When my daughter was named Student of the Month recently, an interviewer for the school newspaper asked her, “Who inspires you?” She said, “My parents inspire me because they take care of us, work hard, and have fun with us. It’s inspiring to know that it’s possible to work hard and still have time for fun.”
As her mother, I have a long list of things I believe I need to teach her before she turns 18. What a relief to learn that I could cross off “Adults need to make time to play” from that list!
I grew up in a very intense house. My parents were high-achieving professionals who worked very hard. As a kid and young adult, I was critical of their choices, but the older I get, the more I appreciate their focus. I now marvel at how there was always a homemade hot meal that we ate together for dinner, even if it happened at 8 p.m. I appreciate that from March until mid-April, my mom reserved the dining room table for tax papers. I’m simply amazed that my dad woke up at 4:00 every morning to go to work and returned with the same consistency every evening at 5:00. What’s more, he didn’t come home, kick off his shoes, pour himself a drink, and boss everyone around. He came home, put on his running shoes, and headed back out the door. That was the example, and that was the expectation.
We witnessed hard work and a strong focus all week long. But the weekends were “play city,” and kids were invited. We tagged along with my mom and dad and watched them complete one triathlon or cross-country ski race after another. In the summer, we went sailing and learned how to dive at the pool. We went for bike rides on the path, crashed community bonfires in the forest preserve, and went to drive-in movies. Yes, the school and work weeks were intense, but the weekends and summers were intensely fun.
It took a while to notice the impact that this model of “play” had on my life. As a child and an adult, I always kept up some type of maintenance fitness program or found time to swim in the lake, but I was never a hard-core athlete. During my first phase of motherhood, I rarely took more than an hour or two to myself for any leisure. I was mostly busy being pregnant or nursing, which in itself seemed like a ten-year-long marathon.
But slowly, and without my conscious intention, the example from my parents — the seeds of my childhood play — began to take root and bloom. Now that my children are a bit older, it’s a lot easier for me to take some time to myself for a bike ride, find a river to kayak on, or even train for a few races. Some of my recreational time is just for me, but much of it is for the whole family. To me, this is play.
How we spend our time will indeed have an effect on how our children spend their time, even if that effect takes a while to make itself known. So go ahead…make a date with your spouse. Sign up for a gardening class. Train for a race. Go fishing. Treat yourself to a membership at the art museum. Read a novel or go to a movie. Your recreation — your play — will make you happy, bring you balance, and set a wonderful example for your children.
By Kelly Bartlett, certified positive discipline educator and leader for Portland API, Oregon USA
Teaching children practical life skills takes more time than we usually think. It’s common for parents to get frustrated with kids who aren’t doing something we think they should know how to do, like putting on socks or shoes, preparing food, putting laundry away, or the ever-popular instruction, “Clean your room!” Tasks like these seem so straightforward to us, but for children they can be overwhelming and surprisingly complicated.
Before we get overly frustrated with our children, it helps if parents can remember the “see one, teach one, do one” approach to learning new tasks. These are the steps it typically takes for kids to learn new things:
The child should see you demonstrating the task, and will watch with the purpose of learning. You can explain what you’re doing as you go. “Watch how I do these three things to get your room clean. First, I…”
Involve your child and do the task together. Have him help you with the various steps involved in cleaning that room. “You put all of the dirty clothes in the laundry basket, while I make your bed.” When you are working together, the job doesn’t seem so daunting for a child, and you’re also modeling cooperation, teamwork, and respect.
This also works well for older children who forget to do their jobs. A Certified Positive Discipline Trainer from Greenville, South Carolina in the USA, Kelly Pfieffer shares a story of her teenage son who would continually forget to bring in the garbage cans and recycling bins after garbage day. This was meant to be his responsibility, but it wouldn’t get done at the end of the day, nor even the next morning on his way out to school. “My husband would be especially upset because it was obvious to the neighbors that our trash cans had not been brought in,” she said.
Kelly decided to take time to teach her son and help him learn by making the job one that they would do together. She gave her son the opportunity to bring in the garbage cans when he got home, but when he didn’t, she met him at the door with a hug, a smile, and a, “We’re doing the trash together now. Let’s get it done.” It took a few weeks of this cooperative teaching, with no nagging or lecturing, and her son started going right to the garbage cans when he got home! Kelly says, “Now it’s unusual for him to forget, when it used to be unusual for him to remember. Though if needed, I will do the task with him again.”
Just as it took Kelly several weeks of teaching her son how to bring in the garbage cans, it will most likely take kids several teaching sessions before they get the hang of a job and are able to think through it on their own. Kelly even says she expects her son to forget again, as his priorities are simply different than hers. But she is ready and willing to step in and do it together with him again. Instead of labeling this step “teach one,” it would be more aptly called “teach many, many times!”
This final step is when the child is able to do the task on her own. Some children (like Kelly’s teenager) might be able to go right from cooperative learning to doing it on their own, while some children (such as younger ones) might benefit from the opportunity to do a task themselves while you’re there to supervise and help. Eventually, depending on the activity and the child, they’ll be able to do tasks on their own, unsupervised. Keep in mind, too, that even when kids seem to be capable of doing a job on their own, they may “forget how” from time to time. A refresher course given together in a calm and loving manner, without nagging or lecturing, will help kids remember what to do, while keeping your relationship positive.
Most importantly in this process of teaching children, parents can remember to use it as an opportunity to connect with them. When we can let go of the outcome — the focus on what our child “should” be doing — we can enjoy communicating with and helping our kids, and trust that the learning will occur.
By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)
My youngest daughter is turning one year old this month. It’s amazing how much she’s changed since she was born – she’s learning to walk, waves bye-bye and says “yeah,” and is getting her fingers into everything! She’s also learned how fun it is to pull her sister’s hair.
Each time my two-year-old cries from the hair-pulling, I come over, gently pry the baby’s hands out of her sister’s locks, and say, “No, no…We don’t pull hair. Pulling hair hurts.” Does it work? No. But that’s OK because she’s only a baby. She isn’t old enough yet to know what “no” means, to know the difference between yes and no, to know what it means that something hurts.
The best way to get the baby to stop doing something I’d rather her not do is to remove it from the picture – if I don’t want her to take all the DVDs out of the cabinet, I put a lock on the doors, and if I don’t want her to mess with the on/off button on the TV, I tape a piece of cardboard over that button and rely on the remote.
The difference here is that I can’t remove her sister from the picture. I also need to remember that I’m teaching fairness. I want my two-year-old to see that I’m treating her and her sister fairly when it comes to hair-pulling, even if her baby sister is just a little too young to know what “no” means. I don’t want jealousy brewing, and I don’t want my toddler to resent her little sister. What is she learning if I say “no” to her when she pulls someone’s hair but not do the same when the baby is the one pulling her hair?
Changing the Spanking Mindset
When my toddler was this age, I was struggling with whether to begin discipline or what kind of discipline I should do. I grew up in a household with spanking. I didn’t know that spanking wasn’t really a form of discipline until I found Attachment Parenting International.
Before, I thought discipline and punishment with synonymous, and I thought spanking was a normal reaction of angry and frustrated parents. That was something I didn’t want to do, but yet, I didn’t want my children to be spoiled and selfish, either. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to spank, but I didn’t know any other way.
It took a lot of willpower and a lot of studying and reading, before I found my “brand” of discipline, what I call the individual way each parent disciplines (within the parameters of positive discipline, that is). I learned that discipline and punishment were two very separate things: that discipline was meant to be loving while teaching the child, even when children push the limits and do hurtful things, and that punishment didn’t really teach the child to do anything but fear his parents and fear “getting caught.” I didn’t want my children fearing me; I wanted their respect. There is a difference.
Lastly, I had to go through the very difficult process of removing anger from my life, not only when I needed to discipline but when I was irritated at my husband or frustrated with life in general. Interestingly, it was while trying to apply the techniques from Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk that I learned how to take anger out of disagreements with my husband. The skills I was building had spilled over to the rest of my life.
Once I took the anger out of the equation, it was easy not to spank. There was no need! I learned to get my child’s attention in a different, non-violent way. I prefer to have her look at my eyes while I explain why we don’t do what she did, and if I sense a tantrum coming on, I take her to her room to do the same and for her to have a quiet place to release that emotion. Often, when upset or frustrated, she chooses on her own to run to her room and then, in a minute or so, comes out when she’s calmed down. Sometimes, I follow her; sometimes, she seems to prefer to control how she calms down, and that may mean without me.
The Power of Reconnecting
I can’t say I didn’t slip up and revert back to that default playing in my head to spank my child. I did…many times unfortunately during the first few months of trying to change. But I learned a wonderful tool from Pam Leo’s book Connection Parenting that I simply refer to as “reconnecting.” I apologize to my daughter, hug her, and let her know that I know I slipped up and that I am working on it.
Reconnecting allowed me a way out, so that I didn’t become consumed by guilt and frustration. Then I regrouped myself and started over.
Another interesting note:My husband and I have started to do the reconnecting in our relationship by holding hands and looking at each other to block out distractions, including our children at those times, to take the time to apologize and say “I love you.” This technique has greatly improved our connecting during tense moments.
Understanding the Real Reason for Acting Out
I have also found that many of the most challenging times occur when either my toddler or I need a nap. Dirty diapers, late lunches, illness, boredom, and not enough one-on-one time certainly can play a part, too. This was an eye-opener for me: My toddler wasn’t acting out because she was intentionally trying to push my buttons, but because she was physically or emotionally uncomfortable. She tends not to tell me that her diaper needs changing until it’s very full, and at the end of the day, she gets anxious for her daddy to come home from work, and sometimes, she just wants to go run in the backyard instead of playing in the living room.
Baby See, Baby Do
Learning how to change my discipline-oriented programming wasn’t easy, but it was well worth it. Discipline is no longer stressful, and deciding when to begin disciplining my second child really isn’t even a question.
Since discipline isn’t punishment and is actually teaching, we’ve all been disciplining since birth – by teaching what to do or not do by how we live our life right from the beginning. Teaching by example is the most powerful discipline tool I’ve come across, even more so than positive reinforcement.
My toddler hugs and kisses the baby like Mommy does, and she plays with the baby like Mommy does. Both of my children are learning what is normal from what I do, and if I handle my frustration in a way that promotes attachment, they surely will learn that, too.
Since discipline isn’t punishment and is actually teaching, we’ve all been disciplining since birth – by teaching what to do or not do by how we live our life.
By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)
For many people, grandparenting comes as easy as the love they felt for their own children.
But not all grandparents live close enough to visit their grandchildren frequently, often thought of as a key to developing a strong emotional bond. Furthermore, some grandchildren, or their parents, have very full schedules that can make visits by even nearby grandparents challenging. Here are some tips adapted for grandparents wanting to stay in touch with their grandchildren:
Visit regularly, if not often – Visiting your grandchildren doesn’t have to be frequent, as long as it’s meaningful. Have a good time with your grandchildren when you visit them or when they come for visits. Help them to look forward to the next visit by planning a loose schedule with their parents.
Stay in touch between visits – Use the phone, e-mail, and letters through the postal mail to provide a personal way to stay in touch with grandchildren between visits. Send photos and cards.
Show your grandchildren how much you miss them – Put photos of your grandchildren in frames on the shelf or on the fridge. Make a special photo album of special times spent with your grandchildren, and allow your grandchildren to flip through it when they visit.
Share a hobby, teach a skill – When your grandchildren visit, engage them in helping your with chores or get them started with one of your hobbies. Help them make a craft they can take home. When you call them next or send a letter, you can ask them about what they learned or thank them for their help around the house.
Chart a family tree – Tell your grandchildren stories about their relatives, especially their parents. Tell them about their ancestors and their heritage. Help them to create a family tree or scrapbook.
By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)
Most parents who practice Attachment Parenting (AP) aren’t concerned about their children becoming bullies. After all, the goal of AP is to teach children empathy, compassionate, and respect for others – qualities not usually afforded to bullies. But some AP parents may be concerned that their child could become the target of a bully.
In the Spring 2008 issue of Attachment Parenting International’s The Journal of API, in the “Ask the Founders” feature, API Co-founder Lysa Parker answered a question from a parent about her three-year-old son being the target of bullying by his playmates. This mother’s concern was that his friends were mistaking her son’s kindness and sensitivity for weakness. Parker recommended that the mother use the situation to teach her son and his friends about friendship and how their actions can be hurtful. Parker also said, at this age, talking with the bullies’ parents would be appropriate.
As this boy grows older, the mother does need to teach him how to deal with bullying, Parker said – which can start now: “When your son runs to you for help, he is communicating his need for support, but he also needs to be empowered by learning the words to say to express his feelings.”
This advice is right on target, according to a 1997 article from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, “Teaching Children Not to Be, or Be Victims of, Bullies,” reprinted on the Focus Adolescent Services website www.focusas.com: “The key to promoting positive interactions among young children is teaching them to assert themselves effectively. Children who express their feelings and needs, while respecting those of others will be neither victims nor aggressors.”
AP Prevents Bullying
AP parents, while they may be concerned, are a step ahead of non-AP parents in preventing bullying. As outlined in API’s Eight Principles of Parenting, responding with sensitivity is a critical component of AP. By responding to our infants’ cries, we teach them to trust us as their caregivers and to trust themselves as communicators of their needs.
As children grow, we gradually learn how to let our children become more independent, at their own pace, by watching for their cues. We can encourage them to make their own choices, and therefore learn to become confident in themselves and their abilities, by beginning to allow toddlers to choose what they wear, what game or activity to play next, and so on.
With older children and teens, we can help them discover their talent and develop skills in an area of interest, and let them begin to make larger decisions for themselves, both of which add to a healthy self esteem.
In all of these ways, parents provide their children with tools to thwart bullying incidents.
“Adults must show children that they have the right to make choices – in which toys they play with, or what they wear and what they eat,” according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children article. “The more children trust and value their own feelings, the more likely they will be to resist peer pressure, to respect warm and caring adults, and to be successful in achieving their personal goals.”
How to Teach Assertiveness
The best way to teach assertiveness is by modeling it and accepting it from your children. Parents need to remember that assertiveness is not the same thing as aggression. Instead, as outlined in The-Self-Improvement-Zone’s article “Teach Your Children to Be Assertive” on www.improvementtower.com, assertive behaviors communicate:
No one has the right to make me feel guilty, foolish, or ignorant.
I do not need to make excuses for everything I do, although I do need to be accountable to my immediate family and close relatives and myself.
I am allowed to change my mind, and not feel bad about it.
It is not necessarily my fault if things go wrong.
I do not have to know everything, it is OK to say “I don’t know,” and I shouldn’t feel inferior because of that.
No one is perfect, and it is not the end of the world if I make a mistake.
Not everyone has to be my friend, and there is nothing wrong with me if someone doesn’t like me.
If I don’t understand something, it’s OK and I shouldn’t feel inferior.
I don’t have to prove myself to anyone else.
I don’t need to be perfect, rather I should strive to just be myself.
Social Skills are Key
Besides teaching these attitudes to their children, parents can also help their children improve their social skills through role-playing to practice social conversation and teach children how to initiate and sustain conversation through both asking and responding to questions and careful listening.
“Teaching them social skills is the first step to making them more comfortable in just about any given situation,” according The-Self-Improvement-Zone. “The more comfortable they feel in these situations, the easier they will learn how to be assertive. The better they understand themselves, the more they will know and articulate their needs.”
Learning How to Handle Frustration Important, Too
Another area where children may need help is in learning how to handle frustration. Parents should teach their children not to use anger as a tool for asserting themselves, as anger creates negative reactions in other people and contributes to communication breakdown. Parents themselves – especially in response to tantrums, hitting, and breaking toys – should never use yelling and punishment as forms of discipline. Instead of anger, parents can teach children how to work out a win-win compromise when appropriate, and when not appropriate, how to relax and let the situation bother them less.
“Keep in mind that the only way you will be able to teach your children how to assert themselves is by learning how to be assertive yourself,” according The-Self-Improvement-Zone. “It is up to you, as the adult, to set the example for your child. No means no. You do not need to become a doormat to ensure that your child becomes assertive. Be a good role model for your children. Children learn what they see and experience. If you are assertive and fair, they will learn to become one, too.”
The best way to teach assertiveness is by modeling it and accepting it from your children.
Connecting with our children for a more compassionate world.