Tag Archives: development

Trust Your Children More; Teach Them Less

By Bonnie Harris, M.S.Ed., director of Connective Parenting, www.bonnieharris.com, reprinted with permission

The more stories I hear from parents, the more I know that trusting our children’s capabilities and detours is the path to connected relationships and success. Sometimes trusting our children goes against our standards of good parenting.810896_71237717 books

But who are we to know what our children should do with their lives; who are we to know what they need in order to get there? Our job is to remove the obstacles in their way of reaching their potential and accept and support who they are so they will have a firm foundation on which to launch into their futures.

A parent in my group put trust to the test. Her son didn’t like to read. He figured out a loophole in the school’s point system for reading. If he performed poorly, he would be put in the achievement bracket that required fewer points to get by. “He basically was reading See Spot Run books,” his mother told us. Her husband, who does not read, was furious and kept on him to no avail. She supported his decisions and left the process up to the school, although she did share her own experience of pleasure from reading. Allowing him to fail and trusting his reading capability, she maintained connection. With her trust, he discovered Harry Potter and everything changed.

When my daughter was little she begged to play the violin for a couple of years before I found a teacher. Practice turned grueling. When we reached the point where our relationship was at risk, I allowed her to stop. A year later, of her own accord, she took it up again. At 13, she bought herself a $1,700 violin. Today she is a professional composer. Who knew?

When we support and trust who our children are and know it is not up to us to find their gifts and talents, we learn that all they need is self-confidence to find their way.

Children resist with all their might when they think we are against them—when we criticize, blame, threaten, lecture—when they don’t trust that we understand and accept them. To find their way, they need to trust us to trust them.

We parent by the misconception that our job is to teach our children how to act and perform in the world, and if they don’t do it right (according to whom?) then they must be forced with some kind of manipulative, punitive tactic to get them on track. What track? Whose track? What if your child is meant to establish a new track or a track you don’t approve of? What if it’s a track that public schools don’t teach?

We are fraught with the anxiety of parenting, fearing our children will fail unless we teach them … What? How did you like your parents telling you what to do and when to do it? Did you ever think, They’re clueless, they don’t understand me, they don’t trust me?

What children need from us is our guidance and leadership. They need us to keep them safe and to make the big decisions they cannot be expected to make—to know that they should not be expected to act like a grown-up to know better, to understand tooth decay, to want them to do their homework, to hurry to get out the door in the morning.

We must trust that they want to be successful, that they want to please us, the most important people in their lives. They want to learn; they want to find their paths. It’s when we get in their way with our own agendas, our critical tones, and our disapproving eyes that they come to the conclusion there is nothing out there for them and that the most important people in their lives can’t be trusted.

Guidance and leadership does not mean engaging in power struggles to prove our rightness and put down their arguments. It does not mean punishing them, taking away their favorite things, isolating or grounding them—making them feel miserable and thinking that will motivate them to do better. Likewise, it does not mean manipulating them with bribes and rewards. Our intentions are well-placed; the methods we use to motivate are misguided and wrong. They send our children in the direction we most fear. They leave our children floundering in a world of unpredictability where they turn to their peers for guidance and leadership.

Practice trusting. Start by simply listening and truly hearing what they are trying to tell you, even and especially when you don’t like the noise they are making.


Summer Vacation: Freedom From or Freedom To?

By Shoshana Hayman, director of Life Center, the Center for Attachment Parenting in Israel, www.lifecenter.org.il and an international faculty member of the Neufeld Institute, Canada www.neufeldinstitute.com

“There’s nothing to do!  I’m bored!” is the battle-cry of children everywhere during summer vacation. Yet after weeks of counting the days for school to end, children are at a loss for what to do with their newly found freedom.180180_2234 bucket

When I asked a number of children what they were looking forward to during summer vacation, their answers were revealing. They all said freedom from …  a schedule, homework, boring lessons, tests, bullying from classmates and getting into trouble with teachers. Although they were looking forward to having some control over their time, their activities and who they chose to be with, they didn’t express any clear ideas about what they would do with the luxuriously long days that were about to stretch before them. When we respond to “I’m bored” by filling our children’s time with activities, we miss an important point. Children need times in their lives that are unstructured, when there is “nothing to do.” Continue reading Summer Vacation: Freedom From or Freedom To?

True Sharing Can’t Be Taught

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

When educational television tries to teach young children to share, it’s helpful for parents to know how the desire to share really develops in children.

My two granddaughters, five and three years old, recently watched a program that talked about sharing. No sooner did the show end, when the girls had a fight over a game they didn’t want to share. Oops! So much for the half-hour lesson on sharing! If I hadn’t learned from Gordon Neufeld, PhD, how children develop the capacity and desire to share, I would have been very frustrated, wondering why the girls weren’t implementing what they had just “learned” five minutes ago from the colorful and engaging television program.

Sharing isn’t something that is learned. True sharing comes from feelings of caring, together with the ability to think about the “yes” and “no” feelings of sharing. In other words, when you care about someone, you will want to share with him.

Ah, but that is not enough! There may be reasons why you don’t want to share at this particular time, and now you must weigh these considerations and decide if you will share, when you will share, and how much you will share. There are sophisticated emotions and thoughts, contradicting each other, that must mix together in the brain during this process: “On the one hand, I’d like to give it to him. On the other hand, I haven’t finished using it myself. Oh, but what if he breaks it? Now I remember I promised my little brother I’d let him use it first!”

In fact, a child’s brain is not even ready for this task of taking all of these things into consideration before the age of five years old, and then, like a muscle, this part of the brain must be exercised so the growing child can take into consideration many things at once. This is called integrative thinking – a level of maturity that takes time to develop, and requires of parents to be patient and trust in the process.

Efforts in creating programs to teach sharing to preschoolers may be doing more harm than good. We are setting up an expectation that children are capable of mature behavior that is not realistic for their age. This creates frustration for parents, which they may dump onto their children. We put pressure on children to make them share by telling them it “makes Mommy happy,” “you’re the big girl now and you should know better,” or “if you want people to share with you…” without realizing that this hijacks the child’s own budding spirit of wanting to share with others. Now, he may be sharing, not because he cares and wants to, but rather because he wants to gain approval. This kind of sharing turns the quality of giving to others into a selfish act rather than an altruistic one. The child’s own ability to decide if he can indeed share and still respect his own limits has now been compromised.

It’s important to remember that when we expect a child to share before he is developmentally ready, we may be inhibiting his true spirit of caring. Instead of sharing because he cares, he now shares because he wants to gain approval, thus turning sharing into a selfish act rather than an altruistic one.  We can be assured that if we are caring toward our children and guide them in a spirit of caring, their own spirit of caring will develop, and as they mature and develop integrative thinking, we will see the fruits: caring that comes naturally and spontaneously from their hearts.

How Independence and Maturity Develops

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

A father of an 18-year-old boy recently consulted with me because, among other things, his son had totaled the family’s car. As any parent would be, this father was very worried about his son’s poor judgment, impulsiveness, and lack of consciousness. How could he give him responsibility if his son could not handle it?

As our children get older, we expect them to be able to handle more responsibility and become more independent. We intuitively know whether or not we can count on them to cooperate with us and be able to make commitments in order to achieve a goal. They should also be able to sense danger and exercise caution accordingly. In addition, they should experience the feelings of caring that are needed to temper their reactions and impulses. True independence also requires of them to be able to consider different sides of a situation, different points of view, and different contexts in order to make mature decisions. We also hope that they will be conscious of the values needed to guide them through life.

As children get older and develop these abilities, we naturally and spontaneously live together cooperatively.  It doesn’t even occur to us to ask questions about how much independence to give a child, because we can see that he is moved by consideration and a growing desire to take more responsibility. He is developing the character traits of a mature person. Continue reading How Independence and Maturity Develops

Respectful Potty Training

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

Q: I have read about raising babies without diapers, or getting them out of diapers by two. I am pregnant and would like to do that with my second baby. However, I did not do that with my first child, and now my daughter is three-and-a-half and still in diapers. How can I help her to toilet-train, and how do I start it better with my second baby?

A: Human beings of all ages must be the sole owners of their bodies. Like you, your toddler wants to make her own bodily choices and timing. It is very crucial never to “train” or entice a child to get out of diapers. It is her body. You don’t want to teach her that someone else can decide things about her body.

Any attempt to toilet-train can slow the child down. In addition, many children develop inhibition and emotional discomfort with their own bodies due to pressure to get out of diapers. If you have used disposable diapers, it will take the child longer to change a familiar habit that has little consequence for her.

I suggest that you change to cotton diapers and drop the subject completely. In cloth diapers, your daughter will fully feel her own eliminations. Without pressure, she will eventaully want to stay dry and she will use the toilet of her own initiative. Being autonomous, she will be emotionally healthier and self-reliant.

Infants are aware when they eliminate and can indeed grow without diapers or with a minimal need for them. In natural societies, a baby is often carried naked on her mother’s body and when she needs to eliminate, the mother knows it and holds the baby away from her body above ground or a container. In his book, Magical Child, Joseph Chealton Pearce tells of a doctor who visited a natural tribe and was perplexed by mothers’ ability to know when the baby has to eliminate. “How do you know when your baby needs to go?” this doctor asked a mother whose naked baby was snuggled against her bare body. She looked puzzled and said, “How do you know when you need to go?”

The first lesson most babies receive in Western civilization is that elimination occurs in the privacy of their own clothes and is then ignored some of the time. They learn to become unaware of their bodily functions because we don’t respond promptly. The child is so comfortable with these familiar sensations that giving them up may not be so easy. You are asking her to change what she assumed was part of life and of herself and is very convenient.

Babies Know Their Bodies

With your next baby, try using elimination communication and/or cloth diapers with communication. The following are guidelines on how to nurture natural elimination awareness, followed by ways to recognize babies’ elimination cues.

Nurturing the baby’s awareness of her own body functions:

When your baby is eliminating, acknowledge what is going on with a sound or words — With delight and ease, let him know what he is doing and change his diaper as soon as he is done (or take him to the sink or toilet to eliminate without a diaper.) An aware baby wants to be dry because that’s what he is used to.

For faster growth out of diapers, use cotton ones — With cloth diapers, the baby is instantly aware of his own experience. Your prompt removal of the diaper brings that awareness to a sharp focus. All-in-one cloth diapers are as or more convenient than disposable and they are better for your baby’s skin, her health, and the environment. Clear the soiled ones into the toilet and put all the dirty diapers in a pail with water and vinegar till you launder them.

Have your baby and toddler watch you on the toilet — Acknowledge what you are doing with the same sounds as you make when she eliminates.

As soon as your baby crawls or walks, put a potty next to the toilet — Just have it available without an agenda. Your wee one wants to be like you. With autonomy and self-awareness, she will take the initiative when ready and will become more independent by learning to rely on herself.

While I am diving into the details of moving from diaper to toilet, I would like to suggest that, as parents, we have the opportunity to bring to an end the habit of males who pee standing and leave a mist of urine all around. I have raised three boys who sit while they pee and so does their father. It seems much more civilized and makes the bathroom a nicer place for all.

Here are some typical cues babies and toddlers give when they are about to eliminate:

Timing — Many babies go at specific intervals and times. Notice if the baby eliminates at a set number of minutes after nursing, specific times of the day or fixed intervals.

Facial expressions — Babies give us cues like tensed face, raised eyebrows, frowning, concentrating, pausing as though listening, becoming motionless, squirming, fussing, making specific sounds and/or movements, sudden increase or decrease of activity, stirring or waking from sleep, looking intently or reaching for you.

Movement — For an older baby, signals could also include moving toward the bathroom, holding the genitals, grunting, struggling to get out of a car seat or a snugly, or trying to get off padded places.

Intuition — You may find that you develop intuitive recognition of your baby’s physical need to eliminate even before they occur. Your mind may actually tell you that your baby needs to go. Listen to it. If you need to pee, it is possible that your baby needs to as well. One mother told me that she gets the sensation of warm wetness on her lap while the baby is still dry and the baby pees shortly after.

When using diapers — When you know that the baby is going to eliminate, say, “You are going to pee now” and as soon as she does, add the sounds of whatever the event is and promptly change her diaper. After she has cleared her bowel, let her walk around naked as much as possible. If she ends up peeing when nude, give her the same verbal feedback; she sees, feels, and hears you and her awareness will grow.

Using the sink or toilet — With your baby, you may be able to get to the bathroom before the diaper is soiled. However most babies, once they start to crawl or walk, are too busy to bother with the bathroom and you may have to use cotton diapers. Respect the baby’s or toddler’s choice, but if she is inclined to try the potty, let her. Respond to the child’s preference not as the director, but as the nurturer of her path. If the child senses that you want her to go in the potty, she may resist doing so and stay in diapers for a longer time; it must be her own desire.

No cheerleading — Stay neutral in your attitude. If your child senses that you are invested in her choices, she will either back off and delay getting out of diapers, or become dependent on pleasing and seeking approval. Children who are in diapers for longer are often waiting for parents to get out of the way so they can be in charge of themselves.

Have you noticed that when you are with your adult friends, you cannot tell when each one of them got out of diapers? If you already used manipulation and your child is resisting the toilet, make peace with reality and stop showing any interest. Enjoy every minute of surrender and delight. Early toilet training does not mean anything, and it often makes life with wee ones more difficult as you have to stop the car, interrupt dinner, and take junior to handle his business.

If you do elimination communication from early on, your child maybe a reliable user of the toilet. Or, she may pee on the floor sometimes. Living mostly indoors, I find that providing a child with cottom diapers is more respectful of her than having her pee on the rag. Trust your child’s inner guidance. It is reliable. Everything unfolds right on time as long as we understand the cues and respond to them.

Routines for Preschoolers

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

Many parents fall into a routine with their new baby sometime in the first few months of life. Eating and sleeping habits go from having almost no predictability to settling into some level of expectedness. Over the first few years, with the addition of family activities, classes, friends, and preschool, parents and kids must somehow find a way to fit everything efficiently into their busy days.  Establishing routines helps with this.  Routines add comfort and security to families’ lives. Parents are able to feel more prepared in caring for their children, and kids can depend on the familiarity of “how things go.”

Dr. Jane Nelsen, author of Positive Discipline for Preschoolers, says that with routines, children have an opportunity to learn to focus on the needs of the situation: doing what need to be done because it needs to be done. “Children learn to be responsible for their own behavior, to feel capable, and to cooperate in the family. The parent doesn’t continually have to demand help,” according to Dr. Nelsen.  Continue reading Routines for Preschoolers

When Daddy Goes Away

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

Q: My husband will be going away for eight weeks in the near future. I am wondering how I can ease the stress of this separation on my 20-month-old son. My son is quite verbal, very sensitive, and very spirited. He is aware that Daddy is going to work, and has shown signs of stress already (potty training regression). What can I do to help my baby?

A: A baby who is loved and cared for by his mother and expresses his feelings fully can handle a lot more than we realize. Instead of wanting your baby not to experience anxiety, be present for his emotional expression. Children constantly heal themselves if we don’t get in their way or try to stop them.

Let your toddler go back to wearing diapers fully if he needs to, and support any crying, whining, and self-expression. He must go through the experience of missing dad, not avoid it. If you try to cheer him up and “avoid” the feelings, he learns that feelings are scary and that it is horrible to feel them. What heals him moment by moment is fully expressing himself.

To validate without drama, be sure that you don’t make up ideas that he is not feeling. If he cries and asks for his daddy, validate and reassure. He may be afraid that you would go, too. You can say things like, “You want Daddy to be here. Mommy knows,” and, “Mommy will never go. Daddy goes and come back.”

Drama is when you say things like, “Oh, you miss your daddy so much, poor thing, what a bummer…” Drama scares children. You want to give your toddler a sense of peace so he learns, “I have the power to be without daddy.” He does have that power because he is loved and has you always with him.

Be careful not to plant your anxiety in your baby’s mind. At this age, the child is present moment by moment and feels happy in the moment. It is possible that what you see is a response to your anxiety more than to dad’s trip. So, keep your attitude positive and powerful. He can handle daddy being away if you can handle what he feels about it.

As for technical ideas to ease separation, try video chatting and phone calls even before the trip, to get him used to seeing daddy on the screen and hearing his voice. However, some babies are better off not being reminded about the person they don’t get to see, so try and see how he reacts.

How much your baby anguishes over his dad’s absence is a reflection of your attitude. It is the same as when the toddler falls without injury. He will look at you to check what he is supposed to feel. If you rush toward him alarmed, he will cry. If you smile and do nothing, he gets up and keeps going. Be at peace and open to his emotions, and your baby will learn from you that he can go through this experience powerfully and joyfully.

The Best Time for Bilingual Education

By Emily Patterson and Kathleen Thomas, www.primroseschools.com

Traditional wisdom has been to start teaching a second language in middle school, or even high school. Yet numerous research studies clearly demonstrate that the optimal period in a child’s life for multilingual education is during the preschool years — at exactly the same time they are learning their first language. Yes, it is possible to learn a second and third language later in life, but it is more difficult, because that neurological “window of opportunity” — when the brain is most malleable — has passed.

According to Dr. Fred Genessee, Professor of Psychology at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, it’s as easy for young children to learn two or three languages as it is for them to learn one. He’s not alone; educators throughout the world (in countries that often have two or even three official languages) have understood this for decades.

The way a child learns a second language is by actually speaking it in a total immersion environment. You may recall an episode of the animated series The Simpsons in which young Bart gets trapped on a farm in France — and by the end of the episode, finds he’s actually speaking the language. While this was a fictional scenario, the phenomenon is real; anyone who has taken young children abroad to stay with relatives in a foreign country for any length of time has observed this happening.

Enrollment in a preschool program that offers immersion in other languages is the best way to get your child started.

Why Your Child Doesn’t Share

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

Q: Our neighbor’s child happily shares everything, but our children don’t. They don’t share with each other either, and every piece of a treat becomes a fight. How can help them see the gift in sharing?


Naomi Aldort
Naomi Aldort


In one of my workshops, a mother summed up her childhood experience of sharing by saying: “Every time I got a candy, I had to share it with my sister. Mom said it was nice to share, but I was sure it was bad because I was always left with half the candy.” Whether sharing food, toys, or the use of the slide, the result of adult-directed sharing often leaves a child with a sense of loss or a diminished experience — and not with joy. Children’s authentic generosity shows up in areas that we often don’t notice or don’t approve of. They assume that guests can stay forever and don’t see why they should leave and they see food in every home as their own. They share clothes and beds easily; they love giving gifts, hugs, and love.

Children are generous, and they also like to keep certain personal things and experiences to themselves, just like adults. Therefore, I use the word “sharing” to describe what adults wish that children would share. Continue reading Why Your Child Doesn’t Share

Early Weaning: A Time of Transition for Baby…and Mom

By Chandra Hamilton

Ryan and ChandraAs each new talent emerges, toddlers get busy and forget to do lots of things: watch in front of them when moving, pick up toys before stepping on them, and eat. They fight the fork, the spoon, and even self-feeding in an effort to get back to their most important work: play.

Some toddlers make up by nursing even more at night. Sometimes this continues to work for both mother and toddler. Sometimes, however, Mother chooses to night wean.

In this case, night weaning led to day weaning, and soon, my toddler was completely off the breast long before I ever considered the idea.

Our Story

When Ryan was 15 months old, we decided to move. (May I just point out, this is total chaos and I never recommend it!) We packed up everything we owned and drove four hours north. This move from the familiar into the unknown turned my toddler’s world upside-down. He didn’t know where he was, where any of his toys were, where his dogs were, and most importantly, he didn’t understand why Mommy had been less than 100% attentive in the weeks leading up to the move. Since he was mobile, self-feeding, and easily entertained, my attention had been focused on working and packing.

So, slowly but surely, one feeding would slip through the cracks, then another and another.

At the same time, we gave up night nursing. As a family, we decided that Ryan’s continued and constant night nursing wasn’t working. As he became a busy toddler, he became what I like to call a “full-body” nurser. What I mean by this is that he no longer just nursed with his mouth, he rubbed my belly with his hand, kicked with his feet, and screamed every time I even considered taking him off the breast so I could roll over and sleep myself. When he was an infant, night nursing was a joy. But as he grew more adept with his body, it became a challenge.

One thing led to another, and the next thing I knew, my toddler had not asked to nurse and I had not offered in several days. He did take a few weeks to wean completely; it was a gradual and gentle weaning.

But I found myself missing the time we spent together. My baby was gone, and a cranky toddler had replaced him. And though I love the new skills and fun this age provides, I missed my little boy.

I felt rejected — that I was less than the mother I used to be. How can I possibly be an attached parent if I didn’t breastfeed past the 16th month? And the guilt — oh, the guilt! I’ve selectively vaccinated my son — is he now set to get polio since he’s weaned? Do I have to skip ahead and vaccinate like crazy to catch up now that he won’t be getting breastmilk anymore? These are just a few of the questions bouncing around in my mind.

Nursing had always been my go-to fix for anything Ryan needed. Fell down and bumped your knee? Nurse. Bored and cranky because we’ve had to wait too long for an appointment? Nurse. Tired and distracted and just need some time to get centered? Nurse.

With weaning, like all transitions, I had to learn how to interact and care for this new person in my life. This independent, yet fragile, little boy still needed my love and support, and I had to figure out some other way to be there for him without offering the breast.

Easing the Transition

Here are a few tips that have worked for us:

  • Make up for the missed breastfeeding time by having extra cuddle time — Sleep with your toddler even after the nursing is gone.
  • Have special before-bed and wake-up time — that involves singing, cuddling, and the same undivided attention you would have given had you been nursing.
  • Consider bottle nursing — If you are comfortable with it, cow’s milk or water in a bottle can be tempting enough for some toddlers to allow lap time, even if it is only once a day.
  • Pick a special song or two just for boo-boos — When Ryan gets hurt, I pull him onto my lap and sing very softly and close to his ear the same song every time. He seems to get a sense of comfort from this. He knows that he has been upset or hurt before, and by the end of the song everything seems a little bit easier to handle.
  • Acknowledge and mourn the passing of one stage, but celebrate and rejoice in this new one — It is okay to feel sad and miss that small bundle who depended on you for everything. It is also normal to feel happy and relieved that you are no longer the only one who can provide this comfort for your child. Allow yourself some time to just stop and feel.

I know that Ryan still loves me, needs me, and can’t imagine a day without me. And I know that like all things in life, this too shall pass. Sometimes, though, I wish some things — like breastfeeding — wouldn’t pass so quickly!