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

The Magic of Wishes

What happens when you make wishes with children? They believe that you understand their heart’s desire. In other words, that you have empathy for what they are feeling.

Having empathy for a child enhances your relationship and can make parenting easier. Having empathy for the adults in your life enhances those relationships as well. Having empathy for yourself helps you to be emotionally healthy and enables you to have empathy for others.

Empathy is the respectful understanding of what someone (yourself or another person) is feeling and experiencing. You accept that the feelings are real—not made up to annoy you, not a sign of a moral flaw. Don’t try to suppress or minimize the feeling(s), simply acknowledge them.

Empathy means you are able to see a situation from another person’s perspective. Empathy doesn’t mean that you always agree with the other person’s point of view, just that you acknowledge that it exists.

It can be extremely difficult at times to be empathetic. It can also be challenging to convey to the other person that you have empathy for them. In the classic book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, authors Faber and Mazlish suggest using wishes as an effective way to convey empathy. Listen and think about what that person (or you) would wish for: “You wish ___(the fish was still alive; Dad didn’t have to be gone for work; all the children were snug and quiet in their beds).” Listen and describe a fantasy that the person would want: “You wish you could wave a magic wand and make it all better.”

I have found that using wishes is particularly helpful when what the other person would wish for is NOT something that is feasible or that I would want to be part of or help to make happen. Using “wish” implies that the desire may not be gratified, but that I respect that the other person really wishes it could be.

Some guidelines for using wishes.

Respectful tone of voice. Most of us have used the phrase “You wish” in an extremely unempathetic tone. Say it sincerely.

Make it positive. Not “You wish your brother would disappear” but “You wish your brother would leave your toys alone.”

Exaggeration can help. “I wish we were already home. I wish that the car could transform into a helicopter and fly over the traffic and land in our driveway!” Exaggerated wishes provide distraction and help the person transition to another activity. Exaggerated wishes can transform whining into a game.

Originally published June 9, 2013 on ParentingSuccessNetwork

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

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

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/

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/