Category Archives: The Editor’s Desk

Dr. Isabelle Fox on Divorce and Older Children

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

Isabelle Fox, PhD
Isabelle Fox, PhD

Ideally, marriage lasts forever, but for a variety of reasons, many families today will experience divorce – an event that is as difficult on older children and teens as infants and young children for whom psychotherapist Isabelle Fox, PhD, advocates no overnight visitations with a non-primary caregiver until the child is at least three years old. Just because an older child is able to articulate her feelings and comprehend the concept of divorce doesn’t mean the event is any less traumatic.

“Older children and divorce is also complicated,” because the child has developed a strong attachment to each parent and being forced to deny attachment with one parent is devastating, said Dr. Fox, author of Being There, renowned expert on API’s Principle of Providing Consistent and Loving Care, and member of Attachment Parenting International’s Advisory Board.

Dr. Fox spoke during the second day of API’s 15th Anniversary Celebration gathering in Nashville, Tennessee, last weekend, in a special Hot Topic session, “Custody and Separation.” The session was attended by parents, therapists, and others who work frequently with attached parents dealing with marital separation.

How Divorce Affects Older Children

Parents don’t think about how difficult their divorce will be on their children. Older children and teens are more likely to blame themselves for the divorce or to wonder why their parents don’t love them enough to stay together. Continue reading

Say Sorry

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

Force an apology?One of the hardest situations I face in my household is when one of my children hurts the other one, whether by accident or in play or out of anger. My knee-jerk reaction is to tell the offender to say sorry to her sister, just as my parents had me do when I was younger. My mom would tell me to say sorry and if I did it quickly to get it over with but didn’t really want to say it, she’d say, “Say it like you mean it.”

Now, I have to admit that I grew up knowing what it meant to say sorry. But I do realize that some people who were forced to apologize to their siblings grew up to use sorry as a quick fix for hurt feelings or as an afterthought. One man I know grew up being forced to say sorry when he and his siblings fought, but as an adult, he used apologies not because he was truly sorry but as a way to avoid dealing with uncomfortable feelings. In this way, he didn’t learn not to do the offending action again and would repeat it over and over, and getting frustrated because eventually people didn’t believe his so-called apologies.

There is a great debate among attached parents of whether or not to ask children to apologize when they hurt someone physically or emotionally. We want to teach our children empathy, and apologies are certainly a part of making restitution for a hurt but does forcing an apology hurt or help the development of empathy?

In my home, I choose not to force an apology but instead to encourage my children to comfort the hurt person on her own volition. I noticed that when I did ask for my three-year-old to apologize, she would do so but would quickly return to playing, without much regard for her sister’s crying. I re-evaluated what I wanted to teach her and readjusted my response during these situations.

Parents on both sides of the debate of saying sorry have great stories like mine to tell – of how their strategy works best for their family. Ultimately, that is what Attachment Parenting (AP) is supposed to be about – listening to your child, deciding what it is exactly you want to teach your child about the situation, and finding something that works best for your family. But, just what strategies regarding apologies are considered AP? Let’s take a look at what the experts have to say.

Attachment Parenting International Co-founders Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker in Attached at the Heart: “Apologies should come from the heart.”

Forcing a child to apologize may make the adult feel better but it doesn’t make the hurt child feel better and it doesn’t teach the offending child about an appropriate apology. Allow the child to apologize in his own way, even if it’s nonverbally. If your child is witnessing appropriate apologizing in her role models, she will begin to do so, too, when developmentally ready.

It’s important that children only apologize when they feel genuine remorse. The good news is, children raised in an attached way, which actively models and promotes the development of empathy, are more likely to begin feeling compassion early on and to spontaneously apologize on their own.

Canadian parent educator Judy Arnall in Discipline without Distress: “When the child needs to apologize to someone else: nudge, don’t force!”

Apologies need to come by the child’s own willpower and in the child’s own time. They almost never come when forced or in the emotional heat of the moment. Apologies are taught by modeling.

Parents want quick, forced apologies because of their own social embarrassment. If you’re dealing with a parent who expects a quick apology, explain your child’s feelings (“She’s so upset right now. We’ll deal with this later.”) or take the time to model what an appropriate apology looks like and apologize for your child on your own.

Massachusetts parent educator Alfie Kohn in Unconditional Parenting: “Compulsory apologies mostly train children to say things they don’t mean – that is, to lie.”

Parents must examine why they insist on their children apologizing – because they assume that by saying sorry, the child will magically feel remorse, or because they only care that their child has the manners to say sorry even if insincere? Parents who force apologies from their children are caring only about the behavior but not about the reason behind the behavior, and that reason is what will continue to fuel that child’s behavior as she grows.

University of Washington psychology professor John Gottman in Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: “From about age four, your child can understand the concept of ‘I’m sorry.’”

And the best way of teaching your child to apologize appropriately is by first modeling how to healthily handling feelings of regret and sorrow in your relationships, including in parent-child interactions.

To Force an Apology, or Not?

So what is API’s stance on asking your child to apologize?

  1. Be sure you’re modeling appropriate apologies in all your relationships.
  2. While you can encourage your child to apologize, it’s ultimately up to him. It’s more important to teach your child empathy and compassion – the reasons behind a healthy apology – than to hear the actual words, “I’m sorry.” It depends on your child’s development in being able to feel remorse and to handle this uncomfortable feeling.
  3. Realize that your child can apologize in ways besides saying sorry. A hug or kiss is just as much an apology as saying sorry.
  4. If your child isn’t going to apologize, and you really want him to, first think about your motivation, then take the moment to teach your child by modeling and appropriate apology on your own.

It can be difficult to practice AP and then see your child unwilling or unable to apologize to another person. We want our children to be empathic and compassionate, and we want to model to other people what AP looks like in our families. But, being an attached parent doesn’t mean that we never encounter hard situations like a child refusing to apologize – it means we are thinking about the deeper meaning of what we want to teach our children and finding ways to do that. Remember, the goal is to influence our children over time by getting to the emotional and cognitive roots of their actions, not to control their behavior now without regard for their willpower.

Bonding Begins in Utero…for Fathers, Too

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

Fathers bonding in uteroPregnancy is an amazing time of bonding between a mother and her baby, especially during a first pregnancy. There is no way to describe what hearing the heartbeat or feeling a movement for the first time feels like. Watching her belly grow and grow, the months pass by, perhaps an ultrasound or two giving a glimpse into the womb, and then the transformative power of labor and childbirth – pregnancy is an amazing journey for a new mother.

And for a new father, as he watches his unborn child’s mother’s belly grow, places his hand on her belly, and gets to feel a kick here and there. Childbirth is just as transformative for the father. At one moment, the baby is little more than a dream and, the next, the baby is here! Birth is a joyful event, but it can also be confusing for a new father. He doesn’t have the hormonal drive to attach to the new baby like the mother has, and with so much of the mother’s time wrapped up with caring for the baby, the father can feel a little lost in his role at first.

There are a number of ways fathers can connect with the new baby after birth. What works in a lot of families is asking the father to take on a certain baby care task, such as giving baths, supporting the breastfeeding mother, or filling bottles. But, even then, it can take a while for the father to feel a special connection with this new family member who, at first, only seems to take more and more energy and time without giving much in return.

Fathers who concentrate on bonding with their baby in utero may be able to make the adjustment to fatherhood after the baby’s birth a little easier. Here are a few tips for fathers: Continue reading

To Intervene or Not? Deciding When and How to Get Involved in Another Parent’s Situation

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

To intervene or not?We’ve all seen it – a mother losing her temper toward her child in the grocery store, or a father treating his child in a detached, ignoring or even hostile, way at the park. What should we do? What do we say? Perhaps the parent is usually loving and understanding and is just having a tough time at this moment. Or, maybe this is the parent’s standard response to his child.

For some people, they wouldn’t hesitate to intervene. Many attached parents are so passionate about children’s rights that they simply cannot turn a blind eye to another child. For others, like me, I can think of lots of reasons why not to get involved with another family’s affairs. I tend to think the best of others and believe that this moment of weakness is not characteristic of their usual parenting approach. We all have those moments when our minds are on something else, perhaps our to-do list or another stress, and we aren’t as understanding of our child as we normally are. How would I react if another parent chose that moment to criticize my parenting style?

But child advocates, such as mental health counselor and former social worker Laurie Couture, call it everyone’s duty to protect children. And we all have our breaking points – situations that would trigger us to say or do something on behalf of the child. Obviously, most of us wouldn’t hesitate to intervene should we see outright child abuse, but most situations that we’ll witness don’t qualify legally as abuse, although they may still be damaging to the child’s emotional development. Continue reading

Dawn of Attachment: Why Mom’s Emotions Matter During Pregnancy

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

Relax during pregnancyDuring my second pregnancy, I was a ball of nerves. While my baby was born healthily, she was of a lower birth weight than what was expected – only six pounds for a term baby. My doctor had warned me that not finding a way to lessen my anxiety during the pregnancy could cause problems, and one of those was a low birth weight.

That the mother’s emotions can affect the unborn baby’s development is certainly credible, but exactly how does this happen?

We know from neuroscience and psychology that the brain develops according to our experiences, so nurturing forms a child’s brain differently than harsh or ignorant parenting approaches. Because this development and programming of the brain is most extensive when the child is young and his brain is growing the fastest of all his life, it stands to reason that the same is taking place within the unborn baby’s brain as a fetus. The fetal brain is growing at an astounding rate – in only nine months, an unborn baby’s brain goes from nothing to 100 billion brain cells. We have to realize that it’s more than gray matter growing – it’s also the beginning of connections and pathways between the different parts of the brain, which will go on to develop of this new person’s personality, sense of self esteem, and ability to manage emotion and stress through her lifetime.

An article on 4Therapy.com, “Pre-Birth Bonding,” explains the in-utero experience to be the dawn of the attachment process, emphasizing that the emotional attachment between a mother and her child starts long before the day that the baby makes his appearance in the outside world. By the fifth month of pregnancy, the baby recognizes the mother’s voice and shows a preference for different genres of music, marked by a difference of movement type and frequency observed via electronic fetal monitors and ultrasound. The study “Fetal Brain Behavior and Cognitive Development,” published in Developmental Review in 2000, describes that while fetal responses to stimuli are a reflex of the brain stem, this primitive brain structure is capable of learning.

The unborn baby is further affected by an emotional attachment with her mother through what is called the neurohormonal dialogue – for example, when the pregnant woman becomes anxious, her stress hormones course not only through all of her body but that of the unborn baby, too. This is why severe and chronic stress in the woman is related to prematurity, low birth weights, and hyperaroused, colicky babies.

Healthy pregnancies are more than creating a physically healthy environment for your baby, taking such precautions as eating a balanced diet and quitting smoking. It’s also understanding your emotional connection and then creating a healthy psychological environment – relaxed, able to cope with stress, and quick recovery from strong emotions such as anger and sadness. This can be difficult to do, considering the hormones rushing through your body and especially anxiety if this is your first or an unexpected baby.

Ideas for Finding Balance While Pregnant

Staying emotionally balanced when you’re expecting is similar to handling stress at other times in your life. Attachment Parenting International Co-founders Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker give a variety of strategies for parents to seek balance in their lives in their book, Attached at the Heart. Some of these include:

  • Work on a hobby or do an activity that you enjoy.
  • Visit with friends or join an API Support Group to seek input on concerns and make like-minded friends.
  • Make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep, eating nutritiously, drinking plenty of water, and doing exercise that your health care provider approves of.
  • Focus on your marriage or partnership.
  • Follow your doctor or midwife’s recommendations in taking care of yourself during these nine months, and prepare yourself mentally for upcoming medical procedures, labor and childbirth, the newborn transition, and parenting.
  • Consider taking of meditation, yoga, or getting a massage specifically for pregnant women.

How did you stay relaxed during your pregnancy?

TV as a Parenting Tool?

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

TV timeMost parenting experts advise that parents use extreme caution in allowing their child to watch television, especially younger children, and even with educational programming. And many attached parents either don’t allow television at all or only sparingly. But there are some of us who do allow our children to watch TV and are OK with it.

What Makes TV Bad

A study by the University of Washington and the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, published in Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in June 2009, determines that television-watching significantly delays language development in young children. The reason is, children learn to talk from listening to their parents and when the television is turned on and is audible, parents are less likely to talk to their children.

TV-watching is also associated with obesity, sleep problems, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, violent behavior, and poor school performance.

But what exactly about TV puts children at risk for these problems? The reason is because TV is meant to be a source of entertainment, not a teacher or babysitter. Yes, television captivates children’s attention and can keep them from busy for long periods of time – long enough for a parent to get some chores, work, or a hobby done. But, it’s because TV makes it so easy for parents why it makes it so wrong. It’s not the TV in and of itself putting children at risk of these problems; it’s the parents who aren’t interacting with their children and who aren’t setting boundaries on what their children view, as in the case of violence, sexual behavior, and bad language.

According to the National Institute on Media and the Family, media exposure on children affects their brain development as any other influence, such as parents and teachers. Allowing children to watch sexual or violent material isn’t entertainment – it’s education. As parents, we need to be careful what we’re allowing our children to learn.

So, why not just turn off the TV? Well, many parents do choose this option. But, TV is a part of our culture, just as are cell phones and Internet, and all of these electronics are being incorporated into more of our lives. We can just turn the TV off, or we can teach our children how to use the TV appropriately.

When TV is Good

Regarded for what it is, mostly entertainment, families can use television much as they would a book – helping to provide children exposure to new ideas. As long as the show is developmentally appropriate, small doses of television aren’t harmful. For example, my children enjoy watching Nature on the Public Broadcasting Service which takes viewers all over the world to see wildlife and natural habitat.

Some educational programming is OK, too. According to the Center for Media Literacy, some educational programming each week improves preschoolers’ standardized test scores. Many a foreign-speaking family credits television to learning their home country’s language. And, obviously, the older the child, the more she can learn from watching television, such as keeping up on current events or watching shows that explore science or history. Although many experts don’t give too much credit to TV, educational shows are created using child development specialists and on the back of research studies.

Still, parents should screen all shows before allowing their children to view it, including so-called kid-friendly cartoons, and also watch their child’s reaction to the show. For example, I only let me children watch the “Elmo’s World” on Sesame Street because some of the rest of show didn’t sit well with me. There is sometimes a play on a popular song whose original lyrics I know are not kid-friendly. Plus, while my children were entertained, I would rather have a television program that engages my children enough that they are excited to tell me what they learned later. I am a big fan of Word World on the Public Broadcasting Service, which literally taught my three-year-old her alphabet, and Barney because it inspires my children to get up and dance to the music, and not just sit passively watching the TV.

Used appropriately, television can help some families bond. My family has a movie night each week. We make homemade popcorn together, snuggle up on the couch, and turn on a movie, sometimes a DVD and sometimes on a television network. If the movie is on the television network, we mute commercials and take that time to talk to each other. My children look forward to movie night as a time to do something together just like when we go on a bicycle ride or do another family activity.

The big take-home message is, watch what your kids are watching and know the influence of the content they’re viewing. Also, it’s very important to put some limits on your child’s viewing time. The American Academy of Pediatrics and other experts recommend no TV time the first two years of life and a limit of two hours for children ages two years old and older, no TV in children’s bedrooms, and no TV during family mealtimes.

A Word about Commercials

There is a component to television that all parents must beware, and that is the advertisements. We can screen television shows and choose age-appropriate programming, and we can limit our children’s time watching television, but commercials are insidious. You may think your children are safe watching Dora the Explorer, and up pops a commercial touting the deliciousness of some unhealthy snack.

Advertisements are designed to persuade. Many commercials aimed at children are to sell a product, such as a toy or food, and besides when your children bother you about wanting to buy such and such, you may not think much more about it. But it’s important, if you allow your children to watch TV, to realize just what the television is exposing your child to. Start to study the commercials that interrupt the shows your child and your family watch. From sexual innuendos to sell clothing to a promo for a violent movie, you’ll start to notice what advertisers are using to try to influence you – and your children – to do what they want you to do.

According to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, marketing is directly linked to childhood obesity and is a factor in the development of eating disorders, precocious sexuality, youth violence, family stress, and children’s reduced ability to play imaginatively. And advertisers want our children’s minds: Companies spend about $17 billion each year marketing to children. TV alone bombards children ages two to 11 years old with more than 25,000 advertisements, which doesn’t include placement of products within television shows and movies. Children under 12 years old influence about $500 billion in purchases every year. Children under 14 years old spend $40 billion each year, and teens spend $159 billion.

There are a number of ways you can reduce influence from commercials while watching the television:

  • Turn off the TV while commercials are on.
  • Change the channel.
  • Mute the TV during commercial time.
  • Watch a TV network without commercials, such as the Public Broadcasting Service.
  • Educate yourself on the influence of marketing. For example, children younger than eight years old are developmentally unable to understand advertising’s intent and therefore rely on their caregivers to regulate marketing exposure for them. With older children, advertisers tend to denigrate adults and exploit children’s desires to fit in with their peers and rebel against authority figures.
  • Teach your older child how to use critical thinking tools to decipher what an advertiser is trying to persuade him to do, how to find the truth in the advertising message, and to take charge of his own buying habits using family values as a basis. To learn more, read the article in the upcoming Summer 2009 “Feeding Our Children” issue of The Attached Family magazine.
  • Use videos/DVDs.

Yelling Works…and Other Parenting Myths Busted

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

Family MythsSusie Walton used to yell at her kids – a lot.

“The older they got, the more I yelled,” recalled Walton, an International Network for Children and Families (INCAF) parent educator and author of Key to Personal Freedom who busted a few of the powerful myths outlined in her book during an INCAF teleseminar last week.

When her four boys – all within five years – were younger, yelling was a somewhat effective discipline, she admits. But that changed when they hit their teen years. Yelling no longer worked at all, and Walton was forced to find another way to interact with her children. She turned to positive discipline. As she acquired new skills and a new philosophy of parenting her children, one truth stood out among the others: that 95% of what children learn comes from what their parents model.

What was Walton teaching her sons by yelling? To solve problems, especially interpersonal conflicts, through exerting control over others.

Myth Busted: Validation Works Better Than Yelling

What Walton learned is that the strongest tool parents can use during a moment of conflict with their children is validation. Children, like adults, want to be heard and understood, even if the answer is still “no.”

For example, say a girl asks her father if she can turn on the television and he believes she has watched enough TV for the day. So, she begins to have a tantrum. What does Dad do?  What is not helpful is saying, “No, you can’t.” While the girl certainly wants the TV on, the way to resolve the situation is not to engage her in a power struggle over the on/off button. An example of an appropriate validation here is, “I know you want to watch the TV, but you’ve already watched two hours worth today and that is enough.”

Just as with yelling, the certainty of mainstream culture that spanking and other fear-based forms of punishment are effective at disciplining children is a myth. Parents don’t need to use punishments to get the behavior they seek in their children. The first challenge is for parents to realize this truth; the second, and harder, challenge is for the parents to adopt new ways of disciplining their children. Walton suggested parents first place limits on their behavior, making it a rule that they will not use threats, bribes, or other fear-based discipline tools on their children. With this rule in place, parents can then begin using the positive, teaching- and guidance-based discipline tools they can learn through books such as Attached at the Heart by Attachment Parenting International Co-founders Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, local API Support Group meetings, and other API resources.

It’s important, though, for parents to realize that it does take longer for children to learn a concept through positive discipline than through punishments, Walton said. However, once that child learns the concept, he is truly competent in it. Whereas, with punishments, a child behaves out of fear and does not learn the concept for the long term.

For example, a listener at the teleseminar described how her three-year-old son pushes and hits his 15-month-old sister. The mother is having a difficult time dealing with this sibling rivalry without resorting to spankings. Walton suggested she instead try validating her son’s feelings, acknowledging that his acting-out behavior is actually a cry for attention. To do so, Walton suggested the mother to give additional one-on-one attention to her son when he is not acting out, and when he does, to explain to him that it’s not OK to hit his sister and, if she wants more attention, all he needs to do is ask Mommy.

Myth Busted: Mistakes are Opportunities to Strengthen Connection with Our Children

No parent is perfect. We all make mistakes in relating to and interacting with our children. The key is learning to forgive ourselves but also learn from our mistakes – important not only for ourselves but for our children to learn. Walton explained how helpful it is for parents to look upon their children’s undesirable behavior not as something to be feared or ashamed of, but instead as opportunities for learning.

For example, a listener at the teleseminar described how her three-year-old daughter makes grocery shopping difficult because she grabs items off the shelf. She tells her daughter over and over not to touch things on the shelf. Walton suggested that the mother set up a mock grocery store at home and role play the behaviors she wishes to see first at home before going out to the store. Then, before going into the store, the mother would explain to her daughter that she isn’t to touch anything without Mom saying OK, just like when they play at home. Finally, when her daughter starts knocking items off the shelf, the mother should continue to focus on teaching her daughter to clean up and put the items back.

“Teach, teach, teach,” Walton said. “And when she does make a mistake, say ‘I love you, and we’re going to be OK,’ and help her clean up.”

Myth Busted: No One Knows Your Child Better Than You

One of Walton’s favorite parenting tools is to allow children to be children. She recalls a neighbor telling her, when her boys were young, that she needed to exert more control over them. She opted not to take this advice, because she enjoyed her time with her sons. She thought it was fun to let them be who they were, instead of trying to force them into certain behaviors to please those outside her family.

Walton said new parents are barraged constantly with advice from their family, friends, pediatrician, neighbors, and even strangers. But, no matter what others may claim, the real parenting expert for your child and in your family is you. And parents do best to only embrace the parenting tools and philosophies that they find are best for their individual family. For example, parents who cosleep with their children shouldn’t do it because a book said to and shouldn’t stop doing it because they saw a television ad that said so. Each family should be cosleeping or not because that is what they have found works best for their family.

In another example, it is Walton’s belief that parents cannot love their child too much. Others criticize this parenting approach, saying that they will spoil their children. Walton said they can spoil their children by teaching them that love equals material possessions, rather than being derived from emotionally healthy relationships. This parenting approach works for Walton, and no one’s criticism, or approval, weighs as much as on the decision to continue a nurturing parenting approach as what Walton sees working for her children.

Myth Busted: You Can Be Friends with Your Children

Many parents don’t like the thought of being friends with their children, because they connect that idea with an image of overly permissiveness. We know that children need discipline. They need boundaries.

Children also need parents who care and who are willing to listen when they talk about the joys and challenges of their day. The myth that parents can’t be friends with their kids stems from the image of a parent buying alcoholic beverages for their underage teens and perhaps even partying with them. What Walton is meaning is that parents need to give of their time to be with their children and, as was the theme of the 2008 Attachment Parenting Month, to give presence instead of presents.

Being friends with your children doesn’t mean that parents give up striving for personal and family life or not setting and maintaining boundaries and limits for their children’s behaviors, as outlined by the Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting. Parents still need to maintain their self-respect by keeping their parenting approach family-centered rather than child-centered, and parents must remember that discipline is a vital parenting tool.

For example, Walton said her sons used to tell dirty jokes around her, so she talked to them about her concerns. Walton didn’t let her children do  all that they wanted, as it was affecting her sense of balance. Motherhood martyrdom eventually breeds resentment.

The Price Families Pay for Myths

Too many families are stuck living according to these and other myths about parenting and child behavior. They’re trapped by their expectations that children should “act their age” and fears of spoiling their children, Walton said. They cannot truly enjoy parenthood and family life.

“What it can cost is that freedom to create the family we aspire to,” Walton said. And it can cost the child’s development of creativity, emotional regulation and ability to healthily attach to others, and other life skills. Walton calls on parents to bust the myths that constrict their family life – to break free of the bonds of fear and expectations, so that they can experience fulfillment in their parenting roles and reap the rewards of a close, connected family: “When we let go of these myths, it creates so much freedom.”

What myths have you busted in your family life?

A Win-Win Situation: How to Teach Sportsmanship

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

How to Teach SportsmanshipBoard games, sports, and other competitive activities can bring families closer together as well as teach children important lessons about character. A friend of mine has a nephew who is so unpleasant when he loses, that she refuses to play board games with him anymore. He pounds on the table, calling the other players cheaters or making excuses that it wasn’t his fault he lost the game.

It’s naturally for children and teens to feel disappointment when they lose a game — especially in a society where winning gets attention and attention boosts self-esteem.

The Dangers of Poor Sportsmanship Go Beyond the Game

Without a parent to teach the child how to handle wins and losses gracefully, as well as healthy ways to boost self-esteem, competitive children can turn to winning to feel good about themselves. And it’s not just winning by skills alone on the volleyball team, but winning at all costs in other areas of life where they may be tempted to turn to stealing clothes to win peer acceptance, cheating on a test to get parental approval, or badmouthing a teammate to win attention from the coach.

Teaching Sportsmanship Begins at Home

Teaching good sportsmanship is like teaching anything else. Children learn primarily from what their parents model in their behavior. In her Life.FamilyEducation.com article, “When Good Kids are Bad Sports,” Susan Linn lists these questions for parents to ask themselves when they notice poor sportsmanship in their child’s behavior:

  • How do I behave when I’m playing games with my child? How do I react when my child makes a mistake, when he wins, when she loses?
  • How do I behave at my child’s sports games? Do I ever get visibly angry at the coach or the referee?

What to Do When It Happens

In the moment when your child is displaying poor sportsmanship, it’s important to react with calm empathy and to focus on teaching the behaviors you wish to see, just as you would when your child is having a tantrum or upset with something else. Here is an example of how to do this:

  1. Observe without judgment – “You look upset.”
  2. Open the lines of communication – “I’m here if you want to talk about it.”
  3. When your child does describe the situation, empathize – “Gosh, that would be frustrating.”
  4. Problem-solve with your child, letting him take the lead but clarifying any family values – “Let’s come up with some ideas about what to do if this would happen again.”
  5. Take the pressure off your child – “I know you really wanted to win, but it’s more important that you have fun.”
  6. Share examples from your life of feelings after you won or lost, and the choices you made in displaying those feelings – “I remember playing soccer when I was younger, and we lost our last game of the season. I was so disappointed, I even cried! So I decided to practice more, and when the next year came, our team played a lot better.”

How do you resolve feelings of disappointment in your child when he loses a competition or game?

Lose that Stubborn Baby Fat…and Keep Your Exercise AP-Friendly

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

Exercise, but keep it APPregnancy changes a woman’s body, and in ways that last long after the baby comes. Many women find that their shoes no longer fit, or that they’ve developed gallbladder and other health issues they didn’t have before. Some women find that pregnancy seems to cure previously untreatable medical conditions such as frequent headaches or, for me, a sense of smell that disappeared after a concussion in elementary school.

Almost universally, women find that their body shape has changed, too. Even with breastfeeding, which is the best postnatal weight-loss plan, mothers may not lose all their baby fat or their metabolism may slow down.

While you can easily reason that your body’s problem area, whether that’s your hips or waist, is a worthy tradeoff for your baby, it may be necessary for your sense of family and personal balance to adopt an exercise program – not to mention, the boost of health benefits that comes along with getting into shape. According to Fun-Baby-Games-Online.com, exercising wards off not only the risks that come with obesity, such as diabetes and heart disease, but also depression and osteoporosis. It also gives you an outlet for stress and improves your stamina so you keep going on those days, or nights, when the kids are running circles around you.

The challenge with exercise is first making it a priority, so it’s something that you do regularly. Second, you’ll need to choose activities where a baby or child can accompany you. With a baby, a sling or carrier or stroller can keep baby with you. But, as a child grows older, it’ll be more appropriate to choose games that both of you can do together.

Some easy activities to do with a baby in tow include:

  • Yoga or pilates
  • Walking, or running with the baby in a stroller
  • Bicycling with baby in a safety seat or child trailer
  • Weight room or gym training activities

Toddlers like music and a lot of movement but only for short amounts of time, such as:

  • Dancing
  • Playing tag
  • Kicking a ball around the yard
  • Bicycling with child in a child trailer

An older child or teen can participate in just about any sport you choose. The trick will be choosing an activity both of you enjoy, but the list is virtually unlimited:

  • Soccer
  • Volleyball
  • Basketball
  • Football
  • Running or walking
  • Swimming
  • Bicycling

Getting back into shape is more than helping yourself feel more balanced. It’s a great way to teach your child the importance of maintaining personal health, which goes hand-in-hand with eating nutritious foods and getting enough sleep. And should you feel passionate about a certain activity, say you love to play and watch basketball, it’s a way you can share this part of your life with your child.

What activities or games have you found to help you get exercise while strengthening the bond with your child? Comment below, or discuss this topic on the new Good for You! health and wellness section of the API Forum, such as this new post on stubborn belly fat.

Name Your Baby the AP Way

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

A mix-match of namesPerhaps no activity can consume as much of an expectant couple’s time and energy as choosing a name for their baby. While other aspects of pregnancy and preparing for childbirth and parenting may interest one parent more than the other, both mom and dad are equally invested in the deliberations for just the right name.

And they should be. A name carries so much meaning. It is a person’s identity, the very first introduction any person has to the world. That a name is likely to stay attached to a person throughout his life makes choosing the name to be a huge responsibility. It makes me think of a song my dad listens to, a 1974 song by Johnny Cash, “A Boy Named Sue,” about a father who named his son, Sue, and the resentment the boy felt toward his father because of that.

An Exercise in Sensitivity

Naming a baby can have a lot to do with setting the foundation for attachment between you and your child, in that it may be the first major decision you have to make in that baby’s life. Choosing a name is great practice for making other big decisions in the child’s future that may not be as fun – although baby naming is not without strife. Some parents can get themselves into power struggles over preferred names. Continue reading