Tell Me More

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I had an awesome session today and I wanted to share a little bit about what we talked about. I think it’s something that can apply to a lot of families.

 

My clients have been struggling with their child not wanting to go to school—saying, “I don’t want to go to school, I’m not going to school,” and really fighting to get out the door. Then once they get out the door, they get in the car and then it’s a fight to get out of the car. Then when they get out of the car, it’s a fight to get to the door of the school, and it continues. So we’ve been talking about how to use some communication practices that may be helpful in toning down some of the escalation that’s been happening when their child is fighting about going to school.

 

A Suggestion

One of the things I suggested is that next time their child does have this temper tantrum or is acting out, to just say, “Tell me more.” But before the parent even says that, the first thing that has to happen, is that we need to check in with ourselves.  We need to calm ourselves, we need to remind ourselves that our child is trying to tell us something and that our we can handle this. And so, we say, “tell me more” from a place of calm and a place of wanting to connect.

 

If we’re frustrated and angry about the situation and maybe about other things in our lives, and we say, “Yeah, tell me more,” with the tone of frustration, it’s not going to work well. So we first need to calm ourselves—maybe that’s through a deep breath. Or maybe it’s through some other way.

 

When we say the words “Tell me more,” what we’re doing is opening up dialog. What we’re doing is letting our child know that they are seen and that they are heard. That they are valued and that their words, their thoughts and their feelings are important.

 

What We’re Not Doing

What we’re not doing when we say, “Tell me more,” is we’re not judging. We’re not saying, “It’s January, you should be excited about school. You’re always so negative about everything.” We’re not fixing the problem. We’re not saying “OK, what if we go out for ice cream after school?” We’re not coming up with a solution. We’re not shaming them by saying, “You’re such a baby, grow up. You should be able to do this by now.” We’re not doing any of those things.

 

An Important Voice

Again, what we’re saying is “Your voice matters. You are seen and you are heard.” And in today’s session, my clients said they had tried this. and when one of the parents said, “Tell me more,” this is what their four-year-old child said: “So I’m worried about my brother taking all my toys, and I’m wondering if there’s a place for me in this family, and do you think there’s going to be enough toys if he plays with it, but he really doesn’t like my toys.” The child just went on and on, talking about what she felt was bothering her.

 

Getting the Story

The back story is that there a new sibling in the family. All the parents said during the car ride to school was, “Tell me more” that’s all they said, without saying anything else. And at the end of the conversation, as they arrived at school, the child put their head in their hand, and let out a deep sigh, and said, “My brain is feeling better. My little brother can stay now.”

 

Seen and Heard

What that tells me is maybe, just maybe, that child just needed to let that all out—just needed to be seen and heard. And for someone to understand why it’s so difficult to go to school.  It’s as if the child said, “It’s so difficult to go to school because I don’t get the time to spend with my parents and my little brother does.”

 

Maybe that’s the answer. We don’t really know. What we do know, is that sometimes we can look at behavior like it’s an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg is what we see—that’s their behavior. That’s the temper tantrum, the slamming of doors, the eye rolling, the huffing and puffing. And in this case, the child not wanting to go to school. Underneath that, is the need. So the need for this child right now, based on the conversations I’m having with the parents, is to understand: “Am I loved?”

 

The child is essentially asking: “Am I loved? Do all these things that are changing and happening with my new brother still mean there’s enough love for me? When I go to school, I don’t feel like I’m loved. Because I miss my parents, I don’t get to see them, but I know my little brother gets to stay home and play with my parents”

 

I think this is a really great snapshot of how communication can be such a great tool. And this is great for kids—this child happens to be around 4 years old. This is a great tool even for children who are teens and tweens.

 

Opening up the Conversation

We want our kids to come talk to us, right? We want our teenager, when they’re considering doing drugs, staying out late, making friends, whatever it is, we want them to talk to us. And we know we’re going to be shut out of a lot of conversations. But if we start now at an earlier age, to start just saying, “Tell me more,” then maybe later we can have more of a discussion.

 

But right now, “Tell me more.”

 

“You want a tattoo? Tell me more about that! Tell me why you want a tattoo. Where are you thinking of getting the money for that? What do you think having a tattoo will do for you? How do you think that will change who you are?”

 

It’s coming from a place of curiosity. It’s questioning, and it allows the child to feel seen and heard. And for a lot of children, that really matters.

 

Try it out and let me know how it works for you.  But remember, first you have to come from a place of calm and true curiosity. 

 

So I hope this little snapshot of an inside peek at one of my coaching sessions helps, and can guide you. And if you would like to talk more about this or any other parenting challenge, feel free to reach out to me.

 

Connection + Discipline = A Winning Combination

 

I recently received a question on my Instagram: How do you substitute connection for discipline when your child continues to make bad choices?

 

Connecting

The first thing I want to point out is that we’re not trying to substitute connection for discipline. They should happen together. Connection should happen when you are disciplining. We don’t throw connection out the window when we’re disciplining. In fact, connection is the most important thing to ensure that your child feels heard and seen, especially during a time that’s difficult—like disciplining.

 

Disconnecting

So let’s talk about how we create disconnection. Disconnection comes from yelling, shaming, blaming, placing guilt on our children. Shunning them. Sometimes we put them in a time out or just say, “Leave me alone,” or we yell at them. All of that shuts our children down. It makes them feel like they aren’t loved. Even if we say “I love you, but”—that doesn’t work. We don’t want to create that disconnection.

 

Disciplining

It’s easier said than done, I know. Throw out the yelling, throw out the shame, throw out the guilt. Throw out all of that.

 

The question asked, how do you substitute connection for discipline? If you remember what the word discipline means, it means to teach. And that’s what this opportunity is. It is an opportunity to connect with our children, and to teach them. So, ask yourself, what and how can I teach in this moment? 

 

Taking a Level-headed Approach

A lot of time, with my little ones, I’ll get on my knees, and make sure I’m at their level, so we have eye contact. I make sure that I check in with myself and that I’m at a place where I can offer connection. If I am angry at them and feeling frustrated, and breathing heavily, and just so irate, that’s not a good time for me to create connection and it’s not a good time for me to discipline my child. So before even going to the place of disciplining, first take care of yourself.  First, calm yourself down.  Splash some water on your face, stick your head in the freezer, have a sip of coffee.  Remember that the goal is to teach and you’re the best teacher when you are coming from a place of calm and love. 

 

That discipline, that consequence, may have to wait until a later time, when I’m feeling a little bit better, where I can create that love, and that connection. Because a lot of times, we’re disciplining our children because they did something “wrong.” They made a “bad” choice, right?

 

So we need to figure out:

What was that about?

Why did they do that?

Is there an unmet need that they have?

Are they not feeling loved?

Are they feeling confused?

Are they feeling hungry or tired?

Is there a lagging skill?

 

Sometimes it’s just that—that they’re making those bad choices. Or maybe it’s a skill that they don’t have. Maybe they need to be taught how, and maybe they don’t have that flexible thinking that allows them to think about other things, like, “No you don’t get it your way, we’re not going to go to the store that you want to go to today.” We need to create opportunities to teach our kids the skills they need to handle upsets. Discipline is an opportunity to really create connection, even when our children continue to make, as this post said, “bad” choices.

 

Prioritizing

Our job as parents is, first and foremost: take care of ourselves. Make sure we are in a place where we have calmed ourselves enough to allow for connection, to allow for discipline.

 

Then I want to look at, what is the unmet need? What—even in their rage, even in their bad choice—could be the reason behind why they made that choice? Is there a skill that’s lacking? If there is, how can I teach them that skill?

 

In conclusion, Connection + Discipline = A Winning Combination.   You can still create boundaries and set up expectations.  You can still discipline.  Tone matters.  Intention matters. 

You can do all this with connection.  Connection matters. 

 

Reaching Out

If you want to talk any of these things out, or understand how this all works, I’m happy to offer you a 30-minute consultation call. You can book it on my website. Or you can reach out to me, call me, message me. Please know that I’m here for you. I want to make this an easier journey for you.

 

Weathering the Storm of Anxiety

Storm/Anxiety

I’d like to share a little story about how stress—our own stress that we feel as parents—can show up in the way we parent our children.

 

Storm’s Coming

About two weeks ago, we were expecting a small snowstorm. We were supposed to be getting around one to two inches. My husband happened to be traveling that night, so he wasn’t going to be home. I thought, eh, one to two inches, no big deal.

 

Later on in the day, it really was coming down. I thought, “What’s going on?” I hadn’t been on Facebook and I hadn’t turned on the news, so I didn’t know what was going on. And it was seriously coming down, so I opened up Facebook to see what’s going on with the weather, and I read, We’re going to be getting 5 inches, 6 inches, 7 inches.

 

Concern Sets In

It wasn’t a conscious thing that happened, but all of a sudden, my chest started feeling really compressed. I was having difficulty breathing.

 

Part of it was awareness. I was feeling some sense of a panic attack or anxiety from this snowstorm that was coming and knowing that my husband was not going to be there. I don’t like being alone with the kids when there’s a major snowstorm. I just get worked up about how I’m going to handle shoveling and taking care of the kids and “what if this”, and “what if that”—that catastrophic thinking that happens with anxiety sometimes.

 

Response to Stress

So, I felt my chest squeezing in and I thought, alright, I have to take some deep breaths. I have to change my mindset, so I started working on that. But the change doesn’t happen quickly. It took some time, and meanwhile, as I was having these thoughts and these feelings, my kids were going about their afternoon, and I noticed that I started snapping at them.

 

I wasn’t being horribly mean or anything really terrible, but I was snapping, I was really short: Just do this, Do that, you know, not my typical warm, compassionate parenting style of calm and connection.  My verbal tone with my children was similar to how I was feeling on the inside: this compression and tightness.

 

Time to Breathe

It took me a good half hour or 40 minutes, to be able to get my breathing back in order and be able to focus on more positive thoughts, focus on the strengths that I have, focus on the supports that I have to get me through the snowstorm.

 

After taking a pause to work on my mindset, I was able to feel much better, which also resulted in me being able to parent from a place of compassion, and not based on the fear and anxiety that I was feeling. (But I’m lucky, because I’ve done all this work on conscious parenting. So for me, that timeframe probably was about an hour.)

 

Here’s a recap of what happened:

I found out we were having a lot of snow, then I started having these anxious feelings that were noticed in my chest and in my breathing.  I started to have the “what if” thoughts swirling through my head.  I started snapping at my kids. Finally, I started working on relaxation techniques.

 

All of that, from start to finish, was about an hour. I was conscious of the process and I had the skills that I have used from Conscious Parenting to help me move through it.

 

Anti-Anxiety Checklist

 

1.     I was aware of the physical sensations/feelings that were happening to me, which is one of the first clues when dealing with anxiety.

 

2.     I acknowledged the thoughts that were happening in my head—all the “what ifs” that were going on.

 

3.     I noticed my behavior change- I was snapping at my children.

 

4.     I took notice of my feelings. If you can, take notice of your feelings that are happening on the inside, notice the thoughts in your head, and then notice your behavior—how you’re behaving toward people, whether it’s your spouse or your coworker or your children.

 

With anxiety, these are three elements that you want to call out. You want to recognize them. You don’t want to suppress them and say this isn’t happening, because it is happening. Call them out! I recognize that my chest is tightening. I recognize that my thoughts are saying, “I’m afraid of having this big snowstorm without my husband here.” I recognize that I’m not treating my children nicely, and I’m being short with them.

 

As soon as you recognize it you can free it, it open it up, and start moving through those feelings, thoughts and behaviors, moving through them to a different place.

 

A Moment of Gratitude

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WHAT WE NEED

I want to share with you something that happened last night in my own family that I thought might be helpful to you.

 

The past several weeks have been somewhat stressful for me and my extended family.

 

I recently went down to Washington, D.C., to visit some family with my two kids. We spent some time and that was great. Yesterday I drove back, and it was about a five-hour drive. We got home around 7:30pm. I was exhausted from driving, hadn’t slept well the night before, and was just really tired. So I said to my kids, “Hey I need your cooperation. I need you to brush your teeth, get into bed and please cooperate with what I ask of you.” And they did.

 

MAY I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION, PLEASE?

Over the past week or so, my youngest child, the five-year-old, had been whining, and talking like a baby, reverting to baby talk. And my cousin who I went to go see asked me about that. I explained that sometimes, reverting to baby talk and reverting to baby behavior is an indication that they have a need. When they were babies, we were attentive to them when they cried and cooed. We always responded to them, and now that my kid is 5, she does a lot so independently! She brushes her teeth, gets dressed, and takes baths, all on her own. Talking like a baby is her way of saying, “I need your attention” and the only way I think I can get it is by behaving like a baby.

 

The past few weeks, I’ve been distracted and focused on all that has been going on with our family, and not paying as much attention to my children.

 

OVERNIGHT GUEST

Still, they went to bed, and my older one who is almost 7, came out of her room crying, saying, “I need you; I need you; I’m scared.” I had very little patience that night. I took my deep breath, and I tried to hang in there and I said, “OK, sweetie, I need you to go to bed. I need to clean up a few more things, and I’ll be up. Please just go to bed.” And she insisted, “No, can you please just come to bed with me? I need you.”

 

I cleaned up as quickly as I could and I went back to her room, and thought, I’m not going to lay down with her. I got really stubborn. I thought, I’m not laying down, I’m just going to sit here.

 

She laid back in her bed. I got on my phone, and I was texting or looking at Facebook, or doing whatever I do, and she leaned over and said, “Do you want to come here, and lay down next to me?” And at that moment I listened. And I put down my phone and laid right next to her. And it felt so good to take that deep breath that I really needed, and I laid down with her and then she said quietly, “Can you please sleep with me tonight?”

 

All I really wanted was to sleep in my own bed. We had been traveling, sleeping in another bed for five days.  My husband wasn’t home; he was traveling. So I said, “Why don’t you come sleep in my room?” and she did.

 

A MOMENT OF GRATITUDE

She fell asleep quickly. I didn’t—it took me a while. She reached out her hand to me and we held hands. When we were holding hands I reviewed all the things I was stressed about over the past few weeks, what I was feeling, what was going on, what my thoughts were, what my feelings were, and I cried. I didn’t wake her, thankfully, and we just held hands. And I loved that moment of stillness and quietness and calmness with her.

 

At that moment I didn’t know who was holding whose hand.  Was I holding her hand or was she holding my hand?

 

That’s what I needed at that moment. Somehow, I wasn’t listening to myself, to say, “Maria, settle down, calm down, take a deep breath, take care of yourself.” But my child must have known what I needed, because she asked me, begged me, “Please come with me, I’m scared.” She said all these things that had nothing to do with her, but somehow, she knew, the universe knew, that I needed that moment.

 

I needed that time. And I was grateful for it. I’m grateful she reached out her hand and held me through that time.

SUMMER TRANSITION: TIME FOR A FAMILY MEETING!

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I was on the phone recently with a client who had some concerns about what to do now that summer’s here—how to make sure her kids are not on Xbox all day long and that they get outside and get some exercise. We talked about having a family meeting.

 

Meeting Time

When kids are older, at least over the age of 6, I suggest a family meeting. It gets everybody onto the same page, and it creates a platform where everyone’s voices can be heard. Their opinions matter. As we were talking about the things that were of concern to her, we covered social media, Xbox and video games, as well as the importance of reading over the summer and the importance of picking up some additional chores now that they’re not in school. I thought those were good topics, and subjects many parents have actually talked to me about. What I suggested was for her to spend some time with her husband, thinking about what her expectations are for the summer.

 

Setting Expectations

Think about what you would like, as a parent. What would you like to see? Maybe you’ll agree to have your kids play one hour of video games in the morning and then one in the evening, and the rest of the time is spent outdoors.

 

Maybe you would like your kids to read for 30 minutes every day over the summer. And maybe you would like them to help with the garbage, do the dishes, and sweep the garage. Whatever it is, come up with your expectations. Think about whether they can do it. Is it a skill they have? If not, do you still want them to do it? If so, you’ll have to spend some time teaching them.

 

Also, what do you think their rebuttal will be? Prepare for this family meeting by thinking about what they’re going to say if they don’t want to do any of that? Strategizing ahead of time about what you think their expectations will be, is really important. And in preparation, I would also make sure you’re on the same page with your partner, that your expectations are clear.

 

Getting the Meeting Going

Start with something like, “So, it’s summer, and things are going to be different now because we don’t have to rush and get out of the house and go to school, so I’d love to hear from you. What are some fun things you would like to do this summer?”  Start with the fun and easy stuff!  In the meeting, you can say, “We’ve got the whole summer! Have you guys given any thought to what you want to do every day? Do we want to go to the pool every morning for three hours? Do we want to take a road trip once a week? Do we want to make sure we spend time with some friends who we don’t go to school with?”

 

This puts it on their plate. It allows your children to come up with the ideas first. Then you can ask, “What do you think would be some chores that you would be excited to do over the summer?” Basically, you’re setting the boundary in the sense of, “I expect that you’re going to help with chores, but you get to choose the chores. Let’s talk about that.”

 

Discussion Time

If my kid says, “Oh, I want to take out the garbage,” that sounds a lot better than me saying, “Hey you, you’ve got to take out the garbage.” If we put it onto them first, they’re much more likely to be motivated to get the job done.

 

Ask them, “What chore would you like to do this summer? There’s a bunch of things that need to be done.” Or, “What project…” Maybe there’s a project—you need to rearrange the garage and need some help with that. “How many hours do you think you could give me over the summer to help with that?” Again, allowing your child to voice their wishes and expectations first is really important. Have them decide what they want to do. If they come up with a plan for how they want to spend their days, there’s less of a chance for that to derail, and they end up on the couch playing video games or playing on their smart phones the whole day. Get them involved and have them come up with a plan.

 

Add Reading to the Discussion

Reading is so important and it can really be fun for a lot of kids. Again, put the ball in their court. “How much time do you think is reasonable for you to spend every day during the summer reading?” without telling them. They may, on their own, say 30 minutes, and you’ll say, “That sounds about right!”  Meanwhile, this might be what you were thinking all along. Have them come up with it. And if they come up with an answer that is not reasonable, this is an opportunity for a discussion, for collaboration, for their voices to be heard, and for them to be seen and understood. It is so important for kids to know that their opinion matters. As they’re growing and becoming individuals, this is a really crucial part of the game plan.

 

Everyone Has a Voice

Overall, it’s key to have a family meeting where we set the expectations of what summer looks like. Summer is very different from the school year, so set that expectation ahead of time and make sure everyone is on the same page, and everyone gets to participate, and everyone’s voices are heard.

 

Questions to keep in mind during your family meeting:

·      What do they want to do with their time?

·      What chores they want to do?

·      How much summer reading do they think is reasonable?

 

These conversations can be fun—they don’t need to be stressful. Keep them light and energetic, and reach out to me if you have any questions on how to move forward with that!

 

If the video gameplay becomes an issue, reach out to me. There are a ton of parental controls for video game usage that we can talk about or I can recommend.

 

If you have any other ideas of summer tidbits to help with this transition into summer, I’d love to see you post them in our comments or send them my way!

 

PARENT WITH CONFIDENCE USING THREE CONCEPTS: Rising, Be Rooted, and Stay Malleable

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I heard about three concepts in a recent yoga class: rising, rooted, and malleability. Here’s a quote from my yoga instructor: “As you move through, move with awareness from your center. That’s where the wisdom comes from. That’s where you get grounded from.”

 

I’m going to change that a little bit: “As you parent, parent with awareness that’s from your center. That’s where the wisdom comes from. That’s where you get grounded from.”

 

The reason I mention this, and it struck me is that so many times I’m talking to parents, and the issue of parenting confidence comes up. We all know that parenting is not an easy task. We’re dealing with 8-year-olds, 2-year-olds, 10-year-olds, 16-year-olds, whatever age they are, it challenges us and it sets us off balance. This yoga class was about rising from within. Not rising from the bottom, where you think is where you would get grounded from, but my instructor kept talking about looking within, to your center, because that’s where the wisdom is.

 

Trust Your Instinct

You know a lot more than you think! And every time you doubt and question your decision-making process, you waver, all that wavering gives opportunities for holes, and those holes are where our kids go through to get to us, to find ways around our boundary setting, and all of that.  You need to be a flagpole, not the flag.  The flagpole stands strong in it's stance, knowing its job.

 

Rise

So it’s really important that we look within and we rise from that center point. We rise from thw place that is our core. A place that we trust. And the way we do that is listening to our own intuition, connecting with a parent coach or a support group, or whatever it is that helps you grow. A lot of times we listen to Facebook, other social media, in-laws, parents, whoever is giving us information that just doesn’t sit with us. That doesn’t allow us to grow. So it’s really important, again, that we look within.

 

Be Rooted

Rooted means staying firm in that groundedness. So, as we make decisions, it is really important that we’re steadfast in those decisions. And trust your parenting confidence. Trust who you are. Trust the decisions you make. Trust your values.  I don’t know if I’ve given this example before but we went to a party once, and there were some older children there who were about 8 years old. My older child is 6 ½. My older daughter came to me and said, “Mom, can we do a YouTube video?” That’s not something I’m comfortable with. I said, “You’re welcome to watch them do the video, you’re welcome to hold the camera, but I don’t want you being videotaped." And later we talked about why.

 

When I made that decision, I parented with confidence. I felt good about what I said, and I didn’t let any other doubt or fears infiltrate. If you take that same situation and look at it from a position of fear, this is what it looks like:

 

We’re at a party and my daughter comes up to me and says, “Mom, could I do a YouTube video with my friends?”

 

I say, “Hmmm, I don’t know.” And the thoughts coming into my head are, “What are the other parents going to say? They’re going to look at me like I’m crazy or I’m strict. What are the kids going to say? What if my daughter has a temper tantrum?”

 

Those are all thoughts that are legit, and they come from fear. So instead of allowing that, I was very clear on what my boundaries were. I was rooted. I knew where I stood. And that wisdom came from within. I trusted myself. It’s something I had thought about before, so I was somewhat prepared, and I knew, this is how I’m going to parent with this topic.

 

Remain On-Guard

Sometimes parents are caught off-guard. I was talking to a mom who said she had been out to dinner when she received a text from her son. His friend had just gotten his driver's license.

 

Her son said, “Hey mom, can I go for a ride in Jessie’s car?” And the mom was caught off-guard. She didn’t know what to say, so she was like, “Uhh, uhhh, yeah.”

 

And guess what? The rest of her dinner was spent with her feeling stressed. She didn’t enjoy it. Why? Because she was afraid. And she was annoyed! “I just said yes and I didn’t want to say yes, but I was caught off-guard, and I just wanted to get back to my dinner.”

 

She wasn’t rooted. She didn’t have that parenting confidence. In that moment, you could say, “Hey son, I’m really sorry, I’m out to dinner. We’re going to have to table this. For tonight, the answer is no. But when I get home, or tomorrow, let’s talk about it. I think it would be a really great thing for us to discuss, but for now, the answer is no.” We need to feel confident about the decisions we make.

 

Stay Malleable

Malleability is something I talk about a lot. I talk about drawing a line in the sand, which is malleable—it’s moveable. And drawing a line in stone. There are very few things that are hard fast rules. Health and safety: No, you can’t ride your bike without your helmet on. That’s a safety issue. You can’t walk to the corner store by yourself when you’re only five. That’s a safety rule. There are other things like, “I don’t want to eat my peas.” OK, absolutely. There’s something we could work with here.

 

“I don’t want to do my reading homework first. I’d rather do my math homework first.” That malleability comes in being able to know that yes, we’ve set some boundaries, but we can have a conversation about this.  

 

We can see what’s going to work for both of us. That might be a great opportunity to say, “Hey, kiddo, I know you want to play outside before you do your homework.”

 

For me, homework is really important, so how can we both get our needs met? I want you to get your homework done and you want to play outside. We look at how we can make this happen.

 

Just being able to let go of our rigidity, and control makes a difference. I know I tend to be a very controlling person. I like things a certain way. I’m very structured, I’m very organized, I like to be on time, everything has a place, and in my opinion, it all works really well, when things go the way I plan. But that doesn’t always work for everyone. Being able to have that flexibility, that malleability, is huge.

 

It takes practice, too: practice allowing that flexibility. Because we are two individuals, right? Whoever we’re dealing with: Me and my child. Me and my husband. We have different needs, those needs change, different emotional internal landscapes that we’re experiencing. It’s really important to make sure we are grounded, as important as it is to make sure we’re growing.  We also not to be aware that we can be flexible, when the time calls for it.

 

I want you to take this with you as you parent. Rising. Rooted. Malleability: “As you parent, parent with awareness from your center. That’s where the wisdom comes from. That’s where you get grounded from.”

What My Yoga Instructor Taught Me About Parenting

Photo by KarinaUvarova/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by KarinaUvarova/iStock / Getty Images

 

What I want to talk about today is yoga. And parenting, of course. I took a yoga class the day before a recent snowstorm. I knew I needed to ground myself, connect, and I knew it would feel really good to spend some time working on me for an hour before I had to walk into a day of a snowstorm with the girls. So, I did yoga. And my instructor is amazing. She talked about the breath, and how important the breath is, and slowing us down and finding ways to connect and reconnect, and create space, which is so much of what I talk about.  

 

The other thing she mentioned was a situation that she had. She had gone out in the city the night before and left her car at the train station. The next morning, she didn’t realize she had left her car there. She got up in a hurry to take the kids to school and she realized when she opened the garage, “Oh my goodness, the car isn’t here.” It took her a minute to figure out, OK, where is my car? Am I going to freak out? Am I freaking out a lot? Am I freaking out a little bit? And what are my next steps?

 

Reconnecting Through Breath

She quickly realized, OK, I left my car at the train, I forgot it, and she called an Uber, and was able to send her kids off to school. In that discussion, she talked about how yoga and breathing played such a role in her reaction to the situation.  I also talk about how breathing plays such an important role in parenting. She said that if she had not been such a regular practitioner of yoga, and focusing on the breath, that she would have freaked out much more in regards to her car “missing” from her garage. Instead, she freaked out a little bit. She jokingly said, “Oh, I only used three curse words instead of five,” and “I really would have freaked out had I not been able to reconnect with the breath and slow down and realize what happened.”

 

That’s true for parenting, too. It’s so important to reconnect with the breath. Because we will get frustrated. We will get triggered by our children and by situations that we’re in with our children. But maybe we won’t freak out as much with our children if we are able to develop a routine practice of taking a pause and some breaths upon entering situations.

 

How Tight Is Too Tight?

She also talked about our yoga strap. We were doing an exercise where we had to hold the strap behind our head, and she said, “Make sure you’re holding the strap loosely. I see you guys are holding it tightly. Hold it loosely. Make sure you’re holding it, but don’t make a strong grip around it.”

 

And then she said, “I can tell by the way you’re holding your strap—how tightly you’re holding that strap—how much you would freak out if the car situation happened to you. Let go a little bit.”

 

So, it was in what she was saying, that I started, again, thinking about parenting, and I was thinking, the strap is kind of like our children, right? We want to hold so tightly. We want to control it. We think if we hold it tightly, we’re doing the right thing. But what we really need to do is just let go a little bit. The more we try to control and hold on tightly, the more we will be upset, the more we will freak out, when things don’t go our way. If we can create a gentle hold with our children, hold lightly, be there for support, but not to entangle them, we allow for freedom of expression. We allow for freedom of emotion. We allow for freedom of changes and mishaps and mistakes and all of that. But if we try to hold on too tightly, we are taking too much control into trying to manipulate the situation and manipulate our children, instead of holding loosely and trusting, the strap will be there. We’re still holding on. We just have to let go a little.

 

I just wanted to share that with you, and maybe think about how tightly you are holding onto that strap, or how tightly you are holding onto your children.

Listen Up! They're talking! An example of how children use behavior as a form of communication.

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The other night, we came home from school and my daughter had homework to do. It was a math assignment having to do with subtraction, and she had a really difficult time. Such a difficult time, in fact, that she was frustrated, she was angry at me, she was banging on the counter, and she walked away. And I said to her, “It’s ok that you are feeling frustrated. We’ll try again later.” (And I figured I’d let her teacher know that she was having a tough time.)

 

The Message

 

Then I made dinner, and called the girls down for dinner, and my daughter who had the homework, said, “I want to sit by myself.”

 

I said, “OK,” and I set up her plate at the counter near us. I gave her the space it seemed she needed.

 

My younger one said, “Hey, what’s the matter with her? Is she mad at me?”

 

I said, “No, I think she’s actually mad at me.” I knew what the real story was—she was mad about homework, but I didn’t want to escalate the fight. I figured, let me give us both some space.

 

As the younger one and I had dinner, the older one pouted for a bit. After a few minutes, the older one said, “Actually, I’m not mad at you. I’m just frustrated with myself, because I don’t know how to do my homework.”

 

Wow! That was amazing!

 

Children behave in certain ways, they tantrum in certain ways because they don’t know how to communicate effectively with words. So earlier, she was so flooded with frustration when she was trying to do her homework that she couldn’t say, “I am so angry, I don’t want to do this homework,” or whatever it was. And it wasn’t until later that she was able to—in an amazing way for a 6 1/2-year-old child—say, “I’m actually not mad at you. I’m frustrated at myself, because I can’t do my homework.”

 

The Importance of Space

 

And that makes sense, right? I understood her at that point. But it was only because I allowed her space that she was able to express herself on her own. It could have escalated in so many different ways.  She needed time and space.

 

We, as parents, have our own agenda of how we want things to go. I make dinner and I expect my kids to sit at the table and eat dinner, as a family, together. That’s my agenda. There’s really no reason why we can’t stray from that every now and again. This does not to be a boundary that I hold in stone and say, “There is no budging from this.” Thank goodness I was able to say, “OK, this is a boundary I’m flexible with. I’ll let you sit where you want to sit.” What I was doing in that moment was letting go of my agenda. I was letting go of my need to control the situation, and allowing her needs, at that moment, to take over—which is fine! I can’t always give in or be flexible with boundaries. But in this moment, I was able to. I was able to let go of my agenda and just focus on her needs. And at that moment, her need was to sit separately from me and her sister. That was one thing that worked really well, as far as making sure this didn’t escalate into something else.

 

Taking the Time to Breathe

 

The other thing is, of course, the breath. I talk about the breath all the time. I can’t tell you how many times I breathed that night—because I was trying to get dinner on the table. And I think all of us know what that’s like. We get home from afterschool activities, and we’re rushed, rushed, rushed. Trying to get homework done, trying to get dinner on the table, trying to get them bathed and ready for bed, and all the nonsense that comes along. Of course, I was feeling stressed. But my breath really reminded me to take a minute. My breath slowed me down.  My breath slowed down my heart rate.  My breath released the tension in my muscles. 

 

My breath created space, which then created opportunity, for me to think,

 

“What else can I do in this situation?”

 

Reactions Matter

 

The other thing is, I didn’t react to the situation with fear. With fear that, “Oh my goodness, she’s speaking terribly to me—what is she going to grow up to be like if I don’t correct her now?” I didn’t react with fear by saying, “Oh my goodness she’s not going to eat her dinner. She’s going to go to bed hungry!” A lot of us react with fear. Instead, I responded with compassion, and that’s what she needed. I couldn’t push too hard, but she needed to know, “I’m here for you; I’m here.”

 

After she said, “I’m actually not mad at you; I’m frustrated with myself,” all I said to her was, “I understand.” That’s all I said. And then she said, “You know what, I want to come back and sit with you guys.” I didn’t push that. I didn’t tell her what to do.  On her own, she wanted to reconnect.

 

Freedom of Expression

 

I would have been fine if we had continued the rest of the dinner with her sitting at one counter, and me and her sister at another. But I gave her that room to express herself, in whichever way she needed to work through that process, and because of some skill building that I’ve used over the years, she was able to verbalize what her needs were.

 

Reacting With Compassion

 

Giving them the opportunity, giving her the opportunity was important, and like I said, responding with compassion, instead of reacting with fear, is huge. A lot of times our reactions are knee-jerk reactions, because it comes from a place of fear, and we have to do that like fight-or-flight response. We have to get out of there or fight back, and attack our kids, which is not really the best approach if we want to create an environment of honest communication. I’m glad I was able to respond with compassion in that moment. I’ll tell you what, I don’t always do that. Sometimes I do react in a way that isn’t helpful. But I was really proud of that moment, both on my part, but also on her part.

 

These skills that we give our children now, they might not work every day, but with enough practice and modeling, role modeling, and examples that I give to my children that shows what expressing your feelings should look like—and can look like—in a healthy and safe way, those things work. It just takes some patience on our part to trust that our children will do the right thing. That’s just one example I wanted to share with you, that my agenda did not take over. It was really me focusing on her needs.

 

The Approach

 

The breath that I took made that space, which created the opportunity for me to look at the situation from a different perspective, recognizing that this behavior was her form of communication. The way she tantrumed and mouthed off to us was her way, at the time, of communicating what her needs were.

 

She had a need, and her need was,

 

I need someone to help me feel like I’m not so stupid because I can’t get my homework done.

 

 And the final thing is responding with compassion, instead of reacting with fear.

 

I hope those things are helpful. I hope this example was helpful. I would love to hear from you. If there has been a time that you saw a behavior, and you knew that that behavior was really your child’s way of expressing themselves, and whether you handled it the way you wished you would have handled it, or maybe handled it the way you didn’t really want to handle it, please post it! Send me a message—I love hearing from you, and I love being able to share some of what you share with me with others. It’s helpful to know that we’re not alone in this parenting thing.

 

The Art of Parenting

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First, I’m going to talk about our children and then I will talk about us. Because there’s really two parts to this equation—it takes two to tango, right? Behavior is a form of communication. Our children behave in certain ways to communicate. And sometimes, because they’re really young or because they’re frustrated, they can’t get the right words out. Either it’s a lack of skill—they don’t know how to communicate the right way—or it’s just because they can’t, because their brain is flooded with all the frustration or the madness, or whatever’s happening. They’re trying to communicate a need.

 

It’s our job as parents to figure out exactly what that need is. We have to dig deep, and try to look under the behavior, the tantrum, to what the “no” saying is all about and figure out what that all is. As parents, Dr. Siegel said that we can foster secure attachment if we remember the following 4 “S”s.  Our children need to be: Seen, Safe, Soothed and Secure. Those are four things that our children need. They’re looking for a way to get attention, which means that they need connection.

 

What Do Our Kids Need?

What we need to figure out is, what is it that our kids need? Do they need something physical or social.   Do they have a need for food, water or sleep?  Do they have a need to be hugged or squeezed (physical input)? It could also be something where they just need that connection. They’re looking for attention, and they need connection. Is it that they need five minutes with the parent? Or is it that they need attention from the person they’re fighting with? Maybe their sibling isn’t paying attention to them and that’s why they’re fighting.

 

Looking at what that need is, is really important. We have to be little detectives to figure out what is the behavior saying, because the child can’t say it.

 

Finding Teachable Moments

The other part is being able to teach our children. Discipline is a teaching opportunity. So instead of punishing our children, let’s try to teach them so they learn the right way. We can do this by role modeling.

 

We do this by showing our kids a different way to speak to get their needs met. We show our children, instead of grabbing a toy, we ask, “When you’re finished with that, can I play with that toy?” And we physically role model with our words. That way it’s a teaching opportunity and we’re not always resorting to punishment. This practice and role modeling will help alleviate some of the stress for the child when they are in a hyper- reactive state.

 

Talking About Feelings

Again, if the children are young, or if they are in a state of hyper-reactivity, they’re not able to come out with the vocabulary themselves. Being able to talk about the feelings and naming the feelings empowers the child. Dr. Dan Siegel suggested naming to tame the feeling “For all of us, as teenagers or adults, when intense emotions erupt in our minds, we need to learn to feel them and deal with them…Learning to deal with emotions means being aware of them and modifying them inside so we can think clearly.  Sometimes we can name it to tame it and help balance our brains emotional intensity by putting words to what we feel…There are even some brain studies that show how this naming process can activate the prefrontal cortex and calm the limbic amygdala!”.  Giving a name to the feeling often disempowers the feeling, and just brings some relief to the situation. It’s really important to practice naming the feelings that are happening.

 

“I see that you’re frustrated.”

“Are you feeling frustrated because your sister won’t share the toy?”

“Are you feeling frustrated or sad? Are you feeling sad because I won’t lay in bed with you?”

Offering this kind of role modeling for our children is really important.

 

So that’s really the crux of what I want us to pay attention to with the kids: It’s looking at behaviors, communication, teaching, role modeling, and talking about feelings. And again, we need to do this. And it takes practice.

 

Where We’re Coming From

I’m going to move into parenting, to us as the parents. I want all of us to really bring some self-empathy to the situation. I want us to forgive ourselves when we make these mistakes. We can be the parent we want to be, but we need to make some changes. I’m hoping some of these ideas will help you along that journey.

 

As far as the parent, that’s a big part, and a lot of times it’s difficult for parent to hear this, but we need to accept the situation for what it is. A lot of times we see our kids fighting and we want to stop it.  If everyone is safe, what we need to do is accept the situation: our kids are fighting and go forward without judgement. Without saying to your older child, “Oh, you’re always the one starting this fight with your little sister. Can’t you just share? You should know better.” Those are all phrases that we say with judgement, and that doesn’t really allow for honest communication.

 

Let’s accept the situation for what it is. It’s happening. We can’t change it. So, we have to accept it for what it is. And what we can do, what we do have control of, is looking at our internal landscape.

What is happening on the inside?

What’s happening in my head?

What are the words that I’m saying to myself, what are the phrases I’m saying?

What are the feelings within my body, physiologically? Is my heart rate increasing? Is my stomach tight? Am I trying to detach from my children and just ignore the situation and hope it goes away?

 

Really get in tune and be a witness to what is happening inside of you.

 

Responding with Compassion

Parents often respond with fear. Because we’re afraid that our children are going to continue fighting and that they’re going to fight forever, or they’re never going to sleep by themselves, or they’ll go to college still sucking their thumb, or whatever it is. This is a reaction based on fear, instead of responding with compassion, which is what our children really need. Our children need our compassion, so that they feel understood. So that they know, hey, my mom gets me. And we think, Even if I don’t agree with the situation, I understand you’re frustrated. You might have not handled it the right way, but I understand you’re really frustrated.

 

Reasons for Our Response Style

And the last thing, the most important thing, is to understand why you are being triggered. A lot of our parenting beliefs and what frustrates us comes from the way we were parented.

 

We need to understand what those triggers are. For example, I have two girls. I am one of two sisters, and I was really mean to my little sister when I was a kid. So now I tend to get really frustrated with my older child when she’s mean to her little sister because I remember being mean to my sister, and I don’t want my older daughter treating my younger daughter the way I treated my little sister. So that easily triggers me.

 

You need to look inside yourself and think about, where does that trigger come from? Once you understand the trigger, you really can start to sit with it a little bit longer, and accept that as is, and create some space. And that space creates opportunity for change.

 

I think I’ve spoken about this before: breath is so important. When our kids are fighting, when we’re frustrated because they want us to lay with them at bedtime, or they want us to help pack their bag to get out the door or whatever it is, when we take a deep breath, we create space, and that space gives us the opportunity for change. It gives us the opportunity to look at the situation, to look within ourselves. I hope all of this is really helpful in supporting you in some of these parenting challenges.

 

Thank you for all the comments I’ve received over the past few weeks. If any of you practice some of this, accepting the “as is,” and moving forward without judgement, and looking at your triggers, I would love to hear from you. I would love to hear how that transformed the situation. 

Conscious Parenting: A Real Life Example

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 I’m here today to talk to you about conscious parenting—not just about what it is, but a real example that happened in my own home two nights ago.

 

I think this example is important because conscious parenting is a difficult topic. I had to hear about it over and over again, read about it, and learn about it, before I could really embrace it, take it in, and understand how I could use it in my own life.

 

The Story

A couple of nights ago, I made hamburgers. I thought that would be great! The kids would love hamburgers. We sat down for dinner, and my oldest daughter got mad—for what I thought was no reason. But she got mad. The burger was a little thick, and it kept slipping off the bun. She got mad at the burger and she threw it, and then ran away, and said, “Nobody’s helping me! Nobody’s helping me!” She came back to the table, tried to put the burger on the bun again, threw it, got mad, left again.  She tried going down to the basement.  She repeated this a number of times.  

 

And that was an opportunity for me to practice my conscious parenting.

 

Tying in Conscious Parenting

The first thing I did was take a deep breath. Breath is important because it slows everything down. It lowers your blood pressure, it slows down your heart rate, and it creates space in your body.  That breath creates space and space creates opportunity. That opportunity gave me the chance to either respond to my daughter with compassion or have more of a knee-jerk reaction.

 

Boundaries

A lot of people are concerned with conscious parenting, discipline and boundaries. I did set boundaries. I said, “I will not allow you to speak to me that way, but I’m here for you. So when you’re ready, I’m here for you. Please let me know how I can help you.”

 

The importance here was that I was trying to create a connection with my child. If I had gotten angry with her, and let her storm off, and said, “Yeah, you’re being ridiculous, leave the table. Stay in the basement.” That would have just created a disconnection. I took a deep breath, and laid down the boundary—because she was speaking in a really nasty way. “I won’t allow you to speak to me that way. I am also here for you.”

 

Inner Landscapes

This gave me an opportunity to remind myself about what was happening with my inner landscape. Conscious parenting allows us to be aware of what we’re thinking and what we’re feeling. On that day, unfortunately I had woken up at 4:30 in the morning, because my husband had to hop on a flight at that hour, and I really couldn’t get back to sleep. And that night I had a workshop that I was doing, on conscious parenting. I knew that I was going to be on edge all day. Partly because I was tired, and partly because I was anxious about the workshop, and all the other things I had to get done so I could leave for this workshop. It required me to take that minute and remind myself, OK, I have all this going on. That’s my inner landscape right now. I’m feeling stressed and I’m feeling tired. I reminded myself, so that I didn’t project that onto my child.

 

That also gave me the opportunity to remind myself that she has her own inner landscape. I don’t know what happened at school today. She might have gotten left out on the playground. She might have gotten yelled at by the teacher. Any number of things could have happened, and [that] I’m not aware of what her inner landscape is. And because she’s only six, she doesn’t have the vocabulary or the wherewithal that we do as adults—not that we even do. There are times I say things that later I’m like, Whoops, I was really angry, I shouldn’t have said it that way. Our kids do the same thing. So it’s not that we’re allowing it, not that it’s OK, but we’re accepting it—accepting the situation for what it is. She’s upset; she’s angry. I don’t know what it is, but I want that connection to stay.

 

Next Steps

I worked with her to make sure she knew I was here, the boundary was set, and I was also honoring that she’s a human being, she had experiences today, and what those experiences might have been to lead her to have this moment at the dinner table.

 

The exchange happened a few times where she got angry, left the table, and came back. I laid the boundary and offered the support. She got angry again. Left again. Finally, I just stayed quiet. I had already said what I needed to say. And I let her rant. And that’s a difficult thing to do, to hear your child just going and going and complaining. But she had this pent up energy that needed to be released and unfortunately, I was the target.

 

The point was I didn’t need to say anything anymore. Silence is golden. You’ve heard that. It kept me in a place where I don’t need to respond, I don’t need to react. I already responded. I can stay calm, try to focus on my meal. Next thing you know, and I’m not kidding, she bounced back. And it was like nothing ever happened. It was really bizarre. But that’s what happens.

 

What’s Going On

Our children go off on these temper tantrums, and we need to be there for support. Not to create more of a disconnection. When our child is having a temper tantrum, it’s telling us that something is going on, and we need to figure out what that is. In that moment, I couldn’t figure out what it was, because she was in the middle of this temper tantrum. But the next day we reviewed it, and we repaired it. And that’s the big thing. It’s not like I “allowed” what happened to happen. I allowed it to happen in that moment. Because there was nothing I could do to change the trajectory of where it was going. I could have only made it worse.

 

I let it be, offered that connection, and then the next day we reviewed it and repaired it. The way we reviewed it was saying, “Hey, remember what happened last night?” and we talked about it. And I explained to her, “I don’t like being spoken to that way. I understand you were frustrated.” And we talked about what she might have been feeling that day, what happened at school. It was hard for her to articulate that, but just giving her the opportunity to voice her thoughts and her opinion, and reflect on what happened and what her behavior was, and offer her some alternatives, like, “Hey, next time you’re angry about your burger, or whatever it is you think you might be angry about, these are some things you could do.”

 

It’s not going to change overnight. It’s that repetitive modeling of behavior that I’m offering to her, that over time, she’ll learn that when she gets frustrated, that that’s not the way to talk to someone or get your needs met. But it takes time.

 

I would love to hear from you! If you could, write to me, explaining the times that are frustrating to you, where you would like to implement this idea of conscious parenting. I would love to hear from you!