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Category Archives: Aware Parenting

I Let My Kids Lie, Cheat and Win When We Play Board Games

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When I first read Aletha Solter’s book, ‘Attachment Play‘, I really resonated deeply with everything she said… Except… when she suggested that you let your child be silly and beat you at games or that you should let your child play the wrong rules if she wants to.

*Cue adult voice*

Losing is a part of life...” or “They have to get used to losing sometime...” or “If you always let them lie, cheat and win at games, then they’ll grow up to be egocentric, selfish brats.”

But, then, I tried it. I let them lie, cheat and beat me at the little games we played and I was astonished with the results. I took a deeper look into why I was holding onto this idea that I must always play by the rules and found that it was only fear of losing control that was stopping me from letting them act silly.

Board games are just that: they’re games. They’re not real life! Games certainly can teach you about life, but always trying to turn everything into a learning experience can just make everyone so uptight!

Kids get enough disappointments in life…

I thought of how many rules my children had to follow on any given day. I thought of all the times they appeared to be doing something ‘wrong‘ in the eye of an adult. I thought of how many instructions and orders my kids had to follow. All damn day. It’s ALL kids do! Follow rules. Listen to instructions.

Even in my very relaxed homeschool environment, my kids still have to follow family and society rules all the time.

So, if for a few minutes week, I let my kids break the rules, lie, cheat and win, imagine how relieved they are to have a little fun? How nice it is for them to let loose and jokingly do the wrong thing and get away with it. And, believe me, my kids KNOW that I let them win. They KNOW that I’m letting them cheat when they peak at their cards. They KNOW when I’m making a stupid move on purpose to let them win. They KNOW when I let them beat me up the hill (actually, the big kid can legitimately beat me up the hill now). They laugh. I laugh. I let them win!

They appreciate it.

And, I appreciate their attitude later on when they’re more cooperative at bedtime because of the time earlier when I let them do the *wrong* thing. It’s really amazing. The silly little games we play, actually helps my kids to be more adjusted, more cooperative and more pleasant little people. They’re much less likely to act up outside of the house because I sometimes let them ‘get away‘ with doing the wrong thing at home.

Kids don’t need a life lesson at every turn. Sometimes they just need to laugh, be silly, make a loving connection with another human being and take a break from all the rules and formalities.

They’ll get enough life lessons about playing by the rules. My kids know that I can be their safe space. They can do the *wrong* thing and it can be our little secret fun.

Respecting a Baby’s Space

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Babies are so cute! They’re so innocent and non-judging… they make lots of people feel the love, belongingness and connection that we all crave.

And, babies need to be picked up, handled and held for just about every activity they do! As an attachment style parent, I’ve had very close contact with my babies all day and night. Physical touch and connection is vital for a baby’s well being.

But where do we draw the line as to what is respectful to a baby’s body or what may be unintentionally violating a baby’s space? Shouldn’t there be a difference in how a stranger enters your baby’s space as opposed to someone the baby knows? And, just because a baby is smiling, does it mean that he’s enjoying the interaction?

I know, I know, again, baby’s are so cute! It’s hard to not want to tickle them or stroke their soft skin or ask to hold them or to squeeze them and poke all their round delicious parts. My son is just about to turn six months old at the time I’m writing this, and man, is he a ham! It’s hard for people to keep their hands off him!

But… babies are people, let’s not forget. Small adorable people, who can’t talk. Would it be ok to go around stroking a stranger’s cheeks? Or, if you saw a cute looking guy in the shops, would it be alright to stick your finger in his hand? No…

I don’t have the right to tickle, poke and prod or do anything that might make my baby feel uncomfortable. And, I feel like I need to protect my small person from other well-meaning people who can’t help but want to do the same.

I’ve had countless strangers approach my babies and try to get a squeeze, or a poke or a kiss! Even when my babies have been tucked away in the baby carrier, and I try to turn away, I’ve had people touch my baby’s toes, plant a kisses on my baby’s head, put a finger in my baby’s soft hand or stroke my baby’s cheeks (their cheeks are amazing, I admit).

Then, people ask for cuddles…

If the baby is tucked away in the carrier, they won’t ask (thank goodness). But, if the baby’s out of the carrier and they ask, I don’t always know what to say. Saying ‘no‘ seems rude. If they could ask my baby and he could answer, then the answer would be straight forward. But, how do I know if HE wants you to hold him? This is not a game of ‘pass the baby‘, this is a little person with feelings!

How would I feel if a giant stranger, who looked, felt and smelled very different from my mother, picked me up? I’m not sure I would like it…

I love the most when people interact with my son by smiling at him and talking. That way, he can simply snuggle his head into my chest if he doesn’t feel like interacting. Or, he can choose to respond by smiling back. Sometimes my son smiles during an interaction with someone, but I have to look at his body language to know if he’s enjoying the interaction. Is he smiling, but tense and pulling and squirming away? Or, is he smiling with his body relaxed? If he’s relaxed, then I know he feels safe and comfortable.

Don’t get me wrong, other people have definitely held my babies, I’m not that uptight and it’s beautiful when the holding is done with awareness. My parents just came to visit from America and my son spent tons of time on their laps. And, some of my good friends, that I see on a regular basis, get cuddles. But, people whom I don’t see often, I just don’t feel comfortable saying ‘yes‘ to when they ask for a casual cuddle. A cuddle is a very intimate thing, in my opinion!

It’s not just strangers who want to poke and prod babies, I think about how often my husband and daughters (or even I) may accidentally invade my son’s body space. My girls love him so much, tthe second I put him down, they’re all over him like white on rice! It’s a tough one, like I said, because babies need to be picked up, interacted with and helped all day long… and we do love to play with him. So, I try my best to nicely remind everyone to look and listen carefully at his cues to see if he starts feeling uncomfortable or overwhelmed.

The whole idea of respecting a baby’s body in the way I’m talking about, is a very subtle concept. It’s not to say that we limit the touching or holding of our babies, because babies absolutely need lots of closeness. And, we should act natural around babies! But, is the touching and holding done with awareness? And, does the baby feel safe and comfortable?

We just don’t know what strong impressions are being made in a baby’s brain at such a young age. True, they won’t remember individual events, but they do remember the feeling. I want to make sure that down the track, my children grow up with the feeling that they have felt safe and respected.

I Didn’t Leave the House AT ALL For Six Weeks After my Baby Was Born: It Was Fantastic!

imageWhen my first daughter was born, I’ll never forget my grandmother telling me over the phone, “Now, Katie, a winter baby stays in the house for 4 weeks, a summer baby stays in the house for 2. Your baby was born in autumn, so you should stay in the house for 3 weeks.Read the rest of this entry

Velcro Child

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Some kids are runners or wanderers. Mine? They are not. They stick to me. As babies, they wanted to be held or carried in a baby carrier and never wanted to be put down in public places. They are far from baby age now, and yet, they still stick. My nearly 4 year old insists on holding my hand when we go out. In a new place, she parks herself on my lap until she’s 100% sure it’s safe to roam around. She sleeps next to me at night. If she wakes up and I’m not there, she’s pretty upset until she can find me. My 6 year old follows me around the house all day, sticking her nose into all of my business.

Am I worried?

Not one tiny bit.

It seems a little annoying at times. In a world where ‘independence‘ is pushed, I can see where parents get especially bothered by children who only want to be by their parent’s side all day long.

But…

Read the rest of this entry

This Kid is Taking FOREVER to Fall Asleep! Eight Reasons Why.

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Not tired

It sounds too simple to be true, but in order for sleep to take over, the child actually needs to be tired. Read on.

Putting to bed too early.

Some kids just have their natural sleep time. When my first was a baby, if I tried to get her to bed before 8pm, it never, ever worked. She’s six years old and I still don’t bother trying before 8pm, even when she’s exhausted. Anything after 10pm (which is pretty late for a child) and you have to be careful because the child can actually become more wide awake. The same rule applies for adults, try to go to bed before 10 and it’s easier to fall asleep. Read the rest of this entry

Democratic Parenting: The Beautiful Middle Path of Meeting The Whole Family’s Needs

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I recently read an article in the Sydney Morning Herald about how overly permissive parents are raising terrorizing, entitled, narcissistic entitled teenagers and young adults. The article waves a finger at permissive parenting, but does not offer any solutions towards raising nurtured and skillfully guided children. Upon reading such an article, one might think that parents should go hard on the route of discipline and control…

The Problem with Conventional Discipline, Authoritarian (Dictator) Parenting

Punishment, strict rules, sticker charts, rewards, time outs, threats, etc. are what more authoritarian style parents use in order to elicit desirable behavior in their children.

  • Authoritarian parenting trains a child to obey, but is that what you really want? Swiss sociologist, Alice Miller, studied the early childhoods of Nazis high in power, and she found they all came from very strict, authoritarian households. As children, they were trained to follow orders. It sounds good to get immediate compliance from a child… but there are long term repercussions. Questioning morality, pushing limits, and standing up for fairness is a quality in our children that we want to encourage, in order to make our society a better place to live in.
  • Authoritarian parenting leaves children feeling powerless. How do you feel when you feel powerless? It’s awful, isn’t it? It makes you desperate. It makes you go on seeking attention where you shouldn’t have to. That’s why kids who are raised with punishment as a repercussion for ‘bad‘ behavior, often go on repeating their offenses.
  • Loving communication and open dialogue between a parent and the child becomes severed. Discipline appears to work when a child is younger, but often starts failing as the child grows up. Think you can send a teenager to time out? Even the fear of a threat won’t stop the child from acting out. The child keeps desperately looking for ways to connect (in ways that appear to be bad behavior). Or, the child starts hiding things from the parents to keep from getting into trouble. Children who are raised with punishment as a consequence, most likely, will stop confiding in the parents and start lying as they grow older. The lack of trust and inability to safely communicate is something that these children can carry with them when they become adults.
  • Authoritarian parenting is exhausting for the parent. As a school teacher, I often have to resort to a more authoritarian approach, and it really sucks the life out of you. You can’t just let one thing slide one day and not the next. Authoritarian parenting is an enormous amount of work for a parent, with little guaruntee that you are going to get a positive result.

If punishment worked, our prisons would be empty, nobody would commit any crimes because the fear of going to jail should be so great that it would stop anyone from committing a crime…

The Problem with Permissive Parenting 

Permissive parenting means that you are almost always setting aside your own needs to meet the wants and needs of the child. I’ve dipped into extremely permissive parenting, and I can tell you that it wasn’t fun.  I found myself feeling very insecure, questioning my every action and my needs became neglected. I watched as my kids became confused in my moments of allowing them to do anything they wanted. It’s one thing to open our boundaries and stop being so over-controlling of our children’s activities, but there needs to be some common sense and reasonable limits in place.

  • Permissive parenting can be dangerous and can make others feel very uncomfortable. My 3 year old loves to go really far out in the ocean, even when it’s rough. I have to tell her “No” sometimes because if I let her go as far as she wanted, I wouldn’t be able to keep an eye on her big sister, who likes to hang back in the shallows. Social norms are often bent past the ‘pushing it‘ boundary when parents are overly permissive. You can see people around get very uncomfortable and are not sure if they need to step in and interfere.
  • Permissive parenting can leave you feeling burnt out and neglected. It will start off with a little voice crying, “What about me?!” You try to rationalize the little voice as you overcoming your own limitations, but then, that little voice may turn into exhaustion, desperation, depression, anger and even violence. Permissive parenting leaves your needs being unmet.
  • Permissive parenting leaves a child feeling unheard. The other day at IKEA, I was on shopping rampage. I wanted to buy something ridiculous and my husband looked me in the eye and said, “Kate, that’s too much, it’s not a good idea.” I felt sad for a moment, but he was right. I was so happy later, that he said “No.” He was really listening to ME and what was looking out for what was best for us and our family. The same goes for our children. We don’t have to be mean about it, but we should pull in the reigns when things get unreasonable because a child’s request might not reflect his or her true need.
  • Permissive Parenting does not truly meet the child’s needs. Sometimes it’s the loving limit that is what the child needs in the moment. Some days, my 5 year old will ask for 5 different things in one minute! I look her in the eye, get down on her level and say “No” (nicely) and she cries. That release of emotions and connection, was exactly what she needed in that moment. Something was bothering her much more than needing those ‘things‘. If I had been in permissive mode, I would have tried to make her happy by giving her each one of those things, but I wouldn’t have been meeting her emotional need to express her emotions and connect.

Democratic Parenting, the beautiful middle path (sometimes known as Authoritative parenting)

Democratic parenting is when you do your best to accommodate everyone’s wants and needs. I first heard of the term when I was reading one of Aletha Solter’s books on parenting. Although, the idea is nothing radicle, I felt that it so deeply resonated within me and I had finally found something that made perfect sense.

  • Democratic parenting is fun and fair. Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it goes my way. Life is too fun to get stuck in strict rules and rigid routines. We all get a chance. Today, we have to walk past the ice cream shop, because I’m tired and have a headache. But, it doesn’t mean that tomorrow we can’t stop and get an ice cream. It’s never ok to cross a busy street without holding my hand, but if it’s a very quiet street, then yes, please go for it, just check with me first. It’s never ok to hit a person, but it’s ok to get angry, go punch the pillow.
  • Democratic parenting is dynamic. My needs change on a day to day basis and so do my children’s. Some days they eat like horses, other days not. Some days we really need rest and order, and some days we can go out and be all crazy. Some days we can play and mess the house up into oblivion. Other days, we need to spend time cleaning and being tidy. Some nights we hurry up to bed, other nights, we stay up late and read books, giggle and tell stories. But, if a set bed time makes everyone’s life easier, then so be it. Some days we have to do what daddy wants because it’s his day off from work and. Other days, we can do whatever you want to do. Some days, when the ocean is calm, the little one can go out really far. Some days, I can see that you’re self regulating your use of screens very well, but other days, I can see that you’re using screens as a distraction to some unpleasant emotions. Let’s deal with the emotions and put away the screens please. Life is ever changing and so are our needs. Let’s let common sense prevail.
  • The Consistency in democratic parenting is that we are aware and always listen. Kids and adults like consistency. But, we don’t have to get stuck in the same routine, rigid rules, actions, and rules every day. The consistency can be that I will do my best to listen to you. I hear that your needs are changing on a day to day basis, because my needs are changing too. The rules stay roughly the same, but we can be flexible too.
  • Democratic parenting and loving limits. If I have to say “No“, I ask myself these questions first.
    Are my child’s request reasonable?
    Are my expectations fair?
    Am I doing my best to eventually meet everyone’s needs?
  • Keep Your Decision AND accept the emotional response. If you do have to say “No” and your child protests about it, it’s ok to be firm in your answer, but be soft in your actions. My girls love buying frilly dresses. If they’re cheap, and we haven’t bought one in a while, I say ‘yes‘. But, if it’s unreasonably priced or we’ve accumulated too many, I just say ‘no‘. They cry. I say, “I know you’re upset, but we can’t buy that dress.” You can say no AND accept their reaction to your decision.

There’s no need to go extreme in either direction of parenting. You can do your best to meet everyone’s needs. You can say “No“, yet still be loving and fair. We don’t have to give up our own needs for the sake of our children. We also don’t have to be so strict and rigid that we suck all the love out of life. Have fun. Relax. Listen to your needs, and to the needs of your family.

I highly recommend reading Aletha Solter’s book called ‘Attachment Play‘ for gentle and fun ideas on how to get children to cooperate.

 

 

Please Stop Saying I Don’t Know How

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My nearly 6 year old was begging me to let her roll out the cookie dough. I told her I was busy. “Not now, it will be messy, I have to show you, it’s tricky...” I didn’t have time to drop what I was doing to help her. She kept asking, I kept saying “Not now” She yelled, “Why are you saying I don’t know how, I DO know how!”

Then, I thought, ‘Oh, whatever, the worst she’ll do is make a big mess… what’s new?’

So, I said, “Yes, go ahead.”

I started doing something in another part of the house, and when I came back, she had perfectly rolled out 10 Christmas cookies. She did indeed make a mess, but not a very big one. Then, she was so satisfied with her work that we high fived and she bounced off to go do something else.

The next day, at the beach, my 3 year old wanted to go beyond the safe lagoon and swim in the ocean. But, the ocean wasn’t looking too inviting. I told her, “No, we can’t, it’s too dangerous.” Here I am, a surfer, I have thousands of hours experience in the ocean. There were about a million people already swimming, she had an inflatable tube, and there were about 10 surf life savers on the beach watching us! But, I was hesitant because I thought she might get knocked around and scared. She kept bugging, so finally, I said, “Ok, let’s go!

She charged. She DID get knocked around. I stayed REALLY close to her. And, what happened? She was fine. She loved it. She begged for more.

Multiple times this week, my kids have asked me if they could do something that I wasn’t sure if they could handle. Ride a bike, go surfing, skateboard, turn the shower on without burning themselves, etc. And, each time, I was blown away over how much they could actually do!

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I’ve heard the saying that children are born with as much fear as there is salt in the food. In other words, they have just enough fear to keep them relatively safe. I mean, you have to use common sense. If it *really* wasn’t wise to roll out cookies or to swim in the shore pound, I would have said so. But, in those situations, it WAS fine! It was just the limitations in my own mind.

The desire for kids to learn and to investigate and to stretch their knowledged is about 100x more intense than it is in adults. Kids are natural learners. It’s how they learn how to walk, talk and do almost everything else without really being ‘taught‘. Haven’t you ever noticed it, kids just ‘do‘ things, with very little guidance. A child’s desire to learn to use their body, is much stronger than their desire to avoid a cut, bump or bruise.

And, what if they really can’t do it?

Let them figure that one out on their own terms. Let them feel the pinch of frustration and failure. We DON’T want our kids avoiding failures in life just for the sake of being too scared to try. In the past, the fear of their failure (of tears) really interfered with me allowing the natural learning process to take place.

And, Sometimes I’m too tired for the natural learning experiences. Learning through trial and error, or natural consequences, can be time consuming and can require a great deal of letting go and patience. If I had been too tired to chase the 3 year old in the ocean, I would have told her “No“. Or, if I had been feeling too bitter about having to clean up another mess in the kitchen that day, I would have told the big kid that she couldn’t roll the cookies.

But, I don’t want any child growing up thinking “I can’t, because I don’t know how“. I’ve seen it way too many times while teaching high school and university students, and it breaks my heart. After a lifetime of a child being told, “You don’t know how” that child starts believing it!

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So here, you go… You can! You can! Even if you fail, I’ll still let you have your learning experience with no judgement from me. I’ll shut up. And, if you fail, I’ll do my best to never say, “See, I told you that you wouldn’t be able to do it” because I know how crushing that feels when someone says that to me. Whether you are able to do it or not, is really not up to me, but I certainly don’t need to be the one there to plant that seed of doubt in you. You go for it! Not only should I stop saying you don’t know how, but I should stop thinking it too.

 

 

The Power of Frustration

FrustrationI heard a growl from the balcony. “Ugggghhhhhh!!!! This isn’t working!!!” my daughter yelled.

I came over to inspect. The day before, at a friend’s, she had seen a home made fairy house made from colored paddle pop sticks. She wanted to make one too and we already had the materials. I asked if she wanted to do a collaborative one. No, she wanted to make her own.

Initially, I had sat down with her. We chatted about the design of our houses while we built them. I finished mine in about 25 minutes, and then walked away to cook lunch. She remained, battling with the glue and the paddle pop sticks.

Hers wasn’t working. I suggested using another binding material. “How about sticky tape?

Ugggghhhhhh! This STILL isn’t working!

Try using some blue tack maybe?” I sang out, while chopping my veggies.

She tried, it failed again. And again. She was getting really frustrated!

It would have been easy for me to go over and ‘save‘ her. But, I could see that she was still determined to figure this thing out, so I hung back. Meanwhile, her 3 year old sister was getting frustrated that her Duplo tower kept breaking. There was a whole lot of whining. A whole lot of tears.

I was making myself available, but since the two of them weren’t necessary asking me to do it for them, I only offered my advice and stayed a good distance back. Knowing when to step in and when to stand back is a delicate dance. I’m getting better at it as the years go by.

People usually hate hearing when kids get frustrated. It doesn’t sound pleasant. The whining, the raging, the stomping, the tears. We want to stop them from expressing those emotions, so we either tell them to stop with the ruckus, or we come and ‘save‘ them. But the tears of frustration build something in us that make us incredible strong. These tears also release negative emotions, so we should not stop these tears from coming.

When I think of all the things that I really love to do now, there was a considerable amount of tears and frustration involved in learning how to do them. For example, surfing. It took me almost an entire YEAR to learn how to properly paddle, catch and stand up on a wave. Even then, I really sucked for a long time. But, once I got better, surfing became MINE. I wanted it. It was that thing that I had worked so hard to learn how to do and I felt proud. Five years later, after a frustrating start to surfing, I won the USA Women’s Longboard Championships in California. Would I have been so interested in surfing if it had come easily? Maybe, maybe not.

Anyway… Eventually, the little one figured out the Duplos, after a tiny suggestion from me to use a more stable platform. She was thrilled with her tower and stayed engaged in building and knocking down her tower, over and over, for a long time.

Meanwhile, her big sister was tackling the fairy house with little success.

I made my house, but now the fairy is too big to fit!!!” she yelled

*Stomps feet and cries*

I asked her if she had any dolls that might fit.

But, they’re not FAIRIES!” She hollered.

I smiled, “It’s frustrating, isn’t it?

YESSSS!!!” she screamed.

She went back to building. I went back to cooking. Ten minutes later, when I announced that lunch was ready, she called me to come look what she had created. A beach shack with Duplo figurines that fit. All up, she had stayed engaged with that fairy house building for an hour and a half! The rest of the day, the two of them were on fire. Somehow, their cognitive thinking skills had been ignited. I could see the confidence in their behavior, their speech and their play.

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The final product. With Duplos instead of fairies.

Not all frustrating situations end so happily, and that’s ok too.

Allowing a child to get frustrated can teach a valuable lesson of when to give up. If the fruit of your action is not in your best interest, and you have no desire to complete an activity… then maybe it’s better to reassess your commitment and stop doing it without thinking you are a failure. Maybe you are wasting your time. Maybe there really is no hope. The whole idea of ‘never never ever give up‘ can be really stupid sometimes! My kids often get too frustrated and give up and it’s fine. But, I find they give up more easily if I come and save them.

Allowing frustration builds confidence, character, resilience, thinking skills and awareness. It teaches kids when to seek help and when to try and work things through. As a parent, I have to assess the situation… Is the frustrating situation something that I should interfere with? Or, should I let the learning process take its natural course? Sometimes I’m too busy to help (like when driving), so there’s nothing I can do anyway! And, some days, I just can’t deal with the whining, so I come and ‘save‘ them. But, most of the time, if I can just let them be with their frustration, a whole lot of positive learning experiences can happen.

 

“Will You Play With Me?” How Much Do We Need to Play With Our Kids?

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Kids love our attention, but, how much ‘attention‘ do they really need in order to fill their cups? And, is it our attention that they’re seeking, or is it our connection? More importantly, what kind of play is the best?

As parents, we have a limited amount of time and energy that we can devote to being 100% with our kids, before we either get busy, tired, burnt out or annoyed. It’s normal. And, everyone has different levels of tolerance for the amount of time they can play with their kids. I know some people who romp around with the kids for hours, and to them, this post may even seem silly. But, for others, it can be difficult to know exactly how much time you really need to ‘play‘ before you need to stop and meet your own needs. I can ‘be‘ with my kids all day, but the amount of time I actually ‘play‘ with them, usually maxes out after about 20 minutes.

Children Don’t Need To Be Entertained 24/7, But You Should Include Them
Children, even babies, love to be involved with the day-to-day family activities. It’s not always convenient for the parents, but if you can afford a little time and patience, it will give them some of that feeling loved-and-included-quota. Let them do the stuff around the house with you. Dishes, laundry, wiping, vacuuming, etc. Sometimes you don’t have the patience for it, or it’s not always at an appropriate time, but see where you can fit it in.

Use High Energy Laughter Play
Sitting around and playing tea party is fun, but it’s not that high concentrate of play that children really thrive off of. Also, this type of play has a tendency to bore adults. So, chose an activity or silly game that is high energy and makes you BOTH laugh. Make sure the child is comfortable and understands the game. Hide and seek. Chasing. Peek-a-boo. Pretend you can’t do something (I sometimes pretend that I’m a floppy rag doll and that I can’t sit up properly, the kids crack up trying to help me sit up). Contingency games, role reversal games and power reversal games are great. I wrote more about that sort of play here. As the child gets older, the type of play will change. There is an entire book on play, that I highly recommend, called, “Attachment Play” by Aletha Solter.

Look For Signs that They’re in Need of Playtime.
Are they yelling out “Watch this! Look at me!” every five seconds. Or, maybe they ask you to sit down and read 10,000 books. Or, maybe play cars for hours. Or maybe they’re acting extremely obnoxious. If so… that’s a good indication that they need some high energy connection/play time.

Set Aside All Other Distractions if Possible
The phone goes away. Don’t be in the middle of cooking dinner. Be really 100% present.

What If You Don’t Like Playing Your Children?
Let’s be honest, many of us don’t, and that’s ok. Look at your own childhood. Were there times when you wished your parents could have played with you and they didn’t? Maybe you’re hanging on to those old feelings? It’s ok. You don’t have to feel guilty about not wanting to play with your child. You also might really not have the time or energy to play with our children, especially if you’re not feeling well. In that case…

Give Yourself a Time Limit, to Avoid Burnout
If you feel like you’ll have to play for hours, you will likely feel resentful. But, if you give yourself a time limit. Say, 5 minutes per day of high energy play. Or, even half an hour, once a week, then, you won’t feel like playing with the kids is such a big deal. It gives them their dose of connection and you won’t feel trapped. Let them know when you’re going to finish playing. Give them some sort of ‘one more time‘ and then stop. If they cry and complain because they want to keep playing, that’s ok. Often, high energy play brings up emotions, like tears. Let them know you understand that they’re upset, but that the play needs to finish. Giving yourself a time limit seems over-prescriptive, but if you’re the type of person who will avoid playing with your kids because you don’t enjoy it, then keeping track of time is probably a good idea.

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Don’t Turn Play Time Into Something Educational
Unless the child specifically asks for it. This is your time to goof off and be completely silly. You may even purposely be anti-educational to have more fun. Sing the wrong words to a song. Pretend you can’t read properly or break the rules on purpose.

The Difference Between Attention and Being Present
We give our children attention all day long, when they need things, but being ‘present‘ is different. It means you really connect with them. See the difference and do your best to be ‘present‘ with them while doing play time.

Their Physical Contact Quota Needs to Be Refilled Regularly.
Ever wonder why your kid comes crashing onto you annoyingly? Or you find them obnoxiously under your feet? You think it’s their lack of coordination and awareness… but think again. A lot of times, they are looking for physical connection and they’ll get it any way they can. Younger children and especially babies need much more contact, less so as they get more mobile. But, don’t be tricked if older children don’t come begging for physical touch. They also need a certain amount of contact time from a loving carer. Even if a child just sits on your lap while you’re reading a book, they’re getting that physical contact that they thrive on. You can play little games, like hand clapping (pat-a-cake), sing songs with hand movements, like ‘Row row row your boat‘, or even contingency games where the kid presses a part of your body, like your nose, and you make a corresponding noise. Piggy back rides are a favorite with my kids. Co-sleeping and babywearing are excellent ways for a child to receive his or her physical contact quota. Avoid tickling, blowing raspberries and other contact that invades your child’s sense of personal space.

Set a Loving Limit When Playtime is Over or Gets Too Crazy
When you’ve really had enough, or time is up, tell them that the play will finish and then end it. Or, if they start hurting you, or destroying things, end the play. They might cry afterwards and it’s ok. Kids harbor negative emotions, like anger and frustration and sometimes the laughter and connection time spent with a person they love can bring up those emotions. Let them know that you understand and hear them. My kids almost always have a big cry after a big play. They either get hurt or they get upset. They laugh, then they cry. Then AFTERWARDS, they are a delight.

There’s no quick and easy for knowing EXACTLY how much time one particular child needs you to play with them. Some kids need more than others. My little one will happily play on her own for hours. Her happy go lucky attitude actually gets us in trouble sometimes, because I forget to play with her, but she needs that connection time too. My older one is in my face all day asking to play, so I never forget.

Our society sends mixed messages to us about how much time we should be spending with our children. Spend too much time connecting with your kids and people accuse you of letting your children run your life. Spend too much time doing your own thing, and you feel guilty because you haven’t made enough time for the kids. So, don’t worry. Do your best to bring balance. The balance changes on a day to day basis, and depends on your needs and the needs of your children. Whatever you do, make sure to have a little fun!

image by Art www.crappypics.com

Threats to Withhold Christmas Presents Are Only a Short Term Fix for Behavior

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We just returned from a big overseas trip to America a few weeks ago, and my 5 1/2 year old had been really driving me crazy. During this trying time with her, my patience had been especially thin, since I was already run down and tired myself. When she walked past me and whacked me on the butt. Or… threw something at her little sister… Or purposely dumped her toys all over the floor with a menacing grin on her face… You know…

I was all like, “WHAT.ARE.YOU.DOING!?!?”

This was not her normal behavior. At one point, I nearly blurted out, “If you don’t stop acting like this, you’re not going to get any presents for Christmas!

I caught myself before I said it, because those words were not mine. I guess I had heard too many tired parents in the shops, yelling at their overwhelmed kids and the words sneaked into my consciousness. Not only do I not believe in threatening children, but our family does not make the condition that receiving Christmas presents is contingent on desirable behavior.

When children act obnoxious, it’s because they have a need that is not being fulfilled. I mentally checked our recent interactions… What had we been doing lately? Lot’s of shuffling the kids around and trying to get things back to normal? Check. Lots of chaos in the shopping centers and disruption from it being Christmas time? Check. Lots of quality connection time? Unchecked…

As mad as I felt about her behavior, I had to understand. Her behavior was telling me that she needed something. That afternoon, I spent about half an hour, giving her full attention, high energy, laughter play. We did some funny role playing, where she pretended to be me and she got to boss me around. Then, we played hide and seek. Lots of giggling and running. When we had to finish playing, she cried over something. She cried hard. This crying, I knew, was something that had to come out. It had been brewing for a while.

Kids love receiving presents. But, what they really love, especially around the silly season, is our connection. Threatening, punishing and bribing kids with Christmas presents works for achieving short term compliance. If you’re desperate to get cooperation, go for it, but know that threats only postpone getting to the root of the problem. Using threats creates disconnection and can cause even more trouble down the line. One day the threats will stop working and the peaceful lines of communication will be in dire need of repair.

When we’re on the threshold of our sanity, it’s hard to peel ourselves out of that rut of anger and of seeing intention. But, if we can see that undesirable behavior in children is only a cry for help, then we can be more useful in facilitating the long term emotional development of our children. My daughter will still get her presents this year, regardless of her behavior. I know that what she desperately needs right now is connection time from me. What’s funny, is that when I feel too tired to give her the connection time, her behavior is much more exhausting than just giving her a small session of play.

Already, her behavior has improved immensely after just a few sessions of play and connection. Wishing you all peace and joy this holiday season!

For more information on was to play with your child to create connection, I highly recommend reading Aletha Solter’s book, “Attachment Play‘. I’ve also written several blog posts on types of play, power reversal games and other types of play