The Value of Imperfect Parenting

I always say there is no such thing as a perfect child and no such thing as a perfect parent. Boy, did I have one of those “I’m SO not proud of that!” imperfect parenting moments recently!

After picking my kids up from school the other day, I thought it would be fun to go for a frozen yogurt. It’s something they ask for nearly EVERY day. On this particular day, I decided to say, “Sure, sounds fun.” After that fun treat, we went over to the bookstore to look for a gift for a friend who had a birthday coming up. Of course my kids each wanted a book and they know that I rarely say no to books 🙂

After yogurt treats and going through nearly every isle at the bookstore, it was getting late and time to head home. Once home, there was so much to do…showers, dinner, reading/homework, pj’s, teeth brushing etc. That was MY agenda. My kids, on the other hand, had agendas of their own. “Mom, we just want to play outside FOR A FEW minutes before we shower.” I figured there was no harm in that, after all, what’s a “few minutes” in the grand scheme of things? That is, until, a ‘few minutes’ turned into 40 minutes and I realized we were way behind in our routine. Given it’s a school night and things always take longer than I anticipate, I started feeling stressed. In that moment, the rational part of my brain became completely hijacked and, well, I lost it. I think it sounded something like, “GUYS, I TOLD YOU IT’S TIME TO COME IN FOR SHOWERS AND DINNER, IT’S LATE. LET’S GO…NOW!!!” Ugh! 🙁

We all know it’s not what we say, but how we say it and let’s just say, I was loud and not my usual kindhearted self!

It worked, they came in immediately, but I felt terrible knowing I had treated them so disrespectfully – especially since I know better! They marched upstairs, visibly upset and did their thing. My regret quickly sunk in.

In positive parenting, we see mistakes as valuable opportunities for learning and boy, did I learn a lesson. It’s not to say that I’ll never “flip my lid” again, but it certainly gave me time to pause and reflect. If I expect my kids to listen and cooperate, I need to model what listening looks and feels like. I need to remind myself that my kids have agendas of their own and we’re not always going to see eye to eye. It’s how I choose to handle these moments that I also model what respect looks and feels like.

After taking my “calm down time,” I went upstairs and apologized for the way I behaved. I let them know that it wasn’t their fault that it had gotten late and that I hadn’t done a great job of keeping track of the time. I acknowledged how it wasn’t ok for me to speak to them so disrespectfully and that I was truly sorry. I went on to say that next time, I need to take my deep breaths, walk away or think before I speak; strategies we always talk about doing when any of us feel upset.

I gave them each a big hug, told them I wasn’t proud of my behavior and that I need to learn from my mistakes. They hugged me back, told me, “It’s ok Mommy, we’re sorry too” and with that we moved on to a fun dinner, book reading, cuddles and bedtime.

So, after reflection, I share with you 4 things I would do differently if I could do it all over again:

1.) I would recognize that having the extra after school outing was ultimately my choice and take responsibility for the fact that it would make the rest of the night run late…and be ok with that! Along with this, I wouldn’t expect my kids to share my agenda. Going through the nightly routine isn’t something they look forward to!

 

2.) I would make agreements ahead of time – When my kids wanted to play outside before starting their routines, I could have made my expectations clear and made an agreement about how they could have their play time so long as they agreed to come in when I asked (and have them repeat this back to me so I was certain they understood). I would have also been more diligent about keeping track of the time – again, because our agendas weren’t matched up, it was on me to utilize my time management skills.

 

3.) Once I recognized that it was later than I realized, I would acknowledge how much fun they were having and then calmly and respectfully let them know it was time to come in. I would also consider offering choices to give them a sense of control in the situation. For example, “It looks like you guys are having so much fun and it’s time to come in for showers and dinner. Do you need help putting the toys away or would you like to do it on your own?”

 

4.) I would recognize that yelling, nagging and lecturing may feel like it’s working in the short term, but it only creates more distance and defiance in the long term.

 

Because there is no such thing as a perfect parent, we will all make mistakes. It’s part of being human and part of navigating the roller coaster ride we call parenting. It’s how we choose to handle those mistakes that we either continue the vicious cycle of power struggles or create opportunities for connection and compassion.

The choice is ours – it starts with US!

 

All the best,
Debbie

 

 

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Parenting Tip: “Special Time”

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…

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What it Means to “Do the Unexpected”

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!

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How to Enjoy Parenting

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.

 

 

 

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Tip to Prevent Power Struggles: Make Agreements Ahead of Time!

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
or
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!

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Connection Before Correction

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!

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The Link Between Listening and Emotional Intelligence

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!

Another Way to Look at “Anger” and “Frustration”

“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.”

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Parenting Tip: Yell Less and Play More!

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!

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