Tag Archives: stress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • I will never yell.

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

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

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

  • Attachment Parenting will make raising children easy.

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

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

Does AP Work?

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

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

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

Why Do I Lose It With My Kids?

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

How Many Beach Balls Are You Trying To Submerge?

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

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

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

Most of us want more for ourselves and our children.

Tips for Working with Anger and Other Challenging Emotions

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

10 Tips for Cooling Down: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Tips to Open Your Heart After a Conflict:

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the Payoff?

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


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

Join a women’s or men’s group.

Join or start an API support group in your area.

Join the API Neighborhood.

See API’s resources for nurturing empathy.

Learn more about Nonviolent Communication.

Listening Exercise, Part 1

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

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

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

Listening Exercise, Part 2

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

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

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


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

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

Photo: Miranda Laskowska
Photo: Miranda Laskowska

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

API: How does emotional eating develop?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Best Gift You Could Ever Give Your Child

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

Photo: Phaitoon
Photo: Phaitoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Power Games for a Joyful Bedtime

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

Editor’s Note: The author invites us to consider a different perspective on children’s behavior. You may wish to read this in conjunction with API’s Balance Principle and many other articles on children and sleep available at API’s website and TheAttachedFamily.com. As always, we encourage you to trust your own wisdom and find what works best for you and your family.

Photo: David Castillo Domenici
Photo: David Castillo Domenici

Q: Why can’t my children go to bed and go to sleep? It takes us a couple of hours to put them in bed. They run away from putting pajamas on, and again they escape when we try to brush their teeth. It is such a struggle every night; they just don’t cooperate. Is there a better way?

A: Most parents go through the same exhausting and frustrating process you describe so well in your question. This can be both difficult and painfully disconnecting. You wish to tuck your children in bed with love and a calm heart, and instead you end up feeling frustrated and exhausted.

It is human and natural to want to stop the running child and get her to bed, but it actually thwarts her efforts to get ready for a good night’s sleep. Some parents tame their children to obey them, creating disconnection and not attending to the child’s emotional needs. From your question, it is obvious that you don’t want to dominate but to have your children go to sleep of their own free will and in response to your aware and loving leadership.

Any time we fight against the need or nature of a child, even with the best of intentions, we cause hardship and disconnection, especially if the children obey against their own inner voice. Instead of struggling to stop or control the child, we want to find ways to understand the child’s valid need and, when possible and safe, respond to it. The goal is not to control but to flow with the child’s real needs. Such care creates cooperation without coercion or domination.

The Wisdom of Power Games

Before being able to sleep, children may need to unleash the stress and energy of the day. If we consistently suppress that need, the child can develop emotional and behavioral difficulties. A child is eager to be independent, yet she often experiences feeling helpless–told what to do, unable to drive, buckled up in a car, unable to reach places or do things for herself, and overall excruciatingly dependent. At the end of the day, giving her yet another experience of someone else being in charge of her body may result in emotional harm and the kind of struggle you describe in your question. The child wants to unleash this stress before she can relax into dreamland. Though routine and structure are important for some children, they can be adjusted with sensitivity to meet a child’s needs for freedom and choice. Including power games can be part of the routine–a healing and joyful part.

Children running at bedtime are doing exactly that: unleashing energy and stress. I have coined this type of healing play “power games” because it is a way for the child to regain a sense of power and autonomy and undo some of the experience of being small and helpless. This responsive play has nothing to do with winning or having power over anyone. Instead, the parent plays the role of a loving play-therapist, meeting a need and creating a routine of healing games that prepare the child for sleep.

A child’s drive to run away at bedtime is healthy and deserving of care. I suggest you include it in the bedtime routine. Children initiate power games with their parents all the time, and parents tend to thwart most of them (by saying “stop”), not realizing the value of the game. In your example, your children start a power game by running away from the pajamas. I describe other types of power games in my book, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves.

It is wonderful that they love playing with you; it shows their wisdom and their trust of you. When you demand a smooth ride, on your terms, from the bathroom to bed, you disconnect yourself from reality and lose sight of what is actually needed. Indeed, when you don’t recognize the child’s need, you actually lose the ability to be the parent, the leader. Your choice is between a time of struggle or a time of playful and nurturing connection. Being a leader means knowing how to steer the ship in the direction of the stream.

Other Options

I can hear some parents say, “But I don’t want to. I want a quiet bedtime and a quick one.” What I suggest will give you a more peaceful, respectful and enjoyable bedtime in which you will not feel helpless because you will be in charge as a wise healer. If your child needs to unleash energy or stress through play, your desire for a quick bedtime causes you stress because it opposes the child’s real need that has to be met. Some children go to sleep with a story and a hug, while some children need an energetic game before going to bed. In addition, a child who needs power games one night may not need them the next night. The goal is not consistency in what we do but consistency in being loving, aware and responsive.

There are things you can do to increase the chance for a quicker or calmer bedtime:

1. You can respond playfully to power games earlier in the day. You can find more about how to play a variety of power games in my book.

2. You can minimize screen time and sitting and allow plenty of outdoor rigorous activity in daylight.

3. For health benefits and for better sleep, feed your children healthful and nourishing foods. A wholesome diet helps children sleep better, go to bed calmer, learn better and be more focused and peaceful. In my practice, I have found that eating carbohydrate, including fruit, in the evening may interfere with a child’s ability to fall asleep. You may wish to try offering protein-rich foods instead.

Power games during the day may lessen their need at bedtime, but they do not guarantee an adult-like bedtime scenario. If a child played power games in the afternoon and later experiences helplessness or sitting, he may need more release through power games and running before he is ready to sleep. It is a real need that should not be denied or suppressed. In addition, your anxious desire to put your children to bed ignites their desire to oppose you as a therapy game. Learning to enjoy the children is much easier and more beneficial than taming them to go against their healthy and needed direction. In fact, suppressing their needs often causes bedtime to take longer and leaves the children stressed and with unresolved emotional needs.

How to Play Bedtime Power Games

You may enjoy your bedtime with the children more if you flow with their invitation for play. Learn what your children need by observing them. If you are not a physical person, it may give you the exercise you need, or you can ask your spouse to chase them. Falling in love with reality can bring peace to bedtime with your children.

In a power game, your goal is not to change what the children do but to empower the game by offering pretend dramatic opposition, such as, “Oh no, they ran away again,” while you chase them over and over again. When you catch a child, bring her back to the bedroom while you huff and puff in “exhaustion” and declare, “I am going to hold you better this time. Oh, I hope … (in exasperation), I hope she doesn’t slip away again … ” Then pretend a desperate attempt to hold on as you put the pajamas on while allowing the next escape with a dramatic, “Oh no!” and a chase.

A true leader is a transparent one. Steer without controlling by making sure to let the children decide when to end the game, or else the healing is cancelled by your being in the position of power.

Transforming Ourselves

When we recognize the rightness of what the child is doing, we can provide for it without resistance, and the child then goes to sleep with ease. In contrast, when we resist, we become impatient and frustrated, and we tend to try to control instead of steer with wisdom. The child is not the cause of our frustration; our opposing thoughts and wants are. You may find peace and freedom in working on yourself to learn to enjoy the bedtime play rather than trying to change your children’s wise and healthy preparation for sleep. You may miss this time in their childhood all too soon.

Power Games at Our House

In our home the words “Lets go to bed” often came from the children. They recognized their own tiredness because we never went against their inner voice, and they loved bedtime because it was so much fun. Needless to say, they fell asleep easily and were always sound sleepers. Sharing our family’s bedtime routine is not as an answer for an “only” way but a window into one peaceful possibility that demonstrates the spirit of what I am suggesting.

The invitation to go to bed, regardless whom it came from, became the beginning of a joyful routine.The children often ran to the music corner and started playing the piano, drumming and dancing. Oh, how we loved that part of our routine. My husband and I would sit around to watch and marvel their creativity. When they thought it was a good idea to go to bed, they went to the kitchen for a snack. Food, laughter, clean up … we were all in the kitchen cherishing our daily tradition.

Next came the pajamas and teeth brushing, and yes, you guessed it, just like your children ours ran away, inviting a chase. We accepted the invitation, or I should say, my husband did. He would chase them to the end of the house, pretend to barely manage to catch them, and then bring them back to the bathroom, out of breath and saying repeatedly, “Oh, I hope they don’t run away again.” And of course, soon enough I would hear the playful dramatic declaration, “Oh no! They ran away again.” As the little ones passed by me with their father in tow, I could only wish that this joy would never end. I often joined at this point, wanting my part in the game. We never initiated the end of the game because that would have destroyed the sense of power the children were experiencing. It would have caused struggle and cancelled the healing.

Once the children had enough, they would get ready for bed eagerly and quickly. Of course once in bed, there were 20 minutes or so of heavenly joy: climbing on Daddy, snuggling, singing, laughing, rolling … These were some of the best hours of my life. In fact, if I could replay the best moments, bedtime with the children would be my very first choice.


Ask A Leader: Housework Stress and Car Seat Woes

By Leyani Redditi and Cason Zarro, API Leaders of API of Greater Atlanta, Georgia

Q: I am feeling overwhelmed with household chores and parenting. I want to be present for my children, but the pressure of everything I need to get done is so stressful. How can I get everything done and have time for my kids?

1208354_91362232A: I have struggled with this balance myself. It is fine to say to a brand new parent not to worry about the dirty dishes, but eventually they do need to get done. I find that when my home is relatively clean and we have food in the fridge and clean clothes, my family and I are less stressed.

So how does it all get done? Well, first of all, it doesn’t ALL get done. Some things will go by the wayside. Maybe it is the folding or ironing part of laundry. A basket of clean clothes still counts as doing laundry. By all means cut corners where you feel you can while still feeling good in your space. But even then there are repetitive and time-consuming tasks that somehow need to get done.

Here is what I have found to be the most helpful for getting things done while taking care of my children: Figure out a system, do things in short increments and do something each day.

Find your system: Everyone has a different way of organizing themselves (or not), but when you sit down and list the things that need to happen in a day, you see why you are so busy (and tired) and why sometimes it feels so overwhelming. So make the list, give yourself credit for how hard you work and then get strategic.

Figure out what things need to be done each day, each week and each month. How can other family members help with these tasks? You all live in the house and can all help in some way. My 3-year-old helps set the table and picks up toys during our family 10-minute toy pick-ups. My 7-year-old puts away her own clean laundry and feeds our pets. My husband helps with dishes and home maintenance. I have found it very helpful to have a Morning List and an Evening List. And, no, we don’t get everything done each day, but we are all involved, and we know what needs to be done (most days).

Work in short increments: Having a newborn taught me to use the very short amounts of time I had with both hands free to get a lot done. Talk about learning to prioritize! I love the idea of only spending 10 or maximum 15 minutes on a task. I don’t wait until I have an hour to do chores. I do 10 minutes here, 10 there, and slowly things get done. Really it’s finding the rhythm of your day and your family. I think about fitting in little bursts of activity so that I can have the luxury of long chore-free stretches with my children.

Do something each day: Household chores are ongoing and repetitive; the plates get dirty over and over again. For me, learning to think of these activities as “life maintenance” was very helpful. Just like brushing my teeth, there are some things that need to get done every day (or at least most days). I had to give up the idea that at some point I’d find a bunch of free time to get it all done. So I do something each day. Sometimes getting the dirty dishes into the dishwasher is it. Other days, we pick up the house as a family. We put on great music and set the timer for 10 minutes. Then it is a mad dash around the house full of laughter as we pick up and put away what we can.

Most importantly, give yourself credit for whatever you get done. Feel good you are doing something rather than bad that you are not doing everything.

~ Leyani Redditi

*Scroll down to read more suggestions from our readers.

Q: My 6-week-old baby cries and cries every time he is in the car. How can I help him like the car?

A: Although many babies are put to sleep by the sound and vibration of the car, there are quite a few babes who cry and want to get out. Time will certainly make this better, but there are some things you can try in the meantime.

Some babies are simply not comfortable in their infant car seats. If you think that is the case, you may wish to try a different model car seat. Sometimes switching to a convertible seat may result in a happier baby because the seat may be more comfortable. A convertible seat is one that can be placed rear-facing for infants, and then turned around when your little one has reached the rear-facing limits for the seat. You should consult the car seat manual to determine if your infant meets the minimum weight and size requirement for a convertible seat.

Nurse or feed your baby right before you leave. Make sure his diaper is dry and that he has burped. You want him to be as comfortable as possible before strapping him in his seat.

If there are any music or radio shows that you listened to while pregnant, try listening to them in the car. The familiar noises can be very comforting for babies. Try singing some lullabies or upbeat songs, depending on what your baby prefers. Some babies are soothed by white noise. In a pinch, radio static can act as white noise.

You could also try placing a T-shirt you’ve recently worn close to your dear son. The familiar smell of Mama may help him feel less lonely. Some families have found it helpful to tape a picture of mom’s face where the baby can see it. If you are the passenger, reach back and rub his head or sit in the seat next to him.

Sometimes you may need to pull over to a safe place and nurse or otherwise comfort your baby. I have found it helpful to pull over, sit in the seat next to my baby and lean over to nurse her. She will even fall asleep occasionally, and I can sneak around and drive while she sleeps peacefully. If your son will be comforted this way, it can be helpful to keep him buckled so that he doesn’t wake up when you are trying to get him back in his seat. You can also try nursing him like this before even leaving the house.

Allow extra time, especially if you need to be somewhere at a certain time. This can reduce your stress when you do need to stop. Reduce unnecessary trips, and encourage friends to come visit you.

If all else fails, talk to your pediatrician to rule out a medical reason such as acid reflux.

~ Cason Zarro

We asked readers on Facebook to tell us how they find balance with household chores and parenting. Click here to read the full conversation on Facebook.

Sunshine: Lower your expectations. Best piece of advice that was given to me!

Erin: We gave up cable and hired a housekeeper to come once every 2 weeks. Best money ever spent in our home of 2 full-time workers. It allows us to spend time with our kids after work and still get lunches packed, etc.

Ina: Prioritize–listening to your child’s idea is a “now,” folding laundry is a “later,” and cleaning the garage is a “maybe.” Downsize–don’t have too many clothes, toys and knick-knacks around. The more you own, the more you clean. Change the bottlenecks–if there is a time of crazy stress during the day, try to change it (e.g., if bathing in the evening is stressful, bathe them after lunch).

Leah: Sometimes you just have to let go of the phrases “I need to” or “I should.”

Elizabeth: I find a lot of comfort from a weekly chart. I do just two or three main house cleaning things per day, and then I’m not spending an entire day cleaning everything. I also remind myself that my chart is a guide, not a “to do” list. I keep my kitchen tasks for after school time since my son is in there already doing his homework. He sits up to the counter, and I help him with his homework as needed while I do the dishes and get dinner on.

Sandra: The bottom stair and a shelf at the top of the stairs are the gathering area for things that need to be put away. No wasted trips up or down the stairs. Going up anyway–take the packs of tissue to the hall closet. Coming down–bring the glasses to put in the dishwasher.

Jennifer: I take a nightly bath with my two youngest (4 months & 19 months). It’s probably the only way I can even fit in a bath at night for myself. It’s such a sweet moment and my favorite part of the day. I wash each, hand them one by one to dad to dress, then rinse off myself. Simple things make a difference!

Jane: Keep kids involved; it’s their house, too. All three of them love it when I allow them to wash the bathroom (not the toilet). We get $2 spray bottles, fill with water and either vinegar, bicarbonate or lemon, and let them go for it. Let go of your pre-kids standard.

Brittany: Just decide sometimes that it’s actually not the priority; sometimes playing with your kids, reading stories, or taking a relaxing bath while listening to jazz or opera is more important. Sometimes meditating and deciding to be grateful that it’s your life and those are your kids before you crank up the music and start working helps you keep focus.

Cathy: By just implying it should all be balanced and we should be managing it–without staff–is just unfair at times.

Savannah: Having a routine of cleaning during a certain part of the day has unintentionally given my daughter a routine for when to have “alone” play time, which she enjoys quite a bit.

Maria: If you have something you need to do without kids nagging, give them lots of attention first. Play a game, get exercise, feed them, snuggle. Then try to get your task done.

Lauren: Babywearing definitely helps!

Aimee: Honestly, I just let things go. I clean up food and big messes, but our house is not perfectly clean unless we have guests coming over, then I do a quick major overhaul! We work full time, and I’d rather spend the time I do have with my daughter. I’d love to always have healthy home-cooked meals, but we do a lot of ready-made meals from Trader Joes.

Louise: My hubby is superb and cleans the kitchen whilst balancing both kids in the mornings, so I can sleep a bit more (5-month-old feeds 2 hourly), and I do the rest of the house. Online grocery shopping is a godsend!

Elizabeth: A few tactical things we do to help keep me from being overwhelmed: hired a cleaning person, make two meals on Sunday so we have leftovers for the first half of the work week, and use a grocery list app.

Josie: While my husband is doing the bedtime routine, I take 10 minutes to pick up the toys and straighten up a bit. It’s easier to start from zero the next morning!

Melanie: I have baskets in several rooms, so when I see something that doesn’t belong in that room (comb, dog collar, Lego brick, calculator, etc.), I pop it in the basket. Then every week or so, I empty all the baskets into a pile on the lounge floor and shout, “Come and get your stuff; anything not collected goes in the charity bag.” Works every time, and we quite often have stuff there for charity, too.

Kristen: My husband shares in all chores and, in fact, probably does more than me since our daughter was born (9 months old and breastfeeding). I spent half my childhood pretending to keep house or work … just because our society tells us these things aren’t fun doesn’t have to make it true for us. For our family, housekeeping is part of the overall peace of our lives.

Judy: I am thinking about doing a home office share with another work-from-home mom so that we can trade off child care on 2 hour shifts for each other while the other gets stuff done.

Cherry: I remind myself that it isn’t my ever-so-clean carpets and clean kitchen that I will be remembering on my death bed … it will be my time spent with my DD.




Latest Research on Long-term Effects of Child Abuse

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

Child abuse effectsIn the United States alone, there are 3.2 million referrals to social services on allegations of child maltreatment each year — one-quarter of which are found to have a substantiated case of physical or sexual abuse or severe neglect. Seventy-five percent of these founded cases of abuse or neglect had no prior history. It’s an astounding number of children who aren’t living in safe, loving homes — especially knowing that these numbers don’t count the abused and neglected children living around the world. It’s a number that child maltreatment prevention researcher David Zielinski, PhD, wants to stick in your mind.

“I can highlight this, I can underline this — we’re talking about a huge number of children,” said Zielinski, who works with the National Institute of Mental Health. Earlier this year, he addressed a wide audience of researchers, social workers, and other professionals in the field of child abuse prevention and treatment through a webinar hosted by the Quality Improvement Center on Early Childhood.

That “huge number of children” Zielinski was describing translates into another sizable group – 25 million to 30 million adults, just in the U.S., who were abused or neglected as children. Research has shown us that individuals who experienced abuse and neglect have a higher risk of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders, antisocial personality disorder, substance abuse, and other addictions. And it’s well known that adults who were abused or neglected as children are more likely to become abusers themselves.

“You learn what’s appropriate based on imitation,” Zielinski said.

But the effects of this abuse tend to focus on treatment, rather than prevention — on the individual, rather than society. Continue reading Latest Research on Long-term Effects of Child Abuse

Nature Therapy

By Carrie Kerr

Carrie Kerr and her childrenI have always been of the opinion that days which are 70 degrees and sunny should be declared “National Hooky Days.” After all, what could be more important than getting outside on such a perfect day?

The kids are in full academic mode, complete with homework, projects, concerts, and tests. For many children, their days and weeks are heavily scheduled, irrespective of 70 and sunny.

As 3 p.m. approached on one of these flawless days, I put aside my projects and began preparing for the children to come home. Usually their arrival is a flurry of motion, commentary, questions, and requests. It is my job to gather them in, listen to them, support them, and direct them toward what needs to be done in the final stage of the day. On this particular day, however, I had an additional task. My job was to wipe tears.

Two of my children came home with what resulted in, simply…a tough day. I had to think fast of what we would do to take an emotionally trying day and make it better.

Adults and children alike, this is a common scenario. We have responsibilities and schedules that often push us over the edge. As a culture, we are having trouble dealing with stress. We see trends of overeating, overspending, and overindulging in drugs or alcohol as a response to a difficult day or phase in life. Do I want to teach my children that when they’ve had a hard day they should go ahead and indulge in an unhealthy pick-me-up? Am I concerned about reinforcing habits that will lead to a sedentary lifestyle? Will these habits, in turn, set them up for a higher risk of poor health and depression and, thereby, actually set them up for failure? How is it that we are stuck with this as our mindset, and how do we change it? One solution could be surprisingly simple.

My firstborn was a fairly high-strung baby, but the solution to helping her deal with her tension was easy: She loved anything outdoors, and the simple act of stepping outside calmed her down. I remember one rainy evening in particular; she was maybe six weeks old and was in the colicky phase of crying for several hours every evening. My husband was walking her around, waiting it out. When he stepped outside, her crying ceased and she cooed; inside, she screamed. So, he paced, under the eaves of the house as it poured down rain. We laughed, having pegged the needs of this child so early on.

It quickly became our habit to spend as much time outside as possible. That winter, our pediatrician was concerned about my eight-month-old baby’s chapped cheeks. “Do you really need to go outside so much?” He asked me. “Yes, we do,” I responded.

This coping technique evolved into a lifestyle for our growing family. All of our children spent endless hours gazing around the woods as we hiked them through local trails in the Kelty backpack. As they aged, they wiggled and begged to be set down and run the trails. It was, and continues to be, a free place for them — a place where they can forget their worries and use their imagination; a place where they can explore, discover, and learn with few rules or boundaries; a place where they can truly play in the name of wholesome childhood fun; a place of pure and real escapism.

It has quite the same effect on me.

Setting positive examples and guidance about how to handle life in general is the basic job of any parent. The solution to a stressful day must be something that has an overall positive impact on our physical, emotional, or spiritual health. I want my children to be able to understand and apply that concept. On this particular day, when my children were struggling and forlorn, I knew what they needed: Bookbags, homework, and practice time aside… We grabbed our hiking shoes and nets and headed for the woods. Within an hour, my children were thinking nothing of their stressful day and only of the number of minnows they had caught.

This, I call “nature therapy.” It is an often-overlooked, yet readily available and free program. Feel it, breathe it, and pass it onto the people in your life.

The Self-Care Challenge

By Sonya Fehér, contributing editor for the API Speaks blog, leader for API of South Austin, Texas, USA, and blogger at www.mamatrue.com

Sonya FeherCurled into a periwinkle micro-plush blanket under a fluffy down comforter, I had the rare option of sleeping in. My husband took the day off work for my birthday and was downstairs playing with our three-year-old son. But my lower back ached, as did the insides of my shins, and I had an urgent need to pee. I was sure before I saw the cloudy urine that I had another kidney infection, the fourth in 15 months. I have also been fighting a hacking cough for weeks.

Besides kindness, I believe my body is asking me for attention, in the sense of needing to be attended to. My body has been asking for this since my son was born in November of 2006, maybe decades longer than that. Mostly, I have not answered the call.

Instead I have stayed up too late at night writing, reading, or watching television because I desperately needed some time and space for myself after mothering all day (and in between nursing and bedsharing at night). Continue reading The Self-Care Challenge

How to Downsize the Holidays

By Judy Arnall, author of Discipline without Distress, ProfessionalParenting.ca

Judy Arnall, BA, is a discipline expert, parent educator, and speaker as well as the mother of five children. Learn more at  www.professionalparenting.ca or www.attachmentparenting.ca.
Judy Arnall, BA, is a discipline expert, parent educator, and speaker as well as the mother of five children. Learn more at www.professionalparenting.ca or www.attachmentparenting.ca.

Even though the economy is recovering, many families will still have to put the brakes on Christmas spending. How does one cut down? How do we break it to the kids? What will the relatives think if we don’t participate in the gift frenzy?

Families can do all three if they communicate the changes early, with loving intent and with assurances that the holidays will be about presence and not presents.

To limit children’s demands at Christmas:

  • Remember that children remember good times and not toys. Create rituals around the tree decorating, baking, other activities, and family and friend visits. Children will remember a special time with Grandma baking cookies much more then the hottest gift that is tossed aside in favor of more gifts.
  • Try to get the most wanted gift on their list, if possible. It only has to be one special, coveted gift.
  • If you can’t get or can’t afford the “hot” gift, use your judgment to decide what toys and games have the best play value. Keep in mind that children are often disappointed with the advertising hype when they eventually get the “it” gift. Don’t dismiss the second-hand stores for huge bargains on consignment and gently used toys. Children do not care if the toy doesn’t come in mounds of wire and clear plastic and cardboard packaging; the toys don’t have to be new, just new to them. Make sure the toys are clean and working, though. Keep in mind that as a parent, you know which toys offer more play value than others. Many children like simple, unstructured toys that can be played with in many different ways. Continue reading How to Downsize the Holidays

Dawn of Attachment: Why Mom’s Emotions Matter During Pregnancy

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

Relax during pregnancyDuring my second pregnancy, I was a ball of nerves. While my baby was born healthily, she was of a lower birth weight than what was expected – only six pounds for a term baby. My doctor had warned me that not finding a way to lessen my anxiety during the pregnancy could cause problems, and one of those was a low birth weight.

That the mother’s emotions can affect the unborn baby’s development is certainly credible, but exactly how does this happen?

We know from neuroscience and psychology that the brain develops according to our experiences, so nurturing forms a child’s brain differently than harsh or ignorant parenting approaches. Because this development and programming of the brain is most extensive when the child is young and his brain is growing the fastest of all his life, it stands to reason that the same is taking place within the unborn baby’s brain as a fetus. The fetal brain is growing at an astounding rate – in only nine months, an unborn baby’s brain goes from nothing to 100 billion brain cells. We have to realize that it’s more than gray matter growing – it’s also the beginning of connections and pathways between the different parts of the brain, which will go on to develop of this new person’s personality, sense of self esteem, and ability to manage emotion and stress through her lifetime.

An article on 4Therapy.com, “Pre-Birth Bonding,” explains the in-utero experience to be the dawn of the attachment process, emphasizing that the emotional attachment between a mother and her child starts long before the day that the baby makes his appearance in the outside world. By the fifth month of pregnancy, the baby recognizes the mother’s voice and shows a preference for different genres of music, marked by a difference of movement type and frequency observed via electronic fetal monitors and ultrasound. The study “Fetal Brain Behavior and Cognitive Development,” published in Developmental Review in 2000, describes that while fetal responses to stimuli are a reflex of the brain stem, this primitive brain structure is capable of learning.

The unborn baby is further affected by an emotional attachment with her mother through what is called the neurohormonal dialogue – for example, when the pregnant woman becomes anxious, her stress hormones course not only through all of her body but that of the unborn baby, too. This is why severe and chronic stress in the woman is related to prematurity, low birth weights, and hyperaroused, colicky babies.

Healthy pregnancies are more than creating a physically healthy environment for your baby, taking such precautions as eating a balanced diet and quitting smoking. It’s also understanding your emotional connection and then creating a healthy psychological environment – relaxed, able to cope with stress, and quick recovery from strong emotions such as anger and sadness. This can be difficult to do, considering the hormones rushing through your body and especially anxiety if this is your first or an unexpected baby.

Ideas for Finding Balance While Pregnant

Staying emotionally balanced when you’re expecting is similar to handling stress at other times in your life. Attachment Parenting International Co-founders Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker give a variety of strategies for parents to seek balance in their lives in their book, Attached at the Heart. Some of these include:

  • Work on a hobby or do an activity that you enjoy.
  • Visit with friends or join an API Support Group to seek input on concerns and make like-minded friends.
  • Make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep, eating nutritiously, drinking plenty of water, and doing exercise that your health care provider approves of.
  • Focus on your marriage or partnership.
  • Follow your doctor or midwife’s recommendations in taking care of yourself during these nine months, and prepare yourself mentally for upcoming medical procedures, labor and childbirth, the newborn transition, and parenting.
  • Consider taking of meditation, yoga, or getting a massage specifically for pregnant women.

How did you stay relaxed during your pregnancy?