Tag Archives: limits

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!


Spotlight On: Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids

An interview with Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids author, Dr. Laura Markham.

Tell us about your book. What was the inspiration?PeacefulParentHappyKids_FINAL.indd

Most parenting books focus on changing the child’s behavior. But when you try to control another person’s behavior, they resist. Kids only accept our guidance to the degree that they feel connected to us. In other words, our influence with our children and our ability to guide them as they grow comes from their connection to us.

So Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids is designed to help parents stay connected as their babies grow into toddlers and then into children, and to give parents best practices to guide and coach kids, rather than control them.

Finally, this book is designed to foster emotional intelligence in both parents and children. When humans–both parents and children–are in the grip of strong emotions like anger and fear, we disconnect from each other. So one of my goals in writing this book was to help parents learn to regulate their own emotions. That enables them to stay connected even in the face of their child’s upsets and to support their child’s healthy emotional development.

What inspired you to write the book?

There are lots of good books about babies written from an attachment perspective. But once babies start to assert themselves as toddlers, parents are often challenged to stay connected and foster healthy emotional development as they set limits. The parents I work with kept asking me for a book that elaborated on what I was saying to them in coaching sessions–a blueprint for raising a happy, connected, emotionally healthy child!

How will this book benefit families?

Parents do the hardest job there is, often without the information and support they need. This book gives parents that information and support, with hands-on tools that are easy to put into practice. Parents learn to regulate their own emotions to stay calm, they learn how to stay connected even while stressed, and they learn how to help kids want to cooperate even as they grow into strong, self-directed people.

Because I’m a mom, this book is completely practical, focusing on how to transform your daily interactions with your child. Instead of tips to control or manipulate behavior with punishment and bribes, there are step-by-step recipes to coach your child’s development into a more confident, resilient, self- disciplined, emotionally intelligent person.

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

My training is an attachment theorist, so I’m a big fan of API. I love that API makes attachment parenting accessible for all families. API’s Eight Principles are brilliant because they succinctly introduce parents to the needs of children for optimal development. And, of course, since parents can only offer children what they have inside themselves, the eighth principle–balance and taking care of yourself–is critical to our ability as parents to respond with sensitivity to our children’s needs.

Lysa Parker and Barbara Nicholson’s book, Attached at the Heart, explains the Eight Principles in depth. Some of these principles, like responding with sensitivity and using positive discipline, can be hard to put into practice as your child gets into the toddler years and beyond because we as parents are only human and we get emotionally triggered. So my book gives parents the tools to put the Eight Principles into practice by regulating their own emotions and by staying connected as their baby grows into a child.

In addition, Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids extends the discussion on discipline. API advocates for loving guidance that strengthens the connection between parent and child, just as I do. Often positive discipline approaches don’t address emotion sufficiently to “work,” especially with more difficult kids. My book goes into detail on how to address the emotions that drive “bad behavior” so kids stop acting out. (“Acting out” just means acting out a feeling or need that can’t be articulated.)  I know that “discipline” comes from the same word as “disciple” and means “to guide,” but any dictionary will tell you that the word has come to mean punishment. The research shows that children do need guidance and limits, but that those limits need to be set with empathy if the child is to develop self-discipline. So Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids gives parents both the theory and the practice of how to set limits with empathy, so the child WANTS to cooperate and has the self-discipline and emotional regulation to do so. With this approach, discipline is never necessary.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

As parents, we raise the next generation. So parents deserve the support of the entire society. As Charles Raison says, “One generation full of deeply loving parents would change the brain of the next generation, and with that, the world.”  I wrote this book to help all parents who read it become the mothers or fathers they aspire to be for their children.

Where can people find more information?

People can visit my website, www.ahaparenting.com.

 A limited number of books can also be purchased from the API Store.

Where to Draw the Line? Exploring Boundaries, Limits, and Consequences

By Tamara Parnay

where do you draw the line?“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

~ Serenity Prayer, attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr theologian

A mother was in the kitchen, preparing dinner. Her child came up from behind her and hit her. “Ow!” she called out angrily. “That hurt! I’ll teach you!” She immediately turned and hit her child back. The child cried out in pain and shock. “I’m not going to raise a wild, disrespectful child!”

That child grew up and became a mother. She is now in the kitchen, preparing dinner. Her child comes up from behind her and hits her. “Ow!” she calls out angrily. “That hurt! I’ll teach you!” She immediately turns to hit her child back — but somehow stops herself… Continue reading Where to Draw the Line? Exploring Boundaries, Limits, and Consequences