Category Archives: 5. The Adolescent

From age 10 to age 18.

Attachment Parenting Our Teens

By Laurie A. Couture, author of Instead of Medicating and Punishing

So many attachment parents start out so passionate about giving very young children the best start possible in life: Moms birth naturally, spare their sons the trauma of circumcision by keeping them intact, breastfeed for at least three years or longer, carry their babies at all times, cosleep for several years, and they ideally are gentle and nurturing to their young ones as the children begin to assert their wants and express upset emotions.

Sadly, however, something happens between the ages of seven and 12 in far too many families who started out as attachment-minded: Moms and dads stop parenting for attachment and connection and start letting the mainstream lifestyle creep in. This often translates into sending children to school to suffer with all of its toxic elements, passively allowing children to become saturated and enslaved by the media, consumerism, pop culture and peer culture. And most tragically, moms pull away emotionally and physically from their older children.

If children as young as seven to 12 years old are being slowly absorbed into the mainstream cultural ideals of consuming and “individuating,” where does that leave our teenaged children? Very lost and disconnected, for sure!

Even in the Attachment Parenting (AP) community, writings about adolescent children have a negative and anti-attachment twinge to them: Most writings about parenting teens advise that teens should be  “individuating” from their parents and parents should be “pulling back” and “letting go” of their adolescent children. Due to years of “letting go,” parents of teens seem to passively assume that the disconnected behavior of their teens is “natural” and they oblige: They pull away and let go of their child even more.

My beautiful 17-year-old son Brycen is a free-spirited, self-directed child who revels in the freedom of unschooling. His expression of his individualism is unique, evolving and all his own creation. He is busy with endless creative pursuits, music, community activities, and flexible work of his choosing. He can sometimes be gone for days with back-to-back plans with friends. He knows that if he wanted to travel, or manifest an opportunity in his life, I would stand behind him in doing it. Brycen is truly a free child!

The most important essence of his life, however, is that he and I are deeply and closely connected. The parent-child attachment security and his needs are just as much my priority now as they were when he was little. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, and creatively, I have not “backed off,” “stepped back,” or “let go.” I have not relaxed my protection of him, diluted my delight in him, or weakened my nurturance of him. Instead, as if he was little, I have remained a loving, nurturing, affectionate, compassionate, protecting, delighted, supportive, and passionate mom to my son throughout his adolescence. In doing so, I have set him free to grow holistically.

What is your emotional reaction to this? Do you feel happiness, warmth, and a sense of bliss? Or do you feel uncomfortable, anxious or defensive — a desire to  give me your contrary opinion?

Our society seems to feel very uncomfortable about parent-teen closeness, especially mom and son closeness. These are deep cultural wounds in the collective unconscious that continue to be part of our culture. Tragically, as a result of this harmful emotionally charged bias, boys are often cast off physically and emotionally by their moms by their eighth or ninth year of life — a decade before they can handle such a disconnect! Teens who are disconnected from their parents are often stuck in a dynamic with their parents of push and pull, love and hate, compliance and rebellion, clinginess and aggression, being controlled and being pushed away.

Let’s return to nature for a moment: Nature’s intent is the only parenting advice we truly need. Our parenting challenges, concerns, and choices can become so simple if we consider, “What is nature’s intent for a child’s holistic development?” Nature is our reference manual, our guide to mammalian and human needs.

Our closest mammalian relative, a primate called the bonobo, is a great example of mother-adolescent relationships in the wild. In bonobos, the mother is intensely affectionate to her young well into adolescence. The daughter stays with the mother for seven years, at which time she leaves her mother and joins a neighboring tribe of bonobos. The son, however, remains dependent upon his mother for ten years and, as an adult, will be joined by his mate to live with his mother for life.

What about humans? In the Yequana tribe of South America, documented by the late Jean Liedloff in The Continuum Concept, adolescents and young adults remain interdependent with their parents until they marry. There is no teenage rebellion, no “individuating,” no mutual disrespect, no parental pushing away, no “letting go,” no “backing off,” and no “casting out of the nest,” even once the teen reaches adulthood. In fact, if an unmarried young adult’s parents pass away, another family in the tribe will “adopt” the young adult into their family until that adult marries. Parent-child affection, physical nurturance (especially during a time of injury or illness), support, and protection continues in many peaceful, nonviolent tribal societies well into young adulthood, until the adult child marries.

But what about the American mainstream cultural phenomenon of “helicopter parenting” happening to Generation-Y and the Millennials? Isn’t Attachment Parenting adolescents akin to Helicopter Parenting? No doubt, people’s fear of the unhealthy parent-child clinginess of Helicopter Parenting is what incites cultural backlash that is even more harmful. The imfamous Tiger Mother method, a new label on the old problem of child maltreatment, is one example (which ironically is opposite of how real tigers parent their young).

Both Helicopter Parenting and the Tiger Mother method are examples of parenting that is grossly contrary to nature’s intent for children. The children of families that interact in this manner are disconnected and insecurely attached. Such youth are all dependent upon their parents in an unhealthy manner, begging to get basic needs met that have never been met. These ways of raising children are stifling, suffocating, mentally crippling, and in the case of children treated harshly, traumatizing. Children parented in these ways will grow up incompletely, to be holistically wounded, unfulfilled, distressed, empty, and stunted. In both of these extremes, children are not allowed to live and learn in freedom and in joy. Their holistic needs are not met and their passions are not guided and nurtured. In these cases, parents live their children’s lives for them, controlling them every step of the way, giving them only a mirage of a relationship and of a life that evaporates when touched. This is not nature’s intent for children. This is youth maltreatment.

Attachment Parenting our teens means keeping the parent-child connection and attachment secure and strong throughout childhood from birth until adulthood. The behavior and emotional stability of our teens will reflect the quality of this attachment. Attachment Parenting our teens means remaining physically and emotionally affectionate and nurturing, available, compassionate, and sensitive. It means allowing them to unschool to keep them free of the toxic, stressful environments of school. It means allowing your teens to direct their own lives, learning, healthy interests, and passions while you support these endeavors as passionately as you did when they were much younger.

Editor’s Note: The Attached Family invites various views on Attachment Parenting, and this author’s choice of schooling for her child is one of them. Attachment Parenting International takes no stance on schooling and believes that children in formal school settings, as well as homeschooling and unschooling, are equally able to maintain a strong parent-child attachment.

Attachment Parenting means listening to your teens everyday and getting excited about what they are excited about. It means talking openly and honestly with them about things they want to know such as puberty,  masturbation, sex, sexual orientation issues, moral principles, social justice, world events, life and death, philosophy, and spirituality. It means treating teens with respect, dignity, humanity, and care — not speaking to them with sarcasm, cynicism, irritation, and disgust. It means understanding the incredible hormonal changes happening to your children that might mean they appear less responsible or helpful than when they were younger: Be sensitive to and celebratory with them of the amazing metamorphosis their bodies and brains are experiencing! It means protecting them online and in the community from sexually explicit media, predatory adults (men and women), drug addictions, media addictions, and sexually dangerous situations through dialogue, discussion, and honesty about your feelings and principles.

Attachment Parenting means allowing your teen children to unfold as they are, not what you wish for them to be. It means letting go of controlling them but not letting go of nurturing them. It means guiding them in life and cultivating a loving, peaceful, and interdependent relationship with them, where they feel free to branch out, return, branch out again, return, and fly when they are ready. It means holding them in an embrace of unconditional love and emotional support — an attachment bond that will last a lifetime!

10 Phrases to Make a Better Parent

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

Many times as parents, we blurt out sayings that we heard as children and later vowed to never say to our own children. However, that is easier said than done. In times of stress, we revert very easily back to actions and phrases we saw and heard when we were parented.

Parenting skills are learned skills, and we can consciously effect change if we become aware of what needs to be changed. Here are 10 common parenting phrases and alternatives to nurture closer, caring, and more respectful relationships with our children.

INSTEAD OF: You are a bad boy.
TRY: What did you learn from this? What can you try next time?

INSTEAD OF: Hurry Up! We are late!
TRY: It’s okay. Take the time you need… (Next time, leave more time to get ready!)

INSTEAD OF: Oh no! Look at what you have done!
TRY: It really won’t matter five years from now! I will show you how to fix this.

INSTEAD OF: You need to…
TRY: I need you to…

INSTEAD OF: Because I said so!
TRY: I’ll explain my reasoning in five minutes when I’m not distracted so much.

INSTEAD OF: Stop that tantrum right now!
TRY: You feel frustrated and angry. Can I give you a hug?

INSTEAD OF: No!
TRY: I can see you really want that but I can’t provide it right now.

INSTEAD OF: You’ve wrecked my…
TRY: I’m really angry right now. I need to take a timeout.

INSTEAD OF: Stop doing that!
TRY: Would you consider this?

INSTEAD OF: Suck it up and stop crying.
TRY: It’s OK to cry and feel your feelings. Want a hug?

INSTEAD OF: Go play and leave me alone.
TRY: I love you!

Try any one of these substitutions today and you will see how much better your parent-child relationship will be. If you are not sure what to say and how to say it, especially in the moment, just offer a hug. You will be surprised how much body language can communicate empathy and affection, and then you can get on with solving the problem with your child.

Staying in Control when Things are Out of Control

By Shoshana Hayman, director of the Life Center/Israel Center for Attachment Parenting, http://lifecenter.org.il

“When I’m calm, I have no trouble responding patiently, but the problem is that my child’s tantrums jangle my nerves and I lose control of myself!”

I hear parents say this over and over again. They might be talking about their five-year-old son who is whining because he wants them to buy him the toy he sees on the shelf in the store, their 10-year-old son who is complaining because he claims it was his brother who made the mess that he now has to clean, or their 15-year-old daughter who criticizes the family rules. Parents often feel stretched to the limits of their patience because of these daily minor confrontations.

“I just want to get the job done and get on with things!” But trying to find a quick solution usually prolongs these conflicts, and getting angry spoils the atmosphere as well as the relationship.

Seeing the child in a different way can help parents stay calm when their children are not. When parent and child are together, their brains do a dance! The parent can lead the child to a state of calm, rather than the child leading the parent to agitated confrontation. In each of the scenarios mentioned and in many others like them, the child is feeling frustration, one of our most primitive emotions. He is confronted with something he cannot have, a reality he doesn’t agree with, a situation he wants to change. When children are frustrated, it is normal for them to have temper tantrums, bite, kick, hit,  throw things, slam doors, yell, or talk back. They have not yet developed the ability to adapt quickly to the given circumstances. Their brains have not yet reached a level of development that helps them think of their options and choose their responses maturely. These are processes that take years to come into full fruition.

The most important role and perhaps the greatest challenge of parents is to believe in and support the processes which bring out the finest human qualities: caring, patience, thoughtfulness, courage, flexibility, self-control, adaptability, and responsibility. One of the ways parents can fulfill this role is to remain calm when the child is not. It helps to remember that children cannot yet control their impulses to hold on to their demands or to behave aggressively. When the parent remains calm, patient, compassionate, warm, and loving, the child then feels safe, that someone is in charge, and that his parent can handle his out-of-control behavior.  The child can then come to rest and begin to see a different reality.

Parents can see themselves as a safe haven as they accompany their children through the maze of getting from their feelings of frustration and anger to their feelings of disappointment, sadness, and coming to terms with what they cannot change. Perhaps this perspective will help parents remain calm and in control when their children are not.

School-Age Children and the Family Bed

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

“But you don’t have to sleep alone!” Kyle protests to his mom when she suggests he sleeps in his own room. Family bedrooms are increasingly becoming common in Western societies, thanks to the Attachment Parenting movement that recognizes that babies and toddlers are not developmentally ready to sleep on their own for the first few years of life. However, Kyle is seven years old.  The prevalence of family bedrooms among families with school-age children has not been studied, let alone talked, but the trend is growing.

Many children, especially those that don’t have siblings to snuggle in with, continue to sleep in the same bedroom as their parents, well into the school-aged years. Many families do not admit that they sleep with their children. The fear of being investigated by child welfare authorities is the biggest barrier against discussing this practice. So the practice occurs quite often, but is not openly admitted. As a society, we accept family bedrooms for motels rooms, visiting at relatives, camping, and vacations but not for everyday use in a society that values independence at all cost. Still, parents persist. “We cosleep because it’s a cultural choice. My husband is Vietnamese and I am Canadian, and we have decided that it’s what works best for our family. Back in Vietnam my husband’s sisters still sleep with their mother, and my husbands’ brother and father also share a room. The younger ones are all in their 20s and it is not illegal or abnormal or culturally odd like it is here,” says Cheryl, mom of two children.

How does a family bedroom work? Two hundred years ago, before the invention of central heating, most of the family slept in the same room if not the same beds. Fast forward to the 21st century, where bedrooms now have the square footage size of the average 1950s house, the family bedroom can easily accommodate two king-size mattresses on the floor or several beds in the same room.

Not everyone agrees with the concept of a family sharing sleep in the same room. Barbara Evans, a parent educator from Beaumont, Texas USA, worries about the parent’s need for privacy and intimacy.  “My concerns are that, as parents, our job is to raise healthy, loving and lovable, independent children. Not to the exclusion of depriving them of nurturing and cuddling, but this may be the first place to start learning about boundaries and self-care.”

Why do families choose a family bedroom? No separation anxiety issues and no bedtime battles is the biggest reason. For an increasingly separated family where both parents might work out of home full-time and children are away at school, it is comforting and enjoyable to cuddle together at the end of a busy day. “The best thing about having the kids there with us is the emotional bond we have with them. We love the time upstairs to talk in bed, read, write, or just watch TV together. There’s no separation between us and we don’t send our kids away at night to be alone unless they want to,” says Ally, mom of three children. They have a big master bed for the parents and two mattresses on the floor on either side of the master bed for the children.

What age should family bedrooms stop? Children naturally develop the desire for more privacy at puberty and tend to want their own room and sleeping space by age 13.  This occurs naturally whether they sleep alone, or share a bedroom with siblings or with parents.

Most experts agree that the rules are simple. Generally, all members of the family must wear night clothes. Whoever doesn’t like the arrangement and says “no” should have their wishes honored whether they are the parent or the child. The parents might enjoy the closeness, but if their eight-year-old son wants his own room, that should be respected. And of course, couple sexual intimacy must take place in another room.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau once said, “The government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.” And for many families, that rings truer than ever.

The Importance of Making Mistakes

By Kelly Bartlett, certified positive discipline educator and leader for Portland API, Oregon USA

So often, as parents, we try to prevent our kids from making mistakes. We issue warnings, reach out to help, or just do a job ourselves because we don’t want the hassle of fixing a mistake like a spill, fall, or ill-thought decision. But making mistakes is valuable and necessary for a child’s learning and development of self-confidence. How we handle mistakes can teach children that challenges are either threats to be avoided, or that they can be opportunities to learn and develop strong mastery skills.

A “rescuing” parent does just that: either rescues a child from a problem she has encountered, or anticipates a problem and prevents it from happening. For the sake of our children’s developing sense of self-efficacy, we do not want to do this. It may make our job easier for the moment if we complete a task ourselves, rather than give our child the job along with its accompanying opportunity to mess up. And we might also think our children will love us more for it; cleaning up their mistakes rather than turning the responsibility for repair around on them. But as Barbara Coloroso, author of Kids Are Worth It, says, “Parenting is neither an efficient profession nor a popularity contest.”

Aside from rescuing kids from their problems, washing our hands of them — that is, ridding ourselves of any involvement (which may or may not be accompanied by a healthy dose of berating) — is equally unhelpful. It sends the message that kids are incompetent and incapable, and that we are not there to help them when they make a mistake. Sometimes our children will get into a problem that is over their heads and, with our help, their mistakes will turn into incredible learning opportunities!

We need to be supportive and encouraging of our kids’ mistakes. We need to see mistakes for what they are: one more chance to boost self-confidence by allowing for critical thinking and problem solving.  What we need is not a balance between rescuing and washing our hands, but a third choice all together: focusing on solutions. When a mistake has been made, is it more important to look for blame or to figure out how to fix it? Instead of spouting off about carelessness, immaturity, or inconvenience (which are always the first exasperated thoughts that come to mind), try asking “What are we going to do about it? What can I do to help? What are you going to do? What are some options we could try?”

Though the steps involved in problem solving are not always fun for kids, the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction in themselves that follows offers a big reward. Children begin to see problems as challenges to be mastered, not threats to be avoided.

Teaching kids practical life skills includes giving them opportunities to make mistakes. Though it can be tempting to rescue our kids from making any mistakes, it is more important to be able to explore the consequences of them. When a child has made a mistake, avoid the temptation to lecture, blame, or shame them. Rather, we can help our kids understand the situation by invoking their help in solving the problem. Instead of shrinking away from difficulty, kids will have confidence in themselves and learn that they can successfully tackle any obstacle throughout life.

The Third Step in Responding with Sensitivity

By Dottie Stone Coleman, MAT, MEd

Whatever their age, every interaction with our children — every word, every response, every look — has the potential to build up their self-confidence and self-esteem, or tear it down. Likewise, every behavior of our own in which we model self-confidence, respectful self-expression, and responsible self-care and self-advocacy has the power to encourage and build those kinds of behaviors in them. All eight of Attachment Parenting International’s Principles of Parenting contribute significantly to building self-confidence and empowerment in our children of every age. That said, let’s look at a few examples of Responding with Sensitivity — examples of beautiful parenting sure to promote the traits we so hope to see developing in our children.

Responding with sensitivity is usually done by active listening, or acknowledging feelings expressed by your children; and then affirming, or validating, those feelings. For example, “I know you’re upset because we can’t buy that toy today. I get frustrated, too, when I can’t afford something I want.”

But let’s consider that there may be a third step to responding sensitively, and that is, when possible, “eliciting or suggesting an action based on the feeling.”

For example, Owen, age five, wanted a new outfit for his toy dog. His mom told him they would not be buying anything else on that trip to the store, and Owen was upset. So, his mom asked him how he might earn some money to get what he wanted the next time they came to the mall. Owen had learned how to crochet at preschool, so he got busy making crochet chains of different lengths to be used as rings, bracelets, and necklaces. One day, Owen’s dad let him set up shop in an unused space in Dad’s office, and thanks to Dad’s generous co-workers, Owen earned enough selling his chains to buy the items he wanted! He was ecstatic, and so proud of himself.

On another occasion, Owen and his mom were leaving a restaurant on an extremely hot day and just ahead of them was a family of seven — a mom with six kids, two of them babies. Owen was worried because the family didn’t have a car. His mother told him they were probably walking to the bus station. Owen was sad about their situation and concerned about the little kids because of the heat. Soon nine people were crammed into mom’s minivan to give these folks a ride to the bus. They caught the bus they needed and avoided a 30-minute wait. Owen felt so good about helping them; he couldn’t stop talking about helping them catch their bus. What wonderful reinforcement of his compassion and for his self-confidence that Mom went out of her way to act on his concern! Of course, I’m sure she will also teach him that you can’t safely take into your car just anyone who seems to need help, but in the circumstances of that day, it was so empowering that she acted on his feelings.

Nick, also age 5, is a curious, deep thinker. After encountering the idea of black holes in space, he had many questions, like “What happens to the things that get sucked into a black hole?” His father acknowledged and affirmed his curiosity by saying, “That’s a really good question, Nick. I’m afraid I don’t know.”  But Dad didn’t stop there. Dad happens to have a friend who works with the particle accelerator at a nearby university. Dad arranged for Nick to talk to this friend, who did a great job of putting his answers in terms that Nick could understand. Again, a caveat: Obviously it’s not always possible to answer a five-year-old’s questions in terms they can comprehend. But, when we take their questions this seriously, it sends a message that their thoughts and their curiosity are important, and warrant following up on.

And one more example from Owen:  A visit to Grandma’s house overnight was marred at bedtime by the absence of Dino, Owen’s long-time sleeping companion, who had been accidentally left at home. Owen was very tired from a long day of exciting activities, and he was inconsolable because Dino wasn’t with him. Owen’s father and his grandmother listened actively, sympathized, and offered substitute loveys, all to no avail. Finally, Dad suggested that Owen phone Dino, make sure he was OK, and tell him he’d be back tomorrow. The call was made, and with the help of Mom, who was at home with Dino, Owen told his friend where he was, learned that Dino was doing fine, and afterward settled down with one of Grandma’s collection of snugglies and went to sleep. Dad’s suggestion that Owen take some action toward restoring his connection with Dino made all the difference.

Thus, Responding with Sensitivity could be said to include three As:

  1. Acknowledgement
  2. Affirmation
  3. Action.

Though an appropriate action may not always be evident, looking for one is sure to result in many instances in which your child is helped to feel effective and empowered, both of which are crucial components of self-confidence.

Embracing Positive Discipline’s Challenges

By Kelly Bartlett, certified positive discipline educator and leader of API of East Portland, Oregon USA

Positive discipline doesn’t come instinctively for many people. In fact, that’s why most parents endeavor in positive discipline in the first place; they want to change their current instincts about raising children. They want to break the cycle of using traditional discipline methods that compromise the parent-child relationship, and they are forging their way in a new direction. As opposed to parenting with strict control and scare tactics, when children are raised with kindness and respect, parents are instilling a new instinct for discipline. Children learn how to solve problems, manage difficult emotions, and make intrinsic decisions about what’s right and wrong. Positive discipline is a parenting approach that is based on connection and trust, rather than on longing and fear.

However, while the theory has remarkable appeal, many parents are skeptical to begin the journey into positive discipline. It seems doubtful that any deviation from what has, up until now, seemed like the “normal” way to parent children is going to work. Or more likely, that a different approach will work more effectively. This reluctance is natural. After all, it goes back to instincts; parents naturally turn to the same methods with which they were raised. The thought of doing anything differently can bring on resistance:

“It’s too much work.”

Going from a reactive discipline approach to one that’s primarily proactive can feel very intimidating. Positive discipline takes the cultural belief about discipline and turns it on its head. When parents are accustomed to responding to children’s behavior with yelling, threats, and punishments, it is difficult to stop and re-think how to respond using the language of positive discipline. Indeed, much like learning a new language, learning positive discipline skills also takes time and practice.

Parents can take baby steps in the direction they want to go by substituting one positive discipline tool in place of a corresponding traditional one. For example, to raise kids who are problem solvers, focus on solutions instead of issuing punishments. To raise kids who are effective communicators, ask questions and listen instead of lecturing. To raise kids who are internally motivated, say “thank you” instead of “good job.” For every attribute parents aspire to teach their children, there are baby steps they can take to get there. Start with one; step by step, you will soon see great strides.

“It takes too long to see results.”

While it’s true that traditional discipline aims to stop unwanted behavior now, positive discipline works toward a bigger goal than the immediate present. Most of the positive discipline tools are proactive, rather than reactive. This means they won’t elicit the same results as traditional discipline methods. For many parents, this can be frustrating when trying to manage difficult behavior.

Glenda Montgomery, a certified postive discipline educator with the Positive Discipline Association, likens positive discipline to a dance. She tells parents, “Imagine that throughout these years, you’ve been in a dance with your child. You know all of each other’s moves. You know each other’s actions and consequent reactions. Now suddenly, [by using positive discipline] you’re changing the dance routine. You are moving in a new direction while your child is continuing with the same moves as before. Their moves might even be more pronounced than usual as your child tries to lead you back into a familiar dance routine. It’s going to take some time for everyone to get in sync with the new moves.”

Yes, it does take time to see significant results with positive discipline. Consider the adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.” If your first attempt at using a positive discipline tool doesn’t succeed in changing behavior, try it again. And again. Perhaps try a different tool. And try that one again. What all of these tries add up to over the course of the growth of the child is a new “dance”; a new relationship between the two of you and a new perspective for seeing disciplinary results.

“Life is not ‘positive’.”

In the “real world,” there are consequences for poor behavior and rewards for good behavior. If you break a law, you are punished with jail time. If you excel at your job, you are given a bonus. If you drive too fast, you get a ticket. If you travel enough, you get status perks. The world is full of conditions. This makes many parents want to adopt a punishment-and-reward system at home with prizes, timeouts, sticker charts, and losses of privileges, so children can grow up experiencing what the “real world” is like.

Jane Nelsen, PhD, author of Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World, argues that there are much more effective ways to teach children about developing sound judgment skills to succeed in the real world, without mimicking the punishments and rewards that are intended for adults in an adult system. She says that moral and ethical development requires not the enforcement of external provisions, but “a mentorship between children and adults.” The best way to help children develop sound judgment is to give them the opportunity to practice.

This means parents must refrain from making all of their children’s decisions for them and must provide them with opportunities to think through their own choices; to make mistakes. When parents do this, and allow their children to fully experience the consequences of their mistakes without being rescued, children learn much more efficiently the effects of their actions. Dr. Nelsen says, “When young people discover that their choices affect their outcomes, they feel potent and significant and become increasingly confident that they hold the reins in their lives. With practice, they become more adept in holding these reins — and better human beings.”

Because children are not on the same developmental level as adults, emotionally or cognitively, they do not need “practice” in experiencing punishments intended on an adult level in an adult world. What they need from parents are discipline strategies that focus instead on problem solving and communication. They need to cultivate problem solving skills and internal motivation for doing what’s right. In short, they need to develop sound judgment now (through experiencing mistakes and solving problems), so they will inherently avoid the legal system later when they’re in the “real world.”

“It rewards poor behavior.”

Because positive discipline involves no punishments and lots of connection, it is often first seen as permissive. It makes more sense to parents to threaten a consequence to stop a tantrum than to scoop a screaming child up for a hug. Isn’t doling out hugs instead of consequences just rewarding bad behavior? It’s easy to see how positive discipline challenges mainstream thought about behavior. It moves from a behaviorist approach — offering superficial solutions to control innate human behavior — to a connected, communicative one. It aims to first understand — to get at the root of human needs — then to guide. Positive discipline is connection before correction.

It is possible to reconsider the idea that human behavior must be manipulated and controlled by a set of external stimuli (punishments and rewards). Parents can remember that, unlike animals, children’s behavior is a direct reaction to their feelings, and those feelings stem from genuine needs. Because difficult behavior in a child is a result of an unmet need, parents can first pause to assess what that child might be feeling, and therefore needing, before being too hasty to chastise the behavior. As human brains are more complex than those of any other animal, positive discipline methods, as opposed to behaviorist strategies, are aimed at changing behavior by specifically addressing those complexities. So although for many parents it may seem like positive discipline methods reward undesirable behavior, they in fact do not. It’s not a “carrot and stick” approach to manipulating behavior; rather it regards behavior at its source on a uniquely emotional level. Positive discipline addresses behavior at its core, without merely treating its symptoms.

“I’m alone in this.”

More often than not, parents meet other parents who are unfamiliar with the concept of positive discipline, than those who use it regularly in their families. Sometimes, it’s even within the same family that parents disagree on how to discipline. Spousal differences or grandparent disparities may convey many of the resistances described above, and make it seem difficult for a family to succeed in their positive discipline efforts.

There is support available for helping parents succeed with positive discipline! No matter where you are on your journey, there are various forms of education, inspiration, and encouragement. In-person positive discipline classes are available in states across the country, and they offer inspiring evenings of learning, activities, and connection with like-minded families. It is immensely helpful for parents to be able to connect with other moms and dads who are also on a positive discipline journey. Online or in person, parents come together to create a network of support for each other. They’re there to encourage, commiserate with, and bounce ideas off of each other. Parents should surround themselves with positive discipline enthusiasts; create networks of support to help themselves succeed.

Find more information on local positive discipline workshops, as well as online support, at www.positivediscipline.com.  Also available is a downloadable iPhone app in which parents can conveniently have the 52 Positive Discipline Tool Cards always at their fingertips.

Learning positive discipline takes a lot of thought, effort, and most importantly, a huge shift in paradigm. Discipline approaches change from reactive to proactive. Discipline tools change from “what can I do to my child” to “what can I do for my child.” And discipline strategies change from quick-fix to long-term. Despite the initial effort involved, the payoff is life-long for family unity, parent-child relationships, children’s well-being, and even children’s future families. It is absolutely possible and undoubtedly worth the investment to work on creating new instincts for raising secure, confident children.

The “See One, Teach One, Do One” Approach to Teaching

By Kelly Bartlett, certified positive discipline educator and leader for Portland API, Oregon USA

Teaching children practical life skills takes more time than we usually think.  It’s common for parents to get frustrated with kids who aren’t doing something we think they should know how to do, like putting on socks or shoes, preparing food, putting laundry away, or the ever-popular instruction, “Clean your room!” Tasks like these seem so straightforward to us, but for children they can be overwhelming and surprisingly complicated.

Before we get overly frustrated with our children, it helps if parents can remember the “see one, teach one, do one” approach to learning new tasks.  These are the steps it typically takes for kids to learn new things:

See One

The child should see you demonstrating the task, and will watch with the purpose of learning. You can explain what you’re doing as you go. “Watch how I do these three things to get your room clean. First, I…”

Teach One

Involve your child and do the task together. Have him help you with the various steps involved in cleaning that room. “You put all of the dirty clothes in the laundry basket, while I make your bed.” When you are working together, the job doesn’t seem so daunting for a child, and you’re also modeling cooperation, teamwork, and respect.

This also works well for older children who forget to do their jobs. A Certified Positive Discipline Trainer from Greenville, South Carolina in the USA, Kelly Pfieffer shares a story of her teenage son who would continually forget to bring in the garbage cans and recycling bins after garbage day. This was meant to be his responsibility, but it wouldn’t get done at the end of the day, nor even the next morning on his way out to school. “My husband would be especially upset because it was obvious to the neighbors that our trash cans had not been brought in,” she said.

Kelly decided to take time to teach her son and help him learn by making the job one that they would do together. She gave her son the opportunity to bring in the garbage cans when he got home, but when he didn’t, she met him at the door with a hug, a smile, and a, “We’re doing the trash together now. Let’s get it done.” It took a few weeks of this cooperative teaching, with no nagging or lecturing, and her son started going right to the garbage cans when he got home! Kelly says, “Now it’s unusual for him to forget, when it used to be unusual for him to remember. Though if needed, I will do the task with him again.”

Just as it took Kelly several weeks of teaching her son how to bring in the garbage cans, it will most likely take kids several teaching sessions before they get the hang of a job and are able to think through it on their own. Kelly even says she expects her son to forget again, as his priorities are simply different than hers. But she is ready and willing to step in and do it together with him again. Instead of labeling this step “teach one,” it would be more aptly called “teach many, many times!”

Do One

This final step is when the child is able to do the task on her own. Some children (like Kelly’s teenager) might be able to go right from cooperative learning to doing it on their own, while some children (such as younger ones) might benefit from the opportunity to do a task themselves while you’re there to supervise and help. Eventually, depending on the activity and the child, they’ll be able to do tasks on their own, unsupervised. Keep in mind, too, that even when kids seem to be capable of doing a job on their own, they may “forget how” from time to time. A refresher course given together in a calm and loving manner, without nagging or lecturing, will help kids remember what to do, while keeping your relationship positive.

Most importantly in this process of teaching children, parents can remember to use it as an opportunity to connect with them. When we can let go of the outcome — the focus on what our child “should” be doing — we can enjoy communicating with and helping our kids, and trust that the learning will occur.

What to do When Children Demean Each Other

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

Q: My daughter calls her brother stupid and he feels hurt. He does the same in return. I tried everything, but neither of them will stop. How do I teach them to stop hurting each other and to use proper language?

A: At a family counseling in my home, a girl called her sister “stupid.” Both girls then engaged in yelling at each other, “you are stupid,” and were getting very upset. I then announced, “Me too. I am stupid.” They looked at me and started laughing, relieving their own stress. I continued cheerfully and with rhythm, “I am stupid, Dad is stupid, Mom is stupid too, Grandma is stupid, Beethoven was stupid, the neighbor is stupid…” Then I shared my own stupid moments and the upset turned into laughter. The children got so excited that they started telling about their own stupid moments.

Two weeks later, the mother called to tell me that her older daughter said, “I can’t call her [sister] stupid anymore. It doesn’t work. She doesn’t get hurt.” To the mother’s surprise, the result was not a new vocabulary of harsh words but a greater connection between the girls. Continue reading

Teens and Sex from an Attachment Perspective

By Shoshana Hayman, director of the Life Center/Israel Center for Attachment Parenting, http://lifeCenter.org.il

You cannot understand sexuality without first understanding the attachment dynamic, psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld explains. The pursuit of proximity is one of the primary emotions that drive our behavior. The main way that the immature seek proximity and closeness is through the senses — being physically close: the most primitive way of attaching. On the heels of closeness through the senses is being the same as; by being the same as the person they are seeking contact with, they are holding that person close. This is also an immature way of attaching, for it does not allow room for individual expression. Following sameness, closeness is pursued through belonging and loyalty, still a rather shallow way to hold a person close as it does not leave enough room for your own personhood.

When a person matures and develops the capacity for deeper relationships, they can hold a person close without physical proximity or having to be the same as. They can feel altruistic love and psychological intimacy; they can share the essence of their being. There is mutual respect, caring, and being careful when someone entrusts his heart to you. This kind of relationship becomes eternal.

Adolescence is a time of becoming a sexual being. Teens have a new awareness of themselves, and touch itself becomes sexualized. Sometimes, the only way teenagers can experience contact and closeness is through sexual interaction — when they have not developed the capacity for deep relationship. A large part of teenage sexuality today is about sameness: being alike. If the norm seems to be sexually active at the age of 15, there’s huge pressure on the teen to imitate, emulate, be the same as his friends, and therefore to become sexually active. Adolescents and children of elementary school age are being exposed to sexual images and pornography through advertising, television, and the internet, and attaching to images and superstars who are highly sexual. This contributes to promiscuity and increased sexual activity, as the immature seek to be like the images they attach to on the screen.

Attaching through belonging and loyalty in the sexual arena creates a huge problem with girls obeying and showing loyalty to please boys, creating intense feelings of possessiveness and jealousy. Kids have no idea of how attached they become; how crucial it is for them to be significant to another. Boys might need to be significant in the eyes of other boys and therefore, in order to get status and recognition, must become sexually active. Instead of sex being part of the context of a deep, caring, long-term relationship, it is being divorced from love and turned into a cheap, shallow, and selfish way to serve the adolescent’s need for attachment.

One’s sexuality is only as developed as one’s capacity for relationship. The greatest expression of sexuality is in the context of marriage, when the potential for all the elements of attachment can be fulfilled. (However, not everyone grows up as they grow older, and even in marriage, one’s capacity for relationship might be superficial, and so the expression of sexuality will also be superficial. )

Dr. Neufeld, who has helped rehabilitate many teens from their addictions, explains that when you understand the nature of relationships, you see that sexual liberation is a myth, as there is no such thing as sexual freedom. The desire for sexual interaction automatically brings the desire for fusion and union. It’s meant to create an exclusive relationship because this connection involves incredible vulnerability. Teenagers are shocked to discover that some kind of union has taken place that there is no way to get out of without getting hurt. The greatest wounding comes from separation, being rejected, being ignored, losing your specialness. These painful feelings trigger defenses in the brain that lead to numbing out of feelings, tuning out perceptions, and a hardening or toughness, which actually fuel the need to pursue closeness through the senses. We are fooling ourselves if we think that the answer is teaching teens to use birth control or condoms, for we are ignoring the emotional pain and psychological problems that are involved.

A teenager’s safest bet is strong relationships with his parents, grandparents, teachers, and coaches. These relationships are hierarchical, and are not sexualized. The teen, as well as younger children, should have his attachment needs met in the context of his relationships with the important adults in his life. This is what prevents the sexualization of relationships with peers, and buys time for the teen to truly mature and develop the capacity for a deep, meaningful relationship.

As Dr. Neufeld puts it, “Sex is ‘super glue’ and is meant to bind two people together.” With greater understanding of the reactions of the brain, science is coming to a very conservative approach towards sex, concurring with the ancient wisdom about creating the right context for sexual relationships.