A Growth Spurt for Both of Us

November 5, 2014 at 10:39 am (General)

It’s been almost 3 months since my last blog post. Some of the last things I posted seemed like regular blog posts, but they were really reminders for myself. I had been struggling with my son’s new shift in behavior, and I was hoping that if I wrote something I knew to be true about parenting, I would have The Answer I was looking for and things would miraculously change with my son. But things didn’t change, and I stopped writing. I think I felt a little lost, like “positive parenting” wasn’t working…or that I had created these challenges in his behavior by not using stricter discipline all along. Suddenly, I didn’t know what to write about because what I was doing clearly wasn’t working.

My son, who is 8, has always been outspoken and spirited, but over the summer, he seemed to be even more. Outspoken…with an attitude. Spirited…and now belligerent. Our days were spent battling over seemingly everything and always ended in tears and anger–his tears, my anger.

So I stopped writing to focus on my family and to figure things out. I knew deep down that getting our relationship back on track was key, but I had no idea how to do that when everyday was such a challenge to endure. How do you express unconditional acceptance to a child when his behavior repeatedly pushes you away?

This was my a-ha! moment (a whole a-ha! summer) when I realized where the inclination to use harsh discipline comes from…how easy it is to respond in retaliation…

“Fine, be that way. I don’t care!” (walk away/ ignore)
“You can’t talk to me like that!” (do/ say something to show who’s boss)
“How dare you do that to me? (“Now here’s what I’ll do to you…”)
Feeling hurt and finding a way to turn that emotion into a hurtful action against a child (punish)

I experienced every one of these thoughts. What it took from me was the realization that I am the grown up here. If one of us is more capable than the other of regulating emotion and communicating effectively, guess who it is? Not the 8-year-old. As much as I thought he *should* be able to control himself and act appropriately, for whatever reason, he just wasn’t. No, sorry, not for “whatever” reason…the reason is immaturity. At 8 years old, my child still has about 20 more years to go before his brain reaches full maturity. That means the neural pathways between the structures of his brain that process emotion and the parts of his brain that handle logic, reasoning, and self control are far from formed and far from efficient.

My own brain has been at full maturity for a while now. Though it can be hard (and some days/ weeks/ months harder than ever), I have the ability to access my logical brain.

I can be the one to disengage from power struggles.

I can be the one to set limits and hold them without letting my emotions get the best of me.

I can be the one to reach out lovingly when it seems like my child is least deserving of connection and attention.

I can be the one to receive strong emotions and not take them personally.

I can be the one to be consistently firm.

I can be the one to be consistently kind.

I can be the one to understand that we are in a tough phase and my child is not “bad.”

This summer called for more firmness in our parenting. Some phases are like that. It didn’t mean hurtful words or punishments, but higher expectations, new boundaries, added responsibilities–all held consistently with firmness and kindness. It meant understanding that our son wasn’t necessarily going to like our expectations and he would have his feelings about them. My husband and I were prepared for this and distanced ourselves a bit so we wouldn’t be drawn into his emotional turmoil. Eventually, we experienced a huge turning point and saw a shift. More cooperation from our 8-year-old. Less outbursts. We especially found those needed moments of connection and spent time re-getting-to-know our son; It wasn’t such an effort to reach out anymore.

This summer was a phase; I’m realizing that now. It was much harder to see when we were in the thick of it. But what I couldn’t see then that I’m able to now, is that not only were the past few months a growth spurt for my son, but they were a growth spurt for me too. It was time for both of us to grow and change. Not only do I see the maturity he’s gained after this time of struggle, I also feel my own transformation from lost and floundering as a parent to feeling more capable than ever.

It gets better. Times are hard, we struggle, we work, we persevere, we change…and things get better. Little by little, we move forward; we grow together.

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Behavior is an Iceberg

August 11, 2014 at 7:48 am (Attachment Parenting, General, Positive Discipline)

What you see is only a small part of what’s really there.

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Like an iceberg, the bulk of behavior’s “mass” is found below the surface; it is what gives rise to the part that is visible.  Behavior is triggered from feelings, which stem from the more deeply rooted needs of a person. These are not needs like, “I need candy/ I need a new toy/ I need to play video games.” Basic human needs consist of things like autonomy, safety, security, trust, empathy, understanding, adequate sleep and nutrition, a sense of belonging and inclusion, competency, respect, and love.

When a child’s basic needs are met, he feels satisfied, connected, secure, confident. The behavior looks “good.”

If a child’s needs are not met, he may feel insecure, afraid, angry, or detached. The behavior that shows, then, looks to be what we might call “unacceptable” as the child reaches out to try to satisfy these unmet needs. This occurs subconsciously, of course; a child is not able to articulate: “You know mom and dad, I have not felt included in the family since the new baby arrived, nor have I felt respected when I speak, so I’m going to be whiny and belligerent for a while.” His needs are valid; his feelings are valid. But he is misguided in his attempts to rectify them.

What we must do as parents is, in the face of misbehavior, remember that 90% of what is going on is below the surface. We must look deep to ensure the child is getting everything he needs, for behavior builds from there.

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Don’t Seek the Right Answers, Seek the Right Answers for Your Child

June 10, 2014 at 11:10 am (Attachment Parenting)

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My husband is an expert carp angler. This is unusual in the fly fishing community. Targeting carp, as opposed to the traditionally “pretty” fish like trout or salmon, is a relatively new sport, though its popularity is gaining. With years of proficiency under his belt, my husband often gives presentations to fly fishing groups, clubs, and communities on the techniques involved in catching a carp on the fly. Invariably, at every presentation, someone asks him, “What is the best fly for catching carp?” And his response is always the same: “There is no best fly for all carp, but there will be a best fly for your carp.” Meaning: it depends on where you’re fishing. The conditions of the surrounding environment will dictate what kind of fly best imitates what the carp there are eating, so the best thing you can do is to know your forage.

I told him I’m totally going to use that line in my presentations. Because when I speak to parents or teach classes, I inevitably get asked a similar question. “What should I do?”

People attend parenting conferences or take positive discipline classes because they’re often in a place in their parenting in which they need some help. They’re in a tough stage with their child, they’re seeing behavior that challenges them, they’re frustrated with a recurring situation at home, or they’re eager to pick up some new parenting techniques. But the underlying question among parents in the room is always, “What is the right answer for how we should respond to behavior?”

And my response is: There is no right answer for all children, but there is a right answer for your child.

Meaning: There is no universal fix. There is no tool or technique that will fit all children perfectly. Your best answer is going to depend on your child, your family, and the relationship you have with one another. The conditions of the surrounding environment–personality, temperament, learning style, level of confidence, likes, dislikes, natural skills, inherent challenges, and relationships with others–will indicate what your child needs most to thrive. So the best thing you can do is to know your child.

Understand that your answers will be necessarily different from those of other parents. They’re fishing in different conditions.

Know your child, and you will find your answer.

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One Principle to Simplify Your Parenting

June 2, 2014 at 12:42 pm (Attachment Parenting)

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With all of the tools, techniques, strategies, and “fixes” out there, parenting tends to get complicated. It is certainly easy to fill your parenting toolbox (not to mention your email inbox and social media news feeds) with the latest parenting “how-to”s, “to-do”s and “to-try”s.  Every hour of every day I see a new parenting post in my Facebook feed. I’ve seen pin boards with hundreds of posts about discipline, timeout strategies, reward charts, and tutorials on how to get kids to clean their rooms, eat their food, do their chores, brush their teeth, stay in bed, do their homework…

Here’s the thing. Sometimes parenting can use a good de-cluttering just like a house can. There is much that can get in the way of living parenting  in a peaceful, breathable environment. Clutter free. So when raising children starts to feel like too much to do to “get it right,” here is the one thing to keep in mind that will simplify everything:

Focus less on what you do and more on who you are to your child.

That’s it. When you’re feeling overwhelmed with behavior and the multitude of strategies out there to counteract or manage those behaviors, try to declutter your parenting toolbox. Be who your child needs you to be. That means…

Focus less on discipline tools, and more on communication. Does your child know that mistakes are OK?

Focus less on management, and more on relationship. Are you a person your child wants to come to?

Focus less on scheduling activities, and more on everyday presence. Are you grateful your child is in your life (and does he know that)?

Focus less on finding fault, and more on understanding. Do you know who your child is?

Focus less on fixing, and more on accepting. Can you accept your child for who she is rather than who you want her to be?

Sometimes the “clutter” of parenting can get overwhelming and it’s a good thing to downsize. Minimize. Simplify. Let the worry of putting all the best parenting tools to use at just the right times slide off your shoulders. Then kick it to the curb. Successful parenting isn’t complicated because its not an implementation of a carefully planned discipline or management approach. It’s about starting with the essential elements of the relationship and allowing that to lead.

Focus less on what you do and more on who you are to your child.

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9 Lessons I Learned From My Mom

May 11, 2014 at 8:24 am (General)

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Family comes first. Being there for each other, spending time together, and supporting each other is a must. I remember once when my brother and I were in college and we were preparing for a vacation to Disney World, my mom said, “This might be our last family vacation together…” But guess what? It’s almost 20 years later and we still take family vacations together. From school events to movie nights to family vacations, prioritizing our family time has been that significant.

“If it is to be, it’s up to me.” If something is important enough, make it happen. You are capable.

No one can take your education away from you. No matter what hardships may fall upon you in life, you’ll always carry with you the knowledge and skills you made an effort to learn. It’s always worthwhile to learn something new.

Speak up. You might just get what you want.

Eat meals together. Dinnertime is essential enough to schedule or reschedule so everyone can be there. Cooking and baking and eating brings everyone together in meaningful ways.

Tears are OK. One night as a kid, I started crying in my bed at night and I didn’t know why. My mom came in to ask what was wrong, and when I couldn’t tell her, she held me and responded, “That’s OK. Sometimes big feelings overwhelm us and we just need to cry.” Whew…weight lifted.

Small savings add up to long term financial security. It’s the little expenditures that have the biggest impact. Most things we think are needs are really just wants. Know the difference.

Everyone has feelings. No one deserves to be hurt. Ever.

The one who matters most is the one in the glass. It’s not the critic who counts, but the person you see looking back at you from the mirror. That’s the one–the only one–you should worry about pleasing.

Happy Mother’s Day to my mom and to all the wonderful moms who teach their children lessons about life and what true love really is!

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