Category Archives: General parenting

Love and Anger

I remember going to a mother’s group back when my firstborn child was around 2 years old and asking “What do I do with my anger?”

Because I got angry sometimes. When I did I yelled, stomped around, said bad words and/or cruel things. Even when my anger was addressed at inanimate objects, this behavior was upsetting to my daughter.

I don’t recall receiving any helpful advice to my question back in that group. Over the years I learned a few things about managing anger—and sometimes was able to put them into practice! I’m still working on it.

Managing anger is hard. Managing anger at young children or even in the presence of young children is even harder.

One thing I tried was ignoring my feelings. I forced myself to stay calm and tried to be accepting and accommodating. Bad idea. I recall an incident with my second daughter who was in the midst of a tantrum. I was trying hard not to scream at her. I said something like “You are upset about having to leave now.” I was trying to be empathetic but she yelled back at me “Why are you so happy?” All my energy had gone into trying to be calm—and that interfered with my being truly empathetic. My calmness made it appear to her that I didn’t understand her feelings at all. And I wasn’t dealing with my own legitimate feelings.

Forced calmness often led to an even stronger outburst later on my part. I call it snapback—I was like a rubber band that got stretched too far and then broke with a snap.

What helped? Awareness about the factors that contributed to my anger. One big one was neglecting my needs in my efforts to be a “good” self-sacrificing mother. Being tired, hungry, stressed, feeling put upon, not having time or opportunities for doing things I enjoyed . . . all those contributed to the likelihood I would get angry and to the force of my anger.

I did get better at taking care of myself. I learned that the self-sacrificing mother ideal is nonsense. Like athletes, mothers need to take excellent care of themselves or they won’t be able to do their jobs—and the same is true for all parents and people in helping professions. Other things can be sacrificed –not you.

An important part of self-care is paying attention to feelings. Feelings can serve as warning lights reminding us that some need we have requires attention. Anger is a secondary emotion—we feel scared or frustrated or hurt and then we get angry. Karen Young from HeySigmund.com writes that anger “exists to block other more difficult emotions from rising to the surface.” Our mind is trying to protect us from those feelings we don’t know how to handle. For many of us recognizing emotions may need to be learned and may require professional help—and that’s okay.

Even with the best self-care parents will get angry. And that anger should be acknowledged –in ways that don’t hurt or scare others. In order to do that successfully we first need to recognize the physical signs that indicate we are getting angry. If we’ve never thought about anger in this way, identifying what led up to an outburst (or to a cold simmer, or a stone-faced withdrawal) may take some reflection. Authors Susan Beekman and Jeanne Holmes [Battles, Hassles, Tantrums & Tears] recommend looking back at a recent incident and remembering where, what, and particularly when you started to lose it.

A lot of times parents tell their children, “use your words,“  but words may not be adequate to manage the physical sensations of anger. (Not to mention that the words that come to mind may be ones you don’t want your children repeating.)

Taking deep breaths, briefly walking away, and counting to ten are some things that can help us calm down enough to use appropriate words. Doing something physical but safe—my son recommends hurling ice-cubes into the shower stall—is another approach.

Then simply saying “I’m angry” is a good place to start. Describing what triggered your anger in non-accusatory language can be helpful as well: “When we are late for an appointment, I get frustrated because I like to be on time.”

Nancy Samalin, author of Love and Anger (yes, I stole that title) also suggests: Avoid physical force and threats; Keep it short and to the point; Put it in writing; Focus on the essentials.

And finally, apologize for any hurtful words or actions. This can be a good time to reflect on what triggered you and make plans for handling future situations.

April 8, 2019 published on ParentingSuccessNetwork 

When “No” is Necessary

Saying “no” is a challenging part of parenting (and grandparenting). Here are some ideas that may help

When you have to stop an action about to happen or already in progress:

 

  1. “STOP” or “Danger” “Hot” “Hold it” “It is prohibited” “Access denied” or other phrases besides “no”. With toddlers say “Not for [child’s name]”

 

  1. If at all possible, be physically present to block, catch, grab, etc.—especially with toddlers.

 

  1. Reserve yelling for when it is really needed—dangerous situations. A stern look, frown or headshake can get your point across.

 

  1. Refer to the rule or ask the child what the rule is. “The rule in our family is no hitting.”
  1. Tell the child what he or she CAN do. Teach and practice with your child the safe/respectful/socially acceptable way to do things.

 

  1. Acknowledge and accept the child’s feelings as you act on the “no”—often without actually saying the word. “You want your ball back. I will help you when it is safe to go get it.”

 

  1. Give information or describe the problem. This gives the reason for the “no” without needing to use the word. “Those cookies are for the party” “The problem is I don’t have any money for toys today. We’ll have to put that back on the shelf.”

 

When your child resists doing something that he/she has to do:

 

  1. Acknowledge and accept the child’s feelings as you act on the “no”–without actually saying the word. Example: “You’ve really liked playing at the park. We’ve had a good time (while taking the child’s hand to leave). Should we come again tomorrow?”

 

  1. Acknowledge and accept the child’s feelings and grant them in fantasy. “You’ve really liked playing at the park. You wish you could play here for another hour—for the whole day—you wish you could live at the park!” “You don’t like being in your car seat. You wish you could fly to the store.”

 

  1. State what needs to happen. Stay calm and wait quietly nearby for the child to cooperate.

 

When your child asks ahead of time:

 

  1. “Yes, later” or yes with a condition. Barbara Coloroso points out that if you say “Yes, later” “later” can be 10 seconds from now—it’s still more effective than saying no and then changing your mind. Examples: “Can I go to Sally’s house?” “Yes, as soon as your room is picked up.”

 

  1. Give yourself time to think—either don’t respond right away or say, “Let me think about it.”

It helps to be clear on what you really want and why—when you know that, it is easier to set a limit and stick with it.

 

  1. “Convince me.” This makes the child do all the talking and thinking.

 

Plan ahead

  1. Let the environment say no by childproofing and avoiding tempting situations. Use the clock or a timer to signal when to stop an activity or leave a location.

 

  1. Go over the rules ahead of time.

 

  1. Nobody likes to hear No. Accept that your child will probably be mad at you. Try to stay calm and confident yourself. Remind yourself of the need to set limits and protect your child and others.

 

  1. Learning can’t take place when child is upset or in the midst of a tantrum. Later, you can explore ways to help prevent future problems.

 

  1. Notice cooperative behavior and thank your child

Originally published on ParentingSuccessNetwork May 8, 2013http://parentingsuccessnetwork.org/parenting_tips/2013/when-no-is-necessary/

What Do You Need?

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 was going 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?

Published on ParentingSuccessNetwork 9.22.12 http://parentingsuccessnetwork.org/parenting_tips/2012/what-do-you-need/

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