All posts by The Attached Family

The Delicate Balance of Parenthood

By Megan Kunze, MS

Being raised by a single mother molded me into the woman and mother I am today. Some of my parenting practices are similar and others are very different. My attempts to successfully nurture three little lives involve a constant balance between caring for myself and caring for others, so I can best facilitate love, growth, and joy in the lives of my children.

Here, I have included four focus areas that promote balance in life as a parent.

Create a Support Network

Surround yourself with people you enjoy and who build you up. Choose your support network carefully and thoughtfully: Continue reading

How to Respond to the Most Frustrating Phrases Kids Say

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

“No!”

“You’re so mean.”

“I hate you!”

“Daddy lets me.”

“You like him better than me.”

“Why should I?”

“You can’t make me!”

“That’s mine!”

“I don’t want to.”

Kids say the darndest things, but sometimes also the most hurtful things. It can be surprising what comes out of your child’s mouth when she decides she wants to do something different than what you’re wanting her to do! Especially as your child starts going to preschool, playdates, and other places where they’re around other children, they start picking up on other behaviors and bringing them home. I’ve heard “No!” many times from my children, but I was shocked the first time my four-year-old daughter threw her arms up in the air, said “Hmmph,” and stomp away after a request — until I observed one of her playmates do the same to her mother. The light bulb turned on in my brain: Oh, that’s where she got it. And she’s brought home a lot of other behaviors and phrases since then.

How to Respond to Toddlers

Young children do these behaviors as they explore their independence. They are not meaning to be hurtful — just trying to find their way in the world and test out different phrases and behaviors to see what the consequences are. For my child’s playmate, as described above, her consequence was getting what she sought. For my child, her consequence was not getting it until she gave an appropriate request.

There are four tips to responding to toddlers (these are taken from the Appelbaum Training Institute) who like to say any of the variations of “No!” back to us:

  • Honor the boundaries you’ve set — Teach your child that he won’t be getting what he wants without an appropriate request (without whining, hitting, tantrumming, etc.), and sometimes not at all, depending on the request, such as eating sister’s holiday candy. But remember not to force the child to do what you want her to do; according to Attached at the Heart by Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, “your goal is not to break a young child’s will, but to help instill the desire to be ‘good’ and develop his own will to make good decisions. This will mean that he can feel good about having some control in his life that can lead to better cooperation.” Try playful parenting or nonviolent communication to avoid a power struggle while continuing to honor your boundaries.
  • Focus on the positive — Tell your child what he can do, rather than can’t. Provide a brief explanation. Say what you need him to do, not what you want him to do; phrase it as “I need you to…”
  • Give your child choices — Have her choose between two toys, two drinks, two snacks, etc. I also have my children choose their shirt to wear for the day and then the choice of two pairs of pants that match the shirt. I also have them choose between two colors of drinking cups, bowls, and more. It’s sometimes better to have two choices, rather than more, so that it doesn’t become overwhelming to the child, but as the child gets older, preschoolers can often handle more choices.
  • Make transitions fun — Transitions are hard for young children, because they become engrossed in their activity and don’t want to switch. This is why any of the variations of “No!” come out often at times of transition. Try making it fun by playing the “Freeze” game, during which the children “freeze” for a moment when you call out the word; or sing a song with actions such as “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”; or walk like an animal, drive a car, or fly like a bird. Before naptime, demonstrate to the child how to melt into her napping surface — it makes this often-difficult transition fun!

How to Respond to Preschoolers

As toddlers grow into the preschool years, their needs become more complex, and “No!” may mean more than frustration with a transition. There are generally three reasons why your child is telling you any of the variations of “No!”:

  1. Independence — the child is learning they have a voice. This is your basic “No!”
  2. Attention-Seeking — the child is looking for attention. This can be hurtful, such as “I hate you!”
  3. Self-Protection — the child is trying to avoid the consequences of his behavior. This may include the other spouse or another caregiver, such as “Daddy lets me.”

For every behavior, there is a function. Once the function — one of the three reasons above — is identified, here are some guidelines to dealing with the behavior:

  • Independence — Don’t dwell on the behavior, but teach the child how to respond respectfully. For example, instead of “I want that now,” how about “I would like a turn with that toy”? In reply to “No!” or “I don’t want to” or “You can’t make me,” offer the child a choice between tasks.
  • Attention-Seeking — Affirm to the child that she does have value. Spend more time with your child. During discipline, be consistent and give a brief explanation of your expectations.
  • Self-Protection — Demonstrate a genuine interest in the child. Tell the child what you need, and ask the child to repeat back to you what you asked of him. When addressing comments about other caregivers’ rules, explain that right now, you need your child to follow your rule, such as “That is your daddy’s rule when I’m not home, but my rule right now is…, so I need you to…”

What Not to Do

There are five behaviors we, as parents and caregivers, should never do in response to the hurtful and defiant phrases or actions given to us by our children:

  1. Argue.
  2. Defend ourselves.
  3. Become sarcastic.
  4. Lose our cool.
  5. Roll our eyes.

Remember to bite your tongue, as children pick up on our behaviors, too, and will repeat them back to us!

Spotlight On: Balboa Baby

API: Tell us, exactly what is Balboa Baby?

BALBOA BABY: Balboa Baby is a relative newcomer to the juvenile industry, having been established in 2007 with the introduction of an adjustable baby sling. This was followed by other new parent must-haves, including a nursing cover, nursing pillow, and shopping cart cover. Joining president Noel Pepys at Balboa in an advisory capacity is Dr. William Sears and his wife, Martha, who is a certified lactation consultant.

API: What have parents found to be most useful about Balboa Baby?

BALBOA BABY: Balboa Baby products enable parents to incorporate baby into everyday life, but more importantly, the products allow parents to bond more easily with baby. The Sling keeps baby close wherever you go, and the Nursing Cover means you don’t have to delay baby’s feeding while you look for a private spot. The Nursing Pillow, used most often at home, helps position baby properly for feeding, and the Shopping Cart Cover means you can take baby along to the grocery store without fear of germs. Continue reading

The “See One, Teach One, Do One” Approach to Teaching

By Kelly Bartlett, certified positive discipline educator and leader for Portland API, Oregon USA

Teaching children practical life skills takes more time than we usually think.  It’s common for parents to get frustrated with kids who aren’t doing something we think they should know how to do, like putting on socks or shoes, preparing food, putting laundry away, or the ever-popular instruction, “Clean your room!” Tasks like these seem so straightforward to us, but for children they can be overwhelming and surprisingly complicated.

Before we get overly frustrated with our children, it helps if parents can remember the “see one, teach one, do one” approach to learning new tasks.  These are the steps it typically takes for kids to learn new things:

See One

The child should see you demonstrating the task, and will watch with the purpose of learning. You can explain what you’re doing as you go. “Watch how I do these three things to get your room clean. First, I…”

Teach One

Involve your child and do the task together. Have him help you with the various steps involved in cleaning that room. “You put all of the dirty clothes in the laundry basket, while I make your bed.” When you are working together, the job doesn’t seem so daunting for a child, and you’re also modeling cooperation, teamwork, and respect.

This also works well for older children who forget to do their jobs. A Certified Positive Discipline Trainer from Greenville, South Carolina in the USA, Kelly Pfieffer shares a story of her teenage son who would continually forget to bring in the garbage cans and recycling bins after garbage day. This was meant to be his responsibility, but it wouldn’t get done at the end of the day, nor even the next morning on his way out to school. “My husband would be especially upset because it was obvious to the neighbors that our trash cans had not been brought in,” she said.

Kelly decided to take time to teach her son and help him learn by making the job one that they would do together. She gave her son the opportunity to bring in the garbage cans when he got home, but when he didn’t, she met him at the door with a hug, a smile, and a, “We’re doing the trash together now. Let’s get it done.” It took a few weeks of this cooperative teaching, with no nagging or lecturing, and her son started going right to the garbage cans when he got home! Kelly says, “Now it’s unusual for him to forget, when it used to be unusual for him to remember. Though if needed, I will do the task with him again.”

Just as it took Kelly several weeks of teaching her son how to bring in the garbage cans, it will most likely take kids several teaching sessions before they get the hang of a job and are able to think through it on their own. Kelly even says she expects her son to forget again, as his priorities are simply different than hers. But she is ready and willing to step in and do it together with him again. Instead of labeling this step “teach one,” it would be more aptly called “teach many, many times!”

Do One

This final step is when the child is able to do the task on her own. Some children (like Kelly’s teenager) might be able to go right from cooperative learning to doing it on their own, while some children (such as younger ones) might benefit from the opportunity to do a task themselves while you’re there to supervise and help. Eventually, depending on the activity and the child, they’ll be able to do tasks on their own, unsupervised. Keep in mind, too, that even when kids seem to be capable of doing a job on their own, they may “forget how” from time to time. A refresher course given together in a calm and loving manner, without nagging or lecturing, will help kids remember what to do, while keeping your relationship positive.

Most importantly in this process of teaching children, parents can remember to use it as an opportunity to connect with them. When we can let go of the outcome — the focus on what our child “should” be doing — we can enjoy communicating with and helping our kids, and trust that the learning will occur.

What to do When Children Demean Each Other

By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, www.naomialdort.com

Q: My daughter calls her brother stupid and he feels hurt. He does the same in return. I tried everything, but neither of them will stop. How do I teach them to stop hurting each other and to use proper language?

A: At a family counseling in my home, a girl called her sister “stupid.” Both girls then engaged in yelling at each other, “you are stupid,” and were getting very upset. I then announced, “Me too. I am stupid.” They looked at me and started laughing, relieving their own stress. I continued cheerfully and with rhythm, “I am stupid, Dad is stupid, Mom is stupid too, Grandma is stupid, Beethoven was stupid, the neighbor is stupid…” Then I shared my own stupid moments and the upset turned into laughter. The children got so excited that they started telling about their own stupid moments.

Two weeks later, the mother called to tell me that her older daughter said, “I can’t call her [sister] stupid anymore. It doesn’t work. She doesn’t get hurt.” To the mother’s surprise, the result was not a new vocabulary of harsh words but a greater connection between the girls. Continue reading

Teens and Sex from an Attachment Perspective

By Shoshana Hayman, director of the Life Center/Israel Center for Attachment Parenting, http://lifeCenter.org.il

You cannot understand sexuality without first understanding the attachment dynamic, psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld explains. The pursuit of proximity is one of the primary emotions that drive our behavior. The main way that the immature seek proximity and closeness is through the senses — being physically close: the most primitive way of attaching. On the heels of closeness through the senses is being the same as; by being the same as the person they are seeking contact with, they are holding that person close. This is also an immature way of attaching, for it does not allow room for individual expression. Following sameness, closeness is pursued through belonging and loyalty, still a rather shallow way to hold a person close as it does not leave enough room for your own personhood.

When a person matures and develops the capacity for deeper relationships, they can hold a person close without physical proximity or having to be the same as. They can feel altruistic love and psychological intimacy; they can share the essence of their being. There is mutual respect, caring, and being careful when someone entrusts his heart to you. This kind of relationship becomes eternal.

Adolescence is a time of becoming a sexual being. Teens have a new awareness of themselves, and touch itself becomes sexualized. Sometimes, the only way teenagers can experience contact and closeness is through sexual interaction — when they have not developed the capacity for deep relationship. A large part of teenage sexuality today is about sameness: being alike. If the norm seems to be sexually active at the age of 15, there’s huge pressure on the teen to imitate, emulate, be the same as his friends, and therefore to become sexually active. Adolescents and children of elementary school age are being exposed to sexual images and pornography through advertising, television, and the internet, and attaching to images and superstars who are highly sexual. This contributes to promiscuity and increased sexual activity, as the immature seek to be like the images they attach to on the screen.

Attaching through belonging and loyalty in the sexual arena creates a huge problem with girls obeying and showing loyalty to please boys, creating intense feelings of possessiveness and jealousy. Kids have no idea of how attached they become; how crucial it is for them to be significant to another. Boys might need to be significant in the eyes of other boys and therefore, in order to get status and recognition, must become sexually active. Instead of sex being part of the context of a deep, caring, long-term relationship, it is being divorced from love and turned into a cheap, shallow, and selfish way to serve the adolescent’s need for attachment.

One’s sexuality is only as developed as one’s capacity for relationship. The greatest expression of sexuality is in the context of marriage, when the potential for all the elements of attachment can be fulfilled. (However, not everyone grows up as they grow older, and even in marriage, one’s capacity for relationship might be superficial, and so the expression of sexuality will also be superficial. )

Dr. Neufeld, who has helped rehabilitate many teens from their addictions, explains that when you understand the nature of relationships, you see that sexual liberation is a myth, as there is no such thing as sexual freedom. The desire for sexual interaction automatically brings the desire for fusion and union. It’s meant to create an exclusive relationship because this connection involves incredible vulnerability. Teenagers are shocked to discover that some kind of union has taken place that there is no way to get out of without getting hurt. The greatest wounding comes from separation, being rejected, being ignored, losing your specialness. These painful feelings trigger defenses in the brain that lead to numbing out of feelings, tuning out perceptions, and a hardening or toughness, which actually fuel the need to pursue closeness through the senses. We are fooling ourselves if we think that the answer is teaching teens to use birth control or condoms, for we are ignoring the emotional pain and psychological problems that are involved.

A teenager’s safest bet is strong relationships with his parents, grandparents, teachers, and coaches. These relationships are hierarchical, and are not sexualized. The teen, as well as younger children, should have his attachment needs met in the context of his relationships with the important adults in his life. This is what prevents the sexualization of relationships with peers, and buys time for the teen to truly mature and develop the capacity for a deep, meaningful relationship.

As Dr. Neufeld puts it, “Sex is ‘super glue’ and is meant to bind two people together.” With greater understanding of the reactions of the brain, science is coming to a very conservative approach towards sex, concurring with the ancient wisdom about creating the right context for sexual relationships.

Why It’s Important to Help Children Make Friends

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

My four-year-old is exceptionally smart but has a tough time with social relationships due to developmental delays spurring from prematurity. In fact, she’s in a special school program designed to teach her social skills such as initiating interaction and maintaining conversation with peers. Some progress has been made, with much more to be done before she goes to Kindergarten.

Some people don’t understand why I put such emphasis on her social development, especially since academically she is well above her peers. But I remember having a tough time in school because of my lack of social skills, and I want my children to avoid that by learning all they can when they’re young. The ability to make and keep friendships is a life skill that will go on to determine part of their adult happiness.

Research (Hartup, 1990) shows that friendship serve many purposes, including:

  • Emotional skills for having fun and adapting to stress.
  • Cognitive skills for problem-solving and acquiring new knowledge.
  • Social skills for communication, cooperation, and group entry.
  • A precursor to future relationships. Continue reading

Respectful Potty Training

By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, www.naomialdort.com

Q: I have read about raising babies without diapers, or getting them out of diapers by two. I am pregnant and would like to do that with my second baby. However, I did not do that with my first child, and now my daughter is three-and-a-half and still in diapers. How can I help her to toilet-train, and how do I start it better with my second baby?

A: Human beings of all ages must be the sole owners of their bodies. Like you, your toddler wants to make her own bodily choices and timing. It is very crucial never to “train” or entice a child to get out of diapers. It is her body. You don’t want to teach her that someone else can decide things about her body.

Any attempt to toilet-train can slow the child down. In addition, many children develop inhibition and emotional discomfort with their own bodies due to pressure to get out of diapers. If you have used disposable diapers, it will take the child longer to change a familiar habit that has little consequence for her.

I suggest that you change to cotton diapers and drop the subject completely. In cloth diapers, your daughter will fully feel her own eliminations. Without pressure, she will eventaully want to stay dry and she will use the toilet of her own initiative. Being autonomous, she will be emotionally healthier and self-reliant.

Infants are aware when they eliminate and can indeed grow without diapers or with a minimal need for them. In natural societies, a baby is often carried naked on her mother’s body and when she needs to eliminate, the mother knows it and holds the baby away from her body above ground or a container. In his book, Magical Child, Joseph Chealton Pearce tells of a doctor who visited a natural tribe and was perplexed by mothers’ ability to know when the baby has to eliminate. “How do you know when your baby needs to go?” this doctor asked a mother whose naked baby was snuggled against her bare body. She looked puzzled and said, “How do you know when you need to go?”

The first lesson most babies receive in Western civilization is that elimination occurs in the privacy of their own clothes and is then ignored some of the time. They learn to become unaware of their bodily functions because we don’t respond promptly. The child is so comfortable with these familiar sensations that giving them up may not be so easy. You are asking her to change what she assumed was part of life and of herself and is very convenient.

Babies Know Their Bodies

With your next baby, try using elimination communication and/or cloth diapers with communication. The following are guidelines on how to nurture natural elimination awareness, followed by ways to recognize babies’ elimination cues.

Nurturing the baby’s awareness of her own body functions:

When your baby is eliminating, acknowledge what is going on with a sound or words — With delight and ease, let him know what he is doing and change his diaper as soon as he is done (or take him to the sink or toilet to eliminate without a diaper.) An aware baby wants to be dry because that’s what he is used to.

For faster growth out of diapers, use cotton ones — With cloth diapers, the baby is instantly aware of his own experience. Your prompt removal of the diaper brings that awareness to a sharp focus. All-in-one cloth diapers are as or more convenient than disposable and they are better for your baby’s skin, her health, and the environment. Clear the soiled ones into the toilet and put all the dirty diapers in a pail with water and vinegar till you launder them.

Have your baby and toddler watch you on the toilet — Acknowledge what you are doing with the same sounds as you make when she eliminates.

As soon as your baby crawls or walks, put a potty next to the toilet — Just have it available without an agenda. Your wee one wants to be like you. With autonomy and self-awareness, she will take the initiative when ready and will become more independent by learning to rely on herself.

While I am diving into the details of moving from diaper to toilet, I would like to suggest that, as parents, we have the opportunity to bring to an end the habit of males who pee standing and leave a mist of urine all around. I have raised three boys who sit while they pee and so does their father. It seems much more civilized and makes the bathroom a nicer place for all.

Here are some typical cues babies and toddlers give when they are about to eliminate:

Timing — Many babies go at specific intervals and times. Notice if the baby eliminates at a set number of minutes after nursing, specific times of the day or fixed intervals.

Facial expressions — Babies give us cues like tensed face, raised eyebrows, frowning, concentrating, pausing as though listening, becoming motionless, squirming, fussing, making specific sounds and/or movements, sudden increase or decrease of activity, stirring or waking from sleep, looking intently or reaching for you.

Movement — For an older baby, signals could also include moving toward the bathroom, holding the genitals, grunting, struggling to get out of a car seat or a snugly, or trying to get off padded places.

Intuition — You may find that you develop intuitive recognition of your baby’s physical need to eliminate even before they occur. Your mind may actually tell you that your baby needs to go. Listen to it. If you need to pee, it is possible that your baby needs to as well. One mother told me that she gets the sensation of warm wetness on her lap while the baby is still dry and the baby pees shortly after.

When using diapers — When you know that the baby is going to eliminate, say, “You are going to pee now” and as soon as she does, add the sounds of whatever the event is and promptly change her diaper. After she has cleared her bowel, let her walk around naked as much as possible. If she ends up peeing when nude, give her the same verbal feedback; she sees, feels, and hears you and her awareness will grow.

Using the sink or toilet — With your baby, you may be able to get to the bathroom before the diaper is soiled. However most babies, once they start to crawl or walk, are too busy to bother with the bathroom and you may have to use cotton diapers. Respect the baby’s or toddler’s choice, but if she is inclined to try the potty, let her. Respond to the child’s preference not as the director, but as the nurturer of her path. If the child senses that you want her to go in the potty, she may resist doing so and stay in diapers for a longer time; it must be her own desire.

No cheerleading — Stay neutral in your attitude. If your child senses that you are invested in her choices, she will either back off and delay getting out of diapers, or become dependent on pleasing and seeking approval. Children who are in diapers for longer are often waiting for parents to get out of the way so they can be in charge of themselves.

Have you noticed that when you are with your adult friends, you cannot tell when each one of them got out of diapers? If you already used manipulation and your child is resisting the toilet, make peace with reality and stop showing any interest. Enjoy every minute of surrender and delight. Early toilet training does not mean anything, and it often makes life with wee ones more difficult as you have to stop the car, interrupt dinner, and take junior to handle his business.

If you do elimination communication from early on, your child maybe a reliable user of the toilet. Or, she may pee on the floor sometimes. Living mostly indoors, I find that providing a child with cottom diapers is more respectful of her than having her pee on the rag. Trust your child’s inner guidance. It is reliable. Everything unfolds right on time as long as we understand the cues and respond to them.

Routines for Preschoolers

By Kelly Bartlett, certified positive discipline educator and leader for East Portland API, Oregon USA

Many parents fall into a routine with their new baby sometime in the first few months of life. Eating and sleeping habits go from having almost no predictability to settling into some level of expectedness. Over the first few years, with the addition of family activities, classes, friends, and preschool, parents and kids must somehow find a way to fit everything efficiently into their busy days.  Establishing routines helps with this.  Routines add comfort and security to families’ lives. Parents are able to feel more prepared in caring for their children, and kids can depend on the familiarity of “how things go.”

Dr. Jane Nelsen, author of Positive Discipline for Preschoolers, says that with routines, children have an opportunity to learn to focus on the needs of the situation: doing what need to be done because it needs to be done. “Children learn to be responsible for their own behavior, to feel capable, and to cooperate in the family. The parent doesn’t continually have to demand help,” according to Dr. Nelsen.  Continue reading

When Daddy Goes Away

By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, www.naomialdort.com

Q: My husband will be going away for eight weeks in the near future. I am wondering how I can ease the stress of this separation on my 20-month-old son. My son is quite verbal, very sensitive, and very spirited. He is aware that Daddy is going to work, and has shown signs of stress already (potty training regression). What can I do to help my baby?

A: A baby who is loved and cared for by his mother and expresses his feelings fully can handle a lot more than we realize. Instead of wanting your baby not to experience anxiety, be present for his emotional expression. Children constantly heal themselves if we don’t get in their way or try to stop them.

Let your toddler go back to wearing diapers fully if he needs to, and support any crying, whining, and self-expression. He must go through the experience of missing dad, not avoid it. If you try to cheer him up and “avoid” the feelings, he learns that feelings are scary and that it is horrible to feel them. What heals him moment by moment is fully expressing himself.

To validate without drama, be sure that you don’t make up ideas that he is not feeling. If he cries and asks for his daddy, validate and reassure. He may be afraid that you would go, too. You can say things like, “You want Daddy to be here. Mommy knows,” and, “Mommy will never go. Daddy goes and come back.”

Drama is when you say things like, “Oh, you miss your daddy so much, poor thing, what a bummer…” Drama scares children. You want to give your toddler a sense of peace so he learns, “I have the power to be without daddy.” He does have that power because he is loved and has you always with him.

Be careful not to plant your anxiety in your baby’s mind. At this age, the child is present moment by moment and feels happy in the moment. It is possible that what you see is a response to your anxiety more than to dad’s trip. So, keep your attitude positive and powerful. He can handle daddy being away if you can handle what he feels about it.

As for technical ideas to ease separation, try video chatting and phone calls even before the trip, to get him used to seeing daddy on the screen and hearing his voice. However, some babies are better off not being reminded about the person they don’t get to see, so try and see how he reacts.

How much your baby anguishes over his dad’s absence is a reflection of your attitude. It is the same as when the toddler falls without injury. He will look at you to check what he is supposed to feel. If you rush toward him alarmed, he will cry. If you smile and do nothing, he gets up and keeps going. Be at peace and open to his emotions, and your baby will learn from you that he can go through this experience powerfully and joyfully.