All posts by The Attached Family

Yelling Works…and Other Parenting Myths Busted

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

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

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

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

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

Myth Busted: Validation Works Better Than Yelling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myth Busted: No One Knows Your Child Better Than You

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

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

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

Myth Busted: You Can Be Friends with Your Children

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

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

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

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

The Price Families Pay for Myths

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

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

What myths have you busted in your family life?

A Win-Win Situation: How to Teach Sportsmanship

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

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

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

The Dangers of Poor Sportsmanship Go Beyond the Game

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

Teaching Sportsmanship Begins at Home

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

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

What to Do When It Happens

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

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

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

How to Play with Your Toddler

By Emily Rempe, founder of Productive Parenting

We are all too aware of how modern technology is changing our lifestyles. Arguments could be made with much validity on each side to the merits and detriments of its steady infiltration into our lives. I am not writing to deny or defend the impacts of modern technology in our society and in our families. Rather, I am writing to declare with confidence one area that remains unsurpassed by modern technology – your child’s play.

Children are designed to explore and understand the world around them through their senses. Their primary field guides in this exploration is you: the parent. Parents understand the importance of this role and aspire to introduce their young children to the world around them in creative and engaging ways. However motivated parents may be, when it comes to specific ways of engaging with their children in meaningful play, I often hear a collectively shared experience of inadequacy. This is when it becomes easy to buy into modern technology in an attempt to provide us with a commercialized means to nurture our children.

Why Do We Feel Inadequate?

I would like to offer my thoughts on why the perceived sense of inadequacy exists and how it can be alleviated. A generation ago, our mothers’ educational opportunities were primarily limited to nursing and teaching. As these teachers became mothers, they naturally applied what they were doing in the classroom to their own children. The understanding of early childhood development easily translated into age appropriate ways of engaging with their own brood.

While it is wonderful that the opportunities available to women today are much broader, it has created a need for early childhood experts to share their expertise with parents who have become educated and skilled in other areas of study.

Components of Meaningful Play

When parents are equipped with the insights and ideas of early childhood experts to promote learning through the five senses, two key developments take place that cannot be usurped by modern technology:

  1. It promotes experiential learning through a child’s five senses which lays a fundamental understanding of the world around them.
  2. Sharing the learning experiences together promotes and deepens bonds between parent and child that will lay a strong foundation for their future relationship.

When we as parents become a vital part of this nurturing process through activities that promote bonding between parent and child, we are well on our way of fulfilling our role. Equipped with timeless activities that have been nurturing young minds for centuries, we do not need to feel inadequate in our approach.

Attachment-Promoting Toddler Games

Below are a few examples of play activities that engage the senses and strengthen the attachment bond between you and your toddler. These suggestions come from ProductiveParenting.com, which offers simple ways to bond with your newborn through five-year-old child.

Clapping Numbers
Clapping Numbers gameTarget Age: Early 2 year old

What To Do: Children learn using the sense of hearing. Listening and following directions are important skills for your child. Introduce this fun activity by saying, “I will clap one time.” Clap. “I will clap two times.” Clap. Clap. Continue up to four times. Have your child try clapping one, two, three, and four times. Continue only if your child is still interested.

Phone Conversations
Phone Conversations gameTarget Age: Middle 2 year old
Materials You Will Need: Two toy phones or disconnected phones

What To Do: Your child has seen and heard you on the phone many times. Now may be the time to let your child have a conversation with you on the phone! Dial your home number. Say it out loud as you dial. Talk to your child. Give your child time to talk to you. Show your child how to dial the home number. Keep the phones on the toy shelf for playtime.

Letter to Myself
Letter to Myself gameTarget Age: Late 2 year old
Materials You Will Need: paper, envelope, stamp

What To Do: Children love to bring in the mail! Help your child understand how this works firsthand with today’s activity! Begin by having your child write a letter. (This usually means drawing.) Put your child’s letter in an envelope. Address the letter to your child. Let your child put a stamp on the envelope. Take your child to a mailbox and let your child put the letter in the mailbox. Let your child check the mail every day until the letter arrives. Children are so excited to receive mail, just like you do!

Past, Present, Future
Target Age: Early 3 year old

What To Do: Today’s activity will help develop your child’s concept of time. Discuss the concepts of past, present, and future with your child. Give your child a few examples of things that have happened in the past (last birthday, last vacation, etc.), and see if your child can come up with some, too. Now discuss today’s events as things that are happening in the present. Do the same for things that will or may happen in the future. Test your child’s understanding of the concept by giving your child an event and asking him/her to categorize it.

Coin Patterning
Coin Patterning gameTarget Age: Late 3 year old
Materials You Will Need: assortment of coins

What To Do: While waiting in a restaurant, use the coins you have in your pocket or wallet to practice patterning with your child. Start with simple patterns, like penny, nickel, penny, nickel and see if your child can continue the pattern. Try more complicated patterns with more than two coins or let your child come up with his/her own patterns.

Unschooling: Learning through Play

By Jan Hunt, member of API’s Advisory Board and API’s Editorial Review Board. Reprinted with permission from www.naturalchild.org

Unschooling: Learning through PlayMy son Jason, now a young adult, has been unschooled from the beginning – we were fortunate to have discovered John Holt’s books when Jason was two, and never looked back.

Jason was a very inquisitive child, who loved learning new words and playing with numbers. He had an extensive vocabulary by 18 months, understood the concept of infinity at two years old, and taught himself squares and square roots at three. In spite of all this, I still wondered if I should use a curriculum, especially for math. It was hard not to worry when taking a path that was so different from the one I had taken in childhood. It was also hard not to be affected by my parents’ doubts, even though I understood the reasons for their skepticism.

When Jason was seven years old, he asked for a math book as his special holiday gift that year. We had recently read John Holt’s glowing review of Harold Jacobs’ book, Mathematics: A Human Endeavor, in Growing Without Schooling. The book proved to be as wonderful as John Holt had said, and we enjoyed it a lot. But a few months later, I noticed that Jason hadn’t looked at it for a while. I decided to suggest reading a chapter per week together. Fortunately, I was busy that day and didn’t get around to asking him. That evening, Jason came up to me, book in hand, saying, “Let’s play math.” My first thought was, “Whew, that was a close one.” Had I made my offer, he probably would have accepted it, and even learned from it, but where would the concept of math as play have gone? Continue reading

Trust Your Baby to Show You When to Breastfeed

By Jack Newman, M.D. & Teresa Pitman, reprinted with permission from The Latch and Other Keys to Breastfeeding Success

Trust your baby for breastfeeding successBabies are born with the skills and instincts to help them breastfeed, but we often ignore the messages and cues they are sending us. It is much easier for your baby to latch if your baby is calm yet ready to nurse. The entire process becomes far more difficult when the baby is upset, exhausted from crying, overly hungry, or not hungry at all, so it is valuable to tune into your baby’s cues and internal rhythms so that breastfeeding happens when the baby is ready.

Learn to recognize your baby’s early signs of hunger:

  • If you are holding the baby skin-to-skin, your baby may move towards the breast on her own. Even without the skin-to-skin component, if you are holding the baby upright against your chest, he will signal his interest in feeding by shifting to one side and moving down your body into position to breastfeed. Some babies will almost throw themselves to the side in an attempt to get into position.
  • If your baby is sleeping in a separate bassinet or incubator, he may show his desire to nurse by smacking his lips and sticking his tongue out repeatedly, putting his fists to his mouth, sucking on his fingers or the blanket, and other sometimes subtle behaviors. Watch your baby and get to know his early cues.
  • If you are not sure if your baby really wants to breastfeed, try it and see. If your baby really doesn’t want to eat, he won’t.

Waiting until the baby is crying is not helpful, as it makes learning to latch more difficult. On the other hand, by paying attention to your baby’s behaviors, you truly will become the expert in caring for your baby. Watching your baby’s cues will allow you to feed with love and respect, and increase your confidence as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diverting Anger in Toddlers

By Gaynell Payne

angry toddlerWith toddlerhood comes tantrums. While some parents are taken by surprise by the seemingly violent appearance of a child raised in a non-violent home, it is a perfectly natural rite of passage for any child. The reasons behind it are simple: lots of emotions with little logic. The emotions that can overtake a toddler can be a floodgate of overwhelming proportions.

I’m OK, You’re OK

While watching their sweet angel turn into a hitting and kicking tornado may leave some parents at their wits’ end, the idea is not to suppress your child’s anger or frustration but to teach him to control them. In a young child, the strength of his emotions can be scary for him, also. That’s why it’s important that the parents stay in control of themselves during a tantrum. When you do, you are showing him by example how to maintain calm in stressful situations, even if it doesn’t seem like he’s getting that picture yet. If you’re out of control, then you are in effect asking your child to do what you cannot: calm his intense emotions. In this situation, a child’s fear of his “out of control” emotions may eventually escalate into what psychologists call magical thinking, according to Abnormal Psychology by Leonard Zusne and Warren Jones. “If mommy can’t handle my emotions, who can? They must be too strong for anyone.” This could lead to an abundance of issues in adulthood.

No one is perfect – at least, no one I’ve met. The best of parents will occasionally fail to maintain perfect calm and no one will be injured for it, but on the whole that is the goal. If you empathize – put yourself aside and try to see things from your child’s point of view – it is easier to be compassionate and not lose your cool.

Give It an Outlet

Anger isn’t a very fun thing to have bouncing around in your insides. It’s got to come out somehow and  preferably in a way that is acceptable to the rest of the family. For me, I’ve found that some wonderful advice, such as handing my son a crayon and asking him to draw his emotions, didn’t apply to a child under three. When my two year old would try to hit me, I’d take his hands and say, “You’re really mad! I know you’re mad! Hit your hands together!” I’d pretend I was mad, too, to show him. I’d clap my hands together, growl, and say “I’m mad!” He’d clap his hands together as hard as he could and growl.

Validate

Part of why this tactic works for him is he feels validated. Validation involves listening to your child, then reflecting back to him what he is feeling.

We all feel sometimes like we are speaking a foreign language. We’re trying to talk, but the person we are talking to just doesn’t “get it.” If it’s someone very important to us, this can lead to a rainbow of very ugly feelings like frustration and despair. To a child experiencing this, those feelings can quickly escalate into rage and hopelessness. This is true from birth. Crying is the only language that infants possess. Picking up our babies to comfort them instead of letting them “cry it out” is the earliest form of validation.

When our babies grow into toddlers, their ways of communicating have evolved a little bit but not that much. It’s still a rare child who can always rationalize what he is feeling and communicate his needs. Many adults haven’t mastered that skill! It is still up to us to help them recognize what they are feeling, identify it, and work through it.

To a baby, it is enough to pick them up and change his diaper when he’s wet. They learn that “Oh, I was uncomfortable, because I was wet. Mommy fixed that.” They not only get a clean diaper but two added bonuses: They learn why they were unhappy, and they learn that someone cared enough to see it and fix it. Knowing that someone cares enough to do that for you is one of the basic emotional needs of humanity. Relationships of all types are won and lost in that regard.

A two year old is just entering the real meat of the emotional arena. Some see their constant need for emotional reassurance as manipulation or a weakness that must be toughened up. But humans are hard-wired to seek out validation at any age. We must know from someone that we are OK as we are, cared for, and loved. A toddler especially is in an age of discovery: so many new challenges and things he is learning to do, and having trouble doing, and things he can’t or isn’t allowed to do. It can all tie in to a child’s sense of self-worth. The newness that a toddler finds herself suddenly experiencing leaves her needing more reassurance.

Most of the time, it is relatively easy to validate a child. All you have to do is pay attention, and reflect back what you see. ”I know you’re mad, (sad), (frustrated), (you’re smiling, are you happy today?)” A validated child feels loved and in sync with the world.

I could tell that my son and I were making progress when we were in the mall and he wanted to go play in the toy store. Again. We were on our way out, and we had already stopped there earlier. I told him “No, it was time to go home.” He drug his feet and finally sat down and said, “I’m mad!”

“You’re mad?” I replied. “I know you’re mad! I know you wanted to play with the toys. But we still have to go now.”

He climbed to his feet and came with me without any more protest. He had just wanted me to know that he was mad. I was proud of his ability to tell me what he was feeling instead of throwing a fit.

Play It Out

Children love to play pretend, and it can be rewarding and fun for an adult to play, too. It is also a wonderful learning tool. Adults can use pretend to teach a child what to do when a real situation arises.

“Pretending that you’re mad” is a fun game for most children. This is the easiest time to show them healthy ways to be angry. This play time gives your child the opportunity to decide what works best for him, or to even come up with his own stuff. One of our favorite books, My Two Hands, My Two Feet by Rick Walton and Julia Gorton, has a line that says: “When I’m mad, I stomp my feet, like drummers as they beat, beat, beat.” My son would joyfully pretend that he was mad and stomp his feet.

The next time he’d get really mad, I’d say, “You’re really mad! Stomp you’re feet; you’re so mad!” And he would, crying through his tears, “Beat, beat, beat!”

It takes repetition for a child to learn to use their new diversion instead of hitting mommy or daddy, or the cat. That’s when you’d just gently take their hands and say, “No, don’t hit Mommy. If you’re mad, clap your hands together.”

Anger Management: Ways to Say ‘I’m Mad!’

  • Clap your hands
  • Stomp your feet
  • Growl
  • Say “I’m mad!”
  • Color a picture with angry scribbles
  • Get a cloth and twist it really tight
  • Hit a pillow

I’m Mad, Too

Sometimes, the best way to teach is by example. Some days we all just get overwhelmed. When you’re upset and he’s yelling, an honest “I’m mad!” said in a childish, exaggerated way may feel silly coming from mommy, but you’re showing your child that you’re human, too. This could be when that light of dawning association may occur: “Mommy said it like I say it. Is she feeling like I felt yesterday?” This is the beginning buds of empathy. As parents, this is one of our ultimate goals! A child who learns healthy ways of handling his emotions will feel emotionally balanced and more in tuned to everyone else around him.

Keep a Sense of Humor

You’ve talked, you’ve validated, he’s still “mad,” and you’re both a weepy mess. It’s time to change the subject. Children have a harder time walking away because for them, everything is now. Joke, make light of the situation (but never make fun of him!), and have fun. Kids are very eager to play – it’s what they do! As parents, it’s important for us also to remember that it’s not the end of the world. Tantrums happen. It’s not a personal attack; it’s just childhood.

Whatever methods you prefer, the important thing is that, as parents, we work towards showing our children what to do when they are angry or upset.  When we do that, we are also showing them that it is OK to feel the way they do. There is no shame in feeling angry. With this validation, they can go on to eventually learn more mature ways of dealing with their emotions.

Sources for Adult Anger Management

  • Boy Town – BoysTown.org,  1-800-448-3000
  • United Way – LiveUnited.org
  • Child and Family Support Center – 1-877-900-CFSC
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-7233
  • Domestic Violence Hotline/Child Abuse – 1-800-4-A-CHILD
  • Family Violence Prevention Center – 1-800-313-1310

How do you help your toddler deal with her anger?

Name Your Baby the AP Way

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

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

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

An Exercise in Sensitivity

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

The Basics of Bottle Nursing

By Barbara Nicholson & Lysa Parker, API co-founders, reprinted with permission from Attached at the Heart ©, available through the API Store

Bottle nursingWe have been contacted by many parents and caregivers who want to incorporate the most loving behaviors into their feeding practices with their babies. Our culture often supports practices that create disconnection from our children. For instance, some parents have shared with us that they were given baby gear to encourage a “hands off “ style of parenting, including devices to prop a baby bottle so the baby does not have to be held during feedings. An Attachment Parenting International Support Group meeting may be the first place where a parent hears how important it is that babies be fed in the arms of a loved one.

API developed guidelines for bottle-feeding with a unique viewpoint. Because we encourage all parents to look at their parenting choices through the lens of attachment, we have coined the term “bottle nursing” because it reflects breastfeeding behaviors and has tremendous advantages to the parent or other caregiver and baby. These recommendations are applicable to infants who are bottle-fed breast milk, formula, or a combination.

To simulate breastfeeding, parents hold the baby in the crook of the arm, positioning the bottle alongside the breast. This position places the baby’s face and cheek in contact with the parent’s arm, and this skin-to-skin contact helps parent and baby feel more connected. Holding the baby during feeds also helps to prevent the baby from developing “flat-head syndrome,” or plagiocephaly, which can happen when a child is left on a flat surface too frequently. When a baby drinks from a propped bottle, mother and baby also miss an important opportunity to strengthen their emotional connection. Propping the bottle can also be a choking hazard.

Try to make feeding time a special time of calm for both parent and child. Maintain eye contact while feeding when the baby is alert and interested, and switch positions from one side to another; these help strengthen the baby’s eye muscles. Talk softly and lovingly to baby at feeding times. Parents should respect their child’s hunger cues by avoiding feeding schedules. Following the child’s cues helps to strengthen the attachment relationship and shows the baby that his needs are understood.

“We take care of our foster babies as if they were our birth children in every way, except that they are bottle-fed. We hold them as much as we can; I war them in a sling all of the time when I am out in public, and we never take the car seat out of the car. We sleep in close proximity to them; we have a porta-crib next to our bed.

We feed them bottles but use a breastfeeding model, holding them close, never propping the bottle, changing sides for eye-hand coordination, demand-feeding, yet being careful not to overfeed them formula (which is not a concern with breastmilk).

We answer their needs as quickly as is humanly possible, helping them to feel as if they are the most precious beings on this earth.”

~Reedy Hickey, foster mother of 32 infants

Some mothers (or primary caregivers) who bottle nurse choose to follow the breastfeeding model closely so the baby associates feeding with being held; therefore, the mother is the primary person who feeds him while using the bottle. This approach to bottle-feeding produces many benefits for mother and child. The mother will have an opportunity to sit down, to have a special time to bond and rest, just as a breastfeeding mother would be “allowed” to do. A new mother sometimes needs this excuse to rest, instead of feeling that she must do all the housework or other tasks while letting someone else feed the baby. With this behavior, the baby benefits from the consistency of his mother’s presence while feeding and is able to gaze at her face, smell her scent, and feel secure in her arms. This enables their precious attachment relationship to deepen. A mother might say to a well-intentioned relative or friend who wants to feed the baby that this is their special bonding time and a rest time for Mom.

Sucking can remain a strong need well past the first year or two. Pacifiers, when used appropriately, can satisfy that need until the child outgrows it. Breastfeeding babies suck at the breast for comfort, so parents of bottle-fed babies can enrich their child’s experience by either holding the baby in the feeding position when giving a pacifier or simply holding and comforting an older child. These modifications increase close physical contact and bonding time and can make weaning from the pacifier a more natural and gradual process.

As the baby gets older and is able to hold his own bottle, the parent may be tempted to allow the baby to feed himself or to let him walk around with a bottle rather than providing the comfort the child is seeking. If a child doesn’t associate the bottle with being held or having undivided attention by the parent, he might use the bottle or a pacifier as a comfort tool, or “transitional object.” Toddlers who use the bottle, pacifier, or thumb for comfort – rather than being comforted by the parent – may have a much harder time giving up the bottle, pacifier, or thumb down the road. If they learn to come to their parent for comfort or cuddle time and perhaps a short time of sucking on their bottle or pacifier, eventually they will prefer the cuddle and gradually wean from the transitional object, much like a breastfeeding toddler weans from the breast.

In the case of a baby or child who must be separated from their parents during part of the day, it is important that the parent evaluate how important a pacifier or other transitional object is for the security of the child. In some cases, it would be cruel to forbid the use of these comforts, so parents must use their best judgment.

Regain “Control” of Your Teen

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

Get control of your teenHas your teenager stopped listening to you? Do you routinely catch him telling lies, or does she continually break curfew? You may be finding yourself tempted to make tighter rules and to pass out punishments when these rules are broken. But Christina Botto, author of Help Me with My Teenager!, says this strategy is likely to backfire.

“It is possible to regain control by restricting your teenager and forcing him to do as you say. You can monitor their every move and bombard them with questions,” writes Botto in her ParentingATeenager.net article, “Trust vs. Control.” “Your teen, however, will most likely respond by avoiding you and family time, lying, dropping grades, or even running away from home. He also will be very frustrated, feel confined, and count the days until he is 18 and out of the house.”

What most parents are looking for is not to control their teen’s every move but to discourage their teen’s inappropriate behaviors while encouraging more mature behavior, like coming to them for advice and input. Because of our culture’s tendency to punish, it’s easy for parents to get caught up in this approach, when the most effective way of “regaining control” is not to punish or to control but rather to find ways to reconnect while guiding good decision-making.

As parents begin to let go of their control on their teen, however, Botto said many parents are left wondering how much independence is too much. Parents know they need to continue to teach, they know their teen is not yet at a point of being completely independent, but they don’t know where to set boundaries without seeming too controlling. That feeling of unease can lead parents of teens, just as with parents of younger children, to becoming overly permissive or controlling.

To help parents find the right boundaries for their teen, here are a couple tips to try when faced with an area of conflict:

  • Allow your teen to make some decisions, such as what type of clothes to buy or when to do homework. This boosts confidence in himself and his decisions, as well as allows parents to gain confidence in his choices. This give-and-take in trust strengthens your attachment bond.
  • You may discover your teen is more mature in her decision-making than you thought, or you may realize this is not so. When she does make unwise decisions, this gives you the opportunity to support and guide her, which when done appropriately and compassionately also strengthens the attachment bond. Don’t scold or punish. Instead, work together to talk about and problem-solve the situation. By discussing the problem and analyzing the facts, your teen will gain confidence in your ability to empathize with her and offer helpful advice. And by allowing your teen to join you in problem-solving, you’re boosting her confidence by giving her the opportunity to come up with her own solutions.