Category Archives: Self care

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

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

Making Changes

In my years of parenting, I often acted and reacted to my children in ways that weren’t very effective and that sometimes made the situation worse. As I worked on making changes in my behavior I learned that changing behavior isn’t easy. Here are some ideas that have helped me—and continue to help me—I am still not a perfect parent or grandparent! These are research-based ideas, drawn from The Incredible Years, Nurturing Parenting and other parenting curriculums. They are also ones I have found helpful to me.

  1. Focus on one skill or change. Be as specific as possible: “I am going to spend 10 minutes playing with my preschooler every weekday at 9 am.” It’s fine to make other changes at the same time, but focus on one.
  1. Make it a positive action. You can’t do a don’t. Every relationship can benefit from you spending time focused on that person—playing, listening, doing something fun together, or working on something together. Relationship expert John Gottman recommends a ratio of at least 5 positive interactions to each negative interaction.

If you want to stop doing something—like yelling at your children—come up with a substitute action to do when you feel like yelling. Writing a note, doing jumping jacks, throwing ice cubes into the sink—you might want to brainstorm a list with a friend or with your children.

  1. Involve others. Explain your plan and ask for their help and support. Tell them what would be helpful to you as you make changes. Don’t waste time criticizing other’s approaches, but concentrate on your own efforts to change. Find or create a support group of others who are making changes—especially if those around you are not supportive. Parenting classes are a great place to get support and make friends.
  1. Expect resistance. Changes—even positive ones—can trigger negative responses from those around you. Family and friends may be skeptical or even outright hostile. Children may misbehave to get you to react the way you used to because that is what they know and expect from you. It can help to acknowledge their confusion while explaining your new approach and addressing any misbehavior calmly but firmly. “I know I usually yell at you. But I don’t enjoy doing that and I don’t think you like hearing me. You know how to listen to my quiet voice, too. The toys still need to be put away.”
  1. Use reminders: electronic or old-fashioned. Try notes, checklists, calendars, alarms, timers, friends, relatives, your children, etc. Create or request reminders that are polite and reaffirming.
  1. Track your progress. Praise and reward yourself for accomplishments—no matter how small. Star charts aren’t just for kids.
  1. Be nice to yourself. Keep your inner and outer self talk positive. When you mess up, you can admit it (and perhaps apologize) and say “_____ is hard to do but I am working on it.” When you are successful, celebrate that achievement.
  1. Learn from your mistakes and from the times that went well. What things interfere with and what things help your efforts to change? If you don’t seem to be able to make the change, step back and analyze the situation and the factors involved.
  1. Be patient. Real changes take time.
  1. Keep at it. According to researchers Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente, in their book Changing for Good, real, lasting change usually takes a spiral pattern—up, level, dipping back down, then around and up a little more.

We often wish our children would change their behavior, but for that to happen, we usually have to change our behavior towards them. Moreover, being a parent means our behavior has to keep changing because our children keep growing and changing. Change isn’t easy, but it is possible. You can do it.

Published on ParentingSuccessNetwork 1.6.15

Esther  Schiedel 12/22/14

Look At Me!

Look at Me!

Children need attention as much as they need food–perhaps more so. At least there are times when it seems that way. As one mother put it, “My child is a bottomless well. I never seem able to fill him up with enough attention.” 

What is attention? Awareness, recognition, courtesy, consideration, concentration on one thing, affection, detailed care–the definitions of attention can help us to find effective ways to give it to our children—and to ourselves.

Attend to your own needs. If your child seems to be extra needy, don’t forget to look to your own needs. Children sense when their parents are distressed or preoccupied. When we are stressed we may be less attentive than usual, but our children may also crave more attention than usual. Some activities can help meet your needs while meeting those of your child.

Gary Chapman, counselor and author, theorizes that children (and adults) have different “love languages.” What makes one person feel loved and attended to may leave another person wanting something else. Chapman’s “languages” are physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, and acts of service.

Physical touch: Mothers often feel “touched out.” My own experience as a mother with little ones was that receiving loving touch helped me to relax and recharge even when the idea of giving touch made me cringe.

* Carrying your baby or toddler in a cloth sling or wrap is a time-honored way to connect while meeting your own needs.

* Poor parent’s massage: you lie on your stomach and let kids crawl on you/pound on your back/drive toy cars over you…

* Teach your child the “weather report” back rub (using your fingers to mimic rain, thunder, wind . . .). Or how to massage your feet

* Hold a child in your lap or sit next to a child when reading, waiting, etc.

* Ask for a hug

 When your child need for touch is greater than yours, try briefer, less intense touches:

* Hello/Goodbye/Good Night/Comfort hugs and kisses

* Hugs/High Fives with “Thank You’s” and celebrations of accomplishments

* Tickling, wrestling, tag, Twister [done respectfully “No means No”]

* Holding hands, dancing, gymnastics

Using physical touch also provides opportunities to educate children about personal boundaries and respect for their bodies and for other people—including you.

Words of affirmation: “I love you,” specific, positive comments about your child, “you really enjoy playing with your train and you put all the tracks together yourself,” and acknowledgement of your child’s feelings, “it’s hard to share mom with the new baby.”

Child-focused playtime: As much as possible, let your child be in charge of the activity and tell you what to do. What a great opportunity to unwind! Even brief times when you truly focus on your child are valuable to both of you. The Incredible Years curriculum suggests describing what your child is doing—like a sport’s announcer giving a play-by-play description. That helps shift your thoughts away from whatever is stressing you, lets the child know you really are paying attention, and offers opportunities to expand your child’s vocabulary.

Setting a timer may help you be able to focus on your child. Have another positive activity planned for when playtime ends—like a snack for both of you. Or continue announcing what your child is doing as you start doing something else. Give your child a role in whatever activity you are doing. One dad gives his toddler one folded piece of clothing at a time for the child to put away. Just being in the same room together with occasional acknowledgements can also fill the need for quality time

Giving a child too many things or always doing things for a child, when he or she is capable of doing them, are not effective forms of attention. In fact, they indicate that you are not being aware of your child’s actual abilities and needs. However, thoughtful (affordable or free) gifts, given in a fun and celebratory way, can help your child feel valued. Appreciating a child’s gift—whether a dandelion or a macaroni necklace—is another way to show attention.

Finally, especially in times of stress, having someone lovingly do for you what you could do for yourself (act of service) is a wonderful form of attention.

Pay attention—everyone will benefit.

 

Originally published April 22, 2014 on ParentingSuccessNetwork

Who’s on Your Cheering Squad?

Who’s on your cheering squad?

It may be an instinctive urge that makes relatives (and even total strangers!) want to ensure that all is well with a new baby by making comments on baby’s appearance, habits, and behavior. Unfortunately, what is intended as concern by the speaker can sound like criticism to a parent. A simple question like, “Are you sure the baby is getting enough?” can puncture the confidence of a new mother or father. Worry and sleep deprivation can make even the most benign remark seem like an attack.

 

When you are a parent, perhaps more than any other time in your life, you need supportive comments and encouraging words. You need people around you who are confident that you are a competent adult who cares about your child and is doing your best in the ever changing, ever challenging job of parenting. People who let you know they have confidence in you. You need a cheering squad.

 

How do you get a cheering squad?

 

Method 1. Scouting and try-outs. Potential cheerleaders can be found among your friends and relatives and in the services, classes, and support groups available to families in the community and online. Not every class or group will suit you, but you need to try it to find that out. Is the facilitator supportive? Is information offered in an understanding and respectful way?

Quality parenting education acknowledges your strengths and cheers you on; it helps you find ways to be the kind of parent you want to be.

The other parents in a class or group may also become cheerleaders for you. They are dealing with the same challenges that you are facing. Hearing from others and sharing about your own experiences puts things in perspective. You may realize how many things are going well for you as well as get new ideas to try for the things you are struggling with.

You may find you can be a cheerleader for others. At almost every La Leche League meeting I lead, a mother who faced a breastfeeding difficulty a month or two ago, offers encouragement to another mother experiencing the same problem.

 

Method 2. Training those around you.

A good place to start is with your own self-talk. It takes more effort to think about and to acknowledge the things you have done right, and the progress you have made, than to notice what went wrong. But you can strengthen the “notice what’s good” muscle just as you can strengthen any other muscle.

 

Accept compliments. Stephen Bavolek, creator of the Nurturing Parenting curriculum, points out that not accepting a compliment is like not accepting a paycheck for a job well done.

 

Start training those around you by noticing what they have done and complimenting them on it. Say Thank You. Explain how their actions helped you and your child.  Give them suggestions for other helpful things they can do. Tell friends and loved ones when you need encouragement.

 

When the comments that upset you come from those who love you, try to locate and address the concern in the criticism. Sometimes a comment is really a defense of the childrearing practices of the speaker. If you choose to do something differently from what your parents or friends did, they may interpret your choice as a criticism of their parenting. They may need reassurance that they did a good job, too!

 

You are a smart, caring, and competent parent. Three cheers for you!

 

Esther Schiedel

 

Originally published on Parenting Success Network, November 9, 2013

 

http://parentingsuccessnetwork.org/parenting_tips/2013/whos-on-your-cheering-squad/

Self-Soothing for Parents–Part 2

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.”

 

Originally 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

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?

Originally published on ParentingSuccessNetwork 11.8.12

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

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

What Do You Need?

What do you need as a parent? Probably more sleep, right?

Often as parents we get lots of information about things we ought to be doing—or not doing. We don’t get as much information about HOW we might actually be able to do or not do those things. We don’t often concentrate on what WE need.

As a parent with young children I remember thinking,  “If I wasn’t so tired right now, I might be able to respond to my whining child in an empathetic and firm manner—the way I want to respond.” It took a few more years for it to dawn on me that a major part of my job as a parent was to take care of myself. Nobody else to make sure I got enough sleep except me.  Even then, though, the prevalent philosophy I ran into was that I could only take care of myself by neglecting my child’s needs. That approach didn’t meet my needs as a person or a parent.

Finally, I began to see parenting as a form of sharing. By learning how to share I could meet my needs and those of my children in ways that would be affirming and beneficial to both of us. After all, as a biological mother to three children I had shared my body and all its abilities and resources with them during pregnancy. I nourished them then by nourishing myself. After their births I shared my breasts, my arms, my legs, my voice, and my brain as I cared for them. I had to keep nourishing myself to have something to give. I had to have something in order to share it.

Focusing on sharing helped me realize how many things I had that I could share—I had strengths that I could use to guide my children. When I viewed what I had as strengths, I could also work on getting stronger. How do you make a muscle stronger? By using it, by pushing it a little harder, and then giving it a rest.

As a children’s book explains it: when you share, you give something and then you get it back. I shared what I had. And I got something back—new skills, new insights, a better understanding of who I was and what I was capable of, and, best of all, three unique wonderful individuals who are still willing to share with me about their adult lives. I was not the world’s best parent (I am still not the world’s best parent), but I shared what I had and I got a lot back.

What do you need as a parent?

 

This blog originally appeared on Parenting Success Network in September 2012

http://parentingsuccessnetwork.org/parenting_tips/2012/what-do-you-need/