There’s No Crying in Parenting

At no point in my 34 years of life had I ever been so…I want to say humbled, but the more accurate word here is humiliated.

From about 18 months to four years old, Briggs kept his meltdowns private. His behavior started small at first – random hitting for no reason, throwing temper tantrums, and what seemed like normal “terrible two” behavior, but on some sort of cocktail of Adderall and Mountain Dew.
As he has gotten older, his behavior has grown with him. We’ve gone through the spitting phase, the name calling phase, the tantrum on the floor as if his bones were made of limp noodles phase, and the screaming at the top of his lungs phase.
When he turned four (two years ago now), he escalated to directly hitting us…on purpose. The first time he punched me, I may have audibly started talking to the Lord as an intercessor for my husband, lest he be overtaken by the Spirit and hand Briggs’ own behind to him on a silver platter. I am almost certain Madea overtook my mouth as I cried out to the “Lort” on Briggs’ behalf.
Fast forward a year, and he has graduated to public displays of crazy. The first time was epic. I will literally never forget it. At no point in my 34 years of life had I ever been so…I want to say humbled, but the more accurate word here is humiliated.
Not the time I split my super sweet maroon-colored Guess jeans in gym class in sixth grade. Not the time I got busted in middle school Sharpie-ing a Nike swoosh on my Payless high-tops because I couldn’t afford the real ones. Not even the time they posted our mile run times above the water fountain in gym, and I was dead last with a light speed time of 18:18.
No, nothing thus far had ever made me feel so small as that moment in the Florida diner.
We were on our way back from a work trip to Orlando and everyone was hungry. We don’t get to travel much, so we love to check out little mom and pop types of places when we’re out of town. We stopped in this little diner called Eddie’s in Nowheresville, Florida for what the Yelp reviewers said were, “Florida’s best chicken and waffles.”
We held hands and ran through the rain to get inside the restaurant. I held Sparrow, our then six-month-old daughter, on my lap and helped Briggs manage the coloring sheet the hostess had given him as Spence made his way to the men’s room all the way in the back of the diner.
Forks clanged and men laughed from the bar. As I helped Briggs sound out the words on his children’s menu and he colored in a Spiderman, I noticed there were two women sitting in the booth directly beside our table.
They were both well-dressed and appeared to be in their late 60s. One had on an oversized necklace that reminded me of the costume jewelry my aunt used to wear, and the other had that kind of hairdo women have who would rather donate their arms to science than get wet at the pool. I imagined they both had large, flamboyant broaches for every holiday neatly displayed in some sort of well-lit case in their bedrooms.
They hadn’t noticed me…yet.
When Briggs finished coloring, he wanted to tear the paper because, naturally, Spiderman wouldn’t live in the same realm as a children’s menu. He began tearing the page and I watched it happen as if it were unfolding in slow motion. The paper’s tear went from the center of the page and, like an earthquake’s line in the dry desert clay, separated Spiderman’s foot from the rest of his body.
“Noooooooooooooooo!!” Briggs’ scream rang out across the small diner. Once filled with the loud bangs of forks and knives, the chatter of old friends catching up, and that guy who’d had one too many at the bar, it fell silent. Deafeningly silent. My son’s eyes filled with tears of rage and he crumpled up the amputated Spiderman and threw him under another family’s table.
“Pick that up, please.” I said, attempting to keep calm as everyone watched the dinner show they hadn’t paid for.
“No! I will NEVER pick it up!” he screamed back.
With everyone watching, Briggs stood up as though he’d had a change of heart and decided to pick up the balled-up menu after all. Instead, he grabbed a chair from the table beside ours, where a man sat eating by himself, and threw it.
He. Threw. A. Chair.
By this time, all eyes were on us. The entire diner was paralyzed. I looked up to see Spence tearing through the crowd to get to me. He’d heard Briggs yell all the way in the bathroom.
Without a word, I handed Sparrow over to him, took Briggs by the arm, and walked him outside into the rain. We walked passed stunned faces, horrified looks, and the hostess who looked like she might have her finger on the last “1” in 9-1-1. I smiled, walked Briggs out in the pouring rain and across the street and under an awning, where he proceeded to hit me, kick, scream, cry, and flail backwards so hard that I had to position myself between his head and the abandoned store’s brick wall behind me.
I took deep breaths and talked to him until he calmed himself. “Listen to me breathing, buddy. Deep breaths. Match my breathing,” I said as I fought to hold back tears.
Once he had it together, we walked back into the restaurant. I thought the original walk of shame was the worst thing I’d have to face that day, but I was wrong. Try going through that meltdown and then staring back at the faces of those who just spent the better part of the last 20 minutes talking about what your kid just did while making guesses at how you handled it.
I smiled again and walked Briggs back to the table by ours where he picked up his crumpled menu from the floor and uprighted the tossed chair. He apologized to the man who had been eating alone when he lost his mind as if he were tagging in Rick Flair in an early 90s wrestling match.
“I’m sorry I threw your chair, sir,” he said with his head hung in shame. The man smiled back his forgiveness.
I sat back down in my seat just as the two well-dressed ladies were getting up to leave. I desperately wanted to avoid eye contact because I felt certain they had judged me. I was convinced they’d finished their salads and lemon waters over conversations about “kids these days” and what terrible parents Spence and I must be.
Instead, the lady with the necklace stopped just behind our table on her way out. She turned to me so I had to meet her eyes with my own – and smiled. Then she mouthed the words, “You did a great job.”
I mustered a faint smile in return and lowered my head, hot tears streaking down both sides of my face.
I had never felt so completely alone as I did during that meltdown and the moments after. I may always remember that feeling, but I know I will never forget that woman’s smile. Her muted approval reminded me that no matter how many people stare or point fingers, no matter how many people disagree with the parenting decisions we make, I am doing the best I can, and that is good enough.

5 Things You Can Start Doing Today to Calm Your Kid’s Anxiety

You can teach your anxious child to better manage his or her feelings. Here are a few strategies.

Did you know that anxiety worsens with time if nothing is done to help kids learn to manage anxious feelings appropriately? Although some children are born with a more anxious disposition, cases of chronic anxiety in kids are rare.
In other words, you can teach your anxious child to better manage his or her feelings. Here are a few strategies to help your anxious child:

1 | It is okay to be anxious

Children are rarely able to define their big emotions, especially if they have not yet learned to differentiate between emotions. A child experiencing anxiety is therefore likely to struggle to communicate this anxiety. Parents can have a particularly difficult time identifying children’s anxiety, because different kids will show their anxiety in different ways.
It can be easy to identify feelings of anxiety when your child cries each and every time he has to go to school, or just before his swimming lessons, or when he acts clingy and never wants you out of sight. But anxiety can transform into pain and physical symptoms (headaches, tummy aches, vomiting spells), into bad moods and tantrums, or into inappropriate behavior such as violence and aggressiveness.
The first step to help your child manage anxiety is to teach him to identify and manage his emotions using age-appropriate techniques. Let your child know that it is okay to be anxious. Talking about anxiety and anxiety-provoking situations can be therapeutic for your child.

2 | Create an anxiety toolkit

Children who have learned to identify their anxiety and what triggers it are better able to apply appropriate strategies to deal with it. An anxiety toolkit is a container in which your child can find objects to calm her anxiety. Keep in mind that some objects are more effective than others.
For instance, sensory activities, visually calming activities, and activities that help your child release tension (trampoline) or focus his attention elsewhere (mandala) are all effective in helping your child calm down. The key takeaway is your child understanding that anxiety is a normal and manageable emotion.

3 | Neither over-protect nor under-protect

Just like pushing your child to get over his anxiety does not help him overcome it, protecting him from anxiety provoking situations does him little good. Overprotection may make things worse. Rather than shield your child from anxiety, take very small incremental steps to help him face what triggers it.
You can gently nudge your child out of his comfort zone by talking about anxiety-provoking situations, going over worst-case scenarios, and brainstorming appropriate reactions to these scenarios: “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” “What do you think would happen if…?” “What can you do if…?”
Tread carefully when nudging your child out of her comfort zone. You do not help an anxious child who needs you present by leaving her alone at a party. However, you reassure her by gradually reducing the time you spend with her during her social events.

4 | Manage your own anxiety

Evidence suggests that anxiety-prone parents are more likely to raise children with anxiety-related disorders. The biggest problem parents with an anxious disposition face is the employment of ineffective strategies in an attempt to shield their child from anxiety. Addressing your childhood trauma, dealing with your fears, and knowing when to walk away will make it easier to help.
Remember, how your child interprets situations largely depends on how she sees you interpret those situations. Choosing to be more optimistic about how you perceive everyday life events and not presenting situations as dangerous or irresolvable will help lessin your child’s anxiety.

5 | Get help

Child anxiety, unfortunately, can point to more serious issues. It is time to seek professional help if:

  • Your child’s anxiety causes him or her considerable distress
  • Your child is withdrawn and difficult to be around
  • Your child’s anxiety prevents him or her from participating in school-related or social events
  • Your child also displays many behavioral problems
  • Your child avoids eye contact, even with family members
  • You are overwhelmed and feel unable to help your child

Multiple resources have been designed for parents to help children deal with anxiety-related issues. In most cases, children can respond to their anxiety in appropriate ways, but only if they are taught how using effective, age-appropriate strategies.

What This Harvard Project Determined About Raising Kind Kids

The Graduate School of Education at Harvard University project, Making Caring Common, came up with five strategies to teach kids how to be kind.

Being kind to others seems to be going the way of the dodo bird. I am appalled by the nasty comments I see floating around Twitter and Facebook. The shaming and the bullying. The judging and the hate. Social media has given an outlet for people to voice their deepest, darkest, meanest, most critical thoughts and people seem to be leaping aboard the nasty train in droves.
But I also see stories that give me hope the world is not lost. Stories of love, acceptance and random acts of kindness. It’s these stories I want to share with my kids. To teach them being kind has a huge impact on their own lives as well as the world around them.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise kids need to be taught empathy. Spend one minute in a room with two toddlers and only one Thomas the Tank engine, or spend one recess outside at an elementary school and you will quickly discover this is true.
So why are we not spending the time teaching our kids how to be kind?
We can sit back and blame it on being too busy. Trying to keep up with family, work, school, homework, extra curricular activities and social obligations in a day where 24 hours just isn’t long enough. Or we can blame it on the ever-growing pressure to focus on giving our kids the competitive edge. Or we can blame it on social media, technology and world events.
Rather than blaming, however, we can look inward and see what we can do to initiate change. And it starts with how we parent.
To address teaching empathy, The Graduate School of Education at Harvard University and psychologist Richard Weissbourd initiated a project called Making Caring Common. In 2013, they conducted a survey of 10,000 middle and high school students. What they discovered is that almost 80 percent of kids rated personal success and happiness as their main priority, while only 20 percent rated caring for others as a top priority. Those results are sobering. And a wake-up call that changes need to be made or we will end up with a society of narcissistic, self-serving buffoons.
They came up with the following five strategies to teach kids how to be kind.

1 | “Make caring for others a priority”

As a mother of three kids, I hear myself ask on pretty much a daily basis “How would you feel if…?” But it is not enough to ask the question. I want my kids to understand and internalize how their actions affect others. How their words and deeds can be used to either heal or hurt.

2 | “Provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude”

Caring about others beyond ourselves not only makes the world a better place, but research shows that it also makes us happier, healthier and more successful. Practicing gratefulness and counting our blessings reduces anxiety, strengthens relationships, and fosters hope. So why not teach it to our kids?

3 | “Expand your child’s circle of concern”

There is life outside of our homes, our communities, our cities, our countries. There are people outside of our families and friends. Help our kids to see others, recognize their value, and include them within their world. Playing with the new kid at school, asking the grocery clerk how her day is going, saying thank you to the waiter at dinner are examples.

4 | “Be a strong moral role model and mentor”

Actions speak louder than words. But words matter too. How we talk with our kids and interact with them has a direct impact on how they will treat others. As parents, we need to pay attention to the messages we are sending our kids. When we get cutoff in traffic, when we’re running late, when the barista gets our coffee order wrong. And when we screw-up, which let’s face it, we all do, we need to acknowledge our mistakes and apologize.

5 | “Guide children in managing destructive feelings”

We’ve all been there. The flailing, the screaming, the sudden melting away of bones resulting in a puddle of enraged toddler on the floor. However, temper tantrums and angry outbursts serve a purpose. Not only do they provide an emotional outlet for our children, they also provide us with the opportunity to teach proper coping skills, such as deep breathing and finger counting. These strategies will help them understand and manage their feelings which in turn will increase their ability to be empathetic.
Yes, it takes a lot of time and effort to raise kind, caring, socially responsible kids. But in the end, isn’t it worth it?
This article was originally published at Her View From Home.

How to End Screen Time Without A Struggle

Do you ever struggle with getting your kids off the screen? Does it often end in tears (both theirs and yours)? This could help.

Do you ever struggle with getting your kids off the screen? Does it often end in tears (both theirs and yours)? Like so many other parents, I used to give my children warning.

“Five more minutes, then it’s dinner!” I’d yell from the kitchen.

This statement would either be ignored or grunted at.

Five minutes later, I’d march into the living room and turn the TV/tablet/gadget off, expecting them to silently accept and for us all to have a lovely, quiet dinner together.

Cue screams. Cue tantrums. Cue cold dinner. Cue grey hairs.

I realized something was wrong. Something was wrong in the way I was approaching the issue. My children aren’t naturally prone to tantrums, so I was thrown by this. I couldn’t work out what I could do to stop the sudden screaming at the end of every screen-time.

I wanted to find a way of gently disconnecting my children from the screen, of bringing them back into the real world without continual bumps and bruises along the way (because this happened almost every night), but I didn’t know how. Then a friend introduced me to a little trick by Isabelle Filliozat.

Isabelle Filliozat is a clinical psychologist specializing in positive parenting. She is the author of many books about children’s education, and an authority on gentle parenting in the French speaking world. From one day to the next, my world changed. I suddenly knew how to handle the end of screen-time without the screams, the tantrums, the cold dinner, or the grey hairs.

Here is Isabelle Filliozat’s very simple method to end screen-time without the screams.

The science behind screen-time

Have you ever had the electricity cut off just as the football game reached its most nerve-wracking stage?

Or your toddler pressed the “off” switch just as the protagonists in the deeply engrossing romantic comedy were finally going to kiss?

Or you ran out of power just as you were going to kill that alien and move up a level?

It’s hard to come out of the state of pleasure, which is what screen-time creates in our brains. It’s hard for adults. For a child, it can be terrible. Literally. Here, according to Isabelle Filliozat, is why.

When we human beings (not only children!) are absorbed in a film or playing a computer game, we are, mentally, in another world. Screens are hypnotic to our brains. The light, the sounds, the rhythm of the images puts the brain into a state of flow. We feel good, and don’t want to do anything else. We certainly don’t want the situation to change.

During these moments, our brains produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter which relieves stress-and pain. All is well – that is, until the screen is turned off. The dopamine levels in the body drop fast and without warning, which can, literally, create a sensation of pain in the body. This drop in hormones, this physical shock, is where children’s scream-time begins.

It doesn’t matter that we parents are quite clear that now is the end of screen-time. After all, we’d discussed and arranged it beforehand (”20 minutes!”), and/or given them warning (“5 more minutes!”). To us, it’s clear and fair enough, but to the child, it isn’t. When in front of a screen, she isn’t in a state to think that way or to take that information in. Her brain is awash with dopamine, remember? To turn the “off” switch on the television can, for the child, feel like a shock of physical pain. You’re not exactly slapping her in the face, but this is, neurologically speaking, how it might feel to her.

Cutting her off forcefully is hurtful. So instead of simply switching the “off” button, the trick is not to cut her off, but to instead enter her zone.

The trick: build a bridge

Whenever you decide that screen-time should come to an end, take a moment to sit down next to your child and enter his world. Watch TV with him, or sit with him while he plays his game massacring aliens on the screen. This doesn’t have to be long, half a minute is enough. Just share his experience. Then, ask him a question about it.

“What are you watching?” might work for some kids.

Others might need more specific questions. “So what level are you on now?” or “That’s a funny figure there in the background. Who’s he?”

Generally, children love it when their parents take an interest in their world. If they are too absorbed still and don’t engage, don’t give up. Just sit with them a moment longer, then ask another question.

Once the child starts answering your questions or tells you something she has seen or done on screen, it means that she is coming out of the “cut-off” zone and back into the real world. She’s coming out of the state of flow and back into a zone where she is aware of your existence – but slowly. The dopamine doesn’t drop abruptly, because you’ve built a bridge – a bridge between where she is and where you are. You can start to communicate, and this is where the magic happens.

You can choose to start discussing with your child that it’s time to eat, to go have his bath, or simply that screen-time is over now. Because of the minute of easing-in, your child will be in a space where he can listen and react to your request. He might even have been smoothed back into the real world gently enough, and is so happy about the parental attention that he wants turn off the TV/tablet/computer himself. (I’ve experienced my children do this, hand to heart.)

To me, simply the awareness of what’s going on in my children’s minds helps me handle end-of-screen-time much better than before. It isn’t always as smooth as I want it to be, but we haven’t had a scream-time incident since I discovered Isabelle Filliozat’s little trick.

Don’t take my word for it, go and try it yourself

Next time your child is sitting in front of a screen, and you want to end it, try this:

  • Sit with her for 30 seconds, a minute, or longer, and simply watch whatever she is watching/doing.
  • Ask an innocent question about what’s happening on screen. Most children love their parent’s attention, and will provide answers.
  • Once you’ve created a dialogue, you’ve created a bridge – a bridge that will allow your child to, in his mind and body, step from screen back into the real world, without hormones in free-fall, and therefore without crisis.
  • Enjoy the rest of your day together.

What Would A Better Mother Than Me Do?

The thing is I don’t know a single mother who does feel like she knows what she’s doing. Not in real life, anyway.

“I don’t want to go to bed! A good Mommy would let me have a cheese stick!” my daughter yells at me for what is maybe the 14th time in the last five minutes.
Out of answers and the will to live, I let my head cock to the side and consider this for a second. Would she? Would a good mom let a tired child, who is clearly just stalling and has successfully pleaded her way into one snack and a cup of milk already, have a cheese stick?
Maybe.
Maybe a better mother than me would do everything she could to make sure her child was comfortable and nourished before bed. More likely, a better mother than me would have raised a child who doesn’t stall, who loves bedtime with as much zealousness as she loves her chores and her broccoli, who runs upstairs in her hand-sewn pajamas to vigorously brush an organic dinner completely from her teeth all while asking God to bountifully bless her beloved family.
Truth is, I have no idea what a better mother would do. All I know for sure is that there are moments, like when my daughter’s increasingly high pitched screams for dairy tubes are grating on my every nerve, where I let myself contemplate every single mistake I’ve ever made and wonder, not for the first time, when I am going to feel like I know what I am doing.
And the thing is I don’t know a single mother who does feel like she knows what she’s doing. Not in real life, anyway. I’ve seen more than a few online – more everyday – smugly telling the other less confident mamas exactly what they are doing wrong, but I am yet to meet any face to face.
I’m yet to sit down with another woman over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and say “I love it, but it’s just so hard,” and not have her respond with a resounding yes, spoken or implied through a violent clink of her glass against mine.
Why is this? So many of the women in my life are fully confident in other parts of their lives. Some are confident in their careers. Some are runners, confident in their bodies ability to carry them farther and faster. Some are confident in their beauty, others in their hearts, others still in their words. But none of us, not a one, would stand here in this moment and say to you (or anyone else) “this mothering thing? Yeah. I got this down.”
And should they? Should any of us grow so complacently confident in this – arguably our life’s hardest work – that we have it together enough to sit on the internet dropping mommy wisdom on other women who didn’t ask for it? Getting this kind of “advice” is like getting clothing you didn’t ask for as a present. It’s unlikely to fit, even less likely to be your style, and there’s a real decent chance trying it on is going to make you feel pretty crappy about yourself.
I contemplated telling this to my daughter, who had gone quiet thanks to her thumb finding her mouth. But I knew she wouldn’t understand. I hadn’t either, before babies. Even well into my first pregnancy I had thought, arrogantly, that I would figure it out. How hard could it be, I’d said, feeling this stranger turn somersaults in my abdomen. I’d learned how to drive a car, eventually, albeit not in reverse. I’d learned how to cook. Once, with the help of YouTube, I’d taken apart and put back together the dishwasher. Kids? How hard could it be?
But oh man it’s hard. It’s the kind of hard where the entire time you mostly have no idea what you are doing, and then it goes on that way all day and all night forever. And just when I think I have something figured out enough to start pontificating about it, things change and what was working before doesn’t work and we start all over again at the beginning. It’s pretty humbling.
Also it’s amazing, beautiful, and hilarious and going by way too fast and breaking and rearranging my heart in every possible way. Yes. That too, I remember, as my girl drifts off towards sleep, her cheeks still ruddy from yelling. I think of all the things I have to do still before I could possibly even entertain the idea of crawling in there beside her and closing my eyes, letting the rhythm of her breath, each rise and fall still a mini miracle, lull me to sleep.
Would a better mother than me go do all those things?
Maybe. I don’t know. I’m not her.
And I’m kind of thankful for that, if only just for this moment.

Why the H-Word Is Allowed in Our Home

Understanding the vital role of connection in brain function makes it easier to step back, and listen to the feelings underneath the ugly words.

“I hate that vest! I’m not wearing it!”
“I hate going to the grocery store!”
“I hate you!”
This kind of hate speech is allowed in my house.
My kids, especially my five-year-old, utter “the H-word” more often than I’d like. When I hear it my chest tightens, my jaw clenches, and I have to force myself to take deep breaths.
Banning my kids from saying “hate” would make me a hypocrite, however. I’m guilty of telling my husband “I hate when you pick your teeth at the table!” I can’t count the number of times I’ve complained that I hate our local grocery store’s un-intuitive online shopping tool (possibly more than I hate taking my children grocery shopping).
Also, having a rule means enforcing it. I struggle to get my kids to brush their teeth every morning before school. I feel like I’ve climbed Mount Everest by the time they’re tucked in for the night. I don’t want to give my precious energy to the enforcement of another rule.
Moreover, all parents know telling kids they aren’t allowed to use a certain word is an excellent way to ensure they use it as much as possible. Research shows that kids are 11 million times more likely to do the thing they’ve been expressly told not to do. And by research I mean my own informal studies performed totally unscientifically, using my own children as subjects.
The main reason I haven’t banned the H-word is that I want my kids to be free to express themselves, whether it’s about a vest they’d rather not wear or the kind of mother they wish I was. When they act like little dictators, they’re not trying to drive me crazy. They’re trying to tell me something. Says Kate Orson, Hand in Hand parenting instructor and author of “Tears Heal: How to Listen to Our Children,” “When a child says ‘I hate you!’ it’s like they are waving a red flag saying, ‘Help! I’m not thinking well! I need connection with you and some help with my feelings.’”

Why you must listen

The power of listening as a means of fostering connection is stronger than many of us realize. But listening takes time and patience, after all. And who wants to listen to a kid’s angry outburst? Many of us have been told the best way to extinguish our children’s undesirable behavior is to ignore it. But in “Listen: Five Simple Tools to Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges,” authors Patty Wipfler and Tosha Schore, M.A. use neurobiology to flip that notion on its head. They explain that in order for kids to engage their prefrontal cortex, which allows them to think well, they need to feel connected to an adult or caregiver.
How does connection influence thinking? Just below the prefrontal cortex lies the limbic system, the brain’s social-emotional center. The limbic system is responsible for interpreting body language, tone of voice, and all kinds of other cues that determine whether we feel safe and connected with the people around us, anxious and afraid, or anywhere in between. According to Wipfler and Schore:

When your child feels connected and protected, her limbic system can do an important job: It can coordinate communication between all parts of her brain. It opens access to her prefrontal cortex, so the reasoning center of her brain can hum. Connection “turns on the lights upstairs.”… Through no fault of your own or anyone else’s your connection with your child will break often. When she feels threatened, frustrated, or when another feeling floods her system, she loses her sense of connection. Shazam! Her prefrontal cortex shuts down. She literally can’t think.

So when my kid yells “I hate you!” she’s already feeling disconnected from me. In my experience, disciplining, yelling at, or ignoring her only escalates her behavior. This is consistent with Wipfler and Schore’s work, which suggests that my negative reaction causes further disruption of our connection, which results in her impaired ability to engage her prefrontal cortex (i.e., her ability to “behave”).
I’m not saying my daughter’s occasional hateful outbursts don’t hurt my feelings. On good days, they sting. On bad days, they make me wonder if I’ve ever done anything right as a parent while I hide in the bathroom with the shower turned on to muffle the sound of my sobs. But understanding the vital role of connection in brain function makes it easier to step back, take a breath, and listen to the feelings underneath the ugly words.
Orson permits her daughter to say “I hate you” as much as she wants, but that doesn’t mean Orson ignores it. On the contrary, she sees the words as a demonstration of her child’s “disconnected state and upset feelings.” She described a recent interaction between herself and her daughter. Upon Orson’s return from a three-day trip, her daughter said, “I don’t like you.” She says, “I knew this was because [my daughter] had some feelings about me being away and that I needed to reconnect with her, so I moved in close, gave her a hug, and she started giggling. Laughter is one of the ways children naturally release stress and tension and get better connected with us, so if your child says they hate something you might want to turn it around playfully.”

An alternative response

For parents struggling to find an appropriate response to “I hate you,” Orson recommends trying humor. “You could say, playfully, ‘What!? That can’t be right. You must have been eating that word muddle soup that turns your words around and you say the opposite. I’m sure you love me really.’ And see if that elicits some laughter.”
Humor is not always the best medicine, however. Orson cautions it’s important to read your child and the situation. “Sometimes if children are really angry, then being playful around it can make them feel more angry, in which case you have to be the best judge of what’s going to work well in the moment.” Another alternative to the playful approach would be to move physically closer and make eye contact. At that point, they might actually start crying, “as they sense your connection and can let go the feelings behind the anger.” In this case, not only have you resolved the issue at hand, but according to Orson, this kind of tirade is less likely in the future “because your child has let go of the feelings behind it.”
I’m not saying I encourage my kids to act like brats. For example, I wouldn’t allow them to say they hate the dinner Grandma is serving or to tell a friend they hate her. In this type of situation, Orson recommends gently setting a limit, which looks very different than whisper-yelling at your child “We don’t talk like that!” or threatening to take away her favorite doll. (In my experience these “strategies” are rarely effective anyway). Orson recommends moving in closer to your child, crouching down to their level, making eye contact and kindly – without shame or blame –  saying, “I’m sorry, I can’t let you say that,” and explaining that it hurts the other person’s feelings.
Hate is a strong word and an even stronger emotion. I’m not saying I like to hear the word in my house, but I tolerate it because I want my kids to know their negative emotions are just as valid as their positive emotions. I want them to grow up knowing that whatever they have to say, I am listening.

Stop Trying to Find the “Perfect” Consequence

The use of consequences can include some hidden “baggage” for many parents.

Years ago, I huddled around a kitchen table with two frazzled, exhausted parents and their three kids. The notebook page in front of us listed 20 undesirable behaviors on one side and corresponding consequences on the other.
On a separate piece of paper, we created a range of rewards – from small trinkets to large family outings.
It was an exhausting process, but once it was complete, we felt proud of the work we accomplished.
The first week went according to plan. Kids were earning rewards, avoiding consequences, and the house was relatively calm.
But by the second week, the kids found the loopholes. Rewards were expected and consequences were next to impossible to enforce. Old habits returned and the house fell back into chaos.
The reward/consequence mindset was all the rage in parenting circles in those days. (And for many parents, this is still the parenting strategy of choice.)
Unfortunately, in my experience, reward/consequence charts rarely create long-term change.

Let’s rethink parent-created consequences

Actions have consequences. There’s no question. (Text while walking? Hit your head on a tree branch. Ouch!)
But at some point, these natural consequences were deemed ineffective. Instead, parents were expected to create an additional consequence to make sure their child “really learned their lesson.”
This pressure to create consequences put many parents in a tailspin:
“My child just hit a kid at the playground, what’s the best consequence?”
“My kid refuses to do his homework, what consequence would fit?”
Other parents gladly join in creating all sorts of consequences ranging from silly to shameful.
Attempts to implement this consequence would be met with resistance. This resistance ultimately leads to a power struggle.
Exasperated, parents are left wondering, “NOW what consequence should I use?!”
Here’s the thing:

…your child will be stuck in the exact same spot. Experiencing the exact same challenges. And having the exact same arguments with you.
Ugh.
Tired of trying to find the “perfect” consequence for your child? Try this instead!

Instead of finding the “perfect” consequence, focus on these things

Work on your own stuff first

Before you tell your kids to “calm down” make sure you know how to keep yourself grounded in emotional situations. Learn about your triggers and know what helps you stay present, even when your kids are having a tough time.

Build a strong connection

Without a firm relationship with you, no amount of punishment or grounding is going to make a difference. This might mean temporarily setting aside some concerns until you and your child have repaired the relationship.

Empathize

Natural consequences can be sad, difficult, exhausting, or frustrating. Instead of brushing these feelings aside (or adding consequences), sit with your child in their experience. Let them know that you understand their pain. Resist the urge to say “I told you so!” or “Duh! What did you think would happen!?”

Be curious

Many things impact your child’s behavior – environmental, sensory, learning, social, emotional, etc. Identifying lacking skills and unmet needs may be the first step toward finding an effective solution.

Teach

Provide opportunities for your child to grow into their new expectations. Sometimes, you are your child’s best teacher, other times, your child needs the support of others (Mental Health Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Learning Specialists, etc.) to be successful with a new skill.

Bonus step

Explore your own thoughts and feelings around consequences.
The use of consequences can include some hidden “baggage” for many parents. Rather than ignoring these nagging voices inside, give yourself permission to listen, explore, and challenge some of the patterns and thoughts you have around parent-created consequences.

  • Why is “giving a consequence” important to you?
  • How do you feel when you give a consequence? How do you feel when you don’t give a consequence?
  • How were consequences used when you were a child? How does that compare to what you are doing today?
  • In what ways have consequences been effective? In what ways have they been ineffective?
  • How do your friends or your community use consequences?
  • What are your fears or questions about giving up parent-created consequences?
  • How would you like to use consequences in your family?

Ready to parent without “perfect” consequences?

Almost 15 years later, I have scrapped reward/consequence charts completely. I no longer use this system with families during parent coaching sessions.
Instead, we look for breaks in connection. We are curious and empathetic to the struggles and challenges. And we create systems, provide support, guidance, and encouragement to our kids as they grow into new expectations.
And guess what?
It’s working.
Rather than feeling stuck, parents are finding a renewed relationship with their kids. They are breaking generational patterns of parenting with shame and guilt and replacing them with empathy and problem-solving.
It may not be as quick as giving a timeout or swiftly removing an Xbox controller, but you will see long-term benefits that last well beyond the immediate moment.

Deranged Quotes Declared by My Toddler in One Single Outing

Being the shepherd of a threenager allows me to act as curator of her finest moments, and provides a slice of levity in an otherwise dark world.

When “you have a vulva, right?” – asked of a total stranger – isn’t the toddleriest thing I hear in a given hour, I know the day has already carried many blessings and will continue to do so all the way until my child passes out at night clutching the lovie du jour (a shoe, say, or a business card). I had a day like that recently.
I’m on paternity leave, and one day a week I’m home with both my seven-month-old son and my three-year-old daughter, and now that he’s started to crawl and teethe and she’s not napping, the minutes crawl by with the intense forward motion of a snail surfing a glacier.
Fortunately, being the shepherd of a threenager allows me to act as curator of her finest moments, and provides a slice of levity in an otherwise dark and anarchic world. What follows are quotes spoken on that day over the course of a single outing by Alice – the human wind-up toy with a sociopath’s vocabulary in question – followed by the ethos and location.

“You wanna pee on my poop, Papa?” [genuine camaraderie/park bathroom, open window]

It was a sensible question, under the circumstances. Alice had pooped, and I needed to pee, and despite reservoirs returning to less-critical levels I’m still pretty drought-averse and don’t like to flush when it’s not truly necessary. She’d already had me confirm that yes, it was a big one, and yes, I was very proud. I had Louis strapped into the 10-year-old Baby Bjorn, the only carrier he’ll handle – the one with less back support than a gorilla hanging from my mouth – and although I’ve become a Papa Pee Ninja, I knew he’d be upset and my aim would be suspect.
But I had to pee.
So pee I did, while Alice cheered me on.
“Yay Papa! You peed on my poop!”
Then, while Louis started to really scream, Alice decided to pee on my pee that was on her poop, and then I reflexively flushed and after three seconds of stunned silence she screamed “I WANTED TO DOOOO THAT” and threw herself onto the gross, gross floor, and then Louis vomited curdled milk everywhere.

(A long list of everyone who’s not sad anymore, now that we found her babing suit) [exaggerated relief/car]

Alice has about 17 different leotards, but only one “babing suit” that currently fits her. It was lost, and we needed to go: We were meeting friends at the park and Louis was already too far into his “wake time” for my liking. I told her we’d find it later, to just use a leotard (somehow me acting all faux-casual didn’t transfer to her), and she began to get panicky and wobbly-lipped and so we embarked on a futile search for it and were about to give up when I finally saw it tucked into a corner of the couch. Alice was so relieved she hugged it tight with snotty tears and began listing all the people and things that were happy now: “Papa is happy now, and Mama, and Louis, and my dog, and Pickle, and the couch is happy, and Grandma is happy and—”.
This continued until we were almost at the park when she asked if she could wear a leotard instead of the babing suit.

“Don’t throw away Pickle! He’s too young!” [pleading/kitchen floor]

Threatening to throw her favorite puppet Pickle the Raccoon into the garbage was not my finest parenting moment, even if she was hitting me and her brother in the face with him, which she was. But the current list of things that Alice loves most in the world goes like this, in order: Mama, Pickle, Louis, me, the dog, leotards & ice cream (tie). Anyway, after I made my ill-advised display of bluster, she reminded me that Pickle wasn’t old enough to be tossed into the garbage, and I was forced to concede the point.

“Dinosaurs don’t swim!” [indignant, shrieking hysteria/living room]

We were headed to a park with a water feature, it was really hot, and she was finally ready to go in her babing suit. For some reason, which in retrospect was a battle I had no business fighting, I made her wear a skirt or shorts. Why? I don’t know. I even told her she could take it off when we got to the park. I’m just making this parenting thing up as I go and I think maybe I needed a little bit of control at the moment? Anyway, once I was in the battle, I couldn’t give in (again, motivation unclear), and so I chose the awesome dinosaur-patterned skirt her Auntie made for her, and while she put it on, tears streaming down her face, she screamed at me that dinosaurs don’t swim. I considered pointing out that interestingly enough, many dinosaurs were actually water-going creatures, but I bit my tongue.

“I want cock!” [hyper silliness/crowded park]

Alice loves to make up works, and unfortunately, one of them sounds exactly like “cock.” My wife and I have tried all the tactics, from ignoring to distracting to “don’t say that” to “how about a different word,” which have all combined to let Alice know that this word is now ammunition. If anyone heard her scream “I want cock!” at the park they did a great job hiding it, and for that I thank them.

“We got trouble here, buddy.” [50’s-style newsreel narrator/Alice’s room]

Alice was trying to take off her dress, and since my wife and I have taught her two different and contradictory top-removal methods, she gets stuck sometimes. Partway through removing the dress, she got all tangled, and for about 10 seconds she thought it was funny before the pre-hyperventilating started. She did her best Bogart impression, and when I laughed, she kept the same voice and said “Big trouble. Big trouble, buddy! I said that and you laughed!” before the claustrophobic panic set in.

“Sometimes I like to hug you on your foot.” [faux sweetness/blow-up pool]

Alice has never been a big hugger. Sometimes I’ll ask her if I can have a hug and she’ll say, quite thoughtfully “um, no thanks, maybe tomorrow, mkay?” I respect that, of course, and want to encourage her body autonomy as much as I possibly can. But she can also be a sneak about it. She knows I want hugs, and so she mainly dispenses them when she’s wet and I’m actively trying to remain dry (like when I’m holding my crying baby).
It was hot, so when we got back from the park it was straight into the blow-up baby pool, and that was definitely the best time for her to come out and give me soaking-wet embraces on various parts of my body.

“I do shoes first THEN my socks!” [hopeful but increasingly panicky about her plan/couch]

She got it into her mind that she wanted to put on her shoes before her socks. I don’t think she ever intended for it to become a battle, but after the gauntlet was laid, some part of her mind understood she had to see it through at all costs, despite my gentle explanations that it simply wouldn’t work. She even invoked her most recent favorite book, “The Carrot Seed,” in which a boy plants and tends a carrot plant and retains hope it’ll grow despite everyone telling him it won’t: “Papa, carrot came up. CARROT CAME UP!”
I tried to say “nice text-to-self connection,” but it was drowned out by the muted, hiccuping sobs emanating from her mouth while she buried her face in the couch, one sock on the ground and the other dangling off her shoe, which was on the wrong foot.

“You have a vulva, right?” [curious/store]

That’s pretty much it. She asked a woman behind us in line if she had a vulva, and the woman furrowed her eyebrow and I said “Okay! Alice! We forgot the milk!” and we left our spot in line to get milk even though we already had milk.

What You Can Do When Your Kid Prefers One Parent Over the Other

Though it’s not uncommon for children to prefer one parent over the other, it totally stings. Here’s what you can do to make it through.

“No! I want daddy to do it!”
Your three-year-old has wedged himself between the bed and the dresser and refuses to let you help him get dressed.
“Daddy’s at work right now. Mommy’s here! I can help you.”
You attempt to get closer and his little hands push you away.
The hurt inside you grows. “What makes dad so special? I’m here with you all day. And this is the thanks I get?” you think to yourself.
What are you supposed to do?
It’s not uncommon for children to prefer one parent over the other.
Sometimes this is due to a change in the parenting roles: a move, a new job, bedrest, separation. During these transitions, parents may shift who does bedtime, who gets breakfast, or who is in charge of daycare pickup.
Sometimes, a preference comes around the birth of a sibling. One parent cares more for the infant, while the other parent spends more time with the older children.
And sometimes, it’s just because daddy does better bathtimes. Or mommy tells better bedtime stories.
Regardless of the reason, being rejected by your child hurts.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to survive this difficult stage.

Tips for the “non-preferred” parent

Manage your own feelings

It’s okay to feel a variety of feelings when your child pushes you away. And, it’s okay to tell your child how you’re feeling (“I feel sad then you tell me to ‘get away!’”). But keep the big tears, angry thoughts, and hurt feelings to yourself and fellow adults, rather than sharing them with your child.

Build connection

If the relationship between you and your child is strained, take time to work on strengthening your bond. Spend quality one-on-one time with your child on a daily basis. Join your child in activities they enjoy. Or create “special” activities that are just for the two of you.

Empathize with the struggle

There will be times when the other parent is not available to come to your child’s rescue. In these moments, start by empathizing with their big feelings. Then, set a boundary. “I know you wish daddy could help you. It’s hard when he’s at work and mommy has to help you get dressed instead.”

Look for tips

As hard as it may be to admit, there may be something to learn from the “preferred parent.” Maybe the songs dad sings during bath time take the anxiety out of hair washing. Or the little game mom plays gets him moving in the morning. Stay true to yourself, and see if you can incorporate some of these tips into your parenting too.

Positive self talk

It’s easy to get down in the dumps or to start doubting your parenting when your child prefers another caregiver. Remind yourself that this is a stage, that you are the parent your child needs, and that your worth is not defined by your child’s positive response. If you can’t shake the negative feelings, seek support from a mental health professional or a parent coach.

What if you’re the “preferred” parent?

It’s hard to be pushed away by your child, but being the preferred parent can lead to feelings of helplessness, confused, and torn between two people.
Here are some tips for you:

Support the “non-preferred” parent

It’s easy to jump in and “save the day” when your child is calling for you. Instead of swooping in, encourage your child’s dependence on the other parent. You can stand close by, respond with empathy, and remind your child that he is loved by so many people, including the “non-preferred” parent.

Talk about “same” and “different”

When you are alone with your child, emphasize things that make each parent unique. Brag on the other parent’s strengths. Point out things that you both do well. Or, have your child list a few things she loves about both parents.

Be aware of hurt feelings

Keep in mind that the other parent may be struggling with your close relationship. Even though your child’s preference may make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, the other parent may be feeling jealous, frustrated, or hurt. Put your pride aside and give them time and space to talk openly about their feelings. (Remember, the tables may be turned in the future!)
Thankfully, your child is growing and maturing.
With time, they will move past this preference and realize that it’s possible to love both parents in unique ways.
Until then, take a deep breath, find some inner strength as you are passed over for hugs and kisses, and silently smile when the other parent is called in to change a messy diaper.
This article was originally published on Imperfect Families.

The Play Kitchen That Was a Recipe For Disaster

Our toddler’s behavior was telling us what she couldn’t articulate: kitchen was not fun.

Before she was old enough to deftly feed herself, let alone understand the concept of preparing food, friends of my husband sent our daughter a toy kitchen set for Christmas. The set arrived in a self-contained cabinet, which unfolded into a four-burner cooktop adjacent to a faux-porcelain farm-style sink. It was equipped with utensils, pots and pans, place settings for six, and a haul of plastic food that could feed a plastic army. I remember marveling at the tiny garlic press and micro-whisk that fit in the partitioned drawer under the sink and couldn’t wait to see the gourmet meals my daughter would invent. I had visions of her as the next Anthony Bourdain or Padma Lakshmi, tracing her culinary impetus back to this marvelous gift in an interview on the Cooking Channel.

What actually happened looked more like a season of “Bridezillas” than “No Reservations,” but this kitchen – with its extravagant inventory in perfectly-scaled miniature – was so incredible that it took dozens of extended-play tantrums before we could break free of its spell.

A “kitchen disaster,” as we would come to call them, began with my daughter dumping every last toy avocado, eggplant, and rutabaga; every colander, wok, and sauté pan; every fake plantain, plasticized heirloom head of romaine, and halved lemon (seeds intact) into the middle of the living room. Then she would sort flatware for three minutes and fling dishware like Frisbees into piles, with waning accuracy. Atop the piles, she would bulldoze any remaining amenities, becoming more agitated all the while. The encounter finally ended when I snapped out of my kitchen-envy trance and saw my house wrecked and my sweet child, sweaty and frantic.

Looking back, my husband and I should have known better and put the kitchen set away for a few years, at least until our daughter actually knew what root vegetables were, but we didn’t want to seem ungrateful. The couple who sent the gift didn’t have kids of their own and likely weren’t in the habit of assessing age-appropriateness. Plus, they clearly spent a lot of money on it. The last thing we wanted to do was offend them. We told ourselves the kitchen would provide sensory motor stimulation and would occupy our daughter so I could get things done around the house. Right.

The truth was our parental judgement was clouded by what toy companies know so well about their target demographic: parents equate quantity with value and are impressed by realistic replicas. We like toys that mimic items in our adult world, regardless of developmental application. Did my toddler care about higher echelon cooking? Was she particularly drawn to oddball food items we couldn’t buy at the local market? Could she even distinguish between the two types of ladles, gravy versus soup? No. What’s more, the sheer excess of the kitchen set’s components overwhelmed her to the point of breakdown. Her immature nervous system was incapable of processing the overstimulation bombarding her senses. Her behavior was telling us what she couldn’t articulate: kitchen was not fun.

Like many modern parents, I pride myself on understanding the importance of play in childhood development and how it lays the foundation for learning. I believe the best toys spark imagination rather than simply entertain, and kids should have the opportunity to create their own fun without any toys at all. I also consider myself a savvy consumer and know that more stuff isn’t necessarily better, and price doesn’t guarantee quality. So why did all that fly out the window the minute the kitchen set arrived?

The souring ingredient in this recipe for disaster was that the toy kitchen was a gift and we felt socially obligated to love it, or at least tolerate it. Had my husband and I picked the thing out and paid for it, it wouldn’t have lasted a week. The idea that our friends bestowed upon our home the catalyst for entropy was hard to accept, but we thanked them and wrote a note, enclosing snapshots of our girl “cooking.”

I tried every variation I could think of to make it work: time limits, less fruit, no utensils, pared down pantry – but to no avail. The kitchen needed to go. We waited the requisite amount of time in case our friends visited, and then, when the coast was clear, we sealed it up in the box it came in and donated it to my MOPS group’s playroom for the kids to use, supervised, while the moms drank coffee in the next room.

I’d like to say the kitchen set brought joy to boys and girls in its new setting, a setting more structured and less punishing than our living room floor, but after seeing the clammy hair and flushed faces of the children (and their caregivers) leaving the playroom after our meetings, I cannot. Some toys are destined to wreak havoc wherever they go.