Tag Archives: respect

For Grandparents: When Your Adult Kids’ Parenting Drives You Crazy

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

Photo credit: Anissa Thompson
Photo credit: Anissa Thompson

Q: My daughter-in-law is into a way of raising our grandchildren that includes cosleeping, organic food, wooden toys and so on. She and our son are very protective of their ways and forbid me from bringing certain gifts and doing “grandma” kinds of things with them, like going for ice cream, taking them to a movie or buying toys. How can I have more relationship with my grandchildren in spite of these limitations?

A: As grandparents, we are in love with the little ones and yearn to be part of their lives. Your question is, therefore, very useful for every grandparent. And yes, there is a way to nurture the connection with your grandchildren when the parents are choosing loving ways that differ from yours.

I recall counseling a family when the young father said to his parents, “You did your parenting experiment, raising me and my sister. We are doing ours with our daughters.”

“Experiment?” The grandpa was horrified and offended. “We didn’t experiment. We knew how to be parents,” he said confidently.

“Did we?” asked an honest grandma, with a twinkle in her eye. “I often didn’t know what I was doing. I think our son has a point. Their way could be better, and anyway, it is their turn to be parents in their own way.”

Your children may be happy adults, so it is easy to feel sure that what you did was the best. But can you really know? Can you know how they would have matured if brought up in a different way? We cannot know, and it is indeed always an “experiment” to raise a child. There is more than one loving way to nurture a young one.

Creating connection

Some young parents follow the footsteps of their parents and welcome a grandparent’s ways, while others blaze a new trail. Your son is obviously on a different parenting path. Let’s imagine two different grandmas in this same dilemma, handling it in two different ways. One grandma wants do things her way, while the other respects her children’s parenting wishes. Who of the two is going to build more connection with the grandchildren and with the whole family?

Visits and gifts

In scenario one, Grandma arrives for a visit with gifts. She enters the house, and right away there is tension. As she gives the gifts to the grandchildren, the parents share glances of distress. They go to the other room to discuss how to get rid of what they see as harmful toys. They have worked so hard to keep the children away from such toys or influences, and they will tend to view Grandma as an enemy rather than an ally. Such parents call me for advice and say with anguish, “She is ruining everything.” If they try to talk to Grandma about it or get rid of the toys, there will be arguments instead of connection and joy.

The other grandma, who decided to honor her children’s ways, arrives either with gifts that have been agreed upon in advance or without gifts. After a while she may say, “I would love to see what you may want me to get for you from the wonderful catalog your mom told me about.” Everyone sits together excitedly, and the connection is strong. Grandma includes the parents in making the buying choices. Or Grandma’s treat may be going to the zoo or some other experience that the parents feel good about. Giving experiences together is a lifelong gift of love and connection.

Taking them out for ice cream

What about the ice cream? Some parents may be comfortable allowing treats like ice cream, for special occasions or more often, while others prefer not to. In our example, the first grandma either takes the kids for ice cream against the parents’ will or knowledge, or she doesn’t but she resents it. Either way there is secrecy and a sense of disconnection and anger. If the kids get a treat without the parents’ knowledge, the parents will probably find out eventually, and it will erode trust, connection and honesty between parent and child.

The second grandma is delighted to learn what natural sweets are available at the health food store or what the parents are making at home that is wholesome and sweet. She is learning something new and feeling excited and belonging. She may buy a recipe book for sweet treats without sugar and contribute to the whole family. She may also ask the parents for suggestions on where to take the children for special treats.

Going to the movies

The first grandma may have an argument with the parents and end up not going to the movie but feeling angry and disconnected. The children may feel that their parents are preventing them from having fun, and after Grandma leaves, they become aggressive and resentful toward their own parents. The parents resent Grandma and may reduce the visits with her. Or, if this grandma does get her way, the resentment will be even greater. The children may want more movies, toys related to the movie, and other items and experiences their parents were trying to protect them from. Grandma will end up with less connection, as she will be resented and not trusted to spend time with the children on her own.

Meanwhile, the grandma who chooses to respect the parents’ choices is spending her afternoon in the park instead of the movies. She is naturally connecting with the grandchildren but also staying connected with her grandchildren’s parents. This is not her turn to choose how to parent. She enjoys the freedom to follow rather than lead. She joins the ride and enjoys herself. When she observes something her old ways tell her to change, she questions her own convictions and opens herself to new ways of thinking. She doesn’t need to agree, only to respect. She has a wonderful time with the grandchildren and will be welcomed to visit or host the grandchildren often.

Choose the kind of grandparent you wish to be

What will bring more connection between you and your grandchildren, and between you and your children—defending some “rights” (which you don’t really have) or joining their ride?

When we defend our position, our “rights” and our opinion, we create separation, confusion, misunderstanding and struggle. When we defend, we are set on manipulating the people and conditions to fit our agenda, and it often hurts and brings stress into the relationships.

We are not talking here about parents who hurt their children but about loving parents whose ways differ from yours. When your son was four and wanted to play in the sand, you honored his wish, and he played his way. Now that he is a father, support him by offering to be with the children in a way that respects his well-thought-out efforts.

We often don’t realize that by exposing a child to something his parents oppose, we set him up against his mother and father, creating much strife even after our departure. The words “Mom, I want … Grandma said it is OK. … ” are dreaded by parents everywhere. If, instead of manipulating  people and conditions, we respond to their loving ways, we create the connection we want, and we build trust. Your son is more likely to listen to you when you show up as his ally.

Of course, you can express your concerns and opinions, just don’t expect your son and daughter-in-law to follow your advice. It is their turn. It is the time for you to follow and not lead. If you want to have an easier time, try to understand them, read the parenting books or articles they are reading, or listen to the CDs they are inspired by. Some grandparents contact professionals for advice in order to learn and support their children’s ways of parenting. Go for the ride as a passenger, not a driver, and you will have the greatest connection any grandparent can have.


Strengthening Secure Attachment Through Food

By Kelly Bartlett, author of Encouraging Words For Kids, certified positive discipline educator and Attachment Parenting International Leader (API of Portland, Oregon, USA), www.kellybartlett.net. Originally published in the “Feeding Our Children” 2009 issue of Attached Family.

Photo credit: Piku
Photo credit: Piku

“Beep! Beep! Beep! Oh, bread’s ready!”

This was my 24-month-old son “cooking” as he took his bath. With only one tiny ceramic cup in the tub with him, he found a way to entertain himself, and I was listening to his running commentary.

“OK, got some water. Now add the flour. Stir. Got some yeast. Sprinkle it. Mix it, mix it, mix it ’til it’s yummy.”

He was adding “ingredients” and stirring the contents of his cup. He turned and placed his cup of “dough” under a washcloth on the side of the tub; this was the oven. After a few seconds, his “timer” beeped and the bread was ready. He took it out of the oven and presented me with his freshly made bread saying, “Hot, Mama, hot! You need to cool it, so don’t eat it yet!”

This is not the first time that either of my kids have “baked” with water, sand, dirt, leaves or other yard debris, but it was the first time that I took pause for a moment and marveled at my barely-2- year-old’s understanding of food. It wasn’t so much that he knew the ingredients or the process of making bread, but really I was proud that moments like these exemplify my kids’ understanding that food doesn’t come from a box or plastic bag. It comes from elements of nature. It comes from someone’s time and effort. It comes from worthy ingredients combined with love.

A Natural Progression from Breastfeeding

Oh, the love that goes into my cooking and baking! Years ago, when we were introducing our 6-month-old daughter to solid foods, I considered the breastmilk she had been receiving full time up until then. It was nutritious, natural, had no preservatives and contained no artificial ingredients or colors. It was everything she needed, nothing she didn’t, and was always prepared and served with the utmost love. I wanted her “fine dining” experience to continue and began to consider more carefully the foods that we introduced.

When I glanced down at the ingredients on my tiny container of yogurt and read high fructose corn syrup, carrageenan, red dye #40, and 30-plus grams of sugar, I wondered if something like that was the best choice of foods to allow her to ingest. No, I decided, we can do better than this. Thus began our journey of whole-foods eating, which has given us so much more than a healthier diet.

I say “us,” because I figured that if there were healthier options to feed our baby girl, why shouldn’t I incorporate them into my husband’s and my diet, as well? I knew that a lot of positive parenting comes from leading by example, and this would include eating habits, too. Moreover, just like Attachment Parenting, the most nourishing cooking happens when it’s created from scratch—nobody else’s prefabricated recipe, no superficial packaging, just the basic ingredients required to meet everyone’s needs.

Whole Foods Now a Lifestyle

Many years after adopting a clean and simple approach to eating, our lives are subtly but greatly enriched through the foods we choose to eat. It’s the effort in getting those foods and the experiences we share in doing so that adds an aspect of closeness to our lives. Because we cook from scratch, our goal is: If we want to eat it, we have to make it. This includes fun challenges such as marshmallows, butterscotch pudding, and chips and salsa.

Our adventures in obtaining ingredients include going to farmers’ markets, heading to the flour mill (and marveling at the huge stone mill), getting to know our milkman, quests in picking all kinds of Oregon berries, trips to various farms for fresh eggs and nuts, and many informative discussions about where meat comes from.

Together, our family has found our own rhythm for meal times. Breakfasts and lunches are just for the kids and me, and my husband joins us after work for dinner. We start our days with a hearty combination of whole grain and protein, like whole wheat waffles and yogurt or homemade granola bars and scrambled eggs.

Breakfast is also when we get our bread started for the day. Four ingredients into the bread machine, hit the start button, and it’ll be ready for lunch.

Lunch goes in phases, beginning with a protein plate that the kids share while they’re still in the midst of their morning play. We are omnivores, but usually eat vegetarian for breakfast and lunch as it helps curb the expense of organic meat. So, the kids will grab bites of beans, nuts, tofu or cheese while they finish their work. Because they are hungry and they choose the proteins for lunch, the plate usually empties.

Then we all sit down at the table for fruit, vegetables, dip and beverage. I’ve seen both kids eat raw vegetables, with or without dip, that they would not eat if they were cooked. By the time we’re done with the “vitamin and fiber” phases, the bread machine is finished. At this point, the kids are satisfied with about half as much bread as if it were served at the beginning of lunch, and they’ve consumed a more balanced meal overall.

Of course, some days we scrap it all, and have macaroni and cheese instead (made from scratch)!

The Family Part of Eating

Our dinner rhythm varies each day, but it always includes sitting down and eating together as a family. Depending on what our activities are for the day, I might have dinner already in the slow cooker, I might quickly put together a pasta dish or I might have time to invite my kids to cook with me. But we always come together at the end of the day for this important meal.

This coming together is the most vital ingredient. Having dinner together is like an automatic family meeting every night!

Sometimes my husband asks everyone, “So, what was the best thing that happened to you today?” Or sometimes my daughter makes statements about what’s on her mind like, “I want to talk about how plants grow.” Even my 2-year-old gets into the conversation and shares what’s been occupying his thoughts lately.

This ritual of eating together not only allows us time to share what’s on our minds and connect with each other but also is yet another way for our children to cultivate their trust in us. They know that every day they will unquestioningly get the sustenance they need: physical nourishment and emotional connection.

Adding Positive Eating Habits in Your Home

I know it must sound like we spend our entire lives focused on obtaining, preparing and eating food! You must wonder, do we have time for anything else? And with all of our busy lives, who would want to spend this much time in the kitchen? Is it possible to adapt some whole-foods, secure-attachment-promoting techniques regarding eating habits, yet not spend so much time in the kitchen?

Here are tips for adding positive eating habits into your meal routine:

·         Start small. Make one change at a time and allow your routine time to adjust.

·         Choose one commercially made/prepackaged product that you regularly buy, and replace it with a homemade or homegrown version. It could be anything from frozen burritos to chocolate syrup!

·         Choose one meal for which you sit down together regularly as a family at least one day a week. Start increasing this as often as you can.

·         If you have a bread machine, dust it off and try it out!

·         Find one food that you can start buying locally. Take your kids with you.

·         Whenever you prepare your child’s favorite dish, give him a task in helping prepare it. Take a photograph of him with his work.

We spend a lot of time in the kitchen because we like it. I enjoy cooking and baking, and my kids love eating. So, we’re very comfortable spending an afternoon together chopping, mixing, talking and snacking.

I do enjoy our trips to local farms and markets to buy the fresh ingredients we need, but they could easily be found in a grocery store. Even large grocery store chains are stocking more and more organic and locally grown products. Sometimes when we just don’t have the opportunity to turn shopping into a daylong family bonding experience, I will go to an online grocery store and have frozen (unsweetened) fruits, pre-cut vegetables and a supply of basic pantry ingredients delivered to my door.

Despite the occasional requirement for modern convenience, I do treasure the time that my kids and I spend making our meals together, and I try to provide that opportunity as often as I can. This time in the kitchen can be spent in a number of ways, depending on what my kids need. They might need to be physically close to me—being in another room, or even across the room, might not be in the cards that day. They might need something to keep their hands busy, an opportunity for “real” work. I love satisfying this need, because I can see the pride on their faces as they do meaningful, independent work.

They might need to experiment and analyze, to satisfy their innate curiosity by learning about mixing, pouring, textures, scents, machines and general cause-and-effect. They might need to work together–cooperating by adding ingredients to the dough and problem solving when only half an egg makes it into the bowl (scraping it off the counter works just fine for them). They might need to talk—to tell me things, small things, which help me understand them better, like: “Mom? All I like to do is read books and forget about stuff.” This time in the kitchen feels so worthwhile.

Through fresh ingredients, working together in the kitchen and sitting down for regular family meals, I am giving so many things to my children. The most important of which, and the reason why I continue to put so much effort into our meals, is that it brings us closer together. Like breastfeeding, a made-from-scratch approach to family meals incorporates physical closeness, uninterrupted time together, emotional connection, high-quality nutrition and family security.

I hope that one day my children will look back on our time in the kitchen with fond memories, as I know that right now they cannot articulate all that is going on before, during and after our mealtimes. Mostly what they take away from our dining experiences are feelings of security and love. They feel the love that goes into our meals, and they instinctively know that they are worth it—worth the time, planning, expense and effort of whole-foods preparation.

The Importance of the Family Table

Coming together to eat as a family is an essential way for many families in today’s fast-paced world to slow down and take time to connect with one another. This is important not only for the parent-child attachment relationship but also for the child’s future. Here is some recent research showing how the family table can benefit your child:

·         Children who partake in family meals have smoother and faster cognitive and behavioral development, because they observe and learn from their parents in communication, morality and other areas of social skills, according to a study by the Dyscovery Centre at Newport University (Wales).

·         Teens who regularly take part in family activities, including eating together, are less likely to have sex, according to a study by Boston College (USA).

·         Teen girls who regularly eat meals with their families are less likely to smoke, drink alcohol and use drugs, according to a study by the University of Minnesota (USA).

·         Children of families who eat together consume more fruits, vegetables, calcium-rich foods, vitamins and minerals, and eat less junk food, according to a study by the University of Minnesota (USA).

·         Children of mothers who think eating together as a family is important are less likely to struggle with obesity as adolescents, according to a study by the University of Queensland (Australia).

·         Teens who regularly eat meals with their families are less likely to engage in alcohol and substance use, according to a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (USA). Eating together reduces tension in families and leads to more teens saying their parents are proud of them and that they can confide in their parents about a serious problem.

·         A paper by researchers at Washington State University (USA) discusses how family meals improve relationship-building communication and contribute to better school performance, better language development among preschoolers and more well-adjusted adolescents. As teens, these children were less likely to use drugs or be depressed and were more motivated at school and had better relationships. Families who eat together are also more likely to eat nutritious foods. The paper also found instances when family meals are harmful: when children are forced to sit face-to-face with controlling or dysfunctional parents, such as those who dominate the conversation, bring up hostilities and suppress children’s opinions. These parents are also more likely to use food as a tool for punishment or manipulation, such as offering food as emotional comfort.


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

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

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

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

How Attachment Parenting Produces Independent Kids

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

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

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

The meeting of needs is a critical concept.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does Attachment Parenting foster independence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does Attachment Parenting look like in the teen years?

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

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

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

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


Three Simple Communication Tips for a Happier Vacation

By Stacy Jagger, MMFT, owner of Sunnybrook Counseling, www.sunnybrookcounseling.com

If you are anything like me, it is so easy to overdo it on a vacation. I am known among my friends for squeezing all I can out of a day, and sometimes it’s just too much. On the last Disney trip we took, when I thought my daughter would remember all of the rides, the shows and the interviews with fantasy characters, her favorite memory was sitting on her daddy’s shoulders watching the fireworks in the rain. Yes, the pouring rain. I could have done that in my backyard.3ä illustration: Travel rest from work.

Nevertheless, we will return to Disney this year with Grandpa. I’ve determined to remember that there isn’t a perfect day, not even at Disney. Each day holds beautiful moments and frustrating moments, moments of glory and moments of defeat.  It is realizing that we live in this blend that keeps me in check, keeps me in reality, even at the Magic Kingdom. I have found that keeping the balance and digging for gratitude in each beautiful or frustrating moment makes all the difference. That, and a few key phrases like the following: Continue reading Three Simple Communication Tips for a Happier Vacation

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.

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.

Do Consequences Work with Older Children?

By Camille North, editor of API Links

consequencesSome years ago, my oldest son forgot his shoes on a routine trip to the grocery store. We’d struggled with the “shoe issue” for a while, and I hadn’t come up with a workable solution to help him remember to bring his shoes when we had errands to run. Frequently, we’d have to double back to the house to retrieve a pair, and I’d be impatient and irritable. This day, I decided to let him take charge. We arrived at the store and, sure enough, his shoes were nowhere to be found. He ended up wearing his little sister’s flip-flops for the (mercifully short) shopping trip. He never again forgot his shoes.

Do consequences work with older children? The whole concept made perfect sense with young children. However, the idea becomes more nebulous as your children get older and become more logical, inquisitive, intuitive, and analytical.

Why Use Consequences?

What are your goals for discipline? Do you simply want your child to obey you? Or do you wish to guide rather than punish, to help your child develop the skills and tools to deal with obstacles and succeed in life? Continue reading Do Consequences Work with Older Children?

Say Sorry

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

Force an apology?One of the hardest situations I face in my household is when one of my children hurts the other one, whether by accident or in play or out of anger. My knee-jerk reaction is to tell the offender to say sorry to her sister, just as my parents had me do when I was younger. My mom would tell me to say sorry and if I did it quickly to get it over with but didn’t really want to say it, she’d say, “Say it like you mean it.”

Now, I have to admit that I grew up knowing what it meant to say sorry. But I do realize that some people who were forced to apologize to their siblings grew up to use sorry as a quick fix for hurt feelings or as an afterthought. One man I know grew up being forced to say sorry when he and his siblings fought, but as an adult, he used apologies not because he was truly sorry but as a way to avoid dealing with uncomfortable feelings. In this way, he didn’t learn not to do the offending action again and would repeat it over and over, and getting frustrated because eventually people didn’t believe his so-called apologies.

There is a great debate among attached parents of whether or not to ask children to apologize when they hurt someone physically or emotionally. We want to teach our children empathy, and apologies are certainly a part of making restitution for a hurt but does forcing an apology hurt or help the development of empathy?

In my home, I choose not to force an apology but instead to encourage my children to comfort the hurt person on her own volition. I noticed that when I did ask for my three-year-old to apologize, she would do so but would quickly return to playing, without much regard for her sister’s crying. I re-evaluated what I wanted to teach her and readjusted my response during these situations.

Parents on both sides of the debate of saying sorry have great stories like mine to tell – of how their strategy works best for their family. Ultimately, that is what Attachment Parenting (AP) is supposed to be about – listening to your child, deciding what it is exactly you want to teach your child about the situation, and finding something that works best for your family. But, just what strategies regarding apologies are considered AP? Let’s take a look at what the experts have to say.

Attachment Parenting International Co-founders Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker in Attached at the Heart: “Apologies should come from the heart.”

Forcing a child to apologize may make the adult feel better but it doesn’t make the hurt child feel better and it doesn’t teach the offending child about an appropriate apology. Allow the child to apologize in his own way, even if it’s nonverbally. If your child is witnessing appropriate apologizing in her role models, she will begin to do so, too, when developmentally ready.

It’s important that children only apologize when they feel genuine remorse. The good news is, children raised in an attached way, which actively models and promotes the development of empathy, are more likely to begin feeling compassion early on and to spontaneously apologize on their own.

Canadian parent educator Judy Arnall in Discipline without Distress: “When the child needs to apologize to someone else: nudge, don’t force!”

Apologies need to come by the child’s own willpower and in the child’s own time. They almost never come when forced or in the emotional heat of the moment. Apologies are taught by modeling.

Parents want quick, forced apologies because of their own social embarrassment. If you’re dealing with a parent who expects a quick apology, explain your child’s feelings (“She’s so upset right now. We’ll deal with this later.”) or take the time to model what an appropriate apology looks like and apologize for your child on your own.

Massachusetts parent educator Alfie Kohn in Unconditional Parenting: “Compulsory apologies mostly train children to say things they don’t mean – that is, to lie.”

Parents must examine why they insist on their children apologizing – because they assume that by saying sorry, the child will magically feel remorse, or because they only care that their child has the manners to say sorry even if insincere? Parents who force apologies from their children are caring only about the behavior but not about the reason behind the behavior, and that reason is what will continue to fuel that child’s behavior as she grows.

University of Washington psychology professor John Gottman in Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: “From about age four, your child can understand the concept of ‘I’m sorry.’”

And the best way of teaching your child to apologize appropriately is by first modeling how to healthily handling feelings of regret and sorrow in your relationships, including in parent-child interactions.

To Force an Apology, or Not?

So what is API’s stance on asking your child to apologize?

  1. Be sure you’re modeling appropriate apologies in all your relationships.
  2. While you can encourage your child to apologize, it’s ultimately up to him. It’s more important to teach your child empathy and compassion – the reasons behind a healthy apology – than to hear the actual words, “I’m sorry.” It depends on your child’s development in being able to feel remorse and to handle this uncomfortable feeling.
  3. Realize that your child can apologize in ways besides saying sorry. A hug or kiss is just as much an apology as saying sorry.
  4. If your child isn’t going to apologize, and you really want him to, first think about your motivation, then take the moment to teach your child by modeling and appropriate apology on your own.

It can be difficult to practice AP and then see your child unwilling or unable to apologize to another person. We want our children to be empathic and compassionate, and we want to model to other people what AP looks like in our families. But, being an attached parent doesn’t mean that we never encounter hard situations like a child refusing to apologize – it means we are thinking about the deeper meaning of what we want to teach our children and finding ways to do that. Remember, the goal is to influence our children over time by getting to the emotional and cognitive roots of their actions, not to control their behavior now without regard for their willpower.

Helping Children Resolve Emotional Hurts

By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves

SiblingsDahlia was running around the house screaming and crying. “I hate her! I hate her! I will never play with her again!”

Finally, her steps slowed, and she told her father what had happened. He listened attentively. When she stopped, he asked, “Is there anything else?” Dahlia added more details and resumed crying bitterly. Father listened. When Dahlia stopped talking, he acknowledged, “I understand, and I love you very much.” Dahlia accepted her father’s embrace and support as she sobbed some more in his arms.

Then, as suddenly as the storm of tears began, she was finished. She got up and cheerfully announced, “Daddy, did you know that tomorrow Tina and I are going together to the beach? We are building a log house there with Adam and Tom. I will tell Tina before we go that I won’t ruin her work again, and I am sure she will be nice to me.” Continue reading Helping Children Resolve Emotional Hurts

Discouraging School-Age Children and Teens from Junk Food

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

Sadly, the challenge of encouraging your child to eat nutritiously doesn’t get any easier as he grows. As they become more independent thinkers, school-aged children and teens are exposed to more people modeling unhealthy behaviors: their peers and friends, other adults in the community, television commercials, even school vending machines promoting quick, easy, and tasty sweets and fatty foods.

Role models don’t have to openly discourage eating nutritiously; ignoring healthy options and choosing junk food first is powerful persuasion.

As children grow, eventually what peers teach begins to compete with the importance of parental guidance. But, in a family that values strong parent-child attachments, the parent will continue to be the top role model. So, even if your teen’s friends are choosing candy bars and pop over healthy snacks and beverages, she’s still learning most of her life lessons from what’s going on at home.

Here are a few ways parents can positively influence their children’s food choices:

  • Lead by example – Your child, even a teen, is learning how to live life by watching what you do and doing it, so if you’re snacking on chips and candy, your child will be, too. Also, actions speak louder than words. Your child learns more from watching what you eat than by listening to you advocate for the apple while you’re munching on a cookie.
  • Cheer up! – Many people, children and adults, learn to eat when they’re unhappy. Help your child find other ways to work through their feelings, such as talking with you or a friend.
  • Beat the boredom – Some children eat when they’re bored, especially while watching television. Turn off the TV and turn on family time with games, outings, or other activities together. In addition to discouraging your child from eating while viewing, turning off the television will reduce the time your child is exposed to junk food advertisers.
  • Moderation is the key – An occasional sweet is OK, but limiting the portion is a must. Teach your child to limit junk food by eating chips only with healthy meals and only offering one or two cookies during one snack time. Be consistent and resilient against protests, especially if you’re starting to change your child’s eating habits.
  • Make your own “junk food” – Bypass the store-bought processed foods by making your own candy, ice cream, sweet breads, and chips. Learn ways to make recipes healthier, such as using skim milk instead of whole milk and using applesauce instead of sugar.
  • Prepare quick foods for your busy teen – Many older children and teens have extremely full schedules, running from sports practice to dance class to church activities before coming home to do schoolwork and getting ready for bed. Junk food is notoriously easy for them to get quick energy, even if it’s not healthy energy. Encourage your child to eat well when they’re looking for quick meals by preparing healthy, tasty snacks for them. Cheese and crackers, a banana, celery sticks with peanut butter are all easy to pack together and don’t have to be refrigerated.

There will still be times when your child or teen opts for a bag of chips and pop instead of a healthier choice, but the goal is to teach her to make the right choice from how you model what to eat. And be creative! Healthy food choices can compete with the sugar- and fat-packed junk food. Find recipes that appeal to your child’s sweet tooth but still give her some nutrition, like a fruit-nut trail mix or multi-grain cookies.