Category Archives: General parenting

Feelings, nothing more than feelings…

 

Many parenting education programs talk about feelings—why the emphasis? Are they advocating that we let our feelings dictate everything we do? Or that we encourage our children to let their feelings be their only guide?

No.

Actually, by identifying feelings we help children learn to control their actions, and to behave in responsible and socially acceptable ways.

Here’s why it works: When we aren’t consciously aware of our feelings, or when we ignore them, feelings are more likely to influence our actions than when we identify them. We may act without thinking. Identifying feelings helps us calm down and think about how to act.

One useful way of looking at feelings comes from Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent or Compassionate Communication https://www.cnvc.org/

He writes, “Feelings are like indicator lights on a car’s dashboard.” Unfortunately, feelings are not usually as specific as the light that signals the gas tank is almost empty. That’s why most of us need guidance and practice in identifying our feelings. That’s why most parenting education programs spend time on identifying feelings.

It may help to think of our brains as our emotional brain and our problem-solving brain. We need both parts of our brains. Feelings are in our emotional brain—our basic survival brain. They turn on like a warning light when something is important to our survival. When we let ourselves be aware of a warning light, we can use the problem-solving parts of our brains to figure out why it’s on, what we need, and what we want to do to meet that need.

Wait a minute—survival? My child is throwing a fit because her brother knocked down the tower she was building. That’s hardly a threat to her survival. Actually, from the emotional brain’s point of view, it may be. We all have needs: oxygen, food, safety, and many others. In order to get those needs met we have to have some control over ourselves and our environment. Children are born with a drive to gain control because that’s something they’ll need in order to get their other needs met. Not having control over that tower is a threat to her need for control. Because she is a child, her emotions and reactions are more primitive (that’s why she needs parents). According to Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, co-authors of No-Drama Discipline and The Whole Brain Child, at certain stages of development, the emotional part of the brain is more dominant, thus children are more likely to get upset.

Other threats to survival (hunger, fatigue, fear) contribute to an emotional reaction. And some people are more intense than others. (I confess to having similar reactions to trivial issues at times as an adult.)

Identifying feelings helps us (and our children) in several ways:

  • It requires us to focus attention on the child (or ourselves). We can’t assume we know exactly what’s going on, and our response needs to be tentative, “sounds like you are really frustrated.” Just being attentive, without directing or demanding, helps us figure out what’s really going on and helps a child to calm down.
  • Giving the feeling a name conveys that we understand what the child is experiencing and that we and others have experienced that same sensation. Learning that also helps the child calm down.
  • Giving a name to an emotional sensation engages our child’s thinking brain. That helps the child calm down and be better able to think and choose how to act.

By acknowledging the emotion, by giving the feeling a name, you can help a child to learn to control his or her actions and behavior. According to research by Siegel and Bryson, when we help a child in identify feelings, we help that child’s brain develop.

Yes, sometimes we have to intervene immediately to protect children from hurting themselves or others—but, once everyone is safe, we can help identify feelings. We can calm down. We can use our problem-solving brains to figure out what needs to happen next.

Originally published on ParentingSuccessNetwork.org

Esther Schiedel

Driven to Distraction

Driven to Distraction

I was driven to distraction by my almost one-year-old grandson last year: I distracted him from the Christmas tree, the fireplace, my eyeglasses, the dog’s water dish, and so on. To distract him, I moved him to another part of the room, introduced other activities, and substituted interesting toys for the things I didn’t want him handling. My grandson and I both benefited from my use of distraction. I didn’t need to yell or say no to preserve my property (and sanity) and he was able to continue exploring and learning by focusing on objects that were safe for him.

Distraction is a valuable parenting tool—for all ages. With infants or toddlers, it is usually easy to direct their attention to something else by physically moving them to another location or substituting another object. With an older child or a teen, using distraction requires more thought and attention. This is a good sign, as it indicates the growing ability of the child to maintain focus on one thing. Distraction works best when parents involve the child in the process. By actively participating he or she will learn how to use deliberate distraction independently.

Deliberate distraction consists of helping a child to replace one behavior with another—playing with a toy instead of a dangerous object, for example. It can also help a child learn how to delay gratification by focusing on other activities while waiting for a desired activity, event, or object.

Partial distraction—having something else to focus on in addition what you are doing—is useful for:

*Making a boring or unpleasant task easier to do—setting a timer so getting dressed is a race against time;

*Staying on task to the finish —by using background music, taking frequent short breaks before returning to work;

*Getting through a difficult emotional experience—using physical activities such as going for a run and/or creative activities like drawing a picture or writing a letter.

Deliberate distraction is not about ignoring unpleasant feelings or situations. Instead, it can be a way to work through or cope with those feelings; or it can help calm emotions so that one can begin to problem-solve.

Before using distraction it’s helpful to identify and acknowledge what the child is currently focusing on and what the child may be feeling. You might describe the situation from the child’s point of view: “When Dad has to go to work you feel sad.” “You are having a lot of fun getting wet.” Ask your child what he or she is paying attention to. Or stay silent and wait beside your child for a while. Allowing time to acknowledge the situation shows respect and will help your child become aware that he or she is focusing on something—that awareness makes it easier to shift focus to something else.

Being able to redirect attention from one thing to another isn’t just a parenting tool. It is also a valuable lifelong ability. As adults we all encounter boring tasks, long waits, and challenging emotions. Deliberate, positive distraction can help us as well as our children.

Published on ParentingSuccessNetwork 2.13.13

http://parentingsuccessnetwork.org/parenting_tips/2013/driven-to-distraction/

I’m on Your Side

I’m on Your Side

“I’m on your side” is a message we want to convey to our children (and to any other people we love).

Parents want their children to grow up to be happy, healthy, and competent adults. Children want to be happy, healthy, competent—and grown up! Same ultimate goals.

However, parenting tends to bring up lots of oppositional situations. Children are driven to explore and experiment to learn as much as they can as fast as they can. Parents are trying to keep children safe, (and fed and clothed and educated and socialized…) and to meet their own needs. There are bound to be some conflicts. It is extremely easy to slip into thinking your child is out to get you–and for your child to feel the same way about you. But acting like opponents can be dangerous as well as unpleasant. Here are some hints on how to avoid or escape from the stalemate.

Take care of yourself. It’s not your child’s job to make sure you get enough rest or the right foods or that you learn how to handle stress—you’ve got to make that happen (by yourself, with the help of other relatives, friends, and professionals).

Enjoy, respect, and celebrate your child’s wonderful qualities and activities. Have fun together. Listen. Play. Express your love for your child every day.

Clarify to yourself and to your child (at an age appropriate level) what your job as the parent entails: to protect, to provide for, and to guide. You don’t have to control everything (indeed you can’t!). But you do have a responsibility to your child that is different from his or her responsibility to you. To be on your child’s side means having your child’s best interests at heart.

Being on the same side as your child does NOT mean that you always agree. (The same holds true for your relationship with your spouse or your best friend). You have your reasons for disagreeing. For example: I used to stop my son from plugging or unplugging cords in electrical outlets when he was a toddler. I was acting in his best interest—I was on his side—even though he adamantly opposed my intervention at the time. He had his reasons for wanting to explore his environment.

When you need to intervene, do it with respect and understanding (when possible). Author Mary Sheedy Kurcinka suggests a helpful phrase to use: “The rule is   —–. I will help you follow the rule.”

Explain the WHY behind the rules and/or behind your intervention. WHY isn’t always obvious to children. Your explanation will not necessarily convince your child—but it is still important to give it.

Work together with your child(ren). Be willing to negotiate. Family rules can be made—and modified—by the whole family. Children are constantly growing. Situations change and some rules need to evolve to fit the new circumstances.

 Ultimately your child will be responsible for his or her behavior. You may not agree on everything as adults, either, but you can still be on the same side.

Esther Schiedel

Originally published on Parenting Success Network, March 20, 2013 http://parentingsuccessnetwork.org/parenting_tips/2013/im-on-your-side/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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/

More Than I Wanted to Learn

James and Mary Kenny, authors of Whole-Life Parenting, dedicated their book to their twelve children “who have taught us most of what we know and in some cases more than we wanted to learn”

Living with other people physically and being connected with them emotionally inevitably involves learning more than we ever wanted to know.

We go into relationships expecting to learn some things—“I’ll learn more about my husband’s work.” “I’ll learn how to change a diaper.” Those anticipated lessons seem like things that we can master and control. Learning new things can be wonderful, too, especially discovering the beauties, strengths, and unique qualities of those we love.

Part of Family Life Education is sharing information about what to expect and how to deal with it. The more we can anticipate and plan for, the easier our lives will be, whether we are selecting appropriate playthings, coping with a teething toddler, or communicating with a teenager.

Then there are those things that we didn’t or couldn’t anticipate: illness, a child we just don’t understand, changes in family structure. Life lessons that are not wonderful. Times when the universe grabs us, shakes us, and tells us that we are not in control.

Family Life Education can also offer support for those times when we are forced to learn. Interactive workshops can connect us to others with similar experiences and the wisdom that comes from life experience.

Learning makes us strong, sharing our knowledge makes all of us stronger.

 

Esther Schiedel