Category Archives: Positive Discipline with Kelly Bartlett

Strengthening Secure Attachment Through Food

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. Originally published in the “Feeding Our Children” 2009 issue of Attached Family.

Photo credit: Piku
Photo credit: Piku

“Beep! Beep! Beep! Oh, bread’s ready!”

This was my 24-month-old son “cooking” as he took his bath. With only one tiny ceramic cup in the tub with him, he found a way to entertain himself, and I was listening to his running commentary.

“OK, got some water. Now add the flour. Stir. Got some yeast. Sprinkle it. Mix it, mix it, mix it ’til it’s yummy.”

He was adding “ingredients” and stirring the contents of his cup. He turned and placed his cup of “dough” under a washcloth on the side of the tub; this was the oven. After a few seconds, his “timer” beeped and the bread was ready. He took it out of the oven and presented me with his freshly made bread saying, “Hot, Mama, hot! You need to cool it, so don’t eat it yet!”

This is not the first time that either of my kids have “baked” with water, sand, dirt, leaves or other yard debris, but it was the first time that I took pause for a moment and marveled at my barely-2- year-old’s understanding of food. It wasn’t so much that he knew the ingredients or the process of making bread, but really I was proud that moments like these exemplify my kids’ understanding that food doesn’t come from a box or plastic bag. It comes from elements of nature. It comes from someone’s time and effort. It comes from worthy ingredients combined with love.

A Natural Progression from Breastfeeding

Oh, the love that goes into my cooking and baking! Years ago, when we were introducing our 6-month-old daughter to solid foods, I considered the breastmilk she had been receiving full time up until then. It was nutritious, natural, had no preservatives and contained no artificial ingredients or colors. It was everything she needed, nothing she didn’t, and was always prepared and served with the utmost love. I wanted her “fine dining” experience to continue and began to consider more carefully the foods that we introduced.

When I glanced down at the ingredients on my tiny container of yogurt and read high fructose corn syrup, carrageenan, red dye #40, and 30-plus grams of sugar, I wondered if something like that was the best choice of foods to allow her to ingest. No, I decided, we can do better than this. Thus began our journey of whole-foods eating, which has given us so much more than a healthier diet.

I say “us,” because I figured that if there were healthier options to feed our baby girl, why shouldn’t I incorporate them into my husband’s and my diet, as well? I knew that a lot of positive parenting comes from leading by example, and this would include eating habits, too. Moreover, just like Attachment Parenting, the most nourishing cooking happens when it’s created from scratch—nobody else’s prefabricated recipe, no superficial packaging, just the basic ingredients required to meet everyone’s needs.

Whole Foods Now a Lifestyle

Many years after adopting a clean and simple approach to eating, our lives are subtly but greatly enriched through the foods we choose to eat. It’s the effort in getting those foods and the experiences we share in doing so that adds an aspect of closeness to our lives. Because we cook from scratch, our goal is: If we want to eat it, we have to make it. This includes fun challenges such as marshmallows, butterscotch pudding, and chips and salsa.

Our adventures in obtaining ingredients include going to farmers’ markets, heading to the flour mill (and marveling at the huge stone mill), getting to know our milkman, quests in picking all kinds of Oregon berries, trips to various farms for fresh eggs and nuts, and many informative discussions about where meat comes from.

Together, our family has found our own rhythm for meal times. Breakfasts and lunches are just for the kids and me, and my husband joins us after work for dinner. We start our days with a hearty combination of whole grain and protein, like whole wheat waffles and yogurt or homemade granola bars and scrambled eggs.

Breakfast is also when we get our bread started for the day. Four ingredients into the bread machine, hit the start button, and it’ll be ready for lunch.

Lunch goes in phases, beginning with a protein plate that the kids share while they’re still in the midst of their morning play. We are omnivores, but usually eat vegetarian for breakfast and lunch as it helps curb the expense of organic meat. So, the kids will grab bites of beans, nuts, tofu or cheese while they finish their work. Because they are hungry and they choose the proteins for lunch, the plate usually empties.

Then we all sit down at the table for fruit, vegetables, dip and beverage. I’ve seen both kids eat raw vegetables, with or without dip, that they would not eat if they were cooked. By the time we’re done with the “vitamin and fiber” phases, the bread machine is finished. At this point, the kids are satisfied with about half as much bread as if it were served at the beginning of lunch, and they’ve consumed a more balanced meal overall.

Of course, some days we scrap it all, and have macaroni and cheese instead (made from scratch)!

The Family Part of Eating

Our dinner rhythm varies each day, but it always includes sitting down and eating together as a family. Depending on what our activities are for the day, I might have dinner already in the slow cooker, I might quickly put together a pasta dish or I might have time to invite my kids to cook with me. But we always come together at the end of the day for this important meal.

This coming together is the most vital ingredient. Having dinner together is like an automatic family meeting every night!

Sometimes my husband asks everyone, “So, what was the best thing that happened to you today?” Or sometimes my daughter makes statements about what’s on her mind like, “I want to talk about how plants grow.” Even my 2-year-old gets into the conversation and shares what’s been occupying his thoughts lately.

This ritual of eating together not only allows us time to share what’s on our minds and connect with each other but also is yet another way for our children to cultivate their trust in us. They know that every day they will unquestioningly get the sustenance they need: physical nourishment and emotional connection.

Adding Positive Eating Habits in Your Home

I know it must sound like we spend our entire lives focused on obtaining, preparing and eating food! You must wonder, do we have time for anything else? And with all of our busy lives, who would want to spend this much time in the kitchen? Is it possible to adapt some whole-foods, secure-attachment-promoting techniques regarding eating habits, yet not spend so much time in the kitchen?

Here are tips for adding positive eating habits into your meal routine:

·         Start small. Make one change at a time and allow your routine time to adjust.

·         Choose one commercially made/prepackaged product that you regularly buy, and replace it with a homemade or homegrown version. It could be anything from frozen burritos to chocolate syrup!

·         Choose one meal for which you sit down together regularly as a family at least one day a week. Start increasing this as often as you can.

·         If you have a bread machine, dust it off and try it out!

·         Find one food that you can start buying locally. Take your kids with you.

·         Whenever you prepare your child’s favorite dish, give him a task in helping prepare it. Take a photograph of him with his work.

We spend a lot of time in the kitchen because we like it. I enjoy cooking and baking, and my kids love eating. So, we’re very comfortable spending an afternoon together chopping, mixing, talking and snacking.

I do enjoy our trips to local farms and markets to buy the fresh ingredients we need, but they could easily be found in a grocery store. Even large grocery store chains are stocking more and more organic and locally grown products. Sometimes when we just don’t have the opportunity to turn shopping into a daylong family bonding experience, I will go to an online grocery store and have frozen (unsweetened) fruits, pre-cut vegetables and a supply of basic pantry ingredients delivered to my door.

Despite the occasional requirement for modern convenience, I do treasure the time that my kids and I spend making our meals together, and I try to provide that opportunity as often as I can. This time in the kitchen can be spent in a number of ways, depending on what my kids need. They might need to be physically close to me—being in another room, or even across the room, might not be in the cards that day. They might need something to keep their hands busy, an opportunity for “real” work. I love satisfying this need, because I can see the pride on their faces as they do meaningful, independent work.

They might need to experiment and analyze, to satisfy their innate curiosity by learning about mixing, pouring, textures, scents, machines and general cause-and-effect. They might need to work together–cooperating by adding ingredients to the dough and problem solving when only half an egg makes it into the bowl (scraping it off the counter works just fine for them). They might need to talk—to tell me things, small things, which help me understand them better, like: “Mom? All I like to do is read books and forget about stuff.” This time in the kitchen feels so worthwhile.

Through fresh ingredients, working together in the kitchen and sitting down for regular family meals, I am giving so many things to my children. The most important of which, and the reason why I continue to put so much effort into our meals, is that it brings us closer together. Like breastfeeding, a made-from-scratch approach to family meals incorporates physical closeness, uninterrupted time together, emotional connection, high-quality nutrition and family security.

I hope that one day my children will look back on our time in the kitchen with fond memories, as I know that right now they cannot articulate all that is going on before, during and after our mealtimes. Mostly what they take away from our dining experiences are feelings of security and love. They feel the love that goes into our meals, and they instinctively know that they are worth it—worth the time, planning, expense and effort of whole-foods preparation.

The Importance of the Family Table

Coming together to eat as a family is an essential way for many families in today’s fast-paced world to slow down and take time to connect with one another. This is important not only for the parent-child attachment relationship but also for the child’s future. Here is some recent research showing how the family table can benefit your child:

·         Children who partake in family meals have smoother and faster cognitive and behavioral development, because they observe and learn from their parents in communication, morality and other areas of social skills, according to a study by the Dyscovery Centre at Newport University (Wales).

·         Teens who regularly take part in family activities, including eating together, are less likely to have sex, according to a study by Boston College (USA).

·         Teen girls who regularly eat meals with their families are less likely to smoke, drink alcohol and use drugs, according to a study by the University of Minnesota (USA).

·         Children of families who eat together consume more fruits, vegetables, calcium-rich foods, vitamins and minerals, and eat less junk food, according to a study by the University of Minnesota (USA).

·         Children of mothers who think eating together as a family is important are less likely to struggle with obesity as adolescents, according to a study by the University of Queensland (Australia).

·         Teens who regularly eat meals with their families are less likely to engage in alcohol and substance use, according to a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (USA). Eating together reduces tension in families and leads to more teens saying their parents are proud of them and that they can confide in their parents about a serious problem.

·         A paper by researchers at Washington State University (USA) discusses how family meals improve relationship-building communication and contribute to better school performance, better language development among preschoolers and more well-adjusted adolescents. As teens, these children were less likely to use drugs or be depressed and were more motivated at school and had better relationships. Families who eat together are also more likely to eat nutritious foods. The paper also found instances when family meals are harmful: when children are forced to sit face-to-face with controlling or dysfunctional parents, such as those who dominate the conversation, bring up hostilities and suppress children’s opinions. These parents are also more likely to use food as a tool for punishment or manipulation, such as offering food as emotional comfort.

 

You might also enjoy the other articles in our National Nutrition Month series:

Kids in the Kitchen: An Interview with Sally Sampson, Founder of ChopChopKids

Feeding the Whole Family: An Interview with Cynthia Lair of Cookus Interruptus

Malnourished by a Western Diet, or NDD by Dr. William Sears

Emotions, Limits and Spirited Kids: An interview with Dr. Jane Nelson

By Kelly Bartlett, author of Encouraging Words for Kids, API Leader and Certified Positive Discipline Educator, www.kellybartlett.net.

After infancy comes the age of autonomy. It’s a time when a child’s physical activity takes off, language flourishes and parents hear frequent exclamations of, “Me do it!” During this time, our kids’ personalities blossom, and we start to experience the full range of their spirit. After infancy, positive discipline can become a natural extension of Attachment Parenting, as it is about providing limits for behavior while respecting a child’s needs and natural temperament. Just as close contact strengthens the parent-child relationship in infancy, positive discipline preserves that relationship throughout childhood.

However, discipline can also challenge the parent-child relationship, especially when a child is very spirited in nature. When kids are very active or react strongly to disappointment, positive discipline tools can be difficult to put into place. Many parents get frustrated with their child’s seeming lack of response to a non-punitive discipline style and are often at a loss as to how to discipline such exuberance.

Dr_Jane_NelsenDr. Jane Nelsen is the author of Positive Discipline and founder of the Positive Discipline Association. She trains parents, teachers and caregivers all over the world to use positive discipline to strengthen parent-child relationships and to teach children how to become responsible, respectful and self-reliant. I had the opportunity to speak with Jane about her thoughts on responding to strong emotions when it comes to positive discipline and spirited kids.

KELLY: As you know, children who are described as “spirited” are typically very active, very verbal, highly emotional or some combination of all three. I’ve often heard from parents of spirited children that using positive discipline can be a challenge because their kids’ personalities are naturally so strong-willed. What do you think? Is there a place for positive discipline in families of strong-willed, “spirited” children?

JANE: I think using positive discipline is even more important with spirited children because you need to guide that strong will they have. As children grow out of infancy, they want—they need—to use their power, whether we like it or not. And they’re good at it! Celebrate that you have a spirited child and then take a lot of opportunity to guide that child into using that strong will in contributing ways.

KELLY: How do we do that with spirited kids?

JANE: One of the foundations of positive discipline is to be kind and firm at the same time. Many parents know how to be kind … until they get upset. Then they know how to be firm without being kind, and they vacillate between the two: being kind until they can’t stand their kids (who develop an entitlement attitude) and then being firm until they can’t stand themselves (feeling like tyrants).

I think we all know the mistakes made in the name of firmness without kindness: punishment. However, many do not know the mistakes made in the name of kindness without firmness: pleasing, rescuing, over-protecting, pampering (providing all “wants”), micromanaging in the name of love, overdoing choices, and making sure children never suffer.

KELLY: When you say “never suffer,” what do you mean?

JANE: I often say we should allow our kids to suffer. Not make them suffer—we should never do that. But we need to allow them to suffer such that they can have their feelings.

KELLY: You’re saying when our kids are expressing their unpleasant emotions we shouldn’t console those feelings away?

JANE: Right. Parents shouldn’t worry about not being attached if their children ever have to cry. I think it is impossible for any child who is being raised by a parent who is interested in Attachment Parenting to not be attached. It’s not possible; they’re in tune with meeting their child’s needs.

But being too focused on keeping a child happy can lead a parent to constantly (unintentionally) rescue a child from his feelings. The child then develops the belief of, “I’m not capable of dealing with these feelings.”

They should have their feelings and be allowed to work them through. And when they do—which they will eventually—they will feel a sense of. A sense of, “I am capable.” A sense of, “I am resilient.” A sense of, “I can survive.” All children need that opportunity.

KELLY: It seems hard to know when to offer comfort and ease strong feelings and when to trust kids to work through them on their own.

JANE: I think parents get confused between the needs and the wants. There’s a fine line between understanding when it’s appropriate to comfort your children and when to let them work through their feelings on their own and realize their own capabilities for handling them. I just think that’s a grey area for a lot of parents.

KELLY: So where is that balance? How do we know what is an appropriate response?

JANE: A lot of it is education. If you have the knowledge, then you go into your heart and you know. Parents need to understand that children are always making decisions based on their life experiences. They are answering for themselves, “Am I capable? Am I not capable? Can I survive the ups and downs of life, or can I not?”

If parents don’t allow their children to have those experiences of emotional upsets, they rob their children of developing the belief that he or she is capable. What we want to do is give our children experiences that help them develop healthy beliefs and a sense of trust, autonomy and initiative. Children need to develop their disappointment muscles, their capability muscles and their resiliency muscles. Wise parents allow children to do that.

KELLY: So it is possible for firmness, kindness, strong will and attachment to co-exist? No matter how spirited our children are (or their responses to discipline), we can set boundaries with kindness, let kids have their feelings about them, and still maintain a secure attachment?

JANE: Yes. And I think this is what parents of highly-spirited kids need to know. Sometimes it’s really hard to be firm without being punitive. And also, it’s easy to be permissive when your kids are strong-willed and you’re worried about maintaining attachment.

You know, I used to be permissive with my kids until I couldn’t stand them. Then I would be controlling and punitive until I couldn’t stand myself. So I’d be pampering and punitive because I didn’t know there was something in between. There’s a balance. A great example is saying, “I love you, and the answer is no.” Kind and firm. Then let kids have their feelings.

KELLY: And parents should still be there, too, “on the sidelines” so to speak?

JANE: Exactly. Children need to be able to manage their feelings when there’s a loving, supporting advocacy–that’s the benefit of Attachment Parenting. You’re providing that energy of support, that validation and foundation for allowing children to use what they’re learning.

TAF2013lovinguniquelyFor more articles about “spirited” kids, be sure to read the latest issue of Attached Family magazine, the Loving Uniquely issue, available for free download here!

 

Making Time-out Positive

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

Photo credit: Penny Matthews
Photo credit: Penny Matthews

In parenting, time-outs have an important and effective role. A time-out is a chance for children and parents to pause, regroup and collect themselves. Though time-outs are an often-used consequence for tantrums, outbursts or fits of anger, they are ineffective when used punitively. When a child is sent away to “go to time-out,” she not only learns that her emotions are unacceptable but that she must also learn how to deal with them by herself. Punitive time-outs tell a child: Your feelings are not OK.

Time-outs are most effective when they are about feeling better as opposed to being used as a “thinking tool” or a punishment. Rather, when they are used in a proactive way—much like those taken in sports games—time-outs teach a child acceptance and self-regulation of strong emotions and are a very effective discipline tool.

When emotions are running high, everyone needs time to calm down and feel better so that we can “improve our game.” Dr. Jane Nelsen, author of Positive Time Out, advocates that children have very immature levels of brain development and need a lot of help in regulating their emotions. “Where in the world did we get this crazy idea that in order for children to do better, first we have to make them feel worse?” says Nelsen. “Children do better when they feel better.” She says that the way many time-outs are implemented only serve to make a child feel worse, ashamed or isolated when they could be opportunities to help children learn how to handle strong emotions.

Here are some steps you can take to ensure that time-outs are positive, helpful experiences for your child.

Talk about feelings. At a time when no one is currently distressed, talk to your child about moments when he’s been really upset. Let him know that everyone gets angry, sad and frustrated sometimes. Make sure your child knows that feelings are always OK. But some emotions sure don’t feel pleasant, and it helps to know what to do then.

Designate a feel-good spot. Ask your child’s input on where the two of you could create a “feel good” place. It might be in her room, on the couch in the living room or in another spot. To some children, going into a bedroom might seem too isolating and they would prefer to be able to see a parent, while other children might choose their room because it can keep out younger siblings. Whether it is a bedroom, bathroom or a spot in the kitchen, allow your child to choose an area that will be designated as her place to regroup and calm down. Have her create a name for this special spot.

Create a comfort basket. Certified positive discipline trainer Glenda Montgomery advocates the addition of a “comfort basket” in feel-good spots. “If a child has any special toy or stuffed animal that he likes to hold when he’s upset, definitely add it to the comfort basket.” Blankets, books and music are all excellent items to put in comfort baskets, as are lumps of clay to pound, exercise bands to stretch and squishy balls to squeeze. Older children may like to keep a journal or sketchbook in their basket or even a bottle of bubble bath to use. If you’re using a large area or a whole room as the feel-good spot, you could also include bigger items such as a punching bag or trampoline. The idea is to fill the area with items to help your child relieve stress and begin to calm down. Some children benefit from a physical outlet, while others prefer emotional outlets.

Ask about preferences. When your child gets emotionally overwhelmed and upset and it’s time to put the feel-good spot to use, ask if she would like to go by herself or if she’d like you to come, too. Children have different preferences for this; some kids may feel “banished” if they are expected to go alone and would feel more secure if you’re there supporting them, while others need to be left alone to decompress. It is important to respect their preferences and understand that these may change over the years.

Deborah Thompson, a mother of three and an administrator of an online parenting forum, finds that she is able to adapt the positive time-out techniques to each of her children in various situations. She says, “I have used the car, a bathroom, even an out-of-the-way spot in the grocery store when I’ve needed to take a cooling-down moment with my child.” She also says that the most important element of positive time-out is the ability to focus on reconnection. “Once my children have had some time to cool off, I always make sure I reconnect with them afterwards.” That may be in the form of a loving, wordless hug, an empathic conversation or a cooperative activity like playing a board game or cooking together. It’s a gesture that tells your child, “You were mad, and that’s OK. I love you no matter how you feel.”

Teaching children to calm down after being in a highly aroused emotional state begins at birth. Arlene Raphael, author of Positive Discipline for Children With Special Needs, says, “Whenever a parent picks up a crying baby with the intent to help calm her, she is experiencing a positive time-out.”  Holding and comforting an upset child stimulates calm-inducing brain chemicals that help regulate emotions.  As a child grows, he can become a more proactive participant in deciding how a time-out will look and feel.  And parents can ensure that time-outs are truly in their child’s best interest if they ask for input, work together to understand everyone’s needs, remain flexible and keep in mind the big picture–that a time-out is just a way of helping a child feel better so he can do better.

 

New Sibling, New Behavior! How To Respond When Children Act Out

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

Having a new baby is an exciting time. Even the older siblings will feel this excitement and will be delighted to hold their new baby brother or sister for the first time. They finally get to see who has been inside of mom’s growing belly all these months!Kelly Bartlett

That excitement may fade, though, as the weeks go on and the reality of a baby’s needs sets in. Many parents see changes in behavior in their older children sometime during the first year after a new sibling is born. Children may act out, become defiant or begin to show behavior struggles at school. This is normal, since a child’s natural growth compounded with the stress of adjusting to a new family member can be overwhelming. It can cause a child to think differently about himself and to behave differently as he tries to find his place in the family.

Parents frequently turn to books, friends, articles or classes to learn how to handle a child’s difficult behavior and to discipline appropriately. The first question a parent asks is, “What should I do?” They seek tools, techniques and strategies—a concrete approach to solving behavior problems. But what parents need to understand is that the tools are secondary to the relationship.

The relationship of the child to the parent is the foundation for all “good” behavior. Children inherently want to behave well for those to whom they are emotionally connected. Without a strong attachment relationship, there is no desire to be like, please, take direction from or otherwise follow a parent’s lead.

What this means for parents, in regard to getting through our kids’ difficult phases of behavior, is that we must focus on connecting to them—checking in on our relationship and doing any work to build a closer, stronger relationship—before we focus on what tools to use. It needs to be ongoing, and it needs to be the first thing considered when responding to a behavioral situation. Before asking, “What should I do?” we need to ask, “How is our relationship? Am I emotionally available? Does my child feel connected to me?” When we address the relationship first, those answers to “What should I do?” fall into place much easier.

Though it can be difficult with a new baby in the house, it is critical to focus on maintaining a supportive and responsive relationship with older siblings. This is the key to helping them adjust to big changes. With their burgeoning autonomy, older children’s needs are less about physical connection, such as holding, nursing, or co-sleeping, and more about emotional bonding and understanding. Children need to know that they still matter, that they will always belong and that they have an important place in their parents’ hearts. Here are 11 ways to build connection and communicate to kids that they are valued in the family, after the birth of a new sibling or anytime.

1. Listen. This might be the most effective way to strengthen connection with a child. Listening leads to understanding, which strengthens attachment. Whatever kids communicate, make sure you hear them out without interrupting, making assumptions or giving them answers. Even when there are angry actions or loud tears present, prove that you understand their message by repeating it and reflecting their feelings about it. “You are mad! You are feeling very angry that you can’t do what you want right now.” Children will listen after they feel listened to. Don’t try to fix the problem or provide solutions. Just listen, validate and accept. Empathy communicates understanding, and children who feel understood feel safe and loved.

2. Do “special time.” Dedicate uninterrupted time with your older children every day. This will go a long way toward supporting their secure attachment with you. You get to know them, and they get to feel known.

3. Show faith. Have confidence in kids to make their own decisions, fix their own mistakes and accomplish their own goals. Your faith in your children generates confidence in them and a trust in your relationship.

4. Allow mistakes. By allowing and accepting mistakes, instead of yelling or criticizing, you are facilitating trust. There are fantastic opportunities for bonding and learning together, when you let your child know it’s OK to make mistakes and you are going to help her succeed.

5. Hug. Not just hugs, but any kind of positive physical touch helps connect parents and kids. Every touch, pat, massage, hair stroke, squeeze, handhold or full-body bear hug is a physical reminder to a child that says, “I love you and I’m here—right here—for you.” Do this often.

6. Use encouragement, not praise. Focus on acknowledging your child’s efforts rather than judging the outcome of his actions. It shows him that you value who he is internally, rather than simply what he can do or give you. There’s a very different message communicated in, “I noticed you got all our things ready to go! You really remembered a lot,” than in saying, “You’re such a good boy.”

7. Connect eye-to-eye. Get down to a child’s level to speak to her. It is respectful of her development and shows that you value even this most basic level of connection.

8. Empower. Sharing control with kids—as opposed to trying to have control over them—helps them develop their own skills and confidence. It lets them know that you trust their judgment and allows them to exercise their autonomy. One way to empower children is by giving them new responsibilities and opportunities to contribute to the family. You can also empower them by asking, “What ideas do you have for solving this problem? What do you think we should do?” and telling them, “I’m confident you’ll find a solution that works.” Depending on the situation and the child’s age, the parent may need to help generate solutions.

9. Appreciate. Letting kids know what we appreciate about them or their actions helps bring us closer together. “I appreciate you letting your sister play with that toy this morning. I know it’s yours, but she really enjoyed it. Thank you for sharing it!” Children feel a sense of significance and belonging when we recognize their helpful gestures and good deeds.

10. Recover. Recovering from our own mistakes is important for letting kids know that we do want to be the best parents we can for them. What better way to tell your kids how important their feelings are to you than with a heartfelt apology for a mistake and an offer to work on a cooperative, respectful solution? This can be one of the most effective ways to connect with your kids.

11. Foster. You can model and teach listening, empathy and respect to the eldest child to strengthen his connection to the infant, which will help with the transition of adding a new person to the family. As the children grow older, engage in shared activities and dialogue that foster a respectful and warm relationship with each other.

Keeping all of these ideas in mind, remember that every child will respond differently to the presence of a new sibling in the family. It is not always a fairy tale! Even the most securely attached children will feel a disruption in the family balance and may act out that disruption through their behavior. Consider your child’s individual temperament and unique needs to find a combination of connective parenting tools that work for your family. Instead of asking, “What should I do?” ask, “How can we connect?” It is this connection that will guide you through the transition of helping older children adjust to a new family dynamic. It is this connection that tells children, “You matter. You have an important place in this family, and you have an important place in my heart.”

 

Consistent and Loving Discipline

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

In the Eight Principles of Parenting, Attachment Parenting International reminds us of the importance of consistent and loving care for children. When children receive this kind of care, they learn that they can trust their caregivers. They develop a healthy attachment to those who are always there and who meet their needs with love and respect.KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

As my kids grew from infants to toddlers to young children, I wondered how I could apply that same principle to my discipline style. After all, when my kids were babies, I made sure I met their needs with consistency and love. How could I continue to do so when their needs became more complex and less physical but more emotional?

Learning a few positive discipline tools helped. I found positive discipline to be such a natural extension of the loving care I had so consistently given in my kids’ infancies. But I also found it took a lot more effort as everyone’s emotions became much more prevalent in our relationships. Continue reading

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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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

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

What Happens to the Brain When We “Lose It”

By Kelly Bartlett, certified positive discipline educator and attachment parenting leader (API of Portland, Oregon USA)

Learning neuroscience isn’t something every parent has time for, so Dr. Dan Siegel and Mary Hartzell, authors of Parenting from the Inside Out, developed a simple and surprisingly accurate model of the brain that parents can make with their own hands, which helps us understand what goes on in there. When we know what’s going on in our children’s brains (and in our own), we are better able to respond sensitively and appropriately when emotions run strong.

Make a fist with your thumb tucked inside your fingers. This is the model of your brain; your fist is the brain, and your wrist and forearm are the spinal cord, carrying nerve impulses to the rest of your body.

The bottom of your palm is the brainstem. This is where the brain connects to the spinal cord and is where our instinctive behavior and involuntary functions are regulated. The brain stem controls things like breathing, heart rate, hunger, digestion, body temperature, etc. It is our basic, “primitive” brain.

Your thumb, tucked in the middle of your fist, is the midbrain. This is where our emotions and memories are created and processed, as well as where the fight-or-flight reflex is triggered. The midbrain is our “emotional brain.”

The back of your hand and fingers, encasing everything, is the cerebral cortex. This is where higher functioning occurs. This part of our brain allows us to think logically, act with kindness and empathy, and it houses our reasoning and problem-solving abilities. The cortex is our “rational brain.” It is in this part of a child’s brain that Attachment Parenting has a profound impact.

The brain is structured to communicate. It sends messages from section to section within itself about what our bodies are feeling and needing. When a child screams, “No!” and lashes out to hit because he is angry, a parent’s brain interprets this data as, “Hmm, I don’t like this, and I need to be treated differently.” Only we don’t always react so calmly, right?

Take another look at your brain-fist. See where your fingernails are? That’s the prefrontal cortex, the very front part of your brain that sits behind your eyebrows. This is where logic and reasoning originates. It’s the part of the brain that kicks into gear when we have a problem to solve. Now, sometimes the emotional brain (thumb) and the rational brain (fingers) don’t communicate so well. The emotions of the midbrain are simply too overwhelming, our fight-or-flight reflex triggers, and we “flip our lids.” Now make all four of your fingers stand straight up. Flip.

Of course, our brains don’t actually change shape like this, but this simple demonstration is a valuable tool in understanding how our brains function during emotionally charged situations. See your fingertips now? See how far away from the midbrain they are? When we “flip our lids,” our rational brains have a very poor connection with our emotional brains. Our feelings are intense, and we’re not able to access the logical, problem-solving part of our brain. We need to calm our anger and ease our fears in order to restore our rational brain to its coherent state (close fingers over thumb again).

Children and adults alike experience a flipped lid. But as the human brain isn’t fully mature (that is, all parts communicating effectively) until sometime between 21 and 30 years old, children flip their lids much more often. They need a lot more help “re-connecting” the prefrontal cortex with the midbrain; that is, calming down and learning how to respond to strong emotions.

Here are a few tools taken from Jane Nelsen’s “52 Positive Discipline Tool” Cards that help during “flipped lid” moments:

  • Hugs – When your child flips her lid, a hug may be the last thing you want to offer. But it might be the thing she needs most. The mirror neurons in her brain are hard-wired to assess the emotional state of the people around her and influence how she’ll react. When her brain picks up on the loving composure in a hug, its chemistry begins to return to a calm state. If your child is not ready for a hug when she’s immediately upset, just let her know you’re available and would love a hug when she is ready. See what happens!
  • Focus on Solutions – This is for when you’re about to flip your lid. Yes, there’s a huge mess on the floor. Yes, your two-year-old is bothering his older (and now very annoyed) sibling again. Yes, someone lost an important item again, or someone else is dawdling to get ready…again. But rather than get mad and yell (again), focus on practical solutions to these problems. Instead of thinking, “What can I to do to get through to you?” think, “What can I do to help you succeed with this? What solutions can we come up with?”
  • Positive Time Out – This is perfect for when either you or your child has a flipped lid. Before addressing your child, take a positive timeout for yourself to calm down and restore your brain chemistry. The problem—the one that triggered your flipped lid—will still be there, ready to be addressed when you’re feeling better. With time and practice, you can also teach your child how and when to take a positive time-out for himself, so he can learn how to calm down before doing or saying anything inappropriate.

As emotionally responsive parents, we help our children develop efficient communication between their emotional brains and their rational brains, though this is not easy! In the face of a highly emotional “flipped lid” (our own or our child’s), it is most helpful if we remember that the reaction is not personal or purposeful; it’s simply the normal result of our brain chemistry and just needs some loving restoration.

Playful Parenting with Older Children and Teens

By Kelly Bartlett, certified positive discipline educator and attachment parenting leader (API of Portland, Oregon USA)

Young children play effortlessly. Kids are naturally predisposed to play, and it doesn’t take much to engage a child in a silly game or role-play. Through play, kids express feelings, needs, thoughts, and ideas that they might not yet have the words to articulate. Playing together lets parents connect and communicate with kids beyond a conversation and provides insight into their world.

But how does playtime change as kids get older? How can parents adapt their approach to playful parenting after kids outgrow the desire to get silly, wrestle, and pretend? How can we achieve the same results with our teenagers that we can by playing “tickle monster” with our toddlers?

Emily Troper is an early childhood educator, a founder of Continuum Learning Community in Portland, Oregon USA, and an attached mom who says that play is a big part of her family’s life. Troper has four children ages 6 to 19, and though she says it can be difficult to find ways to play that suit all of her kids, it is important enough to continue to try. Troper shares some of her family’s insights on how they continue to play together and what playtime looks like in a house with teenagers.

Physical Play

Physical games don’t lose their appeal for kids, but they do become more organized. While young children enjoy the rough-and-tumble play of wrestling, tackling, being tossed, rolled, or carried, older children (and their developing logical brains) enjoy sports, games, and other organized activities. Basketball, golf, tennis, jogging, even air hockey or table soccer all release endorphins and cause players to experience a shared, “feel-good” moment.
Interactive physical activity provides emotionally connecting experiences for parents and kids.

Troper says that despite her children’s wide range of ages, they have discovered several games that they all enjoy. She says, “We love the sock game from Larry Cohen’s book [Playful Parenting]. Everyone wears socks and sits on the floor. When we say ‘Go!’ we try to get off the other family members’ socks but keep our own on.” Their family also loves driving go-carts and playing Ping-Pong together.

Verbal Play

As children grow and their brains and language become more developed, jokes are a great way to stay connected. Jokes are interactive, and they keep us thinking and laughing together. A funny joke activates many areas of the brain and releases endorphins when we “get it” and find the humor in it. For Troper’s family, play has become much more verbal as her children have grown older, with mealtimes becoming a new kind of playtime. She says, “We often share funny stories at the dinner table and have a long history of inside jokes.”

Fun Stuff

Besides finding games that the whole family can do together, Troper says it’s equally important to have fun with each of her kids individually. She recommends joining kids in whatever they’re interested. “With my oldest son, we enjoyed watching comedy shows after the younger ones were sleeping and laughing our heads off together.” Whether the activity is playing cards or board games, listening to music, building Legos, or playing laser tag, sharing regular, enjoyable one-on-one time helps parents stay in-tune with their child’s interests and keeps their connection strong.

A Listening Tool

In the early years, play helps express a child’s feelings and is an avenue for parent-child communication. According to Troper, this did not change much as her kids have grown older and outgrown the creative play of early childhood. For her teenagers, playful, enjoyable moments continue to be opportunities for listening to find out what her children might be feeling and needing. She says, “With my oldest son, the pre-teen years were filled with being in the car together in the morning and afternoon. We listened to the music he wanted to listen to and talked about it. It was light and fun, but every so often, deeper subjects would come up and it was a safe space to talk.”

Although parents may not share all of their kids’ interests, taking the time to understand and get involved in them inevitably leads to talking, connecting, and building a trusting relationship. The games may change as kids get older, but the enjoyment of playtime doesn’t end in early childhood. Tweens and teens still like to have fun. They still like to laugh. They still express themselves through their interests. No matter how playtime has evolved, parents can use it as an opportunity to get and stay close to their growing children.