Jun 132013

Look closer, stuff is happening.

A preschooler comes home from school; he is edgy and vulnerable. Maybe something happened at school. Maybe a friend made him sad. Maybe the work was hard. We may never know. But we do know that he is poking and prodding and pushing and pulling. We can feel it rise. We are on guard. If we only look at the surface, we may try to shut down behaviors: “Don’t do that.” “Be nice to your brother.” “Find something to do.” We engage in reactive parenting with the goal of avoiding a meltdown, of avoiding our own discomfort. We are focused only on the immediate behaviors we can see on the surface.

But look closer, stuff is happening. When we observe more closely, we may see sadness or tenderness. Our preschooler doesn’t have the words to express deep complicated emotion. So he moves his body around, waiting to crash into something or someone, emotionally or physically, that can help him “get it out.”

Inevitably, if we don’t look closer, if we can’t make space for the bigger, deeper issues, it will happen. And sometimes, even if we see that there is more there, it will happen anyway. Explosion. Sometimes a kid just needs to blow up.

If we react to the surface behaviors, we may miss the real action.

Look closer, stuff is happening. Children’s behavior is not random. It is the physical representation of what they are feeling and thinking. Just like adult behavior. Just like you and just like me.

It’s our job to use the child’s behavior as clues. Use their actions to remind us to look deeper. What is happening? What are they telling us? What do they need?

Our preschooler starts throwing stuff around the room. Our instinct tells us to stop him. But instead we look closer. We see that he is actually choosing objects carefully. Things that won’t break. He is making a mess, but not doing damage. He looks angry. He looks lonely. He looks sad. He is, also, very much in control.

We choose not to stop him. Instead we say, “You look angry, you look lonely, you look sad. I am here if you need me.” We step back and give him space, watching closely and prepared to intervene if the behavior becomes more out of control or unsafe.

He continues to throw things, clearly choosing carefully. The mess is pretty big. We control our own instinct to intervene. Messes make us uncomfortable, but that’s our process, not his.

We wait, keeping the house quiet and still, keeping ourselves available from a distance.

Eventually, he comes to us, saying, “I need a hug.” “I can see that,” we say and wrap him in our arms. The living room is a mess. He melts into our arms and cries and cries. We can feel his sadness. Life is hard. It really is. Sometimes, we just need to explode. His body changes, but he isn’t done yet.

Look closely, stuff is happening.

“That’s a pretty big mess you made in there. You were really angry. What happens next?” we ask.

His crying escalates. “I have to clean it up!!!” he wails.

“Seems like the right thing to do. When I break stuff or make a mess, I like to leave things better than I found them. It helps me feel better,” we say.

“No one will help me! I have to do it alone!” he sobs.

“Seems like it, I know you can do it. I have faith. I will be right here if you need me.”

His sobbing continues as he slowly moves to the living room. Bit by bit. Block by block. Game piece by game piece. He struggles to put everything back in order. He is crying loudly. Sobbing. But we look closer, stuff is happening. He is taking meticulous pride in putting things in order. He is organizing things that he didn’t mess up.

He works. And works. And cries and cries. Every few minutes, he comes back to where we are sitting and asks for a hug. We give them freely. There is no time limit. This is his process. There is no need for him to be calm or be quiet or do things our way.

The mess is cleaned up and he is breathing deeply and slowly. He sits down in the middle of the room and looks around. “I think I will clean the windows.” We smile. “That would feel good I bet. Leaving things better makes me feel good, too.” He cleans them and then pushes a candle into the center of the table. He stands back and smiles.

Look closer, things are happening. It is his living room. It was his mess. He went from angry and furious to sad to calm and proud.

We may never have any idea about what he worked through in that time. But he worked through some feelings that were pretty big. A closer look allowed us to interact rather than react. It allowed us to give him space, to stay close and supportive without interfering.

Look closer, things are happening. All the time.

 Posted by at 11:09 pm
May 272013

If there is one thing that is true about families, it is that families, all families, are constantly in transition. They are changing all the time.

And family is always family. No matter what it looks like.

By Aron Nels Steinke, http://www.aronnelssteinke.com

Some families have two parents, a mom and a dad, and everyone lives together in one house. Some families have two moms or two dads, or one mom and no dad, or one dad and no mom. Some families have two parents who live in different houses. Some have parents and grandparents in the same house, and some kids live with grandparents. Sometimes two families with kids and parents join together to form a whole new family.

And family is always family. No matter what it looks like.

Sometimes families start out one way, and change into something that looks pretty different.

Even if families don’t look like they are changing, they are. As kids get older their relationships change. Rhythms and traditions and schedules change. Some relationships get deeper and closer, some grow more distant. New siblings are born. Older siblings move out. Relationships with extended family members change as new cousins and nephews and nieces are born and grandparents, aunts or uncle die. Life changes and families change.

And family is always family. No matter what it looks like.

When a new baby is born, everyone in the family has to shift around and find their places within the dynamics and structure of the changing family system. When parents divorce, shifting and reorganizing the family is one of the biggest challenges. When two families come together to form one, each person has to figure out their new role within both their old family structure and the new blended one. It’s like a thousand rays of light, all intersecting.

Life is tricky. Parenting is tricky. And change may be the trickiest of all. Put them all together, and it’s no wonder we struggle. We are worried about the unknown. When we can’t see the path ahead, we tend to assume it must be dark. But just because we don’t know what it looks like, doesn’t mean it has to be bad. Change brings growth. Growth brings new possibilities. New possibilities bring beauty we never expected. As long as we embrace the change.

So how do we help our children embrace the change in their families, whatever that looks like?

1)   We have to trust the change ourselves. We have to believe in it and move forward with love and light and trust that the path, although unknown to us, is the right path to be on. We can communicate with our children that we don’t have all the answers yet, but that this path (whether it is the path of divorce, or blending two families, or moving in with grandma, or having a new baby) is the right path for our family right now.

2)   We have to honor each person’s relationship with every other person in the family. Relationship dynamics are multifaceted and boundless. Each child should feel safe and supported to interact with each of their family members in the way that is healthiest for them. So, mom and dad may work better if they live in separate houses, but they are still mom and dad and they are still the center points in the child’s family. Over time, as the child’s relationship with each parent changes and morphs, these relationships should be cherished, nurtured and supported by everyone. In the same way, two families coming together need to remember that this same thing is true, but times three or four or ten! Each relationship is different and separate, and at the same time connected to each of the other relationships. Make time and space for each to be honored, nurtured and supported.

3)   We have to maintain old traditions and build new ones. With all the change that happens in families, how is it that we can feel so stable? Traditions, routines, habits. As families change we can find comfort in our traditions. Our family may look really different now, but Sunday is still always blueberry pancake day. And, embracing change can allow for new traditions to be built on top of old ones. Blended families can share traditions, allowing each core family group to bring something special to the table. Honoring these types of traditions, while building new ones, is a great way for families who are moving into two separate households to bridge the change, too. These traditions, patterns, habits and routines tell the story about who our family is.

Family is about relationships. Some relationships are formed through genetics, some through choice and some through the choices of others. Regardless of how a family comes to be formed, one thing is true: It is always changing. Families that thrive do so, not because they look a certain way, or because they stay the same, but because they embrace change and the relationship growth that can happen when change is allowed to occur. Our children are not just along for the ride, they are active participants, in relationships with every family member. When we remember this, we can embrace our changing families and, as a result, find a deep level of stability within a constantly changing world.

How is your family changing? How do you talk about it?

 Posted by at 1:01 am
May 202013

Last night I watched a Ted talk by Jacob Barnett, a 13-year-old genius with Asperger’s.

His message? “Forget what you know.” “Stop learning and start thinking.” And, while Jacob’s story begins with how the educational and diagnostic systems that we have in our society were not able to meet his needs because he was working on quantum physics at the age of 3, his message still settled with me as, well, nothing short of genius.

The system didn’t work for him because he didn’t think like the system thinks. The system teaches us to learn things, in a certain way, for a certain goal, so that we can produce certain behaviors or outcomes and we can obtain a certain set of already agreed upon facts. Learning is prescribed and our measurement of learning is limited to what we think we want our children to do.

A parent asks, “How do I teach my child to behave in a classroom?” “How do I teach my child to respect authority and not act out?” “How do I teach my child to get along with other children?” “How can I teach my child to share?”

What we are really asking is “How do I get my child to memorize and follow the rules of engagement in specific and defined situations so that they don’t cause trouble?”

But memorizing behavioral standards or facts doesn’t lead to an inherent desire to behave a certain way.

“Stop learning and start thinking.”

What if, as parents, we adopted this as our goal?

I often hear the comparison between parenting and coaching. Coaching is clearly teaching. Last week I watched as a group of four-year-olds tried to play T-ball. The coach directed and guided and helped each kid get around the bases, hit the ball and catch the ball. And most of the kids had a half glazed, mostly confused look on their faces that said, “Sure, I can run to that base over there, but I have no idea why!” They were memorizing, or learning, the “rules” of the game, but they weren’t “thinking” about it.

Thinking is critical. It is creative. It is discovery. It is flexible and exploratory and leads to more ideas and it has no bounds. It leads to more thought. It comes from within us. We own it.

Learning is finite. It is wrong and right. It is given to us by someone else. It is not ours to own.

Jason Barnett is a genius. Maybe he doesn’t really need to “learn” anything. For most of us though, there is clearly a place for learning. But maybe most of us don’t get the opportunity to embrace “thinking” as much as we need to. And maybe if we can start with thinking, we can learn what we need to get where we want to go, rather than go where we can based on what we learn. There is a big difference.


So what would this look like, if we stopped focusing on learning and started focusing on thinking?

1)   We would coach less, narrate more. Coaches tell us how to do something. Narrators help us see the picture of what is happening. Coaches say, “Give the toy to your brother.” Narrators say, “Oh, you grabbed the toy from your brother. You really wanted it. Now he is crying! I wonder how you can work it out?”

2)   We would ask questions rather than give advice. “You’re having a hard time at school. What do you think you need?”

3)   We would pause more. Why? Because pausing gives kids time to think. We have a horrible habit of giving kids way more than they need: more lectures, more reasons, more choices, more advice, more direction. Instead, connect (You’re sad). Pause. Ask (What do you think you need?). Pause. Connect (It’s hard, I know, I have faith in you). Pause. Wonder (I wonder if…). Pause. Repeat. Most importantly, stop. When they start figuring things out on their own, back off and let them learn to think!


Let’s be honest. Most of us will not discover a new type of physics. Most of us will never be able to use our names in the same sentence with Einstein and Newton. But, on the other hand, every baby discovers gravity. Every child tests and retests empathic responses and reciprocal relationship effects. Our brains are built to figure things out. Our hearts are yearning to do it. Sure, learning can lead to good achievement results. But thinking… that leads to, well, just about anything we could imagine.



 Posted by at 8:02 am
Apr 302013

I previously wrote a blog post, When Mama Has a Bad Day, that resonated with many of you. I received so many comments and notes and emails about that post, and I knew I had struck a chord. It’s true. We all have bad days. And sometimes, the bad days seem to outnumber the not-so-bad days by a staggering amount.

But bad days are not what I want to talk about today.

Actually, I want to talk about the opposite. Good days. Something that doesn’t get enough attention in my book.

Sometimes we have good days.

Yep. And it’s not a fluke.


Sometimes we have days that just feel like a walk through the tulips.


It’s true. Let me say it again. Some days we have good days. Let’s own it. Let’s talk about. No, let’s scream it from the mountain tops! Let’s take note of it! Because these good days can give us just as much, if not more, information about how we can become better parents than our bad days can.

Maybe this doesn’t quite make sense at first. In our culture of bad-news-is-the-only-news, put-a-diagnosis-on-it-and-find-a-cure approach to life, the good stuff just doesn’t seem as noteworthy. After all, if we want things to get better, we need to first figure out what is wrong. Right? Many of us have communication styles that highlight the negative. We commiserate with friends about how hard stuff is, and it feels like bragging to say otherwise. We connect through struggle. We tell ourselves that it’s got to hurt if it’s to heal. We vent. We judge. We compare. And it seems that all of this reinforces our belief that it is in our darkest moments that we can learn the most.

But, what if we are missing something? Like the light maybe? Is it possible we could actually learn something from our good days?

This past weekend, I had a great parenting day. I was connected, flowing, gentle, patient, loving. I was all the things I strive to be. Things were going so well, that it kind of caught me off guard. I started to blame the weather, developmental strides, the stars…. And then I had a thought.

A strange thought.

What if, just maybe, this good parenting day was happening because I was doing something right?

And what if, just maybe, I could figure out what I was doing right, so that I could create my very own, personalized-for-my-own-family “self-help-guide-to-good-parenting.” So I did what I talk about doing in the tough moments, but have never even considered doing in the great moments. I reflected on what I was thinking, feeling, doing. I became aware and I collected data. I meditated, without judgment, on what was happening.

And the results? Enlightening. I became acutely aware of things that I already innately knew about myself, my children and my family. Things like, my children do better with slow starts in the morning. Things like, days with fewer transitions work better for us, and everyone in my house needs some downtime to balance out the activity. Things like, centering activities like yoga and meditation create connection among all of us, and sugar works better if we get to play outside right afterward. Things like, setting up a quiet writing activity in a quiet space could help avoid an ominous meltdown, and getting my daily run is crucial to my feeling centered throughout the day…. I could go on and on.

The point is, the weekend didn’t feel like a good parenting weekend because it was a fluke or an astrological miracle. It felt like a good parenting weekend because I was making good parenting decisions.

And when I realized what I was doing well, I could then turn these things into helpful hints for the next day. My own, personalized, family-focused, guide to getting through the rough days.

And even better, I already knew (1) that it worked and (2) that I was quite capable of implementing it. So the next day, when I realized I was having one of the more common “bad days,” I could remind myself that I (not an expert or a friend or a book) already had tried and true interventions.

No matter how much we struggle as parents, we all have good moments. We all have good days. We all have times that we feel like parenting rock stars who should be the one writing the books. And the truth is, we should be writing our own books. We already have so much data to go on. We just have to bring it to the front of our minds.

So the next time you have a good parenting day, stop. Breathe. Look around and pay attention. Tell yourself, “This is me. I am doing this. This is my family. We are doing this together.” And then take it all in. How are you speaking? What are you doing? Did you do anything different? Did you do anything proactive? What decisions did you make? How did you respond to stress or challenges? Why did it work?

Make a list. Write it down. Put at the top something simple like “Things That Work for Our Family.” Having this list accessible may be the best gift you ever give yourself. Some of the things you discover will be things that you decide to make routine, some of the things you discover will help you in crisis mode. But all of what you discover will be proof that you are a good parent, and there is so much that you already know. You just have to remember to see, and learn from, the light. And then maybe, have a few more walk-through-the-tulip kind of days.

 Posted by at 3:51 pm
Apr 162013


Photo Credit: Boston Marathon 2013

We agonize over how to talk to our kids about tragedy. We grapple with comprehending these types of events ourselves, and the idea that we can somehow find the words that would make the events reasonable for a child to integrate seems daunting at best.

There are numerous posts and articles swirling around that give advice on how to talk to kids about incidents such as the Boston tragedy. Turn off the TV, offer just enough, answer questions but don’t add gratuitous details, let them know they are safe. Rather than doing all the talking, I like to focus on asking three main questions to find out what kids need in times like these:

  • What have you heard about it?
  • What do you think about it?
  • What do you wonder about it?

What have you heard about it? Finding out what kids know and what they already have floating around in their heads is an important first step. If your child is away from you for any part of the day, it is impossible to know what others may or may not have told them. Finding out where they are at is a great place to start. Rumors, exaggerations, dramatizations grow and swirl and take on a life of their own. Kids build on these ideas in their imaginations. Helping them sort through all the thoughts they are already having is important. If we just add to what is already in their heads, rather than helping them sort through it, we may just be making things more complicated for them.

What do you think? Before you share what you think with your child, ask them what they think. Get an idea for where they are at emotionally and then go from there. Don’t assume that they are feeling a certain way or thinking certain thoughts. Connecting with them based on their thoughts and feelings will be much more meaningful than assuming and adding to the confusion.

What do you wonder? Answer their questions as they have them. Not before. Kids will ask for information they are ready to handle. Anything more will at best go over their heads and at worst overwhelm them. Take it slow.

Allow their lives to go back to normal. Turn off the radio and the TV. Talk about the event openly when they bring it up, but do your own processing away from them. Respect the child’s privilege to have their world stay as protected from the information as possible. It is a privilege they won’t always have, and one we should strive to keep as long as possible. If your child’s life was touched directly, go from there. In short, give them what they need and not more.

But even with all of this, we still struggle with what to say. And it is important that we are deliberate with our response because the story we tell matters. The narrative that we tell about our lives, our selves, our world defines how we see our lives, our selves, our worlds. If we give the good more attention than the bad, our narrative, our experience and, hence, our future can be hopeful rather than bleak.

When I was a boy...

Original Source Unknown

We could spend our energy talking about the tragedy. The fear, the pain, the devastation. But after every tragedy we can also talk about the countless stories of human connection, inspiration and hope that arise. People loving and caring and healing and helping. This is the true human spirit. One person wreaks havoc. But that is not the narrative our hearts need to embrace. 1000 people save lives. 1000 people react with love and grace and compassion. That is the story I want my children to know. That is the story I want them to connect to. That is the story I want to resonate with them and define their world, their future.

There will always be the one who brings pain. The sad truth is that there will be more events like these in our children’s future. But for every act of pain, there are 1000 points of light.

So when my children ask, I will tell that story. I will look for the articles and stories that focus on the acts of hope and inspiration. And I will hope that their narrative will evolve to embrace the positive even in the midst of such negative events. Because maybe, if we can help a new generation of adults build a narrative of connection, the acts of pain will fade into the past.

 Posted by at 10:56 am
Mar 202013

Nine-year-old David comes home, throws his backpack on the floor and stomps off to his room. Several minutes later he is lurking around the kitchen while his mom cooks dinner, poking at his brother, whining to his mother. She tells him to go outside and play until dinner is ready. He goes to put on his shoes but can only find the red tennis shoes with the extra-long laces that are hard to tie, and the world comes crashing in. He screams that he hates these shoes, throws them down and then yells at his brother to “get out of his way.” 

So, what do we know about David? That he doesn’t follow the rule to put his backpack on the hook? That he is bored and has difficulty finding ways to engage himself in activities after school? That he is “needy” for his mom’s attention? That he hates red shoes and has trouble tolerating frustration? That he lacks empathy for his brother?

If we look at each of these behaviors as singular moments of time, completely unrelated to what may have happened in the previous moments, then these simplistic assessments make sense. But this may be one of the biggest parenting errors we make. We assume that we have all the information. We assume that our children’s reactions and behaviors are based solely on what we can see and hear and feel AT THAT MOMENT. We have a tendency to assume that our children’s worlds are only as big as the information we have.

So in that moment, David’s mom may redirect him from dropping the backpack in the middle of the floor. She may redirect him from poking at his brother. She may redirect him when he is in the way in the kitchen. And then she will redirect him when he explodes over the silly shoelaces. Her frustration grows. She throws up her hands and pretty soon, David isn’t the only one having a meltdown, everyone is.

But, what if we also had this information: Today at lunch, David’s best friend didn’t want to sit with him. At recess, a ball hit him in the head. The math equation he had to do on the board came out wrong and, even though the teacher helped him through it, he still felt like the whole class thought he was dumb.  At the end of the day, his teacher told him that parent conferences are happening next week. He remembers that his last conference didn’t go so well and he has to give the letter to his mom tonight. Then, some kids on the bus were teasing another kid and he wanted to tell them to stop, but he didn’t. It made him feel horrible. On top of it all, he is hungry because he gave part of his lunch away and didn’t eat enough. He walks in the door of his house and throws his backpack on the floor….

A kid’s life is complex. They are learning everything about the world. They are not only accumulating information, but social rules, codes, language, physical movement, coordination, body growth, relationships. It’s exhausting. And it isn’t easy.

Kids have stressors that we are unaware of. They move through their day, just like we do, accumulating stress and anxiety and ups and downs. And, just like us, it’s pretty common that when these stressors come along, they just have to pull it together and keep going. They may not have the opportunity, or luxury, of processing through them fully. So they move from moment to moment, doing what they have to do, until they get home and they can “let it all go” so to speak.

We, as parents, are sometimes pretty bad at remembering that kids have a life outside of us. They have peer interactions and expectations from teachers, disappointments, struggles and joys, surprises and fears that we will never know about. Even if they are little and are home all day with us, they have an inner dialogue, aches and pains, thoughts and perceptions that we simply cannot know. In short, they are their own people, from day one.

Being mindful of this can allow us to respond differently to our children’s needs. Rather than seeing each behavior as a singular and discreet moment, we can see our children as people with rich and complex lives. With moments that build on moments and emotions that build on emotions.

We are their safe spot. We are their anchor. We are the place where they can “let it all go” at the end of the day.

Which doesn’t mean that we ignore or tolerate behaviors that threaten others or cross family boundaries and rules. It doesn’t mean that David won’t have to pick up his backpack or check in with his brother or figure out his shoes. But it does mean that we respond differently to each of those situations.

When we are aware of the reality that our children come to each moment with a buildup of other moments, instead of saying, “How many times have I told you not to throw your backpack on the floor?!” we may say, “Wow, it looks like you had a hard day! If you want to hang up your bag, I can cuddle on the couch for a minute before I start dinner.” Or instead of saying, “You’re in the way, go outside and play,” we may say, “Seems like you really want to be close right now. We could talk while I cook or you could help with dinner.”

We don’t really have to know all the details. Sometimes we will, but often we won’t. Kids may not need to, or be able to, process all their experiences verbally. But when we recognize that there is more to this moment than just this moment, when we accept the fact that their lives are bigger than just what we can see, we can offer a wider variety of support to meet their needs and be the anchors they need us to be.  

And, just as importantly, we can give them a framework to start to better understand their own complex web of emotions. We often hear that children live in the moment, and it’s true that they do. They can commit more fully heart and body to whatever it is that is in front of them, like a shoe with extra long laces. But they also carry emotional and body stress around with them from moment to moment, just like adults do. Which means in the moment, it is harder for David to separate out school stress from his shoe, resulting in a blow out that seems blown out of proportion. But if we can help them recognize there is more going on, they can develop a deeper understanding of their reactions.  If we can empathize with the buildup of stress and emotions, even if we don’t know the whole story, we can help them figure out ways to process. And if we can connect with them as they are, another human being moving through this world, building up moments, we can strengthen our relationships with them in a profound way.

A kid’s life isn’t easy. It’s life.

 Posted by at 2:24 pm
Mar 122013

Join any group of parents and you will hear one universal question being asked over and over again. From the time our kids are born, until they move out of our daily sight, we are constantly looking for something to tell us that our kids are “normal.”

Photo by Tumbleweed Infant and Preschool House

Is it normal that my preschooler…cries, hits, bites, sleeps, doesn’t sleep, eats, doesn’t eat, yells, stomps, ignores, stutters, doesn’t like what other kids like…and on and on.

Is it normal that my middle schooler….cries, won’t do homework, sleeps, doesn’t sleep, won’t shower, doesn’t have friends, talks back, stomps, slams, whines, picks on his brother, doesn’t like what other kids like….and on and on.

Is it normal that my teenager….cries, sleeps too much, won’t get up, won’t go to bed, won’t talk to me, talks too much, used alcohol, talks back, stomps, slams, whines, doesn’t like what other kids like…and on and on.



Is it normal? Probably. Okay, so now what? And if it’s not normal? What then? Just because something is normal, doesn’t mean that it makes it any easier to face in the moment. And even if a behavior is not typical, it doesn’t mean that the same parenting response will have the same result for every kid. That’s because in order to really address any behavior, we have to meet our kids, exactly where they are. And exactly where they are is never the same as exactly where any other kid is.

But still, finding normalcy in a developmental struggle is powerful. Maybe not so much for our children, but for us. When we ask, “is it normal?” what we really want to know is that we are not alone. That every other house on the block is just as crazy. That every other living room has toys strewn about. That somewhere close by other teenagers are slamming doors. That other families are struggling to help their pre-teen with the overwhelming awkwardness of the first school dance or feeling the frustration of hearing a child “talk back”.  When we say is it normal, what we really want to know is “do you feel my pain? Are you as lost as I feel?”

In essence, we want to know that WE are normal, and that this feeling of not having the answer is okay. We want to know that other parents grasp for the same straws that we do.  And for the most part, we can relax. Because it’s true.  If there is a parent out there that isn’t befuddled by sleep or food or poop or emotions or language or whatever at least some times, then they are…well, not normal.

And for the most part, we know that our kids are normal too.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t have to address the issue. And there in lies the tricky part. Just because something is normal, doesn’t mean we don’t have to worry about it. Experimenting with alcohol or sex as a teenager may be normal, but it doesn’t mean that we just get to shrug it off. Hitting a peer with a truck may be normal for a toddler, but it doesn’t mean we ignore the behavior and walk away.

Photo by Tumbleweed Infant and Preschool House

Nope, just because something is normal, doesn’t mean it’s any easier to handle. And when it’s just us, in our homes, face to face with the preteen whose homework woes send them into a toddler-like meltdown, the fact that it’s normal doesn’t help us figure out what to do in that specific moment, with this specific child.

Really, in the moment, for the child, “normal” doesn’t mean much. What works for one child may not work at all for another. Supporting our children through these “normal” developmental struggles requires us to consider our child, our family culture, our expectations, our boundaries. I have written several posts on why this is so important, including Know Thy Child and 7 Criteria for Good Parenting. In the end, knowing what to do in any parenting situation requires us to look deeply at our children and ourselves to find what works, rather than looking towards normal. The good news is that when we let go of trying to find comfort in “normalizing” our child we can do just that. We will listen more intently to what our child is saying, look closer at what our child is doing and trust more in the individual that they are and what their behaviors are telling us. And when we do that, we will be able to move towards what they need, regardless of what the statistics say. Sure it’s hard, but hey, that’s normal.

 Posted by at 4:45 pm
Feb 192013

I often find myself writing about parenting young children. But in my day-to-day work, many of the parents I interact with are parenting older children or adolescents. The funny thing is that whether I am talking to the parents of a 2-year-old or a 12-year-old, it seems that the themes underlying the struggles are the same. The good news is that when gentle, respectful parenting strategies are the focus, there isn’t any need to change course as your child gets older. As I read through my “go-to” parenting books (like Dr. Markham’s Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids or Myla and John Kabat-Zinn’s Everyday Blessings) and my favorite blogs (like Janet Lansbury or Finding Joy or Momma Zen or Abundant Life Children), I realize that all of these became my favorites because they share fundamental parenting premises. Fundamentals that hold true across the ages and stages.

For our kids, these writers encourage us to:

  • Support their emotions
  • Respect their space/bodies
  • Trust their intentions /ideas/abilities
  • Let them climb, let them fall
  • Share their journey
  • Maintain expectations (boundaries) with love and support

And similarly, for ourselves, they encourage us to:

  • Be aware of our own emotions
  • Respect our own space/body
  • Trust our own intentions/ideas/abilities
  • Take some risks, understand that sometimes we will fall
  • Know that this is our journey, too
  • Accept and honor our own expectations

These fundamentals apply if our 1-year-old won’t sleep through the night. If our 4-year-old starts showing increased aggression towards their younger sibling. If our 9-year-old suddenly develops school anxiety. If our 15-year-old is hanging out with a sketchy crowd. If, if, if. Our kids will do all these things and more. Every stage is new, every challenge is different in the details. Every struggle is painful and confusing. But at the heart of it, it’s all the same. It’s life.

It’s big emotion. It’s difficult transitions. It’s greater autonomy and higher expectations. It’s tricky negotiations. It’s learning who we are in relation to others. And all that applies not just to the kids, but to us as parents.

So often we can’t see beyond the current struggle. And we think that if we can just figure out how to “deal” with this particular challenge, we will be home free. We will have arrived at the top. But this journey actually never ends. And when we make it through one challenge, our kids will be two steps ahead of us, starting the next one.

It’s what they are supposed to do. Challenge by challenge, they grow. Challenge by challenge, we support them in that growth.

And gentle, respectful parenting helps us do that. With ONE philosophy that spans the ages. Support, Respect, Trust, Allow, Share, Maintain. Let’s break it down:

Support: No matter what the situation or the age, we start by supporting emotion. Reflect emotion. Everyone’s emotion. No one has bigger emotions than 3-year-olds, except maybe 16-year-olds. At the heart of slamming doors and bad crowds and thrown toys are very powerful emotions. Fear, anger, anxiety. Reflect and embrace emotions, your kids’ as well as your own.

Respect: Our children deserve and are entitled to live in a world where their body and space are respected. It’s just that simple. Respect theirs and expect them to respect yours.

Trust: We are often quick to assume our kids can’t do something. Or they won’t do something. Or they don’t want to do something. In the end, that may be true, but it’s a horrible place to start. Believe in your kids. Start with trusting that they are starting with good intentions and good ideas and the ability to follow through. It won’t always work out. They will mess up. But that’s okay. We all feel much better about taking the next step when we are surrounded by people who trust us. On that note, trust yourself. You’re doing great!

Allow: Swallow your anxiety and allow them to do just a little bit more than you’re comfortable with. Let them go a little bit further. Let them climb a little higher. Let them learn to trust themselves. As they grow older, the safety bubble we put around them expands. It’s their job to push it out. It’s our job to let them.  It’s a balance. Yep, they are going to fall. Or fail. Or stumble. They need to. It’s called learning. It’s painful, but necessary. As parents we take risks, too. In that way, we all grow together. One deep breath at a time.

Share: When we see this tiny person (or this humongous kid who is suddenly taller than us) as a fellow human being who we are sharing a journey with, we can suddenly let go of some of the control we tend to want to maintain over them. We need to protect them, but if we try to control their lives, we miss out, not only on their journey, but on our own as well.

Maintain: Gentle, respectful parenting is not about parenting without boundaries. In Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids, Dr. Markham talks about the need for maintaining high expectations paired with providing high support. Respectful parenting means that we (1) know what our expectations are, (2) have a realistic understanding of what our kids are developmentally capable of and (3) are available to support them in being successful. So, if our expectation is that our 2-year-old will clean up all the toys, we need to also make sure they have the support they need (staying with them, singing the clean up song, encouraging them, helping them move blocks….). High expectations. High support. (I recommend you read this book for more on this concept.) Likewise, if our 14-year-old cannot go to the school dance because her homework isn’t done, we need to be there to support her through the painful anger and disappointment she will feel. (Her life is likely to be over as she knows it. That feeling is real and shouldn’t be dismissed, but it doesn’t mean that the expectation has changed.)

Support. Respect. Trust. Allow. Share. Maintain. It works across the ages. It’s basic relationship stuff and that’s really what parenting is. A relationship. Maybe our most important one ever.

 Posted by at 4:12 pm
Feb 052013

Why don’t we ask for help?

Raise your hand if you are good at asking for help when you need it. Through our virtual connection, I envision a room full of crickets chirping as the vast majority of us sit on our hands and look around to catch a glimpse of the parents who have perfected the art of accepting help. A few hands go up in the air, but most of us can’t claim to be good at this vital skill.

Of course, we tell our children to ask for help when they need it.

And, we tell our friends to ask us for help when they need it.

We philosophically believe that it takes a village to raise a child. We extol the virtues of said village and work hard (or at least wish hard) to have a village around us.

We definitely need help.

We definitely want help.

But, many of us are definitely are not good at asking for help. Oh sure, we can pay for help. We can hire a babysitter from time to time. We can schedule an hour here or there in a preplanned, everything is arranged and pulled together, dinner-is-ready-in-the-crock-pot kind of help. But I am talking about the middle of the night, emergency, take-my-kids-right-now-because-I’m-gonna-lose-it kind of help. The kind of asking for help that finds us at our worst and leaves us feeling vulnerable and exposed. That’s the kind of help we just don’t like to ask for. It’s the hardest kind of help to admit to needing. But think about it, this is exactly the kind of help that we want our kids to be able to embrace.

A three-year-old runs around the house, his nerves are raw and he laughs wildly, on the brink of a meltdown. He crashes into a wall and dissolves into a puddle of tears, howls and throws a toy across the room. A mom says, “You were really feeling out of control. I wonder if you could have asked for help?”

A teenage boy stomps through the house. He is failing math and his girlfriend broke up with him and his blood is boiling and his emotions are raging. He slams his bedroom door and blares the music. His father says, “Why won’t you just ask us for help? We are here!”

A mother is at the end of her rope. Her three-year-old is sick and she hasn’t had a full night of sleep in what seems like years and her teenager is slamming doors and the house is a mess and the bills need to be paid and her head hurts and dinner needs to be fixed. Her nerves are frayed and the sound of her child’s voice fills her with fear. Her friend says, “Let me know if I can help.”

Photo by Tumbleweed Infant and Preschool House

Life, from childhood on, is wrought with big emotions that leave us feeling vulnerable and exposed. Last week I wrote about modeling traits you want your child to learn, rather than just preaching them. And this week I have been thinking a lot about how this applies to the concept of asking for help. If we want our children to be capable of seeking out help and support, then we have to be able to do the same. For most of us, for some reason, this is really hard. But, why?

I think it is time to explore and challenge some of the myths about asking for help:


1)      It admits defeat: If I am a good mother, I will always have it under control. If I ask for help, people will know I am not a good mother.

The truth: That’s just silly. Everyone needs help. Asking for it makes us better parents. And that isn’t just a cliché. It’s real. We can all parent better when we have deep resources (both internally and externally.) Sleep deprived, stressed out, emotionally raw parents have more difficulty making good parenting decisions. It just is. So asking for help is actually part of being a good parent.

2)      We will inconvenience others: My friends and family are busy. They don’t have time to help. I don’t want to bother them.

The truth: Being there for each other is what relationships are about. Relationships that are only based on convenience aren’t very deep. Most people feel good about helping others. It makes us feel good when our loved ones ask us for help. We feel connected and useful and engaged. It helps build trust and intimacy. It actually helps relationships flourish.

3)      My friends will know I struggle: Show no weakness. I’m fine! Really….

The truth: Yep. They will know we struggle. And they will like us more for it. Why? Because they need help, too, and we all want to know that everyone is in the same boat as us. If we ask for help, they can ask for help, and then we are truly all in it together.

4)      I will be indebted: Self-sufficiency is key. Don’t depend on anyone. Pay for everything. Quid Pro Quo.

The truth: If we are all in this together, then it will all come out in the wash. I will help you when you need it, you will help me when I need it. Having these types of relationships allows flexibility and trust that both partners can ask for what they need, when they need it. If we give and take support from our relationships, then the concept of accruing debt does not apply.

5)      They will say no: And that would be horrible.

The truth: Maybe. But that’s okay. Sometimes they will say no. It’s not so scary or horrible. It’s just no.

There are more, of course. Deep-seated beliefs that stop us from picking up the phone and asking someone for help. But the truth is, in order to show our kids that asking for help is an important part of life, we have to be willing to challenge our own beliefs and practice what we preach. When we do, we show them that asking for help not only gets us through the big emotions with integrity, but also allows us to celebrate the joys more fully through deeper connection with our loved ones. We have to ask for help, when we need it, from the very people that we tell to ask US for help when THEY need it!

So this week, I give you a challenge: Ask for help.

Ask your child for help. Ask a friend for help. Ask your partner for help. Push through the resistance and ask for help. See what happens. It might just change your day. It might just change your life.

 Posted by at 8:25 am
Jan 232013

Photo by Tumbleweed Infant House

Remember in kindergarten when we learned the golden rule? Treat others as you would want them to treat you. Remember last week when you heard that parent say to their child, “If you want them to share with you, you might try sharing with them”?

Now, remember that old, wishful parenting saying, “Do as I say, not as I do”? And, remember how that doesn’t work at all? Remember how the research keeps telling us that kids who grow up in houses that utilize spanking generally exhibit more aggression with peers? There seems to be a pattern here.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Maybe he was on to something.

I recently wrote a post called Sit Down and Breathe advocating that calming a storm within a child or house may actually start with us literally sitting down and breathing. This works because the child sees us and feels us do something different. The behavior is contagious. The child learns a new skill because we are modeling it, not because we are trying to force them to do it, too. They step into the new moment with us because it feels better. We have become the change we wanted to see.

It is no secret that if we treat people with respect, we are likely to get respect back. Gandhi knew it. Our kindergarten teacher knew it. Heck even most preschoolers know it. How many of us have asked our child why they hit someone only to have them say, “Well, he hit me first.” We recognize things like this all the time. But, for some reason, when it comes to our own parenting, we don’t get it.

We think we can tell, lecture, bribe, coerce, force, trick or teach our children into being the people we want them to be. Or better yet, we want them to just naturally be born perfect. But the truth is that no matter how much we tell, lecture, bribe, coerce, force, trick or teach our children, in the end our own behaviors will have much greater influence over the people they become. We have to listen to Ganhdi. We have to be the change we want to see.

We have to be the person we want our children to become.

Photo by Tumbleweed Infant House

The other day I told my child that it was time to clean up. He continued to work on the puzzles he had spread all over the floor. I asked him again, my voice raising a little louder, my intention stronger. He continued to work and then finally he said, “I’m in the middle of this right now, I will talk to you in a minute.” In that moment, I saw myself. Cooking, cleaning, whatever. Brushing off his questions to me, focused on my task and saying…well…those exact words. And then I remembered him trying to get my attention, getting louder, his intention getting stronger. Our roles reversed.

If I want him to interact differently with me, I need to be the change I want to see. I need to show him some other options: “I’m really focused right now, can you give me five minutes?” or “I can tell you really need me, let me get to a stopping point and I will give you my full attention” or “Yep, you’re right, we are supposed to be going to the park and I’m not ready yet. Can you help me finish this so I can get through it quicker?”

Be the person you want your child to become.

Ever found yourself yelling, “STOP YELLING!” only to have the child or other person yell back, “I’M NOT YELLING!”? Crazy, but it happens. Be the change. Get close to a loud child and speak very, very quietly. Chances are they will lower their voice to match yours. Magic? Nope. Be the change.

Two Degrees of Suburbia recently wrote, in my opinion, one of the most poignant posts ever. She wrote, “If you want your kid to say please and thank you….just say please and thank you.” Hallelujah. No more, no less.

Be the person you want your child to become.

If you want your child to listen, then you must hear them out. Look at them when they speak. Don’t interrupt them. Respond fully and genuinely.

If you want your child to trust, then you must trust them. Give them opportunities to lead as often as you expect them to follow. Value their opinions and efforts.

If you want your child to be respectful, then you must respect them and others. Speak thoughtfully and graciously. Understand that their bodies and minds are theirs, and behave in a way that shows you understand and value all the other bodies and minds that share this world of ours.

If you want your child to move through life with integrity, then you must show them the value of standing up for what we know is right and challenging what is wrong, even when that wrong came from our own selves. Admitting mistakes and making amends when we break the trust of others, including our children is vital. You can tell a child to say, “I’m sorry,” but if they see you saying you’re sorry in moments when you have let someone down, they may actually see the beauty in it.

If you want your child to be kind, you must be kind.

You get the picture.

If you want your child to be X, then you must be X.

If you want your child to be Y, then you must be Y.

What if it really is just as simple as that? Gandhi was a pretty smart guy. The next time you find yourself feeling frustrated with something your child is doing, or not doing, do a little soul searching yourself. Is there any way you may be modeling this? Is there anything you can do to be the change you want to see?  What are you seeing in your child that is truly just a reflection of yourself? And then, be the change. Think of it this way, even if it doesn’t have an immediate impact on your child, it will have a pretty immediate impact on you. We don’t want our children to be kind, patient, trusting, thoughtful, gracious, respectful, etc just for the heck of it. Nope, we want to help them embody these attributes because we know it will make their lives better. Maybe it will work for us, too.

 Posted by at 5:26 pm