All posts by The Attached Family

Latest Research on Long-term Effects of Child Abuse

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

Child abuse effectsIn the United States alone, there are 3.2 million referrals to social services on allegations of child maltreatment each year — one-quarter of which are found to have a substantiated case of physical or sexual abuse or severe neglect. Seventy-five percent of these founded cases of abuse or neglect had no prior history. It’s an astounding number of children who aren’t living in safe, loving homes — especially knowing that these numbers don’t count the abused and neglected children living around the world. It’s a number that child maltreatment prevention researcher David Zielinski, PhD, wants to stick in your mind.

“I can highlight this, I can underline this — we’re talking about a huge number of children,” said Zielinski, who works with the National Institute of Mental Health. Earlier this year, he addressed a wide audience of researchers, social workers, and other professionals in the field of child abuse prevention and treatment through a webinar hosted by the Quality Improvement Center on Early Childhood.

That “huge number of children” Zielinski was describing translates into another sizable group – 25 million to 30 million adults, just in the U.S., who were abused or neglected as children. Research has shown us that individuals who experienced abuse and neglect have a higher risk of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders, antisocial personality disorder, substance abuse, and other addictions. And it’s well known that adults who were abused or neglected as children are more likely to become abusers themselves.

“You learn what’s appropriate based on imitation,” Zielinski said.

But the effects of this abuse tend to focus on treatment, rather than prevention — on the individual, rather than society. Continue reading

Welcome to the Twilight Zone: A Boy Brought Back from Autism

By Avril Dannebaum, co-leader of API-NYC

Paint strokesMy son woke up that summer morning and came to me. His light blue-green eyes were clear, and he looked healthier than I had seen him in a long time. Something was different with my three-year old.

“I want to paint today.”

I paused in shock at his request. It was a bright morning, just one of many beautiful days we’d had that summer in 2000. But a feeling of unreality washed over me. With those simple words, I had entered the twilight zone.

For almost two years before that day, my son hadn’t spoken much at all, hadn’t searched out my eyes, hadn’t really done anything that a normally developing child would do. He had lived in a separate universe, a never-never land of lost boys and lost parental dreams. My little cabbage boy.

Suddenly, as spectacularly as my son had disappeared, he was back with me. I didn’t react. There were no big moments of hugging or kissing him. In general, he didn’t care for demonstrations of affection. So I didn’t fuss. Frankly, I didn’t quite believe what was happening. My husband was getting ready for work, and so I just went through the usual motions of making breakfast, while wondering if this would last. Wondering if I was dreaming.

I got out his paints and his easel. What had happened? What had brought my son home to me?

A Leap of Faith

The day before we had taken a train trip upstate to Brewster, New York to a DAN! (Defeat Autism Now!) protocol doctor  – the very same doctor who had been mentioned in Karyn Seroussi’s book, Unraveling the Mysteries of Autism and PDD.

About DAN!

Defeat Autism Now!™ (DAN!) is a project of the Autism Research Institute, a group of physicians, researchers, and scientists committed to finding effective treatments for autism. DAN! does not regard psychotropic drugs as the best or only means of treating autistic patients. More information can be found at www.autism.com/dan/index.htm.

My son had acted up on the train, screaming and yelling, hurling his body back against the stroller I’d confined him in. Being on the autistic spectrum this was standard operating procedure. I was glad that the train compartment was almost empty because it cut down on the amount of dirty looks I would receive for having a tantruming preschooler. Finally, after our taxi ride, he settled down in the doctor’s office while we waited. He had found a basket of fast food restaurant toys and he was content.

It never failed to amaze me that a child so nonresponsive to his mother and father, never hearing us and never searching us out, could spot a favorite toy from yards away and make a bee line to it. Yet I found that reassuring somehow – that even though he didn’t care for us, there was something in his universe that he loved: Blue from Blue’s Clues, Thomas the Tank Engine, Elmo and his other friends from Sesame Street. As long as he loved them, he wasn’t alone. They reached him where we could not.

The doctor recommended that we use twilight sleep so that my son wouldn’t struggle during the prolonged blood draw necessary for all the testing we needed to have done. And it would help because after taking the blood we’d be doing an IV push of Secretin and vitamins, which would also take more than a few minutes.

It took me and two nurses to hold down my son’s small yet very strong, three-year-old body. He screamed and struggled until the sedative took effect. It broke my heart, but I had had two years of getting used to being heart-broken. I was so used to it, and yet it still hurt.

My mother, 68 years of age, a vivacious woman who talked a lot but rarely gave any thought into what she was saying, lived only a few miles away and was there to pick up my very groggy son and me after the appointment. My son was very much under the effects of the drug we’d used to calm him and I had to be careful that he didn’t hurt himself as he flopped around. Thank goodness for my mother driving us back to the city because I’m not sure I would have been able to handle the train trip back. My boy went to sleep as soon as we got home.

And then it was the next day, and a child I hadn’t seen for two years was back with me. I didn’t think miracles happened just like that. Hadn’t the government and various studies debunked the use of Secretin? Maybe it had been the vitamins?

In the next few weeks, we spent all of our savings and maxed out our credit cards with this doctor, on the basis that the two years we had stuck with mainstream doctors and therapies had done little to nothing for our child. Time was passing. Our son’s childhood and potential were speeding by us.

Our leap of faith had paid off. Eye contact, and speech, but more – much more: someone was home again in there. Someone who knew us, knew that we loved him and cared for him.

The Food Connection

In Attachment Parenting (AP), very often a family will be confronted with a professional’s opinion that goes against what is in their hearts. Doctors will tell moms to quit breastfeeding and introduce solids. They will tell families not to share sleep, because it will permanently hurt the child. They are told to let their child cry-it-out.

Our doctors had ignored our son’s constipation and diarrhea for two years. Earlier that year his bowel movements had been so acidic that they had left welts on his upper thighs and testicles. We’d had to change him in the bath tub while he screamed in pain. And once, after having popcorn, our son’s constipation had reached the point where he couldn’t stand up straight or walk. It had taken two baby enemas to clean him out.

Our mainstream doctors hadn’t seen a connection between our son’s bowel problems and his Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Everything I had been told about it being solely genetic and irreversible, except through behavioral modification and heavy-duty drugs, was a lie. Here I had proof that ASD is reversible: Our boy was back, at least as long as he avoided gluten, casein, soy, and corn.

And so we took our first steps on a trip through a world where doctors, public health administrators, and even some politicians lie to protect themselves from the truth: Genetics is the gun, but environment is the trigger.

Our son’s dramatic response to Secretin had shown us that symptoms of autism are reversible. Eventually we found Secretin to have diminishing results, and it was his diet which kept him from drifting away from us.

The Vaccine Connection

Two years later, he had his first biopsy and colonoscopy and was found to have Lymphonodular Hyperplasia of the colon – a condition associated with chronic measles activity from the MMR vaccine.

Our Son Returned

This journey has been a long one, filled with twists and turns and even a few dead ends. I didn’t know, couldn’t know, if after losing two years of his development whether he would ever be fully normal. But he was talking, making eye contact and the stimming was gone, and that was good enough for my husband and me to see that our son was still there and had never been completely lost.

What is Stimming?

“Stimming” refers to repetitive, self-stimulating movement, such as through flapping, tapping, scratching, or rocking.

Where would we be now if we hadn’t listened to our hearts and tried alternate therapy for our son? I was grateful that I had a support community of parents who were of a like mind about AP. They stood by and encouraged me to believe that something more was going on with our son than genetics alone. They were there for me to help me parent my child gently even when he was screaming and tantruming every day. They helped me through the pain and anguish of my own son not knowing his mom anymore. Thank goodness for those parents who wouldn’t let me give up hope.

For More Information

Rescue Generation: http://www.generationrescue.org
Safe Minds: http://www.safeminds.org
NAA: http://www.nationalautismassociation.org
Autism Research Institute: http://www.autism.com
ANDI: http://www.autismndi.com
A-CHAMP: http://www.a-champ.org
Heavy metal toxicity: http://www.diagnose-me.com/cond/C15891.html

Changing the Course of Autism by Dr. Brian Jepson
Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADD, Asthma and Allergies by Dr. Kenneth Bock
Children with Starving Brains by Dr. Jaqueline Candless
Unraveling the Mysteries of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder by Karyn Seroussi
Special Diets for Special Kids by Lisa Lewis
Evidence of Harm by David Kirby
The Child with Special Needs by Stanley Greenspan
Is This Your Child? by Dr. Doris Rapp

An AP Approach to Autism

By Melissa Hincha-Ownby, editor of the API Speaks blog

Melissa Hincha-Ownby
Melissa Hincha-Ownby

Like many families that I know, my husband and I just sort of fell into Attachment Parenting. When our son was born in 2001, we found our parenting style to be in line with Attachment Parenting concepts. As we added baby number two in 2003, I was introduced to the challenges of parenting two children. Of course, we kept with the Attachment Parenting style because it helped address some of these challenges (can anyone say sleepy mom of two?).

Fast forward a couple of years, and our Attachment Parenting style helped us with one of the biggest parenting challenges that I think we’ll ever have to face — autism.

In November 2006, the day before my daughter’s third birthday, she was diagnosed with autism. Technically, her diagnosis was autistic disorder. At this point, there are five different diagnoses that fall under the pervasive developmental disorder umbrella and autistic disorder was one of these.

After hearing those words, “Your daughter has autism,” I began to read everything I could get my hands on. A lot of the literature focused on behavior therapy as the gold standard with regards to helping a child with autism reach their potential. I was a little concerned that the behavior therapy being proposed was not very child-friendly but also concerned that this type of therapy may be needed. Although my daughter’s delays were very evident, I stayed the course with an Attachment Parenting approach and searched for other options. Continue reading

The Autism Book: Interview with pediatrician Dr. Robert Sears

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

The Autism BookI have to admit that before I read the latest addition to the Sears Parenting Library – The Autism Book: What Every Parent Needs to Know about Early Detection, Treatment, Recovery, and Prevention by Dr. Robert W. Sears, MD, FAAP – that I had only a very basic idea of what autism was. The complexity of this medical disorder simply had me baffled, and because I thought I had no personal connection to autism, I conveniently stayed away from the topic.

But when you’re involved in parenting support, at some point you have to break out of your comfort zone in order to help more families. And attached families certainly aren’t immune to autism.

A few years ago, Dr. Sears wowed us with his acclaimed The Vaccine Book. The Autism Book is just as wonderful. Personally, I have received quite an education from the book. It provides a comprehensive look on this medical condition, and has the added appeal in that it offers both an introduction to autism as well as all the latest research and theories on mainstream and alternative treatments — and even a bit on the subject of prevention. By the time I finished the book, I thoroughly understood all aspects of autism. Dr. Sears has written The Autism Book to be THE handbook on parenting a child with on the autism spectrum.

Dr. Robert W. SearsIn our interview, Dr. Sears gives us some insight to what he hopes to accomplish by writing The Autism Book.

RITA: How did you first become interested in autism?

DR. SEARS: Ten years ago, a new patient walked into my office [located in California, USA] with a child with autism. She asked for help guiding her through all the various treatment options. I knew absolutely nothing about autism at that time, but I wanted to help. So, I began learning everything I could through physician seminars, books, and mentoring under other doctors who specialized in autism.

Through this first patient, and several others in the following months, I learned that there is a whole world of treatment options out there. Some treatments help most kids and some only help a minority. But, I learned that children with autism can recover and lose their diagnosis, and after I saw this happen with several of my patients, I knew that treating autism as a pediatrician would become a lifelong passion for me. I also became involved in the parent support group, Talk About Curing Autism (www.tacanow.org), which has taught me so much in ways that only parents can teach a physician.

RITA: What led you to write your book, and how do you hope for your book to benefit families?

DR. SEARS: Treating autism requires a lot of time educating parents. So, I thought I’d throw everything I know into a book so my own patients could read everything I want them to know. But, I also love reaching out to families everywhere with information I feel is important. With the continually increasing rates of autism — and make no mistake, there is definitely an alarming increase, despite the denials you see in the media — early detection and early intervention are becoming more and more critical. The sooner a baby or toddler or child is identified as being on the autism spectrum, and the sooner intervention begins, the better the chance of a full — or nearly full — developmental recovery.

Physicians used to think, and I am admittedly guilty of this, that it didn’t matter what age a child was diagnosed, because there wasn’t much we could do about it. Autism was autism, and there was no hope for treatment or recovery. Now that we know the complete opposite is true, physicians and parents need to have the tools to detect autism at the earliest possible age so life-changing treatment can begin.

But with the various “alternative” medical treatments out there, I wanted to give parents a science-based look at what integrative and complimentary treatments could help there child, along with mainstream treatments. So, I put it all together for parents everywhere to be able to read. There are some treatments that require a doctor’s guidance, but there are so many treatments that parents can do on their own without a doctor’s help and I wanted to put such tools into parents’ hands.

RITA: Your book touches on prevention of autism, which I found very interesting but something we don’t hear much in mainstream media. Could you give an overview for our readers?

DR. SEARS: The last chapter of the book deals with prevention, in as much as prevention may be possible. I address how to identify autism-associated medical or nutritional problems early on and how to fix them, with the hope that such steps may prevent or limit the autism problems. I also discuss how to approach medical care in a way that may help be protective against autism, as well as how to prevent autism in subsequent children in families who already have one child with autism.

RITA: There is a study that began in 2008 seeking to determine whether mother-child attachment can be used as prevention for autism. What are your thoughts on this?

DR. SEARS: The issue on whether or not Attachment Parenting (AP) can help prevent autism is a tough one. We do know from research that AP kids tend to grow up smarter and happier, and that AP enhances intellectual and motor development during infancy. But, does this benefit extend to autism? I don’t know. I know AP kids who have developed autism. I don’t think we can speak to this until some research is done. My opinion, however, is that the neurobiological mechanisms that cause autism are so complicated that AP practices may not be enough to overcome the autism.

It’s very important not to cast blame on any parent for their child’s autism. And to suggest that a child with autism who was not attachment-parented may have turned out better if he had been AP’d is not an appropriate statement to make to any parent. So, until we know, I don’t like to presume that AP may help prevent autism.

RITA: What tips do you have for AP families affected by autism? Are there particular principles or parenting practices that are more helpful than others, or vice versa?

DR. SEARS: Autism behavioral interventions are very unique and complex. The proper way to interact with a child with autism might not always be intuitive. Specific behavioral interventions are usually provided one-on-one with a licensed therapist, and these techniques are usually taught to the parents, as well. I recommend parents become somewhat adept at the techniques they learn from such therapists. But of course, nothing can replace the loving care a parent can provide, and from an AP standpoint, patience is definitely a virtue.

One very important concept for parents to realize is that the divorce rate in families with autism is extremely high. Perhaps the single most important factor that keeps a family together is a father who accepts the child’s diagnosis and jumps into getting involved with the child’s therapy; a dad who understands what is going on and takes part in it. A dad, on the other hand, who steps back from the whole situation, and just views himself as the money maker for the family, may soon become detached from the family unit and will find a distance developing between himself, his child, and his spouse. Becoming active in a local parent and family autism support group can really help.

RITA: Could you summarize the top two or three concepts from your book for our readers?

DR. SEARS: The book is divided into four sections:

  1. Early detection: as discussed above, this concept is key so that early intervention, and a greater chance of recovery, can occur.
  2. Causes: I discuss what we know about possible causes. Much of this is theoretical, but we are learning more and more scientifically, as well. I also go over what type of testing is useful in order to look for associated medical and nutritional problems.
  3. Treatment: I go over behavioral/developmental therapy, nutritional therapies, and integrative (“alternative”) therapies. I don’t just give general advice – I provide specific guidance on exactly what to do and how to do it.
  4. Prevention: I provide information on how to lower a child’s risk of developing autism. This isn’t always possible, but I share what we do know and what parents can do.

Readers can check out the book’s intro and table of contents at www.theautismbook.com.

RITA: Thank you, Dr. Sears, for your time and insights. Any closing thoughts you’d like to share?

DR. SEARS: Autism used to be a diagnosis will little hope of treatment or improvement. Many kids were institutionalized. And although the diagnosis can be a very difficult time for families, today there is so much more hope and available treatment options than 20 years ago. There is a lot of work involved in autism treatment, but by seeking the help of other parents and the right professionals, improvement is very likely and recovery is possible.

From Heartache to Hope: Interview with Leisa Hammett of the Autism Society of Middle Tennessee

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

From Heartache to HopeThe personal stories of families and individuals affected by autism in the beautifully photographed book, From Heartache to Hope: Middle Tennessee Families Living with Autism by Leisa A. Hammett, were an amazing read.

The book follows 18 families in how they have struggled with one or more family members receiving a diagnosis of autism and how they moved literally from heartache to hope — with the parenting support offered by their local Autism Society of Middle Tennessee, USA. This book illustrates the vital importance of unconditional attachment between parent and child in a circumstance where autism exists.

Leisa, a mother of a child on the autism spectrum, offers more insight into why this book came to be.

RITA: How did you first became interested in helping other parents of children with autism?

LEISA: I’ve always been a flag waver — guess I was born with one flapping in my hand. And then, after serving as a social justice reporter covering poverty, homelessness, addiction, etc., I was moved to use my life, my faith, my gifts, what I possessed, to work for change. That time in my life, my mid-20s, was catalytic. So, in many ways, it’s a bit ironic that I ended up being the type person with circumstances and challenges about whom I used to write. Also, ironically, I’d finished up a volunteer stint as my local La Leche League chapter’s librarian and had promised to do the same for Attachment Parenting International in Nashville, where I live.

But that’s when the “A bomb” dropped. Resources, time, and energy, of course, had to be redirected. Continue reading

Parenting without Punishment or Reward…Really?

By Larissa Dann, Australia’s parenting editor for The Attached Family

Really?I was 31 years old. In my arms, I held another life. He was warm, pliable and soft, caked in afterbirth, and seemed breakable. He had huge blue eyes and now he relied on me. Such a huge realization: I had to grow up now as I was largely responsible for meeting all his needs – his nutrition, his physical and emotional needs, his safe passage through life.

I was also, overwhelmingly, in love.

There was, I realized, a dilemma for me. In my entire life, I think I had only ever held one baby. I did not know how to change nappies or what to do when he cried. All I had to guide me through this parenting jungle was the dimly remembered and experienced way I was brought up.

That way meant lots of affection. It also meant lots of smacking — at least once every six months because, as I recall my mother saying, we just needed that spank to get us back in line.

When my son was eight months old, he bit me during an exuberant breastfeeding session. I did not know what to do: I thought the only tool at my disposal was to punish him, so I tapped him lightly on the foot. I still remember how he pulled off the breast straight away, and looked at me, his round eyes totally puzzled. I was lost: This did not feel good. What else could I do?

Putting the Relationship Back into Parenting

Serendipitously, around that time, a friend asked if I’d like to take her place at a parenting course called Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) that teaches a relationship — and, I now believe, an attachment — approach to parenting. I had no idea what it would entail — I just knew I needed all the tips I could find on this new journey.

The course was life changing for me. I learned that children were people! I learned they deserved respect, but the most mind-blowing and challenging tenet of this approach to parenting was that I could eschew the use of rewards and punishment.

Wow!  This was big! All my assumptions about being a “good” parent, which was based a lot on my experience of being parented — that was all being questioned and, ultimately, thrown out the window. Now, my guide to being a parent was about building a relationship with my child, not trying to control him. This was a fundamental shift in the foundations I had been preparing for parenting.

Meeting Skepticism with Resolve

Could I do it? Could I really bring up a considerate, caring child in today’s world, without bringing him into line using the old carrot and stick? Wouldn’t he end up spoiled and self-centred? I proudly told my mother of my plans, and excitedly described all the new skills and philosophy I had just learned.  She listened, skeptically.

A week or so later, my mother relayed a story and advice from her golfing friends. She had told them I was planning to bring up my son without smacking him. They all laughed, saying I would soon find out that was impossible. I bowed my head, more determined than ever. I was going to do this, and my son would benefit!

I was influenced to take change my attitude toward parenting by authors such as Thomas Gordon who wrote Parent Effectiveness Training and Teaching Children Self Discipline, and Louise Porter who wrote Children are People, Too. These authors demonstrated a strong case against using rewards or punishment. Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence further cemented my resolve to rely on relationship skills.

Change Begins with a New View of Children

And so, this journey through positive parenting began. How was I going to avoid using praise, or star charts, or stickers? What would I do when I couldn’t put my child in timeout, count to three, plan a consequence for his actions, or be able to smack him?

I was helped by an underlying ethos from my parent training — that children do not “misbehave.” Instead, they behave simply to meet a need. If I could understand that need, rather than blame my child or see him as deliberately wanting to “get at” me, then I might find it easier to respond to him, rather than punish him.

The Trial of the Toddler Years

Soon, we came to the toddler years. How could I entice him to use the toilet without reward? How could I stop him drawing on the fridge without some consequence? And surely he was too young to understand my verbal communication, and I would need to smack him or put him in timeout?

Somehow, I managed. I did not use timeout or rewards. Instead, I used the relationship skills I’d been taught, with the core belief that he was not being “naughty” or “bad” but simply being a child with unmet needs. I was also guided by the incentive to develop emotional and social intelligence in my son, for him to become empathic and considerate.

Making a Long-term Commitment

Having emerged relatively unscathed through the toddler years, I decided I wanted to teach this style of parenting. One motivation was that teaching the skills would help keep me on track with using the skills personally. I have now been teaching P.E.T. for more than 13 years and love it!

Attention Parents: Attachment Parenting International Leadership is a great way to continue educating yourself on Attachment Parenting — and “keep yourself in line” — while also getting the added benefit of educating and supporting other parents. Learn more here.

Parenting in this way has resulted in some interesting judgements by family and friends. I have been seen as “giving in” to my children, because I don’t insist they do everything my way. “You let him win that time!” is a never-forgotten comment by my grandmother. My take on those same  situations, however, has been to see the outcome as a win-win for both my child and myself.

Being a teacher of parenting has it’s own social issues. I was once meeting my cousin and her friend who had been a student in the course. The ex-student was reticent with me and later told me that she had warned her children to behave as they were going to be seeing the parenting teacher! In my eyes, I’m just a mum, who happens to have taken a certain path.

Still Learning

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. I am no perfect mother — just ask my children! They will happily fill you in on where I could do better. I make heaps of mistakes, but I forgive myself because I am human and then apologize — a lot! And I continue to delight in my children.

My son is now a teenager, and I am thoroughly enjoying walking beside him as he negotiates this difficult stage in life. I am excited by who he is becoming and I value our relationship every day. I have not grounded him and he is aware that this is not an option for me.

My younger child is another delight, and I marvel at her sparkle every minute I am with her. We have our moments, as does any relationship, but our attachment bond is strong. I hope that her entry and movement through adolescence is as exciting and wondrous for us both, as the journey her brother is taking.

Validation

Recently, my mother complimented me.  She acknowledged that she thought it would be impossible to bring up children without physical punishment. Now, when she looks at my children, she sees that it is possible.

For me, taking this approach to parenting seems to be fulfilling my goals as a parent. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea. I just wanted to share that choosing to parent in this fashion — relying on relationship rather than behavior management — is possible…if you trust yourself, your children, and your motivation.

Keep Family Game Night Fun

By Judy Arnall, author of Discipline without Distress, www.professionalparenting.ca

Judy ArnallIt’s that time of the week that everyone looks forward to: family game night. Here are some tips to make it go smoother and fun for everyone, including Mom:

  • Have a simple dinner — Order in pizza so that there are not many dishes to clean up and cooking is not necessary. If pizza is too expensive, plan to have a “snack” tray instead. Get a set of muffin tins or any compartmentalized tray and serve cheese cubes, fruit cubes, vegetable sticks, a few dips, meat roll-ups, raisins, nuts (not for under four-year-olds though), crackers, pita pieces, hummus, and various finger foods. This takes hardly any dishes, and Mom is not always getting up between game turns to cook, serve. and clean-up dinner.
  • Maintain a “missing pieces” bucket — Have a catch-all bucket for wayward game pieces, puzzle pieces, dice, and cards that get stuck under the sofa, behind tables, and dropped into the carpet. That way, when a certain game is pulled out, the bucket can be checked for “lost” pieces before play begins.
  • Use plastic bags for pieces — When game boxes get wrecked from overuse, use clear locking plastic bags to contain cards and all pieces. Hole punch the bag if you have young children present so it is not a suffocation hazard. Bags are also handy for travelling because they keep out dirt and are less bulky. Continue reading

Reclaiming Happy Hour: Responding with Sensitivity during Meal Preparation

By Stephanie Dahl, Responding with Sensitivity editor for The Attached Family

happy hourThe hours of 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., known in the restaurant and lounge world as “Happy Hour,” have not been historically happy in my house. A more accurate term would be the “Wicked Hours.”  The reason for this is that two essential parenting principles were in conflict with one another during that timeframe: Feed with Love and Respect, and Respond with Sensitivity. I wanted to be both fully present to help facilitate positive play and lovingly cook a healthy homemade dinner — at the same time. It seemed impossible to do both.

Around 4 p.m., I would start to cook dinner. Because I use fresh ingredients and cook from scratch, my attention would be on meal preparation. I can’t see the living room while I’m in the kitchen in my house, so supervising my toddlers while preparing dinner was a challenge. Most often, I would be a frazzled mess, bouncing between the kitchen and living room.

By 5:30 p.m., my husband arrived home and we all sat down at the table to have a meal together. But the children were cranky, I was cantankerous, and he was tired. Family mealtime was not shaping up to be as positive as I had hoped. Change was needed.

In order to cook dinner and meet my children’s needs, I had to either adjust how I was approaching dinner or adjust how I structured my children’s time. As it turns out, I ended up doing a little of both, depending upon the meal.

Here are two meal preparation techniques I’ve found helpful for streamlining cooking:

  • Slow Cooker — While the kids are napping in the afternoon, I can prepare our dinner ingredients and pop them into the slow cooker to cook on high until dinner time. There are very diverse recipes that can be made in a slow cooker. (Not everything will be a casserole!)
  • Freezer Storage — You can take this as far as you’d like, but the basic idea is to prepare ingredients or meals ahead of time and freeze them. Some people dedicate a day to making and freezing their meals for the next 30 days, but I’m not that organized. Instead, I do some basic ingredient preparation that saves time, such as chopping onions and freezing them flat in a plastic bag. When a recipe calls for onion, I just break off what I need from the freezer pack. You can also chop fresh herbs and freeze them in ice cube trays –- just pop out what you need for your meal.

If I’m cooking more traditionally, I know I’ll need great activities to keep my kids nearby and occupied:

  • Sensory play allows children to experience different textures
    Sensory play allows children to experience different textures

    Sensory Play

    — I partially fill a long, shallow tub with dry bulk goods (such as beans, peas, or flax seed), drop in some measuring spoons, and let the girls scoop, stir, and experience soothing tactile sensations.

  • Little Chefs — While I’m not yet comfortable sharing the stove with my children, I’ve begun to incorporate tasks that they can safely do to help. Plastic knives are safe for little hands and do a nice job of slicing soft fruits and vegetables. (We hand-wash and reuse the knives.) My girls also enjoy measuring and pouring ingredients and taking turns stirring (nothing hot!).
  • Tablescape
    A peek inside the drawer used for Tablescape
    A peek inside the drawer used for Tablescape

    The girls have their own drawer with their tableware and they love getting the things they need for dinner. Sometimes they end up with a few too many bowls, or need a reminder to grab a spoon, but giving them the responsibility for collecting their own dinnerware has been such a joy for all of us. And you’d be surprised at how engaging this activity can be!

  • Floor Art — Coloring can be such a fun activity, but somehow it is even better when done on a giant piece of paper on the floor. Check your local newspaper to see if they offer end rolls of newsprint, try butcher paper (available at most office supply stores), or use large scrap paper (we recently used the backs of used wrapping paper).

These little changes have made a tremendous difference in our afternoons. Now I’m either letting the slow cooker do the work or I have engaging, constructive activities for the kids to do while I cook. And 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in our home is now known as our “Happy Hours.”

The Marriage Challenge

Sonya FeherBy Sonya Fehér, contributing editor for the API Speaks blog, leader for API of South Austin, Texas, USA, and blogger at www.mamatrue.com

Before my son was born, a friend gave me the book, Babyproofing Your Marriage. The book was based on very traditional gender roles and a husband who expected his wife to have dinner on the table when he got home and justify why the house wasn’t clean when all she had to do was hang out with a baby all day. The advice they were giving wasn’t for us.

Even so, it turned out our marriage did need some babyproofing. Decisions we made about parenting turned into unanticipated challenges to our intimacy and partnership. Continue reading

‘I was Spanked, and I’m Fine!’

By Jan Hunt, founder/director of The Natural Child Project, www.naturalchild.org

We hear it all the time, when spanking is mentioned. Someone steps forward and says something like this:

“Well, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. I was spanked, and I’m fine. We all know that sometimes spanking is necessary for solving problems with kids. And since it’s both necessary and harmless, it should be allowed and even encouraged.”

At face value, this seems to be an airtight case — a perfectly logical justification of spanking as part of the necessary discipline of children. And a lot of people see it that way. But is it really so logical? Is spanking necessary? And is it as harmless as so many believe it to be?

Let’s examine the argument:

  • “I was spanked.” (fact)
  • “I’m fine.” (opinion)
  • “Sometimes spanking is necessary for solving problems with kids.” (false assumption)
  • “Since it’s both necessary and harmless, it should be allowed and even encouraged.” (illogical conclusion)

Now let’s consider a similar argument that seems to justify smoking:

  • “George Burns smoked all his life from his teenage years on.” (fact)
  • “He was in reasonably good health all his life and lived to be 100.” (fact)
  • “Sometimes smoking is necessary for coping with life’s problems.” (false assumption)
  • “It should be allowed and even encouraged.” (illogical conclusion)

Smoking good?This analogy should help to make it clear that the spanking argument, like the one on smoking, is based on false assumptions and leads to illogical conclusions. Some children, like some smokers, are less affected than others because of a natural emotional resiliency, just as Mr. Burns must have had physical resilience. Some children, like some smokers, are less harmed than others because of mitigating factors, such as the presence of other adults who treat them with love and care. To the extent that a spanked child is really “fine,” it is in spite of, not because of, the punishments they have received. Mr. Burns must have had mitigating factors, too. Perhaps his strict regimen of daily exercise helped him to fare better than other smokers, or perhaps he inherited a strong constitution.

For many reasons, George Burns was one of the survivors among frequent smokers. And for many reasons, there are also “survivors” of spanking. But we can never know just how much happier and more fulfilled they might have been had they been gently guided instead of being punished — any more than we can know just how much healthier Mr. Burns might have been had he never smoked a cigarette or a cigar. Would he have lived even longer?

Like smoking, spanking can be harmful and it is entirely unnecessary, because there are far more effective and emotionally healthy alternatives. And these alternatives work in the long term — unlike spanking — because they establish a pattern of good behavior that is motivated by the simple, genuine desire to reciprocate love.

As Dr. Elliott Barker has written: “Kids who have their needs met early by loving parents … are subjected totally and thoroughly to the most effective form of ‘discipline’ conceivable: they don’t do what you don’t want them to do because they love you so much!”

Behavior that is based on fear can last only until the child is old enough not to fear defying the parent. Punishment builds anger and resentment within the child that will inevitably be expressed at a future time — angry teenagers do not fall from the sky! In contrast, behavior that is based on mutual love and trust will last through all the years of a child’s life, and through the entire length of the parent-child relationship. There is little that is more rewarding for a parent than the enjoyment of an enduring, loving, and close tie with their child over many years.

Given all of this, let’s revise the spanking argument:

  • “I was spanked.”
  • “I’m fine, but I wish I was happier and more productive, and better able to love and trust others.”
  • “Since spanking is both unnecessary and harmful, it should never be allowed. Our government, like those in many European nations, should actively and strongly discourage it.”

Spanking, like all other forms of punishment, such as timeout and consequences, can only bring about temporary and superficially “good” behavior based on threats and fear.

As John Holt reminded us years ago: “When we make a child afraid, we stop learning dead in its tracks.”

Gentle, loving, and respectful guidance is the only truly effective way to help a child to grow and develop to his full potential as a loving and trusting adult. Spanking is unnecessary, harmful, disrespectful, and unfair. Let’s stop doing it!