Teaching Kids Emotional Intelligence

Meltdowns, tantrums, hitting, biting, screaming, crying, demanding. There’s not a parent on the planet who doesn’t feel triggered when their kids find themselves stuck in their brainstem, where FLIGHT, FIGHT and FREEZE rule the day.

Teaching Kids EI

Not surprisingly, the hardest moments for us to be with as parents are the most important. Navigating emotions with our kids.

How can we help our kids dig their way out of the many dark places they find themselves in the course of a day? One thing’s for sure, if we’re a family that allows for feelings, we are going to see big emotions expressed on a DAILY basis.

There will be only orange popsicles left when green is the color your child wants. Birthday parties and too much sugar. Bedtimes that get missed. Friends that don’t want to play that game right now and siblings that want the very same toy. Building emotional intelligence as a family can help us navigate all of the above and more.

Here are five things you can do to help your family build emotional intelligence (EQ):

 

1. HOLD EMOTIONS AS SACRED

Repeat after me: “If I have kids (humans?) in the house, feelings there will be.” And I mean daily. Big, messy, sometimes scary and often times ugly feelings. Once we as parents stop feeling broken because we fear our kids are broken (or why the hell else would they be acting so damn emotional all the time and what the hell did I do wrong?!?! Yeah, been there myself more than a few times), it’s amazing how much energy we can free up to then help our kiddos manage their freak-outs. This first step for building EQ requires very little action from us, but a whole-lotta effort.

Holding emotions as sacred. This mostly happens inside of us. When you begin to fully accept children’s big emotions as sacred (even as they melt down right before your very eyes) the shift in you, though often a quiet one, will be notable in two important ways that even a baby can discern. 1) through your accepting/present eye contact and 2), by the expression on your face and your body language as a whole. To cue your child’s brain with your body language in a way that helps them feel safe, simply squat down, uncross your arms (if they are crossed as mine tend to want to be) and be available. Offer hugs more than demand them. Sometimes hugs help – and sometimes they make your child want to scratch your eyes out even more than they already did a second ago. Depends. 😉

2. HELP KIDS “NAME IT TO TAME IT”

This second step is just as simple as it sounds. Your child didn’t get the color popsicle they wanted and as they crumble to the floor in disappointment you say, “Wow, you really like orange popsicles don’t you? You really wanted the orange one. You are feeling so sad (or mad or disappointed, whatever it looks like they are feeling) you didn’t get the color you wanted!” Then pause. Allow your child the time and space to take in the reassurance you are offering.

In naming and not judging your child’s feelings, you are modeling high level emotional intelligence (mindfulness, acceptance, self control, empathy and even kindness). You are teaching them even though you are not preaching to them.

3. SHOW KINDNESS WHEN IT IS UNEXPECTED 

In this third step to teaching EQ, practice pausing, breathing and standing by quietly as your child expresses him or herself. If you hold this space long enough, you might find your emotional child melting into your arms rather than your angry child, retreating to their room feeling upset and confused, blaming YOU and your reaction to their upset as the cause of their angst.

With sobbing child in arms, you might find yourself feeling a little bit surprised and maybe even relieved. Do not be fooled. It’s not over yet. Continue to hold the space. I like to say to myself, “ZIP IT” right about this moment because the drive to preach in this teaching moment runs deep. Remind yourself, the moment is talking to your child much louder than your words ever could right this second. Let your kindness do the talking. Allow for the moment and focus on being there for your child not being right. You can always talk things through later to drive home the finer points when things are less emotional and true learning stands a real chance of happening.

Your child will internalize your unexpected kindness. And heck, you just might be on the receiving end of it one unexpected day soon.

4. OWN YOUR OWN EMOTIONS

If you can own your own emotions instead of projecting them back on your child, what happens on the other side is magic. The aftermath of a child with big emotions, fully expressed and met with love, will astound you.

In the matter of the wrong colored popsicle, after an accepting hug and some tears shed, you might see your child take a deep breath, collect him or herself a bit, and then move those little legs quickly over to the freezer to grab an orange popsicle, somehow now seemingly oblivious to the fact that the thing still isn’t green like they’d been so torn up about just a second ago. It’s not that they don’t care anymore, it’s that they did care, they felt heard, and now they’re over it. Consider it payback for holding your SH*# together in step #3.

5. TEACH KIDS TO CONNECT WITH NATURE AND THEIR BREATH

What can I say about the calming qualities of nature and tapping into one’s breath that you don’t already know? Mostly, we just need to remember to use these two powerful yet simple tools to help our kids regulate their emotions. It’s not rocket science, we know they help. They are free and nearly always an option.

From the infant who won’t stop crying until we walk outside, to the toddler who is stuck inside and bouncing off the walls until sent outside to play. Once outside, this same child begins to channel their energy into countless creative games. Nature is the ultimate balancer. It has so much to teach us.

And as for connecting to our breath? This is the most important tool we have for finding and living from our center. Just check-in with your breath the next time you or your child is upset. I bet it stops.

Go outside and breathe. Two of my favorite tools to encourage my kids to do both of these things are by yogi and author Emily A. Filmore. If you have trouble getting your kids to settle down for bedtime, both of these will be a welcome addition. My twins and I read and practiced the postures in “It’s A Beautiful Day for Yoga” before bedtime nearly every night when they were three. It helped us connect on those night where all I wanted was for them to go to sleep so I could snatch a moment of alone time for myself. Through connection, movement and breath, I was able to get those heads on pillows that much quicker. 😉
it's a beautifulday for yoga mmm

In summary, parenting from a place of non-judgment in the face of an unhappy youngster can be challenging. Start by simply repeating the following:  “Emotions are sacred, emotions are sacred, emotions are sacred…” and over time, put the above five steps together. Odds are, when you were little, no matter how amazing your parents were, your big emotions were not always met with this sort of acceptance. For many, they were more likely met with a look of disapproval, harsh words, and/or maybe even the backside of a hand.

So be gentle with yourself. Take baby steps and celebrate yourself when you nail just one of these five things.

 

We don’t need to be perfect parents, just human ones, living, loving, growing and healing right alongside our kids.

And when that moment comes and you feel yourself calmly meeting your child’s big emotions from your center, believe me, healing will occur; and not only for your little people, but inside of you as well.

xo

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Suzanne Tucker, CEIM, Parent Educator:

In over two decades as a physical therapist and parent educator Suzanne has help thousands connect on a deeper level to themselves and their families, teaching Infant Massage and Positive Parenting to organizations and individuals all over the world. Creator of My Mommy Manual, a website/community inspiring parents to “look inside (yourself) for instructions”, author and co-founder of Brentwood Center of Health, a holistic rehabilitation center, Suzanne lives in Saint Louis, Missouri with her husband, their four children, and far too many pets to mention.

Good? Bad? Who knows?

Let’s face it. We all want our kids to be good. To do good things like listen, share, help and wait their turn. To be cooperative, responsible, kind, empathetic, capable and more. What parent doesn’t want these things?!

And so it is that by ages one and two, many of us begin to label things for our kids as either good or bad. It’s meant to be helpful — a way of bottom lining things — teaching our kids the ways of the world. Hoping to see more of the good and less of the bad, we parents say things like:

“You used the potty. Good boy!!!”
“Stop being so loud! It’s bad to yell/whine!!!”
“You shared your toys! Good girl!!!”
“You are so bad at listening.”

But unfortunately, the practice of labeling things as simply good or bad can create more problems than solutions for our young kids, failing to do the very thing we want it to do, namely, to help our kids learn to manage themselves and follow the golden rule.

fishing meme

To examine labeling as a parenting strategy, let’s look to the following famous parable for insight.

A farmer’s only horse ran away. The neighbors, trying to console him, said, “What terrible news about your horse. What will you do?” But the farmer said, “Bad news, good news… who knows?”

A few days later, the horse returned, leading an entire herd of wild horses. The neighbors exclaimed, “How wonderful!” The farmer replied, “Good news, bad news… who knows?”

The next day, the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the new horses. The horse threw the son, who broke both legs. The neighbors said, “What a misfortune! Your son won’t be able to work on the farm.” The farmer stood still and said, “Bad news, good news… who knows?”

Within the week, news of a war had broken out.  Soldiers arrived in the village, taking new recruits.  All the young men were drafted to fight, except for the farmer’s son.

Good news? Bad news? (Good behavior? Bad behavior?) Who knows?

Good/bad statements are by definition, dualistic, rooted in the notion that people and things are one way or another — black or white with little room for gray.

The gray of life, where things like intuition, empathy, passion, spirit, gut feelings and the permission to follow one’s bliss live. Permission to tune into one’s self for guidance, to trust what’s there and to follow it — not only living from the head and what is ‘right’, but from the heart and head in balance, comfortable with the nuances and the many interpretations the moments of our lives bring.

Do we really want our kids to feel comfortable in the gray? I do… and here’s why:

Because sometimes, not listening is the thing to do.

Because sometimes, going for what you want, even when you meet resistance, is the very thing that will bring you into the fullness of life.

Because sometimes, taking risks and having the strength to fall flat on your face and get up again, dusting off the dirt to have another go, is what it takes to break through in this world.

When children repeatedly receive good/bad labeling, over time they can deduce that things are only one way or the other… and that they are their actions. “If I do a good thing I am good. If I do a bad thing I am bad.”

Over time, with enough good/bad labeling, the mounting evidence before our children can tell a very different story than we would have it. Stories like:

I AM BAD. I AM MEAN. I HAVE TO BE FIRST TO BE PROUD OF MYSELF. I AM DUMB. I AM SELFISH. WHEN THINGS DO NOT COME EASILY TO ME, I’D RATHER STOP DOING THAT THING AND DO SOMETHING THAT DOES. I PUSH AND BITE. I AM DIFFICULT. I AM LOUD. I HAVE TO DO WHAT OTHER PEOPLE TELL ME EVEN IF THEY ARE HURTING ME. NO MATTER WHAT I DO, I AM NOT ENOUGH.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We have the power to change this, starting today, when we choose clear, firm, respectful parenting practices and words that allow for the gray.

In those moments when all hell is breaking loose in your home and you think to yourself, “I have the worst child(ren) in the world!!!”, perhaps this is your very moment. Teach them another way. Let go of “no” and “don’t” and “can’t” and “need” and use words and actions that model and explain what it is you are wanting.

Even in the face of misbehavior or great achievement, encourage the process rather than praise the outcome alone, teach what you want to see rather than punish for what you don’t. Here are the examples from above, reworked:

You used the potty! How does that feel?!?” (encouragement) Instead of “You used the potty. Good boy!!!” (praise)

“I know it’s hard when you really want something and it doesn’t happen. It looks like you are feeling ________ (however you imagine your child is feeling)? Can I give you a hug?” then offering ideas to the child for what they might do instead. (teaching) Instead of,  “Stop it. It’s very bad to yell/whine!!!” (punishing/shaming)

“You shared your toys! Did you see the smile on your friends face when you let him play with your truck? How did it feel to share your toys?”(encouragement) Instead of, “You shared your toys! Good girl!!!”” (praise)

“Can you turn on your listening ears?” or “Look me in the eyes (for just before you ask your child something)” (teaching) Instead of “You are SO bad at listening.” (punishing/shaming)

Moving past good and bad. It’s not easy. While I have never been in the habit of calling any of our kids good or bad, I still catch myself using a hefty amount of duality when it comes to everyday things of life.

Just today I said “Oh GOOD, the frig is working again!” (which I just said 3 minutes ago ’cause – happy-dancing- it is. Spontaneously! With no repair man needed. Boom!) and “Oh no, I burnt the toast!!!”, among a zillion other good/bad implied statements, I am sure. And while the zen-mommy in me wants to say “Good broken frig? Bad broken frig? Who knows? Good burnt toast? Bad burnt toast? Who knows?” I’m just not fully there yet. Still, even if we as parents cannot always model an acceptance of ‘what is’ at the level the farmer did when life seemingly delivers lemons, we can begin to let go of good and bad as it pertains to our kids- their very being and their behaviors. And for me, it’s been eye opening to simply notice which things in life I do label as good or bad.

Fortunately, letting go of good/bad and shame-ridden judgement goes for ourselves and our parenting as well. We don’t need to fully master the art of non-duality for our kids to get a healthy taste of the gray — we get to start where we are, letting go of labels when we can, leaving shame and blame in the dust as we go.

Last summer, my husband took our four kids fishing.

As the sun began to set, our four year old son, Colin, caught by far the biggest fish of the day, measuring in at just about half his height. As his dad helped him hold the fish up and examine it, another fisherman came by to praise Colin. He said, “Wow, that’s a BIG fish. You are a BIG BOY!!!”

My son paused to consider this. He looked at his dad, at the fish and then back at the man as he thought this statement over. Then, with a matter-of-fact look upon his face, he replied,”We’re fishermen. That’s what we do.” The man smiled, nodded and agreed. “We ARE fishermen. That’s what we do.” he repeated before he walked away.

Colin had reshaped the man’s comment, meant as praise, in a way that made sense to him. Catching the big fish didn’t make him a bigger boy than he already was — it didn’t make him a “good” boy either, or better than his dad or his sisters. He had simply caught a fish. It’s what fishermen do.

What stories do you want your children to know about themselves? I invite you to join me in moving past good and bad and telling our kids THOSE stories instead. In the way we teach. In the way we encourage. Every. Day.

(((I’d love to hear your stories below!!!)))

xo

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How to Get Kids to Listen Without Yelling

You’re  talking, but nobody’s listening. You feel like the teacher in that Snoopy cartoon. Waaa -waaa-waaa-waaa-waaa.

You’ve been nice. You’ve been patient. You’ve repeated yourself no less than three times and YOU. ARE. DONE. You think to yourself:

‘Why won’t they just do what I ask them to do?!’

‘I could have never gotten away with this when I was a kid!!!’

‘This is exhausting. Am I the only parent on the planet dealing with this?!’

You feel frustrated, disrespected and unappreciated… and the gloves come off. ‘Nagging, yelling, shaming, bribing. What’s it gonna take to GET THESE KIDS TO LISTEN?!’

Instead of resorting to parenting tactics that leave you feeling guilty and/or disconnected from your child, inspire the listening you are looking for with these five simple strategies:

5 Ways to Inspire Listening

#1 – Pull for cooperation right from the start.

If you are parenting a strong-willed child, it is likely that each and every time you attempt to exert your authority, your child responds with some sort of resistance. Ignoring you. Defying you. Engaging you with back talk and banter. Or maybe replying with, “Sure!” just to get you off their case only to ignore you and your request yet again.

Instead of approaching your child with body language that says, “Get your back-side in motion or else!!!” (an understandable stance to take given the past) see if you can strike a team-approach that pulls for their cooperation instead.

Stand where you can be seen, heard and even felt as you gently pat a knee or shoulder. Lock eyes before you speak. Connect. Ensure your child is actually hearing what you are about to say. This means no more yelling “GET YOUR SHOES ON PLEASE, WE ARE LATE!!!” from the next room, even in the most kind or politest of voices. Distant, defensive, or hurried commands invite resistance and set you up to fail before you are even out of the gate.

Once you have your child’s attention, avoid locking horns at the front end and pour on a little honey instead. Avoid words like need, can’t and have to as these “trigger” words do little more than invite pushback and opt instead for words that invite:

  • “You need to clean up now.” becomes “It’s time to put the toys up.”
  • “You have to come to dinner now.” becomes “It’s time for dinner.”
  • “You can’t play anymore right now we need to eat.” becomes “You can play some more after dinner.”

# 2 – Respond rather than react.

Once your “invitation” is out there, if your child still resists you, instead of reacting to what feels like disobedience, reclaim your personal-power and respond to your child instead. As much as pushback can feel like a) a personal attack, b) an elaborate plot to drive you batty and/or c) a sign of some huge personality flaw in your child that will only get worse with time and needs to be broken, it is more than likely simply r-e-s-i-s-t-a-n-c-e. Resistance to change. Resistance to being told. Resistance to some unknown next thing. Resistance to stop using the brain cells that are currently firing within his or her head to find and engage some whole other set of brain cells necessary to make your request, no matter how valid it is, happen.

Once you let go of your reaction (i.e feeling shocked, offended, disrespected, etc), you can put 100% of your energy into responding to your child instead (i.e. connecting and redirecting their behavior.)

In my six-hour positive parenting class we spend two hours talking about this step alone. It’s no small thing to respond rather than react when you feel angry or irritated, but staying calm means everything when it comes to leading and guiding by example. Instead of parenting from fear, shame and/or other types of coercive power, when you re-focus your efforts on responding to what feels like misbehavior instead of reacting, you’ll find you are 110% more effective at enrolling your child into the very thing you are wanting. Being kind, respectful, responsible.

Discipline, born of the root word “disciple” which means to lead and guide by example, is a vital part of positive parenting – parenting from a clear, firm and consistent love. Responding instead of reacting to your child does not mean you are being permissive. It means you are being both firm and respectful as you teach your child what is expected of them in that moment.

# 3 – Restate what you hear your child saying.

Use a calm voice as you re-direct your child. I call this my “Siri” voice as Siri never yells at me or makes me feel guilty when I miss a turn. She simply redirects me. “Turn left at the next stop.” Drop any judgment or irritation you might be feeling at your child’s resistance (“justified” irritation on your part, but irritation none the less) from your words and your voice as you report only the facts:

  • “You like playing with your Legos.”
  • “You are having fun.” 

Look for the feeling your child is struggling with and state it calmly as well, with as much empathy as you can muster. Make eye contact as you get down on your child’s level and say:

  • “I hear you. You are sad and wish you could keeping playing Legos.”
  • “You are mad and want to play more.”

This restating, or what I like to think of as empathy, works great with teens as well, though obviously the words and the situations would change. The key here is, when you pause to restate what you hear your child saying (or think they might be saying/feeling) it’s like you’re hitting some big cosmic pause button on any old knee-jerk reaction type tendencies you might want to default to and instead, you are offering empathy. A single, well placed kind word or hug can be a complete game-changer when it comes to transforming resistance.

Simply put, empathy has the power to create cooperation. By helping your child feel heard, you are helping them to listen.

# 4 – Now that you have his or her calm attention, restate what you are asking for.

Use simple words that invite action. The more specific, concrete and actionable, the better:

  • “It’s time for dinner. Take my hand and we can walk to the table. We can play with the Legos when we are done.” 

Paint an inviting picture for your child, one they see themselves doing in their head and avoid the trap of telling them exactly what you do NOT want them to do.

  • “Bye bye Legos. We’ll see you after dinner” for the 2-3 year-old.
  • “Let’s hit the pause button (as you hit an imaginary pause button and invite them to do so as well) and we’ll come back to these Legos after dinner.” For the 4-5 year-old.
  • Time for dinner, let’s go. What will you eat first?” or any number of other enrolling question you think of to get your 5+ older child thinking about the action you are asking of them.

# 5 – Stay with it.

The last element to getting your child to listen is consistency. Once you’ve tasted the sweet success of redirecting resistance without the need to yell, it’s just that much easier to inspire cooperation from your child the next time. And though the transition from your old way of “inspiring listening” to this new way might be a bit more complex than the examples above… STAY WITH IT.

If you and your child are in a dance, resisting one another in the same area of life, over and over, talk about your dance when the situation is not up in your face; the following afternoon for instance. You might open with something like, “Hey, I’ve noticed getting to the dinner table is always a battle for us. What can we do fix this so we can BOTH feel good in the end? We’re on the same team and I want you to like whatever plan we come up with. Do you have any ideas?” … and then LISTEN. Write down every idea your child has, even the crazy ones:

  • “I know. I get a piece of candy every time I come right to the dinner table.” (yeah, right)
  • I’ve GOT IT! We could get a new puppy if we all listen to you and come to the table right away every night for a week!” (not on your life)

You get the idea. Write each one down with a smile, throwing in your own ideas here and there. Allowing for your child’s silly ideas as you make this list is a big part of making this brainstorming session work, especially for kids aged 3 to 9. Heck – everybody likes to laugh and crazy ideas help keep things light. Have fun with it and throw in a few wacko ideas yourself! In the end, find an idea you both like and circle it. You have a winner! When allowed to be a part of creating the solution, even at age 3, your child will be that much more invested in having this solution work.

Putting all five strategies in motion.

Here’s an example of some “listening” a family I’ve been working with privately created. They had been battling their five year old son who had been putting his feet up on the table every night, without fail, at dinnertime. Mom’s gentle reminders fell on deaf ears. Repeating and reminding gave way to frustration and anger and not only was dinner NOT finding it’s way into their three children’s little mouths due to all the unrest at the table, but mom and dad’s goal for dinner to be “a peaceful time to reconnect and share about our day over a healthy meal” (a meal mom had just spent over an hour making) was going up in smoke every night. Even the playful ideas mom had tried to make mealtime “fun” for her son and keep him cooperative and at the table failed to keep his feet where they belonged and all the “fun” was quickly becoming more of a chore than an assist.

That’s when this family hit the reset button.

After just two one-hour support sessions this mom decided to ask her son to help her create a solution. She used the steps above. She approached the issue as a team, from her “center”and in a calm moment the following afternoon. She recapped the issue and her goal, free from “trigger” words and asked her son for ideas. She listened and wrote everything he offered in the way of a solution down. Through this process she felt calm, connected and on the same page as her son even in the face of discussing the misbehavior that had been driving her up a wall for weeks.

In the end, here’s the gem of an idea her son came up with:

Brainstorming Idea By Child

 

He decided if he put a long strip of paper with “x’s” all along the edge and taped it to the table, he would remember to keep his feet down.

And wha-laa. It was that SIMPLE… and it worked. He listened that night, following the family rule to keep feet under (instead of on) the table, and he continues to follow it. Nightly battle transformed.

Where could you and your family use a breakthrough towards more listening? I’d love to hear if and how you put these five strategies to the test and what you create with your family. Together.

xo

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Inspiration and support for the journey of motherhood.  The manual is ours to write but we don’t have to write it alone! Let’s connect on twitterfacebook and pinterest too. xoxo

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Am I Raising An Entitled Kid?

© Marchibas | Dreamstime.com

As parents, we hear much these days about entitlement. We talk about it, think about it and read articles/books/posts about it because lets face it, NO ONE wants to raise an entitled kid. Quotes like the following leave us quaking in our boots lest we end up the parent of the sniveling brat who will never learn to take out the trash, tie his shoes or appreciate the world around him:

“A lack of discipline is apparent these days in just about every aspect of American society. Why this should be is a much larger question, one to ponder as we take out the garbage and tie our kids’ shoes.” – Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker

The truth is fear sells, and the parenting information and analysis we’re taking in often comes wrapped in misinformation and fear-based messaging like:

“Love your child, but don’t love your child too much.”

“Attachment and connection are important, but be careful or you might spoil your child.”

And one that was just offered to a friend of mine by her pediatrician no less: “It’s time to show your 13 mo old who’s boss before she decides she is!”

Wanting to do the right thing, many parents come away from these mixed messages doubting their parenting instincts:

Wanting to respond to their newborns cries but fearful of spoiling, they instead delay picking baby up.

Wanting to hold their “needy”/clingy toddler but fearful of spoiling, they refuse to “coddle” their seemingly demanding child.

Wanting to teach/redirect their curious child who’s gotten into some sort of trouble or another as they explored the world around them (you know the kind – five thousand cheerios all over a newly cleaned kitchen floor, a chair that is not to be climbed being climbed anyway and tipping over, brushing the family dog with mom’s hairbrush of course, etc) but fearful of spoiling, they sternly respond with a “NO!!!” and gently slap their child’s hand/bottom.

Out of societal pressure to avoid permissive parenting at all costs, parents can easily be left doubting the more respectful, gentle parenting approaches available to us. Redirection. Positive reinforcement. Teaching and guiding by example (with our actions and words, not words alone). Because of a societal fear of spoiling, sadly, some parents, unsure about how to best respond, default to scolding, yelling, shaming, and even hitting. And as negative reinforcement generally breeds more negative behavior (not less), these same parents are left scratching their heads and wondering “Where is this bad behavior coming from?”

Over time these frustrated parents at times conclude that their child is bad and/or that they are bad. They think things like “If I was a better parent my child would not be acting this way!” “Something is severely wrong with my child” and/or “I’m embarrassed to be out in public with my children.”

But the truth is much simpler and far less anxiety provoking. The truth can save us from this downward spiral. The truth invites us into our power— our center. The truth builds up our confidence as parents even as it pulls us ever closer to our children and our families. The truth doesn’t come from fear or guilt or push our buttons like so much of the  sensationalized parenting stuff we’re reading. What is this simple truth that can save us for unjustified societal pressures warning us that being kind and parenting from a place of empathy will warp our kids??? Simply stated it is this:

Children who experience empathy and connection grow up to empathize and connect.

If you feel led to hold your child, hug your child and/or teach your child from a patient, forgiving place, this is ALWAYS okay to do. If you feel led to get down on one knee and make eye contact with your kid as you seek to understand where they and their big emotions and even their misbehavior is coming from, this is always okay to do. If your child displays perplexing behaviors, instead of taking it personally, explore the many different causes that may be driving this behavior before assuming it must be due to some misgiving of theirs or yours. Diet. Sensory integration. Personality types. Fears, worries and past experiences. Inherited tendencies. All of these factors come into play when it comes to understanding our children and meeting them where they are.

Teach and guide your children. Be clear and consistent, respectful and firm even as you chose love over fear. Let go of parenting advice that does not resonate truth for you (this post included!!!). Any day. Every day. Let go of fear. Tune in and trust your heart to guide. Allow yourself to parent from your center instead of from expert advice or societal pressures and worry.

Why?!?!

Because.

Love. Always. Wins.

empathy and connection

  xo

ps: No matter what parenting challenge is before you today, trust yourself. You’ve got this mama. Join with me and other moms here. The manual is ours to write but we don’t have to write it alone. Let’s connect on twitterfacebook and pinterest too. And thank you for passing along anything you (I hope and pray) like. It’s a big-fat-lovely compliment when you comment and share, so again, TIA. xo

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When did “like a girl” become a put down?!

How old were you when these words were first hurdled at you as an insult? Were you 9? 13? I honestly can’t remember a time when I did not know “running like a girl”, “hitting like a girl” and “throwing like a girl” to be put downs.

We can change this. As the commercial above shows, there is a time (generally pre-teens/tweens) where kids know running “like a girl” means running fast  and “throwing like a girl” means throwing far.

Always just kicked off a campaign aimed at making sure “girls everywhere keep their confidence throughout puberty and beyond.” How? Simply put, “by showing them that doing it #LikeAGirl is an awesome thing.”

“In my work as a documentarian, I have witnessed the confidence crisis among girls and the negative impact of stereotypes first-hand,” said Lauren Greenfield, filmmaker and director of the #LikeAGirl video. “When the words ‘like a girl’ are used to mean something bad, it is profoundly disempowering. I am proud to partner with Always to shed light on how this simple phrase can have a significant and long-lasting impact on girls and women. I am excited to be a part of the movement to redefine ‘like a girl’ into a positive affirmation.”

Let’s be a part of this change starting today. Comment below and tell me (with pride) what amazing things can YOU do #likeagirl? How about your daughters, mothers, sisters, wives, neighbors, friends?

xo

Join with me and other moms here. The manual is ours to write but we don’t have to write it alone! Let’s connect on twitterfacebook and pinterest

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Training Wheels

“I can do it MYSELF!!!”

“I’m not cold!!! I don’t WANT to wear a coat.”

“That shirt is itchy and I don’t like it.”

“No…” and hides behind mom’s legs when asked to say thankyou or goodbye to Grandma.

We’ve all been to these places with our kids. Easy moments? No… not usually… but with a small change in our perspective on what might be going on inside our little ones, these challenging moments can become just a little easier to breathe into and support our kids through.

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Where do these words and behaviors come from? Is it stubbornness? Obstinence? A broken part of our kids personalities or a place we’ve failed in our parenting that’s begging to be fixed? Or maybe it’s a sign of more misbehavior to come if we don’t nip it in the bud.

Or maybe it is something else all together.

What if this defiance we are seeing is developmentally appropriate; a place our children go when they want to 1) test a theory, 2)  learn about relationships or 3) feel safe, secure and in charge?

Ahhh. Now that’s feeling a little easier to be with as a parent. Nothing’s wrong. Nothing’s broken. These are merely things I can expect from my little scientist as they learn about communication and relationships.

Knowing one’s mind. Having clear, strong opinions and voicing them in a way that others around us can hear them and be enrolled by them instead of backed up or put-off… these are some high level communication skills we’re talking about here. And skills take practice. Is it any wonder our three, four (even fourteen) year olds struggle with communicating their big feelings, especially when they run directly against the desires of their parents?

The next time your child plays out a challenging behavior that seems to come from a “strong-will”, see if you can step into the experience from their point of view. What might he or she be exploring in that moment? Questions like:

Is it safe to go against the grain?

Is it better to blend in or to be myself?

How can I make myself be seen/known/accepted?

Am I powerful?

Is the world a safe and nurturing place?

If a child has the strength to “take-on” their parents with words that defy (yes, even when it’s 38 degrees out and their inner voice says “no coat!”) how much safer will this child be in years to come? How much more likely is this child to have a voice and know how to use it…

When at age 6 she wants to draw her sky with all the colors of the rainbow though all the papers around her are clearly filled with blue skies only.

When at age 7 a teacher insists all the kids run at gym but she is starting to come down with something and doesn’t feel like running.

When at age 10 she wants to be a vegetarian — even though nobody she knows is a vegetarian.

When at age 13 a boy she likes suggests they run and play on the train tracks behind his house.

When at age 14 someone thinks having a smoke together in the basement of a friend’s house would be a fun idea.

When at age 18 all the kids her age are getting piercings.

When at age 20 the guy she just started dating begins to act jealous and controlling.

When at age 25 she considers leaving a job where she receives little credit or joy to start up her dream business.

Model the behaviors you would like to see in your kids. Teach your child how to voice their big thoughts and opinions with respect. Teach your child that “pleases” and “thank you’s” bring with them smiles and happy feelings from the people they are shared with. Model for them how to breathe when they are upset. Help them learn from experience that it is safe for them to “use their words” when they do not like what is going on. Invite them to pause and hit the reset button before acting on the many impulses that want to move their little bodies when they are filled with big feelings.

Be your child’s relationship “training wheels”. Because when you do, you give your child a great, great gift: peace-filled relationships with themselves and others, a gift they will enjoy for the rest of their lives.

xo

If you live in or about the St. Louis area, join other couples supporting one another in parenting from a place of love and respect here. I hope you join with me and other moms here because mommy-hood is just plain better when we are holding hands. Let’s connect on twitterfacebook and pinterest as well. The manual is ours to write but we don’t have to write it alone!

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Taking Love Off The Line

 

UNCONDITIONAL LOVE.jpg

 

You love your child. Period.

I know this the same way YOU know this.

It just is. A nearly universal thing we moms all relate to. A mother’s love for her child is unconditional — the sort of love that suspends all logic.

So why?

Why do we as parents act like our love is negotiable, putting our love on the line when we’re upset?

Why do we say things to make our kids think there is any possible way that we could love them less because of their flaws? Because of their human-ness? Because of the dark, scary places that live inside of them? The places they love and trust us alone enough to show? The places they hide — from their teachers, from their friends, for fear that they’d no longer be worthy of love if someone found them out.

WHY?

We do it for that exact reason it was done to us. Because it is what we know. It is hard-wired into us. It is our knee-jerk reaction when things don’t go the way we’d like them to go. When our kids misbehave. When our kids are different. When they don’t fit into the square hole their school is pushing for them to fit into. When they don’t fit into the round hole our (generally well-meaning) parents, in-laws, friends, neighbors, doctors, etc tell us they “should” fit into.

We get triggered. We snap. We “lose it” on our kids.

It’s what we know.

But don’t we remember how it felt? That look from a parent (or a teacher or any other person of authority in our short little lives) that told us we had just completely let them down. The look that said “You, my friend, are a disappointment.”

Don’t we remember feeling the not-enoughness? Feeling, deep, in the pit of our stomachs, the I’m not good enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not organized enough. I’m not sporty enough. I’m not social enough. I’m not outgoing enough. I’m not quiet enough. I’m not pretty enough… And on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on.

The beating ourselves up for our challenges, so much so we lost sight of our gifts?

“I can’t remember things like other people can. I don’t pay attention like other people do. I’m broken.”

Not only seeing it in their looks, but hearing it in their words.

What if, instead, we remember? Breathing. Clearing. Coming back to love.

Remembering that day when first, we locked eyes with our little one. The way we loved them then. Unconditionally. With our entire selves and everything we were. Love. More than life itself. Love.

Remembering. Our child’s innate goodness. Innate wholeness. Innate deservingness of love, not for anything they did or DO so much as just because THEY ARE.

Letting go. When old hurts creep up from the past to make their way into our ways of being today. Feeling for these moments. Watching for them. Sensing when we are about to move, are moving or have already moved off our center, triggered by something our child has said or done.

Catching these moments quicker as the weeks go by, quicker because of our growing awareness. Quicker because of grace and our breath and the support of a circle of other loving parents, equally committed the healing, growing journey that is parenthood.

Taking our love off the line.

Holding misbehavior as a sign of an un-met need and not a broken child. Using responsible, respectful, clear, consistent and firm words with our kids when met with a “teaching moment”.

“I love you but I do not love your behavior today.”

Connecting before correcting.

“Can we talk? I’m feeling very far away from you these days.”

“What do you think we could do to make mornings gentler/smoother/etc…?”

“I feel like I’m yelling at you all the time. I’m sorry I get so anxious when we’re running late. Do yo have any ideas that could help us here?”

Because really, you and me? Us — all of us — parents. We are on the same team as our kids. We’re not playing tennis, one on one, on opposite sides of the court as our children. NO. We are playing DOUBLES. TRIPLES. QUADRUPELS even. And there can many, many, many people on our same side of the court: husband’s, partner’s, teachers, doctors, etc.

We are all on the same side of the court.

The balls are flying at us, coming over that net at lightening fast speeds, and there we are, side by side, playing this game of life together… with our kids. Those balls, they’re not our kids. They’re life. Our pasts. Our fears. Other’s fears.

Tell this to your child today: “You and I? We are on the same side of the court.”

In the words you use. In the actions you take. Tell your child. Your love is theirs. Unconditionally.

It just is.

xo

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The journey of motherhood.  The manual is ours to write but we don’t have to write it alone. Let’s connect on twitterfacebook and pinterest too. xoxo

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Praise Or Discouragement

It might sound like I’m splitting hairs here… but the way we encourage our kids MATTERS.

My daughter stood on the podium marked 3, smiled and waved at end of her first ever gymnastics meet. Was I happy for her? Sure. Did I praise her as being an amazing gymnast? No.

Attachment-1

What did I tell her when she walked up to her dad and I after the meet, four shiny metals around her neck, trophy in hand, beaming ear to ear? I hugged her and said with an equally large smile, “I LOVED watching you out there. You had this big smile the entire time. It looked like you were having a blast. Honey, we’re so proud of how committed you are to your team. You are learning so much…”

Why didn’t I gush over her getting to stand on the podium? Why not go on and on about the shiny new metals that hung around her neck? It’s because when we praise the child (or the outcome like the “win”) verse praising the child’s effort, their brain holds onto our  praise as conditional and in the end, our praise becomes discouragement.

I think of it this way: praise the child/win/outcome and the brain thinks: I AM GOOD WHEN I DO GOOD. So what happens when our kids face something new and hard? Something they are “bad” at? Their brain is left to conclude: I AM GOOD WHEN I DO GOOD AND  I AM BAD AT THIS… I DON’T WANT TO DO THIS HARD THING. I AM NOT “GOOD” AT IT.

But praise the effort and waaaa-laaaa, you have a child whose brain is being incentivised to face challenges.

The real win, I want my ten year old to know deep in her heart, is the person she is. The love and respect she shows her coaches. The encouragement she gives her teammates and the girls on other teams, clapping for and watching them attentively. The commitment and focus she exercises, day in and day out, in getting her mom and her twin three year old brother and sister motivated to GET IN THE CAR NOW that she might get to practice on time (where early is on time and on time is late!). The patience and care she shows her body when she decides to sit a practice out because she is hurting even though it kills her to sit on the sidelines and watch.

Understanding the full impact our words as parents have on our kids takes time —but given the research, it’s time worth spending. There is power in the way we praise.

  • Praising the child: “Man you are smart.” Praising the effort: “That was a long assignment, but you stuck to it and got it done. That’s great!
  • Praising the child: “You are an amazing artist.” Praising the effort, “Wow. Look at all the different colors/techniques/materials/etc you used to make that picture.” or “What was your favorite part of making that?” or “Can I hang this in the kitchen?”
  • Praising the child: “You are such a great soccer player” Praising the effort, “You worked really hard today at soccer practice.” or “I love to watch you play.”

None of this sort of praising comes easy or naturally to me. After thirteen years of thinking about process over outcome, of working to praise the effort not the child, is it still hard for me?

YES. I do it “wrong” all the time. But that’s okay. I love a challenge.

Food for thought:

  • Are the things we’re saying to our kids inspiring them or discouraging them?
  • Are we helping them take on a growth mindset or a fixed mindset?
  • Are we preparing them for the challenges life will surely hold or are we not?
  • And finally, how do we, their parents, respond to challenges? Both ours and theirs.

Praise the effort, not the child. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

xo

—–

When we follow our bliss, anything is possible. I hope you walk with me and other moms here because motherhood (and life) is better when we’re holding hands.

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The Day My Daughter Shaved Her Head

phonto

It was only a week ago that my 12 year old daughter first asked me, “What if I shaved my head?” to which I immediately responded, “What? Why?!?”

She replied softly, “I don’t know. I was just talking about it with my friends.”

I took a deep breathe and thought about her question for a minute before replying a second time. And though still not thinking she would actually shave her head, I began to feel the question was not as hypothetical as I’d first imagined.

“Well, if you did, you would rock it.” I said, which was received with a smile.

“Yeah,” she said, “that’s what my friend said.”

Over the next few days, the shaving the head idea picked up steam. She asked her dad. She asked more friends. And with each person she told that did not find it to be the craziest thing they’d ever heard of, the idea became more real.

“What if I shaved my head?” quickly became “When can I shave my head?” followed closely by, “Who will I give it too???” Each question brought with it a new google search. Soon she had all her answers.

She saved an inspiration photo on her ipad of a cute teen girl (not a star, just a girl) sporting a t-shirt, killer smile and a buzzed head in all it’s glory.

She found a non-profit that would not charge the child receiving her golden locks on the other end when a wig it became. She read about the organization and the medical conditions that caused children her age and younger to lose their hair. Fuel to the fire.

This. Was. Happening.

I texted my hairdresser for reassurance:

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We went to the dentist the next day and when they asked us what’s new, my daughter told them, “I’m going to shave my head.” I loved the way they received this news. “It’s only hair!” and “It grows back” and most encouraging of all, these words from the the office manager, “Good for you! Will you send us pictures?!?!” I could see my daughter’s confidence growing.

Once home her google searches still read “donate hair” and “buzz haircut girl” while mine still read “girl pixie haircut.” Evidence of my resistance filled my iphone camera, pictures of longish short hair cuts for girls. I told myself they were for “just in case she gets half way in there and changes her mind…” but they weren’t. They were for me. “Well hey, look at this one of Gwyneth Paltrow with the cute little bobby pins holding back easily five inch long front hair locks. This would look nice.”

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The day after we’d made the hair appointment, I panicked. Had I been doing my job? What if as “mom” I was supposed to be the one resisting the idea? What if moments after her hair was cut into two 12 inch ponies wrapped in rubber band after rubber band, she looked at me, her eyes filled with disappointment? Disappointment from a decision she’d made without me throwing detours or nary even a road bump in it’s way?

The next day we were alone, driving in the car. Reilly was talking about her future buzz which I seized as an opportunity to fulfill my maternal obligation to offer her pause. I asked her, gently, “What if you don’t like it??? What do you want me to say to you if you cry afterwards?”

To this my daughter, without getting defensive or taking this to mean I didn’t believe in her, answered “Just remind me that it doesn’t matter what I look like. Remind me I helped someone.”

I smiled.

“Okay, sweet girl. But that’s not going to happen, is it?” I thought.

I grabbed for her words, saying them over and over in my head, so I would remember them.

“It doesn’t matter what I look like…”

My daughter knows what is important and what is not, I thought.

The next day, she fearlessly sat in the barber chair with a smile spread ear to ear as long clumps of hair left her head, only stopping to furrow her eyes and scowl at me, now and again for taking too many pictures.

My kids have always taught me plenty, but this time, I felt like I was getting a reminder of not only what is important in this life, but what gives it meaning.

                  “I helped someone.”

phonto 4

—–

When we follow our bliss, anything is possible. I hope you walk with me and other moms here, sharing the stories of our lives, because motherhood is better when we are holding hands. 

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How to Stop Fighting with Your Tweens/Teens

The Three Fights Every Parent Has With Their Kid and How to Stop Them

by Vanessa Van Petten

When I was 16 I thought it was my Dad’s goal in life to make me miserable. I was convinced that he had a running list of all the ways he could embarrass me in front of my friends, trick me into doing more chores or make my curfew earlier. In fact we had three of the most common parent-kid fights:

1. The “It’s Not Fair” Fight

Examples:
-Older brother gets to stay out late with his friends. Teen finds this grossly unfair.
-Parent gets to have soda, child does not. Teen finds this grossly unfair.
-Teenager cannot buy new outfit for dance because it is too expensive. Teen finds this grossly unfair.

2. The “Treat Me Like A Grown-Up” Fight

Examples:
-Teen wants to be able to stay out late with friends. Parents say no. Teen thinks they are being treated like a child.
-Teen wants to go away for Spring Break, parents say no. Teen thinks they are being treated like a child.

3. The “We Are a Different Person” Fight

Examples:
-Parent wants their teen to join band, teen doesn’t want to.
-Parent expects higher grades and when teen doesn’t do well, a huge fight ensues.
-Teen does not keep room tidy, parent gets upset when guests come over.

We would have these kinds of fights over and over again until one day I saw my Dad reading a parenting book. I flipped through it while my Dad was in the bathroom and realized a lot of the things he did that drove me crazy he was getting right out of this book! I looked at the other parenting books on our shelves and realized that they were all written by adults. I wondered—has anyone ever asked teens to write to their parents?

I decided to build a website where teens could answer questions and write to parents called RadicalParenting.com. I couldn’t believe how quickly it grew and how happy both teens were to get their voices out and parents were to have a new outlet for connecting with their kids! We now have over 120 teen writers who give advice. Here is what they had to say about solving each of the common parent fights:

1. The “It’s Not Fair” Fight

Emotional Intent: When you hear a teen talk about how unfair something is, what they are often feeling is, “I am not important or special enough.” If you feel like your teenager is constantly arguing about justice or fairness, they are most likely feeling like they are not being heard or cared about enough to get what they want. Of course, this is usually not the case. In the examples above parents would be worried about safety, health and money, while teens feel like they are not as important as their sibling, that their parents do not understand how important the dance is, and so on.

Solutions: The best way to stop the “it’s Not Fair” fight is to address the emotional intent. The best way to do this is for parents to push into the “it’s not fair” feeling from their children instead of pushing against it. For instance in the new outfit example a parent might say to their teen, “I hear you think this is unfair, will you tell me why?” A teen will most likely respond, “You buy stuff for yourself all the time,” or “But I deserve this dress.” These answers are important because it will show the parent the emotional intent behind the upset and feelings of injustice. If a parent addresses these by saying something like, “I could see how you feel like us not buying this for you is about you not feeling worthy. But the truth is we are trying to save for the big vacation we are taking this summer—which is for all of us. I know how important this dance is for you. Maybe we can get you a new pair of shoes or…” then the fight is stopped.

2. The “Treat Me Like A Grown-Up” Fight

Emotional Intent: Most fights during the teen years are actually based in this ‘treat me like a grown-up’ motivation. The earlier you can catch and address it the better it will be. It derives from the fundamental pulling away that comes with a teen trying to assert their independence.

Solutions: It is very important for parents to discuss reasons for decisions that are making a teenager angry. This way teens are sure to understand the real reasons for a parent’s choice. Another great way to help teenagers get less upset in fights surrounding their maturity is for parents to help teens feel mature in other ways. For example, perhaps parents do not want their teen to go away for the whole Spring Break because they want to have family time. A great way to address this with teens is to say clearly, “We really want to have family time with you, but we know you are getting older, so how about you do a weekend camping trip with your friends for one of the weekends.” This teaches teens you trust them, but it is all about balancing needs.

3. The “We Are a Different Person” Fight

Emotional Intent: Often times teenagers tell me that they will purposefully keep their room dirty or choose unapproved hobbies just so they can be different from their parents. Parents frequently misinterpret room cleaning or bad grades for laziness, when something deeper might be going on. Teenagers often will ‘misbehave’ or fight with parents simply to show them that they are their own person—even if it gets them into trouble.

Solutions: First, it’s important to make sure that you do want your child to be their own person. Be careful not to push expectations or your own goals onto your kids. Second, make sure teenagers know that some of the requirements you have for them (good grades a tidy room for guests) are not to make them feel less like an individual, but for them to have more choices in their future and to present a nice home to guests. I recommend parents being very direct with teenagers about their need to be ‘their own person’ you might be surprised what common fights are actually based in this emotional intent.

I think teens and parents can work together to overcome their differences and learn to work best together. We have just come out with our book: Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded and it is a radical approach to parenting because it is written from the kid’s perspective! We would love for you to check it out—if you are brave enough to see what kids have to say!