Looking for a way to help prevent or manage everything from power struggles to sibling rivalry? Try Special Time!
Special time is quality time spent with your child where he/she gets 100% of your undivided, focused attention. It’s time away from cell phones, TV’s and other siblings. It’s a way to be fully present for and with your child.
Our kids have little “love tanks” and when they’re running low, we tend to see misbehavior. Such misbehavior is really just a communication…it’s as if your child is saying, “I need you!” in the only way they know how.
So, make Special Time a regular occurrence. Ideally, this time is scheduled daily (even 15 minutes can make a huge difference!), but do what works for your family. Just know it’s one of the best parenting tools around and I’ve never seen it fail!
Wishing you and your families a joyful week…
On our way home from after school activities today, my kids (5 and 8) started bugging each other. You know, the typical, “Stop looking at me.” “Mom, she’s looking at me.” Followed by the other sticking out their tongue just to turn it up a notch. Sound familiar?
The thoughts racing through my head went something like, “Seriously? I really don’t have time for this. I’m exhausted. Why can’t they just get along? Enough already!”
Fortunately for all of us, I kept those thoughts to myself, but became aware of them. I then told myself they had a long day and were clearly tired. They were most likely in need of some attention and connection.
We got home, went into the house and rather than join their chaos, I took a deep breath and chose the tool of “doing the unexpected and using humor.” With an upbeat, silly tone, I said, “I see 2 exhausted kids who seem to be very in need of some LOVE!” I then grabbed them both and started kissing and hugging them. Within seconds, we were ALL laughing. Crisis averted!
We can either choose to engage in the drama or choose to connect. I find connection leads to cooperation which leads to calmer, happier parents and kids. The choice is ours – it starts with us!
Many of us (women :)) dreamed of being a mommy one day. We spent hours as a child taking care of our dolls, bathing them, dressing them and telling them everything would be ok. We watched and copied everything our mommies did or what we hoped they would do to take care of us.
Or maybe being a mom wasn’t something that came naturally to you. Maybe you had a challenging childhood and questioned what kind of parent you would be.
Regardless, parenthood isn’t easy and to our dismay, babies don’t come with instruction manuals. So what’s a parent to do? How do we best navigate the often troubling and exhausting waters to reach the shores of balance and harmony within our families and ourselves?
As a psychotherapist and parent coach, I have spent years researching these very questions. I have found that there are no easy answers, but there are answers. The key to parental enjoyment begins with us and our willingness to look within. It begins with our willingness to pause before reacting (to our children, spouse, co-worker) and notice what is happening within our bodies and minds. In this space of pausing, we have choices and more importantly, opportunities. Namely, the opportunity to teach and guide, rather than punish and hurt.
More often than not, we react to our children (and ourselves) in a negative fashion. We are in a constant hurry, thus becoming impatient and easily annoyed. When in this state, how often have you said to yourself, “I sound just like my mother/father!”?
On the other hand, when we allow ourselves time to reflect and become aware of these patterns, a beautiful thing happens. We become present and focused.
Recall the child who lovingly took care of her doll…was she in any hurry?
To fully enjoy parenting, it’s useful to give yourself and your child the most important present of all – your PRESENCE. What does this mean and what does it look like?
To be fully present means setting aside the million things on your “to do” list to tune into your child and all that he/she is experiencing in that very moment.
Being present is more than simply listening with our ears, it’s listening with our hearts. It means appreciating the being in front of you with all his hopes, dreams and fears and ideally, without judgment.
As a first step in this process, it is crucial to accept your own imperfections and treat yourself with the loving kindness you give or hope to give to your child. Your child doesn’t want you to be perfect. Rather, she wants you to accept yourself so that you can then accept her and all of her imperfections. When we accept ourselves and are willing to make mistakes, we teach our children that mistakes are how we learn, grow and evolve. Our children are little sponges picking up on every detail of our communication, both verbal and nonverbal. Think about what message you want to send your child about self-esteem and self-acceptance. Model the very behavior you hope to instill in your child. Become aware of your own negative self-talk and the toll it takes on your mind and body. Think about what you would say to a friend…if you wouldn’t say it to a friend, I would suggest you stop saying it to yourself.
When children misbehave, as they all do, they are doing so as a result of big, difficult to understand emotions and to get their needs met. Every human has basic needs, physical and emotional. These include the need to feel respected, loved, valued, understood, a sense of belonging and a sense of security.
All misbehavior is a communication and a misbehaving child is a discouraged child. When a child acts out, he’s telling us he needs our help.
If parenting has become taxing for you because you have a misbehaving or challenging child, you are not alone and there are steps you can take to restore your equilibrium and relationship with your child. Here are just a few examples:
- Remember to pause before parenting. Take a break, walk away, BREATHE and center yourself before reacting to your child. Think about the needs of your child and what need she is trying to have met. Be curious and ask questions, rather than lecture. You’ll be surprised at the answers.
- Act as an “emotion coach.” Use empathy to help your child understand what he is feeling. This meets your child’s need to feel understood and valued. When you address the underlying reasons for the behavior, rather than the behavior itself, you’ll see a change in your child. For example, with back talk, “You must feel really angry to be speaking to me that way. What’s going on? Let’s talk about it.” Later, when you’re both calm, review with your child how he can better handle the situation next time.
- Ask for the behavior you want. Children receive thousands of negative commands every day. “Don’t jump on the bed.” “No hitting.” “Don’t do that.” It helps to give a child directions they can successfully follow. A child feels loved and capable when she can do what you’re asking her to do. Tell the child the behavior you want to see vs. the behavior you want them to stop. For example, “The couch is for sitting.” “Keep your feet on the floor/hands to yourself “ etc.
- Offer appropriate choices. Children have a need to feel powerful and in control. By offering choices, you meet that need and reduce the possibility of a power struggle. For example, “Would you like the red cup or the blue cup?”; “Would you like to hop to the car or skip?”
- Create “special time.” When your child is misbehaving, he’s sending the message that he feels disconnected from you. Carving out time in your day where your child can have 100% of your attention and he directs the play or how you spend the time can work wonders for your relationship. When your child acts out, it’s as though he’s saying, “my tank is empty.” Quality, uninterrupted time with your child (even 15 minutes a day) helps to refuel your child and your connection.
- Teach your child to breathe and ask for what he/she wants. For young children, you can ask them hold up both hands. Have them pretend there is a flower in one hand and a candle in the other. Show them how to “smell the flower and blow out the candle.” Helping a child to manage her emotions by first learning how to calm down is an invaluable life skill. Once a child is calm, she can then ask for what she wants and/or needs. You can also teach your child to ask for attention versus acting out for attention. Offer hugs and teach your child she can ask for a hug whenever she needs one.
To enjoy parenting is to enjoy our imperfect selves in order accept the imperfections in our children. When we take the time to slow down, breathe and be fully present within ourselves and with our children, we allow for connection – a vital human need.
Have you ever noticed that when you ask your child to do something (such as take a bath, do homework, clean up the toys etc.) you are either met with:
a) a blank stare
b) no response
c) a great big “NO!”?
Yep, we’ve ALL been there!
Imagine how it would feel if someone close to you came into your space asking you to do something that really wasn’t important to you at that moment. Would you respond with a simple “Ok,” or might you feel irritated, annoyed and upset that this person wasn’t considering your needs, your agenda, your time…?
Our kids are no different. They have agendas of their own, and deserve the same respect we would expect.
So, next time, with this in mind, try making an agreement with your child in advance, kindly and respectfully – the same way you would want someone to speak to you.
Say, for example, your child’s room is a mess and you want him to pick up his toys. Sit down with your child at a calm time and begin by acknowledging how much he enjoys playing and how you love to see him so engaged with all of his fun toys. Then, kindly explain that a messy room doesn’t work for you and that you would appreciate if he could pick up his toys and put them away when he is done using them.
For example, “Sweetie, I love knowing how much you love playing with your toys. They are super fun, aren’t they? Seeing the toys everywhere doesn’t work for me as it leaves a mess and someone could trip or get hurt. So, I would really appreciate if you could please put your toys away when you are finished playing with them. Do we have an agreement?” Then, be sure to follow up with, “So, what is our agreement?” Lastly, a simple, “Thank you for your help in solving that problem…it sure helps when we can find solutions together!”
When we take the time to acknowledge that our kids have agendas of their own and make our requests in a way that demonstrates kindness and respect, we model the very behavior we want to see (respect, problem solving, kindness) and increase our chances of hearing “Ok, Mom/Dad.” when those requests are made!
In RCB and Positive Discipline, we discuss the idea that the challenges we have with our kids (while at times quite frustrating), actually provide us with a valuable opportunity to foster important life skills, such as kindness, confidence, respect, responsibility, decision-making, problem-solving etc.
The first step is learning to see these challenging behaviors as a communication of unmet needs and big emotions, rather than merely an act of defiance. Our kids are not out to get us – they have “off” days, just as adults do and learn best from our gentle guidance, understanding and acceptance. It’s not about letting our kids “get away with” negative behaviors; limits need to be established. Rather, it’s about understanding the way in which the brain works.
The brain is open and receptive to learning when it is not in defense mode (i.e. defending against possible punishment). So, if you want your lessons to be well-received, CONNECT with your child before you correct your child!
Parents often ask me how they can build “emotional intelligence” (otherwise known as EQ) in their children? Building EQ often begins with listening. It’s about listening to our child with an open heart VS. listening with the intention of “fixing” a “problem.”
Our job as parents is not to simply fix our children’s problems or their behaviors. Our job, rather, is to strive to understand the deeper meaning of what our child’s behavior is trying to communicate. It’s being open to the possibility that our child may be experiencing emotional pain (fear, sadness, disappointment, shame, isolation…) that is often clouded by the “misbehavior” we see before us. When we are able to slow down and really tune in, we provide our child with the most valuable gift of all, our emotional presence. Through our support and attunement, our child develops empathy for himself and eventually for others (the heart of EQ). He is then in a better position to find his own solutions.
The true key to accomplishing this begins with us. Strive to take care of yourself in order to be truly present for your family – a peaceful parent makes for a peaceful family!
“Frustrated” or “Angry” are common go-to emotions for many kids (adults too!). Often, these emotions may, at times, be covering over other, more vulnerable feelings such as sadness, disappointment, loneliness etc. In other words, for many, especially kids, it’s easier to feel and identify anger/frustration than it is to identify and feel the more “painful” emotions noted above.
So, when you find that your child is expressing a lot of anger, BE CURIOUS. See what other more tender feelings may also be lurking beneath the surface. When parents can help their kids can get in touch with these more tender emotions, they may find the anger and frustration tend to dissipate (this also increases the connection as kids feel heard and understood).
For example, “It sounds like you’re feeling angry that your team lost the basketball game. I’m wondering if you’re ALSO feeling disappointed? I know that if my team lost, I would feel disappointed/sad too.”
Have you every noticed how deliberate young kids are? If you want to understand the true meaning of “in the moment” or “fully present,” watch your kids at play. We all know the importance of play, but how often do we really take the time to slow down and join in? In our hurry to get our kids to soccer practice, pick up the dry cleaning, make dinner, etc, we miss out on valuable opportunities to be present, to connect and simply have FUN!
So, next time you’re running late and need your kids help to get out the door on time, try singing what needs to be done. Or, take 5 minutes to put on music and just dance. Skip around the house as you gather your things.
Why yell when you can play your way through “chores?”
Let’s show our kids it’s fun to be an adult and that not everything has to be so serious!
Wishing you a joyful day!
I receive many questions from parents and will, from time to time, feature these on my blog. Here is a question that came in from a Mom who was seeking help for the frequent “I cant’s” she was hearing…
Help for “I Can’t”
Question: My 2 ½ year old is always saying, “I can’t” when it comes to doing things I believe he’s able to do. I’m feeling so frustrated by this and wonder what I can do to help him (and me!)? I’m also worried about his self-confidence!
Answer: The “I can’t” stage is a tough one. Parents often feel torn about how to handle these two words. Some parents feel that they should step right in and help because it is their parental duty. Others feel that those two words are unacceptable and that their child must at least “try.”
The optimal way to handle this stage lies somewhere in between these two extremes.
First and foremost, being aware of our own feelings about the statement “I can’t,” can be useful in understanding and mitigating our reactions. For example, if your own parents didn’t have much tolerance for these words, you may have less patience when you hear them from your child. Rather than react with impatience, it can be helpful to recognize that these words are simply a communication of discouragement.
Here are 6 tips you can try to help move your child from “I can’t” to “I’m capable”:
1) Be sure your child is not overscheduled and do your best to ensure proper nap and bedtimes. – Young children can become easily overwhelmed, especially when they are tired. Whether they’ve had a long day at daycare/preschool or are simply feeling over stimulated, tired kids are simply less motivated to take on a regular or new task. In other words, they’re not trying to be difficult, they merely may not have the energy needed for the task at hand. I’ve seen many families where this phrase was used as the child’s way of telling the parents to “slow down.”
If you find that your child is having a hard time because he is tired, offer help. “I see you’re working so hard on that puzzle and the piece isn’t going in as you’d like. Would you like some help with that?”
2) Be aware of how much you may be stepping in/taking over. – It is normal and natural to want to step in and help your child, especially when you see he’s having a hard time. When we step in and take over too often, however, we inadvertently send our child the message that he’s not capable. Assuming you have taken the time to teach and model the skill he’s having difficulty with, avoid rushing in to fix or do the task for him. Instead, allow your child the space to try and let him know you are there if he needs you. Allowing our kids to struggle a bit, helps build their resilience and confidence muscles.
3) Validate feelings and brainstorm solutions. – When we validate, we empower. A child who feels heard and understood gains confidence in his abilities and will be more likely to “try.” For example, “Sweetie, I can see you are having a hard time getting your shoe on. It can be frustrating when it doesn’t go on as easy as you’d like. What do you think you could do to help that shoe get on that cute foot of yours?”
4) Use humor. – Getting silly is one way to engage your child and move him out of the “I can’t” stance, especially if he’s been able to do the very thing he’s saying he’s unable to do. For example, “Come here you Mr. I can’t get my shoe on! I’m going to get that foot! I wonder if you can protect that foot with your shoe? Here I come!!” We all know how much children love to play. By acting silly and getting the child laughing in this way, we help release some of the pent up emotions that are hijacking the more logical/rational part of his brain (the prefrontal cortex).
5) Regularly notice the efforts your child is making. – “Look at you working so hard on that puzzle.” “You’re really concentrating on building that tower.” Recognize the process and the journey, not just the end result. Research has shown that children who are encouraged for their efforts are more likely to stick with a task and take on a more challenging task in the future.
6) Break task into smaller steps and/or allow your child to take a break– If you see your child’s frustration level rising, slow down and break the task into smaller steps. “I can see this is getting frustrating. I would feel frustrated too. Let’s see if we can try this one step at a time.” You can also try offering a break. “I see you’ve been working on that tower for a while and it keeps tipping over. That can be frustrating. Would you like to take a break and help me in the kitchen? We can try building again in a few minutes.”
Sometimes our kids just need a little extra support and attention to help them through their challenging moments. When we are able to view “I can’t” as a communication of a need (in this case, a need for encouragement), we offer our child what he deserves most – our understanding and acceptance.
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