Archive | Parenting

How to parent in the midst of catastrophic health issues

baby-37519_150This summer’s been a doozy. What once felt like a series of mini health crises has come to feel like the norm with appendicitis, stress fractures, depression, drug addiction, cancer and even death becoming a more common part of life.

Last summer, I started writing a post about how to parent when you feel distracted or distraught by a loved one’s suffering.

It’s a hard topic. So hard, that I never completed the post. I couldn’t bring myself to put a bow on it and send it to you. My thoughts never felt right or complete or enough.

Now, it’s back around as I’m dealing with my own health struggles. This week I had two areas of infiltrating basal cell carcinoma surgically removed from my face. With the surgery behind me and plenty of ice packs, I feel a sense of deep gratitude. My doctor described the tumors as nasty and aggressive and I’m lucky that they could be removed.

So I ask for myself and maybe you too – how do you parent when you’re struggling with your own or a dear one’s illness?

This is what I’ve gleaned talking with some of you and pondering the question these last 12 months:

  • Keep it simple. When your child’s needs feel draining of the little resources you have  serve macaroni and cheese or Cheerios and let them watch TV. It’s okay.
  • Prioritize. Allow what’s most important to rise to the top. Family, food, sleep, and exercise (if possible) make up my essential list.
  • Say no mostly and yes only if that YES will enhance your life. Time and energy are limited. Use yours wisely.
  • Reach out intentionallyAsk for help — as my friend Liz says, “you may need to get over yourself” to do this. Remember that close friends want to lend a hand, particularly when a bigger situation leaves them feeling helpless.

I “got over myself” this past week when my friend Carolyn came bearing flowers the day before my surgery. Having had a similar experience, Carolyn warned me that the hardest part for her had been after the procedure, when she had to remove and replace the bandages. I immediately asked if she would be willing to come over and help me do that. She said yes, and little did I know just how important it was to have her for moral and physical support. With 22 stitches across my hairline — and as the doctor put it, “too many to count” in my nose — I was weak and close to fainting. It took us an hour and a half to remove and replace all of the dressings that first time. I can’t imagine what it would have felt like to do this alone.

  • Stick with the facts. Depending on the age of your child, share relevant factual information, but only the surface story. They don’t need to know the details and certainly not your “what if” fears. While your fears may be in the realm of possibility, they’re not the facts.
  • Be childlike. As much as you can, allow your child’s aliveness and awe of life to touch you and lift you into the present.
  • Dare greatly by saying no to guilt. Instead, accept that you may be more foggy and distracted than you’d like to be with your kids. It’s okay. Don’t add parent guilt to the list of your full bucket of worries. In Daring Greatly Brené Brown writes, “To set down those lists of what we’re supposed to be is brave. To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly” (Page 110).
  • Lower your expectations. Finally, be realistic about how much your kids, depending on age, will be able to empathize with you or the situation. In my experience that’s NOT MUCH. They don’t get it, nor should they.

photo 1A few years ago, my brother’s best friend and brother in-law, Steve, died unexpectedly during a surgery. Because Steve was beloved by his community as a volunteer firefighter during the Easter Long Island pine barren wildfires, acting as Chief of the fire department at the time of his death, founder of the junior volunteer firefighter training program and a village civil servant, the community put on a huge uniformed procession for the funeral. Being family and a close friend, my brother delivered the eulogy. In the midst of the long funeral procession through town, his 8 year-old son Aidan turned to him and asked in a tired voice, “when is this going to be over?” My brother was both heart-broken and relieved by the question. How could Aidan, who’d loved Uncle Steve deeply, be ready to move on? Be so oblivious to the gravity of the situation? Be so cold as to be DONE with Steve? At the same time – in Aidan’s question my brother heard hope and the possibility that life could go on – that tomorrow would eventually arrive and maybe it was sooner than my brother thought possible. In his son’s words were the innocence and gravity of the truth that we do go on, even when we lose the unloseable friend, even when we suffer unimaginable pain.

I’ve decided that it’s okay that I don’t have a bow on this one. Its a question that doesn’t have a neat answer.

Please chime in with your thoughts and questions in the comment section. How do you parent when you feel overwhelmed by your own or a loved ones health challenges or a death?

What advice would you add?

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Part Three: What You Say Either Helps or Hurts Sibling Relationships

Practice Scripts for Parents: So you can stop unwittingly contributing to your children's fighting

Practice Scripts for Parents: So you can stop unwittingly contributing to your children’s fighting

In Part One we looked at the tremendous learning that results from sibling relationships.

In Part Two we looked at the importance of staying out of your kids’ fights after establishing — and repeatedly reminding kids of — family rules and expectations. (Here’s the index with all of the resources.)

Here in Part Three we’ll explore what you do, unintentionally, to increase sibling acrimony and what you can specifically, say or do instead.

Imagine …

Scenario 1:  You’re at a work meeting with your colleague (Joe) and your boss (Big Cheese). You and Joe present what you’ve been working on for the last month at which time Big Cheese looks Joe in the eye and says, “Joe what you’ve done here is outstanding work— you’re exceptional, you really are.”

Be with that. What runs through your mind, your heart?

Scenario 2:  You come home after what’s been a bad day and share with your spouse what happened at work, “I just finished this huge project. Joe and I presented it to the Big Cheese, and well, you had to be there, but I felt really unappreciated. It made me feel like crap actually. I put so much of myself into that project, but he didn’t recognize me at all.”

Then your spouse replies,You know you make a difference — the work couldn’t have been done without you. You need to remember you’re good enough whether someone tells you or not.”

Be with that. What runs through your mind, your heart?

While these are adult scenarios, what they illustrate are common mistakes we make with our children. Sometimes, daily.

The first scenario highlights the perils of praise — the non-specific superlative — and how the use of praise is particularly detrimental to the sibling bond.

How did you feel when you imagined yourself in the scenario?

In parenting class we role-play a parent praising one child but not the other. The volunteer playing the sibling not receiving praise — without exception — feels badly about themselves and usually resentful of their praise worthy sibling.

The un-praised sibling goes on to assume that the accolades lavished on sister or brother mean they’re destined to fall short… big time. Right or wrong this is a predictable human response.

In scenario 2, I’ve put the spotlight on how the denial of feelings, while well intentioned (like praise), is in fact discouraging because it communicates that we’re wrong when what we crave is to feel understood.

Below are four parent behaviors that hurt sibling relationships, followed specific examples of what they sound like and what you could say instead.

PRAISE   ➜  ENCOURAGE

  • Wow — you’re the fastest swimmer out there! ➜ I love to watch you swim!
  • You’re such a good boy! ➜ I appreciate your help, you made my day easier.
  • With more work, you’ll get it right. ➜ Look how far you’ve come, you can do it.

DENY FEELINGS  ➜  ACKNOWLEDGE FEELINGS

  • Just get along — she’s your sister!  ➜  It sounds like you’re feeling really sad and hurt.
  • Don’t say you hate your brother — that’s not nice.  ➜  It looks like you guys aren’t getting along right now and could use some time away from each other.

COMPARISON  ➜  DESCRIBE BEHAVIOR (put kids in the same boat)

  • Why can’t you just be nice like your sister!?  ➜  I can see you’re really cranky right now… come find me when you decide you’re ready to talk.
  • Why do you always make things so difficult?  ➜  Kids, I have faith that the two of you can work this out together. Come find me if you need help.

LABEL  ➜  DESCRIBE WHAT YOU SEE, FEEL OR THE PROBLEM

  • You’re the family artist.  ➜  You really love to create!
  • Why are you always such a bully?  ➜  I see that the blocks are all over the floor, what can you do to help the situation?
  • I can’t take it — you’re such a slob!  ➜  Milk is all over the floor — what do you need to clean it up? 

When spelled out like this, it’s crystal clear to me that

So it’s time to practice!

I know how hard it is so I created this Script to make it a bit easier.

Download it — print the pages you find helpful and PRACTICE.

If you live in the Bay Area, join me and Marcilie Smith Boyle for our Mini Series on how to manage Sibling Conflict in June.

Share your insights, questions and feedback below or write to me privately. I’d love to hear from you.

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Your Surprising Role in Sibling Fights (& How to Change it)

...you don't stop teaching just because you don't get involved during the moment of conflict.

…you don’t stop teaching just because you don’t get involved during the moment of conflict.

Here’s Part Two of the 3 part Sibling Series: More Good, Less Ugly: Everything you Need to Know to Foster Healthy Sibling RelationshipsIn case you missed it, you can check out Part One here.

A month ago, after a parent education talk (ironically, NOT about sibling issues), parents came up to me afterwards wanting to ask specific what do I do when questions.

This night each parent had a sibling challenge that deeply distressed them — and they wanted advice on how to work them out — how to FIX them.

After each told me their story of fists, tears, tussles and injustices, I asked, sincerely, so you want this to stop because ________?

It sounds like a joke but I was serious.

Here’s a snippet of their answers (and my thoughts):

  • I don’t want my kids to fight. Period. (We get confused thinking peace equals the absence of conflict — not true)
  • I’m afraid my children will seriously hurt each other — (it won’t happen if your kids have some skills — it makes sense to focus on teaching these skills).
  • I was mistreated and abused by my siblings and my parents did nothing (if you’re reading this post, or trying to understand the issues, you’re not doing nothing. You’re learning how to respond rather than react).

It’s important for you to get to the bottom of your frantic need to end sibling fights.

When you feel desperate, your children tune into your urgency and — baBOOM! — their fights gain greater importance and power.

No matter what age they are, you can see the wheels turning in their mind… “Hey, I’m onto something here — mom’s lost her mind over this bickering — it’s energizing to have her so plugged in so I’m going to persist and/or do it again soon.”

Your children are wired to get your attention (think survival) and this sibling stuff is just the ticket.

So what if you don’t react when the fight breaks out, and instead acknowledge them by:

  1. Letting them know you notice what’s going on and you’re here if they need your help (hint: think of yourself as a consultant rather than a cop) or
  2. Saying, “I can see you’re struggling with each other and I have faith that you’ll be able to work it out together.”

What’ll happen next? They’ll be flabbergasted that you haven’t jumped in to fix or solve.

Jane Nelsen says surprise leads to confusion. When a child is confused because she doesn’t get the reaction she’s used to, she’s ready to consider a new behavior.

  • If the surprise results from a respectful interaction, her confusion will include a feeling of belonging and encouragement, so her new behavior is likely to be positive.
  • If the surprise is a result of disrespect, then her previous misbehavior is likely to intensify.

After a recent sibling talk I got this email from a mom who’d bravely tried what I’d suggested, the very next morning:

Hi Lisa,

I wanted to tell you my success story from this morning. I feel like one of the examples from the book (Siblings without Rivalry), I was so surprised at its effectiveness!

This morning my 5.5yo son Eden left his favorite transformer toys on the floor, and his 1.5yo sister Lulu ran to them and started playing. He saw that, ran over, and pushed her backwards so her head banged the floor (she’s had worse bumps, but it was still rough and it hurt her).

I calmly went over and said, “Do you two need some help? Lulu doesn’t know why you pushed her. Use your words to tell her. I know you two can work this out. I’m going in the kitchen now so you can work it out.”

I walked away as Lulu whimpered a few times, just sitting next to her brother, probably unsure why I hadn’t defended her better.

Only 5 to 10 seconds after I walked away, Eden said, “Hey Louie, do you want another one?! I’ll get you one!” and jumped up to get her the one transformer he wasn’t playing with. He gave it to her, she happily accepted, and she scooted away a few inches to play with it in her own space.

I COULDN’T BELIEVE IT! It was exactly like the book and you said it would happen! Even though it worked so well, I admit I felt a bit guilty about seemingly abandoning Louie to her big brother in a moment of distress. But I get that their relationship benefitted from his problem-solving so much more than if I had stepped in.

Based on the book, if we can be consistent with this kind of conflict resolution, soon both kids will not feel this as abandonment, but as empowerment instead.

–Rachel

This story beautifully illustrates that

Rachel admits the guilt she felt in trying a new behavior — I think many of us don’t try new tools and responses, even though they may be more effective in the long run, because of the dreaded parent guilt – what’ll happen if it doesn’t work?.

There may be times when you want to step in — how do you do that without fixing?

Here are three Positive Discipline Tools to help in the moment with a dispute between young children:

  1.  DISTRACTION — “I’ll give you something else to do now.”
  2.  SEPARATION — “Let’s move you over here for now.”
  3.  PUTTING KIDS IN THE SAME BOAT and recognizing that CHILDREN DO BETTER WHEN THEY FEEL BETTER — “I’d like to read you both a story now – it will help put us in a good mood.  Then you can try to play together again… when you both feel better.”

So often when you plunge into a sibling fight, you think you know what’s going on.

This week, pretend you don’t and put the kids in the same boat.

Do your best to stay out of their business (or consult from the sidelines), and see what happens.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you’re not already on the list, sign up to receive Part 3 of the Sibling Series: From Squabbles to Sharing: Proven Strategies to Improve Sibling Relationships by email.

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Sibling Series Index: How to Foster Good Relations

Siblings - SmeetaSibling strife is a hot button issue. When I started writing a post on the topic it quickly became clear that I was going to write a Sibling Series to scratch the surface of this multifaceted issue.

Part One:  Don’t Worry: There’s Hidden Treasure in Sibling Battles

Part Two:  Your Surprising Role in Sibling Fights (& How to Change it)

Part Three:  What You Say Either Helps or Hurts Sibling Relationships

Additional Resources

It’s my hope that these posts and resources inspire consideration, conversation and ultimately a deeper understanding of how we can encourage greater harmony between our children.

As always, please share your insights below in the comments. And if you’re not already receiving updates directly to your email, join me.

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Part One: Don’t Worry: There’s Hidden Treasure in Sibling Battles

My oldest went off to college in the Fall, leaving his two younger siblings behind.

I wondered how his leaving would impact our family dynamic. And now, seven months in, I have an idea (hint: it’s not pretty).

What’s emerged is a fierceness between the remaining two. It’s like a cushion has been removed and now there’s the raw friction of two hard stones, one sharp (older one needing to be boss) and one holding firm (younger showing resolve to hold her own).

Side note: when I spoke to the kids about how I’d be depicting them for this article, they argued that they were each the one standing firm while the other was the nudger and antagonizer — confirming that there’s never “one true story” of what’s going on….

It reminds me of what Ken Kesey wrote in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, “It’s the truth even if it never happened.”

Because I’ve parented for a while now, I know this dynamic, whatever it is, will change. It always does. But sometimes a simple dinner with the two of them is akin to nails running down the chalkboard. I’d love to run screaming from room and it makes me wonder, HOW IN THE WORLD DID I CREATE THESE MONSTERS?!

The other night at dinner we talked about what we could do to help improve the situation. My daughter (the younger one) decided that she’d make signs reminding us all of important relationship behavior.

IMG_1146

IMG_0975

IMG_0978I love how her drawings show different perspectives.

Once she’d created them she didn’t care to hash it out any further….

This is often the case with kids — it’s the DOING that’s important — not the processing.

Since she made these reminders, I’ve actually noticed more harmony – crazy magic.

The good the bad and the ugly news is that sibling issues, while highly irritating and button pressing, are normal and to be expected.

If you had brothers and sisters, think back to your own childhood… what did you learn from them?

Here’s a list from parents in my Parenting with Positive Discipline series:

  • how to tease
  • how to manipulate
  • how to negotiate
  • how to take turns/share
  • how to stand up for someone
  • how to keep company
  • how to eat fast
  • how to hate intensely
  • how to love intensely
  • how to be loyal
  • how to fight
  • how to defend
  • how to ask for what you want or need

Sound familiar?

My sister recently shared Jeffery Kluger’s Ted talk, “The sibling bond,” with me and my brother. Mr. Kluger tells stories illustrating the powerful influence siblings have on each other.

Here’s what stood out for me:.

There may be no relationship that affects us more profoundly than that of our siblings– none closer, harder, sweeter, happier, sadder, more filled with joy or fraught with woe than the relationship we have with our brothers and sisters. The sibling bond can be a thing of abiding love, our parents leave us too early, our spouses come along too late, our siblings are the only ones who are with us for the entire ride – over the arch of decades – there may be nothing that defines us and forms us more powerfully than our relationship with our brothers and sisters.

Siblings learn when to stand up for themselves, when to stand down – love, loyalty, honesty, sharing, caring, compromise, the disclosure of secrets and the keeping of confidences.

Siblings may be among the richest harvests of the time we have here.

And finally (I’ve paraphrased),

Will it impact how we respond to sibling fighting if view it through this lens? I think so. Relationships are messy — we’re all learning all of the time.

When nails scratch their way down the chalkboard, take heart. Know you’re in good company. Breath, remove yourself if you can, and remember that tremendous learning is happening.

This week view sibling battles as opportunities to learn life lessons. Notice what’s being learned in your house? Notice what lessons you’d like to see more and less of and share in the comments below.

Stay tuned for Part Two: Your Surprising Role in Sibling Fights (and How to Change it)

Here’s the index for the Sibling Series.

If you haven’t already done so, join me on this journey!

Wanna talk? It’s easy to schedule a time here.

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How to Cope When Your Kid Feels Miserable

We want our kids to be happy and feel good about themselves — knowing they’re struggling can feel unbearable.

Today’s post is about how to deal with your emotions around your child’s disappointment — a question that Michelle so eloquently asked last time. Here’s my own poignant parenting story….

Years ago when my son, I’ll call him Sunny, was 11 or 12, baseball season had ended and he wanted, with all his heart, to make the all-star team so that he could continue to play. He’d been chosen in years past but knew it was competitive. Being Sunny, he was optimistic and it was clear that playing more baseball was the most important thing in the world to him — hands down. A perfect recipe for parental anxiety.

Each day he’d come home and ask, mom, did the coach call? A look of hopeful anticipation in his eyes.

My heart broke as I had to tell him, 3 or 4 days in a row that no one had called. Silence. Are you sure? Ouch.

Sunny was the kid who went through life, like a duck, letting harsh things that happened to him roll right off. So when he uncharacteristically invested himself in this outcome, it was all the more painful to witness.

At the time I knew that a rescue attempt was ill advised. I felt helpless and didn’t know what to do. While it sounds like a minor letdown now, this disappointment was HUGE in his life, and I was at a loss for how to support him.

Looking back I think his dad or I could have shared our own painful experience if only to join him in that dark space.

I doubt it would have made him feel better but company always helps.

As the parent, I needed to also take a stance that would help me better cope with the urge to jump in and make things better.

As a coach, I often help clients find alternate points of view on an area of their life where they feel stuck.

Below is an example of different perspectives you can step into to shift YOUR experience when your child goes through their inevitable disappointments.

GRITTY VIEW:  The research is clear that children who’re able to persevere through trials and tribulations have an essential characteristic for success – grit.

While they’ll remember epic disappointments, if they’re able to weather them with a sense of grounded security, your kids will more likely learn to forge ahead, a quality that will undoubtedly serve them well in life.

Parental fixing (or on the flip-side, shaming) blocks your child from learning this valuable lesson. Fixing and shaming, while they look different, convey the same message to your kid — I don’t believe in you.

I don’t remember where I heard this but I love its clear wisdom.

POETIC VIEW:  “For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.”  ―Henry W. Longfellow  

Broadening your perspective through poetry and philosophy can be just the tonic you need to pull you out of the painful, cramped feeling of “not enough” that tends to overwhelm you when your
child feels badly.

Andrew.Khalil.GibranMINDFUL VIEW: Practicing mindfulness strengthens your ability to have boundaries.

The Quick Calm Technique created by Andy Smithson of truparenting.net is a tool that when practiced can move you from heated to less heated 🙂

Here it is in a nutshell:

Click to learn about the entire Quick Calm Toolkit

Click above to learn more about the entire Quick Calm Toolkit

Use this technique to bring yourself down from anger, anxiety, sadness… these steps enable you to respond more proactively — more mindfully — to any situation you find yourself caught up in. You have power over how you feel.

PASSIONATE VIEW:  When you take time to nurture your own passions, you get less tied up in knots about the minutiae of your child’s life. This helps you avoid the unwitting substitution of your child’s experiences for your own.

Here are some examples of activities (outside of work and parenting) that parents have shared with me that bring meaning and passion to their lives:

  • join an adult sports team
  • volunteer in an underserved school
  • write a blog or novel
  • coach a team (outside of your child’s)
  • volunteer at a hospital
  • train for a triathlon

If you don’t want to do it for yourself, then you’ve got to do it for the sake of your kid. Only when you nourish yourself and cultivate your own interests will your child see a way to do this for herself.

MY VIEW: One of the gifts I’ve found through using Positive Discipline is a path to keep things simple.

If I’m bending over backward to make something happen for my kid, I hear that voice inside warning me something’s off or as Michelle put it — “THAT’s INSANITY — DON’T DO IT!”

Still the impulse and overwhelming sadness remains.

Don’t push it away. Rather, let yourself feel sad and have a chance to heal from your own old wound. When you get triggered by your child’s disappointments — take that step back from your kid and look inside — work on your own or with a therapist to experience your not so buried feelings so that you can move on rather than continuing to stuff it down or overreact to events in your child’s life. Be real and feel your feelings.

When you feel stuck in your own or your child’s disappointment, try one of these perspectives or cultivate a view of your own. Standing in a different place could be just the reset you need to reorient yourself and move forward in the direction you want to go.

If you haven’t already done so, join me on this journey!

Wanna talk? Schedule a time here.

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Q & A: Where Do You Draw the Line Between Empathy and Helicopter Parenting?

Empathy v. Enmeshment ImageQ: As the mother of a middle school girl, I struggle to be empathetic without jumping on the roller coaster of her ever-changing moods, emotions and dramas. And, as a woman in her late 40s, my emotions are often a 6 Flags of hormonally-induced thrills, so staying detached feels nearly impossible at times

Recently my seventh grader tried out for the school musical. After a series of micro disappointments this Fall (not making the “A” soccer team, getting put into an advisory group without any good friends, being just slightly outside of the ‘cool’ group, etc.), she was serious about getting a good part for the show. She practiced her song with a singing teacher several times and felt good about it.

Several days went by while she waited for the cast list to be posted. I worked on shifting her language away from ‘good’ and ‘bad’ parts in the show, to some limited success. I wanted to support her enthusiasm but it was draining to stay positive given my fear of the potential bad news ahead.  

This daughter can be fairly stoic, but when she saw the cast list, she ran up to her room and sobbed so loudly I was afraid she would choke.

After a few minutes of trying to let her release her disappointment on her own, I went in to check on her. With your thoughts of empathy fresh in my mind, I resisted the temptation to tell her the emotions would pass or it didn’t matter or that the part was probably better than she thought, blah, blah, blah.

Instead, I let her cry, supporting the wildly strong feelings raging through her. Unfortunately, it was just a matter of time before I was crying too, and then we were both sobbing at the injustice of the world (did I mention I am a pre-menopausal woman with raging emotions?)

I managed to get myself together and put her to sleep, but then I could not stop crying. I just felt so sad for her and could not put it away. It took all the strength I had not to email the drama teacher and ask her if there was any way to revisit the cast list. Which is just a simply INSANE thing to even think, let alone seriously consider!  

So here’s my question: how can we support our children with their dreams, projects, efforts and goals (especially our daughters) without getting enmeshed in the outcome? How can we let our older children navigate the disappointments and challenges of life without getting sucked into the emotional turmoil that goes along with the journey? Where do you draw the line between empathy and over involvement/attachment?

A: First, Michelle, congratulations on your success in avoiding many of the common barriers to empathy. What you did was no small feat — staying out of judgement, taking her perspective and touching a place in yourself (maybe a bit too deeply) that understood her feelings.

Simply defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another,” empathy is nuanced. While you were able share your daughter’s feelings, it proved difficult to pull yourself out.

To answer your question, here are my ideas to strengthen your empathetic response even more while simultaneously moving you out of the helicopter parenting zone altogether.

From Helicopter Parenting to Empathy

  • Validate her feelings. In your story Michelle, you give nice examples of how you did this — letting her cry and stay in her feelings, etc.
  • Resist the urge to fix. You write, I resisted the temptation Shift fromDisappointment =-3to tell her the emotions would pass or it didn’t matter or that the part was probably better than she thought, blah, blah, blah. This is cause for celebration! When you’re done partying let’s look at what you describe your fear of the potential bad news that she didn’t get a “good” part. Your feeling of fear fuels your underlying belief that something needs to be fixed. You can do one of two things here, keep your fear AND bite your tongue, which
    you did, or, with the help of a friend, coach or therapist, internally shift your perspective from disappointment = bad to disappointment = opportunity for growth. (I’ll go into this more in my next post). What I’m suggesting is more than a surface shift — that’s why it requires support.
  • Share your own story of disappointment. By sharing a simple one sentence story of a time you didn’t make the team or you weren’t invited to the party, you let your daughter know that she’s not alone and most importantly, that she belongs. (A sense of belonging in family is profoundly impactful to a child’s sense of well-being.) For example, I remember when I longed to be chosen to play the role of Mary in the church nativity, yet I wasn’t picked and I felt terribly sad. One sentence that’s it. I can hear parents ask “Isn’t there more to say than that?!” No — children are self focused, your goal here is to simply let them know you’ve been there — voila.
  • Be present. It’s not what you say that will make a difference, but simply your presence, your ability to be with your child. Ground yourself in what’s most important to you, tuck your phone and other distractions away and like the Beatles so beautifully sang, let it be.
  • Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness strengthens our ability to have boundaries which according to Brené Brown’s research is key to empathy. If we get stuck in the other’s emotion, we don’t actually support that person – boundaries are key to empathy.

One of the many gifts in your story is how fully engaged you are in your daughter’s life.

Thank you Michelle for sharing your story and question, deepening our understanding of empathy. I appreciate and honor your willingness to be vulnerable — it can feel scary to divulge our struggles when we’re “supposed to be” the all-knowing parent!

Are you wanting someone to walk you through a parenting challenge like the one that Michelle shared? If so, visit my schedule to find a time for us to meet via phone or Skype.

I know that parenting is important to you — it’s worth taking time for yourself, so that you can be the parent you want to be, even in your most challenging circumstances.

Take a moment to share in the comment section below how you relate to Michelle’s story and what you want to remember from today’s post.

If you haven’t already done so, join me on this journey!

Wanna talk? Schedule a time here.

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So your toddler wants to run your baby over with his tricycle… how to protect your children from each other!

During a parent education evening last week, I rattled on about the importance of encouragement in parenting and shared my favorite slogan, “Children Do Better When They FEEL Better.” Then an arm shot up.

One of the parents, Sarah, looked sincerely puzzled and asked a simple question that got every head in the room nodding:

“Encouragement and Positive Discipline are great when it’s a low stakes situation, but what about when safety is involved? How should I respond to a threat of physical harm from one of my children to the other in a positive way?”

When I asked her to explain her situation, Sarah told the following story (which may be very familiar to anyone with children close in age and remembers, or is going through, the baby/toddler sibling combination):

It was the end of the day, about an hour before my husband got home… typically my roughest time. Gus (3) was zipping around the house on his tricycle when he headed straight for his little brother (6 months), stopping just a hair from Fisher’s little fingers.  I told him not to do that, that he could hurt Fisher and it didn’t feel safe to me.  A minute later, he did the exact same thing and I basically flipped my lid.  I yelled, “STOP,” stormed over to Gus, pried him from the tricycle, and let him cry on the ground as I put the trike outside.  I felt really protective of Fisher and that I needed to stop Gus. I felt awful for yelling and reacting in a physical way because he was so sad afterwards. But how else could I show him that I was in charge?

Sarah’s story highlights the primal nature of being a parent. We’re hard-wired to protect our children from a perceived threat, even if that threat is their sibling. Keeping your children safe is your first priority as a parent and if a quick intervention — sometimes ungraceful or inflated — is urgently needed to protect a baby or younger sibling from harm, you need to do that, and quickly.

But I encouraged Sarah (as I would any parent) to turn from the immediate danger to look for connection and encouragement with the older child instead of punishment. I know this sounds crazy and counter intuitive but here’s what Positive Discipline teaches us:

The most fundamental encouragement you can give your child is letting him or her know they’re significant even when things are not going well.

(Significance here means has value, has meaning, matters to you and to the broader community, etc.)

What does encouragement look like in this situation? How can Sarah communicate that Gus has significance?

Sarah could physically block the trike from Fisher’s path (as it does not appear that Gus intended to stop on his own) and take a deep breath (essential in such a case).

Rather than lifting him off the trike right away, she could gently and firmly lift just Gus’ hands off the handlebars, look into his eyes and say:

Gus, wow, my heFundamental Encouragement Matterart is beating really fast because you really scared me by coming that close to Fisher’s hands. (Pause and breathe.)  I could use a hug right now – could you give me a hug? Let’s bring your brother in, I bet we could all use a hug to feel better.

If this feels impossibly warm and fuzzy in such a potentially dangerous situation, consider this story from Gus’ point of view.

Rather than feel punished and sad (as he clearly did when the trike was chucked outside and he was left crying), Gus might think, “I did something wrong that really scared my mommy. What I do has an impact. I’m important to mommy and I can even help her feel better.”

The most fundamental encouragement you can give your child is letting them know that they have significance, even when they’re misbehaving.

In this scenario, asking for a hug is encouraging – very different than offering a hug because you’re engaging your child in being part of the resolution in an active way.

CHILDREN DO BETTER WHEN THEY FEEL BETTER!  (we all do!)

Even when our children misbehave – if we can take steps to help them feel better, rather than making them feel worse, we are much more likely to encourage the kind of behavior we want to see from them in the future.

4 Steps for changing our response from punishment to encouragement:

  1. Shift your assumptions: Work on moving from my child will learn to behave by being punished to my child will learn to behave by getting the message that he or she matters.

For an example Sarah also shared a story of how she “felt a shift from the tricycle incident” just the day after my presentation. She wrote:

Gus was standing on his stool near the stove where I was getting ready to cook an egg.  He tossed the hot pad that was on the counter onto the hot pan.  I exclaimed surprise and got the pad out.  I told him that was really scary and we absolutely do not throw things on the pan. He didn’t seem to be doing it out of defiance, which probably helped my reaction just be scared and then clear. But it was like we were scared together, learned something, and then moved on. No tears, no drama…so much better. It just gave me a taste of what you were talking about.

  1.    Plan ahead:  We’ve all yelled at and lost it with our kids, but by thinking through possible responses to common challenges ahead of time, we have a greater chance of pausing and consciously responding rather than giving our knee jerk reaction.

For example, I have a son who leaves what I call anonymous messes quite regularly around the house. This is a common challenge that I’ve planned ahead for by deciding on a few ways to respond when I’m next faced with his mess. Just yesterday, I found what looked like spilled detergent on the floor near the washing machine, covered with pillow cases. I suspected he left this mess and rather than simply accuse him and rant AT him for not taking the time to clean up, when I saw him I’d calmly asked a few clarifying questions, had he been doing laundry (yes), did he know about a spill, (why yes he did — this fessing up is progress), what could he do about it now? (This is a challenge for me but staying calm and building cooperation — progress, not perfection — is a huge victory for me and the only way I can do it is by planning for it).

  1.   Assemble your parenting toolkit: Know your game plan by having tools at the front of your mind (Such as, “I need a hug,” asking WHAT & HOW questions like “what’s your idea to solve this problem?”). Sort through the Positive Discipline Tool Cards and pick three you’d like to try.
  1.    Get support: Reach out for professional support. Even if it’s not with me, find someone who can help you weather the shift and put this new approach into action over time. It’s about progress — not perfection!

Regardless of the age of your child, encouragement through connection, in place of punishment is life changing — for both parent and child!

Please share in the comments below simple ways that you can remind your child of their significance (that they matter) today. In doing so, you’re giving us ideas that will encourage us to plan ahead – step 2 above! We’re all in this together 🙂

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When Empathy Goes Out The Window

IMG_0312Until recently I thought I was really good at empathy. This was something I didn’t need to work at – heck, it came naturally! If someone was feeling pain, I was right there with them. My challenge as a young woman working in social work was to turn down my empathy so that I could be of use and make it through the day.

What I’ve become aware of through understanding and playing around with Brené Browns explanation of empathy, is that for me to be genuinely empathetic, particularly with those I’m closest to, I need to be conscious and act against my “natural” reaction to their pain.

Here’s a story from last week to illustrate. My daughter – singing bird – has been through a rough patch this fall which began with her breaking her arm. She got a cast and after two days of the weepies, was up and running. Then a week or so later I got a call from her school informing me she’d taken a bad fall, her body colliding with the concrete playground. Singing bird doesn’t cry easily so when I arrived at the school office to find her in a wimpering ball, I knew it was bad.

What I’d advise a client or friend to do in this situation:  When you get your daughter home, ice pack in hand, find a quiet comfortable place where you can simply be together. Create a nest of coziness. Give your child a chance to feel all that she’s been holding in at school, her fear, her pain, her embarrassment…. Without expectations simply spend time with her. By giving her a chance to experience her emotions you’re allowing an important opportunity for her to heal, emotionally and physically. What you’ll be providing is a gift because so often we aren’t permitted our feelings. We’re told, through words and/or actions, to act appropriately. Translation:  don’t express feelings of sadness, anger, disappointment, jealousy and even pain.

What I did: When we got home, I helped her out of the car and made her comfy on the couch. I got an ice pack for her head, band aides for her hip, some pain medication and a tasty melt in your mouth homeopathic remedy too. To make sure all of her senses were “soothed”, I found a television show for her to watch to further distract her from her feelings – I mean to make her feel better – heck isn’t it the same thing?

Even as I write this I’m cringing. I missed a rich opportunity to connect with her and more importantly to simply be with her – keep her company through a hard and healing time. Empathy. I avoided it. No doubt, it felt instinctual to go into fix it mode – to make her all better – to put the pain behind her.

Later that afternoon it dawned on me what I’d done. I called my sister and described the incident and how I’d missed a real opportunity for empathy. She thanked me because she was taking her daughter to the dentist for multiple tooth extraction the next day and was encouraged by the reminder.

We don’t have to fix pain or make it go away and it’s actually better if we can find a place within ourselves that allows us to be present.

(If you haven’t seen it, this short animated piece, narrated by Brené Brown is worth watching!)

What does it take for YOU to BE WITH your child when they’re in discomfort – physical or emotional? Please share in the comment section below!

For me, I know that sharing my story with you will help raise my awareness so that when my next empathy opportunity comes, and I know it will, I’ll BE there.  Thanks for reading!

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Why Susan Sarandon has a Hold on Me

Years ago I read an interview with Susan Sarandon.

When asked if she missed the thrill of working in between jobs she said no, there’s nothing I’d rather do than spend time with my childrenThey’re the most fascinating people I know.

Smile

Photo credit: Incase

Can’t you just hear her saying that?

Although I read them years ago, her words (how I remember them) continue to cycle through my memory and with them comes more than a pang of inadequacy. She’s clearly an attentive, interested mother who’s produced spellbinding people to boot!

Don’t get me wrong. I couldn’t love my children more than I do – they are kind, cool, quirky, creative… downright good people.

Nonetheless, the image of the hip, engaged Sarandon mama has stuck with me. I don’t measure up. I’m not good enough.

When my second son was six, a friend he affectionately called his “God Brother,” invited him to camp on the beach in Hawaii for 10 days!

Sure we hesitated, it seemed dicey to have our child a stones’ throw from the ocean and so far away from us. But we trusted the parents, he was eager to go and we wanted to encourage his openness.

I was thrilled.

When we spoke with him on the phone he enthusiastically cheered that he was having the time of his life (his exact words).

Am I a good mother? How is it that I enjoy my little one being so far away – for so long?

Susan Sarandon has become a symbol for me – beyond Bull Durham and Thelma and Louise – she’s the uber interested mama who prefers the company of her children over her friends and her cool tribe of actor homies.

My fantasy continues… when Susan goes out to dinner with her kids, there’s no scuffle over devices because each family member is wrapped in titillating conversation or simply basking in each other’s company. Her kids prefer the company of their mom to friends (okay, Lisa now you’re just being silly).

Who’s your version of Susan Sarandon?

Is there someone you measure yourself against? Someone you use to judge yourself?

Maybe it’s your neighbor Jane whose kids always say thank you, their pearly whites shining through their gorgeous smiles.

Maybe it’s your cousin, the preschool teacher whose children abhor television and sugar and spend their days tending animals and making toys from scraps they find in the woods.

If you’re like me, you hold tightly to an idealized version of someone else as evidence to support an underlying angst that you’re not a good enough parent.

That sense of not enough pulls you away from the present moment.

I’ve no doubt that the mere act of becoming aware of your version of Susan Sarandon will go a long way to tame it. But what else can you do?

Remember my New Year’s invitation back in January? Some of you took me up on it and MANY of you wrote to say you thought it was a good idea.

Good ideas need action.

What’s one thing you LOVE about yourself as a parent?

What’s your specialty – reading bedtime stories? Being there for the neighborhood kids? Lightening up a tense moment with a perfectly timed joke?

Imagine if you spent a fraction of the time you do berating yourself for not living up to your Susan Sarandon, in taking stock of your positive qualities.

How would you feel? What might change?

Share right here and now: One thing, big or tiny that you do well as a parent. You deserve to take a moment to celebrate what works.

For kicks, share what it is about your ideal that “gets” you. That should provide some fun reading in the comments!

(If the website is getting in your way – send me an email – it can be one sentence or even one word!)

If you haven’t already done so, join me on this journey!

Wanna talk? Schedule a time here.

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