Category Archives: 4. The Growing Child

From age 4 to age 9.

Kids and Sex: Getting Comfortable with “The Talk”

By Kelly Bartlett, author of Encouraging Words for Kids, certified positive discipline educator and Attachment Parenting International leader (API of Portland,Oregon USA), www.kellybartlett.net 

It’s never too early to begin talking with your kids about sex. In fact, the earlier you start, the more comfortable you will feel when it’s time to talk about difficult issues. Here are some age-appropriate topics parents should bring up with their children now to pave the way for less stressful conversations about sexual health in the adolescent years.Kelly Bartlett

Ages 0-2: Positive Perception

There’s no better time to start practicing the language of body talk than when kids are infants. At this age, there’s no pressure to say the “right” thing, and your baby won’t laugh, get nervous or ask any questions. It’s important to get comfortable verbalizing words or bodily functions that may cause some discomfort for you.

According to Dr. Laura Berman, a sex educator, therapist and author of Talking to Your Kids About Sex, something crucial for parents to do while their kids are infants is to adopt a positive view of bodily functions. Shift from looking at a poopy diaper as, “Oh, isn’t that stinky!” to a perspective of, “Wow, you’ve been eating well!” Dr. Berman says many parents have likely learned from their own upbringing to feel ashamed or embarrassed about bowel movements. “When really,” she says, “it’s just a part of life!” Functions involving the genitals are healthy and normal, not something negative or problematic.

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A Tantrum is a Choice

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

A tantrum can vanish before it starts if we put the spotlight on it with validation and playfulness. Six-year-old Danny (names and scenarios are changed) came into the kitchen and asked his mother for a dessert. His mother said, “If you want something sweet, there are grapes, peaches or dried fruit.” Naomi Aldort

“I want only watermelon, that’s what I want. Nothing else!” said the boy emphatically.

I was sitting close by and saw the tantrum building up. Danny stamped his foot lightly, he frowned, and his voice became tight as he was repeating his plea and was ready to explode. At that moment I said, “There is no watermelon, and you want to have some! You are getting yourself into a tantrum. Let’s have a tantrum about it together; a double tantrum, you and I.” The boy smiled and immediately relaxed. I then added, “A triple tantrum with Mom, too,” and seeing his Dad walking by, “no, a quadruple tantrum with Dad, too.”

The boy turned around laughing and looking at his Dad. Dad acted a slow walk, sneaking out of the room as though he wanted nothing to do with it. The boy went after him. His father returned to the dining room and produced an impressive tantrum. “I want watermelon,” he screamed theatrically as he stamped and jumped with a thump. Danny was so excited. He laughed and ran to tell his brother all about it. In a minute we heard the boys playing happily. Continue reading

The “Tree Daddy”: A Parenting Metaphor

By Shoshana Hayman, director of Life Center, The Israel Center for Attachment Parenting, www.lifecenter.org.il

The rain poured down relentlessly, with winds blowing so hard that trees were being pulled from their roots and blown over. My husband watched from our window, paying close attention to the row of young fruit trees that we had planted the previous summer. As the wind whipped the mango tree, pulling its branches sideways, my husband put on his coat, found some heavy rope, and headed out into the rain to secure the trees by tying their trunks to the adjacent fence. When he came back into the house, wet and cold from the rain, I half-jokingly told him he was a good “tree daddy.”Shoshana

The idea of “tree daddy” popped into my mind as I thought about how he had protected those young, tender fruit trees.  He had planted them so lovingly in the summertime, and it remained in his consciousness to keep an eye on them to make sure they had the best chance possible to grow into big, strong trees that would bear sweet fruit one day in the future. He does not have to constantly push and pull at the branches of the trees to make them grow; he does not have to give them commands how to grow. He believes the fruit will some day come, and he simply has to make the sure that the trees have the right conditions for growth and protection from anything that could hurt them.

As parents, this is what we provide for our children. We believe in their potential for growth. Deep inside them are the seeds for becoming truly mature. They will develop the flexibility and resilience needed to withstand the harshness of the world. They have the capacity for being considerate and caring towards others while feeling secure in their own values. Their own aspirations and goals in life will take shape over time, together with the courage and resourcefulness needed to realize these goals. They can become responsible and self-directed so that they can create a life of meaning and fulfillment for themselves.

When we believe this to be true, we have but to protect this development. Just as the “tree daddy” keeps it in his consciousness to watch over the trees so they will be safe and protected, so too, we need to protect and shield our children from too much vulnerability until they can hold on to themselves in the world. We don’t need to push and pull at our children’s growth. Each child will develop in his own time at his own rate, and little by little we will see the fruits of this growth—the fine human character traits that we long to see in them.

What must be protected and shielded in our children is their hearts. Children are the most sensitive and vulnerable of all creatures. In order to not only survive in the world but also to truly blossom and flourish, children need soft hearts. They need their emotions to move them towards caring, consideration, caution and carefulness. Without these emotions, children lose the feelings and perceptions needed for their development as human beings. They fail to become adaptive and able to overcome adversity. They lose their sense of self and purpose in life and along with this their capacity to feel fulfillment. Life is seen through their eyes as being black and white, as they cannot see the dissonance in life and the many dimensions that color and characterize the events in our lives. Continue reading

Listening for Understanding

By Kelly Bartlett, author of Encouraging Words for Kids, certified positive discipline educator and Attachment Parenting leader (API of Portland,Oregon USA), www.kellybartlett.net

Parents spend a significant amount of time talking to kids. We have a lifetime of information and lessons to share with them, and we’re constantly searching for the most effective ways to talk to our kids so they will listen to all we have to say. But in parent-child relationships, it’s listening that begets listening. Kelly Bartlett

Listening nonjudgmentally to children allows them to feel accepted. When parents listen for a sense of understanding—that is, recognizing who our children are and what they are communicating beyond the presence of any adversarial words or behaviors—children feel understood and secure in the relationship. When we take the time to listen to children, our relationships deepen.

How can you communicate to kids that you hear and accept them? Here are a few tips for strengthening your relationships with your children through improved listening skills.

Don’t solve. Don’t tell your child what she should do. This takes away from her ability to figure something out for herself. When children come to a parent to talk, they’re looking more for validation and support than answers and directions. No matter a child’s age, when she decides for herself what to do, she assumes responsibility and gains confidence. Continue reading

When Siblings Hurt Each Other

By Shoshana Hayman, director of Life Center, The Israel Center for Attachment Parenting, www.lifecenter.org.il

It’s sometimes said that parents shouldn’t get involved when siblings fight, but rather let them work it out themselves. Sometimes children do settle their differences. But more often than not, they are mean and hurtful to each other. Siblings are a source of great frustration to each other. Each one is a constant reminder to the other that parents, food, clothing, toys and space must be shared. Older siblings resent younger ones because they think that the younger ones get more attention. Younger siblings resent older ones because they are more capable and get more privileges. Just about anything can ignite an aggressive attack and lots of tears.  Shoshana

Parents do need to intervene and protect children from the insults, aggression and bullying that they inflict on each other. Children depend on their parents to protect them from getting hurt. Part of parental responsibility is to give children the secure feeling that the parent is in charge and will not let the people they love the most hurt each other.

We so much want our children to respect and care about each other. For this to happen, a child needs three things from us.

1. Parents must stay in the lead. The parent-child relationship must be hierarchical, with the child dependent on the parent.  The child needs to feel cared for, nurtured and significant in the eyes of her parent. When a child is generously cared for, she develops within herself the capacity to care for others.

When a parent is busy taking care of younger children, the older child is often expected to be responsible and do the things for herself that she knows how to do.  It’s important for us to remember that even though she’s older, she still needs affection, to feel cared for and nurtured, and to feel that she matters and brings delight to her parents.  Even when she can dress herself or in other ways take care of herself, she still needs the comforting feeling of mom or dad occasionally doing these things for her. When she is filled daily with these expressions of love, she will more naturally have caring feelings towards her younger brother or sister. Continue reading

Talking Parent-to-Parent

By Jake Cunningham, parent

Sometimes no matter how hard I try, I just can’t find the emotional room to comfort my 2-year-old son, Jack. I try, as we all do, to be the best parent I can be based on the principles of Attachment Parenting (AP), but 1206728_21045799sometimes I just can’t cope when I know Jack needs me, but I can’t be there for him psychologically. I can try and comfort him, but he knows I’m not really “with him”. That can make him even more distressed, which makes me more resentful about the tantrum he’s having! I feel like sometimes we feed off each others’ deeper negative vibe. Even if I’m smiling, he knows I’m not happy—he just does. Little people are so attuned to our emotions.

It’s hard to be honest about this lack of connection I sometimes feel, but I wanted to try and acknowledge it for Jack’s sake, and I think that brings us both some relief. I have to accept that it’s part of our human condition to be emotional wrecks sometimes. Reading Kelly Bartlett’s article, “What Happens When We ‘Lose It’,” gave me the impetus I needed to do my homework on understanding this dynamic between me and my son and how to best deal with it. The article provides a good snapshot of what is happening mentally that is affecting the situation emotionally.

Even just admitting these feelings to myself has actually been a huge help. I felt a huge sense of relief when I said to myself, “Jack is right, you aren’t coping with this situation.” It just got rid off my defensiveness and defused the emotions. Continue reading

Minimizing Power Struggles: Ten Tips for Fewer Battles and More Peace with Your Preschooler

By Kelly Bartlett, author of Encouraging Words for Kids, certified positive discipline educator and Attachment Parenting leader (API of Portland,Oregon USA), www.kellybartlett.netkelly bartlett

If you’ve ever tried to get your young child to do something you want, chances are that you’ve been adamantly informed with gestures or words, “No!” As children outgrow babyhood, simple tasks begin to turn into battles. As frustrating as this can be, it helps to understand what’s going on so we can find ways to work with kids instead of against their natural development.

By the age of two, children are beginning to assert their autonomy. This is an important stage of development, as the need to explore the world away from mom and dad becomes pressing. Children learn what they are capable of doing themselves. Equally important, they are also learning what they are willing to do—and not do—themselves.

When they reach about four years old, kids also begin to develop a sense of initiative. They learn to plan and do things on their own and experience a sense of accomplishment and purpose. However, when they’re not able to achieve a goal as planned, frustration ensues. Continue reading

Visiting Family for the Holidays

By Dr. Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting, www.ahaparenting.comDLM_183 crop (1)

We all want our relatives to see how wonderful our kids are.  Unfortunately, taking children to visit over the holidays often doesn’t really give them a chance to shine.  The kids get off their routines, overstimulated and disconnected from us.  At that point, they crash and burn.

But there are some tips that will make a smooth visit more likely.

1. Check your own expectations. If your toddler is teething, he won’t suddenly become less whiny. You can expect your difficult relative to be difficult again this year. But life doesn’t have to be perfect to be good. Your children can act terribly, and it doesn’t mean you’re a terrible parent— it means they’re kids!  I bet your parents remember you acting terribly once or twice, and you came out ok.  Continue reading

Grief in Children

By Margie Wagner & Callie Little, Child Development Media, www.childdevelopmentmedia.com, reprinted with permission

It goes without saying that the grieving process is a complicated and intensely personal one. It is difficult enough for adults to deal with the loss of a loved one, but it can be even more difficult for children, particularly if their adult caregivers are working through their own grief. Understanding how grief affects children at various developmental stages and knowing the best ways to assist children as they grieve can help children to process their grief in the most healthy way possible. Keep in mind that, while grief is usually associated with a death, there are many circumstances under which children grieve. Separation due to the dissolution of a relationship or due to a military deployment or job-related separation can also cause grief in children.

Reactions to Loss and How to Help

How old a child is at the time of loss certainly affects the child’s perception of the event.  Although babies are unable to express themselves verbally, they will certainly exhibit reactions to loss. They may seem more fussy, inconsolable, or have changes in their eating and sleeping patterns. Very young children, ages 2 to 4, are egocentric: they think the world revolves around them, and their concept of death is limited. They may think that death is reversible, and their main reactions to death may be that their daily routine and care are altered. The adult whom they have lost, or who is also grieving, will be either absent or unable to care for the child in the accustomed manner. At this age, reactions are often regressive, exhibiting themselves in eating, sleeping, or toileting disruptions. Children this age need reassurance and consistency. Try to maintain regular routines and to be comforting, giving hugs and kisses and lots of gentle touches. Keep the discussions of death short, but keep interactions with the child frequent. Even if you feel like the baby or young child cannot understand your words, they will understand your interest in their feelings and your wish to console them. Keep talking – it will help you to get used to the discussions that will become longer and more detailed as the child gets older, and it will help you to figure out what to say.

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Why You Should Talk to Your Kids About Death

By Sarina Behar Natkin, LICSW, www.growparenting.com, reprinted with permission

As a parent educator, I rarely use the word “should.” As a matter of fact, I cringe at the idea of giving parents one more SHOULD, almost as much as many parents cringe at the idea of talking to their kids about death.sarina natkin

But after a spate of violence and random death in Seattle, I realized how few parents discuss the topic of death with their children before they are forced to. This is where the SHOULD comes in. We should talk to them because it will help our children and us move through the pain of loss just a little bit easier. For those of us who have lost loved ones, even the tiniest bit easier is worth it.

Many parents say they don’t talk to their kids about the concept of death because they don’t know what to say. While that may be true, I suspect that belief is coming from the idea that we don’t want to scare our children or worry them. But we do our children a disservice if we let those hard emotions stop us from sharing something that is as much a part of life as life itself.

Imagine your child’s first day of school. What if, because you didn’t want them to feel scared or worried, you avoided the word “school” for years? What happens when the first day of school arrives? How might that first drop-off feel for them? For you? My guess is with no framework or understanding of where they are and what they are doing there, our kids might feel pretty scared, alone, and quite anxious.

Of course we don’t do this! Many parents spend a great deal of time carefully preparing their child for school. It’s not usually a sit-down formal conversation about the history and theory of elementary education. It’s many small moments throughout early childhood that help them build a mental model for this concept of school. Those mental models are what help decrease fear and anxiety, and more importantly, normalize a part of life for most Americans. Continue reading