Category Archives: 3. The Toddler

From 18 months to age 3.

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

By Lisa Lord, editor of The Attached Family.com.

Photo courtesy of ChopChopKids
Photo courtesy of ChopChopKids

After my oldest son turned one year old, the number of foods he would eat slowly began shrinking, and it continues it’s descent toward the single digits. Luckily he still eats a few real winners, like strawberries, broccoli, peanut butter and yogurt, but my concern is growing as once-loved foods are picked off the list one by one. My younger son is more adventurous: Pepperoni, black olives and turkey burgers were recently upgraded to “delicious,” and he’s willing to try anything his friends are eating. But even he is prone to turning up his nose at the dinner table.

I’ve always loved the idea of cooking with my kids, but the reality has often been more like a recipe for frustration rather than fun. I hear the same thing from a lot of parents. According to Sally Sampson, founder of the nonprofit ChopChopKids and author of the cookbook ChopChop: The Kids’ Guide to Cooking Real Food with Your Family, getting kids involved in the kitchen may be just the solution we are looking for, not only to broaden our kids’ palates but to nurture family connection as well.

LISA: Can you tell us about ChopChopKids and it’s mission?

SALLY: ChopChopKids is a nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire and teach kids to cook and eat real food with their families. We do that in print and digitally, and we are just starting cooking classes.

If you’re not cooking, you are probably eating a jot of junk. Whether you are obese or hungry, junk is not the solution. You need to be eating real food, and the way to eat real food is to cook it.

LISA: Why is it so important for parents to cook with their kids? What do parents and children stand to gain?

SALLY: First of all, kids who cook have wider palates. What we have found is that kids often don’t want to eat certain foods because of the surprise factor. But if they are part of the process, then when they sit down to eat the broccoli they just cooked they are not surprised by it and want to show off what they made. They want to try it, and they want other people to try it, much like when they draw a picture and want to put in on the refrigerator.

 Additionally cooking helps with math skills because there is measuring, it helps with understanding other cultures because kids are cooking foods from all over, and it helps with science because, for example, you might be eating yogurt and then talking about fermentation. And it’s a great activity to do together; cooking helps bond kids with their families.

LISA: Mealtimes and food choices can become a source of power struggles between children and parents, especially when parents are worried about the amount or variety that their children eat. In your experience, what happens when parents invite their kids to join in the shopping and cooking?

SALLY: I recently did a series on The New York Times Motherlode blog about picky eating. Obviously it’s really hard to cook every meal with your kids, and it can be frustrating because it’s messy and time consuming. What happened with the twin boys [in the blog series] was that when they cooked it, they ate it. What they were resistant to was foods being unfamiliar. For example, they liked scrambled eggs, so their mother put out little bowls of things the kids could add in, like scallions, ham, kale and cheeses. One of her sons put in scallions, which he claimed to hate, but ate it all. So when he sat down at the table he wasn’t saying “Yuck, scallions” because he had made the choice to put them in himself. The difference was huge.

LISA: Cooking with young kids can be challenging. I can understand why a lot of parents shy away because, as you mentioned, it can be messy and time consuming, especially if the younger kids just want to play while cooking. It’s developmentally appropriate, but it can be frustrating, too. What words of encouragement do you have for parents?

SALLY: You can start small! If you have very young kids, just let them add cherry tomatoes to a salad, or if they are old enough to count, tell them to add 12 cherry tomatoes to the salad, and ask them to mix the salad. The boys in the blog project were 4 years old, so they didn’t do a lot of the cooking, but they did a lot of the prepping, and they added a lot at the table. When their mom made turkey burgers, she had bowls of things set out, and the boys helped assemble the burgers. You can put out chunks of veggies or fruit after school and have kids skewer them. Start with preparation before you start cooking if that’s a hard leap for you.

LISA: Many parents struggle with their children’s picky eating habits, which isn’t helped by the food culture in the United States (and in many other developed nations), in which processed and unhealthy foods are readily available everywhere and are heavily marketed to kids. What advice do you have for parents to help their children eat a wider variety of foods?

SALLY: What started the recent blog project was that the mom I was working with told me it drove her crazy that one son would only eat hot dogs. I looked at her and asked, “Does he do the grocery shopping?” That’s the number-one rule: Don’t buy it if you don’t want kids to eat it. When you’re home it’s easier than when you are out in the world. We have an obesogenic culture; everything is out there, and it’s very hard being the lone mom saying “no, no, no.” I was that lone mom saying no, and it was hard.

Try talking to your kids about why you don’t want them to eat junk. Don’t have food in the house that you don’t want kids to eat. And institute a “one-meal rule.” You make one dinner, and it’s up to kids to eat or not, and you don’t offer to make something else, so you’re not a short-order cook. When my kids were very young, if they didn’t like dinner the option was that they could get themselves yogurt, cottage cheese or cereal (and my cereals were all sugar free). They are now 19 and 21, and both say I didn’t make it appealing to be a picky eater. Since I was always making interesting stuff, there was no upside to battling.

Of course, if your child has food allergies or true sensitivities, that’s different: it’s a medical issue.

Once my kids started to drive and both had jobs, they ate more junk. I only had the kind of food in the house I felt was OK to feed them, but once they get to a certain age they were buying their own. When my son did the grocery shopping, at first he came home with junk. I told him that he could eat it, but I wouldn’t pay for it. And that’s still the case. You can’t control what a 19-year-old eats, but you can control what you pay for. I’m not insanely rigid–clearly we don’t eat just brown rice and tofu–but my house is pretty clean.

LISA: This ties in well with of one of API’s Eight Principles of Parenting: Feed with Love and Respect, because it’s a way to feed respectfully according to your values and kids’ best interest in the long term. Do you have any special tips about helping kids get comfortable with a variety of vegetables?

SALLY: The number one mistake people make is to assume that their kids aren’t going to like certain foods. I’m opposed to the “take-one-bite rule.” I think you say, “Wow this is fantastic!” and then the kids eat it or not. Some foods don’t taste good to some people, so I’m not saying everyone should like everything, but I think sending super positive messages and being a great role model can help. Serve lots of vegetables at the table, and do little experiments. For example, cut up four different vegetables and serve them with four dips. Make it more about the dip than the vegetables. You can get different kinds of hummus and white bean dip, and so on. You can usually get kids to try this, and it’s really fun. Or serve the salad first, and have kids arrive at the table hungry. I still experiment with this with my son. He loves salad, but if I put the chicken on the table first then he will go for that, whereas if I put the salad on the table first then he eats a ton of salad and then goes for the chicken.

LISA: Tell us about your cookbook ChopChop: The Kids’ Guide to Cooking Real Food with Your Family.

SALLY: The cookbook is an extension of ChopChop magazine and is a little more detailed. A lot of the recipes in the cookbook are basics that you can personalize. The magazine is written for kids; the cookbook is written for kids but also a little bit more for parents, a teeny bit more sophisticated.

LISA: Where can people find out more about ChopChop Kids, the magazine and the cookbook?

SALLY: People can visit our website www.chopchopmag.org.

 

Words of Encouragement

Still not sure about cooking with your young children? Catherine Newman, editor of ChopChop magazine, offers some tongue-in-cheek words of encouragement.

“Kids cooking. Even just reading those two words, you’re cringing, because you have toddlers still, or little kids, and it is impossible to let them ‘help’ without everything taking a million years, and you’ve got a lock-jawed smile stretching your face, sparrows nesting in the white beard that’s grown down to the ground in the time it took your child to measure 1/4 cup of flour. Plus, there’s the other 15 3/4 cups of flour spilled out of the bag onto the counter and floor, and the cat is trotting through it, and you will find his floury paw prints all over the house for the next 17 months. I hear you. But, and I always say this: it gets better. Invest now, deal with the mess and the endlessness with as much patience as you can muster, because one day . . .  Oh, one day your kids will be cooking for you.” 

(Reprinted with permission, www.benandbirdy.blogspot.com)

 

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

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

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

Strengthening Secure Attachment Through Food by Kelly Bartlett

Manage Your Emotions: How to Cool Down Before You Blow Up

By Kassandra Brown, parent coach in private practice at ParentCoaching.org.

Kassandra Brown - family yogaYour baby is crying at 3 a.m. It’s not the first time tonight you’ve gotten out of bed to answer her call and offer her your comforting arms and milk. You know she needs you and get up willingly, albeit groggily. You’re confident in Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting and know you want to form a strong bond with your baby.

A few years later, you’re in the grocery store and your now preschool child is sprawled on the floor, screaming that she wants a candy bar. When you sit down beside her and try to comfort her, she screams louder and shrinks away, yelling, “Don’t touch me!” Your tools don’t seem to be working. You feel angry, embarrassed, confused and ashamed. Even worse, you notice an urge within you to slap her or yell at her to get her to stop. What went wrong?

Many parents, including me, have been in this situation. I know I had some illusions that if I just parented “right” and focused on good bonding behaviors to form secure attachments, then parenting would always be smooth sailing. I had some ideas like:

  • If I wear my baby, I can take her anywhere with me and continue my prebaby life.

  • My children won’t need to melt down, hit, scream or even cry because I’ll be so in tune with their needs.

  • My children will listen respectfully to each other and to me.

  • I will never yell.

  • Weaning will happen easily and naturally in a rhythm that works well for the whole family.

  • A secure attachment means I won’t have to set or maintain clear boundaries because my children and I will be kind and cooperative all the time.

  • Crying is a sign that I’m doing something wrong or that I’m not a good parent.

  • Attachment Parenting will make raising children easy.

Do any of these sound familiar? Yet the real world of parenting has not worked out that way for me or my clients. At first I wondered why not. Doesn’t Attachment Parenting work?

While grappling with these questions, I learned a few things about my own expectations for parenting and my emotional reactions to conflict. I’d like to share some tips that have made parenting a lot easier for me. I hope they inspire you, too.

Does AP Work?

Attachment Parenting is an overarching approach about treating children with love, compassion and respect. API’s Eight Principles of Parenting are wonderful tools that help guide parents in caring for their children. When difficult parenting moments arise, it is not a failure of the principles. AP is not a recipe for turning out angelic kids, but rather one for nurturing relationships.

When we ask the question “Does it work?” we need to define what we mean by “working.” If working means that kids and parents behave perfectly, as in the bullet points above, then no it doesn’t work–and neither does anything else in the real world. Relating to other human beings is hard, no matter what.

If working means building the strong foundations upon which loving relationships can be created, then yes it works. If working means creating an environment in which children are listened to, respected and guided with unconditional love, then yes it works.

Why Do I Lose It With My Kids?

We lose it with our kids for so many reasons: we care so much about them, we feel responsible for them, they remind us of ourselves when we were children, we fear what their attitudes and behaviors may mean for their future, we are sensitive to what other parents think about us and our children, and we are sometimes stressed or ill ourselves. Things that felt overwhelming to us as children will come up again. Children help us develop more self-awareness, compassion, tolerance and strength. Many times they do this by triggering our anger, aggression, shame, sadness, insecurity, fear and intolerance. When these emotions arise, we have two main options: repress the emotions or examine them.

How Many Beach Balls Are You Trying To Submerge?

Repressing a strong emotion can be a useful strategy, especially in emergencies. Imagine your child in a swimming pool. She’s just gotten into water over her head but doesn’t know how to swim. You don’t want to sit beside the pool talking to your friend about how you feel scared and nervous or what you think might happen. You want to put your own fear on hold while you jump in to save your child. In this instance, repressing your own fear is a useful and appropriate strategy that allows you to act now and feel later.

However, we get into trouble when we use repression as our “everyday” coping strategy. Trying to repress emotions over the long term is like trying to submerge a beach ball and keep it under water. It takes a lot of energy, balance and concentration. Then just when you think you’ve got the hang of it and let your energy shift to something else, the ball gets away from you and pops up anyway.

Like a beach ball that wants to float, emotions want to come to the surface. Even when we repress them, they often emerge when we least want them to. Multiply that by several different emotions and the different situations that trigger them, and it’s clear why suppressing emotions is a recipe for both exhaustion and failure.

Most of us want more for ourselves and our children.

Tips for Working with Anger and Other Challenging Emotions

1. Cool down. In the heat of the moment, it’s almost impossible to resist the urge to fight, flee or freeze unless you can soothe your stress response. Cooling off will help you more closely align your actions with your values.

10 Tips for Cooling Down: 

  • Take 10 deep breaths and make a wordless sound on the exhale.

  • Resist the urge to rationalize. Let yourself feel exactly what you are feeling without trying to make it better or worse and without trying to justify yourself. Admit out loud that right now you are angry, upset, sad, frustrated, incensed or whatever else you are feeling. Breathe through your feelings and let them pass. For help in identifying your needs and feelings, the Center for Nonviolent Communication offers a needs list and a feelings list.

  • Remove distractions: turn off the devices (TV, computer, music), stop multi-tasking and focus on your child. Both of you will feel better when you’re not distracted or fighting for each other’s attention.

  • If you can safely leave the room for a few minutes, let your child know when you’ll be back and take a parent time-out. (This may or may not be appropriate based on your child’s age, developmental stage and the presence of another caregiver.)

  • If you are shopping, leave the shopping cart and go outside. You can cool off together in the car, do jumping jacks on the sidewalk, or run around a grassy space.

  • Move your body. Exercise is a great way to discharge energy without hurting anyone.

  • Change the scenery. Just walking into a different room or outside can help.

  • Look through your child’s eyes. Bend down or sit at his level. Look in the direction he is looking. Notice what the world is like from this point of view.

  • Write or draw in a journal to express how you feel, what you are thinking, what you want, and any blocks you see to getting what you want. Give your child paper and markers to join you and call this an “art time-out.”

  • At a time when you are calm, make a list of ways to cool off, and post it in a visible place in your house. When stress is creeping up on you, look at your list and do something from it.

2. Listen. Every moment of upset is an opportunity to parent in alignment with your values. Listen to what your child is saying. Then put yourself in her shoes and listen to what you are saying. Your child is small, dependent and not sure of how the world works. What do you want to say to her?

Listening Tip: To support your listening skills, try this visualization exercise:

Take a quiet moment at the start of the day. Listen to your breath for 10 breaths. This will help you settle into your body and feel calm. Then imagine a situation with your child that really bothers you. Imagine how you usually respond. Then imagine how you’d like to respond. Allow this new response to become very vivid; try to connect with the love and compassion you feel for your child. Taking the quiet time in your own mind to rehearse how you want to respond makes it more likely that you will respond that way in the future.

See the Listening Exercises at the end of this article for more in-depth listening tools.

3. Stop the Blame Game. Taking ownership of your own needs and feelings allows you to stop blaming your child for why things are not going right. The situation then becomes an opportunity for self-reflection and adjustment rather than a sign of failure. Listening for needs and feelings can be like learning a new language. It takes time, but it’s worth it as a way to de-escalate conflict and establish connection. It’s worked with inner city gangs, and it can work in your family.

Communication Tip: Ask yourself–What am I feeling; what do I need right now; what was I thinking right before I got upset; are my expectations reasonable? Then you can communicate in age-appropriate ways how you feel and what you need. If you practice using “I” statements, it’s easier for others to hear you. For example: “I feel angry and sad. I want to live in a clean and peaceful home where everyone helps out. I’d like to hear what you want and how you feel. Then I’d like to brainstorm about ways we can both get our needs met.” This is more respectful and effective than saying “I’m mad at you because you didn’t wash the dishes. You never wash the dishes. You’re so ungrateful.”

4. Reframe the Conflict. This step is also a good starting point for next time. When you can examine the conflict with an open heart and the intent to learn and be changed, you set the basis for a new and more powerful way to live your life and parent your children. Conflict happens. The question is, what are you going to do with it?

4 Tips to Open Your Heart After a Conflict:

  • Assume good intent. When you choose to assume your child is doing the best he can  to meet a valid need with the tools he has, you respond differently than when you assume your child is a manipulative, ungrateful or lazy. Try it and see.

  • Tell yourself you are an awesome parent. Imagine that it’s true. It is.

  • Look for the gifts. What can you take away that will help you next time? Conflict can be a way to gain more understanding of the needs you share with your child.

  • Let the conflict be a way of creating more teamwork and shared problem solving with your child. Brainstorm about ways for both of you to have your needs met. Examples include time in nature, rest, good food and loving attention.

5. Forgive Yourself. Taking the time to work with the intense, challenging or disappointing moments is hard. Your own high expectations make it harder. Do you expect yourself to be perfect, and feel guilty or angry when you’re not? Just as punishment won’t help kids learn and grow, treating yourself harshly won’t lead to positive changes.

Forgiveness Tip: Forgive yourself for your breakdowns, tantrums and less-than-desirable behavior. When you are gentle with yourself, you model self-kindness to your children. Taking time to admit your mistakes and apologize to your children is also good modelling and a way to build connection.

What’s the Payoff?

Using conflict as an opportunity to wake up, grow and heal will change your life. Viewing conflict in terms of people clashing over different strategies for getting their needs met is very empowering. This work can offer big rewards in the quality of your parenting and your enjoyment of time with your children. The strong bonds that API’s Eight Principles of Parenting help you form make it easier. I know this has made a big difference in my life, and I hope you will find it valuable as well.

Resources

Talk to a good friend with as much honesty and vulnerability as you can.

Join a women’s or men’s group.

Join or start an API support group in your area.

Join the API Neighborhood.

See API’s resources for nurturing empathy.

Learn more about Nonviolent Communication.

Listening Exercise, Part 1

This part of the exercise can be done in a quiet moment during your day, when you know you will have at least 10 to 15 minutes alone. Get comfortable and breathe deeply for 10 breaths, just to help you settle in and be calm. Then imagine a situation involving your child that really bothers you. As an example, perhaps your child ignores you when you ask for help around the house. Remember a recent time when this happened. Think of what you were doing and saying, how you felt, what your child did and what you imagine he was thinking. You might need to pause and come back to your breath here because it takes effort not to get upset all over again while remembering. Now think about how you usually respond. Again, you might need to reconnect with your breath because it’s easy to get caught in this story.

Now try a radical shift. Imagine someone asks you to do something. But maybe you don’t really hear them or know what they mean. You don’t understand why it’s important. You don’t want to stop what you’re doing and do the thing that’s being asked or demanded of you. Allow yourself to travel back to a moment like this when someone–maybe your spouse, your boss or your own parents–asked something of you. How did you feel? How did you respond? Noticing what you felt and the validity of those feelings is a great first step towards change. Take that moment of insight and allow it to bring you into more compassion for your child.

Use your insight to imagine how you want someone to treat you in that situation. Would you like that person to be sure to get your attention? Maybe touch your arm and make eye contact rather than just throw words over her shoulder as she walked through the room? Maybe you want some context as to why the job is important? Maybe you want to be able to say you don’t think it’s important or it’s too hard or you just don’t want to do it? Maybe this job seems easy to everyone else but is hard for you, so you take on a belief that you are stupid or incapable every time you attempt the job? Allow yourself to be curious if any of these things are true for your child. Then offer him the same compassion and courtesy you’d like to be offered.

Listening Exercise, Part 2

This next part can be done with your child Suppose the task in question is something like washing the dishes after dinner. Suppose your child knows the dishes need to be done, she knows why, and she even agrees it’s important, but every night it’s a nagging, foot-dragging pain in everyone’s butt to get them done. The first step might be to uncover why it’s such a big deal. Why does your child resist, and why do you insist and nag? What are the underlying needs and feelings that are being triggered by the dishes? Is there something else your child would rather be doing? Does your child feel she has a voice in this situation? Is this a microcosm of resentment for you and a reminder of how you didn’t even want to cook dinner, let alone do all the dishes too? There could be any number of needs and feelings for both of you.

When you look at what’s going on, you’re better able to address the real causes of the behavior. Maybe after you uncover the needs and feelings about the task, you propose to your child that you both brainstorm three different solutions and then try them for one week each. At the end you will agree on one of them or try something new to make sure everyone’s needs are met. It may seem like it takes a lot of time to do this. But you don’t need to do it every night. Do it once, thoroughly. Then put a plan in place and try to stick to it.

This is just an example; both you and your child will bring your own creative genius into solving the problem once you are able to bridge the gap between you with listening and respect.

 

Emotional Eating: An Interview with Dr. Marian Tanofsky-Kraff

By Rita Brhel, managing editor of Attached Family, API’s Publications Coordinator and API Leader (Hastings API, Nebraska)

Photo: Miranda Laskowska
Photo: Miranda Laskowska

Feeding a child involves more than providing nutrients. From birth on, there is a very strong emotional component. This is easiest to recognize with babies and toddlers, who rely on comfort sucking as a way to cope with stress. But we continue to see it far beyond these early years, such as in how we crave a cookie or soft drink while unwinding after a hard day.

This tendency to comfort ourselves through food is called “emotional eating.” We all do it sometimes, but some people rely on emotional eating as a primary coping mechanism, and this can lead to problems such as binge eating or obesity. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are also related because those affected find a level of comfort through controlling their food intake. The common link is an unhealthy relationship with food.

Attachment Parenting International addressed this topic during Attachment Parenting Month 2009, when the theme “Full of Love” sparked discussions on how family relationships, particularly secure parent-child attachment, can promote a healthy relationship between children and food, and lower the risk of obesity and other eating disorders.

I interviewed Marian Tanofsky-Kraff, PhD, as part of the effort. The original interview can be found in the Attached Family magazine 2010 “Full of Love” issue.

Dr. Tanofsky-Kraff is an associate psychology professor at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, as well as an obesity researcher at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, both located in Bethesda, Maryland, USA. Previously, she was a binge-eating disorders research associate at the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders in New Haven, Connecticut, USA. Her research program evaluates interpersonal psychotherapy with adolescent girls at high risk for obesity.

API: Let’s first get a good picture of what emotional eating is. Can you tell us what a healthy relationship with food looks like?

DR. TANOFSKY-KRAFF: Sometimes we all emotionally eat. To some extent, I don’t think this is a bad thing. If you want to have a cookie, that’s OK. When it becomes a problem is when you’re eating when you’re not physiologically hungry—when you’re using food to cope. A healthy relationship with food is when we eat only when we’re physiologically hungry. We can enjoy our food, but it’s unhealthy to allow it to control your life.

For some people, food is a “responsible” vice. They don’t drink alcohol, they don’t use drugs, they don’t gamble. They basically live healthy lives, except that food or certain types of food are their emotional vice. The problem is, unlike alcohol or drugs, people can’t abstain from food. They need to learn to find a balance with food. There’s nothing wrong with eating a slice of apple pie while you’re talking through what’s bothering you, but if you get into a habit of doing that, then you have an inappropriate relationship with that food item.

API: How does emotional eating develop?

DR. TANOFSKY-KRAFF: There isn’t much literature on this, so it’s all hypothetical. Some parents may have used food with their children as rewards or as a way to soothe a child when he felt badly. On the other hand, we know that some foods can actually soothe people—carbohydrates, chocolate. People who are using food to cope, and who choose chocolate, are possibly getting reinforcement.

API: So would you say that emotional eating is an addiction?

DR. TANOFSKY-KRAFF: There is a relationship between different food types and the brain and stress. For some people, yes, it can be safe to say that emotional eating can be addictive.

There is also a whole new line of science studying food addictive behavior. It’s been suggested that foods high in carbohydrates and that have been highly processed do have an addictive element—not so much as other addictions, such as to drugs, but still an addictive element. But this is a really new field of science.

API: In terms of prevention and intervention, how can parents teach their children not to emotionally eat? What if parents themselves emotionally eat?

DR. TANOFSKY-KRAFF: I always encourage parents not to use food as a reward. We have to find other ways to reward our kids. Soothe them with words and actions, as opposed to food. Bolster communication between parents and kids. Teach kids when they feel bad to work it out with words.

Keep an eye out and see if your kids are turning to food when they’re feeling down, and then teach them other ways to soothe themselves, like going to the playground. I’m a big prevention advocate because losing weight is very difficult, so if you see your child gaining weight, it’s important to do something then, rather than wait.

When parents emotionally eat, that runs into the problem of modeling. In working with kids, it’s important to have the whole family work on physical fitness and healthy eating together. This works better than singling out the obese child. Both parents need to be involved; if you have one parent who doesn’t focus on healthy eating and getting exercise, this sends a mixed message. The whole family has to be involved.

Modeling healthy eating begins when children are babies. If you expose kids when they’re young to healthy foods, they’ll grow up liking healthy foods. If you say “yum, yum, yum” with carrots, your children will grow up loving carrots.

API: It seems that every children’s activity, from sports to church, involves treats, and often these are sweets or other unhealthy foods. Parents even encounter candy being used to soothe a child after a doctor appointment. Despite the focus from television shows such as “The Biggest Loser,” our society seems to ignore the issue of obesity in children. How can parents teach their children to choose healthy food and eating habits?

DR. TANOFSKY-KRAFF: I think the only way we can change that is with big policy changes, such as a policy that schools cannot hand out sweets. For example, instead of celebrating a child’s birthday with cake, let’s play kickball. I think there need to be changes at a much broader level—it shouldn’t be just on parents.

Kids are eating so many snacks all the time that they don’t even know their hunger cues because they are virtually never hungry. Biologically, we should have a natural physiological reaction that occurs when we are hungry, and that’s when we eat.

API: How big a role do genetics play in determining a child’s risk of obesity?

DR. TANOFSKY-KRAFF: Up until age 6, the parents’ weight determines the weight of the child. So a 2-year-old with one obese parent is more likely to be of a higher weight percentile than a 2-year-old who doesn’t have an obese parent. After age 6, the child’s own weight is the best predictor of the risk of obesity. That is, even if both parents are obese but the child is not obese, his odds of becoming obese are lower.

Healthy eating is so important. I don’t think parents necessarily need to be concerned about obesity, but they should be concerned about healthy eating.

And everyone needs some physical activity every day. No, walking down to the mailbox is not enough exercise, but it’s hard to answer how much exercise is needed every day. It varies according to each person, depending on a number of factors such as your health, your physical fitness level, your age. What is consistent is that every person should have some form of aerobic [activity] every day.

API: Thank you so much for your time and insights. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

DR. TANOFSKY-KRAFF: Most of my work has been on out-of-control eating or binge eating, and what I’m finding is that out-of-control eating is often associated with emotional eating. If we focus on preventing emotional eating, eating in response to a negative affect [emotion] is less likely to occur. Parents can model how to respond to a negative affect in ways other than eating, and children will be less likely to use food to cope as they grow older.

From the Journal of Attachment Parenting: Emotional eating among children is correlated with parental responses that minimize, are punitive and are non-reasoning. These parental responses are in line with authoritarian and permissive parenting styles. Emotional eating among children is not related to parental responses that fall within authoritative parenting styles (under which Attachment Parenting falls). Learn more about this study in API’s Journal of Attachment Parenting, available online free of charge, through a free API Membership.

 

How Attachment Parenting Produces Independent Kids

By Zoe Claire, originally published on www.unnecessarywisdom.wordpress.com. Reprinted with permission.

1095865_74207826Children are in our care for a limited amount of time, generally spanning two decades. During that time, their needs change drastically yet gradually from year to year. I’ve always found it odd that the principles of Attachment Parenting are criticized as promoting dependence in children when, if you analyze the proper development of independence in childhood, the attachment style would be considered the ideal method for raising competent adults.

Attachment style parenting is based on Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting. These principles are designed to guide decision making with a focus on infancy. But the overwhelming theme of the attachment style is the sensitive responsiveness of the parent toward the child. This responsiveness is directed at meeting the child’s needs in a loving and respectful manner.

The meeting of needs is a critical concept.

The end result of meeting a child’s needs is varied yet always positive. A child whose needs are consistently met learns that his voice is heard, his communications are valued, his needs are worthy, he can rely on the world to be a safe and secure place, he can trust his parents both for comfort and guidance, and he is competent.

We are most effective leaders when we teach from a place of love and trust.

Think about a time when someone tried to change you or what you were doing. How did you feel? Now think about how you felt about that person. Did you believe the person had your best interests at heart? If you did, you probably felt positive about the experience, whether you accepted the advice or not. If you believed the person did not understand you, did not care about you, or was only trying to promote their own interests, then you probably felt bad about the experience and certainly rejected the advice. We can only create true change from a position of love and trust. This is a truth of humanity.

Why do so many people worry about Attachment Parenting leading to dependent kids?

Those who don’t understand API’s Eight Principles of Parenting can often confuse meeting a child’s needs with stifling independence. An infant is at the beginning of her experience as a human. She begins her life without the ability to help herself in any way. She is entirely dependent on her caretaker. One aspect of meeting her needs is understanding what her needs are. She has not reached the stage in her development yet where she is capable of independence or desirous of it. The securely attached parent recognizes this need and attends to her accordingly.

The result of this sensitive attendance to the child’s needs is a child who has a secure foundation to begin her journey toward independence.

How does Attachment Parenting foster independence?

The drive for independence is as natural to humans as breathing, sleeping and eating. The securely attached parent is able to recognize when the child needs and wants independence and not only allow him to stand on his own two feet, but encourage him as well.

Independence occurs gradually, throughout the two decades of childhood. We do not need to force it upon a child before she is ready and should not hold her back when she is.

Responsive parents can see when their 2-year-old is demanding to pour her own milk and allow her to so. This is meeting a need. It’s a new need, different from those in infancy, but a need nonetheless. So she is allowed to develop necessary skills as she is ready.

As soon as a child is capable of caring for himself, he should be allowed to do so.

Connected, responsive parents can observe when their child is ready for independence and are able to encourage him. He wants to dress himself? Allow him. It doesn’t matter what he wears. It matters that he is able to care for himself. If he still needs to be close to his parents when he sleeps at night, that’s okay, too. It’s about fostering the child’s desire for independence. It’s about meeting needs. His need for independence is as legitimate as his need for security. Both are met with sensitivity, predictability and love.

What the child learns as she grows is that she is capable and secure. She learns that independence is a positive experience for her, as she masters each new skill. She learns that all of her needs will be met, regardless of what they are or how someone else feels about them.

As the child progresses through childhood, her need for independence will increase while her need for physical closeness to her parents will decrease. But the confidence she has in her parents is what links the two.

What does Attachment Parenting look like in the teen years?

I’ve seen articles proclaiming that parents must detach from their children during the teen years. I believe this is a misunderstanding of what attachment is. The attachment is the relationship, the sensitivity, the unconditional willingness to meet the child’s needs. A securely attached parent is able to recognize that the child’s needs during the teen years have changed and will continue to change to adulthood.

The securely attached teenager has experienced life with his parents knowing that when he speaks, he will be heard. He knows that his ideas, thoughts, opinions, and experiences are valued by them. He knows that he is competent. He knows that he can seek independence and he will be supported in his efforts. He knows that he can go to his parents for emotional support and they will be there for him. He knows that they know him well, they always have, and their primary goal is to support him. He knows this because that has been experience since the day he was born.

Think about this teen for a moment. This is what all parents want. This is a teen who knows when she has a problem, she can trust her parents as a resource. She will talk to them about it. She doesn’t rebel. She has nothing to rebel against. Her parents are allies in her life. They always have been. Nothing magically changes because of her age. They are still watching her, listening to her, anticipating what she needs from them and responding to her with sensitivity. She will take their advice more often than not. She knows that they want the best for her. They don’t disregard her, brush her aside or bully her. They never have. Sure, she might make mistakes. Everyone does and teens are more susceptible due to their inexperience and youth. But she has parents to guide and teach her. And she is still willing to accept their love and support.

We all want the same things for our children. We them to be happy, successful, independent, competent, kind, loving, empathic, responsible adults when they leave to go out into the world. We are not always so sure how to get there. While we all have to find our own way as parents, this I do believe: you can never go wrong meeting your child’s needs, no matter what the needs may be.

 

Take Time to Reconnect After the Work Day

By Rita Brhel, managing editor of Attached Family magazine, API’s Publications Coordinator and an API Leader (Hastings API, Nebraska). Originally published on TheAttachedFamily.com in October 2008.

Boy & TeddyMy friend, Nicole, and her husband both work full-time. Their two-year-old daughter spends the day with a childcare provider who has watched her since she was six weeks old. Oftentimes, Nicole comes home after a 45-minute commute tired, wanting to relax and spend time playing happily with her daughter.

When her child was younger, Nicole would breastfeed to help reconnect in the evenings, but as her daughter grew into a toddler and weaned, the challenge of creating a peaceful evening has mounted. Her daughter, hungry for her attention, seems to push the limits constantly, often bringing home acting-out behaviors she’s learned from older children in her daycare. While Nicole believes that discipline is important, she doesn’t want to ruin the evening, and tends to discipline inconsistently, choosing not to discipline when it appears her child is starting a tantrum.

When you’ve spent most of the day away from your child, it’s natural to want to come home and spend a peaceful evening relaxing and playing together. But some busy parents have difficulty finding quality time to spend with their child. The parents’ priority may be to enjoy a phone conversation with a friend, to watch television for an hour, or to have a family dinner at a local restaurant. The children, anxious for their parents’ undivided attention, may express their frustration through tantrums and other acting-out behavior, quickly causing tension for the entire family. Should these parents, like Nicole, let discipline go by the wayside in an effort to have a more peaceful evening?

Consistent Discipline Always Important

Discipline is a very important component of Attachment Parenting (AP). As outlined by Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting, discipline is an essential tool in helping children to develop a conscience, especially as the child grows and becomes more independent. But a key part of AP discipline is teaching children, not by reacting to their behavior, but by meeting the needs that lead to undesirable behavior. The same holds true for stressed, dual-income families seeking quality family time in the evenings after the children come home from daycare and before they go to bed.

Reconnecting after being apart for a day is essential for working families, according to Jane Nelsen, EdD, in her 2005 article “Seven Ways Busy Parents Can Help Their Children Feel Special,” posted on www.positivediscipline.com.

“Helping your child feel special is a matter of planning and habit, not a lack of time,” writes Nelsen, who co-authored Positive Discipline for Working Parents.

Here are some of her tips to help parents to reconnect with their children at the end of the day:

  • Take time for hugs – Don’t underestimate the power of a hug in changing attitudes, yours and your children’s. Hugs can also be significant in stopping acting-out behavior.
  • Involve your children in rule-setting – Children are much more enthusiastic about following rules that they’ve had a part in setting. Help them come up with creative ways of getting their chores done or setting morning and bedtime routines, and brainstorm solutions for other issues that tend to be contentious.
  • Include your children in your chores – Your children will feel empowered when you ask them for help, instead of lecturing or scolding. Instead of getting angry that there are toys all over the floor of the family room, ask them to help clean it up.
  • Regularly schedule special time with the children – Set aside some one-on-one time together with each of your children. Nelsen recommends at least 10 to 15 minutes a day for young children and at least 30-60 minutes a week for school-age children, although many parents would argue that children need more one-on-one time with their parents than this. Actually putting this quality time in your calendar means you’re making it a priority, and even when an evening is particularly hectic, your children will know that you will be available for their special time.
  • Take time to listen and share – Ask your child to share her happiest and saddest moments of the day. Perhaps you do this during your special time together, or at bedtime as Nelsen recommends. Listen without trying to solve problems, and then take your turn to tell your own happy and sad moments.
  • Write a note to your child – Put a hand-written note in your child’s lunch box, on his pillow, or tape it to the bathroom mirror. The notes, like hugs, give children a boost during the day.
  • Take advantage of errands – Whether you’re going grocery shopping, to the bank, or dropping mail off at the post office, the drive time during these errands provides additional one-on-one time for your child. If you have several children, have them take turns. Take this time to listen to whatever your child wants to talk about, and share special stories from your life, such as when you were younger.

Children may act out because they feel they aren’t receiving enough undivided attention from their parents. By taking the time to reconnect with their children, parents are not only fulfilling children’s needs but also giving themselves exactly what they need – children who feel right with themselves and with their families, and who are less likely to act out. And if children do have a tantrum or act out, those who feel connected respond more positively to their parents’ discipline.

A key part of AP discipline is teaching children, not by reacting to their behavior but by meeting the needs that are leading to the undesirable behavior.

An Attached Family in 3 Languages

By Birute Efe, AttachFromScratch.com.

P1070409We speak three languages at home with our two children, aged 5 years and 20 months: English, Lithuanian and Turkish. No, the children are not geniuses or extra-advanced. They are just regular kids with normal developmental milestones.

My husband and I are from different countries with very different cultures, and we live in the U.S. Before we had children, I never even thought about which or how many languages my children would speak. We followed our intuition, as we did with Attachment Parenting. Now we speak English with each other and our own languages with the kids. Mission impossible? Not for us.

I believe that the Attachment Parenting philosophy has greatly contributed to raising trilingual kids. Actually, AP is a perfect setup that allows a child to learn more languages. Here are some tips on how to apply the principles of Attachment Parenting to naturally teach young kids different languages.

1. The most important tip is to be sensitive, caring, responsive and positive. Only when your child’s needs are met will he be able to explore the world and the languages more freely and easily. Secure attachment and strong bonding is the key for a child to feel confident and succeed in his challenges early in life.

2. Start early. Get into the habit of talking in your native language to your baby before she is born. Your partner can do this, too. After the baby is born, stay consistent and talk to her in your language as you go about your daily activities.

3. Learning a new language doesn’t only involve new vocabulary and grammar. It can also include getting to know a new culture with different traditions. Kids can be introduced to this very early. For example, in our family:

  • We cook national dishes from our countries very often, and both kids love them.

  • We celebrate our cultures’ different religious holidays.

  • We often meet with other families who live near us and are from our native countries.

  • We often share stories from our childhoods, which involve some good memories about certain traditions.

4. Never force a child to speak your native language. This includes no bribing to talk to grandparents, no threatening to take away toys or privileges, no ignoring, and no being upset or disappointed with a child when he doesn’t communicate with you in your desired language.

In our family, the communication with grandparents usually happens through Skype. Our kids are not very fond of sitting on the chair in front of the computer to talk to a digital view of Grandma, so we never force it. We just turn the Skype on with video and let the kids play in the room. The grandparents usually comment while the kids play somewhere in the room, or we just talk and let the kids overhear us. Sometimes the kids just run up to the computer to say “Hi” or show their grandparents their new toy.

5. There will be times when a child will reject speaking your language depending on where you live and if there are any other adults or children there that speak your native language. Don’t panic. Make your child feel comfortable and speak to her in her preferred language for a while. Good communication is the key, and it doesn’t matter what language it is in.

My daughter’s first words were in my native language because I used to spend the most time with her while my husband worked a lot. But when she turned 2 years old and we start seeing and playing with a lot of kids of her age, she learned English and preferred to speak English most times.  And I was fine with it because I knew she had to learn English. So for a while we spoke English at home. She still understood what we said to her in our languages, but she would not speak them back to us. And there were days when she would ask us not to speak “your way.”

6. When you don’t get to use much of your language in regular daily conversations, try different methods to use your native language.

  • Our family loves music. We listen to “Mommy’s music” and “Daddy’s music” all the time. We purchased some fun kids’ music in our languages so the kids could enjoy listening to it. One day I was so pleased when my daughter tried to say something in my husband’s language, and she started singing the song to remember a particular word that she forgot. As soon as she got to the part in the song where the forgotten word was, she remembered.

  • We do have one strict rule on our house. It’s the story time. The first story must be in the reader’s native language, then after the first story it’s the child’s choice.  Sometimes if they really like the first story they will ask for a second “non-English” story.

  • When we play, I invite them to start the game in my or my husband’s language, hoping we will continue that way. Particularly we like silly, imaginary games. For example, I start telling them a story in my language, and we all try to become live characters in it. You would be surprised where the story about the talking lizard who only speaks Lithuanian can lead all of us.

  • We love cooking, especially our national dishes. Even if we are on “English-speaking days” we still can use our native words for special ingredients and the names of the dishes because there simply aren’t other names for them.

  • When our daughter was about 3 years old, we made some friends with a family from my husband’s country. It was a big transformation for our daughter because she finally started speaking in my husband’s language. Hearing other kids talking in “Daddy’s language” made it much “cooler.”

  • One of the greatest influences for my daughter in learning languages was when we visited our home countries this year. Spending two months in each country was the best language learning experience for her.

7. For those who don’t speak more than one language, don’t worry, there are some ways to teach your child another language that don’t require you to enroll in a foreign language class. For example:

  • If possible, find friends that are from different countries and encourage them to speak their native language as much as they can or wish with your child.

  • Teach yourself a second language so you can learn with your child.

  • Seek out learning materials, books, music, and shows or videos featuring another language. (Note: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under two years old.)

  • Teach words for objects, the alphabet, colors, animals, family names (such as sister, brother, father, mother, etc.)

  • Sing songs or nursery rhymes, recite poems or play games involving another language. Games may involve the senses, such as tasting and naming new foods, smelling and naming items while blindfolded, feeling and naming items in a sack, or finger games like “Itsy Bitsy Spider” in another language. Young children learn best through positive experiences and play.

  • If you use child care, you may find a caregiver or daycare with staff who can speak a different language with your child. Or you can check for a preschool that offers language education or full immersion in a second language.

I know it sounds complicated and a lot of work. I won’t lie–it’s not always easy. I hear many parents who raise multilingual kids complain that it is hard to constantly switch the “language gears,” especially when they live busy lives. And my husband and I have those days when we sometimes wonder if it’s worth it.

But then again, parenting is not always easy. The joy of hearing my children being able to express themselves in three languages when they were as young as 16 months old allows me to brush off all the trouble we go through.

I encourage you to speak the languages you want your child to speak. Be confident, be proud and most importantly, be aware of your child’s feelings.

 

10 Parenting Resolutions for the New Year

By Bill Corbett, author of Love, Limits, & Lessons: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Cooperative Kids in English and in Spanish and member of the API Resource Advisory Committee, www.CooperativeKids.com.

Photo: Sarah Brucker
Photo: Sarah Brucker

Every January presents us with the opportunity for a fresh start, for doing things differently to make positive changes in our families’ lives. Here are my top 10 resolutions to help you engage in more peaceful parenting and create more joyful connection with your children this year.

1. Become aware of moments of frustration. Getting frustrated is a part of being human.  When your child is not being cooperative or your children are engaging in sibling rivalry, it is easy to let your frustration flare up and control your next words or actions. Take notice of a moment of frustration and focus on how it feels. Pause, but don’t speak or act. Relax your entire body, and allow the frustration to pass before moving forward. This is a challenging skill, so give yourself credit for each time you are able to pause and reflect before acting.

2. See your child’s resistance as a wake-up call. When your child resists your requests, you may need to examine how you make them and your level of connection. Children crave power and being heard and seen in the family. When they are frequently told what to do, even gently, they begin to resist. Use his resistance as a “check in” on the relationship. Have you been spending enough quality time with him, in which you’ve been listening more than talking? Have you been allowing him age-appropriate autonomy so he can make decisions for himself?

3. Become more proactive instead of reactive. Setting rules and limits in advance is necessary for teaching children about boundaries, respect and safety. Rules and limits work best when established respectfully in advance, and engaging your child to help you in creating them motivates her to acknowledge them and follow through. Keeping limits and boundaries in place may require posting them for all to see and reviewing them frequently, but don’t overdo it.

4. Speak respectfully of the child’s other parent. We all hope our children will grow up to become people of integrity, and they’re more likely to do so if we give them a model to learn from. Whether you’re separated, going through a divorce, or just mad at your spouse, commit to always speaking respectfully about that other parent in the presence of your child. Your child still sees your partner as his parent, regardless of the issue you may have with that other adult.

5. Make more emotional deposits than withdrawals. In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, author Stephen R. Covey urges parents to make more deposits than withdrawals in their children’s emotional bank accounts. The result will be greater cooperation and less undesirable behavior. Examples of deposits include encouraging words, acts of kindness and demonstrations of love. What deposits have you made in your children’s emotional bank accounts this past month?

6. See your child as good and not bad. Children are not “bad.” Instead, they may have “learned behaviors” that can be difficult to deal with. The behaviors can be coping skills or an attempt to meet needs. A few changes in a parent’s discipline toolbox can make all the difference in the world. Don’t be angry with your child; be patient, kind and open to learning.

7. Find ways to acknowledge and encourage your child. We’re so good at noticing and confronting misbehavior, but offering encouragement is far more powerful. Unfortunately, when our children are behaving as we’d like, we allow our attention to focus on the other stressful things we have to do in our adult life. Slow down and begin looking for opportunities to make positive observations to your children. Say to her, “It looks like you are having a lot of fun playing with your sister!” or “Thank you for helping your brother build that block tower.”

8. See if a “misbehavior” in your child is a desire to meet a need. Take a closer look at behaviors–they may actually be needs in disguise. A mother noticed that her little son was drawing on walls and other surfaces more and more. She tried every discipline technique she could, but his drawings continued. Finally, she went out and purchased a drawing easel and a colorful set of markers and crayons. The boy began to draw amazing pictures on his easel pad and no longer defaced other surfaces.

Challenging behavior may signal that your child needs more of your loving attention in the moment, especially if you’ve been busy doing your own work for a while. Taking a break from your tasks in order to spend some time with your child (one-on-one when possible) will help meet needs for attention and connection.

9. Give your child advance notices of a transition. Younger children live only in the moment and have great difficulty seeing beyond NOW. Because of that, they don’t transition well without advance warnings. Visual timers and visual schedules are incredibly effective at helping children to transition because they enable the child to see how much time is passing and the activities that are planned next.

If you don’t have a visual reminder handy in a given moment, a countdown of verbal reminders is also helpful. Be mindful of starting a countdown and then becoming distracted yourself with talking to another adult or doing another activity. A helpful long-term approach is to narrate your own thought process, since kids learn from what we model: “Oh, look at the time, we’d better start cleaning up … Ok, we should be leaving in 5 minutes, that’s time for two more trips down the slide, then we pack up the car … ”

10. Help your child move closer to his or her purpose in life. Effective parenting means more than just trying to get through each day, but also helping our children to hear the voice inside of them that guides them to find their purpose in life. Minimize the “noise” around her so she will hear and follow that voice over her lifetime.

 

The Best Gift You Could Ever Give Your Child

By Bill Corbett, author of the award-winning book series Love, Limits, & Lessons: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Cooperative Kids in English and in Spanish and member of the API Resource Advisory Committee, www.CooperativeKids.com.

Photo: Phaitoon
Photo: Phaitoon

It’s nearly Christmas, and I’m shopping at a department store. A woman in the aisle just ahead of me is pushing her shopping cart and begging her daughter to cooperate with her. The little girl appears to be about four or five years of age and is dragging her feet and whining that she’s too tired to walk. Her mom looks very tired and continues to plead with the child to keep moving. Suddenly the little girl collapses on the floor, and mom seems to be on the verge of “losing it.”

The woman picks up her daughter swiftly and sets her in the carriage. Once placed in the carriage, the little girl begins kicking her feet, and the crying begins. Soon she’s demanding to get out of the carriage, and her mom is doing everything in her power to hold back her anger. In that moment, I feel so bad for both of them and wish there was something I could do to help. Both mom and daughter are probably feeling the stress of shopping, the holidays and who knows what else.

I was a parent three times over and know exactly what that situation feels like. In situations when my children were small, I remember feeling stress from three things: the complexity of the family schedule that the holidays brought on, the fear that I might not have enough money (or credit) to pay for all the gifts I wanted to buy, and the conflict brought on when the magic I was trying to create for my children from my own childhood didn’t manifest itself to my satisfaction.

My children are all grown now and living productive lives. One of them gave me my two grandchildren, and I love seeing them get very excited about Christmas. Their mom has done a great job of making it happen. But if I could go back in time and do anything different, it would be to put more emphasis on being the person that I wanted them to become rather than trying to make everything so perfect.

Believe it or not, the story that I started this article with actually ended well. You see, the mother did a wonderful thing in that heated moment. She did not yell, she did not scold the little girl, and she did not “lose it.”  The woman reached into the carriage and picked up her sobbing daughter without saying a word. She held her close to her chest and sat down on a sturdy display shelf.  For a few moments, they just remained there, ignoring any of the people milling past them. The little girl cried on her mom’s shoulders, and the woman remained silent as she gently rocked back and forth.

If you ever find yourself ready to “lose it” with your child because you’re feeling tired or stressed, or because things just aren’t turning out as you had envisioned, stop and take a deep breath before you act or speak. See your child as just a child and forgive him or her, then forgive yourself. Acknowledge the stress you may be feeling from the season or other factors, and hold your child a little closer. Give your child the powerful gift of seeing what unconditional love looks and feels like.

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!

 

Love is the Color of a Rainbow: An Interview with author Kathy Parra

API interviewed author Kathy Parra about her children’s book, Love is the Color of a Rainbow.

Tell us about your book. What was the inspiration?

loveisthecolorofarainbow (202 x 261)Love is the Color of a Rainbow is about Willow, a little girl who has been blind since birth. When she hears pit-pats of the first summer rain, she quickly encourages her Mama to go outside. Mama shares all the colors of a rainbow with Willow through nature, and there Willow experiences that “love is the color of a rainbow.”

When I was in the 6th grade, the teacher asked if anyone wanted to assist with the special needs students. I raised my hand and said, “Pick me!” I was paired up with many children, including a girl I will call Willow, who had been blind since birth. Each day I went in to assist her with Braille reading.

One day, out of the blue, Willow took out her pear from her lunch bag and said, “I wish I knew what my pear looked like. Kathy, what does a pear look like?” I started with telling her that it’s green on the outside, and she said, “What does green look like?” I knew then and there I should take her in nature to share what the pear looked like, so I took her under a beautiful mulberry tree in the schoolyard. As she stood under the tree, I took her hand and let her feel the green leaves, and I told her that these are leaves and they are green, and it is the same color as the outside of the pear. “Oh, it is smooth-warm,” she said. Then I ran her hand over the branch, which would be the sense of the stem of the pear, and I said that this is the stem and it is a brownish green. “Oh,” she said, ”this feels smooth yet strong!”

I was excited that she was associating the feel-sense of what I was sharing, putting feelings to the colors. Then I took her to the sand box and ran her fingers through the sand, and I told her the inside of the pear it a soft white color, yet as you bite into the pear, there is just a bit of grit. She ran her fingers through the sand, then taking a bite of pear, she said, “Oh, it feels like life, like it has energy; when I feel the sand and then bite the pear, I feel life-energy!”

Willow quickly began to associate most everything in her daily life with a feeling for a color. She even made up her own colors! Willow often told me I was like a lot of colors put together, saying that all those colors were love. In that short amount of time that we spent together, I was grateful for her friendship and she for mine.

In addition to that experience, my mother encouraged me as a child to be in nature as much as I wished, and I had my own garden at age four, growing various vegetables and such. I took delight in being in the dirt, so to speak. Today I am the mother of three amazing children–all girls, aged 13, 18 and 21. They were an inspiration for me and continue to be so; they have been my greatest teachers. I am honored and blessed to be in the presence of such wisdom.

 How will this book benefit families?

The book has been shared with many families from across the globe, and the response received back has been more than heart-warming. Notes have come in to share things like, “Thank you for your book; it gave me a an opportunity to share with special needs children in such a unique and beautiful way.” Or, “Let us all remember the childlike sense of wonder in this way as we walk through nature.” Many yoga teachers have shared the book to create a sense of oneness.

I believe that this book provides unique ideas about how to be with one’s child in nature in very special ways, perhaps ways that will allow each of us to slow down, take a moment and ponder ideas like: How does a tomato feel, or what does the color blue feel like? Encouraging parents to “just be” for that moment in time with their children can make all the difference in a child’s life. Fostering a parent/child interaction on a nature walk, and in so doing empowering children through their senses in nature, is a wonderful way for children to understand their relationship with earth as interconnectedness, that with nature we are one. It is no secret that children who engage in nature experience less stress, better concentration and increased creativity.

What are your views of Attachment Parenting International and what API is doing? How does your book work within our mission statement?

The journey into motherhood began for me long before conception. Then came breastfeeding, cosleeping, choosing alternative healing/health, shopping in local markets, choosing to unschool the girls so that life is their curriculum, and practicing all of the principles shared by API. I applaud API for continuing to encourage parents to create strong family bonds with their children, for our children are the future gateway to the new world of being. Let us listen to our children, learn and grow from our children, and let our children be children. If we can do this, not only will we have a future generation of children who know themselves and all that surrounds them as a unity, a oneness, but it will also rekindle the childlike sense of wonder within ourselves.

Anything else you’d like to share?

As I share in the opening of the book, “When we look through the eyes of a child, the world becomes what it always is and has been.”

Where can readers find more information?

My website is www.kathyparra.com.