Nurture Until They Shine on Their Own

It’s their life, not mine. I guess I can’t hold too tightly to something that’s not mine to begin with.

Almost daily, I stop and ask myself the same question: “Is it just me?” I promptly reassure myself and answer, “Of course not, dear. But it doesn’t matter even if so.”
Recently though, I can’t help but question why I don’t feel the same way as seemingly so many others. Picture after picture is captioned “I miss my babies!” or “Time please stop!” or “I wish I could go back!” I see these pictures, and while I love a quick dose of nostalgia, my first response is usually “So how far back are we talking?”
 
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Sure, I have wonderful memories of when my children were babies, but I have no interest in going back there. You want to go back to the endless nights of staring at your newborn daughter for hours on end watching the rise and fall of her chest just to know with certainty that she’s still breathing? No thank you, I actually like to spend my nights sleeping.
Back to the time when my son would cry in spits and spurts for no apparent reason, and nothing I could do seemed to soothe him? Oh, yes, please, sign me up for more of that.
I remember in particular one very long day when my son was about four months old and I just could not get him to settle down. We had enjoyed roughly four hours of an eat, sleep, cry cycle, and I had just about had it. I decided to take him to the pediatric after-hours clinic with my three-year-old in tow. I had a plan.
My mom had recently come for a visit, and she left a crisp hundred-dollar bill on my nightstand. (That’s who she is and what she does.) I was frazzled from the day and not interested in waiting endlessly to see a doctor. I arrived at the clinic with the cash in hand, ready and willing to hand it to whomever was in line ahead of me. I was prepared to give money to a stranger just so I could get this baby to stop crying more quickly.
Do I want to go back to this place and time? Hardly.
I love that my kids are growing up. I love the people they are becoming. I love to see them navigate through life and ask me thoughtful questions. I love that they are developing opinions and tastes that may or may not align with mine.
I love that my son can tell me that the medicine burns, or that he feels like he might throw up. I love that when my daughter does throw up, she can aim perfectly into the toilet. I love that they can easily explain to the doctor what ails them. Karaoke is a lot more fun now, too.
I am genuinely excited for my daughter’s third-grade year. I honestly wasn’t sad when my son started Pre-K. His joy was so infectious. How could I possibly be sad? I see how ready they are for the journey before them and can’t see any other option but going along for the ride. I don’t find it sad to see my kids grow, blossom, and step into their life’s milestones.
That’s just it. Their life. It’s their life, not mine. I guess I can’t hold too tightly to something that’s not mine to begin with. I read a quote recently:
“To raise a child who is comfortable enough to leave you means you’ve done your job. They are not ours to keep, but to teach how to soar on their own.”
This was a perfectly fine quote and, in many ways, it spoke to me. But so does Elizabeth Taylor, and I’ve never met a diamond I didn’t like:
“I’ve never thought of my jewelry as trophies. I’m here to take care of them and love them, for we are only temporary custodians of beauty.”
Don’t get me wrong, the thought of my kids leaving and going to college in Idaho makes me very sad. But I would never discourage their wanderlust. And full disclosure: each night when I kiss them goodnight, I jiggle them gently to hear them breathe. Old habits die hard.
As much as the thought truly sends shivers up my spine, I am their temporary custodian; my job is to prepare them to soar. They are two of the brightest jewels of my life. Brilliant and dazzling, precious and rare. Expensive. Temporarily mine to protect and nurture until they are ready to shine on their own.
This article was previously published on entermothering.com.

Beyond "Because I Said So" – 16 Phrases You'll Actually Want Your Kids to Remember

The words we speak to our kids root deeply within them and become part of who they are.

“Stop that right now.”

I feel like I spend 90 percent of my day saying stuff like this to my kids about things they’re basically doing wrong. It’s not that they’re little devils, it’s just that they do lots of things that, well, need correcting.

It’s really not okay for a four-year-old to run with a metal fork in his hand, right? But if I’m not careful, I’m going to miss my opportunity to speak life-giving phrases to them as well as the other stuff.

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***

One of my best friends told me a story about how his dad turned to him the day he moved away to college and said, “Son, I believe in you.” These were powerful, meaningful words to him. I love this story.

After this same friend told me his story, he turned to me and asked me what phrases I was speaking to my children. When he asked me that, it was as if a new set of eyes opened up in me.

What are my kids hearing every day? What phrases am I speaking to them over and over and instilling into their souls? Is it all about behavior modification or am I speaking deep, meaningful truths to them?

After giving it much thought, these are the 16 phrases I landed on made up of words of encouragement, love, and belief in them. These words will root deeply within them and become part of who they are.

These are the phrases I want my kids to know well:

1 | “I love being your dad.”

More than work. More than my hobbies. More than social activities.

2 | “No matter what you do, I’ll always love you.”

I want my kids to know that I love them unconditionally.

3 | “I love spending time with you.”

I want my kids to know this to their cores.

4 | “I love you.”

My dental hygienist (random?) told me that I shouldn’t let a single day go by without telling each one of my kids that I love them. It’s such a simple but wonderful idea. I want each one of my kids to hear this every single day.

5 | “I can’t wait to see what wonderful things are in store for you.”

A faith-based version of this phrase (that happens to be one of my favorites on this list) is, “I can’t wait to see what God has planned for your life.”

6 | “I’m so proud of you for making that choice.”

When we praise our kids for good choice-making, it motivates them to make similar choices in the future.

7 | “You worked so hard at that!”

Research shows that praising children for their efforts is much better than praising them for “being smart” or for other innate characteristics.

8 | “I love when we ____ together.”

Play chase, or read books, or tell stories, or do science experiments together.

9 | “I think you can figure this out.”

I want to encourage them when they run into something tough.

10 | “Even if you fail at this, I’m still proud of you.”

I want them to know my love and approval of them is unconditional.

11 | “I loved when we went ___ (e.g., to Touch-a-Truck, etc.) together.”

Reflecting over shared memories is one of the great joys in life.

12 | “I believe in you.”

Research shows that when we believe the best of our kids, they respond in very real, tangible ways (like improving their own IQ).

13 | “I think you’re really good at___ (e.g., laughing and enjoying life).”

I want my kids to know their strengths.

14 | “You are great at loving yourself.”

At one point in my life, I struggled with self-loathing. I don’t want this for my kids. I want them to be excellent at loving themselves.

15 | “It was beautiful the way you ___ (e.g., chose your friends).”

I love this phrase because it praises their good choices.

16 | “You’re beautiful/handsome.“

Even though I want to make sure not to praise my children for their innate abilities (because what do they do if they aren’t pretty or smart enough?), I still want my kids to know I think they’re beautiful/handsome. Something within me just tells me they need to hear this.

So, I’m going to be to you what my friend was to me and ask you the pointed question: What phrases are you speaking to your kids right now? What message are they getting from you?

Make the most of your short time with them and speak deep, meaningful phrases to them. It will richly impact them for the rest of their lives.

10 Ways to Relieve Stress While Playing With Your Kids

Playtime doesn’t only have to be something you do for your kids, it’s something you can do for yourself, too.

I took a class in college called Stress Management that satisfied some general education credits I needed to graduate. Most days, I rolled into class with the stamps from whatever bars I’d been to the night before still fresh on my hand. Even in my foggy state, though, I absorbed some really useful tips that I still apply today.

The class covered the usual things you might imagine it would, like explaining the unhealthy effects of stress on our bodies. It reminded us that exercise and a healthy diet are important components to managing stress. It also exposed us to proven stress relief techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga.

The most memorable parts of the class, though, were the unorthodox things we did in the name of letting go of stress, like juggling. It turns out that activities which require full concentration from both our mind and body, which juggling does, are great stress relievers. Juggling doesn’t leave room for us to think about anything else but the task at hand (pun intended), and when we’re fully engaged in the activity, we don’t have time to dwell on whatever else is bothering us. This, coupled with the physicality of the activity, helps lower our stress.

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I hadn’t thought about this particular lesson in years until my kids and I started playing with colored scarves one day. I tied knots at the ends of three and tried to juggle them (unsuccessfully). My kids loved it and tried to do it, too. After we were done, I thought back to my class and realized how good I felt. My children and I were spending quality time together, I was having fun, and I was engaging in an activity that was physically beneficial. Playtime doesn’t only have to be something I do for my kids, it’s something I can do for myself, too.

I started thinking of other things we could do that they would find fun but would also qualify as a stress reliever for me. Frankly, playing with my kids sometimes causes me more stress than not, and if my blood pressure happens not to rise, chances are good my brain is going numb from the monotony of whatever we’re doing. So I laid out strict criteria for what kind of playtime would hit the sweet spot for stress management and decided that the activities had to be:

  • neat
  • safe
  • something I could learn with them, so I’d avoid stepping into teacher-mode to correct them along the way
  • fully engaging for me, so that my mind couldn’t wander to the items on my To-Do list
  • something we could do inside so that weather and space weren’t factors

Here’s my list, suitable for my preschoolers, but adaptable for younger or older children, too.

Learn to juggle. If you’ve never tried it, now’s your chance. It’s impossible to practice juggling without being completely absorbed in the process, and this is known as “relaxed concentration.” Starting with scarves or just one or two balls will give you the confidence to keep going. While you’re tossing your stress away, your kids will be practicing their hand-eye coordination and improving their focus, and everyone will get a mini-workout along the way.

Color together. While your kids are coloring in their books, pull out your own adult coloring book and join in on the fun. Coloring creates the same relaxed concentration effect that juggling does, and that’s why it’s become so popular with adults over the last few years.

Perform a puppet show. As soon as I put a puppet on my hand, my three-year-old will tell it things about her day that she hasn’t bothered to tell me. It’s fascinating. No ventriloquy or funny voices required, preschool and elementary school-aged kids simply get a kick out of seeing puppets come to life (courtesy of their moms and dads). Bringing pure joy like this to our kids actually requires us to be completely focused on playing multiple characters while matching our hand movements to our words, and this concentration helps with stress.

Learn a dance. Throwing an impromptu dance party with your kids might do the trick for you, but my monkey mind still manages to think about everything else I have to do before I can go to bed that night. Concentrating on learning a new dance combats this. Play a dance video game, learn a trendy dance from YouTube, or have your kids teach you one. You’ll have fun, your kids will get a kick out of your moves, and the weight on your shoulders will feel just a little bit lighter when you’re done.

Play a memory game. These kinds of games are great for improving reading and reasoning skills and enhancing attention spans, but they also require complete focus to play them well. Here are several great suggestions for games to play that go beyond flipping over cards in a matching game (although that’s still a good one).

Make origami. Your kids will develop their fine motor skills by folding the paper and they’ll practice how to follow instructions. You’ll achieve quiet focus as you work on more intricate designs and everyone will be proud of what they’ve created in the end.

Play hand games. Whether it’s cat’s cradle or a clapping game, this is another way we can fully engage our minds and bodies on one activity and let go of some stress in the process. Our kids get to practice their hand-eye coordination, rhythm, and memorization skills.

Compete for the best laugh. Laughter causes physical changes in your body, like elevating your heart rate and blood pressure. The cool down from your laugh session actually relieves these stress responses, leaving you more relaxed. So a laughing competition is a great way to let off some steam and it doesn’t matter if the laughs are forced or real. There’s evidence that our bodies respond to laughter the same way, regardless of whether it’s genuine. By the end of the game, you’ll probably be laughing for real, anyway.

Put on paper bag skits. This is a fun idea that I read about in an article on indoor games for kids. Take turns filling a paper bag with five random items from the house. The other person has to come up with a skit using all of the items in the bag. Figuring out how to connect the nonsensical things your kids choose for you will distract you from whatever stresses are on your mind and give you a good laugh. Meanwhile, your kids will hone their creativity in developing their own acts and they’ll feel good about playing a game over which they have a lot of control.

Learn to play a musical instrument. If you already know how to play an instrument, learn some of your kids’ favorite songs and start jamming. If not, try starting with one of these easy-to-learn instruments. Not only will playing music switch off the stress response in your body, it brings a host of benefits to your kids such as improved language development, spatial-temporal reasoning, and a higher IQ.

If none of these activities sound appealing to you, then come up with your own list and get playing. Whatever is fun for you to do with your kids will ultimately relieve your stress. Show your kids that play isn’t a luxury for adults, but a key ingredient to living a balanced life.

Son: You Can Disobey Me but Don’t You Dare Lie to Me

There will be times when you’re going to disobey me. But there is one thing that I hope and pray that you never ever do and that is to lie to me.

Dear Son,

There will be times when you’re going to disobey me, and you know what? I’m not too concerned about it. We’ll figure those situations out.

But there is one thing that I hope and pray that you never ever do and that is to lie to me.

I don’t say this as some forceful father demanding that his kid obeys him. Rather, I’m speaking to you from my heart. I know the destruction that lying brings and that’s not the kind of life I want for you. Please, son, listen to my story. Heed my advice.

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I once had a good friend that was a chronic liar.

He lied to me for almost a year about what university he went to, saying we went to the same one. I would see him in the afternoon after my classes and he would say things like, “Hey, did you hear about the guy who got hit by a car on campus today?”

It was a total and complete lie.

I’m not saying this to throw my friend under the bus; in fact, we had a lot of great times together. But his struggle with lying absolutely devastated his life. I still remember the night he finally opened up to me, in tears, about his struggle. I’ll never forget what he said, “I wish I struggled with anything else – porn, alcohol – anything other than lying.”

It breaks my heart thinking back to that moment. I know why he said that, because lying breaks relationships.

The night that he opened up to me was the same night his fiancé called off their engagement. Even though she loved him deeply, she just couldn’t trust what he said. When he would tell her he loved her, she couldn’t fully believe him.

If the absolute best moments in life are spent in deep and meaningful relationships with those we love, lying is the dark poison that destroys those relationships, robbing us of the best moments in life.

When lying masquerades as kindness

But don’t be fooled, son, lying comes in many forms. Yes, you will be tempted to lie to cover up something bad that you’ve done. However, you will also be tempted to lie in order to please others. Examples:

“No, that doesn’t bother me at all.”

“Yes, I’d love to stay late to help with this.”

When you lie about how you truly feel in order to please someone, you end up burning yourself out. And until you learn to be honest, you will suffer for it.

Honesty without kindness is not good

You will meet people that are honest, but they may also lack honesty’s other key component: kindness.

“That shirt looks awful on you.”

“You really didn’t know that? Wow.”

Your mom’s honesty was one of the first things that attracted me to her. But it was more than that, it was her kindness that came along with her honesty.

If my breath smells bad, she doesn’t say in a harsh tone, “Your breath smells awful!” She simply asks if I’d like a breath mint.

Honest people make the best friends and soulmates

I love being around honest people. I always know where I stand with them. There isn’t that strange tension when you’re wondering if you’ve done something wrong.

Honest friends help you to be a better person. They’ll tell you when you’re off form or when you’re venturing into bad territory. When an honest person gives you a compliment, it is incredibly meaningful because you know it is real (think Simon Cowell or Paul Hollywood).

Being honest makes you healthier, according to science

A small study presented at the American Psychological Association’s 120th Annual Convention found that telling the truth when being tempted to lie can “significantly improve a person’s mental and physical health.”

Remember to be honest with yourself

Be honest when assessing your own strengths and weaknesses. Don’t allow yourself to believe untrue thoughts about yourself – like that you are a failure or that you are unlovable.

Son, I’ve lived long enough to know that it is the deep, meaningful relationships that truly bring us happiness. If you want to have those kinds of relationships that are the essence of life, relentlessly pursue honesty (and don’t forget kindness). Your life will be richer for it.

How Baby Signing Can Save Your Sanity and Strengthen Your Bond

It’s a welcome exchange for screeching like a banshee.

You may not realize it yet, but your baby is a brilliant behaviorist. In fact, infants have been skillfully employing B.F. Skinner’s Operant Conditioning methods on their lab-rat parents with remarkable success since their very first breaths.

“How?” You ask.

Crying.

It’s a well-known fact that crying is how babies communicate their needs. But the truth is that not only is crying a form of communication, it is also a stimulus to provoke a response. In Operant Conditioning, this is called “negative reinforcement” – obtaining a desired action (i.e. feeding) through removing an unpleasant stimulus (i.e. crying) once the desired action is performed. By rewarding our compliance with ceasing to cry, they condition us to immediately respond to their insistent requests.

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My son Isaiah is one of the most genius behaviorists ever. At eight months old, he switched up his crying-stimulus with screech-screaming to convey his displeasure and condition us to respond.

Let’s just say we nearly lost our minds like the old, abused lab-rats we were.

But instead of resigning ourselves to such a fate, we made a battle-plan to turn the tables on him using positive reinforcement – the introduction of a rewarding stimulus (i.e. feeding) upon obtaining a desired behavior. In this instance, the behavior we hoped to obtain was communication through baby signing.

Baby signing is communicating with your baby through the use of American Sign Language (ASL) or symbolic hand motions. Once our screeching-son learned that he could convey his desires through signing, the stress level in our house dramatically diminished.

As did the decibel level.

Our success wasn’t instantaneous though. When we first began teaching Isaiah, he was not at all interested in what-the-heck-we-were-doing-with-our-hands. Instead, he was intensely focused on the object in our hands (usually food). What we learned from him was that babies need frequent, consistent repetition in order to connect meaning to gestures.

Think about it, we teach infants to sign from an early age: high fives, fist bumps, clapping, waving, and making motions to songs like “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Babies acquire these gestures naturally because we perform them frequently under the same set of conditions. If babies can learn these motions from a young age, they can learn how to sign. But as with all reinforcement, consistent repetition is the key.

Here are the four signs our family has found most helpful:

1 | “More”

How to teach it: Clustering your fingertips all together as if you had an imaginary puppet on each hand, touch the fingertips of both hands together. This is an easy one for kids to do and for you to recognize. The best way to teach it is to give a little bit of food to your baby and reserve the rest out of their reach. Every time they finish what’s in front of them, sign and say “more,” and then give them a little more. After a couple days, wait for them to give the sign back to you before giving them the food. It works best to keep this word just for asking for more food or drink.

Why teach it:  Before my son learned “more,” he would scream whenever he finished the food in front of him. The actual process of teaching him made him even more furious, but after practicing for several days at every meal, he caught on and quit screaming when he was all out of food. I really wish we had started teaching him sooner.

2 | “Please”

How to teach it:  Rub your chest with a flat palm. Use this when you know your child wants something. Hold what they want in your hand, show them the sign while saying, “please,” and give them the object of their desire. Just like with “more,” use it consistently for a few days and then wait to see if they will sign for you before giving them what they want. To avoid confusion with “more” in the early stages of signing, use this with anything except food and drink.

Why teach it:  I am a sucker for holding my son anytime he wants to be held. But at the age of one, I didn’t want him screeching at me, demanding for me to hold him. Now he knows that all he needs to do is say “please” and I will scoop him up in an instant.

3 | “Help”

How to teach it:  Technically, the ASL sign for “help” is to make a fist with your right hand and set it on the open palm of your left hand and then draw both hands upward together in this position. My kids found it a little hard to differentiate between the motion for “help” and the motion for “more” because both require that your hands touch each other. So we decided to make our family’s sign for “help” a fist in the air, like Superman flying (fitting, right?). When your baby is whining out of frustration, offer the “help” sign and then assist them.

Why teach it: This sign was so helpful for both of my kids. It empowered them to know that help was on the way and they didn’t need to get frustrated.

4 | “Wait”

How to teach it: To sign “wait,” hold your first three fingers out so that they form a “w.” Use this when your child asks for something and you can’t get it for them immediately. I have introduced this when my children have signed “more” or “please.” I give the sign, say “wait” reassuringly, and delay giving them what they want for 10 seconds or so.

Why teach it: There are times when your kids want something that you just can’t give them, maybe because you are trying to make the food or you have your hands full. Signing “wait” for them confirms that you know what they want and will give it to them momentarily.

If you are serious about implementing signing with your baby, I’d suggest going on YouTube to find videos of different signs you can use. When you introduce the first sign, wait until your child has mastered it before adding a new one. Once signing has been established as a means of communication between you and your baby, you can start introducing signs for objects too. In our family, we use signs for “dog,” “cat,” “Cheerios,” “milk,” “Mom,” and “Dad.”

Communicating through baby signing may have freed us from being the subjects of our son’s negative reinforcement trials. But implementing sign language hasn’t just reduced crying in our household. More importantly, it has given our son confidence that his parents understand him, which fosters a more secure attachment. Don’t get me wrong – we’re incredibly grateful to have regained our sanity, but the most rewarding effect of signing has been the strengthened bond between us and our son.

My Kid Will Not Wear a Jacket and I Don’t Care Anymore

The New England Journal of Medicine has confirmed that they will not get sick or perish from their lack of warm clothing. So what do I care?

There’s something to be said about having small children that listen blindly to their parents. I remember wrangling my sons into their toddler-sized snowsuits and boots and thinking that I couldn’t wait until they were old enough to dress themselves for cold weather. Of course, I never had a chance to teach my second child, born 18 months after his brother, how to put on his coat.
I always frantically just shoved him into his outerwear in a panic each morning in a frenzied attempt to get his older brother to pre-school.    I can vividly remember the moment when this second, neglected, child showed me proudly how his preschool teacher taught him to put on his coat by placing it on the floor and then putting each hand into the appropriate sleeve and flipped it over his head.  I was so relieved in that moment that one more parenting failure had righted itself through expensive preschool instruction.
Fast forward to fourth and sixth grade. I spend each morning with my boys in tears, arguing with me about what outerwear they will and will not wear. I stand in the foyer holding coats and screaming at them to hurry up – and tell them that it will be a high of 32 degrees. They instantly ask Alexa, “the queen of the truth” in our household. “Alexa – how many degrees is it in West Hartford, Connecticut?” Alexa – despite her many faults, thankfully – confirms my assessment of the weather each day, and the kids cry harder when they hear her forecast.   
I am not using “in tears” lightly – they actually cry quite regularly in the morning while I ply them with hundreds of dollars of North Face and Spyder clothing. They beg and plead to wear just a sweatshirt each 30-degree morning. I consider my morning successful if they agree to wear their thin Patagonia jackets which are very thin sweater-coats. Please note: all of the expensive labels that I mentioned are just an effort to show you how much I have invested into this coat debacle.
We live in Connecticut. It is a place that is rife with cold temperatures and frequent precipitation. The streets are lined with puddles, slush, and snow. One of my children actually walks home from school each day in the cold wintry air. Every day without fail, that Patagonia jacket that I wrestled him into in the morning, can be found squished into his backpack as he strolls down the streets in an UnderArmour sweatshirt.
“Why??” I finally had a sit-down with my children to get to the bottom of it.  
“Why don’t you want to wear a coat?” I asked my middle-schooler.
“Because it’s hot out.” He answered. In his defense, he is a sweaty, hot child – but the temperatures are in the low-30’s most days – so it doesn’t add up.  
I moved on to my 4th grader.
“Well at recess I am wearing this big huge puffy Spyder jacket and I can’t play basketball with my friends because I can’t move my arms and they are all just wearing sweatshirts so they can play. Their mothers don’t care if they wear coats.”
I picture my poor child suffering from “good mothering” as Ralphie from “A Christmas Story” unable to lift his arms, burdened with protective cold-wear, watching recess from the sidelines.
“Well do you look at them without coats and think that their mothers don’t love them and think how lucky you are?” I ask expectantly.
“Umm…no,” he answers sheepishly.
“Well, do you wish that you had a mom that let you do whatever you want to do?” I ask.
“I guess not…” he answers pensively, “Because I would probably make a lot of bad decisions and might end up dead.”
Okay, well that’s a mother success if I ever had one.
However, there is the fact that all of these children are not wearing coats in 30-degree Connecticut.  Are these mothers just giving up in the morning?
Is this a fight worth fighting?
When studied by the New England Journal of Medicine, kids without coats did not catch colds, viruses, or any other bacteria-related illness by not wearing a coat outside in cold weather.
So when I really take a close look at what is driving my obsession with children’s outerwear – I might find that there is a larger problem at hand. Am I genuinely concerned with my child being warm on his walk home? Am I genuinely concerned with my child’s warmth during the recess basketball game?
No.
No, I am not.
I actually don’t care at all if they are warm. They have been provided with the most expensive, warmest, trendiest outerwear available. They have declined my offers of warmth and fashion.
The New England Journal of Medicine has confirmed that they will not get sick or perish from their lack of warm clothing.
So what do I care?
If I am being honest, I will confess that I do not want their teachers or other parents that might see them at school pick-up to judge me. They might think that I willingly sent my children into the winter air without proper clothing, that I am a bad mother, that I am distracted and busy with my own life and I let my children slip away into the cold without a coat.
Can I be strong enough to not care about such superficial issues?
Yes.
I can.
My children won’t die without their coats. So I am resolved to lose this one battle as a mother. I look forward to some peaceful mornings.

The Roots of Childhood Aggression, and How to Handle Them With Compassion

Why do aggressive behaviors occur? A child is engaging in verbal or physical aggression because it is benefiting them in some way. Here’s how to help.

Why do aggressive behaviors occur? Like all other behaviors, aggression is a means to an end. A child is engaging in verbal or physical aggression because it is benefiting them in some way. They may be fulfilling a need or desire, attempting to self-protect, or attempting to get contact and connection. There are a variety of internal and external experiences that may precede the actual behaviors.

Aggression as protection

Aggression plays the role of evolutionary protector. When the body perceives danger, it has three options: fight, flight, or freeze. The fight instinct results in aggression. An important piece to note here is the word perceives. In addition to the basic instincts of the human body, each person has their own set of cues and triggers to indicate danger based on past experiences. This means that someone can perceive they are in danger in a situation where danger is not obvious to others.
Some triggers may be noticeable and easy to conceptualize, while others may be more difficult – or even impossible. If a child experiences a car accident and then subsequently throws a tantrum each time he is forced to get into the car, it will likely be easy for adults to understand why the tantrum is happening. 
Some triggers, however, are not so simple. You may never be able to deduce what conditioned them to exist. Some children, especially those who have experienced interpersonal trauma, perceive a threat in a specific tone of voice, or very subtle body language. Regardless of the specifics, what is important with this type of aggression is to understand that it comes from a place of life-threatening fear.
When this intensity of fear is present, the child will not be able to process the experience until it subsides to a more tolerable level. This is because the child’s thinking brain has taken a back seat to the more primitive and instinctual areas of the brain stem. There are a variety of ways to get the thinking brain back online, including (but definitely not limited to) providing relational support and physical containment, large motor activities like stretching,  jumping, and using manipulative toys and tools.
Another form of trigger may be the child’s internal emotional experience. Anger relates closely to aggression. Like aggression, anger is a protector. I like to imagine anger as the bodyguard of the other emotions – stepping in to protect when fear or sadness feels too big, unmanageable, or when the expression of them is perceived to be unsafe.
As an adult who identifies as pretty emotionally savvy, I have definitely had this experience. For me, it usually occurs in the face of deep sadness. Internally, I have the experience of, “This is way too much, I cannot handle this right now!” and mad steps in. Cue me ripping apart my closet ranting about why on Earth I have so much stuff. Now think about this: if adults can get so overwhelmed by emotions, imagine how overwhelming big emotions are for children!
In both of these situations, it is important to remember that just because you don’t see a precursor/trigger/build up, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Inside your child’s body, an invisible process is taking place. Because you can’t see it, you are probably left wondering why the outburst occurred seemingly out of nowhere.

Aggression as connection or to fill a need

Aggression as a means of connection, or to fill a need/desire, is a more purposeful aggression. With that said, I want to refrain from identifying it as a manipulative behavior. When anything is labeled, “manipulation” it is much easier to brush it off, punish the child, or identify it as “bad.” In reality, these behaviors have wisdom in them. The child inherently knows what he or she needs, and has somehow learned that aggression is a surefire way to get there.
The next obvious question is, “What is my child trying to get/achieve when engaging in aggressive behaviors?” Unfortunately, I cannot give you that answer. Every situation is unique. Every child is unique and learns to engage with others in unique ways. To determine what your child is seeking, take a look at what happens during and after aggression occurs.
Do they get one-on-one attention from a caregiver? Do they get picked up by an adult and taken out of their current environment or away from their peers? What happens in other environments, like school, extracurricular activities, or with extended family members? Once you have determined the benefits of the behavior, you can find other ways for your child to meet that need and circumvent the aggression.
I will let you in on a little secret: more often than not, a child simply wants contact and connection. Scratch that, everybody is seeking contact and connection most of the time.
Maybe a child is utilizing aggression because that is modeled in the way his or her parents connect. I am not even necessarily talking about a violent home life. Some families are loud and abrasive, and that is simply the culture of the family unit. There is nothing wrong with connecting in this way, as long as no one is getting hurt. 
Maybe a child has learned that acting in an aggressive way gets them attention, because when he/she moves in to kick someone, a teacher or caregiver runs over, provides eye contact, tells them why that behavior is not okay. Often, getting in trouble or facing a consequence is better than not getting any contact or connection at all. In a room full of children and few teachers, this may be the child’s best bet at receiving individualized attention.
When this experience of purposeful aggression comes up repeatedly, I find that parents become fixated on consequences.  Then, they become increasingly frustrated when consequences aren’t effective. The reason this approach isn’t working is because, for the child, the consequence isn’t the point.
If this is a pattern, they probably already know a consequence is coming. Their need for connection simply outweighs the drawbacks of the consequence. Where before they felt a lack of connection, now they have you completely focused on them. Brilliant, isn’t it? The reality is that until the need is met in another way, the consequence isn’t going to have any power.

The takeaway

It is incredibly easy to label aggressive behaviors as bad, wrong, and not okay. It is just as easy to link these behaviors to your child or your parenting ability. In a world where violence is in the headlines almost every day, I fully understand the fear that your child’s aggressive behaviors may lead to more extreme aggression in the future. By clarifying the causes of aggression, I hope to provide you with a more compassionate lens.
If you take a single nugget away from this article, I hope it is this: aggression is your child’s innate wisdom at work. Aggression is not a disease or a problem; it is simply a symptom of an internal experience. The best results come not from covering up the symptoms but from providing support to the core and the root of the experience.

A Realistic Timeline Examining the Importance of Ample Maternity Leave

The first few weeks after a baby is born are as chaotic as they are precious. But for many families, the worries about job security and financial stability overshadow those early days.

The first few weeks after a baby is born are as chaotic as they are precious. But for many families, the worries about job security and financial stability overshadow those early days.
While standard maternity leaves in the United States might range from six to 12 weeks, they are often unpaid, and for many parents – far shorter.

Let’s take a look at how parental leave in the U.S. lines up with the lives of parents and newborns.

There are, of course, other ways for children to join families, such as adoption or fostering. This timeline takes a look at a typical recovery from pregnancy and birth, and the development of newborns. But parental leave is essential whenever a new child enters a home.

Week One

Baby

Breastfed babies are typically nursing at least 10 to 12 times a day, often more. Parents are often instructed to wake a baby up to nurse every two to four hours at night, though many wake on their own more often.

Mom

In the first few days postpartum, most women experience contractions, muscle soreness, vaginal soreness, and bleeding (lochia). As milk comes in, breasts may be painfully engorged. For women who delivered via C-section, a hospital stay may be four days or longer. Bonding, rest and recovery are a top priority for mothers.

Leave

One survey of employees who had taken leave found that one in ten women took a week off or less after birth. Women who have premature infants requiring time in a neonatal intensive care unit might return to work in order to save their maternity leave for when the baby comes home from the hospital.
Additionally, the Family and Medical Leave Act, which guarantees some workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave, does not cover about half of all employees. Those in new jobs, part-time jobs, or in small companies often do not qualify.
One in six fathers do not take any time off, and three in four will be back at work by the end of the first week.
maternity leave timeline week one


Week Two

Baby

Baby likely has already had his or her first doctor appointment to make sure the little one is gaining weight. Many newborns lose up to five to 10 percent of their birth weight in the early days, despite eating eight to 12 times per day.

Mom

Most women are still experiencing bleeding and soreness at this point. Breastfeeding mothers might also be experiencing painful, sore nipples. Women who have had C-section are typically instructed not to drive yet, lift anything heavier than a baby, or walk upstairs. Most mothers experience the “baby blues” during these first couple weeks.

Leave

A shocking one-quarter of women are already back at work.
maternity leave timeline _2


Weeks Three – Four

Baby

At this point, babies may turn towards familiar sounds and voices, such as their parent’s. While newborns sleep for 15 to 16 hours a day, naps are rarely organized into long stretches.

Mom

While the uterus has returned to its normal size and lochia has slowed or stopped by this point, other problems may linger. Abdominal muscles are still stretched and can cause back pain. Women report dealing with excessive sweating, exhaustion, and mastitis. Postpartum depression may also occur at this stage.

Leave

Even just a one week increase in maternity leave has been associated with a five to six percent reduction in depressive symptoms six to 24 months after birth.
maternity leave timeline 3

Week Six

Baby

One in five babies experience colic, which hits its peak around week six. First smiles might be coming soon, although they and all other milestones may be delayed if a baby was born prematurely.

Mom

Many women still experience urinary incontinence, or difficulty urinating. Typically women at this point have their first (and last) postpartum appointment. Women who plan on breastfeeding after they return to work may be squeezing in extra pumping sessions between frequent feedings to build a milk supply.

Leave

About half of women without college degrees are back at work, compared to 20 percent of those with them. Women who take less than eight weeks paid leave are more likely to be depressed than those who are able to take longer leaves.
maternity leave timeline 4


Month Two

Baby

At two months, baby returns to the doctor for a first round of vaccinations. Many daycares will not accept children before they are fully vaccinated.

MOM

It can take up to eight weeks to fully establish a breastfeeding relationship and adequate milk supply.

Leave

Forty percent of women who worked during their pregnancy and gave birth to their first child are back at work before the start of their baby’s third month. Another 20 percent have left the workforce.
maternity leave timeline two months


Month Three

Baby

Baby starts to stay awake for longer stretches and engages with caregivers. The risk of SIDS, however, peaks between two and three months.

Mom

Many mothers call the first three months the “fourth trimester” because the demands of caring for a newborn are still so physically intense. Having gone several months without a full night of sleep, fatigue is still common at this point.

Leave

For workers able to take advantage of FMLA, 12 weeks of unpaid leave are now coming to an end. But mothers who take at least 13 weeks of maternity leave are most likely to still be breastfeeding past six months.
maternity leave timeline month 3


Month Four – Six

Baby

By now, most babies should have doubled their birth weight.  After six months, babies can begin eating solid foods in addition to breast milk or formula. The risk of SIDS drops dramatically as the baby’s brain matures.

Mom

Changes are much more minor in your body, but your body is still adjusting back to its pre-pregnancy state until about six months after delivery.  Many women might still have problems with incontinence.

Leave

Most moms have been back to work for a while now, and breastfeeding mothers are figuring out how to squeeze in pumping sessions at the office. At six months, only 10 percent of moms who work full time are breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends mothers breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life due to the numerous nutritional benefits.
maternity leave timeline month 6
It’s clear that the timeline for infant care and development, postpartum recovery, and maternity leave are out of sync. In the United States today, new mothers are expected to go weeks without pay and return to work before they and their babies are physically ready.
Lawmakers who wish to strengthen families should pursue policies that ensure all parents can take paid leave time to care for their new babies.

Powerful Reasons to Stop Yelling and 6 Tips to Show You How

Beyond the negative impact yelling can have on your child, there are other good reasons to stop or at least reduce how frequently you yell.

If you’re a parent, you know it’s hard to raise a kid without yelling. The good news is that the occasional yell will not damage your child. The bad news is that if you’re constantly yelling, you just could be doing more harm than good to both you and your child.
Yelling can have far-reaching consequences. Much of the available evidence suggests that yelling can be detrimental to children’s social and emotional development. In a recently conducted study, researchers from the London School of Economics analyzed the effects of yelling on children and came to two interesting conclusions:

  • When parents use yelling and strict punishments, bad behavior increases rather than decreases.
  • The impact of yelling and strict punishments is equivalent to that of doing nothing. In other words, yelling is equivalent to ignoring bad behavior.

A different study found that strict and inconsistent punishment led to antisocial behavior. Yet another study found that children who were frequently yelled at developed lower self-esteem and higher aggressiveness and depression.
Beyond the negative impact yelling can have on your child, there are other good reasons to stop or at least reduce how frequently you yell:

It doesn’t work

Yelling might get you instant results but it will not have a lasting impact on your child’s behavior. Yelling tends to work like a vaccine – your child becomes immune to your yelling.

It scares children

Imagine being yelled at yourself. Being yelled at brings out the negative in everyone.  

Yelling teaches your child it’s okay to yell

Your child learns many things by observing and modeling your behavior. If you frequently yell, you teach your child that yelling is an appropriate way to get people’s attention. Don’t be surprised when he/she starts yelling back!

You’ll regret it

Yelling is rarely the most appropriate response. Sometimes you yell because you’re tired, frustrated or have had issues during the day. Many parents who yell end up regretting yelling episodes.
So what can you do when you’re up against the wall? How do you change your communication style and stop yelling?

Developing positive communication patterns

Work on yourself

Do you yell because of your own situation, because you’re stressed out, or because of your child’s actions? Identifying what triggers your yelling episodes is a key step in changing how you communicate. Do you snap more often when you’re tired? When you’re running late? Be honest with yourself and write down all the things that drive your anger.

Set firm limits and be consistent

Are you clear about what you expect from your child? Is your child aware of these expectations? Does your child know what behaviour is appropriate and why certain behaviour is not? Does he/she know the consequences if he/she misbehaves?
Set firm limits and stick to them. Limits will only work if you follow through consistently. Be 100% consistent.

Be a Model

The limits you set also concern you. Your children are watching and learning. Be in control. Anger is normal but how do you express it? How would you like your child to express it?

“Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.”
– Robert Fulghum

Regulate your emotions

Regulating your emotions means being aware of your feelings and expressing them in appropriate ways. Let your child know you’re angry, then let them see how you manage that anger.

Try out some of these anger management strategies:

  • Tell your child you’re going to leave the room for a few minutes because you’re angry then leave.
  • Do nothing. Take deep breaths and say “I will not yell” before you respond (it sounds cheesy but it really works!)
  • Instead of yelling, drop your tone and speak lower than you would. Self-regulation studies have proven that doing the opposite of what you’d planned to do can have amazing results.

Know your child

In the same way that’s it’s important to know what triggers your yelling episodes, it’s also important to identify why your child “pushes you to yell”.
Sometimes a child will “nag” in an attempt to get your attention. Taking off 5 or 10 minutes from your schedule to do something together can mean not having to yell. Listen to your child. Why is he/she whining? Find out the reason behind his/her behavior.

Communicate purposefully

If you’re in the kitchen and asking your child, who’s in the living room, to do something he/she probably doesn’t want to do, chances are it won’t get done and you’ll end up getting upset (and yelling).
Communicating purposefully means getting the message across clearly. Look at your child when you’re speaking (don’t talk to his/her back). Say your child’s name (rather than “guys tidy up!”). Get down to his/her level (look him/her in the eye) if you have to.

But what do you do if you just can’t help yourself?

  1. Mind the words you use. Think of how you’d feel if someone yelled at you. Keep away from \ hurtful or humiliating words.
  2. Apologize, not for being angry, but for how you expressed your feelings
  3. Forgive yourself.
  4. If you’re yelling way too much, seek professional help.

How have you been able to raise your kids without yelling? What strategies have worked for you?
 

Science Confirms You Are a Different Person After Giving Birth

You likely knew it already, but once you’ve carried a person in your body for 9 entire months, you come out the other side a different person.

Most of us would admit to experiencing frantic, middle-of-the-night thoughts while we were pregnant, in which we questioned our choice to become parents, or wondered whether we’d still be the same person after becoming a mom.

Those of us who planned on pursuing careers after giving birth might also have agonized over whether we would be as committed to our jobs.

While singer and songwriter, Amanda Palmer, was pregnant, a fan expressed this worry for her, wondering whether Palmer’s career would suffer after she became a mom. She was concerned that the artist wouldn’t be able to produce songs of the same standard. “When you have this baby,” she argued, “either him/her/it will suffer, or your career will suffer.”

In her response via an open letter on Medium, Palmer expressed her own nervousness about her possible “loss of identity as an artist” when she becomes a mother. She wrote about concerns that had plagued her when she was deciding whether to have a child: “If I had kids,” she mused, “would I turn into a boring, irrelevant, ignorable artist? Would I suddenly start writing songs about balance…? Would I become that annoying person who is so enthralled with their child that it’s impossible to have an intelligent conversation with them about art because they’d rather show you iPhone photos of their kid drooling out a spoonful of mashed carrots?”

Changing lives

There’s no denying it: After giving birth, your priorities change. You change. Different issues take precedence at different stages of your life. Life with a newborn is worlds away from the child-free life, and life with a teenager is worlds away from life with a newborn. Whereas your main concern prior to having children might have been how to climb the corporate ladder, your most urgent thought after giving birth is whether you have enough diapers on hand. The person you were then is not the person you are now.

Research tells us that a lot of change happens when we choose to have babies, and that a mother is not the same person she was before having children. Scientific American reported a few years ago that almost all female mammals undergo “fundamental changes” during pregnancy and after birth and that pregnancy and lactation hormones may alter the brain, “increasing the size of the neurons in some regions and producing structural changes in others.”

Other research has found that a combination of pregnancy hormones and the experience of pregnancy and birth improve our memory and learning abilities.

Changing priorities

Moms who were asked whether they felt they had changed all agreed that they had. Photographer and mom Carmen Visser believes, however, that Palmer’s fears are misdirected and that her priorities will change after becoming a mom: “While pregnant, you have time to think and worry about losing your identity, but once the child is there, there is no time to worry about life, because life is happening. Life with a child is rich – richer than fearing the loss of your own identity.”

Ema, mom to three boys, agrees: “When I became a mum, I kinda lost the ‘me.’ Obviously we all need a bit of ‘me’ time now and then, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Now I am more than ‘me’. I’m a mother.”

Teacher and mom of two, Shereen, says that the biggest change she experienced since becoming a mom is “the emotional vulnerability one feels. I look at people who have lost kids,” she says, “and there is such a fear and knowledge that the pain of such a loss is beyond anything I ever want to experience. I also have so much more empathy with others, whereas before kids I think I was quite emotionally detached.”

Ema has also experienced this vulnerability since becoming a mom: “I used to watch the news or a documentary and see children suffering. Although I felt sadness, there was also a disconnection and an inability to understand exactly what those images represented as a whole. Now, every child on the news is my child. Also, I used to be scared of not being popular, or having enough money to buy all the nice things friends had, or be able to go on cool exciting holidays. Now, my fear is that I can’t provide everything needed by my kids. I fear that I won’t be capable of giving them the best chances in life.”

Melany, mom to Eden, said that she didn’t want to have children, but then, along came her little one. “When I turned 38, my mom, sister, and I discussed over a Christmas glass of wine how great it would be to have a combination of (my husband) and me running around. I threw away my pills, closed my eyes, and didn’t look! A year and a half later, Eden arrived.”

“I don’t think the core of who I am has changed. I am still me. I haven’t changed, but I have grown. My heart is bigger and it overflows with an untarnished, uncomplicated, and pure love for Eden. It is regenerating to see the world through her eyes. We make daily escapes to fantasy worlds filled with imaginary creatures. Life is better, more beautiful, and more peaceful with my daughter in it.” 

Change for the better?

Certainly Palmer’s fan’s fears about whether she would change weren’t unfounded. But will the change be for better or worse? Will her ability as an artist suffer?

Poet and novelist, Finuala Dowling believes Palmer has nothing to fear. She argues that motherhood spurred her on to become a writer. “I found that my writing ambitions only gained clarity once I got pregnant. I suddenly realized that I had wasted a decade wishing I could be a writer but producing very little beyond two failed novels and some stories. In 1993, I sat down with my growing belly and, with an almost overpowering sense of time running out, wrote a story that went on to win a prize. Later, knowing that my daughter woke early, I would wake even earlier to write the chapters of what would become my first novel. I think becoming a mother teaches one how to use all the available time.”

Researchers from the Netherlands recently proved that during pregnancy, fetal cells enter and spread throughout the mother’s body. Called “microchimerism,” it’s the presence of cells “with a different genetic background” within your body. The researchers collected samples from 26 women who had been pregnant with sons and found the presence of Y chromosomes in all of them.

That’s solid proof that, after becoming a mom, you’re not the same person. It’s Palmer’s choice whether she turns into a “boring, irrelevant, ignorable artist” and someone who is unable to have an intelligent conversation. The unavoidable fact, though, is that pregnancy, birth, and parenthood will have changed her profoundly.