Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
Saying No to One Thing Means Saying Yes to Another
As we Minnesotans watch an April snowstorm blanket the landscape with eight new inches of “pretty stuff”, it’s hard to accept “no” from Mother Nature when we yearn for Spring RIGHT NOW. We desperately want warm sun on our faces, robins and daffodils, not boots, gloves, and snow shovels!
Isn’t it interesting to note how as adults, we have experiences that thwart our desires, just the way our kids do? Last night, my son texted me an interesting thought to ponder. “When we say no to something, we’re saying yes to something else.” Then he typed, in his adorably thought-provoking way, “Opposition.”
When our children are oppositional, they are saying “no” to one thing, such as “brush your teeth”, “get off the computer”, “time for bed”, or “finish your homework.” What’s the thing they are saying “yes” to at that moment? Of course, you might answer, more freedom to play video games, more freedom to stay up late, more freedom to watch a movie instead of finish homework. But there’s more to it than that.
When children oppose their parents, they’re also saying “yes” to their own sense of who they are. As young as 12 months, they’re wired to start opposing their parents’ requests because they are exercising their newfound will. Is this a disrespectful aspect to all children? Some may argue yes. But it’s really more helpful and less conflict producing to see it as a natural developmental phase. As adults, this is our job and we even benefit from celebrating that our kids with big wills are on the right path. We do better to support their will, rather than try to fight it.
So, you might say to me, “How do we get the bath taken in time for bed, when all they want to do is play?” The answer lies in recognizing the emerging will as a vital part of the child’s growth as a person. Acknowledging how much they want to continue to watch their favorite show, play their favorite video game, or finish up their art project, will go a long way toward gaining cooperation. Say, “You’re really into this game, I can see! I notice that you’re gaining a lot of new skills by playing it. Finish this one game and I’ll meet you in your room, ready for bed in 10 minutes.”
This approach acknowledges the child’s will to play the game and also encourages, rather than forces, the letting go. (We all know how well it turns out when we try to force a child to do something.)
Here are the 5 steps:
1. Establish a routine bedtime with your children’s input during a family meeting.
2. Tell your child exactly how you will let him or her know it’s bedtime. Have him sit in front of the computer and rehearse this aspect. Place your hand on his back if he can tolerate it, and say in a respectful tone, “See what time it is? I’ll meet you in your room in 10 minutes.” That’s all. He knows when bedtime is.
3. Just wait respectfully for him to comply. If it takes longer than you thought, rehearse again tomorrow, but don’t lecture now.
4. Give heartfelt appreciation for coming when he does. Even if it’s a few minutes late, you want to let him know he’s been successful in coming to the room. Reward what you want, and you will see more of it.
5. Have a peaceful, appreciative end to the day.
If you need coaching help with these steps, or any other parenting challenge, click here.
Should I Let My Child Quit Something She Started?
Parents often believe that if a child starts an activity, she should see it through, no matter what. This can be anything from ballet to baseball, soccer to gymnastics, piano to chess. Sometimes the child has begged to participate. Sometimes the parents have decided it would be good for her to join in, and have signed her up. They invest money, time, and effort into getting the child to the activity. They get to know the coaches and teachers, and they become familiar with the other parents. They encourage the child, giving feedback on her performance. Their emotional investment grows, along with their commitment, and as a result, the desire for the child to stay involved expands.
Ann and Pete’s daughter Brielle is a second grader. She loves to dance, swim, and play soccer. Her brother Andre is a hockey player and skier, and both kids take piano lessons. Ann and Pete are concerned because Brielle has been acting out lately, not able to fall asleep at night, and flying off the handle at the slightest provocation. She may just be saying, “This is too much!”
Some considerations are:
1. Does Brielle love each of her activities? Is being in all them just to much?
2. Does she get the down time she needs for a healthy childhood?
3. Does Brielle get enough sleep to be rational during the day? (There’s no substitute for adequate sleep, which is 10-11 hours per day.)
4. Are her parents more invested in her activities than she is?
5. Does she seem more like herself when there’s less going on?
It’s so easy to feel that since kids are young, they can be involved in something every waking minute. That’s just not true. They MUST have down time in order for their brains to process all they are learning and experiencing.
The wonderful thing about children is that they will let you know if they are overwhelmed. They usually can’t say it in words directly, but if you get good at reading their signals, they will definitely be there. Some signals are: crankiness, opposition, fatigue, arguing, hair-trigger sensitivity, and even physical aggression.
You know your child better than anyone. If you are seeing a normally sweet kid with the signs listed here, it’s time to take the reins and reduce the demands on her. It’s the only answer to this issue, and if you think you can just try for a while to see how it goes, you may be prolonging the pain for yourself and your child.
Children should dabble in life’s opportunities. They are immature, so they don’t know what will “grab” them and cause them to want to stay. They SHOULD run experiments with a variety of activities, but if too much stress results, or they’re just not interested, they need to stop. If parents are overly invested in their children’s accomplishments in the arts or sports, it’s time to take a hard look at how it affects the child’s life. Please remember that a second grader is only 7 years old, and she does not need to experience her whole life right now. She’ll have plenty of time later to pick up the piano if she so desires. Let’s take the pressure off so her childhood can be what it’s meant to be, a combination of academics, play, and outside activities.
Some kids do best with just school and play. If you have a child like this, let it be, and don’t feel guilty for not “maximizing” her experiences. She is perfect the way she is, and pushing increasing activity can be more harmful than enhancing to her life. Children who are overwhelmed are telling us something … “This is too much for me!” We need to listen for the sake of their health and respond by letting them quit without fear that they’ll be quitters. Your positive attitude can go a long way toward her becoming involved down the road. Relax and enjoy the times you don’t need to leave the house and can just spend time together.
For parent coaching on this or any other topic, please write email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, or feel free to call 651-453-0123 to set up an appointment. For all the info on parent coaching, visit www.parentingmojo.com/parent-coaching.
10 Ways to Help an Anxious Child at Holiday Time
Tina Feigal, M.S., Ed.
Copyright © Tina Feigal 2012
Holiday season is here, and if you have a child whose anxiety increases at this time of year, you’ll be happy to know that there are some great ways to decrease the uncomfortable feelings and the predictable explosions that often result.
Yes, kids explode when they get overwhelmed by their own anxiety. It’s not conscious on their part, it’s not on purpose (though it sometimes seems like it) and it’s not disrespect. All they’re doing when they have a loud response to your request is attempting to lower their own anxiety, best defined as “fear where there’s no real threat.”
What causes anxiety in kids at holiday time? Several things:
- Being too bright for their age: they can conceptualize things way beyond their ability to
comfort themselves, simply because they are young and lack experience.
- Sensory input: they feel the impact of sound, taste, touch, smell, and/or sight much more intensely than average kids. They are anxious because they never know when a toilet flushing or the smell of a new food might overwhelm them. Holidays are particularly stimulating to the senses.
- Interpersonal sensitivity: they fear that someone they don’t know might be at Grandma’s house. (In their own homes, this is often not so intense.)
“Christopher” is just this type of child. He can do well at home where things are predictable, but in someone else’s home, he’s very wary of a stranger showing up. How do we help children with these anxiety issues?
First, Christopher’s parents realized that having power over sensory sensations is the antidote to anxiety. Give your child a specific job whenever you can. He loves heavy sensory input, so they say, “Could you be the one who carries all these groceries into the house?” And they’ll let him carry ALL the groceries. Or they might say, “Everyone’s coming to our house, so could you be the one who makes sure that the light’s not too bright?” Authentic helping is a true self-esteem builder.
Second, underplay all the holiday hype. Say to your sensitive child, “See all these decorations, bright colors, and signs for things? Hear how loud that TV ad for holiday stuff is? That’s just the store trying to get our attention so we spend our money, but we don’t have to pay attention. We can just walk by or turn off the TV.”
Third, a child such as Christopher needs a safe place to which he can retreat at a relative’s house. A nearby bedroom is ideal. Show him immediately upon arrival where he can go, and put some of his toys or art supplies in the room.
Fourth, do not demand that your “Christopher” greet unfamiliar people at holiday time. The only reason he doesn’t do this is because of interpersonal sensitivity. Forcing a greeting can add guilt to an already overwhelmed child, and is never a good idea. Acting out is his only defense. Offer positives to him whenever he does interact well with new people, but be assured this will not happen until he has been in their presence for quite a while. Here’s how to say it: “When you talked to Uncle Rob so nicely when he offered to play ping pong with you, I was really impressed! I can tell you had a great time.”
Fifth, Christopher’s mom answered all of his questions about what will occur during the holidays with short, but clear answers. “How many people will be there?” “I’d say about 15.” And she also thanked him for letting her know what was on his mind: “I really appreciate your questions, Honey. I want you to feel comfortable, so when I know what you’re wondering, it really helps.”
Sixth, if your children get into arguments with siblings or cousins, practice a good response in advance. “May I have that when you’re done?” and “Can we play this together?” are great phrases to try out. When Christopher came to his parents with news of what another child did to him, they said, “How will you handle that?” Of course, if there’s aggression or bullying, you’ll need to intervene.
Seventh, before shopping, Christopher’s parents pointed out that “in our family” we don’t get everything we see in a store that we may want. Mom and Dad even see things they want, but we don’t buy it all. This helps kids see they are not alone in the “wanting and not getting” world, and facilitates their acceptance.
Eighth, if your child makes strides in development, be sure to write a note acknowledging the progress. “Dear Christopher, I noticed how well you accepted that you weren’t able to visit your friend because we had plans to be with family. I am so proud of you.” This dramatically increases the likelihood that he’ll show more mature behavior in the future.
Ninth, when Christopher’s parents saw him progress, they then saw some regression in behavior. Please don’t consider this a failure, but a natural return to an earlier stage to “gather steam” for the next advance. This is how children evolve, three steps forward, one back. A good-natured response is always the best one.
Tenth, just like number one above, give your Christopher a real job! If company’s coming, you’ll want them to decide on the music, set the table, vacuum the living room, make phone calls for you, decide where the coats will go and put them there. Having a job takes the focus off anxious feelings and builds self-esteem. It also affords you the opportunity to share the load and deliver some really heartfelt appreciation … everyone wins!
Take time to really enjoy your children this holiday season. Unlike what they “got”, the memories of how they felt at the holidays will stay with them for a lifetime. You can make these memories powerfully positive with a little forethought, attunement to your anxious child’s needs, and implementation of the 10 tips above.
Happy Holidays to all!
Let’s Talk About Snakes
By Tina Feigal Copyright © 2012
The approach of Halloween got me thinking about snakes. They are such powerful creatures in the lives of adults and children alike. They look dangerous or innocent, according to the observer’s perspective. But for most people, danger is the default feeling when we see a snake.
I’m using snakes here to explain why parents and other adults often see the negative in their children, and have a hard time seeing the positive. Primitive men and women (and in some cultures, contemporary people, too) often saw someone on the path in front of them dramatically felled by a snake bite. This programmed their minds to look vigilantly toward the ground, purely as a survival tactic. Our brain stems held on to this information, and strongly encouraged us to look down, down, down. People wanted so badly to survive that they stayed focused on the ground.
Today, though, we don’t have such intense survival threats. But our brains forgot to adjust to the lowered threat, and our minds still head south to the perceived danger. Intense child behavior can be interpreted as a danger, as well, so parents keep their eyes on the negative, to assure their emotional survival when dealing with their children. They think: ”If I stay focused on it, maybe it won’t hurt me as it has in the past.” Perfectly understandable.
But when we keep focused on the negative (often long after the danger has passed) we run the risk of infusing negative messages into the child’s heart. Those messages run strong neural pathways to the brain with the thought: “I’m not a good kid. I can’t do the right thing.” The more the brain receives these messages, the stronger the neural pathways become, and the more the negative behavior is reinforced.
So how do we break out of the “looking down” habit? How do adults forget about the snakes and start looking at the sky instead? It’s not easy for some. The danger associated with negative behavior has felt so strong and the need to protect oneself is compelling. But I am proposing that everyone, even those who have been beaten up by negative behavior, figuratively or literally, start to consider looking at the sky.
Because a child is not a snake. A child can change his or her urge to attack in a way that a snake cannot. If you start to see the positive in your child’s behavior, attitudes, and words, you will quickly see that your actions influence him or her for the better. Say, “When you treat your brother so nicely, I feel such peace, because it shows me how kind you can be to others.” You’ll notice that the attacks are not nearly as frequent or severe. The words start to soften. The attitude improves. The snake, the danger, simply decreases in its power. And by seeing the good in your child, even a little, you have started to cause this change.
Look at your child’s sky, and see the potential for bright sunlight there. Watch the snakes go, and the sky start to glow.
For parent coaching to help you see the sky, click here.
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A Great Mom’s Success Story About
Her 9-Year-Old Son
Here is a testimonial for your website. I could write all day, but I’m guessing you want it short
I felt completely hopeless as I watched my 9 year olds behavior spiral out of control. He was aggressive and violent with me and his siblings, and he was defiant at every turn. The harder we disciplined and the louder we yelled, the worse his behavior became. We were certain if our child’s behavior continued down this path that he was headed for big trouble. We knew we had to make drastic changes to our parenting style because what we were doing was not working. I had read Tina’s book in the past, and I really believed in her message. My husband and I decided to invest in coaching sessions with her, and it has changed our family life drastically within a couple of months. Our son is no longer aggressive, and everyday we keep seeing more good behavior. I feel better about myself as a mother, and it has actually strengthened my relationship with my husband because we are working together now rather than against each other. Tina’s individualized coaching sessions gave us clear direction and a framework for how to handle challenging situations as they arose. Each session with Tina was life changing for me. I learned so much about myself, the kind of parent I want to be, and the kind of family life I want for my children. I would highly recommend Tina to anyone raising an intense child!
And the same day:
I just wanted to write you an email to let you know that after our conversation today, I spoke with my son tonight about his sense of purpose. I took your advice and told him how proud I am of him for thinking about how he can use his talents to make positive changes in this world, especially at such a young age. You should have seen his response, Tina. He was beaming with pride. You could see it in his eyes. He is softer, less anxious and just overall more content with being in his own skin right now. He came from a child ridden with doubt and fear, and filled with anxiety to the point where he was up until 2 in the morning, to a child who is kissing me good-night saying I am the best mommy in the world. There is much work to be done, and it is by no means perfect, but I now have hope and I can see that there is a way out of this. And that I have the power to change this. I thank you for sharing your wisdom. I may sound like a broken record today, but I can’t tell you how grateful I am that our paths have crossed. It is very possible that you may have saved my family. You should be very proud of the work that you do. It is truly life changing.
How to Manage a Peaceful Back-to-School Transition
It’s August 15th, and time to think about back-to-school emotions!
When school is about to start, what’s foremost on your mind? What clothes do the kids need? Will their backpacks do for another year? How about folders, paper, and pencils? Are iPods allowed? What time does the bus come? Are lunches ordered or groceries purchased?
All the “practical” things rise to the surface with the yearly school-start ritual, but what really prepares children for the new school year is emotional readiness.
Maybe your kids are ready to kiss you goodbye and say, “See you after school, Mom!” If so, you’re feeling very fortunate and sharing in their joyful anticipation. If, on the other hand, your son or daughter is having some doubts about how it will be in the coming year, now is the time to help ease the fears the best you can.
1. Be mindful of using a tone of voice that doesn’t project “doom” about school. If you’re not sure, ask another adult to listen to you and give feedback. An example would be: “You know, once school starts, you’re going to have a lot more work to do and it’s not going to be easy.” All the child hears is, “School will be horrible and I feel trapped.”
2. Instead of doom voice, use a realistic, encouraging voice. Place your trust in the child’s ability to adjust smoothly. “I know you’ll feel good about school once it gets started. Think of all the kids you’ll see who haven’t been around all summer. ” Your child hears, “Dad thinks I’ll be OK.”
3. If your child struggles academically, remind him or her of the help that’s available. “Remember how Mrs. Carter was there for you last year, and you really made progress on your math? She’ll be there when school starts, ready to help again!” Your child thinks, “Oh yeah, I forgot that some parts of school aren’t scary, like when I’m with Mrs. Carter and she explains things.”
4. Talk about taking things one step at a time. Most kids panic because they feel they were supposed to already have done the current task by now. Slowing down to allow them to truly absorb the material is the most helpful way to approach this. “It seems like a big assignment, but it will really just be lots of little ones strung together. I’ll get you started, and be sure to only do one small thing at a time.” Here’s another example where slowing down actually speeds up the process, as the defeated tantrum doesn’t have to occur.
5. Listen to the child’s expression of feelings without dismissing them. “You’re really feeling worried,” tells the child, “I see you.” No need to fix or talk him out of his worry. Just listening can be so healing.
6. If your child struggles socially, instill confidence by saying, “I know it was rough last year when the kids teased you. Let’s talk about how to respond or not respond when they do that this year. Remember to ask an adult for help if the kids on the playground get too rough. Remember to walk away when they say mean things. Remember that you are keeping your power, and not giving it away by getting angry and getting into trouble. And don’t forget that you had a great time with Simone on the playground last year. I wonder how her summer was!”
For a wonderful article on dealing with a bully, click here.
For more help with back-to-school worries, click here to learn how parent coaching can be very useful.
The Habits of Effective Parents
I just read that Stephen Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, has died at age 79. In tribute to the work he did to help individuals improve their lives, here are five habits of effective parents to stick to your refrigerator door!
1. Listen more than you talk.
2. Ask questions more than you issue directives.
3. Really listen your child’s answers. There may be a gem in there!
4. Use your child as a resource.
5. Speak in the tone you want to hear.
Now, how to go about using these magical habits.
First, know that changing a habit takes time, so go easy on yourself as you learn. Second, make a commitment to absolutely getting what you want: a strengthened relationship with your child, and more peace at home. Third, read the five habits slowly three times right now. Let them sink in to your memory, to a place where you can grab them again when you need them.
Here’s a point-by-point guide to adopting the habits:
1. Listen more than you talk. Remember the grade school teacher that everyone loved? She was soft-spoken, and yet she had complete control of 27 high-energy first graders? What was her secret? She listened to the children more than she spoke to them. Try it three times today. Listen when you would have normally been explaining the expectations over and over. If you said it once, let it go.
2. Ask questions more than you issue directives. If it’s time for bed, and kids want to stay up and play, ask a question, starting with “how”. “How are you planning your evening so you’ll get enough sleep and be rested for camp tomorrow?” “How do you think you’ll manage wrapping up your game in order for us to have time to read together tonight?” Heck, you don’t even have to say, “It’s time for bed!” Your question implies it, and your child doesn’t get triggered by the old language.
3. Really listen to your child’s answers. There might be a gem in there! So many times I’ve heard parents who have learned these techniques say, “I never thought I’d hear him say that!” If you want to be among them, pause a beat to hear what your child has to say. Letting your child’s thoughts “bubble up” with an idea takes some time, but it’s time well-spent. You’ll be rewarded with something to treasure. And if the answer your child offers won’t work, don’t give up. Ask another open-ended question about what he or she just said, and see if you hear a more-thought-out idea. This is your child’s learning process at work.
4. Use your child as a resource. If you want to know something, and can take the time to just wonder aloud about it, you’ll be surprised how much your child has to offer. Now, instead of a “commander-follower” relationship, you have a collaborative one – much more satisfying to both of you. And it actually saves time. If you let your child be right, just for the sake of building your relationship, you’re paving the way for the next cooperative moment.
5. Speak in the tone you want to hear. This one is often the most challenging. Try recording yourself (so easy with a smart phone!) just to hear how you address your child. Then ask yourself if that’s how you like to be spoken to. If you like it, great. If you don’t you have some work to do. If you suspect that your child’s negative tone matches what she’s hearing from you, time to get honest about it. Yes, it’s hard, but the rewards will be enormous when you have respectful conversation in your home. (Don’t fall victim to cynicism when it improves … just enjoy!)
These five habits of successful parents can, all on their own, create previously unheard-of improvements in the tone of your home. What do you have to lose? If you would like more assistance in changing old habits, parent coaching can help. To learn the habits of effective parents, click here for more information.
It’s All Anxiety!
Tina Feigal Copyright © 2012
So how does one tell if your child is being disrespectful, mean, or just feeling anxious? And what do you do about it?
Here’s the story of a successful mom who realized, “It’s all anxiety,” and from there, could help her son overcome it. And guess what? Some of the anxiety was hers to overcome, too.
In early February, “Heidi” came into my office saying she was completely at her wits’ end with her 11-year-old son, “Matthew.” She described him as very intense and creative, and as a kid who doesn’t handle it well when he doesn’t get his way. He was also very hard on himself, overreacting to being late to the dinner table by saying, “I’m late aren’t I? and throwing a book, storming around the room, and finally plunking himself down in his chair. He was seething while pinching the salad tongs on his finger. His dad “Tony” asked him to put the tongs down and instead, he threw them at his dad. Needless to say, this brought a big reaction.
When Heidi talked to Matthew later, he denied throwing the tongs. Heidi wonders if she is raising an aggressive liar, and her own anxiety about her parenting is at an all-time high.
Matthew’s other characteristics include “absent-minded professor”, very sensitive, and disorganized around time. He’s also bright enough that he refuses to do some assignments in school, as he knows he doesn’t “need” to do them. He’s probably right. Matthew hounds his 7-year-old sister, “Anna”, saying her name over and over. When he’s upset, he gets physical with her, and is very intent on having her understand him.
Evenings are a nightmare, with Heidi hounding Matthew to do his homework, take a shower, brush his teeth, put on his pajamas, and get to bed by 8:30.
On the plus side, Matthew has a lot of great friends who are also smart, dramatic, and intense. He always finds someone to play baseball and he’s easy-going in groups. He’s fine alone, too, if no one’s available to play. If only his home life matched his friend life!
We talked about how Matthew’s behavior at home didn’t fit his mom’s idea of how a kid should be. She felt judged by others that he was so out of control. Her own guilt and anxiety were driving her crazy, and she was starting to notice that Matthew was acting out of the same emotions. To get to the solution, she had the habit of asking him, “How are you feeling?” She felt she really needed to know his feelings in order to do a good job as a mom, but it only made the situation worse. Heidi was losing sleep over how Matthew was responding to everything, and her life felt out of control. I encouraged her to see him for who he was, and to reduce the volume on the judge voice in her head. Connecting with Matthew was the only way out of this situation, and Heidi understood. I suggested she let go of insisting on hearing his feelings, so he could “bubble to the surface” with them himself, on his timing.
At the second appointment, Heidi reported that she’d “had a cow” over Matthew’s lack of time management. Then she decided to take a different tack: she joined him. She said, “You’re like me. We don’t really feel the passage of time.” She also apologized for being on his every move between dinner and bedtime. She asked him to list what needed to be done and then handed him the responsibility for his own routine. “It’s up to you,” she said, letting go of her own anxiety about his possible lack of sleep and crankiness the next day. “OK,” was Matthew’s reply.
Fast forward to the next appointment: I’d suggested the family have a meeting where they engaged in a caring conversation. Heidi made a heart on a piece of paper, and everyone in the family wrote ways in which they showed they cared for one another. The ideas just flowed from the kids, and they even read them aloud the following week. Anna made copies of their heart for her grandparents. Matthew’s contribution was, “We tell each other our emotions.”
At the fourth appointment, Heidi’s immediate report was that things were going really well. Matthew’s bedtimes were no longer an issue. Heidi decided to let this be a template for dealing with many of the parenting issues with Matthew. “He’ll work all these things out,” she said, letting go of yet another layer of anxiety.
Now Matthew is feeling free to share his real emotions with his mom when he needs to, instead of angrily defending himself against her insistence that he bare his soul on her timing. He’s an avid reader, and was enjoying a novel series, until some of the topics got pretty scary, with bad things happening to the good people. He popped into her room at 9 p.m. one night and instead of worrying that he was staying up too late, she asked, “Would you like me to lie with you?” “Yes,” came the reply. Heidi regarded it a huge victory when she was able to just be there, and not dig for all of his emotions. The more she controlled her own anxiety, the less anxious Matthew became, and the more willing he was to be vulnerable and seek her comfort. A true victory indeed!
If you’re thinking about ways to bring about a better home life for yourself and your family, parent coaching can help in just the way it did for Heidi. Don’t hesitate to take the first step toward bringing peace where there was defensiveness, and harmony where there was aggression. You want to build a bridge to your child. We’re right here to hand you the tools. Click here for more information.
Teaches Mom a Lesson
By Erin Jauert © 2012
It was a typical Thursday morning. Everyone had slept a little later than they should have. Someone had put the peanut butter jar back on the shelf even though it was empty, and a clean pair of matching socks seemed to be as elusive as ever. As I was double-checking my kindergartener’s backpack and stashing his snack into the front zippered pouch, he looked
up at me with his sweet, dimpled face and said, “Mama, there’s something I forgot to tell
you last night.” “Oh yeah?” I said, only half listening as my mind raced through a list of
the day’s events. “There’s a boy on the bus who’s been punching me in the stomach.”
And just like that, my mind went blank. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. Suddenly, nothing else mattered. This was, after all, what I’d feared most since that crisp
fall morning 5 months ago when I’d sent him off to his first day of school. “What do you mean?” I asked, “Has it happened more than once?” “Yes,” he said, “It happened yesterday and the day before that … and one time last week.” Doing my best to maintain my composure, I calmly asked, “Do you think you could sit in a different seat where you wouldn’t be near him?” Without hesitation, my sweet boy insisted, “No, he’s not supposed to, but he climbs all over the bus while it’s moving … no matter where I go, I know he’ll find me.” My breath caught in the back of my throat and I started to think about how I’d love to teach that little bully a thing or two about messing with my baby. Little did I know that I was the one about to get schooled.
My 6-year-old continued, “I mean, I know his bucket is empty and that’s why he’s doing it … it’s just that I don’t know how to fill it, Mama.”
It’s hard to say if I was more proud of my son for remembering the lesson his dad and I had thoughtfully weaved into so many prior conversations or more embarrassed that in that moment my kindergartener had to be the one to remind me of it. Either way, I felt an instant calm sweep over me. Just as my son had known all along, this wasn’t about him at all. It was about another child, someone else’s baby, who was lacking something, needing something, wanting something. I explained to my son that he was exactly right, that in most cases when someone treats another person badly, it’s because they’re feeling bad about themselves. We brainstormed ideas for ways to fill this little boy’s bucket. “You could give him a compliment,” I said. “Maybe I could take him a treat,” my son suggested. In the end, we agreed that just like everyone else, more than anything, he probably just needed a friend.
Later that morning I watched the clock, noting the kids were probably just getting settled on the bus for the ride home. Even though he seemed confident with the plan we had devised, I couldn’t shake the nerves as I thought about my baby getting punched in the stomach yet again. Thirty minutes later the bus pulled up, slowed to a stop and I watched as my kindergartener bounced down the steps. He didn’t look like a child who had just been punched in the stomach, but I had to hear it for myself. “So … anything happen with the bully on the bus today?” I asked. “Yeah, something happened alright,” he said. “As soon as we got on, I asked him if he wanted to play with me. We played Lion King the whole way home … it was awesome!”
While this experience has come and gone in my son’s mind, it’s something I keep revisiting in my own. I’m sorry that he got punched in the stomach, but grateful that he felt comfortable telling me about it. I’m ashamed of my initial reaction, but amazed by the way my 6-year-old was able to redirect me to the heart of the issue. Above all, this experience serves as an important reminder about how important it is as parents that we talk to our children about things that are happening and about things that aren’t happening, but could. You never know when your kids will encounter a situation where your words will help guide them. Thanks to many prior conversations about this issue, both directly and indirectly, my kindergartener was armed with the confidence he needed to face a bully on the school bus with both courage and compassion
Introducing the New Baby to Your Toddler
Tina Feigal © 2012
To bring a baby into a toddler’s life is a crisis for the former king or queen of the house. To leap over his or her feelings and just try to introduce a baby, expecting harmony, is not realistic or wise. Imagine your husband or wife saying, “I’m going to get a new spouse. It’s going to come soon, will be helpless, and a lot cuter than you, because she’s smaller. Other people will greet the little new spouse with joy and delight, and sort of give you a passing glance. Or worse, they’ll ask you if you like the new spouse, and fully expect you to show how happy you are that this intruder has arrived to take up your parents’ time and energy, so there’s less for you.”
See what I mean? It’s a huge thing for many children to have a sibling enter their world. And it’s also very good. They learn that they do share their parents with someone else, which is a very helpful lesson for the future.
To introduce the baby to a toddler, include the toddler in your talk about the baby, encouraging touch of mommy’s belly, talking to the baby (yes, he or she will find that little voice familiar and pleasant after the birth), and read picture books about the new baby. Show the toddler where the baby will sleep, what clothes the baby will wear, and how he can help. Making a helper out of your toddler goes a LONG way toward helping him adjust. Whenever anyone, even an adult, feels fearful, the best way to overcome it is to have a role to play to protect others. It’s the same for toddlers. If you say, “Your baby will need your help when he comes. I’ll have to ask you to grab a diaper or get me the pacifier. I am going to love having your help, because when you were a baby, I didn’t have a big brother or sister to help out. When the baby gets older, you’ll be teaching him everything you already know. You will always be the oldest kid, so you’ll have a lot to teach!”
Your toddler is VERY curious about every aspect of your new baby, in the same way that she’s curious about everything else. Encourage the curiosity, rather than forbid exploring the baby. Saying, “Don’t get too close,” sends the wrong message. Saying, “You love seeing her fingers and toes, don’t you? Let’s count them!” sends the message that you have a positive view of your older child’s perspective, which prevents and/or softens rivalry. If the touching is invasive or too rough, teach gentle touch directly, saying, “This is how we do it gently. Thank you for being so gentle. The baby loves that!”
For young toddlers, when you hold the baby, also hold the toddler. That’s why parents have two arms and two legs, a lap big enough for everyone. Invite the toddler for holding even when he doesn’t ask for it. This says, “You are still very important in my world, and I want you near me.” If you give the opposite message, “You need to grow up now because my attention has to be on the baby,” you are in for rivalry.
Have definite conversations, saying, “It might seem that since we have a new baby, I only love her, and not you. (Concrete concepts for concrete thinkers, which toddlers are.) But of course I still love you as much as I ever did! Love gets bigger when a new child comes, and now the love in our family is bigger than the whole world!
If the older child is melting down, don’t make it about the baby. It’s just his or her internal need to have something he or she can’t have, which would be happening regardless. Also, EXPECT a bit more melting down than usual when the new baby arrives, and you won’t be surprised by it. React with calm and reassuring words, and the meltdowns will subside. If you overreact, you reward them, and they stay a lot longer. If there’s a long tantrum, simply whisper, “Would you like to calm down now, or would you like to keep crying?” Whispering is highly effective, as the child has to stop to hear what you’re saying. Giving this in the form of a question puts the disempowered child in a place of decision-making and appropriate power. The more appropriate power he or she has, the less inappropriate power he or she will seek.
Follow your toddler’s lead on interacting with the baby and don’t push “love” on him. The love will likely bubble to the surface on its own, and then you can react to it with heartfelt appreciation. Make it normal and delightful that your older child loves the younger one. Don’t expect perfection, and you will have a happy experience introducing the new baby to your toddler.
Tantrums in Public: Every Parent’s Nightmare
by Tina Feigal Copyright © 2011
We have all been there, or at least those of us who are lucky enough to have fire-cracker kids. We take a quick trip to the store for just a few items, and are sidelined by our child’s complete melt-down in the marshmallow aisle. Other adults are displaying looks that say, “Why can’t she control her child?” or “Look at how he acts when he doesn’t get his way! Must be pretty spoiled at home!” The embarrassment is beyond what we bargained for, and the judgment makes us plain angry.
Here are some tips for avoiding tantrums in public:
1. Take note of whether your child is tired or has low blood sugar. Do not take him out if he is tired, and give him a snack if he’s hungry. To expose a tired or hungry child to a crowd of people, coupled with a great deal of visual stimulation, is just asking for a tantrum.
2. If you are already out with a tired child, simply, unemotionally, go home. There is no substitute for rest when a child needs it, so avoid getting into, “I think she can make it through one more errand” mentality. I don’t need to tell you that this is when things typically fall apart and tantrums result.
3. Rehearse the desired behavior with your child in advance. Role play “going to the grocery store” when it’s not time to go. Your child has a much better chance of complying if you do.
4. Give heartfelt appreciation for every good behavior on the way to the store. “Wow, you got into the car so nicely. I love that!”
5. When your child shows interest in an item in the store, or an activity in the park, avoid saying “no”. Instead, listen deeply to the child’s desire for the item or activity. Say, “Wow, you have a great eye for special dollhouses! It is a wonderful one.” You have just acknowledged and affirmed the child’s desire, but not given in to the urge to take it home. The child needs to be heard deeply, but not indulged with every item she wants.
With these five tips, you have taken the child’s fatigue level into account to avoid a disaster, rehearsed desired behavior to assure success, grown good behavior with heartfelt appreciation, and listened deeply to your child. Tantrums are not necessarily inevitable. With your concentrated attention, many can be averted before they ever happen. Need parent coaching? Click here. You can make trips away from home happy, successful, and free of tantrums.
WHEN: A night of your choosing
WHERE: Your living room
WHO: You and your girlfriends
WHAT: Good food, delightful company and lively conversation about what it takes
to be successful at the most important job in the world – being a mom
WHY: Because every mom can use some tips, encouragement and support when it comes to raising their kids
Spend an evening with friends swapping stories, sharing challenges and learning strategies that really work.
$20 per person includes 2 hours with a certified parent coach, individualized Q&A and dessert!
Interested in hosting a night out for you and your friends? Email email@example.com or call 651.453.0123.
Parents have occasionally, with understandable reluctance, shared with me that they are afraid of their own kid. Teachers have also confessed that they struggle with fear of certain children. What’s happening when adults are frightened in the presence of children whose behavior has that scary aspect, even when it’s not Halloween? Scary children have lost a great deal of their self-efficacy (the feeling of power over their own world) and developed scary behaviors as a defense. In other words, scary kids are scared.
Here are three ways in which we can replace our own fear with compassion, communicate gentleness instead of fear, and improve the relationship between adult and child.
First, kids who adapt to their world by scaring others have learned that it’s a scary world, either because of maltreatment or because of their own internal sensitivity. Extra-sensitive kids, who are taking the world in through their senses much more “loudly” than the average child, have to defend themselves against the sensory onslaught they are experiencing. Becoming scary feels like a good defense against the unpredictable overload of sight, sound, smell, taste, tactile or interpersonal input (or sometimes many of these at once.) To help these kids, develop a sensitivity in yourself for what they are experiencing, and address the overload, rather than the behavior. Say, “It seems like this place is too loud for you, so let’s get out of here.” Being seen this way heals the heart of the child, eliminating the need for his defense against the world, i.e. less scariness and more cooperation.
Another way of helping the child who is overloaded by sensory input is to seek the help of an occupational therapist, who can build up the child’s ability to integrate what his senses are telling him. When he can integrate the messages, he has less need to defend himself against them.
If the source of the scary behavior is maltreatment of the child, do everything you can to remove the child from the situation where the maltreatment occurs. That could be actually moving the child, or it could mean teaching the abusive adult how to interact in a healthy way. Parent coaching can accomplish this. Don’t wait another day, as each experience of emotional or physical abuse takes its toll on the child, no matter what age.
Second, work extra hard to control your own emotions in the presence of your child. Kids only see what they see, a yelling, ordering, impatient adult. They have no idea that you are merely mirroring the methods of your parents because you don’t have another way of dealing with them. Or if your behavior is due to stress, realize that the kids don’t have the perspective to empathize with you. If you need empathy and compassion to calm yourself down, find it through a close friend or counselor. Do not expect kids to understand that you are having a hard time. Empathy doesn’t develop until later in life, so please don’t expect it from your child. Be the adult, take care of yourself, and don’t blame the scary child. Remember, if he’s scary, he’s scared.
Third, comfort your scared child by seeing past the behavior and getting to the root of his fear. He may be intelligent beyond his years, and taking in way more information than he can handle. Focus in the present moment on what might be frightening your child by asking what the fear might be: “Could it be that you are afraid of the other kids on the bus? If so, I can talk to the school and get that resolved.” “Could it be that you are afraid that your dad or I might die because you see grandpa suffering with cancer? I sure understand that, and please know that I’m doing everything I can to keep myself healthy for you.” “Could it be that you’re worried that I’ll get in an accident when I go to the store? How about if I call you when I arrive, so you know I’m safe?” “Could it be that you are afraid of the change in school? I will call the teacher and we’ll make a plan to help you feel safe.”
If a child feels secure, has some sense of control of his world, and is assured about the future, there’s no need to defend himself with scary behavior. As his adult guide, focus on what he needs to reach the state of calm, and the positive behavior will naturally follow.
If you “feel afraid of this kid”, and would like help with reducing the fear in your home or classroom, call or write to Tina Feigal at 651-453-0123 or firstname.lastname@example.org.