As the mother of a son who learned a lot from games I’d like to share this blog, “Is Minecraft Educational” from fellow parent educator Judy Arnall
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
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.
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?
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!
Originally published on Parenting Success Network, November 9, 2013
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?
- Give yourself empathy—silently or out loud. “Wow, it hurts to be yelled at for trying to protect you.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- Offer an acceptable action: “You may punch the couch cushion.”
Originally published on ParentingSuccessNetwork 11.27.12
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
Next time: Calming yourself down when your child is upset.
This Dear Abby letter and response inspired me to write my own response–see below
DEAR ABBY: Our 13-year-old is addicted to her phone. She stays on it for hours, and it’s affecting the time she goes to bed. She’s now starting to oversleep the alarm in the morning before school.
She’s spoiled, and I’m afraid that removing or limiting phone privileges will lead to major problems with her protesting it. I don’t want truant officers or social workers coming to my house because my wife and I can’t discipline our kid. How do you handle a spoiled brat without involving outside agencies? She’s nice to people in school, but is lazy at home and totally self-centered. — FRUSTRATED, EXHAUSTED DAD
DEAR DAD: You and your wife created this “monster,” and now it’s your job to make things right. Of course your daughter won’t like it when you set rules, but you must establish some for her before your lack of parenting causes even more serious problems.
Set the rules and stick with them. If she won’t follow them, there should be penalties for not doing so. Try this: Start with homework. When it’s done, she can have her phone for a period of time. Inform her that if she oversleeps because she was up too late on her phone, you will take it at bedtime. And then follow through.
Dear Frustrated Exhausted Dad,
There are many resources available to parents of teenagers. Parenting education can help you deal with this typical, teenage behavior and lessen your frustration. One place to start might be your daughter’s school—if they don’t already offer classes for parents, suggest that they start doing so. Other resources: your county extension service, community college, university, or health care services. Your local librarian can steer you to books on parenting teens. Some churches offer classes. There are also parenting coaches who can work with you individually. And there are online classes available.
Just as in any other field, the quality and philosophy of parenting education varies widely. Things to consider: What is the curriculum based on? Is it research-based? Has it been shown to be effective? Who is presenting or facilitating the class? Some states certify parent educators, the National Council on Family Relations certifies Family Life Educators.
For my own suggestions: Start by changing the way you think about your daughter: would you want to cooperate with someone who sees you as a lazy, self-centered, spoiled brat? Treat her with respect. She is in the process of learning how to become an adult and make responsible decisions about how she spends her time and takes care of her body. Your job is to protect her from serious dangers that her immaturity might lead her into, but it is also your job to help her learn how to take care of herself—which includes respecting herself. Rather than simply imposing rules, you can express your concerns about her health and well-being—focus on the issue of oversleeping and why you see that as a problem. Give her the opportunity to come up with a solution that you both can agree to try and then evaluate. This process may take time—just as it took time for your daughter to learn to walk, talk, and feed herself. Involving her in this process will help her see the connection between her behavior and consequences. It puts her in the position of deciding how to meet her needs for socialization and sleep.
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
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.