and I'm still figuring out how to balance everything at home.

Less than the author who is on the New York Times list. I didn't quite make it.

Less than the mom who is at drop off at 7:45 a.m. with a full face of make-up and something other than yoga pants. I went through car line in my pajamas.

Less than the woman I see on screen with her toned arms and flat abs. My arms wave for several seconds after my hand stops waving.

Do you know what all this feeling less than does? It makes me ashamed. It makes me feel inadequate. It makes me feel like a failure as an author, a wife, a mom, a woman.

Not enough. Not enough. Not enough becomes the constant weight on my chest and all the inspirational stuff I've read so many times before about self-love and acceptance seems to get swallowed up by the monster of comparison. I don't even realize I'm doing it. I don't look at the put-together mom and think "wow, you look so much better than me this morning" or at my friends who are doing really well in their fields and think "you are just way better than I'll ever be." No, I don't compare out loud in my mind. It's something that forms just beneath there, and I don't realize it until I feel the weight.

Maybe you have that weight on your chest today. Maybe you even read my blog, books, or posts and think "she has this all figured out." I assure you, I don't. My life isn't picture perfect, and I'm sure none of the above-mentioned moms, speakers, authors, and models have picture perfect lives either. What I perceive as their perfection is really just a glimpse of what they put out there and very, very far from the whole story.

So, remember this the next time you feel the weight of not enough. You are beautiful. Your imperfections don't make you any less beautiful because beauty shines from the soul who shows up, who tries again, who loves another day. You are loved. That's why you're so worn out, mama. It's because you are so very loved. How do you know which stuffed animal your child loves the most? The one that's ragged and worn. Before I had kids, my eyes were brighter and my roots didn't show, but I'm ragged and worn a bit now. I've been loved up real good. If you're looking a little rough around the edges today, smile in the mirror and remember why.

When you realize that you've been comparing yourself to others, breathe in this truth - nothing compares to you. You are unique. No one else has your story. You are worthy and lovable no matter what mistakes you've made in the past. You have today, and it's full of possibilities. To relieve the weight on your chest, count the blessings and joys before you. Repeat as often as needed.

How to Use Time-In (An Alterative to Time-Out)

You know the scene. You’re trying to get your screaming, kicking child to sit in the time-out chair, and he’s not cooperating. He gets up every 3 seconds, so you have to keep wrangling him into the chair. Time restarts because he got up again. Three minutes end up lasting 20. He’s crying, and you’re about to cry…or scream…or give up entirely and go for a glass of wine. Time-outs can be a huge power struggle, especially if you have a strong-willed kid. They’re hard on sensitive kids, too. Most of the time, they don’t even work to change behavior and you end up stuck in an endless loop of misbehavior, time-outs, and frustration. Nothing sucks the joy out of parenting quite like everyday power struggles.

The good news is that there is an alternative that many parents, myself included, find to be much more effective. To understand how to implement time-in, you first need to understand why this approach makes sense. Read The Brain Science that Changes Parenting for a more comprehensive post on the “why” behind this time-out alternative. To summarize for the purpose of this article, the brain, to greatly simplify, can be divided into two main parts which Dr. Tina Payne-Bryson and Dr. Daniel Siegel refer to as the “upstairs brain” and “downstairs brain.” Upstairs is where higher reasoning, logical thinking, empathy, regulating emotions, morality, and more are housed. Downstairs is primitive and reactive.

“We want to engage the higher parts that can help override the lower, reactive parts. Which part of the brain do you think punishment appeals to? Which part does being ignored appeal to? What about threatening? These parental behaviors all activate the reactive reptilian brain. They (Bryson and Siegel) call this “poking the lizard.” But, by demonstrating empathy and respect and engaging in problem-solving, you don’t communicate a threat, and the reptilian brain can relax its reactivity. This is why I moved from time-out (which my son perceived as a threat) to time-in, because I wanted to appeal to his upper brain, not continue lighting up their lower brain. It’s why I now engage both my children in problem-solving when a problem arises rather than punishing them.
When we consistently help a child to calm down and work with them to teach good decision-making, we are actually strengthening the neural connections in their upstairs brain.”

 Using this knowledge, the first phase of time-in is to actually calm the child’s brain down. We want him to have access to his higher brain, and that can’t happen until he’s unlocked from the reactive lower brain, and when he’s alarmed, he’s reactive. Social isolation or the threat of social isolation causes alarm. By approaching your child with empathy, calmness, and gentleness (using your own higher brain) you will appeal to his higher brain. Mirror neurons at work! So, you will approach the child using your mature higher brain and invite him into your lap into a safe space with you. In this space, it’s a good idea to have several different calming tools for your child, such as a calm-down jar, books, crayons and paper, etc. However, if you aren’t at home, or you haven’t get set up such as space, your loving arms is certainly good enough.

This first phase does two things. First, it removes the child from the situation or interrupts the problem behavior. That’s the same thing a traditional time-out does, right? It communicates “stop, this isn’t acceptable.” Time-in goes a step further here because rather than leaving the child in a corner or chair, you are now going to help him grow a better brain and learn more acceptable behavior.

But wait, you say! Isn’t this a reward? Read Does Time-In Reward Children?

Once you have him calmed down (I use “him” often because I raise boys and it’s sort of the default setting in my brain) you move on to phase 2 by appealing to his higher brain. You do this by asking questions. “Do you see Sophie’s face? She looks sad because you pinched her. I wonder how we can help her feel better?” Don’t try this until he’s calm because it just won’t work. Let him offer suggestions on how to right his wrong. This is teaching him problem-solving skills and placing the responsibility of reparation on him. He’s learning that he needs to fix the problem he created. If he can’t come up with anything, then you can offer suggestions. “Do you think saying I’m sorry will help? Yes? Okay, we’ll go do that, but the next time you get upset with a friend, you can either say ‘I’m mad right now’ and walk away or you can take 3 big dinosaur breaths. Let’s practice those dinosaur breaths. Good. Let’s go apologize now.”

Time-out = Child learns a behavior is unacceptable and sits in a corner for 3 minutes.

Time-in= Child learns a behavior is unacceptable, learns self-regulation skills, takes responsibility for the behavior, and learns acceptable ways to handle a situation. Plus his connection with you isn’t broken, and he isn’t left feeling bad about himself.

 But What If…
  1. My child is having a tantrum and is hitting me or screaming? If your calm demeanor, tone, and words do not soothe your child enough to be brought into your lap or a safe space, then you can move the child to safe place and stand back. The key is to remain emotionally and physically available rather than just ignoring. “I won’t let you hit me so I’m going to stand over here to keep myself safe, but when you’re ready for a hug, I’ll be right here.” Some kids need a bit of space to work it out, and that’s perfectly okay. The difference is respecting the need for space versus forcing it.
  2. My child refuses to sit in time-in? If you truly make this a calming space and a connecting time, your child will have little reason to resist a time-in. It may take a few tries for them to trust it, especially if they’re used to time-outs, but keep trying. You can use a gentle bear hug hold while you rock and sing softly or speak gently to help calm your child down. You might say, “You can either sit in on this pillow or stand right here and jump up and down. Which do you choose?” For some kids, movement helps them calm down faster. You’ll know what your kid needs. As long as they reach emotional regulation and go through the process of making amends and learning better skills, it matters little how you get there.
  3. My child won’t offer any ideas during the problem-solving phase? If they are cooperative but can’t really think of anything, go ahead and pitch some ideas. If they’re outright refusing to cooperate, they haven’t calmed enough. “We will stay here until you’re ready” or “It looks like you’re having a hard time getting calmed down. It’s time to leave (or nap).”
  4. I have other kids to take care of and I can’t sit in time-in? If at all possible, try to give your child at least a few minutes of your time because if she’s acting out, she really needs your help. Once you get the hang of time-in and she knows the drill, you can leave her in the calm down space while you attend to the other children and then go back for the teaching/problem-solving phase when she is ready.
  5. I’m not at home? I’ve had time-in at the grocery store in aisle 5 and in a parking lot of a restaurant. You might consider putting a calm down travel bag in your purse for this purpose. Where ever you can have a bit of privacy works just fine.
I know this may feel like it’s going against everything you thought you needed to do to discipline your kid, but I invite you to try it for a couple of weeks. I think you’ll be surprised.

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

10 Tips for a Joyful Life

Monday, January 16, 2017 No comments


I’m chasing it in 2017. Not just because I’m writing a book on it, which I am (stay tuned!) but because as I’m nearing closer and closer to 40 (in 2018) I feel a deep longing to surrender that which does not serve me so that I have sufficient time and space for that which does.
To know what I can let go of and what I must tend more to, I’ve had to evaluate what does and doesn’t serve me in this season of my life. Connection. Healthy relationships. Reading. Writing. Volunteering. Worshipping. Being slow, being intentional, being present. These things serve me well because they fill me with joy.

Living at warp speed does not serve me.

I do not want to look back on this season and only remember that I was busy. I want to remember playing with my kids, gathering around the table, reading great books—I want precious memories to hold on to, and I can only make them if I slow down.

The critic in my head does not serve me.

And neither does the one in my life who tears me down or the one behind that keyboard who does the same. Comparisons don’t serve me—comparing my home to the photo on Pinterest or my child to hers doesn’t allow for me to appreciate what I have. You’ve heard it said that comparison is the thief of joy (Theodore Roosevelt, I believe.) It's true.

Distractions don’t serve me.

They pull me away from joy and overload me with too much input. The ever-moving newsfeed that sucks me in with photos of your beautiful family and interesting articles on brain science can be a joy-enhancer in small increments or a joy stealer if I dwell there too long or allow the wrong things into my mind and heart. An overwhelmed mind is not a peaceful mind. A discontented heart feels no joy.

Pushing myself beyond the limit where I feel safe and comfortable because of the expectations of others does not serve me.

And friends, I’ve wrestled with this one for years. There seems to be a certain glory awarded to those who “live big” and “get outside their comfort zones.” Push yourself,” they say. “Reach for new limits.” “Don’t play small.” “Be bold and brave.” You know what? I’m okay with my limits where they are and pushing myself beyond them doesn’t bring glory or growth, it brings me anxiety.
Some of us are made to live big, but we don’t all have the same path or purpose. There’s nothing wrong with living small so long as your heart is content, so don’t let anyone shame you into believing you must be more.
Some of us do the most good in the small, quiet comfort of the ordinary day to day, right where God put us.

Joy is all around me. And you.

If I slow my mind down, Sherlock style, and really pay attention—if I open my eyes and ears and slow my breathing and notice—it’s all over the place! Take a second and look around you. Really look for joy. What do you see?
I wonder with a troubled heart how much joy I missed out on because all I could see was the mess, the deadline, the to-do list, the pile, the same ole monotonous routine. How many smiles did I forfeit? How much laughter passed me by? Most importantly, how many moments of connection did I miss with my loved ones because I was looking at something else? How much living have I missed out on?

Here are my 10 tips to live a joyful life.

1. Set 3 intentions to start your day. Examples— will call an old friend. I will play with my kids. I will be gentle.

2. Tidy your home early and often. It helps your headspace be tidier too.

3. Burn the best candle. Use fancy glasswear. Make a toast. Dress up even if you have nowhere to be. An ordinary day can (and should be) celebrated.

4. Make time to read, both alone and aloud to your children. Every single day.

5. Kitchens are for more than cooking and eating. They often have the best dance floors in the house. Try them out.

6. It’s really hard to hear your own voice when your head is crowded with lots of voices. Clear them out.

7. There is absolutely nothing going on in the online world that is better than what you can cultivate in your real world with a bit of creativity and connection. Spend more time making it interesting and beautiful.

8. If you start saying positive, encouraging, genuinely kind things to your kids every day, you’ll see the power struggles dissipate and your home will be a happier place. Try it and see.

9. Don’t miss out on making a wonderful memory because you don’t want to get your hair wet or smear your mascara.

10. The years with your kids are going to be short whether you slow down and live intentionally or keep up at high speed. The only difference is the amount of beautiful memories you will collect. They’re only little once. Choose joy.

The One Parenting Tip to Remember

Wednesday, January 4, 2017 No comments

As someone who has written three books and numerous articles on the subject of parenting, I know that I (and many other parenting book authors and bloggers) write with the intention of inspiring, encouraging, and empowering parents. Yet I also know that the Internet and bookstores are filled with conflicting advice and opinions on child rearing, and sometimes what is intended to be empowering actually feels condemning. What is meant to be encouraging may be discouraging. What is written to be inspiring ultimately may leave you feeling confused, anxious, guilty, or just plain angry. It’s so hard to know which voices to listen to in a sea filled with endless voices.

The best piece of advice I can give to my readers is the advice I had to learn to take myself: in the end, the voice you need to listen to is your own. Not the reactive, knee-jerk voice or the critical voice you carried with you from childhood, but the quiet, calm inner stirring that you’re sometimes afraid to listen to because it’s starkly different from all the other voices surrounding you. That quiet, calm, peaceful inner voice whispers love and connection because that is what we are designed for.
Parenting is a long, tough game, and whether you’re at the top of the first or the bottom of the ninth, you’re playing your heart out because you know it’s all on the line. You want to make all the right choices, so you read countless pages and weigh the science and consult your trusted friends, and you do the best you can. Then, you read something that goes directly against the decision you just agonizingly made and you start questioning yourself all over again. It’s exhausting, I know, to have a constant stream of “you should do this” and “you’d better not do that” messages thrown at you every day.

The further along I get in this game, the more I’m convinced that there is no right way to play for every team but that there is a best way for each individual, unique team. We can all have different playbooks and still play really well, but there is one single quality every team must have to succeed – unity.

...Continue reading at Creative Child Magazine