How to Encourage Kids to Try New Things

March 31, 2014 at 8:57 am (Attachment Parenting, Positive Discipline)

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“How can I encourage my child to try new things?”

There is collective agreement among many parents that this can be difficult depending to a child’s temperament and overall outgoing-ness. Some children have no problem trying a new activity (like our children’s recent introduction to parkour, above), while others are just never quite up for it.

“New things” is outside their comfort zone and there are many reasons a child might not be enthusiastic about heading down that path. It means doing something unfamiliar or uncomfortable. It means not knowing what the outcome will be and that it may very well result in failure. It means a child might not be “good.” All of which are reasons to be scared.

But we adults know that some of the best things in life have come from stepping outside our comfort zones–trying new activities, learning new skills, and having different experiences. Pushing ourselves just a little bit is how we learn and grow and become oh-so-well-rounded. Of course we want our kids to become just as experienced and diversified. But this means they must be willing to try new things even when that seems daunting.

How can we teach this? When considering how to encourage your children to try something new, keep in mind a few of their most essential needs that must be met in order for a child to feel comfortable enough to agree to try it:

Children need a strong sense of autonomy–a realization of their basic skills and capabilities in taking care of themselves. A sense of, “I am capable,” and “I can do this.” Help your children develop autonomy by stepping back and allowing kids to take the lead in taking care of themselves. Teach them how to choose their own clothes, get themselves dressed, start their own baths or showers, make their own simple meals and snacks, fix things, build things, clean things. Feeling autonomous is the first step in being able to try anything different.

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Children need a sense of confidence. This is different from autonomy in that instead of a sense of, “I can do this,” confidence is more a sense of, “I CAN do this!” and, “I am successful.”

Help kids develop this by celebrating successes when they occur. Wow! You did it! Look at what you’ve accomplished! That was hard. Congratulations! Thank you! You’re a huge help to this family. Remember: it’s not heaps of superficial praise from a parent that builds a child’s confidence, but regular encouraging words that draw out a child’s own thoughts on the experience. We want a child to be able to pat himself on the back, to praise himself and say, “I did a good job!” Confidence comes when one doesn’t have to look to others for praise and validation, but finds it within oneself.

When encouraging children to try new things, start with small challenges. Everyday successes. Build up confidence with the small things and he’ll be ready to tackle bigger “new things” in time.

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Children need a sense of security. It’s a comfort that comes in knowing, “I am safe,” and, “I belong.” Strengthen your child’s sense of security on a daily basis by making time for them and paying attention during those times. Talk to them, but…mostly listen to what they have to say. Constantly aim to get to know who they are. Accept them wholly. Meet their needs regularly for nutrition, sleep, and physical connection. Have family routines. Play together. Get into the habit of empathizing and validating their feelings. Make sure to communicate to children that they are more important than anything else in the world…let them know, “I’ve got this; I’ve got you.”

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Children need a sense of resilience. They must know that they can survive life’s challenges and hardships. That not everything will go their way, but they are capable of handling frustration and disappointment and moving forward. They must know: “I can survive this.”

Help kids learn that mistakes are OK by disciplining with problem solving versus punishment. Instead of looking for what to do to a child to teach a lesson, look for ways to work with a child in finding a solution. This teaches children that mistakes are a part of life and they’re fixable; mistakes are not anything to be feared.

You can set a powerful example of resilience by trying new things together with your child. Take a new art class together. Try a new activity. Go somewhere you’ve never been, or do something you’ve never done before…together. When you make mistakes, acknowledge them and figure out together what to do next. Talk about that you might not be good at this new skill yet, but you’re learning and having fun anyway. You can model resilience by allowing your child to see and be a part of challenges in a cooperative way.

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When you first work on meeting these needs of children–autonomy, confidence, security, and resilience–you will be able to encourage your child to try new things with greater success. She’ll be ready to step outside that comfort zone because she’ll be well-equiped to know she can handle it. It won’t seem quite so scary out there.

If your child is having a hard time wanting to try whatever new activity you’re suggesting, take a step back and wait. Revisit some of the tools above. Suggest and encourage, but don’t push or insist. Encourage them through their small successes and make sure your relationship is secure.

Encouraging children doesn’t mean finding the right incentive or prize (I’ll give you $20 to try the rock-climbing wall). It doesn’t mean using your relationship as a bargaining tool (It will make mommy so happy if you play T-Ball this year). It doesn’t mean taking whatever means necessary to lure your child out of his comfort zone and try a new experience. It means strengthening a child’s inner senses of autonomy, confidence, security and resilience for him to be able to step out there on his own. To help him want to.

When children have this inner strength they know that they can try any new thing, and despite the discomfort, they will survive the mistakes as well as master the challenges.

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Highlights From My Conversation on the Lisa OZ Show

February 24, 2014 at 9:47 am (Attachment Parenting)

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I recently had the chance to fly out to New York to appear as a guest on the Lisa Oz Show. The topic was parenting, specifically attachment parenting.

I’ll admit this terrified me. Fly to New York City? By myself? Speak on TV? I’m an introvert who likes the comfort and quiet of my home and the few people who live in it. But beyond the initial fear of stepping outside my comfort zone, I did not really have a reason to say no. I love the concepts of attachment parenting, and if anyone wants to learn more about it, I’m a good person to help with that.

So I flew. I interviewed. I met Donna Karan in the greenroom backstage and talked with her about attachment parenting. The episode aired last week, and I was so proud to have done it. Yay for stepping outside comfort zones! As far as I can tell, there is nowhere online to view this episode nor any clip I can share with you. If I ever find one, you can be sure I will share it here. In the meantime, please enjoy a brief recap of my conversation with Lisa Oz (who, if you’re wondering, is married to Dr. Mehmet Oz of “The Dr. Oz Show” and is the mother of Daphne Oz, co-host of “The Chew”):

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We’ve heard a lot about attachment parenting in the media lately…so, what exactly is it?

Attachment parenting is essentially about meeting a child’s needs. It’s about helping children develop a secure relationship with their caregivers by meeting their  needs on a regular basis. When this happens, children develop a trust in knowing that they aredeeply cared for and their basic needs are consistently met. They form a strong trust and relationship with those who are caring for them. Attachment parenting is just a way of parenting that facilitates that connection.

What about when it comes to needs versus wants? If we give kids everything they want, we end up raising little tyrants…How do you draw the line?

It’s definitely not about giving kids everything want, but about meeting their basic needs–things like love, safety, connection, a sense of autonomy, as well as, of course, things like physical nourishment and adequate sleep. This puts you very in tune with your child. As you grow connected together, you have a good understanding of what is truly a need and what is just a want. A child may think they “need” some candy, but as a parent who is well attuned, you are able to recognize it as merely a “want,” you’re able to say no, set a limit and allow the child to have their feelings about that.

Have you found that attachment parenting has brought you closer to your children?

Oh yes! My children and I have a great relationship. We always find time to talk and connect. I love that my children are 7 and 9 years old and they still like to hold my hand. I love that they want me to tuck them in at night, lay together and have talks in the dark. I look forward to finding ways to keep our relationship strong as the years progress.

Are there certain practices of attachment parenting?

Typically, the ones that are most often associated with attachment parenting are breastfeeding, baby wearing, and co-sleeping…but these are not requirements. They’re just practices that meet a baby’s very physical needs and therefore help facilitate that sense of trust and security early on in the parent-child relationship. The tools you use to facilitate attachment with your child will change as your child grows, so it’s important to know that attachment parenting is not a checklist of dos and don’ts, but a bunch of tools you can use to strengthen your connection while meeting your child’s needs at any age. Parents should not worry that if they’re not doing certain things–that is, using certain tools–then they won’t have a good relationship with their child. So co-sleeping doesn’t work for everyone…that’s fine. There are other ways to meet your baby’s needs at night and find a balance that works for you. Keep in mind there are plenty of ways to meet your child’s needs, build trust, and strengthen your connection.

S0 AP is not about saying you can’t put your baby down?

No. You’re going to need to…and that’s not wrong! But when it works, it is so healthy to carry your baby close to you, wrapped snugly so they get that experience of touch, warmth and closeness. As often as you can do it, go for it. But [and this is what Donna Karan and I talked about backstage], everyone’s situation is different and it won’t be possible to embrace all of the tools of attachment parenting all the time. That does not mean you won’t have a strong relationship with your child. It’s about knowing how different parenting tools help meet a child’s need for security, trust, and basic care, and then finding a balance that works for you. The relationship is the “attachment” of attachment parenting, and there are many ways to develop it.

[Donna was feeling what probably a lot of parents feel when they hear about attachment parenting…guilt that if they didn’t do some of these practices when their children were young, they did something wrong and weren’t as good a parent as they could have been. She expressed concern that parents should know that it’s OK if you’re a working parent and aren’t with your child 24/7. It’s the interactions you have together–whenever you’re together–that are valuable and that work to develop a strong relationship.]

What can parents do if they’re interested in attachment parenting?

Read, research, understand what attachment parenting really is and how children develop. Talk with your partner about what works for you, what might not, what you want to try and why. Work together and communicate to find that balance. Remember, it’s not about dos and don’ts, right and wrong. It’s about meeting a child’s needs on a consistent basis. Understand what those needs are so your child will feel secure and connected to you.

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It’s the Little Things That Have the Biggest Impact

January 16, 2014 at 9:08 am (Attachment Parenting, Positive Discipline)

It’s the little things that will often become our children’s most cherished memories. Those small moments of how we spend our time together are what have the biggest impact long-term. Added up over the course of a childhood, those occasions shape our children’s values, habits, and relationships. Lately I’ve been noticing these small things–habits and practices that I feel play a big role in our family’s well-being. These may or may not be the moments our kids will remember years from now (although I probably will), but I know they matter today, right now. Here are some of the little things we do that have a big impact…

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We have hot breakfasts together. I used to get up early to work before my kids went to school. In the midst of my work, I’d run upstairs to get everyone up and out of bed, then head back down to the office to continue. My kids would get themselves ready, grab a quick breakfast from the pantry and at the last minute I’d turn my computer off, throw on some shoes and take them to school. It took me a while to realize how this was setting the tone for the day–one of hurriedness and disconnection. I had very little contact with them each morning, and the good-bye hugs at school were never long enough. Mornings became tearful and primed for battles.

Now I don’t get up early to do work, I get up early to be with my kids before we part for the day. I get up to make breakfast. Instead of working and not really getting much done because of all the interruptions, I “work” on collecting our family each morning. We sit down together and have oatmeal, eggs, pancakes or homemade breakfast bars before school. We wake up together and start the day on the same page. We’re reminded of what matters most–each other. Plus, hot, delicious food makes getting up early much more bearable.

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I regularly read out loud to my reading-capable children. I know they can read. I’m super proud of their literacy skills. But when one of my kids comes to me with anything from a colorful picture book to a dense chapter book and says, “Mom, will you read to me?” The answer is always yes. Yes, come sit by me. Yes, lean right up into my arms. Yes, let me touch your your skin, your hair, your hands. Yes, let me take care of you. Yes, let’s go on this journey together. I’m always here for you.

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We have physical playtime every night. Well, I say “we” but I mean “they.” This is 100% my husband’s realm. I really enjoy watching everyone roughhouse, but I usually do not participate as I don’t like being assaulted with pillows and pokes and loudness. (Though, John made up a tennis ball game that I admit looks pretty fun. Since it does not involve bodily contact, I’m up for that one.) What works especially well with John’s games is that they require the kids to be on a team–working together against him. Whether it’s Sleeping Giant (they must successfully steal a precious object (rock, Lego) from the sleeping giant (Dad) who is apt to wake up at any moment and “get them”) or Secret Ambush (which is pretty much just what it sounds like), the kids come together in ways that they don’t normally. Last night, Secret Ambush involved an actual battle plan. Our two children who might normal be seen bickering and annoying each other worked together for an hour on their encoded positions and attack strategy. Despite an unsuccessful “secret” ambush against Dad relaxing on the bed, the evening ended in fits of giggles and laughter-infused, if not slightly worrisome, exclamations of, “You’re squeezing my pee out! You’re squeezing my pee out!” and a mad dash to the bathroom.

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We accept their thoughts, words and perspectives. We don’t laugh, we don’t get sarcastic, we don’t belittle, we don’t make fun. We take what they say seriously, even if their comments surprise or amuse us. Like this comment from my son in the car the other day:

JJ: Why does the bank say Wells Fargo?
Me: That’s the name of this bank. There are other banks around town.
JJ: Oh, like what?
Me: Umm…I can’t think of any names right now, but as we drive I’ll point out others I see.
JJ: Yeah, and prisons, too. Point those out when you see them.
Me: Of course.

Or this comment that my daughter made at Red Robin after the waitress delivered our food and handed over her cheeseburger:

Elia: Ohhhh, my bun has seeds on it! I love that. I love the way they feel on the bun. I LOVE seeds; they are SO nice to touch!

Which is interesting, because I never knew she felt so strongly about seeded buns or seeds in general. But she is a texture girl…sensitive to touch, dislikes tags, loves deep pressure massages and heavy blankets. So it totally makes sense that she would notice and appreciate the way a bun feels in her hand. Another small window into who she is. Just as I know my son would naturally be interested to see any and all prisons we might drive past between the bank and the library (FYI: none). My children’s words sometimes bring a smile to my face, but I would never want them to feel bad about sharing bits of who they are. These are the things I need to know most of all.

We give the the sibling a small present on the other child’s birthday. It’s hard to be a little kid and see your sibling get presents and attention and overall specialness and not totally understand why none of it’s for you. Even if you do understand what’s going on, it’s still not easy. John and I have continued this tradition that my grandparents started with my brother and me when we were kids, and we’ve always had one thing for the non-birthday kid to open at present time. (Now that they’re older, though, they’re more capable of handling each other’s birthday with grace and acceptance. So this will most likely be the last year for the sibling gift).

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We sit with our kids when they do their school work. If they so choose. They usually don’t need us to, but sometimes the assignment is hard, or uninteresting, or they just want some company. I know that sometimes, it helps to simply not feel alone in the work that you do. When they request our presence, sitting together is one small way we support and encourage our children in their academic endeavors.

These are ways in which we communicate our values to our kids. It’s how we live them.

Make time for the little things.

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Fear Prevents Understanding. And Cycles Perpetuate.

November 22, 2013 at 9:20 am (Attachment Parenting, General)

Earlier this week, my kids and I were at a public park, and a stranger spoke very rudely to my 7-year-old son. She might have been trying to be helpful–had a genuine concern for something he was doing–but her message was lost in the harshness of her exclamations. I didn’t know if she had kids and this was the way she routinely spoke to them. She did have dogs with her. And she spoke to them the same way. Harsh. Extreme. Shaming.

I wasn’t sure what her concern was. I didn’t know why she approached my son, what her intention was, or what she was trying to say. I was angry and defensive, and my son was upset. In that moment, the only thing either of us knew was the way we felt.

When your tone is harsh, walls go up.
When your words invoke feelings of shame, your message doesn’t get through.
When your approach is aggressive, your intention doesn’t matter.

Later that day, my son said something powerful. “Mom, you know when that lady yelled at me? Well, maybe her mom yelled at her a lot when she was a kid. Maybe she thinks that’s how you talk to people because that’s how people talked to her.”

“You know, Babe, I think you’re probably right.”

Fear prevents understanding.
Cycles perpetuate.

When you treat others with respect and kindness and a sense of perspective, you break a cycle of poor communication and fear-based interactions.
When you treat a child with respect and kindness and a sense of perspective, they’ll grow up to do the same.

Start a new cycle.

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Five Expressions of Empathy

November 18, 2013 at 6:57 am (Attachment Parenting, Positive Discipline)

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I use the word “empathy” a lot when I’m talking about parenting. Sometimes I forget it might not be entirely clear exactly what is meant by using empathy when communicating with children. When you hear or read that children need empathy and that parents can help resolve conflicts and bridge connections with empathy, what do you think? Do you know right away what to do or how to respond?

As Brene Brown so succinctly says, “Empathy is the antidote to shame.” It is what’s needed when a child feels bad, struggles emotionally, or has made a mistake. What children don’t need in those moments is additional shame tacked on to their mistakes and unpleasant feelings to make them feel worse or unlovable. What children do need is empathy to see them through those moments. Empathy to reinforce your relationship. Empathy to help regulate brain chemistry; to assure a child, “The way you feel is normal. You’re normal.” Empathy to provide validation. “You have a right to feel that way.” Empathy to help a child get on the road to self-acceptance and self-love. “You may have made a mistake, but you are not a mistake.”

Here are five things you can do that will help you respond to a hurting child with empathy:

1. Take your child’s perspective. See the world through his eyes. His problems might seem trivial to you, but try to see them as he does. Broken crayons, lost toys, stuck zippers, or nightly clean-up time mean more to your child in his world than they do to you in yours.

2. Refrain from judgment. Yes, you may disagree with your child. You may think she was “wrong” for what she did, said, or felt during the conflict she had at school that day, but put that aside for now. Your child doesn’t need your judgment, she needs to be able to impart her own judgment. Help her do that by focusing on her feelings regarding what happened.

3. Communicate your understanding of your child’s feelings. This can be a glance, a nod, a knowing look. It’s kindness in the eyes and an “I get it” arm-wrap. It can be words, sure, but above all it’s a message. It’s a message that you understand because you’ve also had similar moments and similar feelings. Let him know you are here as his equal in this moment.

4. Stop before you say BUT. “Yes, you got into an argument with your friend. That happens. He got angry; your feelings were hurt. You’re very upset. BUT, you still should not have hit him…BUT that’s no reason to quit the game…BUT you need to learn how to control your temper.” It’s that last part that needs leaving off–that’s not part of empathy. Empathy is just sitting with the feelings for a bit. That might be really hard! It might feel unfinished. It might feel awkward to stop at, “You were really embarrassed.” and not add on some kind of resolution or suggestion. Don’t go there though…not yet.

5. Instead, try AND. After a period of empathic listening and probably plenty of tears, you can move on.
“…and your friend got hurt.”
“…and now what should we do?”
“…and what if this happens again?”
“…and is there something that will help you in the future?”
“…and is there a way to fix this mistake?”
“…and is there a way I can help you?”
Only after you have helped your child process her feelings through validation and understanding will she be able to move on to problem solving and the “what-to-do-now”s.

When we raise our children with regular expressions of empathy, they will learn through experience just what empathy looks like, sounds like, and feels like, and they will, in turn be able to give it to others.

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