Tiny Shift, Big Impact: How You Praise Your Kids Can Make All the Difference

Tiny Shift, Big Impact: How You Praise Your Kids Can Make All the Difference

Remember that day last summer when I took the girls to the pool and I decided to get out of the middle of the parenting road (because heck it’s dangerous standing there!)?

Here’s the scene:  I’ve got two 9 year old girls, my daughter Sonja and her friend Gracie. These girls are avid swimmers, eager to get to the pool to play. I fantasize that our trip will include my making serious headway with my summer reading (even tho it’s September), while they amuse themselves.  

As it is with parenting, my expectation of time for myself proves a pipe dream as they repeatedly ask me to watch their antics in the water.

I decide to go all in and be present with the girls. I see them with their faces all lit up and full of life because they can tell — I’m all in.

What does being present with them look like?

Their request for attention begins simply.

For the first ten minutes its,

“Mom, tell us who has the biggest splash when we jump in!”

This is easy.

For the next five minutes,

“Mom, now who’s got the smallest splash?”

Next the requests get more complicated.

“We’re going to each make up a dance and you tell us which one is better. We won’t care which one you choose… PLEEEEEEEEASE.”

What kind of attention do I give the girls?

These are the two choices I imagine:

  1. The fluffernutter with jelly beans sandwich! Equalize the good stuff – like an overdose on sweets. I’ll go back and forth stating whose performance is best.

Wonderful, beautiful. Oh such great moves. I’ll continue with loads of oooohing and Ahhhing. Wow’s coming flying out of my mouth and a resounding you girls are amazing!

Hyperboles abound aimed at both girls, alternating names. They’ll each feel the rush of being the BEST!

  1. I take a moment to process this request and then say to the girls,

No, that kind of judging is what we call ‘subjective’ — which means just one person’s opinion — and that’s going to be too hard for me.  

“Please mom, I promise we won’t care which one you pick.”

No sweetie.

As a result, the girls decide to create individual dances and ask me to watch them after a few moments of practice.

I  support them by being present.

In this scenario I’ve decided to simply pay attention to them. I have the presence of mind to respond genuinely to their beautiful 9 year old bodies moving with the raw vitality.

I smile.

I make eye contact.

I smile.

My response doesn’t sound or even look like much. I feel mellow… down right relaxed even and heck I’m enjoying myself 🙂

I notice that when my daughter pops out of the water, during a particular dance move, her eyes are fixed on my eyes – am I looking at her?

She smiles and I smile back. A simple genuine and powerful encouragement connection.

The girls are laughing and having a ball.

They’re being graceful and silly at the same time; authentically creative.

I love being their audience and simply encourage them by noticing, laughing, hooting, oooohing.

My comments sound like,

“Looks like you’re learning moves from each other.”

“Did that hurt?”

“Fun!”

I bite my tongue to keep from spouting judgments (albeit positive) and opinions.

After years of teaching parenting classes, I still find biting my tongue to be one of my greatest parenting tools :).

While the automatic over the top enthusiastic responses feel like the way to be a supportive parent, they aren’t.

Carol Dweek’s work on praise vs. effort vs. intelligence is explained in this short video.

Simply paying attention is down right relaxing for me and I can see it’s freeing for the girls as I watch them become more goofy, beautiful and collaborative with every new dance.

They’re not dancing to please me, but to please themselves.

During the next hour I have a singular, delightful focus. Even now, a year later, it’s a rich memory for me. I can still see the girls’ lit faces, their determination, their playfulness.

Deciding to pay attention without praising is powerful and allows your child to be playful— to be themselves.

Look for opportunities to be with your children — to pay attention to them without fanfare but with your full, genuine awareness. See what you notice in yourself and your kids. And then come back and share your experiences in the comments.

Get out of the middle of the parenting road

Get out of the middle of the parenting road

It’s summer and my daughter and her friend want to go to the pool to play. I fantasize that the girls will occupy each other and I’ll be able to read or at the very least get some knitting done.  

Turns out, they want me to join in their amusement. They plead, watch us, watch us as they scheme to perform synchronized, dramatic water jumps and dances.

Quickly it’s apparent that I’ve got three options in how to respond to their pleas:

  1. Go old school and brush them off saying “No girls, I’m reading.”
  2. Middle of the road it – “Okay girls – show me what you’ve got” but meanwhile I knit or attempt to read in between requests.
  3. Go all in with the kids – book closed on the ground, knitting tucked away in its bag – I sit up actually looking directly at them.

Old School

The thought of going Old School on them is familiar and slightly guilt inducing. I grew up with parents and children pretty much doing their own thing, all the time. Sometimes we’d watch football, 6o Minutes or Murder She Wrote on TV together on Sunday evenings (I loved this) but my brother, sister, and I wouldn’t dare to ask directly for attention from grown ups.

It just wasn’t part of the program 40+ years ago. It wasn’t the way our family operated.

There is a time and a place for old school. It’s not only okay, but it’s downright healthy for children to have time when they’re not getting direct attention from an adult.

Here’re two good articles on this topic:

Middle of the Road

Middle of the road is something I know well!

This is the lack of making a conscious decision.

I want to be reading, but my knee jerk parenting shoulding voice says you should be paying attention to the kids Lisa… at all times humanly possible. (Wonder if this is related to the old school way I grew up??? 🙂 )

Then, another part of me says Lisa you’re at the pool, for 3@!$ sake, read your book!

These competing voices are crazy making — nothing is done well with divided attention.

By not making a decision and by default, choosing the middle of the road, you literally split your attention and feel like you’re in No Man’s Land. There’s no upside for yourself or your kid. I see this as the unconscious back drop for many parents these days, particularly with the constant distraction created by our smartphones.

Going All In

Finally, the somewhat novel thought of going all in actually feels like a relief to me when it flashes across my mind as an option.

The me time to do’s (like writing, reading and even knitting) fall away and I feel light, even floaty.

[tweetthis display_mode=”box”]News flash! I can let go and simply focus my full attention in one place.[/tweetthis]

The girls are asking for me and I decide to let go of the fantasy of me time and watch them like they are qualifying for the Olympics: with my entire being.

As I do this, my body unwinds into the moment and I feel a tremendous, relaxing sigh throughout my entire being. I only have one task at hand and I can do this and actually do it well.

(I use Headspace to support my on-going meditation practice – I recommend it!)

Having two, much older sons, I know the days of “watch me, mom!” will soon end.

During the next hour I had a singular, beautiful focus. Even now, a year later, it’s a rich memory for me. I can still see the girls’ lit faces, their determination, their playfulness.

Other days I’ve chosen to say “no” and that’s positive, too. It’s healthy for children to see you pursue your interests and to know that they can occupy themselves without your attention.

It’s not an either/or dilemma. We have time in our lives for both.

How often do you find yourself in the middle of the road with your parenting?

The next time you’re in this situation, take a moment to consider where you really want to be and BE THERE instead of staying in the middle.

The Best Mother’s Day Gift of All

The Best Mother’s Day Gift of All

Dear Devoted You,

Mother’s Day is a sweet time to recognize all the good.
I feel so lucky because I’ll be able to celebrate this year with my own dear mother. She’s a quirky, creative, generous woman and an absolute treasure to me.

At the same time, life is not all happiness and joy right now for me as a mother.

One of my children is suffering. And as you know, when your child isn’t well, it can feel impossible to let that pain go.

So if your heart also aches because of an issue with your child, I want to remind you (and myself): we’re not alone.
My Mother’s Day message this year is simple: Take care of yourself.
Make a mindful choice to do the following:
  1. Exercise
  2. Eat well
  3. Sleep enough
  4. Expand your tunnel vision*
*Devote time and energy to other relationships in your life. When you’re in a crisis with one child you can understandably suffer from tunnel vision. Consciously decide to continue to focus on your other children, spouse, and friends (who are supportive). This is important for your own health and ability to gain perspective AND for maintaining those important connections with people who love you and in the case of your other children, need your continued connection.

It’s easy to forget these basics and fall into destructive patterns when we’re filled with worry.

When you make self-care a central part of your life, you’ll find that the kindness you show yourself infuses your own life, and the life of your family with positivity. It provides a model for your child and makes the path to reach your goals and those of your family so much smoother. (source: 8 Self-Care Tips for Parents Who Have No Time for Self Care.)
If I still haven’t convinced you, please take a look at “Why self-care is an important part of parenting, and how to make time for it.”

You’re important to me and I’ve missed the opportunity to connect.

We’re all in this together and I appreciate the community you provide for me along the journey of motherhood (and boy it’s tough at times!)

I hope you’re well and wish you a Happy Mother’s Day.
Love,

Lisa

 

This Too Shall Pass: Why a developmental lens on your kids will set you free

This Too Shall Pass: Why a developmental lens on your kids will set you free

Being a parent brings up loads of baggage — memories, judgments, regrets, and even feelings of shame. We project these feelings and others- our neighbor, sibling, and or spouse. We get distracted by the thought that we — or they — just aren’t doing it RIGHT.

I’m here to say it’s a load of horse$@*! You can direct your energy somewhere else because we’re all going through the muck of parenting: struggling with our children’s behavior and our very human reactions. While our challenges come in different shapes and sizes, we all have them or have had them over the course of our parenting lives.

For example, we may react/judge/project when the following happens…

  • my daughter refuses to walk to school with our neighbor and her longtime friend,
  • my son finds a sharpie in the car and decides to “decorate” the interior,
  • my daughter runs circles around me every night and won’t go to bed,
  • my middle schooler screams, “I hate you” when I ask her to clean her room,
  • my kindergartner ‘moons’ his classmates  during a music lesson.

This is the stuff of life. This is the stuff of parenting. And the good news is that most of these seemingly unbearable moments will pass.

When you share your parenting struggles with me, I offer my empathy and support. Internally, I usually smile because I feel confident that one day this struggle will become something you’ll find humor in. You will move on and your kids will grown out of the stage (could be 6 hours,  6 months or years) that seemed so awful when you were in. The unbearable can become a tender memory.

We’re human. We all go through growing pains in one way or another.

Whether it’s a bear hunt or parenting (what’s the difference?), it’s true: Can’t go over it, can’t go under it, we gotta go through it.

The pattern of human and child development is not in one direction: it’s a spiral. One direction would be constant motion towards improvement. A spiral is a corkscrew pattern, a back and forth, equilibrium followed by disequilibrium.

Normal Development Can…

  • Be sporadic and inconsistent
  • “Appear” to have setbacks
  • Include negative and positive behaviors, both of which help the child grow and develop

Each age has a predictable personality all its own.

Click here for a list of typical developmental characteristics for ages 6 months to 16 years. Please note: This site describes average behaviors for each age level. If your child’s behavior doesn’t fit a particular stage, not to worry, it may be coming or have passed. Or maybe it happened so quickly,  you didn’t even notice it. Some kids travel through the stages more smoothly while others take a more jagged route.

The good news? It’s all ‘normal.’

For example, let’s look at our ‘mooning’ kindergartner and how his behavior lines up with what’s ‘typical’ for a 5 ½ year old. According to the Gessell Institute, during this period kids are likely to be….

  • Disequilibrium
  • Brash, combative, argumentative
  • Can’t make up their minds
  • Need consistent rules
  • Extremely emotional; emotions can fluctuate to opposite extremes
  • Complains a lot
  • Shows initiative and tries things – often unsuccessfully
  • When speaking, elaborates more than 5 yr. old did
  • Is the center of his world – has not yet developed a secure sense of self
  • Mom has moved into second place – gets blamed for everything that goes wrong
  • More restless, less motor control
  • Confusion in spatial orientation, peak age for reversals

So mooning is ok?

Looking at this list, can we see the mooning as a not that weird or unexpected after all? Maybe it doesn’t even merit a big response since we know that our usually quiet little boy is capable of being unpredictable, brash or aggressive without warning.

When we keep the developmental perspective in mind, it gets pretty simple. These ‘bad’ behaviors can feel huge, overwhelming and complicated and our first urge is to react. But maybe they’re a clue that your child is just where he needs to be. Maybe, knowing about development we have room to respond with peace, humor, compassion, and…relief.

Maybe our child is right on track and doing exactly what his or her developmental stage dictates.

I just took a deep breath. I hope you did, too.

Your assignment….

  1. Visit this development resource.
  2. Do these typical behaviors ring true to you?  
  3. Report back in the comment section below with a story of your child’s typical behavior or simply share what you learned by checking out the list.

Feeling relieved? I hope so

I believe we could change the world if we all understood that we go through stages of equilibrium and disequilibrium throughout our lives.  It’s helpful to talk about what’s tough and also typical behavior for children at various ages.

By the way, it was my kid who mooned his classmates and while I was a bit shocked at the time, I’m happy to report that he hasn’t become a serial mooner. We chuckle a lot over that story now 🙂

How We Learn and Practice Courage

How We Learn and Practice Courage

It was the end of our summer time together.

My sister and I had a van FULL of kids, hers, mine and our brothers’, parked in my grandmother’s driveway.

Over the years it had gotten progressively harder for me to say goodbye to my grandmother. Each year I wondered if this would be the last time I’d see her.

This year she was 99, standing in front of her cottage, coming out to watch our precious cargo get settled into the rented van. She stood there — old but not fragile — soft, but also solid as a tree. The most beautiful woman in the world.

I approached her, her arms wide open — mine open to meet her — oh Granny, thank you for everything… this is goodbye until next summer. Tears welling in our eyes. A hug that I never wanted to end.

But then the clammering in the car called to me, reminding me of the long journey ahead from Maine to the ferry in New London Connecticut to finally Long Island.

We released each other, I scrambled into the driver’s seat, feeling relief in the obvious distraction of all these kids needing me. The clear responsibility in front of me served to keep me moving.

Backing out of her short driveway, I rolled down the windows and we all cheered Bye Granny. She raised her arm in a fist and shouted, “COURAGE!”

Pulling away, I was stunned, my breath hard to catch… How did she always know exactly what to say?  … Courage!?

That one word said it all in that moment. On one level my sister and I would need obvious courage to face the ten hour drive ahead with the car full of excited and soon-to-be-exhausted kids.

But Granny also knew that I’d need courage to leave her. And that she’d need courage to say goodbye to this car teaming with life, love and respect for her.

That realization pierced my heart and took my breath away.

She might also have meant the courage she mustered everyday being an ancient person in a world that valued the shiny and new. The courage to face the day without all of her many dear friends who’d died over the last 10 years. The courage to face each day with deep curiosity, interest in and love for her family and the broader community whom admired and loved her.

I haven’t spent much of my life considering courage in personal terms. I reserve it as a label for those serving in war, putting out fires, or responding to other of life’s emergencies.

But then there’s my sage Grandmother declaring what is also real: the everyday ways we face life with courage or that life requires courage of us.

I’ll never forget when my first son was born. Holding the warmth and deliciousness of him in my arms only hours after he arrived, I was in awe.

What had I gotten myself into? Looking down at him, I knew that my life would never be the same. And not in the over-used cliche way, but in the most substantial way. The way most parents — if they’re lucky — come to understand their new responsibilities.

My life was no longer about me. I now had the impossible task of keeping another human safe at every turn. How could I bear the pain of him being hurt, physically or otherwise? He was the most precious person and it would be my job to keep him safe. I knew I’d jump in front of a bus, no second thoughts, to protect this new being in my arms.

At the time, I didn’t connect this with courage. But now, jumping in front of a bus sounds like that huge kind of courage reserved for heros.

Of course, we can’t sustain the level of awareness I had that day in the hospital, but it’s still there — just under the surface — fear mixed with courage. And it’s what gets us through everyday of our parenting journey.

“Choosing courage does not mean that we’re unafraid, it means that we are brave enough to love despite the fear and uncertainty.”  Brene Brown 

What if we claimed this courage, not in a braggadocious way, but rather as a deep knowing that life’s most meaningful choices take courage?

I’m curious if and how this would change my feeling of agency, of possibility for myself as a parent.

Rather than just rolling out of the driveway, pushing down the fragility that is life, we instead back up and hear “courage” for what’s at hand. We listen to a child’s fear and loneliness. We stay present with a friend as they describe their teenage son spinning out of control. We visit with a drug addicted mom in the hospital as she holds her newborn. Or we accompany a friend to her chemo appointment.

I’m grateful, so grateful that my grandmother declared “courage” that day even though the naming of it hurt.

Courage is our action amidst a poignant awareness of the fragility of life.