Jul 172013
 

Emotion begets emotion. When our friends are happy or sad, we feel happy or sad. Maybe we feel twinges of tears during tissue commercials, or serious anxiety while watching contentious political debates. Being in the room with an angry individual, especially a loud angry person with big aggressive movements, can (and should) cause anxiety or mirrored anger. And parenting is no different. We come face to face with our children’s mostly raw, unhinged, loud and pure emotion once, twice or a hundred times a day.

 

Knowing what your go-to response is when you are faced with emotion is crucial to mindful parenting. Emotion is contagious and while empathy is a crucial and important part of interacting with the world, we also need to be aware of how our response pattern to emotions may be impacting our relationships and, most importantly, our parenting.

When we feel an emotion, our automatic response is to do something about it. If I feel angry, I want to get rid of the conflict. If I feel anxious, I want to get rid of the threat. If I feel frustrated, I want to change whatever is blocking my way. It mostly boils down to, “I don’t want to feel bad. Stop the emotion.” See the problem here? We may be saying, “tell me how you feel!” to our little ones, but if we react negatively when they do tell us, then our message is lost.

In parenting we are given the opportunity to see this unfold over and over again. Our kiddo has an emotion, it causes an emotion in us, we are driven to get rid of our own emotion, which means getting rid of our kid’s emotion. When they stop crying, I will feel better. When they stop being angry, I won’t feel bad. Our parenting choices are driven largely by our inability to tolerate our own and, consequently, our children’s emotions.

Mindful parenting asks us to stop this pattern. It asks us to tolerate everyone’s emotions. To be aware of our own emotions and to allow our children the space to feel and express and sort through their own stuff, without us blocking them. Supporting the emotional growth of our children demands that we allow them to practice emotional expression. Once, twice, maybe a hundred times a day.

It also means that we help them go a little deeper into their emotion. And in order to do that, we have to be able to keep our own emotions out of it. Let me be clear, I don’t mean escape out of the house or send them to another room to cry. I don’t mean ignore or take on an “I don’t care” attitude. I do mean that we need to realize that we are not always the center of the universe. I do mean that we need to realize that this emotion that they are having is not about us, and it is not ours to squash. Imagine if you went to your best friend to cry about something and she said, “Oh, stop crying, I hate it when you cry. Don’t you know we are late for the movie? Why do you always do this to me?” What you wanted was support and love while you processed some heavy emotion. It was not about her, it was not her emotion to squash.

It’s true. We squash our kids’ emotions. All. The. Time. But we don’t have to. And doing it differently can feel so good. In order to do it differently we need to Connect, Observe, Reflect and Engage (CORE). And say to yourself, “This emotion is not about me. This is not my emotion to squash.” Once, twice or a hundred times a day.

 

Here is an example of how it can look:

My five-year-old sat close by while my three-year-old lay on the floor and cried. I sat down on the floor and waited.

To say he was crying doesn’t really give justice to the moment. He howled and spat, “Bad mommy! Bad mommy!” He kicked his feet on the floor. He yelled, “NO!” every time one of us tried to comfort him.

“He is really mad at you,” my five-year-old observed.

I nodded. “That’s what I hear him saying. And that’s okay. He is very angry right now. But I don’t think he is really mad at me. I wonder what he is really feeling?” I pondered out loud.

My three-year-old would not let such a question go unanswered. “I AM mad at you! But also at these shoes. They won’t go on and now you’re going to leave me!”

My five-year-old piped up hopefully, “Oh maybe he isn’t really mad at you, maybe he is worried about if we are going to leave him.” He moved closer to his brother. “Are you worried we are going to leave you?”

“YES!” he screamed. “I can’t do this and you will leave me behind. I want to go to the park.” His agony and tears were intense.

“I can ask Mama for you. Do you want me to ask her?”

“YES!” he shrieked.

“Okay, Mama, are we going to leave him behind?”

“No. We will not leave him behind. Right now we are all sitting in the hallway together, trying to figure this out.”

My three-year-old, still crying, calmed a little bit.

I offered my support. “Seems like you are frustrated that your shoes are tricky and you’re worried about keeping up. What can I do to help you?”

“Can you wait for me?” He needed to hear it one more time.

“Yes. We can wait.”

He took a breath, wiped his nose, sat up and got to work putting on his shoes. It took a while. The laces were tied and the tongue was pushed down. His brother and I sat in the hallway with him while he worked. We started talking quietly about the wood grain in the floor. He worked and worked, his breathing settled.

Success! His shoes were on and tied.

“I’m ready!”

We all jumped up and headed to the door.

 

It took a lot of breaths. It took of lot of saying to myself, “this emotion isn’t about me,” which is hard to do when your little one is screaming that it is your fault. It took a lot of checking in with my own emotions and keeping them separate. But what happened was bigger and better and deeper. It was about exploring emotions, showing my boys that emotions don’t have to be squashed, that they can be worked through, together. It was about showing them that what feels like anger may really be fear, or frustration, or worry.

 

And that is big work for a little person. Or even a big one.

And doing that big work makes parenting feel a whole lot better.

 

 

 Posted by at 10:01 pm
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
Apr 162013
 

Tragedy

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
Oct 112012
 

We talk so much about how to help a child through their emotions. We want them to have awareness, understanding, and language to process emotions. We want them to feel, express, process and recover from emotions in ways that are healthy and productive. But what about when parents have emotions? And  more specifically, what about when parents have emotions that interfere with our ability to be calm and present and balanced and thoughtful parents? What about our emotions?

Over the past weekend I was blessed with many opportunities to feel lots of uncomfortable emotions, practice mindfulness, use self calming techniques, and notice when I was reacting to situations rather than interacting with my children. The weekend, in all its kindness, offered me a never ending flow of moments in which I could practice re-centering after I found myself off balance and lost. The weekend was ripe with data collection and information and opportunity for growth.

I should, theoretically, be grateful.

In theory.

In reality, I was frustrated, exhausted, weary, angry and confused.

Prior to the start of the weekend I had set an intention to bring my awareness to a deeper level of parenting. I wanted to challenge myself to be more introspective, to become involved in some of the subtle ways that I may be giving unintended messages to my children. If thinking about your thoughts is referred to as meta-cognition, I wanted to intentionally practice meta-parenting. I was excited and invigorated and had grand expectations of revelations and really deepening my parenting practice and connection with my children.

But that didn’t happen.

Not by a long shot. At least not in the way I had envisioned.

Instead, all weekend I struggled to hold on to the bare essentials of what I value in parenting. I held on to calm with clenched fists and bit back harsh words and heard my voice get louder and saw my actions get sharper and moved through the hours of the days counting the minutes until nap time, and then bed time so that I could breathe again. Rather than looking at how I could become a great parent, I was challenged at every juncture of the day to just be good enough. And it was tough.

So what happened? It wasn’t that my children were exceptionally challenging or difficulty this weekend. They were, as they always are, kids. Kids with needs. And it wasn’t that I was exceptionally bad at parenting this weekend. I was, as I always am, a parent. A parent with needs.  And a parent who for maybe for no reason at all, was having a bad day. The kind of day that, if I was single, I most certainly would have filled with shopping or crying or watching chick-flick movies or eating chocolate chip cookies. Which of course, is just not possible when you’re a mom.

And for some reason, those needs all collided this weekend. And the more they collided that more I judged myself. And the more I judged myself, the more I felt like I just needed a break. And the more I felt like I needed a break, the more I felt overwhelmed by my kids needs. And the more I felt overwhelmed by their needs, the more difficult it became to meet their needs. And the more I missed the boat in meeting their needs the more needy they became. And so on and so on. Sometimes we parents can do it all and feel great we can pull the so-called load with a smile, and sometimes the load just feels too heavy and the road looks too long.

I pulled out every trick of the trade. I tried connecting with my kids fully. I quieted down our space. I changed our agenda to eliminate the “back-ground noise” (no, we really did not need to run those errands today). My husband and I divided up the kids for quality alone time. I took some time to self-care. You name it, we did it. And still, after a few moments with the kids, the feelings welled up in me again and again. Their needs smashed into my needs and my hopes of “meta-parenting” and I would again feel frustrated and the cycle would repeat itself.

By the end of the night I just wanted to crawl in bed and pull the covers over my head.

In formal meditation practice we can often find ourselves surprised by the feelings that come up. We can often struggle to force our thoughts a certain direction or try to create an experience that we think we are suppose to have. And in doing so we miss the point.

It seems to me that parenting is the same thing. And that day, I missed the point.  I set an intention, which turned into an expectation to take a deeper look at the messages I may inadvertently give my children. And then, wonder of all wonders, I spent the whole day actually doing many of the things that I most fear doing. And rather than noticing and being gentle with myself, I fought against the process, blamed my children for being needy and got into a cycle that repeated itself over and over again.

The fact is that parents, all parents, are human. Some days, we are just going to be off. Some days, things just won’t feel right. Some days, we just won’t be the parents we aspire to be.  And somehow we have to be gentle enough with ourselves to not get locked into a pattern. When we feel like bad parents, we are more likely to act accordingly. Likewise, when we are gentle and forgiving and nurturing to ourselves we are more likely to be able to do this with our children.

Having bad days is part of life. Having our kids see us having a bad day is inevitable. Sometimes we are having a bad day because of life circumstances, sometimes, we just feel out of sorts for no particular reason. It is important for us as parents to own that rather than reacting to our children in a way that places blame on them. Whether we are having a good day or a bad day, our kids are just kids. Kids with needs.

And when bad days happen, rather than trying to hide it from our kids, what would happen if we engaged with them in an authentic way? What if we tried doing these things instead?

  • Communicate how we are feeling with our children. “I’m having a sad kind of day. I don’t really know why.” Or “Today, I feel really frustrated.”  – We so often encourage our children to identify, label and understand their own emotions, but for some reason, we can feel reluctant to share our own emotions (unless they are happy, proud, joyous, relaxed.) But not talking about our emotions may make it more likely that kids will assume our negative energy is about them! When we are short tempered, and reacting to them, and not talking about our feelings, it only makes sense that kids would believe that they are the cause. This is not the message we want kids to internalize.
  • Allow your kids to be part of the discussion. “I was thinking of trying to take a bath by myself for a few minutes and see if that helps me calm down. Do you have any other ideas? What works for you?” – We often encourage sibling to help each other problem solve emotionally complicated situations. Doing so can give siblings or friends a chance to connect to each other, feel good about helping each other and also teach them about emotional processing. Why not do it when it is the parent who is feeling something? This can give the child the message that mama may be feeling grumpy, and it’s not about them and they can support mama in finding something that works! What a great feeling for everyone.
  • Don’t be afraid to admit you said or did something wrong. “I know I yelled earlier. That wasn’t fair and I don’t want to communicate like that. Is there anything I can do for you now?” If we want kids to really understand what it means to apologize and check in and connect with someone they hurt, (rather than just saying “sorry”) then what a better opportunity for modeling this than when we lose our parenting  cool.
  • Don’t be afraid to change the routine.  Being aware that we are struggling through a moment is a great first step. We also have to be willing to make a plan that is more likely to work for everyone. Let’s face it. Taking one or more children to run errands can be a daunting task and often takes all our resources. Realizing that you just aren’t up for it at the moment can divert a disaster. When we are having a down day, some things just have to slide. Knowing what can give can make a huge difference.  Eventually, we have to go to the grocery store. But does it have to be this moment?

Remember that if we can be gentle with ourselves, breathe deep and accept emotion as it comes, no emotional experience will last forever. Waves of emotions come in and go out. Our own emotional awareness and our ability to be gentle and accepting of ourselves and our own emotions will set the stage for how we will teach our children to handle their own emotions. We are all in this together, kids and parents alike. Emotions are just part of the journey, even the uncomfortable ones.

 Posted by at 1:00 pm
Sep 182012
 

Today I heard a story from a man about the moment he first knew he loved his wife. He saw her across the room. She was in the kitchen, making tea, unaware of his presence. He paused and observed her. The color of her hair and how it fell just so across her forehead. The way she held her shoulders, the way she stirred her tea while staring out the window. They were dating at the time and he was suddenly filled with an unexplainable emotion. Strong and pure and deep and true. He was swept away and drawn to her and could essentially feel the essence of her being in every cell of his body. He loved her.

And in that moment, she didn’t have to do anything. She didn’t have to return the love or be grateful for his love or even know about his love. He loved her just for the sake of loving her. He smiled quietly at the memory. I could tell he could actually feel it in that moment.

As I listened to the story, it resonated profoundly with me.

It immediately brought to mind the feeling that I get when I see my child asleep, or when I watch them from afar. That huge ball of emotion that fills you to the brim, that brings tears to your eyes and raises goose-bumps on your arms. The wave of joy and awe that sucks the breath out of your lungs. For a moment, you can’t breathe, but it’s okay, because you don’t need air when you have pure, life-sustaining, true love. In that moment, you don’t love them because they make you smile, or because they say the funniest things, or because they gave you a hug, or because they need you or don’t need you. You simply love them because you do. Because they exist. They don’t have to earn it or return it or even know about it. You just love them, pure and simple. As I sit here right now, I can feel it. Welling up within me. My kids aren’t even in the room, but I know that the love I have for them is profound and deep and untouchable.

And then the man went on. He talked about how he sometimes wonders whether he is still in love with his wife. About how she doesn’t give him what he needs. About how she frustrates him and doesn’t listen to him and doesn’t appreciate all the things he does for her.  And the anger wells up and the frustration grows and the disappointment lingers until he wonders whether or not he really loves her after all. His smile fades.

Countless poets and thinkers and philosophers have long debated the difference between loving and being in love. For me, this man’s story captured the essence of it all. Loving someone is about what you bring to the picture. It is about embracing someone with empathy and awe and a full-hearted connection, simply because. Loving someone requires nothing from the other person. Nothing. No acknowledgement or reward or returned affection. Loving someone simply is.

On the other hand, being “in love” with someone is about what they give you back. It is the mirror they hold up to us that reflects our good and bad. It is about the twinges of excitement we get when we know we are loved. It is about the feeling of security. It is about the things they give us that make us feel amazing, fulfilled, connected. Being in love is tremendous when things are good. But, in the end, no one can give us all these things all the time, so we are destined to also feel disappointed, hurt, frustrated and resentful.

What does this have to do with parenting?

When you think about it, the true-love versus in-love conflict represents one of our deepest struggles—and maybe also one of the simplest solutions to our parenting challenges.  An amazing mother I know gave the most beautiful example of this when, in the angst of one of those nights we have all had, said to her child, “Can’t you think about me for once in your life?”

Her painful statement resonated with me, not only because I have surely thought those exact words before, but also because she is speaking to the heart of this issue. We love to love our children, but let’s face it: our children are horrible at giving us what we need. They don’t care about our agenda. They live in the moment and they always put their own needs ahead of everyone else’s. We find ourselves feeling disappointed, hurt, frustrated, and resentful.  “Why are you doing this to me? Just get in the car!” “Another meal you refused to eat.” “Don’t you know how exhausted I am?” These thoughts and feelings are hints that we are operating in the what-does-this-relationship-give-to-me mode rather than the pure-true-love mode.

I don’t think it is crazy, unusual or even unhealthy to enjoy the conditional type of love. Our kids give us lots of things that make us feel amazing. The challenge lies in our awareness. Realizing that our feelings of disappointment are impacting our parenting. Understanding when our feelings of resentment get in the way of our ability to be present. Accepting when our feelings of hurt stop us from seeing our children with empathy and awareness.

Mindfulness in parenting means that we become aware of and stop reacting to the internal struggle that wages war on us. We have to work at detaching from our “in-love” reactions, which are based on what our child gives to us, and instead approach and interact with our children from a “true-love” place where our empathy, compassion, love and support of them requires nothing in return.

I find it incredibly difficult to hold two conflicting feelings about someone at the same time. In that moment of complete awe I feel while my children are sleeping, it is almost impossible for me to invoke the feelings of frustration and anger I felt only hours earlier as we struggled through their bedtime routine. In the same way, the feelings of anger and frustration interfere with my ability to feel that no-strings-attached, pure love that I know is somewhere inside of me.

So, this week, I am challenging myself to be aware of which love I am driven by. Is it the one that my children have to live up to? The one that fuels the inner voice that screams, “Why can’t you just think of me for once in your life?” And if it is that one, can I quiet that emotion, acknowledge it and gently put it aside, and invoke the deeper true love I have? Because it is from this space that I will be able to engage with empathy rather than blame, understanding rather than frustration, and patience rather than resentment.

Maybe it isn’t as hard as it seems. Here is the practice.

1)      In quiet moments, find the image of your child that you hold in your heart, the one that brings up that “true-love” reaction. Let it fill you. Pay attention to it. What is it that really hits home? Is it the way she smells, the sound of her breath, her laugh, the way she scrunches up her nose while reading? Allow it to resonate in your awareness.

2)      The next time you notice your frustration, short temper, and anger creeping up, invoke the image. Tell yourself, “This is the same person.”

3)      Breathe out, letting go of the frustration.

4)      Breathe in, embracing the memory of your true love.

5)      Repeat. Remember, usually there is no need for immediate reaction and you have time.

Like the man with the lovely story of his wife, a smile may creep across your face as you connect to your own gentle, compassionate, true love for this little person and are reminded of what is real.  The moment, and your child, will undoubtedly look different to you.

Want to take the challenge with me? Give it a try.  Please share your experience!

 Posted by at 10:59 pm
Aug 212012
 

Over the past week or so, I have found myself having very similar discussions with various parents. Whether it is a mom of a two-year-old boy or a father of an 11-year-old girl I hear the same question: “How can I get them to stop tantruming?” The toddler who wails at the top of his lungs and throws a truck across the room. The child who yells with fury and clenched fists. The preteen who stomps and slam doors and sobs about the unfairness of it all. Oh the pain, the agony, the drama. The emotion!

But what is a “tantrum”? What is it really and what does it all mean? In the heat of the moment, tantrums can feel overwhelming to everyone involved. The child may feel out of control, the parent may feel at his/her wits’ end, other children in the home feel unsettled or even unsafe. From an adult perspective, all of this drama because the eggs were scrambled instead of fried, or because the blue shorts are in the wash, or because a friend can’t be called until chores are done. To our adult brain, the emotional output does not match the input. “All this over something so silly?” Our frustration rises. It can be hard to make sense of it when we think about it with our rational, problem-solving, goal-oriented,get-the-kids-in-the-car-and-on-to-the-next-task parent brain.

When someone asks me “How can I make this stop?” (or I hear myself asking the same question, because I do), I immediately counter with, “Why do you want the tantrum to stop?” Usually this is met with a blank stare, as if I were an alien. What a silly question. “No really, why do you want it to stop?” And here is what we come up with:

Because I don’t want them to turn into adults who tantrum. Okay, so clearly, we wouldn’t want our children to learn that throwing themselves on the floor and crying for 30 minutes when the eggs are scrambled instead of fried  is a reasonable response. But when is the last time you saw an adult do that? Children have been “tantruming” since, well since children have existed, and I would venture to say that the number of adults who do that is statistically insignificant. I’m not saying that adults know how to handle emotion. Many of us don’t. But worrying that your children will forever throw trucks across the room is just unrealistic.

Once we get past the fear of raising tantruming adults, we get to the real reason we want the tantruming to stop. It bothers us. It’s loud. It’s inconvenient. It’s annoying. It’s disconcerting. It’s scary. It’s emotionally draining. I could go on, but in short, we want it to stop because we can’t or don’t want to tolerate emotion.

In reality, adults who have difficulty identifying, processing, displaying, or recovering from emotions do so not because they did or didn’t “tantrum” as a child, but because they somehow got the message that emotions were not safe, tolerated, or respected.  They somehow came to understand that feelings should be avoided, should not be shared, create distress in others. They somehow never figured out what to do with big emotions when they arise, much less what they mean or what they feel like. So in reality, if we are really worried  about our children growing up to be adults who throw themselves on the floor, we should be working towards encouraging as many opportunities as possible to work through big emotion now.  That way, they can become well versed in the language of emotion and develop an intimate understanding and awareness of what emotions feel like and what works and doesn’t work for dealing with those emotions. In short, we may want to actually embrace the tantrum.

Maybe we can start by redefining what a tantrum is. The word itself is fraught with strife, negativity and connotations of “spoiled,” “rotten” children who “manipulate” and “connive” to get their way. I wish this idea could be deleted from our lexicon. Rather, let’s see the moment more clearly. It is Big Emotion in a Small Body. The eggs or the shorts or the phone call are not the point. The emotion is the point. And the emotion IS REAL. And real emotion presents an opportunity for children to learn about themselves, their feelings, their work in this world. And we, as their parent or teacher or caretaker, have the opportunity to help them, or shut it down. They are having big emotion and they don’t quite know what to do with it.

Have you ever had big emotion that you shared with someone and they responded with, “Well, that’s silly, you are overreacting.” Or “I know exactly what you should do instead.” Or, “Well, it’s your own fault, you did it to yourself.” Generally, these responses don’t feel very good. What we want is to have someone say, “Wow, you’re in pain. I’m here for you.” We want empathic connection. We want to know it is safe to feel how we feel. In the moment of big emotion, we don’t want to be told it is our own fault (even if we know that it is). We don’t want to be told that we are over reacting (even if we are). We don’t want to be told how to solve it (even if we really need help). In that moment of crisis, we want to know that the other person recognizes and respects the feeling we are having. In crisis, we want connection. It’s true if we are two or 82.

And if we can do this for our children in the moment of the big emotion, amazing things happen. When we reflect the emotion to them, we help teach them to recognize their feelings. We connect with them and they feel validated and heard and safe. Simply saying “You’re so angry. I get it!” can go a long way. Just feeling validated can often ease the pain and lessen the intensity of the moment. When we give them space and time to feel their emotion and help them process different ways of handling it, we actually work towards our first goal of creating emotionally competent adults. They can learn that feelings are safe and they can experiment with what happens when they do different things.  So here are simple steps to begin practicing a new way of thinking about and responding to big emotion:

1)     Breathe, observe, wait, and tolerate emotion. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Throughout the entire process. Continue to breathe, observe, wait and tolerate.

2)     Reflect what they are feeling. Let them know that you are there, you see them, you hear them. “You’re so disappointed right now. I can see that!” “It’s so frustrating!” “You’re so angry.”

3)     Set safe limits on behaviors, not emotions. “You can be as sad as you need to be, or as frustrated as you need to be, but I won’t let you (hit, throw, bite, etc.)” “I know how angry you are and I see you stomping. But I also know that the stomping is really scary to your little brother. If you need to stomp the basement is a great place to do that.”

4)     Let them be the experts on their feelings. Ask what they need. “What can I do to help you through this anger?” This doesn’t mean that you do whatever they ask. We have to remember that the lesson here is working through the feelings. If the child responds by saying, “I need you to make new eggs” we don’t need to do it. Instead try “Oh, I know you’re disappointed about the eggs. New eggs aren’t available, but I would be happy to support you in another way.”

5)     Back to step one. Repeat.

So the next time your child has big emotion, change the way you think and see and respond in the moment. Change your thoughts from “Oh no, not again!” to “Yes! Another opportunity to practice emotional competence!” Take a deep breath and be amazed at the hard work your child is doing. Learning about emotions is difficult, engaging work. Be there, by their side.

 Posted by at 11:23 am
Jul 312012
 

Life. Death. Babies. Love. Sex. Relationships. Bullying. Guns. War. Racisim. Politics. The list is endless.

No matter how badly we want to shield our children from harmful or scary or uncomfortable topics, these issues will undoubtedly touch their lives. Parents wonder and agonize over how and when to talk about these things. We want so badly to believe that our children can be protected from these issues and we mistakenly think that by talking about them we are somehow making them lose their innocence. Heading for a “big talk” can feel like embarking on a long, stark road to nowhere.

 

A recent death in our family left me anxious about “having” to talk to my preschoolers about death. The loved one was unknown to my children and they would not be attending a funeral, but I knew it would not be possible to hide the loss from them. After ending yet another phone call, I was notably emotional. My son approached me, offered me a hug, and asked his questions. The conversation went like this:

Him: “Mama, did someone die?”

Me: “Yes, I’m pretty sad. I have been on the phone a lot this morning.”

Him: “Who was it?”

Me: “My grandmother. You met her once when you were very small. Would you like me to show you a picture?”

Him: (Ignoring my offer to show him a picture.) “Do you mean my grammy?”

Me: “No. Not grammy. None of your grandmas died.”

Him: “Can we talk to my grammy today?”

Me: “Yes, of course.”

Him: “We saw a dead bird at school yesterday.”

Me: “What did you think about that?”

Him: “It was kinda sad, but I don’t really know about that.” He paused and asked for a hug and then asked, “Do you know where my truck is?”

He got what he needed in that moment and ended the conversation. He recognized that a big issue was happening and that it was laden with big emotion. He wanted to connect and make sure that he understood that the people he was close to were all right. He related it back to the concept of death that made sense for him. He told me clearly when he had reached the limit of what he needed (by ignoring my offer to show him a picture and then changing the subject to trucks).

Topics like death are big. They are multifaceted and complicated and intricate. Understanding and processing them requires us to use many parts of our brain, multiple coping skills and a lifetime of acquired knowledge. We integrate our memories, understanding of social codes, belief systems and interpersonal dynamics to draw conclusions, formulate ideas about the situation, and relate emotionally. When big things happen in a child’s world, the child is doing all of this, too. Children just do it more slowly, in smaller chunks, and by relating it to what they know. If we support them in their process, rather than trying to process these issues for them, the idea of “talking” to our kids about these issues becomes much less daunting. Here are some basics.

What You Need to Remember

Kids are always getting information about these topics. It may just not be on a level that resonates for us as adults. When a child squishes a bug, she is learning about death. When children play house, they are learning about relationships (the foundation of learning about sex). If the radio or television is on in the home, children are learning about guns and violence and war and sexual objectification. These underlying themes are in books, cartoons and movies. Disney movies are full of lost parents and broken families and death and bullying. Literally every day there are multiple opportunities for children to take in and process information about these things.

Kids are always getting information from us on 1) how we handle these types of topics and 2) whether we are safe to talk to about these topics. Over time, they learn if we get anxious, or angry, or distant. They learn if we offer too much or too little. We may inadvertently give signs that their questions scare us or make us feel uncomfortable. We may avoid or shut down conversations. Or, on the other hand, we may have a habit of giving long-winded lectures or overly detailed information that overwhelms children and discourages them from engaging in future conversations. What we say about the little stuff matters.

Kids will ask for more information when they need it and are ready to process it if they have a safe venue for doing so. This means that, rather than determining when and how we should bring the information to them, we should strive to build a culture of openness and safety around dialogue within a family that allows a child to ask for what she needs when she needs it. Kids will often ask for little bits at a time. They will ask a small question, take time (maybe days or even weeks) to process it, and then ask a little bit more. Giving them the information at their pace will help them to incorporate hard truths without feeling overwhelmed. A few days after our conversation, my son asked, “Is your grandma still dead?” It may not have looked like it, but he was still processing and needed a little more information.

Processing does not necessarily mean talking. A kid’s work is play. When children play, they are processing, integrating, learning, feeling and thinking. It would not be unusual for a child to incorporate recent big issues into his play, and in fact it is healthy. Younger children may need to move their bodies and may need space for large, physical movements. They often incorporate heavy themes of love, death and life into their imaginary play. Children may pick out books that relate back to the theme. After the death in my family, I noticed my son asking to read Charlotte’s Web, which deals with death on various levels. I don’t think this was a coincidence! Older children may retreat into music or video games that mirror back their emotional state. All of this is processing.

What You Need to Do

Be open and responsive to all questions – Helping kids with the big issues starts with being there for the small ones. If a child wants to talk about his bug that got squished, it is important to remember that this is in fact a conversation about death, about loss, about grief. Responding in a respectful and open way to these little questions not only helps children process big issues in small stages, but also allows us as parents or caregivers to practice talking about these things as well! Think of it as baby steps for all parties!

Don’t over-think or plan big lectures – Keep it simple. Answer their questions. Give them the information they ask for, and not more. Think about it. If you went to your first math class ever, asked about addition, and the teacher went into a lecture on trigonometry, you would feel anxious, overwhelmed, and incompetent. You probably wouldn’t want to go back. If you have built a safe relationship in which questions are respected, you can trust your child to ask for just as much as she needs.

Give them a chance to process – Remember that kids process at different rates. Don’t push them into processing something too quickly. Be patient, both in the moment and in the bigger picture. Answer the question and then pause. Take a breath and wait for the child. Maybe he will ask another question. Maybe he will tell you a story. Maybe he will change the topic. All are okay. If he changes the subject, it’s okay. It just means that he has gotten what he needs in that moment. He will undoubtedly bring it up again in some way in the future.

Make yourself available – Occasionally telling our children that they can always talk to us isn’t enough. In fact, it may be pointless. Children will know whether or not they can talk to us because of the countless number of interactions, responses, and opportunities that they have experienced with us over the course of their life. More importantly, opportunities to process big issues are not planned-out,-sit-down, formal affairs. They happen in quiet, surprising moments. They happen during work, during play, during downtime and up-time. In short, we need to be available to our children on their terms. For younger children, this may not even look like talking. It will likely look like play. If you hear your children playing with big topics, don’t interfere or stop them, but be available. Sit down in the room and observe. If they invite you into the play, join in!

Phrases to Memorize

Sometimes (maybe even most of the time) helping children process is less about talking to them, and more about helping them talk to you! Asking them questions can help you determine what information they need, what they are thinking about and what level of processing they need at the moment. Rather than give advice, ask:

What do you think of that?

How does that feel?

What do you think you need?

What could you do?

How did it work?

How can I help?

What would you like to know?

So take the “big talk” off the to-do list. We don’t need it. If we do this today, tomorrow, and every day, we will be building a foundation of communication and a relationship that allows our children to feel supported in dealing with life in all its glory. They will be able to come to us, we will be available, and processing will happen. We won’t even have to plan it out.

 Posted by at 6:29 am
Jun 052012
 

Recently, through blogs, communication with other parents and discussion with my own family, I have heard myself talk about helping a child to learn to trust herself. I have become aware that for me this issue is at the heart of raising healthy, resilient children. A child who trusts herself is able to experience the world through her own eyes and heart rather than relying on an adult’s interpretation of things for her. A child who trusts herself can confidently take risks and try new things and also know when she needs a helping hand. A child who trusts herself knows when something doesn’t feel right and can ask for help. On the other hand, she can fully enjoy when something is right and feel empowered, taking ownership over her experience.

I have come to realize that so many of the childhood, adolescent and even adult issues that our children face boil down to trusting and knowing themselves. Three specific topics come directly to mind.

1)      Sexual Health. – In order to be sexually resilient, stand up to abuse and make sexual decisions that are healthy for them, children need to be able to trust their inner instincts. So often abusers use grooming techniques to blur the lines and confuse the child so that the line between fun and abuse is cloudy, grey and easily missed. Sometimes, the only thing that may signal that a playful behavior has turned abusive is an internal red flag. A child has to be able to trust that tiny voice in the back of their head that says, “I don’t like this.” And often, it means saying something bad about someone who is respected within the family. What a huge burden! In order to do this, the child has to trust that tiny voice, they have to trust themself, and they have to know that we trust them.

2)      Food. – Eating disorders and food issues are rampant in our society. We want our children to have a healthy relationship with food and a healthy relationship with their own body. In order to do this, in the face of overwhelming media and peer messages about food and bodies, our children have to trust themselves. They have to know when they are hungry and when they are not. They have to trust that when they feel hungry they really are and that food is a nurturing part of life.

3)      Bullying. – In order for our children to resist bullying (either being a bully or being bullied) and stand up for others and for themselves, they have to trust their own feelings about themselves and others. They need to have confidence that they are powerful, healthy, strong individuals and that others are as well. They need to have confidence in their own feelings and empathy for the feelings of others. But how can we expect them to understand or even consider what others are feeling if they don’t know or trust their own feelings?

I could go on and on. But you get the point. If I could only give my children one thing, it would be this: Trust in themselves.

Of course we all want this. We want our children to have a deep and profound understanding and connection to themselves. It is easy to see how verbal, physical, emotional or sexual abuse would undermine and destroy children’s ability to trust themselves. But it may be harder to recognize the subtle and tiny ways that we, with all the best intentions, whittle away at children’s ability to trust themselves. How often do we tell a child how they feel or don’t feel. Most of us have responded like this on at least one occasion:

“My leg hurts.” “I don’t see anything, you’re okay.

Or, “I’m done eating.” “Take one more bite, I know you’re still hungry.”

Or, “I don’t want to kiss grandma.” “Go on, kiss her, you love her so much!”

In each of these scenarios, our best intentions give an unintended, yet pretty clear, message: “You don’t know how you feel. I do.

The examples are endless. Statements like, “There is no reason to be scared.” “Don’t be angry at me, this is a natural consequence.” “I know you have to pee.” “She is your friend, you like playing with her.” “This is your favorite color.” “Stop crying, this is not something to cry about” all send the same message. “You don’t know how you feel. I do.” A child who hears this message repeatedly learns that they can’t really trust their own emotional or physical sensations, they don’t know how to interpret internal cues, they can’t communicate these internal cues to others and if they do, someone will tell them they are wrong.

Of course none of us actually wish to transmit this message to our children. Rather, we respond this way for a variety of reasons:

1)      We don’t know what to do. – Children often have unexplained emotions. They have aches and pains and heartaches and struggles and frustrations that we can’t see and can’t fix. When a child is complaining that his leg hurts, and there’s no blood or scratch or bruise, we can’t diagnosis it. Maybe he is having growing pains. Maybe he needs a hug and doesn’t know how to ask. Maybe he needs an adult to come close because he feels anxious. Maybe he saw a sibling with a hurt leg and is expressing sympathy. Who knows! It can be overwhelming and frustrating to a parent, so we respond with, “It doesn’t hurt. There is nothing there.”

2)      We think it’s in the child’s best interest. – Parents worry that their child isn’t eating enough. Parents worry that their child will be cold. Parents worry that their child isn’t playing well with other children. So we tell them to do something because we feel it is best for them. “Eat all your food.” “I know you’re cold, put on a jacket.” “You like Jane, play nice with her.” But the problem is that we are negating and overriding a child’s experience of their own body or feelings. It doesn’t actually help them in the end.

3)      We think we are teaching them something. – Mind your manners. Be polite. Say hi to the stranger. Kiss Grandma. Don’t embarrass me. What we are actually teaching them is how to comply with parental or adult demands to make us happy and ignore their own internal cues. That’s great if we are training show dogs. Not so great if we are trying to raise emotionally intelligent and resilient adults.

Rather, our goal should be to help our children identify their own emotional states and trust that they can get their needs met by communicating this in some way. In order to do this, we have to be willing to let them own their own feelings, experience the world in their own way and explore possible outcomes. We also need to let them know that we trust them to do this.

Rather than directing or telling a child how they feel or what they should do about it, we can strive to support a child through their own process. We can do this by reflecting, sharing and asking.

Reflect what you see: We can help a child understand social context and cues by reflecting back to him what is happening.

Share how you feel: Reflecting our own feelings models a pattern of communication which is genuine and trusting.

Ask what they think: Asking them what they think or feel tells them that you trust and value their thoughts and feelings.

Through doing this, we can help them negotiate the outcome, rather than dictating one. Let them know that you are there to support them through it and that you will be there to help. Finding realistic and healthy solutions is part of the process. So instead of, “I don’t see anything, your leg is okay,” it may sound like this:

 

I notice you are very sad and hurt right now. You’re really holding onto your leg. (Parent reflects what is happening in the moment.)

I feel really worried and confused because I can’t see the owie, I don’t know how to help you! (Parent shares how they feel.)

What does it feel like? What do you think you need? (Parent asks what the child thinks and feels.)

It feels pokey and I think I need to go to Disneyland! (Child identifies a feeling and a solution.)

Oh, I love Disneyland, and I wish we could go there, too! That would probably distract you from the pokey feeling. But since we can’t, is there anything else I can do for you? (Parent validates child’s feeling. And asks to problem solve.)

 A kiss. (Child is empowered to find his own solution.)

Absolutely. (Parent sends message that they are there to support their child.)  

 

Reflect, Share and Ask. It works for any situation. What if a child refuses dinner?

-I notice you didn’t eat any dinner. And I’m worried that you’re going to be really hungry later. What do you think? How does your tummy feel?

– My tummy feels bubbly and I don’t want to eat.

– Is there anything else you need?

-Ice cream.

-Oh man, ice cream is yummy, but it isn’t available for dinner. Anything else?

-No, I’m just not hungry.

-Okay, snack will be ready at 7 if you’re hungry then.

 

This process encourages a child to self-identify and communicate emotions. It sets a stage for a pattern of communication in which each person is responsible for their own emotions and is part of the solution. It tells children that they can be responsible for themselves and ask for what they need. All of these are things that many of us struggle with as adults. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we learned how to do it when we were toddlers? When we encourage a child to explore their emotions and physical sensations, and we believe and support them when they do tell us, we are giving the message that we trust them. And if we trust them, they can trust themselves. And if they trust themselves, they can experience the world on their own, instead of needing others to do it for them. And that is the basis for authentic genuine living.

 Posted by at 3:00 pm
Oct 242011
 

Parents often seek out books, classes or support in parenting because they have difficulty setting limits effectively for their children. Complaints such as, “Nothing we do works,” “I put him in time-out and he just doesn’t care,” or “We have tried everything, but little Johnny still won’t listen” are made by tired and frustrated parents time and time again. Healthy limits help children feel secure, safe and loved, while still allowing a child to explore, grow and experiment with life on their own terms. Limit setting teaches children how to negotiate the world in a respectful and responsible way. And limit setting helps households run more smoothly. Of course, it’s a no-brainer: we all want to set these wonderfully helpful limits for our children. And, with the plethora of resources out there explaining just how to set limits, it seems like it should be a snap.

Google the keywords “setting limits with children” and you can easily learn that limits should be reasonable for the child’s age, they should promote safety, they should be consistent, they should be enforced in loving and positive ways. We learn that we should be calm and firm. We learn that the child should understand the limit and the consequence clearly. And, if we do all that, it should work, right?

But, so often it doesn’t.

So what is going on? Is it that our kids are somehow immune to the touted benefit of limit setting? Is it that we have exceptionally difficult children or that something is wrong with them? Are our children going to forever run the household?

The good news is that it is probably none of these things. Rather, I wonder if the biggest barriers that keep us from setting and enforcing limits have less to do with the children and more to do with everything that leads up to the limit setting in the first place. If you think about it, many of the limits we set are born out of frustrating situations. Even on our best days, we can find ourselves reacting quickly without thinking through what we are saying to our children, why we are saying it or what it will mean in the long run. For example, the mother of a preschooler finds herself saying, “If you choose not to clean up your mess, you are going to have to go to bed early.” The child tests these limits and the mother is left to either put the child to bed at 5 pm or let the limit slide. Nobody wins. I have noticed a few main themes that seem to interfere with our ability to successfully set and maintain limits:

1)      The limits are not reasonable or meaningful: Rather than viewing limits as methods of getting our children to behave, it is important to view limits as tools to help children develop their own sense of self-control and independence within a safe space. In order for this to happen, the limit has to be meaningful, understandable and reasonable for the child. Telling a child that she will have to go to bed if she doesn’t clean up her mess doesn’t teach her how to internalize the skill of picking up after herself. The two things don’t really go together and it doesn’t make sense. For the child, it just feels like the parent threatening something (that they probably won’t follow through on).

2)      We set limits that we (the parents) can’t live with: “If you can’t sit still in your seat, we are going to have to leave the restaurant.” What parent hasn’t heard herself saying something, knowing full well that we are not prepared to actually follow through. Setting limits that we aren’t going to follow through on sends our child an important message, and not one we probably want them to get! This is often true when we use limit setting as a threat to motivate behavior through fear, rather than as a tool to help children make decisions for themselves. The other day, at the end of my proverbial rope, I found myself saying, “If you can’t help pick up the toys, we aren’t going to have toys in our home any more.” My child laughed at me. He actually laughed. He knew I wouldn’t follow through with such an unreasonable threat. He was right, and the message I sent was worse.

3)      We set limits that don’t enhance the developmental milestones our children are negotiating: Stress at transition times, like getting out the door in the morning, results in limit setting and testing on a daily basis. What exactly does “get yourself ready” mean? Is it reasonable to expect a toddler to make his bed perfectly every morning? Probably not. But, is it reasonable that he try? Can an 8-year-old use an alarm clock to wake up on her own? Can a 15-year-old get himself to school on time? If we set limits that are plainly beyond our children’s capabilities, we are doomed to failure.

4)      We aren’t clear about what goal we are trying to reach, and, along the way, our goal changes: When we react in haste, we often make rash decisions and set limits that are misguided. Often this is because we don’t really know what we are trying to achieve. Dinner-time struggles are a perfect example of this. One night it is, “Eat all your dinner or no desert.” The next night it’s, “You can’t leave the table until you eat all your vegetables.” And later in the week it is, “You don’t have to eat, but you have to sit here with the family.” Eating and meal-time issues create angst and drama for so many families. But often the limit isn’t clear because the goal isn’t clear. Do we want the child to eat all the food served to them at every meal? Do we want them to eat a variety of foods? Do we want them to participate in the social aspect of meals? Do we want them to consume more calories, more iron, more vitamins, etc? When we aren’t clear about what it is we are trying to teach our child, then our goals, and thus our limits, continually change. How is the child supposed to become clear on the expectations when we aren’t clear ourselves?

5)      We can’t tolerate the child’s emotion: This might just be the biggest reason that we don’t follow through on the limits we set. We hate to see our children in pain. We hate to see them cry and we hate to have them angry at us. We also hate tantrums, outbursts and tornadoes ripping through our houses. But children need to be able to express their emotions and we need to be able to tolerate that emotion. Crying, stomping, yelling and otherwise emoting provides children with a powerful stress reliever. Limits are not always pleasant and emotional reaction to them is normal. Unfortunately, watching or tolerating their reaction is not always fun and we can be quick to keep the peace (for them and ourselves) by backing down on our limit.

So what can we do as parents to avoid some of these pitfalls and avoid setting limits that are destined to fail? It may seem cliché, but it may boil down to breathing. Slowing it down. Interacting with our child, rather than reacting to their behavior. Specifically, I recommend five key things to remember:

1)      Think through limits beforehand: With a few exceptions of extreme danger (running into traffic, for example) there is usually no reason that we have to react immediately to any situation. We can take a few deep breaths to calm ourselves. Check in with our own emotional reactions. See the situation through the child’s point of view. Ask the child what they think is going on and what they need. Consider developmental skills or milestones. Parenting is not a race, it happens over many years, not seconds. Think the situation through. Usually limit setting is something that we do repeatedly over time until the child incorporates the skill or value into their own sense of self. It’s rarely a one time, one shot event. We have time.

2)      Reflect: Ask yourself questions like, What has worked in the past with my child? What do I know about my child? What do I know about myself or my family that may be at play here?

3)      Talk through a plan with a partner or support person: Get feedback. Make a plan and talk about ways you can support each other in sticking with the limit.

4)      Define the goal, expectations and limits clearly: Once you actually know the goal you are working towards, it will be easier to communicate that with your child. “I want you to eat or else” becomes “I trust you to know when you are hungry or not, but in our family, once you leave the table, the meal is over for you.” The goal, expectation and limit are clear. The child has choices and the parent knows what they have to do to follow through. 

5)      Tolerate  and support their emotion: We have to know that setting limits will upset our children. They may get angry and they will probably express it. That’s good. We can be empathetic to their misery. “I get really frustrated when I can’t do something I want to do also. I know how you feel. I’m available for support if you need it, but the limit remains.” By doing this we teach them that we mean what we say, that the limit is important, but that we also value and acknowledge that it is hard for them. Feelings are real and they are tricky. By supporting them through this, we not only help them to negotiate the limit, but we help them become more emotionally competent as well. What an opportunity!

Happy Limit Setting!

 Posted by at 11:30 am