The Wrong Question Parents Keep Asking

Tuesday, February 21, 2017 No comments

The questions we ask are important because obviously the answers that come to us are a result of what question we asked. So, asking the wrong questions gives us the wrong answers, and when we base our reactions, our relationships, our decisions, and our views on the wrong answers, we miss the mark. We end up on the wrong path and wonder why things aren’t working out properly and why it has gotten so hard.

This was the case for me eight years ago when my firstborn was three years old. I, like many other parents, asked one question over and over again. What do I do when

What do I do when my child hits?

What do I do when my child doesn’t listen?

What do I do when he is defiant?

What do I do when he won’t sleep at night?

What do I do when…what do I do when…

It isn’t hard to find answers to these questions. The internet is full of them. Books and magazines are full of answers. Professionals, friends, family, everyone seems to have an answer for the “what do I do when” question, (all conflicting answers, of course) and the answer you accept will determine how you treat your child and the course of action you will take.

When I asked “what do I do when my child is defiant?” and the answer that came to me which I accepted was “put him in time-out,” our course was set. I continued to view him as defiant (because I had gotten an answer that reinforced my belief) and I consistently and continually placed him time-out just as I was told. Of course, it didn’t work. Our relationship suffered and his behavior only worsened. The more I looked for defiance, the more I saw of it, and pretty soon our days were filled with power struggles and tears, and every day I felt completely defeated.

It turns out that time-outs were the wrong answer because “what do I do when” was the wrong question.

Maybe you’ve found yourself in a similar situation, feeling like you are in a constant power struggle with your child and nothing is working the way you thought it would. Maybe your relationship is strained. Maybe you’ve been given the wrong answer because you, too, have been asking the wrong question. Here’s a better question.


WHY is my child hitting?

WHY is my child not listening?

WHY is he defiant?

WHY won’t he sleep at night?

Why is this significant? Because WHY puts your focus on the person. What do I do when puts your focus on the problem. It completely shifts how you see your child and, therefore, how you react.
When I started asking why questions, you can imagine how the answers that came were completely different. The answer to “why is he being defiant?” was “because he feels disconnected.” The answer to “why does he feel disconnected?” was “because he has a new baby brother and it’s a big adjustment for him.” So, he didn’t need a time-out, he needed to reconnect with me. He needed to feel secure and attached. He needed me to focus more on special time with him, and when I did, his defiant behavior disappeared.

It’s not always easy to get at the why, but when we approach issues with curiosity and ask the right questions, the right answers will eventually come, and most often the right answer is connection.

*This piece was originally published at Creative Child Magazine.

Five Strengths of Sensitive Kids

Sunday, February 12, 2017 No comments

David Jones is credited for saying, “It is both a blessing and a curse to everything so very deeply.” My son has the highly sensitive trait (find out here if yours does, too), and while it has not been without challenges, I have noticed that high sensitivity also comes with these special strengths.

Sensitive children often have vivid, wonderful imaginations which enable them to be very creative and artistic. My son won the “best artist” award in Kindergarten and more recently received an award for best animation in an arts class he took. He is always drawing and creating new characters and stories. He and his brother even have an entire movie series made up in their heads. Do you notice that your HSC (highly sensitive child) is artistic and creative, too?

Nurture this strength by allowing time and space to be creative. HSCs need a lot of down time, and being over-scheduled or constantly busy leads to higher stress levels. Give them the tools they need to create, such as an artist’s set, paint and a canvas, or an animation studio – whatever your child is into. Avoid making too many judgments of their creations, and be particularly careful of criticism which might squash their creativity. HSCs want to please, and if they think they’re not, they get discouraged easily and may give up. For example, rather than “that is your best drawing yet!” or “you used blue for the sun?!” simply remark about the time they spent working on it or something specific that you enjoy about it, then ask what they think. “I think the colors you used are lovely. What is your favorite thing about it?”

Highly Conscientious
HSCs are very emotional people, and they are also in tune with the emotions of others. This makes them highly conscientious. They usually have better-than-average manners and try to never hurt anyone’s feelings. They are considerate toward others and people are likely to remark on their good manners.

Nurture this strength by verbalizing your appreciation when they hold the door open for others, say please and thank you, allow another child to go down the slide first, etc. Verbal affirmations mean a lot to all children but are especially nourishing to the soul of an HSC.

Compassion and empathy is a wonderful strength of highly sensitive kids. They are able to put themselves in another’s shoes and read emotional cues with ease. Their tender hearts are a light in our world and must be guarded with the utmost care.

Nurture this strength by teaching your sensitive one emotional intelligence and the skills they need to surf the waves of their high emotions. Give them space to feel their feelings and understand that they feel very deeply. Allow them to cry. Never poke fun at their sensitivity but see it as a gift and aim to keep their hearts tender by accepting and acknowledging all of their emotions. Give them ways to exercise their compassion, such as volunteering at an animal shelter or sponsoring a needy child.

The highly sensitive child’s attention to detail combined with their active imaginations and creativity make them great storytellers.

Nurture this strength by asking them to tell you stories. Just before bed when the world has quieted is a good time to listen to their stories as creativity will often spring up during this time. Give them ample opportunities to write. You might use story starters or print blank comic book pages to inspire them.

Great Friends
Because of all of the above strengths, highly sensitive kids make great friends and caring siblings. They naturally want to meet other’s needs, and because they are so intuitive, they often know how the other is feeling just by their nonverbal cues.

Nurture this strength by helping your child maintain close friendships if there is a move or change in schools. Work with the other child’s parent to get together for playdates or Skype call. Michele Borba, author and parent educator, advises to notice one friendship skill that your child needs to work on, such as resolving conflicts, eye contact, or starting a conversation, and then practice that skill with your child. It’s also important to let your child see that skill in action. “Seeing a skill in action helps your child copy it, so she can try it on her own,” Borba says. While HSCs do make great friends, they may sometimes be shy or need help making connections so others will notice and benefit from their strength.

*This article was originally published at Creative Child Magazine.

Guarding the Season of Mothering

Friday, February 3, 2017 No comments

It’s an interesting time to be a mother. We are facing challenges no mother before us has faced, navigating the rough waters of constant social media and information consumption and raising children in an insta-everything world. We have more access to information than any generation before us, and we live, in fact, in a steady stream of it. Responsibilities are ever-growing and down time is ever-shrinking, and much threatens to chip away at our self-worth, our joy, and the time we spend with those we hold dear. In light of this, we need to think about guarding our own motherhood so that time is not lost that we cannot get back, so that our confidence doesn’t suffer regular blows, so that our self-worth isn’t measured by the opinions of others, and so that we can find fulfillment and sustaining happiness in our lives. These are the 3 things I’m guarding against.

Information Overload
During the recent election cycle, my home seemed to be constantly filled with the voices of a particular news network. It was all I watched, and as I took in all of this information, my anxiety rose considerably. I have become more fearful and very often saddened by the news I have been consuming, yet I told myself I needed to be informed. In “News is Bad for You and Giving Up Reading it Will Make You Happier” by Rolf Dobelli, he makes a compelling argument for giving up reading and watching the news altogether, and I found this particularly interesting: “It constantly triggers the limbic system. Panicky stories spur the release of cascades of glucocorticoid (cortisol). This deregulates your immune system and inhibits the release of growth hormones. In other words, your body finds itself in a state of chronic stress.” That certainly explains my anxiety.

But news isn’t the only overload. As we scroll newsfeeds, we remain always informed about the goings on in the lives of friends and strangers alike, which makes comparison ever so easy. In addition, opinions are ever present and coming from all directions. Working in the field of parenting, I have read thousands of pieces on what we should and shouldn’t do to raise our kids well, and sometimes I wonder what kind of parent I would have been without all the voices. Being overwhelmed with such conflicting information on raising children eats at our self-assurance and leaves us always questioning “am I doing the right thing?”

To guard against information overload, I now check the news channel briefly for headlines and then turn it off. I don’t linger to listen to the details. I am selective about the articles I consume, both in number and substance. Not only does limiting the information I take in lessen my anxiety which automatically has a more positive effect on my family, but less time spent scrolling, watching, and reading means more time spent playing, laughing, and talking.

Being self-controlled with news and social media also sets an example for my tween son who recently told me, “Mom, I’m going to limit the amount of time I spend on my iPad.” They are always watching us and taking cues from how we handle life.

A study found that “people who made frequent social comparisons were more likely to experience envy, guilt, regret, and defensiveness and to lie, blame others, and to have unmet cravings.” They further assert, “People who tend to make spontaneous social comparisons, therefore, tend to be unhappy, more vulnerable to the affective consequences of such comparisons, and more likely to get caught in a cycle of constantly comparing themselves to others, being in a self-focused state, and consequently being unhappy. More social comparisons, rather than serving a useful, coping function, merely serve to reinforce the cycle tying social comparisons to diminishing well-being.” (White, Langer, Yariv, and Welch)

This certainly seems to prove Theodore Roosevelt right when he said that “Comparison is the thief of joy,” but anyone who has been caught in the cycle of comparison could have confirmed this to be true. To guard against this thief, I practice gratitude daily. Gratitude is the antidote to comparison, and drawing my focus to the blessings of my own life makes me feel more content, happy, and fulfilled. I have found that keeping a gratitude journal is helpful for daily practice.

Busyness and Distractions
There is never a shortage of things to do, is there? I’m finding that, as my kids get older, it’s actually more difficult to spend down time together. Even though they take part in very limited extracurricular activities, just getting through homework and the evening chores seems to eat up most of our time together. Sometimes they finish up homework and disappear to pursue their own interests (read: X Box and Lego building) and I have to go hunt them down to get a hug. Not only am I busy, but they’re at the age where they’re pretty busy too, and I have to make a real effort to bring us all together for a little hygge.

Hygge is exactly how I’m guarding against busyness and distractions. Read more about hygge here. Each night, we cozy up together in the bed and I read aloud to them. This serves to bring us back to each other every evening before sleep. We also have designated movie nights or game time when distractions are put away and we give full attention to each other.

There is so much more than can be said about guarding motherhood, but take a few moments today to think about what is stealing and contributing to your joy, what is influencing your mind both positively and negatively, and what you want most out of life. Think about how you can protect what is sacred to you and what you need to find fulfillment and sustaining happiness in motherhood.

*This was originally published at Creative Child Magazine.