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Category Archives: Aware Parenting

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 

The One Thing Always True About Parenting

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What works one day might not work the next.

 

The only thing that remains consistent about parenting is change. This should come as no big shock, because, if you notice, life, itself, is always changing. Every day. All the time.

The developmental phases that we coo and fuss over, will transform.

The habits and behaviors we can’t stand, will not be the same forever.

What works, might work for a while, but then the child’s needs change, and so you have to change your approach.

Read the rest of this entry

Parenting Through The Holidays, Family Visits and Travel

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My family and I just returned to Australia from a 5 week trip visiting family and friends in America. While it was really nice to see everyone, the trip and the type of traveling we did, really pushed me to the limits. All of my parenting knowledge was put to the most extreme test. I’ve been reflecting on everything I learned over those five weeks and I wanted to share my experience with you.

Mentally prepare the kids

Briefly explain the logistics of what’s going to happen, how and when. If you sense any fear or anxiety, fun role playing can help. If you know you have to do something that your child will not enjoy (long plane ride, meeting strange relatives, sleeping in an unfamiliar place, using public toilets, etc.), you can do role playing to help lighten the blow. Read the rest of this entry

The Fascinating Reason Why Kids Have So Much Energy: Balance, Behavior and Longevity

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When I was doing Know Your Child Teacher Training, my instructor asked us if we knew the reason why kids have so much energy.

None of us really knew the answer, but we all agreed that kids have ridiculous amounts of energy. Read the rest of this entry

Questions I Need to Stop Asking My Kids

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Before my children could verbally communicate well, I got really good at reading their cues… Hungry? Tired? Hot/Cold? Upset? Have to pee? Yup, with a little practice, I seemed to be able to figure it all out. Now, they’re older and extremely verbal, but I keep doing something extremely stupid: I keep asking them questions which I (and they) already know the answers to. Asking these types of questions makes me sound like a broken record and is an obvious display of my lack of awareness.

1. Are you hungry?

I can generally calculate this answer, myself, if I think about the last time we ate. If they’re hungry, they’ll either lunge for food or they’ll have a melt down. Simple. Next.

2. Do you have to pee?

I ask the little one at least 29 times a day. If she has to pee, she holds her crotch and can’t sit still. I KNOW when she has to pee… SHE KNOWS WHEN SHE HAS TO PEE. I can just take her, but instead, I ask her. She says “No“. I ask her again 5 times until I take her… I’m an idiot. I could have saved my breath and just taken her at my first chance. Read the rest of this entry

The *Actual* Reason Why Children are 800% Worse When Their Mothers Are in the Room

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“They were fine all day with me, but the second they saw you, they lost it, Kate! I don’t understand!” Says my husband, on a regular basis.

The other day, I read a funny article titled, “Study: Children Are 800% Worse When Their Mothers are in the Room” (a fake study). I cracked up when I read the title, and quickly realized it was fake, once I read it. Despite the article being fake, the concept is TRUE! Kids are absolutely 800% worse when around their mothers… and why??? Read the rest of this entry

Do We Really Want Our Children To Be Obedient?

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I was driving on our ‘slow‘ Australian motorway, talking with my good friend from Germany. He and his family visit Australia periodically for months at a time. He was telling me how scary it is to drive on the autobahn, the highway with no speed limit, because people drive like lunatics.

I asked him, “What would happen if they ever introduced a speed limit, would people get upset and start a riot?

In his strong German accent, he said, “You know… you would think that people should get mad, but I’m not sure! For example, when the Euro came, (when the Deutsche Mark was replaced), I thought people would be angry, but nobody cared… nobody said anything. It makes me wonder the same about the Nazis. When they came to power, nobody said anything… nobody cared!Read the rest of this entry

The Power of Letting An Upset Child Cry

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Goldie and the Jelly Fish

We were walking along the beach just at dusk when Goldie, my 2 1/2 year old, stepped on a jellyfish. It was a big fat soggy dead jellyfish, as big as my head. It was so soft and squishy that where she stepped, she left a perfect footprint on its half decomposed body.

She let out a horrified yelp!

To make matters worse, a split second before, her big sister, screamed; “GOLDIE, WATCH OUT!!!“, which had startled Goldie even more. Read the rest of this entry