Posts Tagged ‘help for parents’

PostHeaderIcon How Can I Tell if My Child Has Trauma Effects?

How Can I Tell if My Child Has Trauma Effects?

You hear a great deal about trauma in the news these days, and you wonder if your child is showing the signs of having been traumatized.  It’s often hard to tell if the trauma is having ongoing effects on your child or if it was even traumatic to him at all!  Here are some examples of trauma and the signs of their effects:

The most traumatic event for a child is the death of, or removal from, a parent. Due to the internal imperative to survive, the child is biologically wired to connect with her parent, and if that connection is broken, even at birth, the signs of trauma can be seen.  But not in every single case. Some children are adopted at birth or later, and never show signs of trauma. Some who are adopted at birth feel the separation deeply.

If the connection to the parent is broken by physical abuse on the part of the parent or other adult, the effects are also significant, and trauma signs are likely to be evident.  Physical abuse is spanking, hitting, choking, restraining for long periods, burning, cutting, and more.  It’s hard to think that a parent would ever do such things to a child, but when a parent has mental illness or a chemical addiction, the urge to protect the child or avoid harming her is dampened or obliterated, and impulse control goes out the window. The child does nothing to provoke this, although the parent will insist that she does. It’s the parent’s lack of restraint that leads to physical abuse.

Similarly, sexual abuse will bring signs of trauma.  Again, it’s never the child’s doing that brings on the abuse, but the parent will insist that he or she caused it somehow.  It’s very likely that the adult has deep pain which is causing the sexual abuse, and also that the adult has been abused as a child. This is why sexual abuse is so horrific. It makes a criminal out of the victim. Sexual abuse profoundly confuses loyalty to the adult with sexual involvement, and can have lifelong effects on the child’s ability to form a healthy sexual relationship. There is no form of sexual interaction with a child that is OK.  Hugging, kissing, massaging, and washing are all part of normal child raising, but touching of genitals for pleasure – either the child touching the adult or the adult touching the child, is abuse. Showing pornography to children or photographing them in sexual positions or without clothing is also sexual abuse.

Emotional/psychological abuse is particularly damaging to a child. The reason this type of abuse (which is also often present with physical and sexual abuse) is so hard to identify and treat is that there are no outward signs of the abuse. In fact, the way systems operate, the abuser is often not stopped, as the law depends on physical findings to prosecute. Emotional abuse, in the form of  blaming children for everything that “goes wrong”, accusing them of things they didn’t do, playing mind games with them, calling them names such as stupid, filthy, unwanted (and worse) has more impact that physical abuse on the future mental health of the child.  It’s insidious, hidden where it cannot be healed, in far too many cases.

Neglect is also highly traumatizing for children. It conveys to the child that he or she is not worthy of parental care, which can go deep into the psychological landscape to create feelings of lack and low self-esteem. Physical neglect, emotional neglect, medical neglect, educational neglect, and exposure to violence are all types of trauma.

What are the signs that a child has had the trauma of abuse?
Children who have experienced trauma often have difficulty trusting others.  When they look to their caregivers as infants or at any age, really, and they don’t get their emotional and physical needs met, their brains undergo a change that involves not being able to trust.  This is not a choice, it’s a physiological response. Once the child touches that hot stove of connection that results in being abandoned, he or she is wired not to touch it again.

Other ways that trauma shows up are: decreased mental ability and memory, lack of “executive functioning” which means they have trouble remembering their homework, remembering to hand it in, organizing their rooms, backpacks or desks, and planning ahead. Constant anxiety is another sign of trauma, as are bed-wetting, lying, stealing, and emotional outbursts for no logical reason.  Sensory sensitivities are also frequently seen in children with traumatic histories. Visual, auditory, smell, touch, and taste input is felt as 1,000 times stronger than for those without trauma.  Another one is “interpersonal sensitivity” where a child is hyper-reactive to the presence of others.  Sensory seeking can also be a sign of trauma, particularly with sexual abuse. These children are absolutely compelled to replay the sexual scene, all on an unconscious level.

The purpose of this article is to highlight the signs of trauma, often also referred to as “stuck grief” for all the missed nurturing the child has experienced.  The next article will offer tips for helping the traumatized child overcome the effects of trauma.

For help with this or any other parenting issue: click here.

To order the book: “Present Moment Parenting: The Guide to a Peaceful Life with Your Intense Child” with chapters on help for parents of children with trauma, by Tina Feigal, Amelia Franck Meyer, and Mechele Pitt, click here.

To download the audio book of “Present Moment Parenting: The Guide to a Peaceful Life with Your Intense Child, click here.




PostHeaderIcon Five Steps to Helping a Traumatized Child Regain Control

Five Steps to Helping a Traumatized Child Regain Control

Tina Feigal Copyright © 2015

Stressed childIf you are parenting or teaching a child who has experienced trauma, you know that every day feels like a struggle.  This article is written to give you insight into the behaviors that are a direct result of the trauma, and ways to handle those behaviors.  There is a compassionate way to approach a traumatized child, just the way we treat animals with compassion when we adopt them, not knowing what they have experienced in the past. Let’s share this far and wide.  Our children need our compassion. And they are all our children.

1. Understand that the cause of the behavior is often the effect of stored trauma, not the misbehavior of a cranky child. A traumatized child cannot regulate emotions by “making a better choice” any more than a caged lion can remain calm when someone comes at it with a spear. Having had trauma (neglect; emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse; hunger and inability to anticipate being fed; homelessness; loss of friends or family through separation, divorce, death, or incarceration; drug or alcohol abuse by a parent) changes the child’s brain. It stays in fight-or-flight mode, even when there’s no current threat. This is adaptive brain function, as the brain interprets it as assuring the child’s survival. It’s also difficult for adults who haven’t seen the trauma in action to believe that misbehavior comes from the brain’s over-responses to perceived threat. To help you remember, say to yourself, “This is trauma, not disrespect.”

2. Help the child regulate. If it’s safe to do so, give the child space; avoid approaching the child. After a period of quiet, ask “Would you like to keep crying (yelling) or would you like to calm down now?” Wait with a calm demeanor for the child to show signs of decreasing agitation. Model self-regulating techniques, such as sitting or lying down, breathing deeply, and using soothing self-talk. (I can calm my legs, I can calm my arms, I can calm my head, I can calm my hands, I can calm my feet.)

3. Identify true feelings. “If I guess how you’re feeling, will you tell me if I’m right or wrong? I imagine you are frustrated (angry, sad) because you wanted to do your own thing right now, and we are asking you to join the class.” Have the child draw the feelings on paper. This releases the child by helping the brain get the message, “I am seen.  If I’m seen I will survive. I don’t need to act out to be seen, because she just let me know my feelings are real and they are OK.”

4. Provide opportunities for sensory calming or remove child from sensory overload. For example, apply deep pressure (weighted blanket, hugs, self-hugs, pressure on shoulders or legs) or other sensory calming techniques.

5. Check for hunger, thirst, fatigue and/or oncoming illness, and attend to these needs by providing food, drink, rest, or medical care.

Final note: It’s important to remember that consequences do not work for traumatized children. Children who have experienced trauma are in disequilibrium as they have not had their basic needs met. They are experiencing fear for their very survival, and thus cannot attend to the needs of the environment. Their brains are in fight-or-flight, so the reasoning part of the brain is turned off, and planning ahead based on previous consequences is just not possible in this state. Instead of trying to “teach him a lesson”, stick to the steps above. It will save time and frustration, and especially important, it will keep the situation from escalating, which only fuels the brain’s over-response to perceived threat.

For help with this or any other parenting issue, for children of all ages, click here.

PostHeaderIcon Mornings Can Go Well!

Mornings Can Go Well!

Dad and boy in amHere are five quick tips for improving your mornings when the kids drag their feet, delay, get distracted, and don’t seem to understand that you need to hurry.

1. First, take away that idea that they need to understand the urgency of the situation.  They don’t. This relieves you from having to convince them that they must hurry EVERY SINGLE MORNING.
2. Instead of convincing, convincing, convincing, try rehearsing the morning routine in advance at your next Saturday family meeting (which I’m sure you’re having regularly, because you are dedicated to the success of your family and realize it won’t just happen on its own … wink-wink.) After rehearsing the whole morning routine, including starting in bed, a wake-up from the alarm clock, a gentle touch and “Good morning! We’re having waffles today!  I’ll see you in the kitchen, all dressed and ready!”, getting dressed, and coming to the kitchen, the kids will have a map in their brains for what peaceful mornings look like in the “Sandfort (insert your last name) home.”
3. Give heartfelt appreciation for any cooperation you see:  “When you come down all dressed and ready, AND your hair is combed, I feel so relaxed and happy.  We are starting our day with such calm, which makes the whole day better, and you’re doing that!”
4. Talk about happy things that show you are not just focused on the kids’ morning routine performance.  Ask their opinions, advice and ideas.  This makes children feel grown up, and in turn helps them act grown up.
5.  Share your success with another adult. Maybe the child’s other parent, your sister, your niece, your best friend, or your parents, and let your child overhear this conversation.  Think of the huge neural pathway you’ve just formed and strengthened for the child’s cooperation.  You are so powerful!

For help with this or any other parenting issue, click here.

PostHeaderIcon What About NFL Turning a Blind Eye to Domestic Abuse?

What About the NFL, and Other Professional Sports Organizations, that Turn a Blind Eye to Domestic Abuse?

I am sharing my thoughts here, and would love to hear yours, as well. Let’s make this an open conversation with the hope that more enlightened attitudes can emerge from it. I know I still have a lot to learn in life, and I trust you feel the same.

Somewhere in Eden Prairie, a 4-year-old boy is healing from the physical wounds his father inflicted on him with a switch (small tree branch) because he got into a disagreement with his brother over a video game. Lacerations on his hand and thighs, and bruises on his lower back and buttocks resulted in a felony child abuse charge in Texas.  According to the article by Gregory McNeal, texts from Adrian Peterson to the boy’s mother included:

  • “Got him in nuts once I noticed. But I felt so bad, n I’m all tearing that butt up when needed! I start putting them in timeout. N save the whooping for needed memories!”
  • “Never do I go overboard! But all my kids will know, hey daddy has the biggie heart but don’t play no games when it comes to acting right.”The child said, “Daddy Peterson hit me on my face.”
  • The child expressed worry that Peterson would punch him in the face if the child reported the incident to authorities.
  • The child said that he had been hit by a belt and that “there are a lot of belts in Daddy’s closet.”
  • The child said that Peterson put leaves in his mouth when he was being hit with the switch while his pants were down.
  • The child told his mother that Peterson “likes belts and switches” and “has a whooping room.”
  • Peterson, admitted to the police that he had “whooped” his son on the backside with a switch as a form of punishment.
  • Peterson also admitted to the police that he administered two different “whoopings” to his son.So here we are, some of us loyal fans of professional sports, wondering if this constitutes child abuse and what to do about it. And we are also contemplating whether AP should ever be allowed back on the field.  Will this be one of those “fans have short memories” incidents where all is forgotten within a few months when the hype dies down?  Or should we all stand up and insist that a loud message be delivered on behalf of innocent four-year-olds? You probably know already what I’m going to say … that of course child abuse needs to be counteracted with stern and swift consequences.But there’s a deeper issue here.  What gives the men of the NFL the mindset that because they are bigger and stronger than their children, they have the right to physically harm them as a form of discipline?  I’ve read the “We are African American, and this is how we manage our children’s behavior” argument, as well.  I also understand that police profiling of African Americans and other people of color is a real issue, and could lie beneath the parenting perspective that we need to keep our children “respectful and under control” to keep the police from harming them. But this argument doesn’t stand up, given that one in three young African American males is incarcerated in this country. Racial profiling is a real-world issue that still needs addressing by police departments in every U.S. city.According to J.E.B. Myers in his article “The History of Child Protection in America” the first recorded societal effort  to rescue a child from parental abuse was by Etta Wheeler in 1874.  U.S. governmental child protection policies and laws were created in 1962.  Adrian Peterson was born in 1985.  There has been plenty of time for Adrian Peterson and his professional sports counterparts to catch on to the fact that children are protected by law from physical and emotional abuse by adults. But of course, being a product of the enormous hype in professional sports can easily give one the idea that the law is for other people, not you.So what have we learned with the discussion around this incident?  Have we learned that hurting children is never, ever, ever justified?  I hope so.  Have we learned not to revere our sports heroes so much that we consider them above the law?  I hope so again.  Because the children are watching to see who we consider our heroes, and they’re following our example.  We need to be strong for them, and draw the line on child and spousal abuse.  We need to make a big point to them that it’s never all right to harm another human for any reason, no matter how angry we get, no matter how much they provoke us, no matter what.

    Here’s what I have learned:  We have a long way to go in the field of coaching parents. We need to include all races and creeds in the mindset that there’s a much, much better way to get good behavior from your child than physical force.  We need to assure that the hearts of children can make it through the formative years without abject fear of their parents’ undeserved wrath.  Because when a child grows up in fear, as the 4-year-old son of Adrian Peterson has been forced to do, he sees the world as a scary place.  His brain structure and function are  indelibly altered by trauma. He defends himself, sometimes more than the situation calls for, and he lands in prison with all the other abused children of the world.  This is a terrible waste of human potential and we know how to fix it.  With this story so widely distributed in the media, my hope is that this is our chance for a huge step forward on healing adult-child relationships, so children can grow up and become healthy parents.

    I am calling for the NFL, NBA, NHL and others to use this opportunity to support parents in the compassionate handling of their children.  I propose a full-on anti-child-abuse effort, funded by major sports, to not only educate parents, but to provide ongoing services to them so that they can feel supported over time.  We need to remember Maya Angelou’s words:  “When we know better, we must do better.”

    Parents, there’s a better way.  Physical wounds heal in a few months, but emotional scars last for decades, and can have hugely damaging effects on children over their lifetimes.  Please, for the sake of your children, find a parent coach to teach you the better way before we see another case like this in the news, before one more child is scarred for life by a parent who thought he or she was doing the right thing.  Pick up the phone now.





PostHeaderIcon Using Silence as an Invitation

Using Silence as an Invitation

Tina Feigal, M.S., Ed.

fatherdaughterDo you remember a time when purposely using silence actually worked to resolve an issue for you?  Maybe it happened and you didn’t even realize you were doing it.  I’ve become a big fan of silence as a powerful tool, not to “give someone the silent treatment” but to invite their thoughts and feelings into the space between us.  When children are upset or pondering a big question (which happens much more often than we realize) we can offer them an invitation by just giving their thoughts time to formulate.

How would this work in life?  Let’s look at a scenario:

Your anxious child comes to you with an urgent message:  “Dad, I need to have my new swim suit ready for tomorrow, but I left it at Sarah’s and there’s no time to go over there.”

You: “Sounds like a problem. ”

Child: “Yeah, and we need to get my suit!”

You: “OK.”  Pause and let the silence invite your child to think of her own solution.

Child: “Maybe just for tomorrow, I can use my old one and ask Sarah to bring the other one on Wednesday.”

You: “Great idea! That will work perfectly.”

We often get caught up in rapid fire/fix-it-now conversations with our children that seem to solve issues quickly and help us move on with our fast-paced lives.  But when we do this, we actually rob our kids of something so valuable – the ability to think for themselves.  We also subliminally tell them that they aren’t capable of resolving issues, and that they need us to guide their every move.  Then we get mad when they don’t solve their own problems!  “You’re eight years old!  (Or eighteen or twenty!)  You should know how to deal with this by now!” How should they, when we’ve been so quick to “resolve it and move on?”

I’m not faulting parents – believe me, I’ve been there, and my sons have been oh-so-reslient and forgiving.  But I do want to wake us up to the fact that children’s inner wisdom needs to be heard.  And that it’s much more present and powerful than we realize.  But we need to allow silence to invite it in.

Once I was talking to a mom and her seven-year-old daughter.  The mom posed a question about how to get along with siblings better.  Then I encouraged her to wait, wait, wait.  After SEVERAL minutes, the daughter erupted with the most elegant ideas about how siblings should get along.  Mom was stunned.  She’d never dreamed that her daughter had such grown-up thoughts.  It just took her some time to formulate them (after all, she wasn’t used to such a long silent invitation, either!)  But when the silence lasted long enough, voila!  Her inner wisdom blossomed, and mom came away with a whole new appreciation for how advanced her daughter’s thoughts had become.

Emotional child development can catch us by surprise. We’re so used to the “measurable” in our world that we forget about the less tangible, but equally amazing emotional and cognitive growth that kids of all ages experience.  We’ll often say to our nieces, “Wow, did you grow 6 inches since I saw you last? I bet you need new clothes every other month!”  But how often do we allow time for our nieces to demonstrate their emotional growth?  Can you picture saying, “Wow, I love watching how your mind works on the topic of humans and the environment!”  No, we stick to the visible.  That’s a huge mistake, because ultimately we want to raise thoughtful, sensitive kids.  How tall they get is pretty insignificant compared to how deeply compassionate their ideas become. We get to choose what we encourage and cultivate.

So the next time your child has an issue with how the world works, offer the silent invitation to his thoughts. “Minimal encouragers”, such as, “What an interesting question,” or “Tell me more about your ideas,” will let the child know the invitation is on the table.  (Also, turn off the video games, so the thoughts aren’t sidetracked by endless electronic stimulation.) You will be delightfully amazed by his emotional development.  Offer silence so you don’t miss the magic!

For personalized parent education (coaching) on this or other parenting challenges, be sure to visit

Copyright © 2013 Center for the Challenging Child






PostHeaderIcon Transforming the Challenging Bedtime

Transforming the Challenging Bedtime

Copyright © 2011 Tina Feigal

“How do we take the pain out of a challenging bedtime?” Among the parents I coach, I find that that this nearly- universal issue arises at some point in the coaching process. Here are some solutions to this often-frustrating everyday issue.

Set up a family meeting. Using the same technique you would with a respected adult, ask your child if she will be available at 7 p.m. on Tuesday to discuss an important issue. This gives the child a sense of being respected and also infuses a feeling of importance into a family issue. I recommend this approach for any topic that needs discussion in your family life.

Use the meeting to lay out the issue of bedtime squabbles as objectively as you can. You might say something like, “I have noticed that we are having trouble settling down without an argument at bedtime. I know that when this happens, we have frustration, delaying, yelling, and tears.  The funny thing is, we go to bed every night.  Let’s do what we always do, which is say it’s time for bed, go to the bathroom, brush teeth, put on our p.j.s read a story, say good night, and turn off the light. Only let’s do that without the yelling!  Would you kids like that?  “Yes!” will be the reply.  Then ask, “What ideas do you have that might help our bedtime go more smoothly? What do you think the rules should be?”

Use Present Moment Parenting for bedtime behavior management. Establish the rules for bedtimes with the child’s input. Rules should start with “no”: no getting out of bed once the light is out, no asking for more time, no stalling, no negotiating, no whining, no bothering your sister, no crying, no excuses. Children know what the rules are, and the ones they offer will typically be more stringent than yours. Use the child’s rules religiously whenever practical, as this creates buy-in, which strengthens the likelihood that the rules will be followed. The clearer the rules are, the easier it is for the child to follow them.  Practice the bedtime routine when it’s not bedtime to help the child get a map in her brain for how it’s supposed to look.  This is great fun for the kids, and it increases the likelihood of buy-in, in the same way as creating the rules.

If a rule is broken, there is an immediate, non-negotiable break. A gentle, unemotional “broke a rule take a break”, is all that’s needed. The break should take place in the bed, since that is where the child needs to be, and should last 30 seconds. No energy (no talking, no negotiating, no engagement of any sort) should be directed to the child during the break. If the child refuses to take a break, say, “The break starts when you are calm, and as soon as you make it start, it can end,” with the firm conviction that you have decided that it is bedtime, and there will be no change in your decision.  This system builds a sense of security in the child. It implies that you are in charge, and also that you have complete faith that she can go to sleep on her own.

All requests for behavior should start with, “I need you to” rather than questions such as, “Would you please” or “Would you like to” which imply a choice. Remember, when you are clear and certain, you are giving your child a huge gift. It may take a few nights of this clarity for the child to adjust to the routine, but it will be well worth the effort. Every minute you spend making this work now will pay off significantly in the future. You are teaching your child that she can go to sleep on her own just like a big person. This is very valuable information for her, as it will help her to believe in herself in other areas, too.

For steps that are completed with cooperation, use heartfelt appreciation to show that you are noticing and valuing her actions. This creates a powerful heart-to-brain neural pathway for goodness, which strengthens the desired behavior significantly. You might say, “I see that you have your teeth brushed and are headed for your room. Thank you so much for following our plan, Kristi. Every time you do this stuff, I feel like you are making this house such a wonderful place to live!” Using the formula “When you … I feel … because …” for this feedback makes remembering how to deliver it much easier. (For more information on Present Moment Parenting, visit

Set a definite bedtime. Younger children should go to bed earlier than the older ones if there is an age difference of two years or more. Usually a half hour is ample time to separate the two bedtimes. If you have four or more children, you may want to make bedtime more uniform so that you assure your adult time at the end of the day. This is very important. Knowing that you, as a single parent or with your spouse or partner, can definitely count on some winding down time helps you to handle the challenges that will come tomorrow. Do not consider this optional. You need your time alone or time together. It is very good modeling for your children, as well. They need to know that time to oneself or as a couple is vital to healthy adult living, and that it also ensures that mom and dad will be in a much better mood tomorrow.

Include any special rituals in the bedtime routine that the children deem important, and that are acceptable to you. Rituals might be as simple as: wash your face and brush your teeth, take a drink of water, put on p.j.s, say goodnight to the fish, read with mom or dad, settle in for sleep. To communicate respect for her process, indicate that you are as bought in to the ritual as is the child; be sure to remind her to say goodnight to the fish if she forgets. Rituals are very important for children’s transition to the next activity, especially at bedtime. They provide a sense of continuity and comfort, which is vitally important to raising healthy kids. Reading together is my favorite bedtime ritual, as it points out that you value reading and learning, it offers a great opportunity for snuggling, and most important, it truly allows the child to feel your slowed-down, caring energy.

Requests for extending the reading time will be lovingly denied when lights out time has arrived. Make a comment such as, “It makes me so proud to see that you love to read this much, Honey, but tomorrow is another day, and you can read during any free time you have. Now I need to see the light out. Good night. I love you very much.”

Then leave the room and consider the day with children completed (unless, of course, there is a true illness.)


If your child has a problem with separating from you or with nightmares, here are a few options to consider: Place a nightlight in the child’s room. As part of including your child in the solution, have him go with you to the store and pick out a special one. Some nightlights are in the shape of child-friendly characters, but young imaginations can turn them ugly in the night. Neutral nightlights are probably the best. Some have fragrances that can be calming, but they do run out of scent. You may avoid trouble by buying two or three, so that there is always a back-up on hand.

When my youngest son was four years old, he had severe nightmares and was afraid to go to sleep. A friend gave me some room spray that made dreams sweet and not scary. We sprayed the room every night for a few months, and that, with some gentle reassurance, took care of the nightmares. Any type of pleasant spray can serve the purpose. Of course, if your child has sensitivities to chemicals, perfumes, or odors, you will want to avoid this one. Dream catchers are Native American creations in which small hoops with weavings, beads, and feathers, serve to filter out the bad dreams and only allow the good ones. They are wonderful, durable devices for helping children make the transition into a restful night’s sleep. They are fun and easy to make, as well!

Use lovies (dolls, stuffed animals, blankets) generously. Assigning characteristics to them gives the child a sense of control over the night. “My bear knows how to scare away the monsters” is a good indicator of coping in the child whose ability to tell truth from reality is not yet fully developed (typically after age four.) “My dolly can help me dream good dreams” is another helpful statement of empowerment over the night’s threatening feelings. If your child has not ascribed these characteristics to the stuffed animal of choice, it is all right to gently suggest them. “Do you know that this doll came with instructions that said it can help kids sleep well?” Never take away, or threaten to take away, an object that comforts the child at night for any reason. A break is always a better choice for helping the child to gain control of her behavior.

If the child seems too old for the blanket, doll, or stuffed animal, do not be the one to decide whether it is time to give it up. That decision is the child’s, and will be made when he or she is ready. It hurts no one for him to hang on until it’s time to let go, and may be a crucial aide in his emotional development. And never make a decision about the appropriateness of a lovie based on the child’s gender. Little boys who love baby dolls and little girls who carry around their G.I. Joes need the same love and acceptance as their counterparts who depend on same-gender lovies. A positive approach is to ask after the well being of the lovie. “How is Lucy Light today? Have you and she been having fun while I was away?” If spending the night at a friend’s house with the lovie becomes an issue, leave the decision about whether to take the lovie along to the child. Many friends are relieved to see their buddies unpack their lovies when bedtime arrives. It indicates that they are all part of the same “child club” still in need of certain comforts at night. If your child does receive some ridicule for having the lovie along, she can decide what to do about it. She may want to come home, or she may keep the lovie with her and let the ridicule go. She may decide to put it back into her bag for the night. Trust your child’s sense of what will keep her the most comfortable in the situation, and assure her that she can call you to consult on it at any time.

An example of implementing the plan:

Alan and Alicia Elberg had had it with their children, Madison, age 6, and Josh, 11, at bedtime. They were in a constant state of disruption and sleep deprivation especially from Josh’s behavior. He was getting out of bed after lights out, arguing that he was not being treated fairly, saying he was scared, and insisting on more water and food. By the time the battles had been fought over each of these issues, Alan and Alicia were so exhausted and angry that they were at the end of their rope. They were open to any and all suggestions, and decided to give Present Moment Parenting a try.

The Elbergs had their first family meeting, and included their children in creating solutions for the bedtime routine. They made sure that they paid close attention to the input and used a talking piece for the meeting. Whoever has the talking piece at the moment gets the full attention of the others with no interruptions. When finished, that person passes the talking piece to the next person and then gives him full, uninterrupted attention. The talking piece serves as a powerful physical symbol of respect for children and adults alike. The Elbergs wrote down all ideas and used ideas from each family member in their final plan. Josh, who has had the most trouble settling in to bed without conflict, suggested that Alicia or Alan give a ten-minute warning before bedtime. Madison said that she would like the warning to be given in a quiet voice. Alicia responded to their input by saying, “I notice that you are really thinking hard about ways to make our household happy at bedtime. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate hearing your ideas. I wouldn’t have thought of some of them myself.  That’s what makes all of these thinkers together so valuable!” Alan contributed the phrase, “I need you to get ready for bed” as the signal for bedtime and said it would be delivered only once. Alicia added that there would be a break for anyone who doesn’t listen. She set the start of bedtime preparation at 7:30 for Madison and 8:00 for Josh, with lights out at 8:00 and 8:30 respectively, and all agreed on the plan.

The Elbergs wrote out the kids’ rules that started with “no.” Their list included no whining, no dawdling, and no getting out of bed, no bothering your sibling, no calling for mom or dad, no arguing, and no excuses. Although these rules struck Alicia and Alan as a bit more harsh than they had envisioned, they thought about the pleasant nature of an evening without these behaviors, and decided to go for it. Each child gave input to the bathroom routine, which ended up with Madison brushing her teeth and using the bathroom first, and Josh following with a nighttime shower to make the morning routine more simple. Madison added, “I want to say prayers with daddy every night, and I want to sleep with my new stuffed giraffe.” Josh said, “I want mom to help me set out my clothes every night so I don’t have to decide in the morning. That will be a lot quicker.” Contingency plans were created for evenings when Alan or Alicia would not be home at bedtime. Alan and Alicia stated that they would read or tell stories with each child, and that they would alternate reading with them. Dad would read a page and Madison would read a sentence, and mom and Josh would work out their plan as they went. A three-minute back-rub for Josh and a head-rub for Madison completed the plan for the nightly routine.

The Elbergs decided that lights would go out at the designated time and that Alan and Alicia will continue with their evening’s activities. If Madison or Josh breaks a rule, s/he will serve a break in the bed with no discussion at all, other than, “Broke a rule, take a break.” Alan or Alicia will be present in the room for the break to monitor it, but will not have any interaction with the child. After the break is completed, the parent will leave the room. (These steps may have to be repeated several times at first, until the child realizes that there is no emotional energy from the parent for breaking a rule.)

Alan and Alicia expressed their heartfelt appreciation for a great meeting to both children and to each other. They followed through with more appreciative expressions the next morning by saying, “I just love it that this is the way we do bedtimes now! I woke up so full of energy today and it looks like you did, too! You kids are the greatest.”

For many parents who read this, the preceding may look like a lot of extra work. No doubt it is extra energy out-put, but the amount of energy is about the same as the energy expended on negativity, and in contrast, it actually results in great improvements! Parents soon realize that the forethought and follow-through they give to bedtimes pay off in a huge way, and they get hooked. And once the children realize that their bedtime routine is solid and predictable, their need to test the limits diminishes significantly, and the chaotic bedtime scenes subside. There is, of course, no guarantee that every single night will be quiet and serene, but progress toward that vision is very possible. Parents who put in the effort toward planning bedtimes and thoughtfully implementing their plans say that it is well worth it when they realize the rewards: peaceful evenings, well-rested children and happy parents!

Copyright © Tina Feigal 2011