My hands are tense as I begin typing my first piece after such a long time. It has been over six months since I wrote my last piece, How the Child’s Brain Works. The last few months of 2014 were the hardest of my entire life; I was faced with the news of my mother having had a stroke. Going back home to look after her and eventually watching her die before my eyes was overwhelming. Nothing can describe how sad and painful that moment of separation was - it has taken over me and made me reflect upon everything my mother stood for, including who she was and how she was. I wondered why I conflicted so much with her and yet, when she left, I felt as if one of the anchors of my life had vanished- hence, the necessity of this piece.
My mother was never a peaceful parent. She was as mainstream as any middle-eastern mother would be: strict, opinionated, and authoritarian. She essentially needed it her way all the time. However, alongside these traits, she was a deeply loving and caring soul- not only to us (her family), but to others around her. As her daughter, I never had any doubt that she loved me or that I loved her too. I never doubted that she had my best interest in mind when reacting to or dealing with situations. I never agreed with her approach, but I never doubted her intentions.
This piece comes as a tribute to all of the mothers out there that I never target when writing my blogs; I’m sending a message of love without judgment. Although we may disagree about approach, I understand and believe that we are each doing the best we can according to our values. I now have proof that it doesn’t mean that one is better than another, but rather that we all have our own unique journeys in parenthood that we all must sail through, carrying all of our baggage with us.
Dear mum, and all mothers out there: you are deeply loved and appreciated for whatever choices you have made.
Have you been facing situations, where your child becomes extremely emotional about something? Like crying their eyes out because there’s no milk in the fridge? And others when they seem extremely rigid about something else? Like insisting to wear flip-flops and go out in the snow, no matter what? I am almost sure your answer is yes! Here’s a perspective on what takes place when that happens and hopefully some strategies to work around it.
A child’s brain (and an adult’s for that matter) is divided into two parts; An emotional, artistic, creative, expressive side and another that is logical, literal, rational and analytical. These two parts supposedly work in harmony together and integrate to create a healthy state of mind that reflects on a child’s behavior. However in moments of stress a child will have the tendency to use one part of her brain over the other; if she over uses the logical, literal side she is more prone to become rigid in her way of seeing things and dealing with them and will in most cases be dogmatic and narrow on her perspective about a matter. However if she over uses the emotional side, this is when all the floods of tears and screams come from; so she becomes confused, chaotic and overwhelmed.
What’s important to note, that when one side of the brain is overused it tends to de-attach from the other side and with that creating a state of dis-integration. Another important factor is that in children and sometimes until the age of 25 their rational, literal, logical side is in a developing stage. While the other emotional, creative part of the brain; is well developed from the start of birth. Hence children are prone due to their developmental ability to have more emotional outburst and have difficulty dealing with their massive emotions in different occasions. So what do we do? How do we as parents’ help our children manage their emotions? Here are some strategies that worked with me and have been recommended by many experts in the field of child development and learning;
- Connection & Empathy; connecting with your child on how they are feeling at the moment, and let them know they’re heard and seen through their experience.This is a great way to support them re-integrate with the de-attached side
- Storytelling; give your children space to tell you the story of what happened over and over again, and while they do so fill in the gaps for them. When children are hyped their brain is prone to faulty logic, but when you enable your child to tell a story, you give them an opportunity to hear a different side and be healed from whatever pain they are going through
- Teach them about integration; Dialogue with your children about different ways to manage their emotions or manage conflict before it happens; counting, breathing and moving/removing themselves from the place where its all happening
- Be Conscious; though we can’t do that all the time, but learning about what triggers our children, enables us to explore opportunities to work around it as well as teach them about themselves – in doing so we also support their brain development and integration.
So next time your child is having tantrum, remind yourself about your new knowledge of the brain and work with the situation from that perspective.
P.s. If you like this post, i recommend you read the book "The whole brain child" by dr. Daniel Seigal. I've read a lot about the developing brain but this book is exceptional.
Have you ever heard someone say that if you believe something is true, you’ll see it? Or have you read the quote that said, “Believe to see”? This is actually one of my husband’s favorite quotes. The idea behind both phrases is really quite simple; if you believe in something it will happen or you’ll perceive it happening or in the least sense you’ll only notice when it happens.
This realization is beautiful in so many ways, as it really (only when fully adopted) gives you the peace of mind that what you expect will happen. When used in parenting, believing certain things about your child will always somehow manifest into reality, especially if you look at it in the long term. Sounds weird and unrealistic? Let me explain how this happens within the context of parenting;
When you have a certain belief about your children, i.e. they are kind and caring. Your perception of their behavior and how you act upon it, is always filtered by this belief. Hence when they become unkind in certain situations you’ll always use words, responses and even consequences that enforces your belief of them.
How? Well let’s say your daughter refuses to wash her dinner dish after eating, even after you’ve asked her nicely and told her that you’re tired tonight and cannot bother to do the dishes. If you unconsciously had the belief that she’s caring and loving you’d be first surprised as to why is she doing so, then you might ask questions about it or maybe immediately make the assumptions that she is very tired too or not feeling well to do it. What you’ll say and do in this situation then will not involve any shaming, blaming or maybe enforcement but will most probably involve empathy, understanding and curiosity on what would work.
This is not the only positive aspect of a positive belief about your children. Here’s where self-fulfilling prophecy comes in; when your child observes you day-in and day-out of their lives believing that they are loving and caring, they will eventually internalize this self-image. The belief that they are loving and caring will enable them to act in a loving and caring way to you and to others around them.
But self-fulfilling prophecy works both ways; if you internalize a negative belief about your children (i.e. violent, immature, selfish, dis-respectful), your responses and behavior towards them will also be filtered through this belief (i.e. warnings, ultimatums, punishments, strict rules, or even sometimes blaming them for things you’re not 100% sure they actually did) and they will in turn and in the long term (in most cases) internalize this belief about themselves.
My point is simple really, but ofcourse (like any other aspect of parenting) difficult to apply and be consistent about; are you conscious of what kind of beliefs you internalize about your children? If you’re not clear about it, I invite you to question the underlying beliefs of your responses to them in the different situations of life. Pick one situation at a time and reflect on it with curiosity.
Being conscious is a key ingredient of peaceful parenting, being aware of these beliefs will enable you to alter or celebrate them in the way that is in integrity with yourself and your values. It will also be a your way of teaching your children about themselves and their self-concept. Like every parent around the globe, I too want my children to have a loving, kind, resilient self concept that is re-assured my me and my husband day-in and day-out.
Like every parent in this century, I struggle in most cases with accepting technology as a core piece of my children’s’ life. It’s very difficult for me to accept a life that looks so different than what I had myself. Where play, socializing, entertainment and learning all become part of a virtual world. What’s more worrying is the fact that some of it is really great for the children, but most of it is really hindering rather than empowering. So how and when do you draw the line? What are the signs that your child is getting too much technology? Here are my thoughts on this;
How and When to draw the line?
I have three words for you; Observe, Analyze & Decide.
- Observe your child’s balance & influence of activities; if they are becoming more alert, tense, isolated, less cooperative, less able to concentrate, overwhelmed – then maybe they need more outdoor, centered activities or exercising. I encourage you to go beyond measuring balance by calculating time. Examine how helpful some of the activities are to them at a given moment; i.e. what are they doing online? Playing or chatting or surfing?
- Analyze try to reflect on some of the behavior happening (positive or negative) with how much/less of it is associated with technology. Then find alternatives/replacements that are as engaging or attractive. Hint; include your child in this whole process- enable them to take ownership.
- Decide mutually on where is this line going to be drawn; whether it’s a specific number of hours, or when certain signs take place or maybe just assign new activities that will take away from technology time. That way the focus won’t be on what will be missed but rather what will be enjoyed.
What are the signs?
To me these are mostly behavioral signs, which are more meaningful;
- Stress level and tension; are the shouting yelling and acting out un-necessarily and without a rational explanation for example? Or are their reflexes within normal range?
- Level of alertness and concentration; are they able to concentrate on other matters of life such as eating, studying, playing or even concentrate during a conversation? Are they showing signs of over stimulation? Sharp movements, responses and reflexes?
- Levels of creativity; when we stopped TV, my daughter started making projects, DIY activities, writing, drawing, reading – she also showed signs of curiosity to learn new things like never before. Reflect if your children have this same curiosity in their daily life and encourage that “you both” create a wider space of time for it
- Socialization; are they making friends? Do they play and share stories of wild adventures with their friends? Or do they talk about the cadged they have and play with it together all the time? Or do they have difficulty making friends?
- Outdoor and exercise; my daughter hates exercise, all of them so asking myself if she is getting enough exercise was a nightmare – what I did instead is replacing that question with “does she run enough? hop enough?” and by time my answer began to be yes.
- Emotional management capacities; when children are overwhelmed they tend to have less capacity to manage their emotions. That is usually due to their high stress levels at those moments. Reflect on your child normal behavior and wonder about his/her ability to manage emotions. Put in mind however, that this ability is also influenced by how much you train/teach them how to manage their emotions- they don’t learn that innately.
Going through this reflection and observation, enabled me to better understand the importance of technology in my daughter’s life but in the same time acknowledge what are realistic and nourishing boundaries. How do you work around technology in your children’s life?
If you are like me, sometimes “or all the time” challenged by power struggles between you and your children and want clues on how to manage these struggles and somehow guide yourself and your children towards a place you don’t feel stuck, then this is the article for you.
In this post I will share my Secret Three Reasons, why kids say No sometimes and give clues on why power struggles happen at home.
Demand or a Request; As yourself, are you approaching you’re child with a “demand” or a “request” – A demand is when you approach your child with pretty much an order. As we all know an order is asking someone to do something and expecting him or her to do it- it involves complete obedience. A request on the other hand is very different, it is asking someone to do something and really expecting them to have a say in it; when are they willing to do it? How would they like to do it? And sometimes, it is really whether they are willing to do it at all or not. As adults, we really get offended if someone, even if it was someone as close as our partner or mum, approaches us with a demand. Actually I believe it is no longer accepted in society that people approach each other with demands, however somehow it is still acceptable for care-givers/teachers/parents to approach kids with demands and expect kids to obey. Kids, like adults, react very negatively when approached in such a way. Clue; next time you’re asking your child to go do his/her homework notice if you’re using phrases like “would you be willing to..”, “what do you think about…”, “how about….”-
Your children’s needs; at this very moment you’ve approached them with your request. In often times we assume that we know what’s best for our children in any given time, but in a lot of cases this assumption is not true. Actually in a lot of cases this assumption contributes to the disconnection and to not meeting their needs for being heard, seen or empathizes with. Clue; you ask your daughter to do her homework and she responds saying no. In this case, “as a parent” I would take this opportunity to learn more about the reasons behind the no; is she tired? Is homework too much? Is she afraid she would find difficulty with homework and need support? Does she need rest? Or need play? Or maybe something else is going on that is occupying her attention.
Be true and honest; about how you feel and what are your needs as a parent. All through our relationship and with my step kids too, sharing how I feel about a given situation, and what are my needs and sometimes how I interpret a situation really contributed to the connection between us. In numerous conversations between my children, and me they would change their stand on something out of empathy and understanding of my needs. Being open enables them to tap into their need for contributing to me in a positive and loving way. Clue; Be honest with your child, no playing games or manipulation to get what you want. Just be in their eye level and speak your heart.
These are my secrets, would very much enjoy yours!
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A few years ago it hit me while I was facilitating a feedback workshop for one of clients, that as parents we spend almost all of our time giving feedback to our children; don’t eat like this?, don’t yell?, I appreciate you cleaned your room?, I love it when you speak nicely? And lots of other things. But very rarely, if ever do we take the time to ask them, what do they think of us?!.
I mean how else are we going to teach them about being accepting and open to learning from experiences as well as empathy, if we never role-model it for them. What is a greater way to show them that we value their voice better than listening to them talk about us.
Well, when I returned home that day I took my daughter to a walk around the block and talked to her about feedback; I told her that I would love to hear from her what she enjoyed the most about my parenting and what she didn’t, I also asked her about what she enjoyed in our life together the most and what she didn’t. That night I did not get an answer for everything, and I believe I was overwhelming; but then the little information I got was eye opening in a beautiful way!
“Mum, I don’t like it when you promise me something and don’t do it. It hurts my feelings” – I didn’t reject her perception, though I didn’t think I did that at all, but went along with it asking for clarity; “it must be painful when I promise you something and don’t do it. Can you give me an example?”. I realized that day that when things come up and we change plans for one reason of another, I don’t explain things enough to my daughter and hence she created the perception that I don’t keep my promises. We later this week, worked out a way to explain what’s happening and a code that she says when she is really sure she understands why are we changing plans. It was an amazing experience, and since then I have been making it a point that I periodically solicit feedback from all of my children and let them know that I value this feedback and will work on it. I used a number of tools like asking them to write up what they want me to stop, start &/or continue doing as their mother(or step mother) or draw it up or tell me when something comes up – and it has been fascinating every single time.
So plan something this coming week, with your child(ren); take them for a walk in the park or have a tea party in their room or whatever works for them and ask them for feedback and share what comes up!
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I want you to imagine this with me; you just had something horrible happen to you “however you define horrible” – you walk by to your husband wanting to tell him about it and cry on his shoulders, but you’re also horrified and unable to express yourself in an understandable manner; you’re crying, and making sounds as if talking but nothing really is clear- this is how stressed you are.
You’re husband on the other hand, tries to receive you with kindness at first; “what’s wrong? What happened?” and here you are trying to explain but nothing is coming out of you except weird sounds – he then says things like; “I don’t understand you! And honey would you please just calm down a bit so I can understand?” and that just frustrates you more and more, because you can’t calm down, this is exactly why you came over to him, to help sooth you and calm you down. You cry lauder.
Well, this isn’t working for your husband at this point, he loves you so much, but he can’t understand you while you’re being hysterical and making nothing but weird sounds. Besides he really has some other things to do around the house; yes things that you’ve asked him to do like folding the laundry or organizing the garage or adjusting the cable. So he looks at you and says “ Honey, I can’t understand you this way, so I am going to leave you till you can talk to me in a calm, rational way. Because this just isn’t working” – and maybe he’ll add “you’re not a child to act the way you’re doing right now”.
My magical question is; How would you feel? Actually how are you feeling now just reading this?
Angry, hurt, frustrated? Does words like unvalued, unheard come to your mind? Okay, would you think of your husband at this moment as caring, loving, nurturing and has empathy? Did you, by his doing, get the security you were longing for?
I want you to ponder on these feelings a bit and on the needs behind them that were unmet and how this situation –if happened- would be very hurtful.
Now reflect, if you ever do this to your children? Your toddler comes by crying their hearts out about how the window is closed or the bird just flew; what do you usually do? What if you’re older child was talking in an unpleasant passionate way, would you say something like – I will not hear you except when you talk nicely? What about if they are having a tantrum about something? Do you ignore them? Yell lauder? Or do you empathize with their pain, sooth them; calm them down and then try to reason?
It’s hurtful for us adults, sometimes beyond our capacity when people we love, care for and trust ignore us at moments of vulnerability and yet we claim that as adults we have the tools and skills to overcome this hurt and reason to a better situation. But our children don’t have these same tools or skills to reason and deduce what our intentions are, they see things as they come in face value. So the message they get when ignored; is hurtful, demeaning and insecure.
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For ages now, storytelling has been known for its powers over soothing children and contributing to their creativity, learning and growth of important skills like reading, writing and logical thinking.
What I found however, extremely fascinating about storytelling is the fact that it supports children and adults alike in healing from past experiences that were painful, or frightening in some way.
When my daughter was five, I wanted to enroll her in swimming school. She loved water and enjoyed going the beach all the time, and that sort of encouraged me to think that swimming would be a great sport for her. In her first day of training, she slipped while she was walking by the pool – she didn’t slip into the pool (Thank God) but just on the sideway. Like all kids, she cried and whined about it, till she felt it was ok to move on. Then she has her first swimming lesson, which I thought she enjoyed very much.
In three months, my daughter stopped going to swimming at all. It started gradual but she just feared going, and back then I didn’t understand what happened to her love of water.
Until one day, I simply asked, with an open heart to really listen; “honey, you used to really love swimming and playing in the pool. What happened?” – that day for the first time I have deeply listened to my daughters fear of falling down and hurting herself, and to her story of what exactly happened.
But what was even more fascinating to me is how she told the story from her perspective; “I slipped, I was wearing my slippers and they hurt my toes, and my shoulder hurts too – water is always slippery” That was all she recalled from the story.
In allowing her to tell the story, I was able to fill in some important details; “yes I remember, I was standing by your side and I reached immediately to pull you up. Remember?” “Yes, your toes did hurt I remember, but we put ice on them and the pain just went away and you were able to enjoy swimming right?” My daughter didn’t tell me this story once or twice; she told me the story over and over for a few months and I would every time support her by helping her remember important facts of what happened. In time, however she no longer had this fear of pools, actually when she was almost six and half she asked to start going to swimming lessons again and she did, and enjoyed it very much and was very keen on it.
What I have later learned, through my counseling and some resources about the human brain (specially The Whole Brain Child by Dr. Dan Siegel & Tina Bryson) that incidents like this trigger heavy emotions for children coming from one part of the brain without integration with the other part. Which leaves the brain making faulty deductions and conclusion of the incidents.
Enabling the kids tell the story and filling in the gaps for them in a compassionate and understanding way enables them to process their feelings, and correct their thinking process – in a sense it enables both parts of the brain to integrate and work together. Which ultimately enables them to reach closure in a healthy developmental way.
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Another frequent question, which I thought would help many parents of young children. What to do when my child is having a meltdown/tantrum? And how do I cool them down?
Here’s what I do, and although they really look very simple, these techniques have really worked for me with almost every child I’ve ever worked with or dealt with starting with my daughter and until my step children. These techniques are to be used when a child is actually having a meltdown/tantrum;
1. Empathize (non verbally); yes this is my first secret, I try opening my heart and trying to really see things from a child’s perspective. If he is crying because someone took a toy from him, I would tell myself how would I feel if someone took something I thought of as precious from me? – This could all be within you and without doing anything with the child yet
2. Physical Proximity; I then get closer to the child, either kneel down to their level, sit on the floor, or next to them whatever it is I get closer – if I find them open to it, I would put my hand around them or on their shoulder gently. I also sometimes would have my hand go in circular motion around their back, or their shoulder or arms; I found by experience that this usually cools them off in a matter of minutes
3. Empathize (verbally); if I found the child now open, I would let them know that I see them, hear them and guess some feelings and needs (see the practical guide 1 & 2 in my blog to learn more about this); “Honey, I see you are really upset, It must be very scary when laud voices just pop out of no where, are you scared? Do you want to come closer? or do you want to be hugged?” – This is important because it sends the child the message that they are loved, important, they matter and are safe.
4. Sit there silently; this might sound a bit weird, but sometimes a child is too off balance they are unable to connect with you or are just not ready yet to cool down – it’s the same thing with adults, sometimes you want to cry and no matter who says what you just want to let it all out. If so, just sit silently by your child; this works for almost every child, even teenagers and tweens. I’ve sat next to my stepson as he went through his meltdown, doing absolutely nothing but holding the tissue box. I said nothing, I did nothing. And he cooled down and was then ready to respond and be with me in that gentle place of empathy and strategy making (figuring out solutions)
These simple steps have done wonders for me in my life; I would love to hear from you what worked for you? Please add what worked for you in the comment section. If you like the article, please share it and like it. Thanks!
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I get asked a lot about this, how do I handle my child’s tantrums and how do I deal with her when she’s having one? I also get the “what can I do to stop it” question, which I will probably talk about in a later post.
For this post however, I chose to share some of the things that worked with me in my family, with my friends and some of the advocates of peaceful parenting I’ve been in touch with. I want to start with the prevention techniques, I call them that because they have helped me in most case prevent tantrums/meltdowns from happening;
Be Conscious; Notice what triggers your child in his/her daily routine, is it something they eat, a certain lighting, a certain thing that you do or someone else does – whatever it is noted down and try not to do it again. When my daughter was 1, she use to get a nervous breakdown out of hearing the hairdryer, noticing that made me avoid a lot of tantrums to come and later as she grew up I even noticed more and more how sensitive she was to laud sounds.
Prepare them; If they meltdown every time you’re leaving the park or leaving the house or going “to do” anything; maybe it is a signal for you to prepare them for it before it happens. Let them know every few minutes that your leaving in 2 minutes, and then that you’re leaving in 1 minutes and afterwards few seconds. That way they know what is coming their way
Be Prepared yourself; A great thing I learned, is to walk around with a selection of toys. Especially with younger kids this works wonderfully. Don’t take all the toys out at once, one at a time so each would take enough time to wonder the child & keep them busy. For a little older kid, like my daughter I prepare games, or discussion that we’ll have together all the way, or let bring her ipad or a book to read. That way she would be engaged and not bored and hence no scene will be necessary.
Be fun; this works with all ages, and it even works with my hubby sometimes. Being fun and playful in a stressful situation is always a great way to ease stress within the family. So you’re kids are going to meltdown because you’re switching off the TV, do it in a fun engaging way and let them know something else is waiting for them to do. Or if they want to listen to the song one more time, come along and sing it to them, then ask them to sing it- now let them write it down or act it or draw it. That usually works
Give them tools; teach your child, through story telling, reading books or pictures or drawing what to do when they have big emotions or when there’s a conflict or when they just want to express themselves. A walk, a deep breathe, to walk away, to say a specific statement “I don’t like this”. Doing so will prepare your child to when things come up to use these tools instead of just melting down.
So these are my secrets, what are yours? Please share with me in the comments sections. And if you enjoyed the post please share it and like it. Thanks!
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