Author Archives: Esther

About Esther

I have a Masters Degree in Human Development and Family Studies from Oregon State University. Certified Family Life Educator (CFLE) means I have academic background and work experience in ten content areas related to human development, family dynamics, and adult education. I've worked as a parenting educator in several different programs, and helped families adjust to parenthood for over 32 years as a volunteer La Leche League Leader. I've been married for 36 years (to the same wonderful man) and we have two adult daughters, an adult son, two sons-in-law, and two grandsons. I am not now nor have I ever been a perfect parent. I continue to learn and grow from my relationships with my family.

Self-Soothing for Parents Part 2 

Children get upset.

It takes experience and maturity to realize that Dad will be back at suppertime or that that really wanting a cookie does not create cookies in the cupboard (adults tend to get upset by that harsh fact as well).

Children also get mad.

So many things they want to do are out of their control.

Children usually let their parents (and sometimes the whole neighborhood) know that they are upset and angry.

How can you stay calm or calm down when your child is upset—without adding to your child’s distress?

The first thing is to accept that strong emotions are part of life. It’s okay that your child gets upset at times. It does not mean that you are a bad parent. It does not mean your child is a spoiled brat.

It often helps to acknowledge the emotion and identify it. Tentative identification is best—“wow, you sound really angry.” Say it with meaning and respect.

Dismissing your child’s reaction (“it’s nothing to get upset about”) or completely ignoring it can upset your child further.

Remain available and empathetic. If no one is getting hurt or unduly disturbed by the noise you may want let the storm rage. A dramatic (but safe) release of energy can actually aid everyone.

If you were raised in an environment where any strong emotion was repressed or expressed in dangerous and hurtful ways you may benefit from some professional help to learn and be comfortable with safe ways to express emotion.

It’s disturbing when your child is upset. Frequently, you are the cause of the upset. You said “No,” or “It’s bedtime.” You stopped your toddler from sticking a key into an electrical outlet.

Nobody likes being yelled at—especially not for doing the right thing! Here you are being a loving, responsible parent—and your child does not appreciate it!

Getting yelled at for our responsible parental actions can lead us into irresponsible behavior—we may become unduly harsh with the child or we may back off and allow the child to go on misbehaving. Both are completely understandable but not advisable.

Full disclosure: yes, I have done both, and the results were not pretty.

How can you respond?

  1. Give yourself empathy—silently or out loud. “Wow, it hurts to be yelled at for trying to protect you.”
  2. Remember you are the adult and the parent in the situation. This is part of the job. Helpful phrases from author Mary Sheedy Kurcinka include: “I do not fear your anger.” “I will help you follow the rule.”
  3. Let your child know that feelings are acceptable but that actions may not be. “You are angry with your sister. It is NOT okay to hit her.”
  4. Offer an acceptable action: “You may punch the couch cushion.”

by Esther Schiedel

Published on ParentingSuccessNetwork 11.27.12

http://parentingsuccessnetwork.org/parenting_tips/2012/self-soothing-its-good-for-parents-too-part-2/

 

Self-soothing for parents—Part 1

I got upset the other day and it took me a while to calm down.

Now I am a middle-aged grandmother. I have experienced some bad times in my life; compared to those, the incident that upset me was trivial. Nevertheless, it took me a while to calm down.

Children get upset a lot. They tend to express their grief, anger, hurt, and/or frustration with loud vocalizations and violent actions. Loud noises—crying, screaming, whining–are stressful for most adults to listen to. Violent actions—thrashing about, hitting, biting, throwing things–can be dangerous to self, others, and property.

Helping your child to deal with grief, anger, hurt, and/or frustration in ways that don’t unduly annoy or hurt others is an important part of your job as a parent.

The problem is that you are very likely to be upset (or to get upset) when your child is upset.

Not to mention that you, as a human being, get upset yourself for reasons unrelated to being a parent.

Learning (and practicing) healthy ways to calm down is a lifelong endeavor.

Fortunately, when you calm yourself down you model that process, thus making it easier for your child to learn ways to calm down as well.

Note that there is a difference between shutting up and calming down. Shutting up is a valuable skill—particularly in social situations—but it doesn’t give the benefits of actually calming down. Shutting up is like putting out the flames of a fire but leaving the coals still glowing—ready to flare up at any time. Calming down includes dousing the coals and making sure they are all out. Once you are calm, you can access your thinking brain and, if necessary, problem-solve any underlying issues or strategize ways to prevent future occurrences. But first you need to calm down.

What helps parents to calm down? Here are some ideas for when you are the one who is upset.

Breathing: If you learned any breathing techniques for coping with labor, even if you never used them then, they can work well for you now.

Movement: channel the adrenaline in your system by pacing, walking, throwing things that don’t break, working, etc.

Empathy or validation of your feelings—silently or out loud: focus your attention on yourself and what is happening in your body and mind. Tell your body you are listening to it.

Positive self talk—silently or out loud: “This is a challenging situation but I can handle it.”

Drink water, eat nutritious food: dehydration and low blood sugar contribute to being upset.

Provide a place to make noise—the classic going into the bathroom and screaming. If it is safe to do so AND your child is not upset, excuse yourself—stating that you are upset and need to go outside or be alone for a moment. Simply changing the setting can be calming as well.

What helps you to calm down?

Next time: Calming yourself down when your child is upset.

Published on ParentingSuccessNetwork 11.8.12

http://parentingsuccessnetwork.org/parenting_tips/2012/self-soothing-its-good-for-parents-too-part-1/

 

The Perfect Parent

Are you the perfect parent? Chances are probably not. But possibly, secretly, do you really want to be the perfect parent? I know I do.

Most adults (my children included) can tell you all the things their parents did wrong. Some parents definitely qualified as Toxic Parents (a term coined by therapist and author Susan Forward). Other parents, well, they were somewhere on the scale between tolerable and pretty good—all things considered.

No matter where our own parents fell on that scale, many of us want to do better than them. That’s a good thing. But in wanting to do better some of us fall into the perils of perfectionism:

  • We have unrealistic expectations for ourselves and others.
  • We focus on what we did wrong—not on what we did right.
  • We self-criticize and may be highly critical of others.
  • Criticism from others (or even helpful suggestions) may increase our feelings of inadequacy. We may respond with defensiveness and hostility. We may be unwilling to admit being wrong.

Full disclosure: I’m a recovering perfectionist. But I’m also an educator. I believe in improvement. I believe people can learn new skills and change their behavior.

As an educator, I also know that learning takes having access to accurate information and getting encouragement from others. It takes time and practice. It takes making mistakes and then learning from those mistakes. For some reason, when it comes to parenting we think we ought to know how to do it just because we want to. After all, we can identify all those things our parents did wrong.

Here are some ideas that have helped me focus on improvement and step back from perfectionism:

Asking myself: is the issue one of health and safety?

Are the goals my goals or those that others think are important? One study found that parents with “self-oriented parenting perfectionism” had higher parenting satisfaction, whereas those with “societal-oriented parenting perfectionism” were more stressed.   Parenting Perfection and Parental Adjustment

Noticing what is working well and what got done. Being specific. Praising myself and others.

Admitting to messing up, apologizing, making amends if possible, thinking about how to do it better next time.

Asking myself, what do I need to do this—information, encouragement, practice?

Perhaps what is most helpful is accurate and honest information about how other people have succeeded in doing what I would like to do. No one is exactly like me, of course, but parents share many things in common. Realizing that others struggle with challenges and hearing how others dealt with similar situations can spur me in problem-solving, even if their solutions are not the same as mine.

Originally posted on ParentingSuccessNetwork.org

The Scientist on the Bike

Several years ago researchers Alison Gropnik, Andrew Meltzoff, and Patricia Kuhl wrote The Scientist in the Crib: What early learning tells us about the mind. In it, they examine and explain how children develop their understanding of the world from birth through the preschool years. Babies, they explain, act like scientists: they observe, investigate, form hypothesis, and test them. And, like good scientists, they try to replicate the results of their tests. Simply put: babies learn from everything that happens and from everything they make happen. Baby throws food on the floor and learns about gravity (and, in some cases, that dogs like to eat some kinds of people food). Baby also learns whether Dad finds this behavior amusing or annoying or doesn’t notice it. Baby repeats the experiment—are the results the same? What if I try it tomorrow? What if I try it with Mom? The experiments and the learning go on and on and on.

 The experimentation doesn’t end in preschool, it continues—potentially throughout our lives. The drive to learn and figure out how the world works is powerful. And when we figure something out for ourselves—what a rush!

 The other day I reflected on a child’s innate need to learn while watching a seven-year old riding his bike. He was with his younger brother, a friend and some neighbors. He was meeting lots of needs: exercise, fun, socialization. He was experimenting with what he could do with his body while riding a bike and learning about physics. He also conducted another experiment by riding off briefly with one of the neighbors without checking with his mother (or his friend) first. An experiment in social relationships and impulsive actions.

 When he returned, his mother reminded him of the ground rules for bike riding, redirected him to some other activities for a while, and explained that he would not be able to ride his bike if he didn’t follow the rules. She also pointed out that riding off with the neighbor was rude to his friend.

 She didn’t over-react to the incident (he is a sensitive, conscientious child, and lives in a safe neighborhood).

She didn’t embarrass him.

But she didn’t ignore it, either—she gave him information that would help him to learn.

That’s another great thing about babies (and all of us)–we can learn from other people. We don’t need to experience everything ourselves.

 Many parenting advisers talk about kids testing the limits of parental rules. Unfortunately, this is often phrased in terms of “parents vs kids” or “you have to show them who’s boss.” But, most of the time, kids are not challenging parental power or out to annoy their parents—they are experimenting with how things work. They are trying to learn.

 All of us learn best when we respect and trust the people who teach us. We learn best when our teachers have confidence in our ability to learn—when they don’t over-react to our mistakes or embarrass us. We learn best when our teachers have patience and treat us with respect.

 Children need parents for guidance and protection and limits and supervision–and yes, they annoy us a lot and we often do over-react. We’re experimenting, too. And learning, and learning, and learning.

Published on Parenting Success Network 9.1.15 

It’s coming…aargh! The worst day (and week) of the year: the switch to Daylight Savings Time.

This can be really hard on families with children and teens. Not to mention every other person.

Here are a few strategies that have helped me as an adult and a few ideas I’ve found online. Please share your own strategies.

Start now by moving bedtime a little bit earlier each night—if you have a lead time of five nights (Monday-Saturday) then 12 minutes earlier each night gets you to an hour.

Some people recommend simultaneously waking up earlier as well. I’d suggest NOT doing that or at least not doing that until closer to Sunday. My rationale is that it’s better to get as much sleep as you can in advance of the change. Many of us are already short on sleep. See waking up strategies below.

Practice healthy sleep habits:

Fresh air and exercise during the day

De-stressing/relaxing times during the day and/or evening

Dark room

Cool room

Shift meal schedule gradually as well (if possible) It isn’t just bedtime and morning that gets thrown out of whack by the time change. If you can’t move meals try to incorporate more snacks (healthy ones and maybe some high tryptophan foods for dinner and bedtime snacks). See https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/food-and-sleep

NO CAFFIENE!

One hour before you want to get to sleep: No screens. No full spectrum, LED or fluorescent lights. Use a yellow, amber or red bulb for reading (see https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/how-blue-light-affects-kids-sleep). Red Christmas lights work well as nightlights. Googling “blue light blocking products” will get you to many sources of bulbs. Candlelight probably works as well, but please be careful!

Change your clock during the day on Saturday (if at all possible). I got this idea from crossing the Atlantic Ocean by ship. Going east, they changed the time at noon (since they had total control over the schedule, this was possible). I don’t know if part of it was psychological but it really helped. The change made dinner earlier so that also contributed.

Waking up. Just as light interferes with going to sleep, it helps us wake up. Gradually increasing the light in the morning will help you (and the kids) wake up. There are products “dawn simulators” that provide this (sorry to keep you Googling and spending money but it can be a good investment-some are less expensive than others so research options). Or you can do this manually for your children.

Make morning a pleasant time: snuggling, talking, reading with your child can make for a happier transition. Breakfast in bed anyone? Allow enough time for morning routines.

The real key to happy waking up is getting enough sleep the night before. Most of us don’t get enough sleep so this is a good time to focus on more sleep. Here are some more guidelines and resources.

https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/American-Academy-of-Pediatrics-Supports-Childhood-Sleep-Guidelines.aspx

Sleepless in America by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. She also has a website with a free download of sleep suggestions http://www.parentchildhelp.com/Resources.cfm

 

Also on ParentingSuccessNetwork

Respect My Authority

A friend commented on my post about being friends with your children (“Why Can’t We Be Friends?” ). She was concerned that friendship might undermine the “ability to be authoritative and a disciplinarian within the parent-child relationship.“

Her comment got me thinking about authority. Like most words, authority can mean several things: having power, being in charge, being an expert, and/or being a reliable source of information. Our own experiences with authority have a big effect on how we use—or don’t use authority in parenting our children. We may have experienced authority that was used in an appropriate, fair, beneficial way. Or we may have experienced authority that was used in an unjust, arbitrary, or abusive way.

What does beneficial authority look like? Beneficial authority is reasonable, respectful, and responsible.

Reasonable: Reasonable authority is based on rules and there are clear reasons for the rules. Most of us have an internal set of rules based on safety, social customs, and family values. Often we aren’t consciously aware of what those rules are or why they exist. So it’s useful to examine our internal rules and decide if we want to keep them, add new ones, or discard some.  Examining the rules on a regular basis, with your partner, and as a family, will help to keep the rules reasonable and make them easier to enforce.

It’s easier to enforce rules when you yourself believe them to be important and fair. When children have agreed to and even helped come up with the rules, it is even easier. Easier—but still not easy. Remember that no matter how fair and reasonable rules are, sometimes it is extremely difficult to follow them.

Respectful: Respectful authority enforces the rules in a way that preserves the child’s dignity and physical and emotional safety. Parent educator Jody McVittie describes this as being kind and firm at the same time. Kind and firm means that parents can empathize with the child’s distress while still enforcing the rule: “It’s hard to stop playing when you are having so much fun. Now it’s time to say goodbye to the slide and go home for lunch.”

It’s upsetting when a child cries or says, “I hate you!” Like many parents, I often gave in, tried to placate, or got angry with my children. It was (and sometimes still is) difficult to accept their emotional reactions without trying to suppress or dismiss them. But acknowledging an emotion is actually more respectful, both to the child and to the adult, and often makes it easier to enforce the rule.

Being respectful to our children, even when we are angry or disappointed with them, also  shows them how to be respectful to us and to others.

Responsible: Parental authority is valuable because it helps parents to protect and guide their children. Children need protection and guidance, and parents are responsible for providing it. But children also need opportunities to do things for themselves and to learn from the consequences of their actions—both positive and negative. Sometimes the responsible parent stands back.

Determining exactly how much protection and guidance is needed in a given situation can be tricky. Different cultures and families (and individuals within those families) have different standards. Children have unique temperaments requiring more or less use of authority. Responsible use of authority requires frequent assessments of a child’s needs and abilities and of the environment surrounding the child and the family.

Staying reasonable and respectful helps parents to determine whether standing back or stepping in is more responsible when challenges occur.

Authority that is reasonable, respectful, and responsible is effective. It helps children grow and parents stay sane. It’s authority we can both respect.

Published on ParentingSuccessNetwork 7/15/15