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Category Archives: Aware Parenting

And Mama, How is YOUR Sleep Going?

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Most articles are about getting the CHILD to sleep. Getting kids to have a peaceful night’s sleep is important (and I’ll talk a little about that), but I haven’t found much emphasis on if the PARENT has good sleeping habits. I’ve had enough disturbed sleep over the past 7 years of parent hood and what I found is that I was the one who actually had to discipline MYSELF to make sure I was getting enough sleep. I had to break a lot of bad habits and drop unrealistic expectations because I just wasn’t getting the sleep I needed. I also learned to look for signals of unmet needs in my children when they weren’t sleeping well. When we sleep better, our parenting is better. Our decision making is better. Even if our babies and children do wake up a little here and there, when the mother (or father) gets a good night sleep, the whole show runs a lot smoother.

If your child is disrupting your sleep…

Staying Connected to Your Children At Night
Babies and young children want to feel safe at night. Their need for comfort and closeness does not end when the lights go out. Some possible reasons for children having trouble falling and staying to sleep is simply the fear of being alone. If your child wants to share your bed, or your room, it’s ok to let them. It’s not weird or unusual for kids to want to be near you. My 7 year old still likes for me to lay down with her while she falls to sleep and usually we all go to bed at the same time. We have a family bed, with me, my husband, a 7, a 5 year old and a 10 month old baby, all in the same big bed. Family beds and family bedrooms are the way many families around the world spend the night.

With a baby especially, bed and/or room sharing is ideal because you don’t have to wake up and walk to your baby to pick him up. So, you both get less disturbed at night. They’re right next to you. Of course, if you bed share, be sure to make sure that it feels right for you and that you’re doing it safely. I know that I sleep way better when my babies and children are right next to me. I would actually have anxiety if my babies weren’t near me! If the opposite is true for you, and having your child near you at night makes you anxious, perhaps, if your partner is a light enough sleeper, they can sleep near your child. There are lots of room sharing/bed sharing options.

Baby Wakes Up All Night/Restless Sleep

A little night waking is completely normal, but if your baby is waking up all night long and is having restless sleeps, it’s often the sign of an accumulation of stress and overstimulation. Babies and children have an inborn mechanism to relieve that stress and they do it through raging and crying. If your baby or child is allowed and able to cry and rage freely and is supported to do so in the presence of a loving carer, they will often sleep much much better.

A baby that uses a control pattern to fall back to sleep, the breast, a dummy/pacifer/thumb sucking, often represses these emotions and wakes up more frequently. If your baby is not in the room, you may not even know that he or she is waking. But, if you’re the cosleeping, breastfeeding type, you will definitely know! I wrote a blog post here on breastfeeding cosleeping babies that wake all night and there is also a book called ‘The Aware Baby” by Aletha Solter, and she addresses control patterns and how they affect your child’s sleep. Also, young babies almost never eliminate in a deep sleep. Young babies stir to pee and are bothered by a wet nappies (even a wet disposable can annoy them). If you notice that they’re wet, you can do a nappy change in the dark, or I even take my babies to the toilet at night, which sounds a little crazy, but it’s actually easier than you think. Here’s a blog post on how to do elimination communication.

And for the parents…

Be in Bed NO LATER than 10pm
Going to bed early is the biggest thing of all. I actually aim between 8:30 and 9. They say that the hours of sleep you get before midnight are worth twice as much as the hours after midnight. By 10, that means actually be in bed by 10, not start heading to bed at 10! If you follow ayurveda, the science of life, they say it’s ideal to fall asleep before 10pm. The hours between 10pm-2am are when the body is making repairs. If you’re not asleep during that time, your body is not recovering well enough.

Also, what happens after 10pm, if you’re awake, is that you start to wake back up! Then, 10 turns into 11 and 11 turns into 12 and before you know it, you’re going to bed at midnight. Compound that if your baby or child wakes up a lot or they wake up early, then you’re screwed. I wrote a more in depth article on when it’s important to fall asleep before 10, you can read here. I don’t always go to bed by 10, but on the days I don’t, the next day, there’s hell to pay and I’m a miserable grump!

If you feel like you’re missing out on quiet time with your partner by doing this, maybe only stay up late once a week? Sometimes my husband and I wake up early, before the kids, and have some quiet time or do something, like meditate together or take turns going surfing. If we stay up late to get peace and quiet, we just end up sleeping until the kids wake up and then I feel like I spend the whole day chasing my tail.

Be Careful Who You Complain To!
If you complain about lack of sleep to the wrong people, they’ll probably start telling you things that are not necessary and even counter productive in the long run. They might tell you to stop doing the intuitive things that you’re doing. You might end up trying cry it out, or giving solids before the baby is ready, or forming some short term solution for sleep, that contributes to a long term problem of broken connection and later behaviour problems.

Avoid  Screens Before Bed
This seems like an obvious one, but really hard to follow! Just a reminder… as what you’re viewing on the screen has the potential make the mind very active and make it harder to settle. You might have weird dreams as the consciousness tries to process what you’ve just looked at before you fell to sleep. Avoid leaving your phone in your room at night, so that you’ll be able to resist looking at it, should you wake up.

Busy Mind, Can’t Sleep?
If you know a meditation technique, before bed can be a good time to do it! You can’t calm the mind with the mind, you need something else. A really awesome technique is called alternate nostril breathing. Here’s the link on how to do it. You can just sit up in bed any time and do it for a few minutes if you’re having trouble going to sleep.

Another Trick For ‘Can’t fall back to sleep’.
I learned this last year on a meditation course and it really works. So, if your mind is really busy, it means you have too much prana (energy) in the head. So, if you put your awareness on your feet and on the EXHALATION of your breath, then you help to move all the energy back down. You’ll notice that your mind wanders a lot, but just keep brining back to your breath and your feet and you’ll hopefully be asleep in no time.

Avoid Naps
Unless you’re really depleted or you’re in the days of post partum, avoid taking day sleeps. Having a day sleep will make you want to go to bed later and then might make it harder for you to fall back to sleep if you wake up at night. Also, taking a day sleep, according to ayurveda, can make things in your body, like your digestion, run a big more sluggish than usual. So, better to avoid it unless you’re really zonked. It is important to rest while your kids sleep. So their rest time can be a good time for you to do something rejuvenating, like have a cup of tea, do some yoga and meditation or even stare a a wall if it’s been one of *those* days. Hopping on the phone to check social media is fine, but I noticed I often feel that my ‘rest quota‘ is unfulfilled when I do that too much during the kid’s sleep time.

Anyway, these are things that I’ve found have worked for making sure the parent has enough rest! It’s so important for us and for our families to be well rested. So, nighty night, sleep tight!

 

 

The Kitchen’s Closed: Loving Limits in the Kitchen

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I’ve just spent an hour in the kitchen. Preparing, cooking, cleaning up. Then, one of them asks me to make them something (or to make it themselves). I say, “No.

They whine and complain. I listen without trying to reason with them. But it’s still “No, the kitchen’s closed“.

Sometimes you just don’t have the energy to do another thing. Can’t wash another dish. Can’t wipe up another mess. *Most* of the time, I let the kids eat whatever they want to, but sometimes, it’s just ‘no‘.

And, I get it, sometimes that meal you made just doesn’t quite cut it. Sometimes they want something else.

But, I feel like I have to meet my needs as well.

The past few years, I’ve been doing the dance of finding my balance in the kitchen. Meeting my need of not wanting to spend all my time and energy in the kitchen, while honouring the kid’s needs for autonomy in choosing the food they eat. And, it’s all just become easier since getting a dishwasher, yay! But still…

Being too restrictive on a child’s diet can backfire. Kids who are only allowed to eat certain foods at certain times, often rebel by sneaking food. And being too permissive with a child’s diet means you can accidentally end up missing ques that indicate there is a deeper issue going on besides them just wanting a certain food to eat.

Making ‘Special‘ Meals

To save my own sanity, my biggest rule is that I generally don’t make my children seperate meals at mealtime. Occasionally I do, if it fits. Otherwise, they eat what we’re eating. Even the baby. Even the toddler. I might modify what we’re having but no… not I’m not making a cheese sandwich after I just prepared a stir fry. They can make it themselves, but they have to clean it up afterwards. And, if they’re too little to clean it up adequately, then the answer is ‘no‘. It’s not because I’m mean and controlling or only care about their nutrition, it’s mostly because my capacity for doing work has exceeded its limit.

While I often say ‘no‘ to extra requests for food, I do understand that kids have their preferences and maybe they don’t feel like eating what I’ve made! I do my best to accomodate. We often discuss what we all want for dinner before hand, but it’s just not possible to always make what everyone wants.

Can Children Truly Self Regulate Their Diets?

Children have a great capacity to self regulate their diets! When kids are not clouded by stress or pent up negative emotions, they regulate their diet quite well. Even when they tend to binge on junk food, after a while, if they’re given just as many healthy options, and their emotional needs have been met, they will get sick of the junk, and start eating the healthy stuff. It can be tricky to get to the bottom of it all, and sometimes those underlying emotions are quite elusive, but I’ve witnessed my children and others, being allowed to self regulate their diet and it’s true! My oldest daughter can be offered any amount of junk food. The worst of it! And, she does a great job controlling herself.

The catch is that in order for children (and adults) to be able to self regulate their diets, their emotional and physical needs have to be met first. In other words, they need to have been able to cry when they wanted to cry, rage when they needed to rage and laugh when they needed to laugh. As well as feel connected to the people and places around them. (Imagine how you feel when you are upset and you’re not *allowed* to express it, that’s often when we tend to over or under eat). Not to mention, kids need to have had a decent amount of exercise in order to make them feel hungry.

Some kids are better at self regulating their diets than others. My younger daughter is not quite as good at self regulating. She gets a little off balance more easily and tends to not release her pent up emotions as freely. If she binges uncontrollably, or starts whining for a certain food, I stop her. She cries. I support her cry, and afterwards, she tends to stop eating the junk and will eat her healthy food. It’s very interesting if we really pay attention.

Sometimes, the only thing stopping a child from eating healthy food is a big emotional release. One day, I was making some yummy kitchari (Indian style of rice, veggies and beans). My older daughter was crying and having a temper tantrum because she wanted to go out to eat and the rest of us didn’t want to. She whined and cried for at least 5 minutes. After she cried and settled down, she happily sat down and ate her entire bowl of kitchari without any complaints. The cry was not about the type of food being cooked for dinner, it was that she was overstimulated from a big day and needed to release her emotions.

My Needs Are Important Too!

No matter if my kids are self regulating their diet well or not, I need to feel like I’ve been loved and appreciated for my work in the kitchen. I can take some feedback, like, “Um, mama, this dinner was not so yummy, can I have something else?” If it’s no problem, I don’t mind making that extra something, or I don’t mind letting them make something themselves (as long as they agree to clean up the mess).  But, I have my limits for how much I can prepare and for how much effort I can exert. If it’s too much, I tell them the kitchen’s closed.

Grazing?

When kids graze, they’re often eating their food without much awareness. A little attention to food gives kids a sense of appreciation to what goes into their body. Food that we put into our body should be honoured. Food is life giving. It’s production takes time and costs not only money, but takes a toll on the planet. We put it into our body to keep our body functioning a certain way. In ayurveda (the ancient science of life), it’s said that you should eat your food with your knees bent (in other words sitting down). Eating with awareness helps with digestion and food choices. If a kid (or anyone) is running around while eating, there is not much awareness of what goes in the mouth.

When my kids graze all day (even on healthy food), then they won’t eat the meal I’ve cooked. I get annoyed. Like, why did I even bother cooking? Kid’s stomach’s are tiny! If they haven’t been grazing, when I put food on the table, they sit on that seat, no wandering around, and they eat, man, they EAT! It’s really lovely to have us all sitting there together enjoying a warm nourishing meal. They have quite a bit of free time the rest of the day, so having a few structured activities of eating together is a nice to way to all come together.

Bon appetite!

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 overly permissive parents and how they are raising terrorising, entitled, narcissistic teenagers and young adults. The article waves a finger at permissive parenting, but does not offer any solutions towards raising nurtured, emotionally intelligent 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.